To Sit Quietly

Natalie's Birthday

Natalie’s 21st Birthday


“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal

In “True Detective” there’s a scene where Marty, angry with Rust’s take on things, tells him to “stop sayin’ shit like that.” Rust answers, “Given how long it’s taken for me to reconcile my nature, I can’t figure I’d forego it on your account.”

It’s things like that that fascinate me. Rust is cynical, aloof. He’s a self-proclaimed pessimist. He has no friends, and the only relatives we hear about are a mother who might or might not be alive, a father he didn’t get along with when he was alive, a daughter who died when she was two and a wife he’s divorced from because of it. He thinks existence is a mistake and the best thing we could do is stop reproducing, and so “opt out of a raw deal.”

Awful as any of that sounds, he says he’s reconciled his nature. “I know who I am,” he says. And what fascinates me is the idea of  knowing who I am and then allowing myself to be, even if I don’t look the way the world says I’m supposed to. But is that “self” knowable? Is “who I am” something other than fluid? Is “who I am” anything more than some self I’ve invented, and then judged?

Sunday we had a party for Natalie’s 21st birthday. Her birthday is actually July 4th, but she’ll be away in France so we had her party early. I made dessert, like I always do; pie, cookies and a sheet cake decorated to look like a flag. And like every day – which is something that I’d been starting to grasp right before Philip died – it wasn’t a good day or a bad day; it was a day of moments and some felt better than others.

Natalie is now (or at least, in 9 days will be) as old as Philip was when he died. Last year, when she turned 20, I spent some time feeling sick and scared because it hit me she was no longer a teenager, that she was “catching up” to him, which seemed to make him more dead. How will I feel when she turns 21, I wondered? On Sunday, I felt nothing in particular that I could connect to her birthday. Since then, whatever mood I’ve been in, whatever dark places I’ve been banging around in, I can’t connect them to Natalie’s turning 21. And I know that no matter what, Philip will always be her older brother.

At the party, I spoke to my sister-in-law J. for a while. She told me that when she was looking at cards for Natalie, she saw one with a big 21 on the cover. “I couldn’t buy it,” she said. “It didn’t feel right.” I’m sorry I didn’t tell her what it felt like not only to know she was still thinking about Philip, but that she told me about it. I told her that I just felt done; that I’m always feeling that I’d rather be where Philip is than be here, even though here is where Natalie is. I feel bad saying that, I told her. But my grief feels so much bigger than wanting to live ever could.

But is it true that I “always” feel like that? I don’t “always” feel like anything. Last week, I was asked to find a plumber for a job we’ll soon be starting (reminder: I work for a design and construction company). The job’s in an area we’ve never worked in, so we need to find subcontractors. So I googled “plumbing contractors” and that’s where I found Doodyman. In fact, what came up was not just Doodyman – it was “Doodyman to the rescue.” I was thinking, gee, poor guy, how hard to grow up with a last name like Doody, how fortunate he became a plumber – until I went to his site where there’s a Superman figure with a toilet bowl on his chest instead of an “S” and he’s talking about unclogging this and unclogging that and how he’ll make you “doody-free” and there’s even link to “The Adventures of Doodyman” and I realized, well, duh, it’s a schtick, not a last name.

I found this hilarious. I mean bent-over-belly-clutching-wiping-tears-from-my-eyes uncontrollably hilarious. I haven’t laughed like that since Philip died. And every time I told someone else I lost it again and I don’t think anyone was laughing at old Doodyman as much as they were laughing because I was.

So what was it I lost? The voice in my head. The voice that creates my-self so exquisitely that I can’t tell which came first, this terrible self that deserves what it’s being told or the secret, brutal voice that assures me my daughter can love me, my friends can care about me and I can do as well at work as I want, but when I come home and sit alone with myself there’s an ugly truth to being alive that’s always been and always will be, and if I want proof of what that is, it’s that Philip’s dead. And his death becomes real personal, the antithesis of what I wrote here.

I’m told life is in the living. I’m here, Philip isn’t, but I have to go on, make a life for myself. Philip wants me to be happy. I’m told I should be happy that Natalie’s going to France, I should be proud that I’ve raised a kid who’s moving out into the world. She’s also found an apartment, and chances are she’ll be moving out when she gets back. I’m not losing her, I’m told. She’s still here, she’s in my heart. Like Philip’s in my heart. Like that’s a comfort – and maybe it should be, but right now, it’s not.

I can’t be logical about Philip’s death. I do go on. I love my daughter; when I see how happy, scared and excited she is to go away, of course I can join her in that. But be proud that she’s leaving? That’s what kids do. I could be a shitty mom, I could be mom-of-the-year; kids leave. What’s to be proud of? She should be proud, for all she’s accomplished, particularly these last few years. I didn’t need her to do any of that to be “proud” of her. I love her; that she is, is enough.

Philip’s dead, Natalie’s leaving. Ed’s moved. I feel diminished and that makes being alone a tortured and terrible place to be. Alone’s where I read, where I write; where I sew, and where I cook. I can’t do what I love without alone-time. Except alone is like being with three people – the one who’s vicious and abusing, the one who feels deserving of abuse, and the one who’s sitting here writing about it. How the fuck am I supposed to sit quietly in a room with that??


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. daveallen
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 08:36:13

    It took me awhile to realize that while Life Goes On, it will never be the same. You’re a lot stronger than you think – it takes a tremendous amount of strength to write what you do. Most days, I still make an effort to distract myself from thinking about my loss. You stare yours down every day, and can still share your grief in your writings. That’s a big Win.


    • Denise
      Jun 27, 2014 @ 22:00:39

      No, Dave – never the same. Work is so damn good for me; I’m busy and helpful, and that focus keeps me from thinking about Philip, about what my life has become. And I know a lot of what my life “becomes” is up to me. I can’t control what happens, I can only figure out how to deal with it. Lately, I’ve felt as flat as if I’d been under a steamroller. I don’t want this, I want to scream; please send Philip home. I miss him, and I am so very sorry that you know exactly how I feel.


  2. lensgirl53
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 09:16:11

    My middle daughter will be having her 38th birthday on July 2. This year will be the first time since Brandon’s passing that I can think about having cake. It is made doubly hard because Brandon’s birthday is this month, too. He would have been 35 yrs old. Your words, “But my grief feels so much bigger than wanting to live ever could.” connect with me in a big way. But then so does, ” I love her; that she is, is enough.”…must be why I can DO cake this time around.

    More than anything, I wish you peace in that sometimes all too loud “quiet” time. (hugs)


    • Denise
      Jun 27, 2014 @ 22:05:15

      Hey Dale – so good to hear from you. You’re soothing, which I wish I could say more eloquently. It’s the way you make your way through your grief, it’s the strength I feel from you. It sort of washes over me. And I wish you peace, too; when is Brandon’s birthday?


      • lensgirl53
        Jun 27, 2014 @ 22:51:11

        Thank you, Denise. Brandon’s birthday is July 26th.

      • lensgirl53
        Jun 27, 2014 @ 22:55:05

        I do hope Natalie will have safe travels to Europe and that she will have all the angels protecting her while she is there and upon her return. I love her birthday photo….we always have red, white, and blue for my daughter, too. She is my bicentennial baby.

  3. DragonPack
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 15:34:15

    “But my grief feels so much bigger than wanting to live ever could.”

    So many of your words come right from my brain, and so many of your experiences come right from my life. I laugh now and then, and I smile too… but my grief feels so much bigger than wanting to live ever could. I could quote you, or I could quote me. It’s all so similar, so familiar.

    My youngest will be 21 in a couple of weeks. I’ve been feeling the dread, and I am feeling it still. He bought a car a few weeks ago. I have panic attacks each time he leaves to drive anywhere… alone… without me to protect him and keep him alive. He will finish college and move out before I know it. I, too, am told I should be grateful he has a life. But his brother, my son, is dead.

    There is such finality there… to my Forever 21 son’s life, and to my own. I am grateful my youngest wants to grow up and live his life. But I don’t want him to. Oh God how I don’t want him to. Because I could not bear losing another. I simply wouldn’t even be willing to try. And every scenario my head plays out, with or without my consent, ends the very same tragic way.

    Bless your hurting heart Denise. And mine. All of ours. I wish us peace… that ever elusive intangible concept which I am convinced is reserved for people who are somehow better than I. I could not save my middle son… and I cannot keep my oldest or my youngest son safe. Reality, my reality, is a Bitch to be reckoned with daily… minute by minute even.

    Yet, somehow, I go on. Love you my friend.


    • Denise
      Jun 27, 2014 @ 22:34:56

      I think you are going to break my heart. Which really is my way of saying how much you touch me – I know how much our words are the same. It’s chilling and comforting. So we’ve both got our youngest turning 21? We really are going through this together. When is his birthday? Natalie is Fourth of July – and as I said, she’ll be in France, and I will be quiet. It’s okay; I feel I need that quiet. All the celebrating, the fireworks – no. I just want to sit and breathe and hold Philip deep in my heart. I need to feel him there. I lose it sometimes; I lose the ability to feel him. I hear him always. He’s so kind and patient. But he’s not here and I can’t shake the horror of his death, the shock of hearing those words. Two years and four months. I am still shocked.

      But listen. We are not being punished and there aren’t people “better than you.” I am not going to stop telling you that. We were blessed with these extraordinary children who left us way, way, way too soon. That we had time with them at all is a blessing. And as for the pieces they left us in when they died – we will help each pick them up. We won’t be as we were, but at least we’ll be together.


      • DragonPack
        Jun 28, 2014 @ 10:49:46

        Brandon was almost born on July 4th, but the hospital stopped the contractions and sent me home. He was born 1 week later… 7/11/93. He was mad at me for a long time that I didn’t have him on the 4th. Now he enjoys getting free slurpees at 7/11 for his birthday. One of Qory’s friends just had a rainbow baby (first child after a still birth… baby Jayden died two months before Qory died). Her rainbow baby Allana was born 7lbs 11oz, and Brandon was so thrilled that she was born weighing 7/11 because somehow that connects him to her… and, I suspect, to his brother.

        So yeah… Qory died less than two months after his little brother turned 18 (and just over two months before he himself would have turned 22)… and now his little brother is turning the age he was when he died. Of course, this means I’m rapidly sliding into some really difficult times. 7/11 Brandon turns 21. 9/7 Qory’s gone 3 years. 11/16 Qory would have turned 25. 12/15 Aaron turns 28. Then holidays, more holidays without Qory. Add into the mix that so many of Qory’s friends are getting married and having children.

        Qory would have been such an amazing Daddy… and all of it reminds me, once again, that Qory will never get to be a Daddy. It’s a bit too much to take from time to time, like now.

        Not to mention the fact that I still cannot feel him. I felt him die, and I felt him for 10 days after he died… but the finality of the memorial service seems to have taken feeling him with me away from me. It’s cold and it’s lonely. Sometimes he hides things and returns them, just to let me know he’s there… but I never get to feel him. His voice is almost gone from my memory. I can barely stand it.

        “And as for the pieces they left us in when they died – we will help each pick them up. We won’t be as we were, but at least we’ll be together.” Thank you my friend. This is hugely comforting to me. Truly. It is surreal, how many parallels we have in our stories and our paths. Makes me think it was no happy coincidence that we have connected, but that perhaps our boys brought us together in more ways than just by their passing.

        Love you my friend.

  4. miragreen
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 16:30:05

    Every word is so honest Denise. Thank you for sharing. Our oldest daughter is moving out in a few months as well. She’s 23. Although I’m happy for her and want to be part of her excitement, it’s a constant reminder as well that I can’t do the same with Melinda. I believe we will adjust to living with this pain a little bit more each day, but I don’t think it ever goes away because we are forever changed. Wishing you peace when you are alone.


    • Denise
      Jun 27, 2014 @ 22:46:12

      Thank you Mira; I think that anything that feels like loss is magnified. Of course we are not “losing” our daughters…but that’s what it feels like to me. She won’t be coming and going, this won’t be her home. I feel like everything around me is in motion and all I can do is watch as everything moves away.

      I miss Philip. I’m shocked and grieved and of course you know what I mean. I’m lonely in ways that can’t be “fixed.” But when I can, I remind myself it’s just this moment I have to deal with. Just one moment at a time. Break it down to that to make it manageable.

      Peace to you, friend. I’m so sorry we’re in this together, but better that than alone.


      • miragreen
        Jun 28, 2014 @ 01:15:31

        The loneliness is tangible at times. I can be in a room full of people and feel more alone than I have ever done before. One moment at a time, as you say. Wishing you peaceful days friend.

  5. behindthemask
    Jun 26, 2014 @ 19:03:13

    I don’t have answers but you know I’m always here. Happy Birthday to your sweet Natalie. xo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: