Category Archives: grief

Looking for Stars

We’re down here searching the night sky for your star.

I say we.

I know I’m not alone in this.

Do you hear our eyes asking? Is it this one? That one?

Do you see our faces confused and wondering?

Can you hear the hope in our pounding hearts?

I pick one and make a wish on light that left the source a million years before breath filled my lungs.

What else is there to do but wait another million years to stop searching? To stop wishing against reality?

In a world of endless sequels and reruns, accepting that a story has ended is nearly impossible.

So we tell your story as best we remember it,

And we look for stars.

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Goodbye to a Young Friend & Don’t Use Tragedy as Ammo for Gun Rights

Not on the same day a tragedy occurs. Not now when friends and family are reading your troll-ish, shit stirring comments below the news articles which by the way got all the facts wrong and leave me shaking my head wondering if reporters do any fact checking at all.  You want to talk about gun rights do it on your own time. Do it on your own blog, your own Facebook page or keep your evil to yourself.  A child is dead, our friend is dead and he is not a trophy for you to use for your personal cause against guns.

No one who knew Shawn Kilker is surprised that he killed a relative and then killed himself. No one can get their head around whose life he took before he took his own.  No one can believe that he shot his own son Keith.  Not so hard to believe for those of us who work in domestic violence, sexual assault and child protection.  Not for those of us who can smell an unstable personality from miles away.  We know all too well that yes, yes they will kill their children and sometimes do. Yes, yes they will kill their wives and sometimes do. Yes it’s true they valued them and called them “the apple of their eye” but that was before Mother had enough and was leaving.  That was before shit got real when the cops showed up with a warrant.  That was before desperation set in and the need to destroy overrode the need to love.

Tonight we stood in a park in Keenesburg, Colorado (a town we just recently moved from but maintain ties to) with candles to say goodbye to Keith Dean Kilker Cowboy as he called himself as a child.  The same park where I walked my dog the last day of her life.  The same park where my husband and I watched our first amazing fireworks show together,  where we walked at night to play on the swings like kids and where we celebrated his birthday and we all discovered the cheese I had used in the chili was spoiled.

In the park now my husband sobbed for his lost “lil Keith” that he will never take fishing again or laugh at for wearing cowboy boots with shorts or grab a soda for as they work on an engine together.  Lil Keith who he will never hand money to for a job well done in the yard or plowing snow.

Tonight we watched 14 candles glowing on a table, one for each of his years on this earth and we cried. We listened to friends and his sister tell us that his last day was a good one, that he was happy and that he freely chose to stay with his quickly unraveling Father as they were sent from the house.  Perhaps like all sons he thought he could save his father Shawn Kilker.  Perhaps like all children he had loyalty to someone that didn’t deserve it.  I don’t know why he stayed, I just wish so hard that he hadn’t.

The preacher in the park said to look around at how many hearts had been touched by Keith’s short life. Keenesburg, CO is a very small town and everyone does almost literally know everyone else.  You really couldn’t live there and not know Keith even if he had never been in your house swiping sodas and snacks. Even as I was driving into town tonight I caught myself looking for him to go whipping across the railroad tracks on his bike as more than once I’d had to dodge him there.  There were a lot of people in the park tonight.  A lot of hearts broken by this loss.

Keith cracked me up with his total lack of self-consciousness.  I dropped some clothes off for his sisters once and he had two of the sweaters on before I could even get them out of the car.  He thought they were cool so he wore them and didn’t care one bit that they were girls clothes.  Keith would eat anything in the house that wasn’t nailed down and he wasn’t shy about asking.  He was so damn cute that you couldn’t deny his big eyes anything. He would come over and pet our fat dogs and talk sweetly to them years ago before they died then he would head out back to find my husband so they could go fishing or work on something together.  He later would come by and cuddle our cat Grit since she had lived at his house for a week or so when we all first found her as an abandoned feral kitten.  While she scratched most of us being a temperamental tortie I don’t believe she ever scratched him.

He was sensitive and creative something his father frequently ridiculed him about.  As he got older we could see him start to drift into areas that teenagers shouldn’t and I worried about him.  I worried when he would come over mad and talk about things that happened at home.  I hoped that his sports, his friends, mother and sisters would hold him steady through his adolescence.  Almost 24 hours ago now his father made sure that he would never have one.

People shared stories of Keith while his family, wrestling, football and baseball teammates openly grieved and I watched the sun set.  I listened to my husband choking on tears. I watched the people who used to be our neighbors wipe away sadness.  I watched our friends, huge tattooed men, share their pain for a lost child killed by a lost soul.

I seethed in anger over knowing that Keith was gone forever, over knowing that Shawn would one day do something violent again but never expecting this and over knowing that as hard as we try sometimes we just can’t make a difference. This was not about gun ownership, a background check would never have stopped Shawn from owning guns and would not have stopped his chronic and self-medicated mental instability.

Through my own frustrated tears I stared at the sky’s fading light while birds winged into the trees to settle down for sleep.  They were going home for the night.  Going home is how I have to think of wherever Keith is now or my heart will explode and my throat will howl the sounds of agony and wasted life for a thousand years.

I hope he wasn’t afraid. I hope whatever happened in that house as his world so rapidly came undone happened fast so that he did not suffer. I hope that he knew how loved and cherished he was by the people he was forced to leave behind.

I hope most of all that I will see him again when it’s my turn to go.

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Passionate Singing: A short, short story

When she sang it was in this thin reedy voice that set everyone on the church’s teeth on edge. She was so tiny and thin and leathery that it was incredible and defied reason that such a sound could come out of such a body.  It did. It was awful. But seriously how are you going to tell a little old lady that she sounds like someone’s killing cats when she sings?  When she raises her skitchery and loud voice to the skies in praise of the Lord? No, you will not say one word and I myself chose not to sing for fear that I might sound terrifying too. Read the rest of this entry

Grieving the Living

My Aunt is dying.

She is the one I remember best of my father’s 6 sisters. She babysat me. Let me eat as many Mrs. Baird’s white bread and mayo sandwiches that I wanted. Let me stare at her bright red fingernails and fiddle with her jet black hair. She told me that I could do anything I put my mind to at a time when I doubted I could even survive adolescence.

For some reason I believed her, and although I didn’t act on that at the time and dropped out of school anyway, I eventually got a GED.  I spent a couple of years as an EMT on the sweaty streets of Ft Worth, became a wife and mother and ended up many years later with a Master’s degree and so far a life lived with few regrets.  I never forgot the look on her face when she told me she had faith in me and I never will.

I find her imminent exit from the mortal coil to be not only sad in and of itself but also a trigger for all the remaining grief of her brother, my father’s, untimely death that I’ve managed to keep at bay for 2.5-ish years.  His was a senseless death from which I may never recover.  This all then cascades into the death of my soul dog Scarlett, my other darling dogs Chloe, Bugsy and sweet, complicated Ivy all of whom died in an 18 month span of time between 2010 and 2012.

I can safely say Dad and Scarlett are tangled together due to timing and how these emotional events become a strange unresolved soup impossible to define or separate.  Sort of like trying to make split pea soup back into single round peas. Can’t be done.

I drove the nearly 13 hours to Texas to see my Aunt so I could feel, cry and think unobserved by others.  Sometimes Grief needs a Witness, sometimes when its old and dirty and consists of hard rocks that get stuck in the throat, it needs Solitude.

I didn’t do any of those things on the drive.  I listened to NPR, ate peanut butter and raisin balls and watched the flat of Colorado transition to the flat of West Texas.  I drank in the miles and miles of wildflowers, choked up a little at the sight of the Trinity River and the  lush, green trees and lawns of Ft. Worth.  I didn’t even feel very emotional on the drive.  Not numb either. Just…not much of anything.

Instead I broke down in public, in the rose gardens of the Ft Worth Botanical Society, the last place on earth I wanted to display an emotion.

I don’t know if it was the beauty and the fact that my Aunt said she had asked God to see one more Spring when we all know God is not likely to overcome what her free will, genetics and a touch of Fate, has done to her body.

It might have been the heat which was oppressive even at 1030am. It might have been the hangover from dinner at my friend Sharna’s house, sitting for hours with red wine out back on her Magic Patio or the full moon or the knowledge that my father’s family is year by year disappearing from my view.

Whatever it was I was grateful that the rose gardens are so large that there are plenty of hiding spaces.  If anyone noticed my dissolving they had the good sense which comes from being raised in the Southern states to politely avert ones eyes and walk slightly faster away from any public display such as mine.

It was if I’d been biking hard for miles, the speed of which keeps you dry and oblivious to pain until you stop. Then your legs are shaking up and down like they are typing the next Great American Novel and you are suddenly aware of all the aches that biking brings.  You become instantly drenched and dripping with the sweat of your ride and there’s nothing you can do about it but wait for your body to calm down.

I guess the rose garden was my stopping point, the Willow tree my witness and the Magnolia tree my comfort and hope.

They don’t call women Steel Magnolias for nothin’.  The Southern heat literally incinerates roses and other fragile blooms into brown dust while the Magnolia blooms on oblivious.  Its waxy leaves are impervious to the wilting humidity and underneath the trees is a dense cool shade that smells earthy and intense.  It comes of the rotting layers of golden leaves and dirt and spent blooms and is not at all unpleasant.  The Magnolia in fact thrives and the trees grow as tall as skyscrapers.

The more the heat tries to destroy them the more beautiful they grow and the sweeter they smell.

As most grieving people know, in the back of my mind I’m aware this will pass.  I know that grieving all the losses of the past and now my Aunt, will be chipped away over time. All I can do is bear the crush of the waves when they come, focus on the Magnolia and hope that I too can survive the heat with beauty and grace.

*my Aunt is farthest Left and my father is in the center.

Family

Grieving Process. What crap!

I say all the time and mean it, that if we just could all accept ourselves without judgment we’d be so much better off.  Not a new thought to be sure but one that’s come back to me today as I realize I’ve been judging myself pretty harshly for all this grieving “nonsense”. Ha!
Self-judgment and comparison to others is such a terrible habit and it’s very hard at times to realize when you’re doing it.  Compare = Despair.  Too true and I’ve caught myself lately strangling on tears because there have been so many I just don’t want to go there anymore and I’m tired of posting repeated deaths on Facebook since July 2010 and I think I should be more “in control”.  Even worse most of you know that my Scarlett aka Last of the Mohicans, who has been my best friend for more than 12 years, is tottering around like the little old lady that she is and likely to fall within a few months as well.  Fasten your seat belts…

Anyway repression of emotion always results in the uprising of old negative thought patterns and over-sensitivity all of which hurts more than a few tears. Ok a lot of tears and generalized attitudes of mopiness.  I don’t like feeling off balance and taking so long to notice that my cheese is slipping off my cracker.

I have found myself obsessed over finding the perfect chocolate ice cream (just plain Haagen-Dazs) or the very best cheese fries (no one tops the Steakout in Ft. Collins).  Or when some narcissistic ass clown jumps me publicly with all sorts of attacking statements I allow it to hurt me and further ruin my day rather than immediately understanding that “his/her” tirade is “his/her” own insanity and I don’t see it because I’m a couple of bubbles off plumb. 

I also notice during those times that typical spousal behaviors which normally barely register in my awareness suddenly become fodder for fantasies of suitcase packing or nearly uncontrollable impulses for argument starting.  Seriously?! You didn’t rinse your cereal bowl AGAIN?!  WTF? Do you realize how hard it is to get Frosted Mini-Wheats off glass bowls once the icky shreds are dry? Oh my poor, poor husband.

The nice thing about Facebook is you can toss out an update and within minutes be reminded that you’re not psycho for living life slightly askew while going through a looooong term grieving process.   That kind of validation goes a very long way to letting oneself off the “aren’t you done crying yet?”  bandwagon.  It’s cool and I thank those who always come to my rescue.  Those little one liner statements back to me provide more comfort than I could ever have imagined.

On the subject of grief I have been reading a lot about it which typically makes me cry more – sheesh – but there has been a lot more said in recent years that grief is not in traveled in 5 stages.  This made me feel so much better because mine sure does not seem to follow those lines, even though I do understand that the 5 stages are not at all linear.  BTW grief rituals don’t help at all! 

My grief seems more like a crazy making mix of relief that my dogs aren’t suffering the effects of ill health anymore, guilt over the relief of not having to worry about said ill health effects/expense, missing my Dad terribly but being angry at him too for how carelessly he treated his body throughout his much too short life.  Selfishly I think Dad should have done a better job with that whole thing, then comes anger over the whole death process in general – I mean really, given how deeply they impact our hearts, dog life spans seem unbearably short and this seems so unfair to me that I seriously wish I could have a chat with whomever started all this life/death/creation stuff anyway!  As in…um…uh… excuse me, God?  Yes, well, although I hate to bring this to your attention, I think you might have made just a teensy tiny mistake in this one tinky winky area regarding how very few years you’ve allotted to the companion pet population.  Now go FIX it!!

Then, for some unknown reason, it all fades away and other than small pangs at the sight of a dog bowl, finding remaining hairs on my clothes or catching myself still opening the front door very slowly so as not to mow over Chloe who liked sleeping right behind it, all goes quiet for some time.  Peace, breath in the lungs and sleep in the night returns until it doesn’t and the storm rages through again.

It’s a wonder those of us who have too much feeling and not enough logic about animals have survived throughout time.  How do we keep getting up?  How do we keep facing the day?  I sure as hell don’t know!  I suppose after 45 years of getting up every day it’s such an ingrained habit that not to do so is far too foreign an idea to act upon.  Which by the way, cripes, am I forty-five already? Good Lord, oh well there’s another topic to rant on about for later J

So to anyone else out there who thinks grieving is bullshit.  I agree; it certainly is however try to allow it as much as possible and seek help in those times you feel you cannot ride it through.  Take breaks. I find movie binges and good books help but remember that oceanic waves of pain are not held back for long and are so much worse when they do break through whatever feeble dams we construct to try and contain them.  Life will not be denied and sadly, death comes right alongside it.  You can’t stop the flow of any of it without some serious repercussions when you to try.  Acceptance of wherever you are in the process and allowing the feelings to naturally rise and fall go a long way toward resolution over time. 

If nothing else it might help to remember that you aren’t nuts, that there is at anytime day or night someone out there feeling the same way you are and we’ve been surviving losses since the time of our creation.  Even Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth: “Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.”  Hang on, that wave will go back out to Sea soon enough.


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