Saturday, October 18, 2008

Life makes you think

It's been a week. I want to say straight out that nothing bad has happened to me (except in the most minor sense; more later on a small knitting snafu); and let me further add my up-front apologies for taking you on a guided tour of my confused and jumbled thoughts. But two people I know have had friends lose children this week (three and five years old), and have had to face the horror of going to a funeral for a young child, and of trying to find any words at all to say to parents who are dealing with every parent's worst nightmare.

So, while I am not directly affected by these terrible losses, it -- necessarily, I think -- makes me think. I think that most parents try not to dwell on the possibility of facing such a loss; I can't even bring myself to write about it directly here (I've been trying to bring myself up to that fence all week, and I'm sorry, but I can't), and opening the door in my mind that leads to that nightmare quite literally makes me sick to my stomach. I don't think anyone could function while constantly focusing on the direst of possibilities. Denial is much easier. There are times, though, when that denial gets shoved aside, as it has for me this week. The temptation is to embrace the "live each moment as if it were your (or someone else's) last" philosophy, a hedonistic call to make each instant the best possible last moment there could be. But that's untenable, too. For one thing, I'd think it would get exhausting, and for another, I'm not sure that it would lead to any kind of good life in the end. I mean, if I knew that tonight were my last, I'd be curled up on the couch with my family, talking and laughing and sharing wonderful food, drinking Veuve Cliquot and never going to bed, but honestly, there's no way I could keep that up (or, I'm guessing, should).

So where does one go with this? What would I want, were I to find at some moment that a relationship with someone had ended, that the totality of my interactions with that person was complete, had already been encompassed? I think that what I would want is to know that I did the rightest thing that I knew how to do in each moment of that relationship.

Let me say first that I'm nowhere near that ideal. And let me say second that this doesn't mean that I think that the goal is to always make an unregrettable decision, or one that I wouldn't do differently at a future time; an important part of any decision is taking into account what has been learned from similar experiences in the past. I guess I am simply saying that it seems to me that the best thing I can learn from taking a glimpse through that dark doorway of potential loss is to be more mindful. To pay attention to each moment as it comes. To not act in distraction or out of habit, but to consciously be. (I know, I know, idealistic at best, right? This is a practice, not an achievement.) What I want then, is to take this reminder as a call, not to fear, but to engagement. I don't know if that's the best thing, or some attempt to feel less out of control of an inherently uncontrollable situation, but it feels like the rightest thing I know how to do with what I'm feeling right now.

I've also been hugging the girls even more than usual this week.

Of course, I've been knitting through all of these thoughts (isn't that what we do?). I've done so much knitting and thinking, in fact, that I've finished Cheryl's socks. I have been delighted with this yarn; it's been wonderful to knit (so soft), and the shadowed stripes are subtle and lovely.
The colors in these pictures are pretty true to life on my monitor.
To recap, these are a pair of socks whose design I improvised myself, knitted on my size one Celtic Swans, using the Bunny Patch yarn from NewHue Handspun Yarns, in the Oasis colorway. There are 200 yards in each skein, and to make these size eight socks, I used almost all of each of the two skeins I started with. Here's what I had left.
I probably could have squeezed out another inch on the foot or leg with these. I had such fun knitting with this yarn -- thanks, Cheryl, for letting me try it out! I've been contemplating my two skeins, in the gorgeous Jacob's coat colorway, and trying to decide what to knit with them. After trying on these socks this morning to take pictures (I couldn't find my sock blockers to save my life; my feet were clean, Cheryl, I promise), I think that I'm leaning towards knitting them again for myself. We'll see...

Yesterday, Rick came into our bedroom and asked me, "Do we know any babies who need a neckwarmer?" A pause, then he added, "Babies with small heads."

Yup, he accidentally (I'm taking him at his word on this) threw my lovely alpaca neckwarmer in the (shudder) washing machine. The brand-new washing machine. The washing machine that I now realize really is out to get me (it couldn't find an airlock, so it did the next-best thing instead).
Why, yes, that huge silver thing is the corner of my laptop, why do you ask? It is to cry.

Anyone have any suggestions for what to do with the softest, most inelastic tube of luscious felted alpaca ever?

Edited to add: I really debated whether to pull the trigger on this post. It sounds so much like, "Look, someone's faced a tragedy, let's talk about me!", but that isn't how I mean it or what I am feeling. It seems to me that, in all the collective wisdom of those of you who are reading this, someone might have a thought or experience to share, so I'm going to take a chance.


Mary Lou said...

Expressing those feelings is not making someone else's anguish about you. When we experience the death of someone, it destroys our illusion of permanence and security. The death of a child must shatter that for a parent in a way I cannot begin to imagine. We all take life for granted, and when suddenly, someone's ends, it reminds us of that fact. Your response of valuing the moment (without getting too loaded on champagne) seems like a fine one.

joyknits said...

I think your points about being mindful and doing the "rightest thing ... at the moment" are great points. Thanks for sharing!

Alwen said...

When my son was still a baby, good friends of ours lost three of their four kids (all three of their daughters) in one car crash. The oldest one was driving them to school. Then their last child and only son was killed in another car crash (he was driving) about eighteen months later.

These were kids who had been to our house with their dad and played with our dogs.

What could I possibly say to our friends. I couldn't even think about how that would feel. I might get angry with our son, but...

Laugh at stuff that's funny. Keep a sense of humor. Try to get the kid to do his homework, while realizing that our friends never did break down in tears and say "I wish I'd made them do more of their homework."

Nana Sadie said...

I can't relate anything from the standpoint of having lost a child. But the greatest loss to date I've had was my mom. She was ill for 3 months, and I was caregiver.

What I have been able to comfort myself with in the years since her death is this: I, indeed, did the rightest thing possible at the time, I loved fiercely, I hugged often, I said, "I love you, you're my best friend, not just my mom."

I was imperfect. I felt resentful that my advance degree took the back seat while I cared for her (and has long since been abandoned, which was the right thing to do, in hindsight)...but mostly? I did the rightest thing I could do at the time.

I never stopped remembering that I loved her.

Now when there's someone I know is faced with impending loss, I caution that lots of folks will give advice. But the best advice I know is to remember to share your love as often as you can.

Sounds like you're doing that with your girls...

Helen said...

I don't think your post was at all self-indulgent; you are writing about what you've been thinking about, and we all feel a bit There But For the Grace of God from time to time.

I don't have any answers. We had a family tragedy four years ago,and all you can do is hang together. I felt fairly useless throughout it all because when something terrible happens to someone whose nose you used to wipe and whose hands you used to wash, you expect to be able to make it all better and sometimes you can't. But you can be there, and I think it's made me nicer beause I now realise the importance of saying nice things aloud when I think of them, rather than waiting until some special occasion which will probably never come.

Dear me, it does put felted neck-warmers into proportion, doesn't it?


Your earlier commenters have taken the words out of my mouth.

I don't have children. Even so, when I imagine facing that sort of loss - It is always the worst feeling. Actually, children that go "missing" would be the worst. Because you don't know what really has happened.

On the other hand, maybe a purse could be made from the felted remnants?

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at your bit of alpaca and thinking that when the Vermont November weather hits us California-softified types next month, that over a wrist would be just the thing. So if you know anybody in a really cold climate, that would help keep their sleeve dry while they de-ice their windshield in the morning.

Meantime, and what I really want to say is, thank you for a beautiful, thoughtful post. You are speaking to and bringing out the best in each one of us. My thanks to the commenters above me as well, and the ones that I'm sure are to come.

Marianne said...

Hmmm, sometimes being late has its advantages, as everyone else has already stated feelings that I'm feeling also. I must say though, your post and Alwen's comment had me sobbing. That doesn't happen often. not really. not like that.
Being Mindful in our daily lives, and yes, engaging, well said, friend.
(never once did I think/feel you made your post 'all about you', at all)

Anonymous said...

Sharing your life and feelings isn't so much about you - I think it is about connecting with us. And I think the sacred is in those connections. So paying attention to them is absolutely the right thing to do. Thanks for reminding us all of this.

Anonymous said...

Two ideas for your consideration.

1) "Breakfast at the Victory" by James Carse...a quick and wonderful read. I believe it would resonate with you quite well right now.

2) Turn that neckwarmer upside down and see if it will fit a large latte cup. You may have a greener and far more luxurious cup sleeve than you ever imagined.

Willow said...

I've had to face just that-the death of a small child the same age as MY child, the child of very dear friends. It still makes me weep, 20 years later. It is a horror that ought not to happen. When my aunt died before my grandmother, my grandma's statement was, "Children ought not to die before the parents." True and honest. How do we then live? Just the way you described it- with more intention, more love. My mantra in caring for my parents was, "Do what you need to do so that at the end of it all you don't have guilt." I am so sorry for the parents, the siblings, the friends. My prayers are for you all.

Willow said...

Keep on knitting. Row after row. Round after round. It helps.

Anonymous said...

Denial ripped away. I prefer my normal state of denial.

Beautiful felt piece. I like the cupholder/warmer idea. If it's too big, could be cut and buttons added.

EGunn said...

Sometimes things shake you, deeply. It seems that the best way to understand and honor someones' grief is to think deeply on it rather than turning away. The loss was theirs, but the reaction to it and the sorrow that comes with their tragedy is yours as well, insofar as it touches your heart. I think that those parents would be grateful that someone has cared, felt some piece of their grief, and used a horrible thing to appreciate life more deeply; perhaps the only good that could come of it.

Your post wasn't all about you, nor is it taking their loss lightly. The ability to feel for others is one of those great gifts of being human. I hope the parents know that they are not alone; people like you are thinking of them, and through you, so are we.

As for felted alpaca, I might lean toward a purse. Or you could keep it just for petting; a fibery worry stone. =)

marit said...

Thanks for sharing.

Jane said...

I think any situation like that makes you stop and think, especially as a parent. Have to appreciate what we have.
Must say, I love the pattern on those socks

Alisha said...

I am glad you did not pull this post. I think what you have done is remind all of us who have read it, to take a deep breath and be so darn grateful and hug the ones we love a little tighter and a little longer today.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe how far behind I am on your time flies. This entry, as I'm sure you know, has turned me to mush. I saw the father at the soccer field yesterday and all I could think of to say was how well his other daughter played at the game yesterday. It was true, and it brought a slight smile to his face. These kinds of things just bring you to to your knees. It's still the thing my mind goes to in an idle moment. Love, Kim