November 25, 2012
That smell. That sour-sweet-earthy smell paired with the bite of the mid-fall wind puts me right there on 52nd street on the north side of town.
Even as I write this, I can smell it: it's October, and I can almost feel crabapples from the Grady’s tree pop with a thud under my feet.
These were all harbingers of winter – the smell, the bite, the pop. It meant things were dying and temporarily ceding their place to make room for blankets of snow.
The dying never bothered me. In fact, I looked forward to the smell and this natural cycle that meant backyard igloos, “face washes” (courtesy of my brother) and snow days off school were on the way.
Two years after mid-October of 1988, that smell was a punch in the gut. Tears started streaming from some internal well unknown to me up until that point.
Evidently, my mom’s diagnosis of liver cancer, her struggling through it for weeks and her death one week before Thanksgiving had tied that smell to that time.
That’s when I started to hate – hate that smell and the natural cycle. So I let that smell beat the heck outta me for about five years. Then I learned to ignore it, and then finally came to live alongside it at that time of year, albeit with a muted dread.
Look, I'm no anomaly. There are plenty of folks struggling with the loss of a parent, child, spouse, marriage, job, you name it. So here’s what I know: The triggers – be it smells or songs or food – sneak up.
They choke out the tears at the most inconvenient times and you may find yourself welling up at a board meeting…or at the mall…or in the car, and before you know it you and the steering wheel have a little secret.
But the triggers also lessen as the years go by because life moves on.
Between working, raising a child to be a decent human being, nurturing a marriage, fighting off the ever-present 800lb pound woman who’s continually trying to claw her way out of me, and figuring out what day I’m supposed to be in what room wearing what clothes, life hasn’t left a lot of time for breathing in that mid-October smell.
And that’s a good thing.
The anniversary of any loss is a hard and rocky road to travel. Holidays can make the road seem even harder. But all roads lead somewhere, whether the loss happened five, ten or even twenty years back.
The road I’ve traveled since losing my mom at nineteen and then my dad in the same year Georgia was born has brought me to a place where I’m healed a little bit more.
Now I can breathe in that smell, and it doesn’t hurt as much, but most importantly, I can appreciate the aroma…and look forward to the natural cycle once again.
November 6, 2012
People who need us are messy. That woman was sobbing, breathing hard and near hysterical. It was messy. Maybe we just like our messy-people-in-need at arms-length, far enough where a check will help them – or at least out of earshot. Maybe that’s what makes helping so hard.
Even if we help, everything won’t be okay. We can’t always make the crying stop or make everything magically okay. Maybe deep down, we know the only thing we can do is help someone limp along. Maybe that’s what makes helping so hard.
We’re not gamblers. Look, I know some people would say we took a gamble by loading up a complete stranger in our own personal space and going into an unfamiliar situation. They’d be right. And even though it was the right thing to do, it was a hard thing to do because of that. But leave it to Georgia to remind me why we we get messy, accept that we can only do so much and take the gamble -- and just do the hard things when she said:
“Well…we did the right thing, and God knows about it… right?”