May 2008 – November 2011 June 2008 – April 2011
The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe
will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear
nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else
~ David Whyte
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve been wondering when the day would come – even if the day would come – when again I’d sit here at the computer and record some of what I’ve been in the midst of for the past almost-month. Each evening before I’ve climbed the wooden steps up to the empty loft, I’d think, “Tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I will write – I’ll get up and out of bed and I will write.” But tomorrow came and came and came and no such thing happened. For reasons I can’t and don’t even really want to explain or understand, today is the day. I wish I could say I feel something about it, that I felt something about it not happening until today. The truth, though, is that I don’t. This just happens to be what’s happening today. I’m not attached or relieved or anything such thing. I’m way too numb for anything like that. Numb and flat, except for the overwhelming grief that’s had me in its grip since I’ve learned of Makana’s death. As I write those last words, I have to stop writing because the tears come again – they come as they have come every single day, sometimes for moments, more often for many minutes and even hours – and I let them. That’s not quite right – I don’t let them – I don’t seem to have much say in it at all. They come and I simply surrender.
Makana is dead.
I’d rather not give many words to the process through which I found this out. Not that that’s like me – I’m a big believer in expressing our experiences, giving them voice and not letting the silence keep away the truth. But I’ve found little solace in the details, they are simply too gruesome. And the truth is, I don’t have any facts. As if facts matter. What I have come to believe is true, is that the dogs who live on this property killed her. And very likely – but also not known for sure – the same thing happened to Pono back in the springtime. But it’s true, I don’t know and I’ll never know. I never saw their dead bodies and I won’t. But someone did and he isn’t talking. And he’s my neighbor. And so are his dogs, who I continue to hear barking and snarling when it sounds as if they have perhaps another animal in their clutches.
Can I stay on this land? Can I continue to listen to the sounds of these dogs? Can I “forgive” them for being dogs? Can I let go of the need that there be a villain in this story? Can I let go of my judgments about my neighbor and just see and accept him as another human doing the best he knows how to do? Is the peace and sense of ‘home as sanctuary’ broken beyond repair? Can’t everything be healed? Even this? I can’t say right now. Of course I believe, or I like to believe, that everything can be healed. Or that we can at least come to a place of peace and acceptance with whatever happens. After all, we are – us humans – an incredibly resilient bunch. And although I am deeply ensconced in this process, I’m not so naïve that I’ve forgotten that people recover from far, far worse ordeals. But that’s little comfort in this moment. Nor is it any indication that I can recover enough to again find the joy and pleasure I have known in this cabin and on this land.
I simply don’t know if I can stay. I’ve looked at other places and I check the online listings daily. I walk the land and look around inside and out; and part of me can still see the beauty that’s here. It doesn’t much touch or soothe me, but I can still see it and for now, maybe that’s enough.
What I do know is that I haven’t known this kind of grief process before. Not after my mother’s recent death; not after the death of two marriages through divorce; not after the death of my dear friend Jess; not after my father’s death when I was a child; not after losing friendships to misunderstandings and disagreements; not after the deaths of Kosi & Lucy & Matty & Polly and so many other dear animals in my life; not after every other loss upon loss I’ve experienced in this life. It’s like I’m experiencing death for the very first time and I’m experiencing the weight of all the grief I’ve ever known all at once. Now, after the deaths of both Makana and Pono, I’ve been brought to my knees in overwhelming sorrow.
There are no explanations I have to offer. I’ve done little analysis or reflection and I haven’t found any deep or profound spiritual meaning to the process, the way I have with so many other losses. I’ve simply been deep in it and perhaps, only perhaps – by sitting here now at the computer screen – some perspective will come from this dark place that’s enveloped me. Or it won’t. And it doesn’t even really matter. Because part of what’s happened during this time is that I’ve come to feel like nothing really matters.
Dictionary.com gives this definition for grief:
– Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.
Yes, all of those things. The adjectives are especially fitting – keen, sharp, painful. Yes, cutting deep. I feel every single one of them in the deepest parts of me. And these, too:
This is what depression feels like, too, I guess. I’ve never really known depression, but I get how much grief mimics it and I’m getting a small glimpse into what it must be like for people who suffer from its debilitating symptoms.
I’ve never known the feeling of not being able to get out of bed before. But now I do. I’ve spent hours upon hours just lying in bed, with no motivation to do anything else. I returned to Puna in late October with clarity of vision and purpose that has all but melted away. Now I am listless with no energy or interest in much of anything. One day, I spent the entire day in bed – I simply couldn’t get up or think of any reason worth getting up for. So I didn’t. And when I saw that the dusk of evening was approaching, I was relieved that the day was over, that I didn’t need to face any more of it. I laid there – sometimes I read, sometimes I cried, sometimes I rolled over and slept some more, sometimes I looked at the foot of the empty bed – and felt the ache of missing Makana like it was a knife slowly ripping through my stomach. Really, it felt like that.
As I was feeling like “I couldn’t get up,” I thought of Brian Copeland, of his show, “Not a Genuine Black Man,” the longest running solo show in San Francisco Bay Area History, the one I was fortunate enough to see the final night of. I thought of part of the show where he talked about debilitating depression and his grandmother, who helped raise him. About how one day she called him and he cried to her something like, “Grandma, I can’t get up, I wish I could, but I can’t get up.” Without much sympathy in her voice, that archetypal Genuine Black Woman responded with something like: “What do you mean you can’t get up? GET UP! You want to know about how difficult life is? I’ll tell you about how hard life is and then I’ll tell you, GET UP!“
I tried to conjure her up, Brian’s grandmother, I really tried to call on that archetypal figure in his life, in all of our lives. But I couldn’t find her and no, I couldn’t get up. So I didn’t.
Ohgod, so now as I write this, I worry that I’ll be setting off alarms in you, the readers’ minds and hearts that will have you worrying. I don’t want that to interrupt the flow of my writing right now, so please, just don’t go there. There’s nothing for you to do. There’s nothing you can do. And like Rilke says, maybe, just maybe ‘my great grief cry will happen to you.’ It’s not like I wish that on you or anyone. But if it did, then you would know what it’s like inside here, such a long way in that I really don’t see a way through; and yes, this massive darkness makes me feel small. Should I be doing something to make it different? Should you be the master, make yourself fierce and break in? I can’t say. I can’t even say how you or anyone would do such a thing. I only know that I’m in here, I’m way in here, I’m so deep in here, I’m too deep in here and no, I can’t find my way out or through – I’m not even trying. Is that wrong or bad? I don’t even know if you know what I mean. What would the grief counselor in me say to someone who told me all this? I can’t say much to that either. I think I would just sit with them, be with them, if they would even let me. I’m not doing a whole lot of letting that in right now.
Most all my time has been here in my cabin, going out only for brief errands and to replenish my daily supply of movies which has consisted primarily of anything and everything about loss, death, grief, sadness. No comedies for me right now. I took a hike last week. That was nice. Sorta. It was one of only two really beautiful days we’ve had since I’ve been back in Puna. The rest have been either full-on, torrential days of rain and wind or dark and grey with barely a hint of sky peeking through. They say it’s the rainiest month in the past three years. I’m not complaining as I ordinarily would. It too perfectly reflects my mood, although I do wonder what the hell I’m doing in Puna, that’s for sure. I’ve attended to some, as the health professionals call them, activities of daily living. It took almost a week from the time I piled the laundry on the floor to the time I could walk it over to the washing machine. That happened this morning and I even hung it to dry. Today’s the most ‘productive’ day I’ve had in many. So what. Yesterday I washed some windows. I filed some papers. I even cooked my mother’s stuffing the day before Thanksgiving. That was a sweet few hours as I chopped and sautéed the onions and the celery and the mushrooms (goddamn, $8 a pound for simple white mushrooms – I still can’t quite get over that!) and the spicy Italian turkey sausage (I said I’m holding this vegetarian-eating lightly and I meant it!) as Sara looked out at me from her photo atop the stove and Donna called in the midst of it to offer a fuller version of the stuffing recipe than I had; and I thought – well maybe I’m coming out of this darkness. And I went off to the lovely gathering at John and Wayne’s and ate myself crazy like we tend to do on this holiday and I gave a lovely blessing at the dinner table that Wayne asked me to give. And I thought again, maybe it’s lightening, maybe it’s softening. But then I came back home and again I’m in this place of listlessness and darkness where it doesn’t soften and it doesn’t lighten.
No question, there’ve been some moments of sweetness. The sunset colors in the sky the other evening were stunning. Donna’s card about Peace and Grace and Comfort meant a lot to me. Listening to Jon and James sing the song they’ll sing at the upcoming PMC concert was very dear. I’ve even gone to a few PMC meetings and they’ve engaged me. And I’ll head off to another one soon after I post this.
Most of the sweet moments of sweetness have been on the telephone with friends from afar who’ve called and listened to me cry and even wail and who’ve simply and lovingly listened. Some have even made me laugh. The ones who have trouble meeting me right where I am right now are ones I’ve had trouble being with, too. I understand it, none of us has so much knowledge in this grief world and even with all my work in it, I’m realizing how little I know, after all. But if I get even the slightest taste of a hint that I ‘shouldn’t’ be like this, or think like this, ‘should’ be focused on moving through the process, taking care of myself, whatever else I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing; well then, really, I’d rather just be alone with what I ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be doing than listening to any of that.
I’ve looked at scores of photos I’ve taken of these sweet creatures in their way-too-short, only 3-year long lives. I’m so grateful I have these snapshots. When I watch the videos of Makana drinking out of the faucet or peeing in the toilet, I can’t help but cry and laugh at the same time. How could she be dead, I still lament, how could that wacky, silly, sweet spirit be gone, never for me to see again, to hold and pet and rub as she fills me with such utter and pure joy. How could it be?
I’ve watched myself as if from a distance and through a gauzy veil as I walk through the steps of letting her go.
I remember the first day, even as I was still imagining her returning, that I didn’t fill her food bowl. I didn’t mean to not fill it as I had done every day prior; I just didn’t do it. And in so not doing, I felt the unwelcome truth seeping in.
I had two water bowls for them – one on the kitchen counter and the other with their food bowl. They didn’t use the kitchen counter one very often, but sometimes they did. One day as I was doing dishes, I simply picked it up, emptied it out and returned it to the shelf. Sort of matter-of-fact, but not really.
I had a cardboard scratching box that Pono loved – a present from their Auntie Donna – I’d sprinkle it with catnip and he’d go crazy with that thing, scratch it, flip it up in the air (and thus have catnip all over the place!), and then cozily lay and fall asleep on it. Even though I hadn’t see Makana go near it since I got back, I let it lay there on the floor, reminding me of Pono and how much he enjoyed it. Then one day, through tears, I picked it up and moved it next to the recycling bin outside. It sat there for a week until I moved it to the backseat to be brought to the transfer station with the rest of the recycling. It sat there for another week. I gave it to someone just yesterday.
After I stopped filling her bowl with food, I moved the bowls onto the dining table where they’ve sat ever since as part of an altar to them. Now there are candles and their toys in them where before there was once food and water.
The kitty tunnel, ohgod, the kitty tunnel. That brick red, crackling-like-a-plastic-bag sounding thing that was Makana’s favorite toy of all. She loved dashing through it and laying inside of it and never stopped playing in it like it was the first time she discovered it. I folded it up one day, tied off the ends and tried to think that the small space here would be better off without it taking up so much room. I didn’t really believe that, though.
And then there was the cat door day. This was a big one. In the midst of the plague of the rats (more on this later), I realized that having a big hole in the door with only a small piece of fabric covering it up worked well to keep the rats out when Makana and Pono were around, but not any more. The rats were still coming in and I didn’t know whether they were using the cat door or not, but it made sense that they would. I had to close it off. What if she came back, especially when I wasn’t home or in the middle of the night? How could I close off her only way back in? But somewhere in me, I knew she wasn’t coming back and this day, this day, I pounded the wood back into place so that no one would be coming and going anymore. Now there was no more cat door, because there were no more cats.
I’ve had to clean my closet several times since I’ve returned since it’s one of the places the rats like to hang out. One time, I came upon the big plastic container of cat food and the big red cooler that Carrie had put more of the cat food in when the rats ate through the large Costco bag of it. I decided it was time to get rid of all this stuff. So I put an ad on the internet for the dry cat food, the 20+ cans of Friskies, the flea medicine, one of the cat carriers and even the beloved cat tunnel. Some people – strangers – wrote notes of sweet condolence. One woman wanted some of the stuff. Ohno, someone actually wanted some of it. A week went by before she called again and just yesterday, she wanted to meet and pick the stuff up. I emptied the cooler of food into a large plastic bag and as I was closing off the bag, I stopped, pulled out a small plastic container and for reasons I can’t begin, again to explain or understand, I filled that container with the cat food and placed it in the pantry. I sobbed and sobbed as I carried the food, the cat carrier, and the tunnel into the car. I drove to Pahoa, met the woman in the parking lot of the Malama grocery store and I even gave her the scratching box that was in the back seat of the car and had been waiting for my trip to the recycling center that I never made. She was happy to take it. I gave her some medicine I had and she was only too happy to take that, too. She handed me some money we had agreed on for some of the items and then my tears began to drip down my face. She offered some kind words of, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” for which I thanked her, hurried into the car, drove a few short steps away and then cried and cried some more at this most pivotal part of the letting go process. I guess if I were getting rid of her food, I really didn’t think she wasn’t coming back, after all.
This is one of the problems, I realize, when a loved one goes missing. We can accept their deaths, but there lingers in us for a long time, I imagine, a sense of longing, a sense of hope, that they’re not really gone. It’s one of the important things about seeing dead bodies, I think. It’s not just a macabre part of death like our culture may think it is. Seeing the dead body of our loved one helps to make their death more real, it helps to move along the process of accepting their death. I will never see Makana and Pono’s dead bodies and I do believe that this adds to my still listening for the pitter-patter of feet up the steps of the loft; still has me looking for them as I turn into the orchard when I come home and look at the empty porch where they’d wait for me; and which still has me keeping cat food in a plastic container in the pantry.
The holidays are upon us. I have no interest. I tried to do a little shopping the other day, but really, talk about meaningless. Who cares about all this stupid stuff? Not me. Donna’s coming in a few weeks and I have a feeling she’ll understand and I’m so grateful knowing that. We’ll do some of the stuff we like to do when she comes for her annual visit; we’ll even have the 4th Annual Boxing Day Brunch; but she’ll feel the emptiness here, too, I’m sure of that.
Oh, and it does seem that I’ve put an end to the rats inside the cabin. It hasn’t been easy. I finally resorted to poison which I’m not happy nor proud about. Let me give you a warning about that stuff, though: people say that the rats will eat it and then go outside, looking for water, so that they won’t die inside. Not true. Oh, how I wish it were true. I found three dead ones inside, all of which I’ve had to dispose of, one of which was here way too long and covered in live maggots. Could there be anything more disgusting to come upon on Thanksgiving (or any) morning? I don’t know, but it was bad, really, really disgusting. The good news is that finally, I think I can say, the rats are gone. And no, I’ve decided, they’re not my damn power animals. They’re rats and I don’t find any meaning in their presence in my life and I don’t want to. I’m just glad they’re gone, that’s all. Getting rid of them is one of the few things that has mattered around here lately. Who knows, maybe I am on my way to finding some meaning in the matters of my life these days.
To the sweet beings who’ve graced my life these past three+ years – Makana and Pono – how grateful I am for you. There’s no understanding why you had to go so soon, there’s only the truth of it and the pain of it. How I miss you, oh how I miss you.