Tag Archives: death

FALALALAF**KING LA LA LA

By Tricia Stearns

Yesterday I found myself in the doctor’s office hooked up to an EKG machine, and even the machine was having a fucking meltdown and didn’t work. There were two nurses and a doctor all hovering over me trying to get the little plastic connections that were taped to key parts of my body to read from the machine on to a paper, so the doctor could medically evaluate whether I was having a heart attack. Technology. I always thought technology would eventually kill me, and maybe God was going to show His sense of humor — His little way of getting back at me for all the expletives I yell when I can’t get a printer to work, can’t figure out how to complete an Excel spreadsheet or never set my margins right the first time. Fuck technology.

Two nurses and one doctor later, the EKG machine was ushered out of the room. Together we decided that if I continued to feel like I ate every meal at the Golden Corral, then it would be wise of me to go to the Emergency Room.

At 5:45 in the evening, the Christmas do-das on the light poles of the nearby shopping center were casting colored shadows on the paper liner of the exam table. We were all tired. While they disconnected the wires of the machine, I envisioned each nurse hustling home, each yelling at her kids to let the dog out to pee, while she heated soup or zapped those Godawful Hot Pockets for her children’s dinner. My triage crew gave me a sample of an antacid, and I went home and threw the dinner party that had been scheduled since September.

But honestly, I didn’t feel well—and I hadn’t felt right for over two weeks. But I just keep moving. I drink a cup of coffee, walk three miles despite my feet yelling at me. I work though I hate it, iron shirts, cook dinner, read a bit, write essays but never revise them, give my husband and our sex life the obligatory ten minutes. Each day I move because I must.

I thought about going to the emergency room just to cancel the dinner party; after all, I never got around to making a dessert. FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA.

I did manage to roast dinner in the oven between the 18 phone calls an hour, ten new emails per hour, combined with a holiday luncheon where we gave a scholarship away honoring my deceased daughter.

Thus, dessert never got made, and I was tempted to cancel the dinner party.

Suzie, one of the guests, ALWAYS serves homemade pie or three kinds of cookies, along with a scoop of made-from-scratch sorbet when she entertains. Oh, and she is ready when people arrive. I, on the other hand, have to have my husband serve the first cocktail while I go back and change – and toss back my first glass of wine just to settle into social mode.

I didn’t go to the emergency room afraid I would just catch a flu bug from some other stressed-out suburbanite, combined with the fact my husband would just reschedule with the perfect people. I was almost home free. I had a roast in the oven – the ultimate answer to First World problems.

And dinner was fine. I heard laughter and compliments and merry cheer come out of my guests’ mouths. Our dinner conversation was thoughtful – with intelligent discourse on the state of our republic. My husband was profoundly pithy with dropping just the right humor when the discussion would get too heated, but the entire time I had an internal conversation with myself.

I am just so tired. I am tired of mean people. I am tired of being a people-pleaser. I am tired of dishes, cooking, work—yes, your carpet needs replacing before we put this dump on the market. What? You bought a new car a week before we close on your first house?

I went to bed reading and planning the following day, reviewing my Fitbit where I walked 19,000 steps. And I had a heart rate in the danger zone. FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA.

Something happened that night. I had a dream. And my deceased daughter, who died at 20, was 8 years old. And she snuggled on my lap. We were on the patio of the house we lived in at the time. She had her hair in pigtails, and she was holding my face and making me look at her as she explained her dilemma. But this time she was holding my face and looking into my eyes, and saying, “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay. It’s beautiful here, and I am so very happy and joyful.”

And I woke up to another day of First World problems. I wish I could tell you that my attitude improved. It didn’t. But I followed the mantra, “Fake it til you make it.”

I took baby steps. I went to the office Christmas party for the first time in four years. I got people dancing who normally stick to the walls like Velcro. I took cookies to that asshole in the mailroom. I bought Christmas pajamas for my other girls, even though they are adults. I baked cookies—for my dog and HIS friends.

FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA.

Each day I feel less overwhelmed, personally and globally. I don’t feel I can solve all ills. But this one thing has occurred to me that has been a game changer.

The Declaration of Independence says we have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. I get what our forefathers were trying to say, and I would have been on that boat with them, cold and miserable. Upon landing, we would work the fields to grow food for my family and village.

I also believe in a Cosmic God, one that is in control of the entire universe and the soul of each human being – and my dog. In John 14-17, Jesus says God created us to be happy and joyful in this world and the next.

The Declaration of Independence was ratified by a group of tired expatriates who wanted to pursue their own democratic republic, to self assert their future and the future of their grandkids.

I get the whole Peace on Earth thing, that plays on the Muzak while I wait in line at Target. But, seriously, having peace in your heart in 2016? FALALALAFUCKING LA LA LA. No way.

But, I was given a clue in my dream. I live in a world full of pain and trouble and human suffering. I do not need to add to it. I must surrender my anxiety and trust the universe.

The pursuit of happiness is just that – the chase. The get-up and hustle, the early bird gets the worm, only the strong survive, the coach yelling at you in the locker room at half- time to get your shit together and WIN.

Often in that pursuit of happiness we create Idols. We can even become our own Idol – seeking the obvious: the fast car, the material possessions, the best for our children or a politician that will save our society from suffering. And, in that very pursuit, we lose ourselves.

Through the years of working, doing and being a human, I once lost myself.

And when I lost my child in a sudden accident, the News became personal.

Tragedy is only a moment away for all of us. In any given moment, our lives can change. In my suffering, that deep internal grief that only a parent can truly understand, I have made room. I have made room to surrender to a quiet joy that cannot be bought. It does not come with my employee review or 74 likes to a selfie with my dog.

This joy is the byproduct of suffering. The suffering is the foundation of a club. I belong with other members of it, and we stand in solidarity, surrendering to pain —surrendering and living with joy despite of it.

I am too tired to pursue. Instead, I receive. I receive hope.

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

By Sheronda Gipson

Have you ever waited for someone to die?

It’s like waiting for a baby to be born. With a lot of false starts and senses heightened, every twitch, sigh or slight eye movement is noticed and examined.

Is it now?

My sister doesn’t want to go to sleep for fear of “the call.” You know the one. The call after 12 a.m. and before 6 a.m. that means someone you know has either been arrested or someone you know has died. The ring that is louder than normal even though the ringer volume has never been adjusted. The ring that is loud and scares the shit out of you and disorients you and makes you knock over things in the dark.

We anticipated the ring.

The first time I’d heard the ring, my mother’s side of the family was together for Christmas. It was the winter of 1989 and my cousin and I had just finished our first semester in college. My grandfather was in the hospital battling colon cancer and all the children and several of us grandchildren, were home. My cousin and I had come in from a late movie and just as we entered the sweet spot of sleep before dawn, the phone rang. One of my aunts answered and gave the phone to my grandmother. I still remember her primal moan and scream, she was doubled over and someone helped her to the bed. We all jumped up to comfort her and each other. Death began our day.

*  *  *

Before the stroke, I’d gone to see her. She was sitting in her ultraluxe reclining chair that stood her straight up or reclined full out with the flick of the remote control. It was a gift for her 100th birthday. She was joking with me, telling me, as she always did, how much I reminded her of her sister Itta B. I got ready for bed that night and she shuffled to her room to get blankets for me, even though I’d already gotten the bedding I needed. The Aunts, the rotation of my mother and her sisters that took care of Momma Nettie since she turned 95, went to church the next morning, leaving me to watch Momma Nettie. I supervised her making her own breakfast, something that The Aunts wouldn’t let her do anymore. She walked slowly into the kitchen, holding on to the doorframe and the countertop and turned on the stove burner that had the kettle of water on top. I’m not far behind, walking a foot distance behind her, arms ready to catch like spotting a toddler taking its first steps. She took an aluminum pie pan from the bottom-stove storage and put it on the counter. She walked to the breadbox and opened it, pulling out a bag of Colonel bread and put two slices in the pan.

“Baby, put me some butter on this bread. Just a little.”

I opened the refrigerator, pulled out the butter tray and cut a couple of pats of butter for her. She sat at the kitchen table as I buttered the bread and put the pan in the broiler. When the kettle whistled, I poured the hot water in her teacup and mine and we sat at the kitchen table, drinking tea, eating toast and bacon — comfortable in our silence.

*  *  *

A year later, I walked up the back steps of the trailer, bracing myself to see her. The stroke had taken a toll on her and my mother said that she wasn’t doing well. It was Father’s Day weekend, and I’d stopped in on my way to see my dad. The Aunts were in full motion: cleaning, answering the phones, propping her head with pillows, asking if she was ok, feeding her and changing her. She was sitting in her recliner.

“Hey, there little one.”

She turned her head in my direction and smiled at our family’s greeting.

“Momma, do you know who that is?”

“Sheronda.”

With strict instructions from my Aunt Margret, I fed her yogurt and we watched tv that night.

The next morning, I was leaving and I saved her hug and kiss for last. I went over to her chair and kissed her head and smoothed back her thinning gray hair.

“I’ll see you later Momma Nettie, I’m heading to see my Dad.”

Behind the water pooled in her eyes, I saw panic. She hugged me tight and when she let go, she still held on to my forearms, crying and moaning, her mind wanting to say something that her mouth wouldn’t allow.

*  *  *

A week later, at around 5 a.m. or so, my mother called.

“She’s gone.”

I’d gone to bed late that night, stomach tied in knots because the family had been told that it wouldn’t be long. So I was restless and just as I’d found the sweet spot of sleep, the phone rang.

And death began my day.