"Sorry for Your Lostness" by Nate Lippens

I opened envelopes with an old pocketknife and read terrible greeting card verse and handwritten do-dads of copied inspiration. The poems were full of sadness and the quick passage of time and healing of wounds, of remembrance and God. Lots of God’s hands and eyes and love. Reading these condolences, it was as if Jesus were spooning you on the couch.

            There was a card with Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” with its cloying rhyming couplets: leaf/grief, day/stay.

            My jaw hardened. It was always darkest before the cliché.

            ––Read the psalms. She is with you. The psalms will connect you together. Read psalm corresponding to her age + 1.

            I inserted "Godzilla" every time someone mentioned "God" and it made it somehow more palatable.

            ––I’m sorry for your loss. All kindness and generosity leaves a trace in this world but for now, the loss remains so large.

            ––Thinking of you and your family.

            ––Thoughts and prayers coming your way.

            ––May the hole in your life be filled, as much as it can be, with memory.

            ––She will always be in your heart.

            –– A friend of mine who helps people through their moments of loss is fond of saying that ‘Grief is the price we pay for having loved.’ I know you loved deeply, and I'm praying for peace and comfort for you. Be strong!

            “Be strong!” made me want to punch that sucker in the windpipe. And what about when grief wasn’t only about having loved? What if it was tied up in resentment and fear and unknowing?

            ––Loss becomes a door.

            People wanted to know that something was always opening, that it never ended. But then again, others wanted finality, letting go, absence making its own passageway that one should follow to stay sane and be clear. The muddling of that half-world––half-dead, half-alive, always missed, always resented––offended everyone. It wasn’t open and it wasn’t closed. It wasn’t holding on and it wasn’t letting go. It was a threshold.

 

 

I listened to messages, played some, skipped most, and then worked my way back through them: friends checking up and my sister asking me to call.

            Most people didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know either. They at least had a prepared script: “I’m sorry for your loss.”

            The ones who stammered and struggled to say the right thing, the ones who said they didn’t know what to say, those were the friends I loved with a suddenness that flooded me.

            As for the others: I was trying to let people disappoint me on their own terms.

            “She’s in a better place,” someone said. No, she’s not. She’s dead.

            “She’s not suffering now.” She wasn’t anything now, I wanted to say.

            The knowledge of death implicit in a long illness mostly felt like heckling.

            One friend told me I could talk about it. His relief when I didn’t was palpable. I knew better. Sadness was the last taboo. I had read somewhere about a woman, hopped up on mood enhancers, who had encountered a depressed friend and she had reported thinking, How quaint.

            A friend in California called in freeway gridlock and told me I had to forgive my mother and myself. I murmured agreeable words, but afterward I thought, Why should I forgive her? And also, why should I be spared?

            But how could I blame my friends? I set myself up as someone who was not a family man, as a verbal Lizzie Borden. I had rarely spoken of my family but when I had it was disparaging. So now with my mother dead, what did I want? Sympathy required being relatable and that was part of the horror of my grief: I was not a sympathetic character in my own story.

 

 

People were unwitting barbarians. It was an impulse between concern and a morbidity that had more to do with finding blame. If my mother had ever smoked, then there was a reason for her cancer. If she had been an angry woman or an unhappy person, had worked in a factory or had lived too close to power lines, then the world could still make sense, and they could pat their pillows and rest, knowing that nothing as random and vindictive as cancer would ever get them.

            A woman I worked with offered me her condolences and then asked about my family’s health history.

            I wanted to tell her that all the weight training, all the perfect sustainable local organic vegetables, and comfortable nights of sleep were no guarantee. I wanted to tell her that disease could come at any time and it didn’t care what you had done before and often it didn’t matter what you did once it was there.

            Instead, I told her that my father had died of a heart attack in his forties, my mother was dead at fifty-six.

            “In other words, I’m not really worried about a retirement nest egg,” I said.

 

 

I called my sister and half-expected to hear my mother’s voice. She asked how I was and I told her I was doing fine. She didn’t sound convinced and even though I knew I wasn’t being honest it pissed me off. All any liar asked for was a little complicity, a smidgeon of suspended disbelief. She asked if I’d been getting any condolence cards and if I needed any addresses to send thank-you notes. I looked at the trash. Yes, I had been getting condolence cards but I hadn’t opened them yet so I didn’t know if I needed anyone’s information. She emitted a small sigh.  “I’ll go through them later and let you know.”

            The television was on and I saw a layer of dust on its screen. Dirty dishes lined the narrow countertop and the light bulb over the sink was out.

            “I’ve been busy,” I said.