Reckoning Part 2

I have a habit of thinking that death solves things. Mostly my own, because that would take are of it all. If asked, “what did Philip’s death solve?” my answer would be that is not what I’m talking about here. But the question intrigued me enough to forego listening to my usual podcast this morning during my walking and instead think about this. Soon as I the cross T’s and dot I’d on this mostly-finished post, that’s what I’ll write about next.

 Philip is my son, he is not, was not ever, something to be solved. He was something to live for because love is what there is to live for. I am not someone who particularly feels loved whether or not I am, and maybe that is why life has always felt too hard. But before I go down that road, I want to get back to my mom. Writing is the way I look at the thing instead of wishing it dead to avoid it.

It came as a surprise to both my brother and me to realize my mom’s financial situation. We had to consider if assisted living was something that might be necessary for her. There is no clear answer and since it’s unaffordable maybe there doesn’t have to be. Other than the fact that Alzheimer’s progresses, there is too much uncertainty about it. My mom’s short term memory is shot. But she isn’t doing things like leaving the oven on or getting up in the middle of the night and wandering around. She’s angry that we’ve taken her car away and is constantly berating me and my brother to others for doing this to her. It doesn’t matter how many times we tell her this is what her doctors want, how many times we ask what, exactly, is the advantage of this to me or my brother? She’s resentful – and who could blame her – that her independence is being eroded, that she’s paying someone to go to her house and keep her company three times a week. That’s what’s so hard about where she’s at right now – she’s enough in the disease to warrant attention, but not enough to make her forget what she’s losing. 

Assisted living sounds like a good idea – she’d be in her own apartment but have people around to help her as well as people to keep her company. My mom is alone most days. Before her diagnosis, I don’t know what she did, but she kept herself busy. I would go weeks without talking to her. I have a strained, difficult relationship with her, always have. The last time I tried to address it with her – to what end, I do not know – was a couple years ago, before Alzheimer’s. She looked at me and said, “What do you want from me? I am who I am, and I’m not going to change.”

That was the exact right question to ask me, and I still have not looked to find the answer.  

These last six months or so I’ve had to be in contact with her in a way I never have, especially since I moved out of her home forty years ago. I remind myself I do it for R, my brother, and M, my sister-in-law because it is not fair to leave this all the them. In terms of actually seeing her, they are more involved. They live closer to her and R works in Brooklyn and so can stop by at times after work. Plus neither of them are awash in resentment toward her. It’s the classic story of siblings being raised in the same house but each one having a different story to tell. It doesn’t help that I am four years older than my brother or that I went to public school, he went to Catholic. Our lives even then were separate. At the time, Catholic School was considered “better.” But I didn’t want to go school with nuns and uniforms so my parents let me go to public school. R didn’t have a choice and I have to wonder, looking back, what that says about my family. Certainly it strengthened my conviction I was an outsider, but in a way that made me feel I had some power. I got to go where I wanted, R could deal with the nuns and their disciplinary rulers (at the time word was if you didn’t behave the nuns would whack you on your backside with their rulers. True? Who knows?)

Being in contact with my mom is not pretty. It might, in part, be one of the many reasons I am finally able to write. Because what I am seeing is bringing up feelings so overpowering I don’t even know who to talk to about them, at least not in any kind of depth. Timed three-minute AA or AlAnon shares doesn’t do it, the culture I see at my small office is concerning, and I am trying too hard to to understand this to be distracted by anyone who might make some off-the-cuff suggestion that might too easily cause me to think that I am making a big deal out of nothing or that I need more compassion because my mom is elderly. It has been too long since I’ve been able to sit and face what is happening and while talking has its place, writing is how I discover.

My mom is a social creature. Before I hear, “we all are,” let’s agree there are degrees. I am introverted, my mother is not. When I was growing up, she used to work for my Uncle M at his lumberyard. Even after he closed it years ago there were still things she did for him, right up until a few months ago when we took her car away. I never thought much about what she did to keep herself busy, even after my dad died. We led separate lives in separate states and interactions with her were awkward if not painful. I never cut her out of my life, but I did keep it to a minimum. Having to be in contact more lately has given me a look into her life and it’s painful. I see now my mom kept herself busy shopping and meeting friends, getting her hair and nails done weekly. Other than watching TV, she has no interests, She doesn’t read nor does she have any hobbies. She takes great pride in her appearance and in discussing her mental deterioration with others who need to know what to look for, I have heard, ‘What are you talking about? She looks terrific!.”

Maybe this helps to answer the question my mother posed: What do you want from me? I want you to show me. How am I supposed to live? How do I love? What matters, what truly matters? How, at 64, how do I live a life that will make me understand it was worth it, that I figured out what matters? Because I am not going to find it in my hair or nails or the skin I resent for wrinkling. And I am not going to find it from my mom who has always been disappointed in me – my hair, my hands, my face, my feet, my choices. And now, rather than condescend to her because of what I consider her vapid choices – I am falling apart because even though people come and regularly take her out, even though she has more friends and contacts than I do, what she mostly does is watch TV and talk about how boring life is. Her biggest pleasure is being told how good she looks and is this really what it’s come down to for her? And what have I learned? Sure, I’m “different.” I’ve no interest in manicures or pedicures. I do love clothes, get my hair done every three or four months and yes, I love it when I’m told I look younger than my years. But what else? I spend my days working, then going home and reading. I love my daughter as much as I can, keep her in mind always, find ways to show her my love. But there are ways in life I’ve given up and there are things about the kind of life I want to live that I try not to think about, that I’m frightened to consider because I believe it’s not possible. Am I really no different than my mother?

© 2022 Denise Smyth

His Ashes

When Philip died I wanted him cremated. I thought Phil might argue – we were both raised Catholic, and from what I understood the church did not allow cremation. We married in a Catholic ceremony, had our children baptized, had them make their communion and confirmation. I did what I thought I was supposed to do for my kids as far as religion was concerned, especially because Phil was serious about it. I was not. As a child, I was let out of public school at 2:00 on Wednesdays to attend religious instruction. Even then I was no believer and decided God was something grown-ups made up to explain what they couldn’t. 

Phil would take the kids to church on Sunday. I refused to go. We had one argument about it, with him insisting I should go because what would we tell the kids if he was going but I was not? The truth, I answered. Mommy and Daddy think different things about God and it’s important to Daddy that you go to church. I don’t know that we ever actually had to have that conversation, but we were ready.

 As of 2016, the church’s guidelines on cremation changed. It was allowed, but you were not to scatter ashes or keep them at home in an urn. They should be kept in a “sacred” place, such as a church cemetery, which I’m sure one would have the privilege of paying for. At any rate, Phil did not object to cremation, so Natalie and I pored over a catalogue of urns to pick the right ones. We should not have to do this, I told her. If we are catalogue-shopping it’s supposed to be for shoes or clothes or the very best in cookware. But we all know where “shoulds” and “supposed-to’s” leave us, so we did what we had to. Natalie chose a tiny urn in a blue velvet box that could travel with her, I chose a small, elegant slate blue with a muted silver top for Phil (who did not want to be involved in the process) and the bulk of the ashes went into a large gold urn with a band of inlaid white material for me. I chose it over the floral cloisonné urn I preferred, and I am still trying to figure out why. There was a reasoning going on in my head that I can’t articulate. All I can come up with is maybe I thought what I wanted was too feminine, maybe I thought the gold was more dignified…it bothers me terribly, both as a  mother and a writer, that I cannot come up with the words to explain this, and that my choice here might have been based on a “should.”

I do know that I thought that once I actually received the urn it would look better in person and I would be happy (is that an appropriate word for my feelings regarding the container of my son’s ashes?) with my choice. I wasn’t. At the time it was low on the list of Things I Am Grieved About. I put the urn in my bedroom and put Phil’s in my living room as he said he wasn’t ready to take it. 

There were a couple times over the years when I made an effort to find an urn I’d like better. The floral cloisonné was no longer available and I couldn’t find anything else I cared for. I still have Phil’s urn as he never asked for it and at this point, I am hoping he doesn’t. Because the last year or two I was starting to feel the need to let go of my urn and Philip’s ashes but I’d like to keep the small, elegant urn in the living room as it feels like just what I need to have.

I couldn’t figure out what to do about the growing need I had to let go of Philip’s ashes. Stories about people getting rid of loved one’s ashes center around the favorite place that person had so there’s some meaning to the thing. I don’t know of any special place of Philip’s except Underground 8 – now called The Meat Locker – in Montclair and spilling ashes on the floor of a music venue isn’t something one does. That I knew of no place shamed me. If I was a better mother, we’d have had a place, a perfect place, something we shared. If we were as close as I say we were, why wasn’t there a place? I can see now how I would torture myself about this, how easily I shame myself. Plus I didn’t talk to anyone about it so it festered.

A few years ago Maria’s friend developed leukemia and within about six months of her diagnosis, she died. When I was at the shore back in June, I overheard Maria talking about taking her ashes out on her boat and scattering them in the bay. And there was my answer. Maybe Philip didn’t have a place, but I did. And not only a place, but a person. In the beginning days of this blog, when telling the story of finding out about Philip’s death, I’d written how Maria was the first person I called when I found out he died and I knew she was in her car before I hung up the phone. Who more fitting to do this with?

So on a Saturday afternoon back in July, Maria’s husband M took us out on the boat. I walked down the pier with the urn, heavily laden with his ashes, hugged in my arms round my belly. M helped me into the boat, Maria following behind in tears. All I can say about the way I felt was small. I think that speaks to powerlessness, the way, as a child, choices were not mine to make. Because while I was choosing the time and the place to let go of Philip’s remains, I had no choice that all that was left of my son was a pile of ashes.

We rode in silence into the bay until M stopped the boat where he thought it appropriate. Is this okay, he asked? I nodded my approval, but really, what about this was okay? The ashes were in a huge, thick, unwieldy plastic bag inside the urn. I took care in pulling the bag out, in making sure the ashes went into the gently lapping water and not onto the boat or blown back in my face. If you’ve never seen them, cremation ashes are gray and fine and powdery and they left a trail as the boat, motor off, bobbed along with the water. When it was finally done I looked up and nodded. The boat started up again and as we swung around, the ashes trailed along on top of the water and Maria and I waved our good-byes.

I thought I was okay but by the time I woke up on Sunday morning I was not. The world was hostile and I was without words. There was too much life around me. Three of Maria’s grandkids, 11, 16 and 18, were also at the house that weekend. And where Maria and her grandkids are, drama reigns. That means life is loud and evident, that meant there was no room for me. So while I originally planned – as I always do when I’m here for the weekend – to go straight to work from here on Monday morning, I quickly packed and headed home as soon as I finished my coffee. And once I got there, I went into my dark bedroom, got under my covers and cried for the rest of the day.

That’s what was needed. I am not, and even then was not, sorry for what I’d done. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction but how does anyone prepare for a possible adverse reaction? I do not know what that means, never did. I can’t predict when I’ll be overcome. When Philip’s birthday or death day rolls around I don’t necessarily go into a funk. That’s more likely to happen afterward, when spring rolls around, because January, his birth month, and February, his death month, at least make me feel his presence. Every spring I lose him again as time is relentless and that’s the season things start coming to life, but not Philip. Never, not ever, Philip.

© 2022 Denise Smyth

Blood From A Stone

When Philip first died I thought, what could ever bother me again? What could ever be so bad that I would care that much, as long it wasn’t about Natalie? I saw his death as the second worst thing that could ever happen to me, as the first would be to lose both my children. 

Ten years on and things do bother me. Writing is my attempt to keep them in perspective, writing today is just to vent because the post I’ve been working on is so difficult to unravel I am starting to lose my shit. How to examine life with my family, something I’ve not taken a good, close look at? Not just my growing-up-with family, or my married-with-kids family, but my large, extended family, too. I’ve kept a distance from them since I was old enough to move out on my own at 22. I’d see them at family occasions but was never one to reach out. On my mom’s side were six brothers, most of whom married, some of whom had kids. On my dad’s side were two sisters, but they wound up moving to different states and since my mom didn’t much like his family and she ruled the roost, my focus has always been on her side.

I didn’t even much keep in touch with Maria, my sister-cousin. I never made a conscious decision about my family one way or another. I was absorbed in my own life and my family was on the periphery. I didn’t like my parents, loved my aunts, uncles and cousins but felt different from all of them. Plus – and this is something I don’t yet understand about myself – I don’t maintain bonds with people. I have no friends from childhood, was unable to stay married. I make friends here and there, invariably let them fall away. I shy away from people in general, I spend a lot of time alone. My children are the exception. 

I come from a loud, funny, boisterous Italian family who got together every Sunday for dinner. Might sound like a minor point, but since my mom is the only female out of seven children, once she married her last name changed which meant my last name was different from the rest of the family and when I was old enough to realize that I added it to my list of resentments as well as the list of Why I Am Different From Them. I put myself in a double bind – I resented my immediate family for what they couldn’t give me and was desperate but unable to feel part of my extended family. I didn’t blame them. It was my fault. They were uninhibited, I was self-conscious. I wasn’t funny the way they were. I was withdrawn and uncomfortable and had a book with me wherever I went. I once heard an aunt remark, “Look at her. She forgot her book so she’s reading the TV Guide.” I don’t know how she meant it, but I took as some kind of slur against me.

I did not come from a family of readers – the only one who read was my dad and I looked down my nose at him as he read what I considered cheap, easy-read paperbacks. Were they? I don’t know. What I do know is I was a sensitive, precocious kid, possessed an intelligence neither of my parents had, was exceptionally bright in school. I clung to that intelligence because it was all I had, at the same time feeling ashamed of it as it was something that yet again kept me apart from my family. No one in my family went to college and that was the track I was on. My dad’s reading was inconvenient for me because I wanted to be nothing like him so I had to write it off as inconsequential. I might have felt sorry for myself for feeling like an outsider, but I also cherished it. 

And I started drinking when I was 11 because it was just too much to deal with.

I do not want to get into politics in this blog. It’s too painful. I used to follow the news avidly until Philip died. I felt flayed by his death and anything contentious was like sticking burning brands into my already tattered flesh. It was all beside the point. I am bringing it up now to make starkly clear the differences between me and my family. They are all rabid Trump fans. As in Michael-Savage-believing, Alex-Jones-listening, January 6th was no-big-deal-excusing, Trump-can-do-no-wrong affirming, MAGA-flag-flying Republicans. I am not. 

That screams volumes about the differences in the ways my family and I approach life. Inherent in that is a wound that won’t heal. I’ve never asked myself what it is I want from my family. Love, of course. But I can’t say that they don’t love me…I want to be seen. There. That’s what it is. I am not seen by them and having said that, it is way past time to let it go. Blood from a stone and all.

 I have felt guilty for not keeping in touch with them, particularly aunts and uncles. But that guilt was born from realizing Maria does keep in touch them, always did. At this point in our lives we are down to two aunts and two uncles, but she invites them to her home, makes plans to go out for lunch or dinner with them, calls them regularly, has group texts going that even include my brother. I don’t even know what I would say to them if I called, and to be fair, I know those group texts are Trump-related so why would I be included in them anyway?

Recent interactions with my two uncles (my mother’s two remaining brothers) regarding my mother’s Alzheimer’s and her financial state have shown me who these men are as well as helped me understand why I do not and cannot consider them the kind of family I can turn to. I’ll be going into greater detail about this as I write more about my mom and Alzheimer’s . But since I started working for Maria’s husband two years ago (he’s a doctor, I’m the office manager), since I’ve been coming down to the shore and spending more time with her these last three years, and since my mom developed Alzheimer’s, I’ve been forced into family dynamics in a way I have never been. I am seeing real, adult reasons why I can’t have the intimacy I imagine other families have, not childish projections of being not only unloved but disliked by them because I am just not enough. And as usual, while I am very good at seeing the why’s of the thing being unattainable, I am not well-versed in the how’s of getting what I want. I’d do well to first consider what that is.

© 2022 Denise Smyth

What it Takes?

I started this blog a year after Philip died. I was as raw as I’d ever been – no, more raw then I’d ever been. I spent years trying to put words on what I felt like. There was no other way to survive. I wrote that there weren’t words to describe what I was feeling because the usual words – grief, despair, agony, etc. – were words I’d used before and what I was feeling was beyond any of that. So I strung words together best I could and made whatever sense I could.

Over the years, grief’s hold on me lessened, old habits of depression felt normal, life felt hard and unmanageable. Writing no longer interested me, quilting did. That’s where my creativity took me for a few years until I lost interest in that, too. I’d write posts here and there but not much else. I started watching a lot of TV and just didn’t care too much about anything except Natalie. A couple years ago, as I mentioned in my last, I started reading about the Tudors. Kings and queens fascinate me, Game of Thrones had ended, reading finally gripped me the way it did when I was younger and would not go anywhere without a book. I still watch TV here and there but it’s reading that I’m mostly caught up in.

Still, not much creative output. It just seemed easier to let it all go and wait. For what? I’ll leave it there for now.

I am at the Jersey Shore at my cousin Maria’s house and will be here until Labor Day. So much to say about this, but not now. When I’m here I usually go for a walk first thing in the morning, around 6:30 or so. When I’m back I make coffee and sit outside to drink it. Her house is on the bay, her backyard spa-like. There are multiple places to sit or lounge, a dock with her boat and jet-skis, a pool and a jacuzzi and her big, beautiful, long-haired German Shepard to keep me company. Last night he slept with me, the only male I’ve had in my bed for a decade.

When I sat taking it all in this morning my mind was going its un-merry way. I’m 64 now, and I can say that physically I’ve had a good 63 years but things have started going wrong and I hate it. How unfair, I was thinking, that we are born into bodies that take up way too much time distracting us from what really matters, yet distract us they do. Whether we’re young and insist on basing success upon physicality or older and doing the same but with the bitterness of our aches and pains, what’s the fucking point if we have to constantly deal with our bodies?

Somehow, I caught myself. Is this what I want to be thinking about? Am I even thinking, or is this just mind-meandering, an updated version of former, similar unhappiness? And I remembered earlier years of writing this blog, when I certainly had a lot to be unhappy about. But there was a quality there that stood in sharp contrast to what I’d just been doing. Of course I was inconsolably, desperately, unhappy. But I was somehow with it, open to it, and willing to put words on it. It was not work to do so. I was too devastated by Philip’s death to be anything else.

For years I have been unable to be in that place. It’d been suggested to me I was having a “dark night of the soul,” that I would come out of it. Just words, I thought, because it’s been years of it. A matter of will? How does one will oneself to care? I don’t know how to explain how I got there any more than I know how to explain why today I’m able to sit with this, why or how I’ve been able to write these last few posts. I coast along, not forcing a particular direction. That’s what I’ve been feeling like for years and not caring to do otherwise. I’m not saying I’ve made a big change, some willful decision, but – for this moment, at least – I am wanting to think about what is going on. With me and Maria, my mom and Alzheimer’s, my extended family, my addictions, my solitude and most of all, my children.

There’s one change I want to note. In my early 40s I decided to go on antidepressants. I’d been in therapy for 20 years at that point, sober for about 17 and still depressed. I’d had several therapists suggest medication but I’d wanted to get to the bottom of my misery without chemicals. Finally I thought, “what the hell” and started seeing a psychiatrist. That led to over 20 years of trying this med and that med and settling on Wellbutrin for about 14 years. At some point that wasn’t working, so my doctor tried adding this other med and that other med and when, in 2010, I had a meltdown, my mood-managers got together and decided an anti-anxiety medicine was in order. By then I was hooked on thinking some kind of drug has to help me and when I was prescribed Gabapentin I thought I hit the jackpot.

Gabapentin made me feel good about being alive. It was not subtle, like an anti-depressant. Its effects could be felt within a short time of taking it. But I am an addict. So if a bit of something shifts my mood enough that I feel good about being alive, then more of it must make me feel even better about being alive.  It was prescribed, so it was okay. I managed to get my initial dose raised about as high as it could be, then started taking none on one day so I could take extra another day. I talked about this to no one. Eventually Gabapentin worked against me. I was irritable, forgetful and nervous and fearful of everything. I was also trapped because I saw no way to stop taking it. 

Except I did. I’m not sure when except that it was months and months ago. Sometimes I wish I paid more attention – if you know anything about AA, anniversaries are a deal. People might say, “the person who woke up the earliest is the one with the most sobriety” but I believe few really feel that way. I was as caught up in year count as anyone else – had I not started drinking when Philip died, next year would’ve been 40 years, people would’ve admired me and I’d have eaten it up. But I also know the emptiness of that – needing that kind of recognition and approval does not fill the hole that demands it.

I still see no clear cut path as to how I was able to stop using something I swore I couldn’t live without. If I’d asked for help – as I did when I went to AA  – then the steps would be obvious. But this I did mostly by myself. I began to ask Philip to help me as – and again, I will not get into this now – he is very much with me and it is he who I turn to for help every day. Between the two of us I managed to stop by tapering off. I did not involve my psychiatrist. The only medical professional I turned to was S, the Physician’s Assistant who works in my office and who is my practitioner. When I was down to taking the bare minimum before actually, finally stopping it altogether, I was not feeling well. Not emotionally or mentally, but physically. Weak, tired, fatigued – not the kind of symptoms I could find while trolling the internet for “Gabapentin Withdrawal.” My PA suggested I might need to stay on one or two pills a day. I refused. The weeks went on, the symptoms went away. It was over.

Next went Abilify, which was supposed to enhance Wellbulltrin. That was easy, I did not feel any different. And finally, Wellbutrin. For both of these I spoke to my psychiatrist as to how best to taper off. I am well aware one does not just stop taking antidepressants on a whim. I received my instructions, bid her good-bye, told my PA what I was doing and that if I needed her, I’d let her know.

I am now off all of it, and have had no repercussions. I tapered off the Wellbutrin more quickly than advised because through each stage I had no adverse reactions and because sometimes I know my own body better than somebody else. Again – I wish I kept track of when I did it, again I can say it was sometime this year. So I’ll leave it that 2022 was the year I stopped taking prescription medication designed to make me emotionally and mentally “better.”

I’ve written all this because I assume it is an aspect of why I have the ability I’d believed I’d lost to sit and think about the life I experience. And for all the decades of trying to deal with my life through alcohol and drugs, both legal and illegal, the only organic way I have of doing that, of attempting to take myself seriously and at least try to find meaning, is writing. And that requires removing whatever blocks my process.

NB – This is my story, my experience of working with a psychiatrist and the medications I was prescribed. It is no one else’s and I am certainly not recommending anyone flush their medications down the toilet. I am not a doctor, I have not even done any amateur research into this topic. I do know there are levels of depression and psychosis and when someone needs help, my only suggestion would be to find a doctor you trust to help. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to leave behind Wellbutrin so easily. And whatever I’m going through now is not something medication, prescribed or otherwise, can “cure.”

© 2022 Denise Smyth

Prelude

I am angry, I wrote in my last. Once I had someone sigh and say, “That again?” Yes, that again. Like what, it has a term period? A date of ending, when I can check it off the calendar as done and over?

Truth is, what I have needed to do is slow down and pull apart the tentacles of my anger, to look at what it is these tentacles are clinging to. I’ve pushed aside, for later, what seems too unwieldy in order to peer more closely at those things I feel ready to contemplate. And there is nothing I am angry at that is not born from a lack of control. Nothing.

I am angry at the weather, the heat and lack of rain. I am angry that Trump is. I am angry that I – literally – do not know what to do when it’s my choice. Work and obligations aside, most of what I want to do is read, with maybe some TV on the weekends. That doesn’t much hold my interest, either, although I’m pretty happy with Succession. I don’t want to go out and meet people, there’s nowhere in particular I want to go, and I’m frustrated and angry that I am not someone who can say, “Hey, I’d like to ____ and then go find someone to do this mysterious activity with me.

I could go on. But I’m going to get to the one thing that angers me the most – my mom has Alzheimer’s and where to start with that? I will thank you all for your sympathy in advance. Direct it at her. While my part in this story can’t be unique, I don’t think it follows the usual trajectory in terms of feelings. But what do I know? Maybe posting this will show me different.

No matter what we’re suffering, our personalities, experiences, and habitual ways of dealing with things will surface and color our reactions, if not our actual actions. Sometimes we have the forethought to understand we might feel like saying, “fuck this” and then walking away, but something more rational takes over, sees the implications of such action, and maybe tries to do better.

Like me.

I don’t think I’ve ever really sat here and took a good, deep look at the relationship I have with my mother, who I see her as and who I see myself as in this context. In fact, a few years ago I decided I wanted to turn my blog into a memoir. During the writing it hit me how much a part of my story my mother is. There was an incident that occurred a few days after Philip died that I wanted to write and I went dumb. There I was, writing the most excruciating account, day by day, of what I felt like losing Philip, but I could not figure out how to describe an incident that concerned my mother. It was after that that I gave up the memoir, started writing much less in my blog. That is not the whole and complete reason for my withdrawal from writing. It is, perhaps, a tentacle.

Mom and I are oil and water, which I can pretty much say about my whole family. Yes, I am that one. I’d always felt on the outside but refused to think too deeply about why. I come from a large Italian family where every Sunday was spent at Grandma’s. My mom was the only girl out of seven siblings, which placed a unique burden on her when time came to helping with chores or taking care of the little ones. Two of her brothers were younger than she and she was often responsible for them. My mom’s 90, and there is one of them she still feels responsible for. In fact, in younger days when my dad was alive, the family joke was that if my dad was lying in the road and Uncle M was across the street, my mom would walk over my dad to get to my Uncle. Wasn’t any funnier then than it is now.

I used to think that maybe I felt odd because I was the only daughter of the only daughter. When Sunday dinners came around, My family would have to get to my grandparents’ extra early because my mom had to help my grandma get dinner ready. Soon as I was able, I had to do my part, whether it was putting glasses on the table or running downstairs to the club – where the men would gather and play cards while the women cooked – to get the men to come upstairs for dinner. 

Another reason I may have felt odd was because I wanted to drink. When I was 7 or 8 I asked my mom if I could have one of the cordials in that glass that just so cute. My mom said yes but my dad overheard and forbade it. I hated him then, but by 3 or so years later I figured out how to get some myself.  My grandparents made wine in the cellar, and while everyone (except the kids) drank, it was obvious that my grandfather was alcoholic. 25 Years in this county and he did not speak one word of English – only his native Italian. Many a time he’d be escorted into bed or another room, happily singing drunken tunes. Once, during dinner, there was a commotion during desert as my grandmother began hitting my grandfather over the head. Turns out he’d poured wine into his coffee cup and was blowing on it as if it was coffee because my grandmother had given him stern orders not to have wine at the table.

My grandmother lived in a two story house in Brooklyn on the top floor. The bottom, as I mentioned, was the club where my dad, my uncles and their friends hung out. On the second floor lived my Aunt J., Uncle G., Cousin R. and Cousin Maria, who is exactly two years older than I am and the sister of my heart.

I have lived very much outside the lives of the family I grew up with. Most of my uncles stayed in Brooklyn, cousins scattered to NJ, Long Island, Staten Island. My brother and sister-in-law moved to Staten Island, and I wound up in NJ with my immediate family when Philip was 7 and Natalie 5. I kept in touch with my cousin Maria on and off throughout the years – and if you’re a follower you might remember Maria was the first person I called when I found out Philip died. For the last two years I’ve worked for her and her husband, and they have graciously allowed me to escape to their shore home when I need to.

This has been a short but necessary background – next, Alzheimer’s

© 2022 Denise Smyth

Time

They must’ve told you – someone, somewhere, many someones in multiple some-wheres, how, “Time heals all wounds.” And you probably had to find out for yourself that it doesn’t. I wrote about this once, somewhere in this blog. The priest at Philip’s wake told us so and I was grateful. There is no comfort, particularly at the nadir of one’s grief, to think, in time this will go away or one day I won’t feel so bad, I will be able to manage this. When Philip died I existed in a dimension called Grief and the idea that time would heal it meant…what? That it would be okay, that I would be okay? That there was somehow going to be something called Life as Usual?

The naiveté. The shallowness. Even if said from a loving heart with all the kindness, concern and worry that comes from the helpless onlooker who truly cares for you. This month it is ten and a half years since Philip died. Since my son died. I had a therapist ask me why I called him “my son.” He is, after all, his own person, not my possession. He has a life apart from me. Except he no longer has a life – at least on this earth – apart from me. I have two children. And calling them “my child” is an acknowledgment of the bond that can be between me and them and no other. I need that. I need to know that what was and is between us is special, real, everlasting. If calling Philip “my son” soothes me that way I’ll skip the analysis of where he ends and I begin because I dare anyone with a dead child to try to figure that one out.

Then there was Phil, seeing my grief-hysteria weeks after Philip died. “Denise,” he said, “You gotta stop. Philip wouldn’t want this – he wants you to be happy.”

I turned on him. “How do you know?” I demanded. “How do you know what he wants? Maybe he’s missing me. Maybe he’s lonely. Maybe he wishes I could go keep him company!”

Phil blinked slowly. “You are really sick,” he said softly. Which fits in pretty much with the way I view myself. If thoughts wear grooves in our brains based on usage, then, “There is something wrong with me” is my Grand Canyon.

But how did he know what Philip “wanted?” We know nothing about the dead. But when it suits us we make proclamations?

I did, though, have an experience to counter this. Driving one night, not long after this exchange, I was thinking that I was going to kill myself. I once tried – and obviously failed – when I was 21. This, too, is for another post, but throughout my life I thought the only way out of the prison of my brain and the repetitive negative thinking was death. So it was natural for me to be thinking in the face of Philip’s death, “I’m done. I don’t know how yet, but I am done.”

That’s when I heard Philip. He’s behind my right shoulder, he speaks into my right ear. “Mom,” he said, “It doesn’t work that way. You have to find the joy.” And in that instant, it occurred to me that I took the responsibility of having two children, one who died, but one who was very much alive and needed me. And I saw myself standing next to Philip looking toward Natalie, but now unable to reach her. The grief was just as intense. That’s when I knew things were as they were and I must deal with them in that way. Natalie needed me. That was all there was to know.

I also understood at that moment that suicide was not a solution. It was a continuation of what I was trying to escape. If I believed death was like going to sleep and never waking up, then suicide made sense. Philip was teaching me something different. He was telling me the way out is to find the joy. I can tell you that ten years on, I have not found the joy. I still circle back to “There is something wrong with me.” I watch people, I watch the things they do and what they enjoy and what keeps them going and I still feel the odd one. My greatest pleasure is reading, which I do for hours on end daily. Today I started to write – something I have not been able to do for years even though it is one of the things I have loved to do and it was certainly what kept me going during the earlier years when Philip died. 

I have been, I am, so angry.

But back to where I started this post. Time does have a part to play. Its passage changes things. I no longer cry for hours on end every day. The constant knot in my stomach is gone. Philip is not on my mind 24/7. I can laugh. I can hold a job. I can eat. No more drinking, no more bulimia. Outwardly, no one would be able to tell I suffered such a tragic loss, that my world is upended, that I will never be the same in ways I can only accept. And that maybe I shouldn’t accept, but I do.

I have a picture of Philip from when he was maybe 5 or 6. If I can figure out how to post it under photos I’ll put it there. He’s wearing an orange pullover with a collar. His right arm is leaning on a table, bent at the elbow, his face is leaning into his hand. He’s not looking at the camera but a bit to the right, a smile on his closed mouth, his far away thoughts giving him secret pleasure. If I look, I can just make out his left hand resting on the table, clutching a small dinosaur. He is angelic. Months ago I made that picture the background on my phone and it still unsettles me to see the beauty of that innocence. It still brings me to tears, still makes me stop what I’m doing and give pause. And I would like to say I smile to see my little boy so happy and so at peace, but mostly my heart twists into something unnatural because of what I have lost and my inability to find adequate words to share this with so that maybe someone can…help? Understand? What do I want? There isn’t any help, and from those who can understand – unfortunately, there are far too many who do – I cannot take comfort. 

© 2022 Denise Smyth

Covid 19 – Addiction Part 5

Covid-19 or not, there are people looking to hire. Sometimes I’ll send out a resume. The job has to be fairly close so the drive isn’t long, salary somewhat close to mine because much as I bitch about work I’m paid well for what I do, no insistence on Powerpoint or advanced proficiency in Word and Excel because I’m more basic proficiency when it comes to those. Go learn Power Point, everyone says. It’s easy. Sure. Easy. I spent over $300 taking advanced Word and Excel classes. The Adult School I went to does not allow handouts, so we were being taught complicated formulas without notes to refer back to. Plus nothing we learned is anything I needed to use when I was working and when it comes to software, use it or lose it. I could’ve taken that money and bought a lovely pair of shoes and at least I’d have had something to show for it.

But I do need a job. My boss hired me back after initially laying me off due to Covid, but business didn’t pick up so its back to unemployment and serious job hunting. This feels surreal. In part I feel protected because with unemployment I’ll have about three more months of income. But that’s it – the reality is I need a job and I am terrified. The idea of presenting myself to someone…who would want me? What do I have to offer? This year my age has come into play. I am 62. I have long felt that my age doesn’t matter – I look younger than I am, I’m in good health, I have a lot of energy. But faced with job hunting I feel old. Who wants to hire someone close to retirement age? What I know is that all of this is a racket in my head that I should ignore and just look for a job. My heart and my head are at war.

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July 2019. I was suffering the loss of my girlfriend and tired of smoking weed. So I stopped. And there it was – the space in my life I didn’t know how to fill, still don’t know how to. Over and over I told myself it was up to me, but I couldn’t come up with what I wanted to do. I was lonely and grieving the end of a relationship and all I did was sit around hating myself because there was  a whole world out there and I couldn’t join in. I was living in a world I didn’t belong in and I didn’t know how to be okay with my life. I told myself to travel, take yoga classes, go for a walk, call someone , figure out how to get out there and do it. I was – I am – paralyzed.

Before my lay off, I had a long talk with my boss. He told me his history of drinking and how he got himself under control. How every three months or so he and his girlfriend call up their friends, get in an Uber, go to the city and have a blast. Most of the time when I’m listening to someone I’m deciding who is living the better life and I am always the loser. Not that I need to go have a “blast” but just the idea of wanting to do something and having enough friends to do it with. I am never part of a crowd. I don’t have a group – I have a friend here and a friend there and no matter how many here-and-theres it is never enough. I am lonely but I don’t reach out.

AA seemed a solution. It’s a spiritual program and people make friends there. People love it there. People are always talking about their gratitude about being sober and of all the friends they’ve made along the way. If I say that like it’s a bad thing, I don’t mean it that way. It’s more of a foreign thing. I don’t get how to become part of it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I don’t want to do the things to be more part of it. I could join a group, take a commitment, go to their business meeting, call people. Now that there are Zoom meetings instead of live meetings it makes it even harder. I resist.

I went back to AA last September. In March the pandemic hit. Much as I’ve been faithfully Zooming in on meetings through it all, I never stop wondering what I’m doing there. I try to pay attention but I don’t feel like these people do. At least the ones who are sharing. I’m often in meetings of upward of 50 people, and maybe 15 of them share in any given meeting. Surely there are people who feel disconnected, who are uncomfortable with others’ depiction of how God works in their lives because much as AA teaches to find your own conception of a higher power, most people buy the one where God’s directing your life and you have to sit back and accept the ride. I actually don’t have too much argument about that. At least the acceptance part. I don’t believe in a God that’s involved in the minutiae of my life, but I do believe life is a force greater than me. I can’t control it, I can only stop resisting it.

And that includes Philip’s death. Lately I feel crushed when I think of him – how in the world am I supposed to go on when he will never again come through my door? It’s been seven-and-a-half years and I am still deeply lonely for him. I yearn for him. So how do I hold my grief yet try to live? The loneliness in living is coupled with my grief and what I need to learn is how to hold two things together. Grieving him yet learning to live. It’s not a betrayal but it feels like one. I thought I was past this but grief is a spiral, not a straight line. As is life. I still struggle with wanting to live. It feels easier to give in to the grief, to let it suck the life out of me…is this an excuse? Do I use his death as a reason not to live? My grief is real, yet is it honest?

I go to meetings because I am trying to find something that eludes me. I drank because it made me feel better. By the third drink there was a “click” – I was home. Life was okay. I could talk to people, I could connect, temporary as it was. That’s what I ‘m looking for – that “click.” There are people in meetings who have clearly clicked. Their earnestness fascinates me. How did they get there? How are they not consumed by their darkness? Am I that unique that it can’t be me? That can’t be so, yet here I am stuck and waiting, waiting for my click.

Covid 19 – Addiction Part Four

I work for a design and construction firm. I’ve been called back to work because we received a PPP loan from the government which requires 75% of it be spent on payroll. I haven’t much work to do – the only construction job we have right now is a restaurant in NYC which is still closed down because of the virus. So I work part-time, do what I have to do and go home, while getting full-time pay. For the eight-week duration of the loan, that is. After that, if there’s no work, I’ll either get my hours cut or go back on unemployment. I prefer unemployment.

It’s complicated. I don’t like going to my job, yet I only half-heartedly look for different work. My boss told us all that if we didn’t want to come back, if we preferred to stay on unemployment (with its extra $600 on top of the weekly pay) that would be fine. Be honest, he said. In a perfect world I would’ve say bye-bye. But I was scared. Not coming back would mean I officially had no job and what does a Covid-19 job market look like? And much as I say if my hours are cut I’d prefer unemployment, if time comes we’ll see. Unemployment doesn’t last forever and I need income. Steady income. So for now I put up with it – and don’t think I don’t know how fortunate I am. So far quarantine has not affected me financially and for that I am grateful.

Anywhere I work I’ll have to put up with people. I have a fantasy that I go to a new job where everyone smiles and the boss is kind and I can spend the rest of my working life there because I never, ever want to look for another job again. But people are hard for me. My boss is the most difficult and demanding one I’ve ever had. Never a kind word but he knows how to harp on mistakes. I am not used to this. My bosses have always loved me. Or at least acknowledged I’m good at what I do. This one tells me he appreciates my loyalty but wishes I were more efficient. I’m as good as I can be. My memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be but I’m organized enough to find whatever it is he’s looking for. But he still mourns the woman I replaced three years ago. She was not his work-wife, but his work-mother, telling him when he could go vacation and whether or not he could buy that computer he’s had his eye on. Not my job – I am mother to two and that is enough for me.

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Smoking weed got boring in a way alcohol never did. Alcohol brought me to a point where it felt good to be alive. Of course, I’d quickly drink past that to the point where I didn’t know what it felt like to be alive. If I drank around people I enjoyed them. If I drank by by myself I didn’t need them. Then the hangover, which justified lying in bed for hours which is where I preferred to be, alone and away from a world I couldn’t tolerate. Weed didn’t have the same drama. I was altered – reserved, withdrawn, occupying a space that could contain only me. When I got home from work I was mostly in for the night because I didn’t know what to do with myself. Weed both ensured I stayed there and made it tolerable. I lived – I live – with my daughter but in certain ways I feel like I don’t. We are together separately. We are not – nor should we be – like a couple who figures out how to get along together on a daily basis. Instead, we figure out how to meet in our separateness. N is a 26-year-old woman who is trying to work out what she wants to be doing with her life while she has one foot out the door, a foot I am still paying for.

By last July I got bored with smoking. No big deal, no big commitment, no light bulb turned on. Just a shrug and enough with the disappointing highs. What I needed, I thought, was a spiritual solution. Not a come-to-Jesus moment, either. A spiritual solution like when Philip died. “Solution” isn’t exactly the right word because it sounds so final. When Philip died I didn’t turn to God and beg for mercy. Nor did I blame God – S/he wasn’t part of the equation. When Philip died I was forced into a grief that blew me up and scattered me into pieces I still can’t find. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken to jigsaw puzzles. The satisfaction, the intimacy. The miracle of each piece. Taking each one and putting it where it belongs, the hopelessness when it seems impossible to get these things to fit. Until suddenly they do. Over and over the impossible comes into meaningful form. Until the thrill of finishing still leaves something missing because while it seems that I’ve finished there is more that I’m wanting.

Philip’s dying put me in sacred space. The spiritual “solution” I mentioned simply meant I was alive to what was happening. I made meaning in my grief. His death forced me to live as I never had before. It was that or die and how could I die when I had another child to tend to? I’d taken the risk of having children. One was dead but one was very much alive and I had a responsibility to her. It was through Philip I found awareness.

People die, relationships don’t. I am fortunate that Philip was with me then as he is now. His presence was my spiritual solution. By grace of that connection, by the grief of his bodily loss, was I able to be in touch with a power far greater than myself. Not something I called God. Not something that had the form of woman or man. But a power, which I chose to call Life. Life is my higher power, the fact of what is. For years after Philip died I felt an expression of that power, saw it in all that was happening around me. Caught it by writing what I saw. What I experienced. Until something happened. Something big but not tangible. Not an event that made me withdraw. It was more gradual than that. Outwardly, I started to write less. That was the biggest sign. And I can’t remember if I started smoking weed to deal with this or I started smoking weed before and thus came to feel like this but certainly this lethargic state’s cause and effect is entwined with weed.

To be continued

© 2020 Denise Smyth

Covid 19 – Addiction Part Two

I was laid off on 03/20 so this is my seventh week of Covid quarantine. It’s 68 degrees today and I should go out. Except quarantine is a rare time to stop shoulding myself. At the moment I prefer to write.

Weather’s often on my mind. For most people, sun is good, rain is bad. Neither is true – the weather is what it is and we either enjoy it or we don’t. I understand people’s spirits lifting as the weather gets warmer. Mine don’t. I am comforted by rain. I am comforted by fall and winter with their early darkness and chill. It’s a time that doesn’t expect me to go outside. It’s a time when no one is watching. It breaks the tedium of mostly sunny days. Spring approaches and the boundary begins to dissipate, expectations rise. There is nothing I can do but not resist it. Trees and flowers begin to bloom, the lawnmowers come out, more people are running and walking. Everywhere I look something is growing. And I am reminded once again that Philip has died and he will never grow, he will never change. He did, once. He was my bud, my flower and he bloomed and died. The way these flowers will bloom and die, the way one day nothing will be what seems to be now.

Here is what Philip said to me as a little boy: “Like I’m heaven and all the people are flowers. Then I fall down in the clouds and I have a flower for a parachute to fall to the ground and come home.”

Would that he could.

We lived in Brooklyn when Philip was born I hadn’t been drinking for eight years. I had been going to AA all that time, but a few months after he was born I stopped. It wasn’t an actual decision I made, I just found it difficult to drag him to meetings that I was bored at anyway.  I didn’t go one day which turned into the next day and then the next and then it was nearly thirty years. Wanting to drink wasn’t an issue. By that point most of friends were in AA so I was surrounded. I never thought about drinking. I raised my children sober for which I am grateful.

We moved to Montclair in September 1998. The kids were in school, I wasn’t working, so I decided to go back to AA. I went on and off for a few years, made a few friends, even got a sponsor, Crazy Z. She was a tall woman in her sixties with spiky heels, always red lipstick, heavily lined eyes and blonde, curly hair that nearly reached down to the butt of her skin tight pants. She was willing to meet me for coffee once a week and listen to anything I had to say. Truth is, it was hard to find what to say because as much as she gave her attention to me I didn’t feel connected to her and if I’m not connected to someone I struggle with words.

Same with AA. I met a friend who I’m still close to today. As far as the rest of it, I was uncomfortable in meetings, I didn’t know how to meet people, I am terrified of approaching anyone, and I found meetings boring. I had no patience for all the literature that was read at the beginning of each meeting (the steps are on the wall, we can see them), my focus was on the crazies who I had nothing in common with and holding hands and saying a prayer at the end of each meeting? Not for me. I belong to AA in the sense that I’m alcoholic and don’t drink anymore, but that’s not why I was going. I wanted to make friends, I wanted for feel like there was a group I belonged. It wasn’t working. So I stopped.

There are no words for losing a child which is why I started this blog. As a writer, as a mother, I had to get try find some to wrap words around it, to keep from spinning around in the spiral of grief. I used to say the words to describe Philip’s death weren’t yet invented. I’ve used the words grief and trauma and horror and nightmare and despair – none of them lived up to what I felt like. So I did the best I could to write my life with out my son.

When Philip died I drank. I’d been sober nearly thirty years by then. I did not care. There’s a saying that “there’s nothing worse than a head full of AA and belly full of beer.” Yes there is. A dead son. I drank with no remorse, with only a deep relief that there’d be a break in the torment. For months I drank, keeping Vanilla Vodka In my closet. I hate Vodka but I drank it because it did the job quickly and I was hoping the vanilla would make it taste better. It didn’t.

In my last I wrote about how I never tried to drink normally. This time I did. At least when I was out. For the first time in decades I ordered drinks in restaurants.  I announced to my daughter that I was going to start drinking again. I felt both guilty and free. Guilty because everyone knew I’d sworn off and what if someone in AA saw me, and free because too bad if they did. I told myself I could have two and that would be fine because I was in control. Besides, I would not get drunk in front of people.  I used to order hard liquor to get drunk quickly even though I couldn’t stand the taste. This time around I ordered the “specials” which were usually sweet. I’d question the waiter to find which one had the highest liquor content. But after my I went home to Vanilla Vodka.

One night I went to Vinny’s in Bloomfield for Italian with my friend E. He always brings a bottle of with him (Montclair/Bloomfield restaurants are mainly BYOB). He  pours himself less than half a glass, savors it, shows me the proper way to drink it. And when he’s done, he has enough to take home. But we were out during my liberation from all things sober, so this time we got two glasses for the wine. Two smallish glasses. E pours some in mine and my heart sinks. There’s no way this is going to get me where I want to be. I slowly drink the wine before the food comes, he pours a second which was to become my last. And what’s happening during dinner is my attention is divided. I am listening to E yet absorbed by the wine. I’m tuning in to my body to see if the wine has any effect. I’m trying to decide the proper space between sips. I’m nervous that he won’t pour the second one. He did, but after that he poured no more and I was afraid to ask.

To be continued

© 2020 Denise Smyth

29

Philip would have been 29 today. I’ve read the posts I’ve written in the past on his birthdays. How thoughtful of me. For all the times I called grief a spiral, I thought things like his birthdays, or the anniversaries of his death, would be more linear, with me gaining some sort of cumulative wisdom along the way. This is not true. This, today, right now, nearly seven years later, is the worst-most-hopeless I have been in a long time.

I hate being alive. I HATE IT. This is more than just a today’s-Philip’s-birthday-I-have-the-blues rant. This is about an impossible loneliness I am inadequate to remedy. This is me, me everyday waiting and watching and hoping that this night, this night when I fall asleep, my nightly prayer will ring true:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the lord my soul to keep

I pray to die before I wake

I pray the lord my soul to take.

I don’t want to fall ill, I don’t want to contract some nightmarish disease or even an ordinary one.I just want to to sleep and not wake up. And stop with the twisted horror or pity on your face. If it’s there, you don’t know. Your desire to live and ability to enjoy yourself is just as alien to me as my craving for nihilism is to you.

It’s no one’s fault. I am severely unequipped  to handle life on life’s terms. I think I once thought I was, but now it seems that was arrogance. It’s more than the fact that Philip has died. Phil, my ex, has lost him too – and look how he’s doing. A LOT of friends, interests, a lovely home, a long-time partner, his daughter who adores him. I am happy for him, and grateful that Natalie has one parent who can show her how it’s done.

I think I suffer from mental illness. I stopped therapy over the summer – it’d been 40 years plus countless medications and still I don’t want to get out of the bed in the morning. I still can’t sustain a relationship. Not even with K, a person so much more loving, wise, smart and compassionate than anyone I could have imagined. But I managed to push her away and eight months later I am still mourning. And what am I doing to help my daughter? She lives in the this crappy little apartment with me but I do nothing to help her get on the right track, simply smiling and nodding while I watch her life spin more out of control.

I tried AA these last four months. But the problem is I bring myself there, with all my resistances and self-doubts and isolationist tendencies and I don’t pick up the phone to call anyone so I might as well stay home and watch TV where I at least don’t have to hold hands and say meaningless prayers during the end credits. There are people in AA who would be more than willing to talk to me. But I have to make the first call and when I think about doing so, the phone becomes unreasonably heavy and I cannot lift it. No one more than me realizes  how much I get in the way of myself but if I’m to be relied upon to help myself out I’m just going to drown.

Today I am waiting for call from a woman I’d asked to be my sponsor. She’s busy with work and with other women she helps and said she’d know for sure by today if she’ll be able to work with me. I don’t think I’ve ever given AA a fair shot. AA’s idea of God isn’t mine and the closest I can come to “turning my will over” is to stop resisting what is so. Aside from my language objections, there must be some sage advice the program has to offer me if I can hear it through the right person and I am desperate enough to want that. But what if she doesn’t call? Everything is the final straw with me; everything brings me to the brink and the hopeless tears don’t stop. I’m scared. What if she doesn’t call? Find someone else, you say. You don’t understand. This is just more confirmation of how alone I am and of my inability to connect. What’s the point of being alive with this much loneliness? What’s the point when I don’t want to go out, and when I am out, all I want to do is get back home and hide? What’s the fucking point?

K called and asked if I wanted to meet her for lunch today in Brooklyn, just get out and not spend this day alone. I almost said yes, but at my peril. She can see me as a friend, she can take care of me today and then let me go home tonight. I am not there. I want to see her because I want to hold her and cry with her and I want her to soothe me in bed tonight. And all this knowledge does is make me more lonely and grieved. Makes me more want to stop waking up because I cannot tolerate all this pain, all this only-pain. This is not something that just-passes. Oh, the intensity of it, sure. But not the the dull ache of everyday’s WTF am I here for and when is this going to end. I hear plenty of people grateful to have one more day, I hear plenty of people in AA claiming to have a life they never thought they could. And I am alienated further. My son is dead, my daughter grows distant, I’ve barely any friends. I am alone. What else is there to say? I am in trouble, and from what I can see, this time through’s not the way out.

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