A Letter Written the Day After Your Funeral

She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine –

Witch-Wife by Edna St. Vincent Millay

You once told me, when I described the trouble I was having staying asleep, that I should get up in the wee hours and write my memoirs. After all, that was what Patti Smith had done! I listened.

Yesterday we held the art show for you: the one you talked about every day until the day you left us. The art show had your shadowboxes and your bones and dead things, your bed, your cushions, some clothes, and most of the jewelry. None of your paintings made the cut; I am looking at one right now. I love the Fossil Hunters. I was interviewed by the videographer whilst wearing no lipstick, my Patagucci jacket, and frazzled hair. He said what I said was “great”.

Later in the day, I had had too much wine and was admiring Gary and Mary’s advanced 14-month-old baby ruling the roost like she was at least two, and we talked about past relationships and past lives and that time he saved all of us when we moved you out of the big house on the hill. Last week I learned about how the people you lived with really didn’t want you to move out; both parties the same, but different. Two locations, a similar feel. I will write my treatise on devil’s bargains later. Today is just a letter to you.

All day I thought I would come around a corner and see you laughing. It was unbelievably cold yesterday; fog descended upon the city and everything was cast in white-grey. The light was lovely. Vivian and I dressed the mannequin in a wonderful yellow-and-orange outfit; two kimonos and a yellow shirt dress and a necklace made of hundreds of charms. Behind the mannequin, in the window, hung jewels and pearls and chains, as well as the chandeliers. We made the room look like you had just left it after getting ready to go to a party.

I knew you, we knew each other, through so many different lives. Vivian knew you through more; she and I bonded during Covid over our shared moment in life. We bonded again during your death as we aimed to protect you ever still from people who sought to own parts of you, thinking your things would help fill the void. You, wiser than they, knew better.

I got to know your sister and her children over the last few weeks. She and I cried together and I became buddies with Aabah especially, laughed with Saabira, and stared into Faatina’s eyes, tearing up when I realized she will never know you because she is too little. Yesterday, I carried Aabah into the dressing room and said, “do you see Beth’s clothes?”. She nodded and said, “sometimes Mama gets very sad when she thinks about Beth”. I said, “we all do because we can’t talk to her anymore. But one day, you will wear this jewelry and that is how we will remember her”. She nodded.

Downstairs, just before we sang “So Long, Marianne”, Noah and I met and talked and he shared with me that he thought, he suspected, that you never wanted people to see the art while you were alive. We remarked on how mysterious you were in moments, how contrary. He said that he thought if you had had the show while you were still alive, you wouldn’t have come. I suspect he knows a thing or two (please see me winking to you here).

Yesterday I woke up and could barely get out of bed. It felt like the morning, at 4am on November 10th of last year, when I was woken by my mother to go to the hospital. I sat on the couch in the living room that morning and said to myself, “ok. You have to drive your mother to the hospital where her husband has just died”. I said to myself, “you can do this”. I said to myself yesterday, “you can do this”. I drank coffee and red wine and forgot to eat, but I did it. I went to sleep at 830 and woke up twelve hours later.

I said that yesterday it felt like I would walk around a corner and see you. Today it felt like I didn’t believe you are gone. I don’t believe it. You will come back, won’t you? I can talk to you again, can’t I? I know the true answers. I must remember you in my heart and mind.

Remembering you telling me you were having a heart attack (it was steroids) and speeding through tiny coastal towns until we reached a hospital, running inside, and announcing, “someone has to help me, my friend has cancer!”. The doctor was a jerk and we stole all sorts of things from the ER room, remember? Or when we walked through London trying to find strange buildings, and ate ramen and saw the city at night, and had cappuccinos under the Albert Memorial, and saw the jewelry at the V&A. Or when we went to Mexico and took mushrooms at Mimi’s mom’s ranch, drank too much cheap wine in Amanda’s trailer in Port O’Connor, cooked spaghetti and told our life stories in the dark, got stuck in sand bars, found skulls and skeletons, shopped at thrift shops, drank frozen rose on the one day you were angry at having cancer. So many more memories; the day we learned that you would die from your doctor, except we didn’t know you would die less than 4 weeks later.

I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. We had so much more to do. I will take you with me, see and feel you everywhere. The other day the sunset blew up the sky in orange and blue and I said, “Hi Beth”. I wonder if you are sitting on the couch behind me whilst I type, just out of reach; as I turn to check, will you slip away?

THE TIME you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

To An Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman

Dark Apartments, Stingrays & Terrible Shoes

There were noises the other night: creaks and movements in the dark. These were noises that I hadn’t heard for three years since I had last taken care of a loved one in the night. They were the sounds of someone moving around who recently had a normal bed that makes no creaks and the strange plastic sounds of an airbed with a human being moving upon it.

I met her in a dark apartment in Dallas, a hundred years and 7 lifetimes ago. By that I mean 21 years, when we were 21 and 22 years old. She made plastic jewelry in her oven in her own dark apartment, but it was in the dark apartment of our friend Ashley that we met. Ashley knew about makeup and exfoliation and hung giant pieces of fabric from her ceiling. Her boyfriend who would become her first husband barely spoke to me and never spoke to Beth. She talked about the smell of the plastic jewelry as it baked in the oven and how it was probably toxic. Toxic, but geometric; it was clear in spots and opaque in others. Squares danced upon rectangles intermingled with other shapes, too.

Later, it was raining in July at the Tarpon Motel in Port O’Connor, Texas. I was in this crazy moment of rejecting a corporate career; upon reflection, I just realized that was the last time I hated my job. But I digress. It was raining. Raining, raining. Beth sat on the second queen bed in the room. She was wearing a very fashionable hat and was very quiet. She was very quiet a lot then. We went, during a break in the rain, to drink cheap beer on the dock of the marina next door with Billy’s mom, Lynn. Lynn was great; she was a strong woman and was so loving to her kids. She was great until she wasn’t; like all of us.

During that trip, we were assured that Ashley’s brother knew how to navigate the shallow waters of the gulf and could take us to Matagorda Island to a friend’s cabin. Adam ran aground within minutes and we were stuck trying to get an outboard out of the mud, all the while conscious of possible stingrays beneath our feet. When we made it to the island, it was unbelievably hot and the cabin just had screens over the windows. The screens had holes in them, or the door did, or something, because the heat and the mosquitoes were unbearable and we abandoned ship quite soon to shimmy back in the water and the mud to the mainland.

Then there was the time we went searching for a building like the Pompidou Centre in London. I was wearing terrible shoes; a trait that Beth constantly chides me for. Terrible shoes! They were beautiful vintage men’s loafers that were the complete opposite of what one should wear while walking through London. We had lunch at the Barbican and found the building, and my damn feet hurt, and we ate vegan ice cream in a strange downtown coffee shop in the finance district and took the Tube during rush hour. She was sick, even then, and even during those days was having reactions to chemo that made her unable to do much because she was so itchy and having a hard time sleeping. We did, however, walk around London at night and eat ramen in Mayfair and Indian food near Buckingham Palace and have cappuccinos (I think) at the Albert Memorial after seeing a show at the Serpentine with Alberto and Reuben.

I just spent the evening in my workshop, applying gold leaf to a lantern I have been working on for a friend for years. We played on the wood it is made out of when it was a tree. For years, we have played on this tree. I took Matthew’s graduation photos on it. About ten years ago, it finally died after one last winter storm. I culled its bark and have hauled it around with me since. I sat tonight, applying gold leaf and thinking about how much life changes, and how losing people is so difficult. Losing people is hard for me because I can’t talk with them anymore, I can’t hear their voices anymore, and I worry about losing my memories of them. I think: do I want to be in a world without them? The answer is of course, yes, but it is a sharper world; the visions are more dear, colorful, passionate, and valuable. The big things are bigger and the little things fade into complete unimportance.

So it goes.

I will miss you.

Rainy Monday

Today the students worked on puzzle cubes and, mysteriously, more capybaras appeared on the drawing wall. Students right now are really into capybaras.

My friend who is in the hospital is doing all right and finally getting some dots connected in terms of care. It seems to me that if you were to have to navigate the US health system on your own, you would just tear your hair out.

I was thinking about one of my favorite times with my friend, when she and our another old friend stayed at an aunt’s house in Port O Connor. The house was just beautiful; up on stilts, you were at eye level with palm trees. The wind whipped perfectly, and one night we made dinner in the kitchen, mushrooms with pasta I think, and we told stories and we heard my friend’s whole story for the first time. It is not my story to tell without permission, but it involves all kinds of things that should be written in a book.

That night we had a fire in the fireplace, and if I remember rightly, it was cold in POC, which sometimes it was. I miss going down there although the last time I was there was only last summer. We should have stayed longer, me and my two friends and the dog.

This morning just as I was waking up, I had a dream. I was outside on a lawn somewhere in England, and my cousins were all around on the grass. I was sitting and they were standing but I was child high and all their kids were moving around. I realized it was at a pub so I went inside and my Dad, young with dark hair, was sitting at a small table and he smiled at me. He asked me if I was all right, if everything was all right. I couldn’t talk to him: the words wouldn’t come out and were completely hushed as if their air had been compressed right out of them. He smiled and then he was outside the window with a rolling suitcase. He waved at me and walked out of the windowframe.

My Odes to Grief

“I used to be a great and powerful man”, my father said to me the third-to-last time I saw him, in October of 2021. I walked into his room and he looked so old: white as a sheet, with slightly pink skin, hair all akimbo, eyes wet with tears. He spent those last few weeks crying so much of the time.

I said, “you ARE a great and powerful man, and you know as well as I do that strength comes from here” (pointing to his heart) “and here” (pointing to his head). He apologized for crying and I said, “well you know me, I am the most emotional person in the world and I cry all the time“.

He would die about 6 weeks later, about one week after speaking to me oh-so-clearly on the phone from his hospital bed in Bar Harbor, Maine for the last time.

I have had a hard time writing lately. I am not sure if it is the pandemic, the death of Cody’s grandmother who lived with us, teaching during the pandemic, graduate school, the nonstop droning length of COVID19, or my father’s death. But now, I am faced with two immediacies. I am gripped by grief: it is holding on to me something fierce and fast. It will not let go. People keep telling me just to “let it all out” but I am afraid to let it all out lest it consumes me and renders me a puddle of tears on the floor.

Those people who know me or my father, Michael Blythe, know that we had a very difficult relationship. He was a difficult person; he was highly intelligent in all areas except for emotions and communication. He was afraid of emotions and so diluted them, and he was afraid of communicating his emotions so he covered them with anger and rage. Ask his friends, the breakfast crew, about how much they loved him while recognizing the fierceness inside.

At the same time that my dad died and I came to understand the grief of a child for her parent, specifically the grief of a daughter for her father, especially a daughter who is so like her father minus the rage and anger, one of my best friends, my sister, really, has taken a turn in her cancer journey and now is in the hospital, breathing with the aid of oxygen, and worrying us all very much.

Death comes a-knocking. We must welcome it as an old friend, as one of the only guarantees of this life, and yet, we don’t talk about it because it is so frightening and so utterly sad.

I was speaking to a friend last night about my feelings of grief. She said, “you aren’t writing”. I said, “I know. I am afraid”. She encouraged me to start again.

I feel I am of two minds. One of them is rational and logical and understands that everyone dies and that it is ok. That brain says: everything in life is fine, and it is just sad that you can’t talk to your father anymore. The other mind is a tiny animal with gnashed teeth and sharp claws whose heart is outside her body. I had an internal analogy at first that I was a reverse pincushion; instead of the pearly ends facing out to protect hands and fingers, my sharp ends were facing out to catch me, gouge me deep, and feel the horrific bottomless pain that is losing your father.

The night that he died I stayed up so late, drinking a whole bottle of wine by myself over the course of a long evening (this was when I thought that alcohol would help: turns out, it makes everything much worse). I spent the evening looking at photos of me and my dad, especially of photos when I was little. I looked at photo after photo and I began to ask myself: what did we even fight about? I could not answer the question; I still do not know. I think it was that I was a headstrong teenager, and he was going through a crisis after losing his job, and those two storms met head-on and became thunderclouds that brewed for twenty years. I am so blessed that we smoothed those clouds out the last three years, he attended my wedding to Cody, and we talked all the time. I am so thankful to Cody for showing me the importance of healing my relationship with my dad, because he had lost his many years before, and was, like me now, always wishing he could call him.

The night he died I cried and cried. I felt like I was drowning under a heavy wave of water that would not let me up. I felt I was on a cliff’s edge about to fall. I felt a huge weight, like a stone, on my heart. It pushed deeper and deeper down and in, like what I imagine a black hole does to matter: I was collapsing. I went to bed at 2:30 and my mom woke me up at 4 to go to the hospital. I went downstairs and sat on her couch and said, “pull yourself together, kid. You have to drive your mother to the hospital where her husband has just died”. I said, “I am driving you to the hospital”. She said no. I said, “yes, I am” and she handed me the keys. We arrived at 4:25 and he had passed just a few minutes earlier at 4:19.

In that room, he was so peaceful, laying slightly to his side. His face was pink, pinker than it had been anytime over the last few months. When he finally was medicated for pain, he received so much medication that the nurses told us he must have been suffering for a long time. This was no surprise: he was always a pain in the ass about admitting anything was wrong. The nurses had cracked the window to let his soul slip out into the air, up to the mountains, out to the sea. He was so peaceful. He never had been so in his life. I sat next to him and smiled. In my mind, I said, “Daddy? Where are you? Are you on a plane? A ship? Traveling somewhere first class on an adventure?” I suspected so, and still do.

Grief is grabbing hold of me and won’t let go, and one of the only ways I have ever found to discover what I really feel and am thinking about is through writing. I also know that writing about death is hard for others to read, but perhaps that can change. Another friend and I were talking today about our friend in the hospital, and she told me that she envisions me as someone who writes and gardens, gardens and writes. In other words, she was the second angel to appear with the same message: write, Patience, write.

As I walk through the stages of grieving my father, experiencing an immense, tangible, and tragic shift in the public schools in which I have worked for 16 years, and support my friend who is also, perhaps, transitioning away from this reality into another one, I will write it all down. I hope you will join me.

Thanks for your patience.

Meredith Drew, 10 Years Later

My friend Meredith died in 2011. It has been ten years since she graced me with her words, her observations, and her sense of humor. I was cleaning up my inbox today and found this email. I almost wrote her an email back, even though I know that she won’t be able to read it. Or maybe she can? I often think she is around, on the edges of my life, watching, smiling, and occasionally laughing. It is her laugh that I hear on the wind, and in the still darkness of starry nights.

[names have been changed]

My best thoughts are Sunday morning when i first wake
up. Short sentence insights given to me from myself.

This morning:
If it hadn’t been for Patience ….

You were the one who saved him. I brought him to you
and you said, and then, no matter what anyone else
said, I held to what you said.
You were right about the school. When Alan destroyed
that, he showed his willingness to destroy his only
son.
I know you wondered why I stayed. I was waiting. I can
see it now, his pushing me to stand up so that he
could smash me. “Sebastian is not really mine because I
have to share him with you.”
Only one strike then. One chance, and my aim had to be
dead on.
So. Based on what you said, and only on what you said,
I made a move. (literally) Defying the court, the
experts and all of those carefully orchestrated lies.
YOu saved my son that day, you know. You’d meant to
spend the day with your husband and your new house.
I doubt you remember where you stood, where I stood
when I said, “Tell me Patience about Sebastian,” and you
answered. Sam was in the background keeping Sebastian’s
attention on other than us.
It’s like a photograph in my head, all bent up and
worn now from my taking it out and looking at it so
many times, just to check, “No, no. That’s not what
Patience said. Don’t listen to them.”
I was just a mom, and you were just a first year
teacher, emergencied in no less with your funny degree
and a quick summer course. There were no letters after
our names.
Valentina, the Russian seer and healer told me, “You
have great power. It is in your love for your
children. Stay in that place.”
The photograph in my head is of just that. The 4 of us
feeling powerless. Loving powerfully, not knowing the
importance of that moment, what would come of it.
You called yesterday, to check, worried that you are
not doing enough for Sebastian, worried as you are that
you are not doing enough for your own students, I
think.
I have a picture in my head, of your not doing much of
anything, just standing there, saying a few words. It
was all that you could do, of course. To you it must
have seemed like so little, hardly a “kodak moment.”

The picture shows You, however, standing in that place
of love, speaking so powerfully that in that moment
Sebastian’s life was changed.
The power did not come from your doing. It came from
your being.
You said you told your students in the bathroom that
it was because you love them.
Well, yes and no. Yes, because you love them, you have
power beyond human comprehension. No, because that is
not why you were crying. YOu were crying because you’d
momentarily and inadvertently fallen from that place
into fear.
Anyway, I have this crumpled worn picture that I
wanted to show you of you being You in that space of
love and power. Amazing, how the more I look at it,
the more clearly the Grace comes into focus.
Your Grace.
Amazing
Trust that.
Like I said. Do not be afraid. Just believe.
In you.
I have a picture of my doing just that. In the middle
of a breakdown myself, desperate, loading Sebastian and
myself in the car driving to Austin, unable to explain
to myself why it seemed so very important. Amazing,
the Grace of my knowing to turn to you.
Your words and a picture of your saying them burned
into my brain. You were that quietly powerful.

I have been listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations lately. My two recent favorites are: Cicely Tyson and Grace and Gratitude.