These days, fourteen years later, I always think I’m done. I think I don’t miss him anymore. And usually, I don’t. It’s over. That life was so long ago.
Then it’s December, a few days after his brother’s birthday, a few days before Christmas. I don’t know what’s hitting me at first. At first I’m just mad at my lover. I’m distant he says. He doesn’t understand what he’s done. I don’t either, so I make things up. I knew this was too good to be true. I’ll always be alone. But after a while of this attempt to make him the reason I feel so bad, I remember. Oh yes. The date. This damn date. December 21st. And the memories push in. The middle of the night moments when my boy took his last breaths.
And I tell my lover now, and the tears that I’ve been holding in with my emotionless distance slide down as I realize the remembering. The indelible pictures of my boy’s last night with us muscle their way forward. The creak of the rough floorboards as I came and went from his side. The rustle of the sleeping bag I pulled over his failing body before I left for a sip of the dark night sky, a glimpse of the moon. The feel of his hair, silky under my palm as I held his head, warm under my hand for what I didn’t know would be the last time. The rattling of his shell drying out, dying out. The glow of the candle above the bed. The hands of the clock almost at the half hour past one a.m. when he took his last breath. The way we rocked him between us in our arms, our empty arms.
And the pain is so much now that I come and go from cold and distant to hot and sad and remembering. I say I need to be alone, but I don’t leave. And my patient beloved asks me to tell him the story, and I don’t want to. But I do. But only a little. Little pieces. I’m so tired of all of it.
This cat and mouse. This playing with the pain. This trying to hide from it. This opening little windows to it. This has been my life since then. For fourteen years. Only now there’s more space between the openings. There’s more room for other things than the pain. A lot more room. But still it comes. This day of the year it comes. And I remember.
Catharine H. Murray, Author of Now You See the Sky
I find the Uber before midnight in the too-bright layers of cement and air parking garage.
I am plane-squeezed empty, underslept, zapped in from other coast.
Driver slides us down the highway current.
City approaches. We enter in.
Nearly fourteen years since I’ve been here
where my son was sick before he died,
Where his younger brother, healthy, was born.
It was so long ago that I am not who I was then,
but when the driver carries me up and down these dark streets, light-punched awake,
Bits of that life swim up to greet me:
That small store where their father didn’t speak
while we searched for snacks for cranky boys one sunny afternoon.
The corner at the end of 15th where I walked the stroller
when I needed to get that far from home.
24th where I remember the exact words that took the tension from a certain conversation.
Are memories when they surface still memories or something real?
And that strange ache of how hard it all was and how much we loved each other
the tired now.
I’m delighted to share that my friend, classmate and colleague, Dr. Anne Hallward of Safe Space Radio is providing a podcast for the education of health care providers. Her 22-minute interview with me will be featured in the Death and Dying section of the course. To check out the podcast go to https://safespaceradio.com/education/ To listen to the original interviews with me, click: https://safespaceradio.com/?s=catharine+murray and https://safespaceradio.com/?s=katie+murray
Nine years after Chan’s death, it was still sometimes hard to remember what I needed.
Bearings, November 2013
This morning when I went into the woods, I didn’t know what I needed.
It wasn’t until I’d turned my steps from pavement to sink the uneven crust of snow
that I looked up and saw pink and blue of early morning winter light
behind thin black lines of endless boughs,
and I said aloud, the world is good and this will be ok and finally began to weep.
Oh yes, this sadness. I had forgotten. And on I walked, my body remembering this home
of wide horizons and a clearer sense of East and West.
The grief at my center wedged in against my gut at last found room to
grunt and gasp, and sob its way out as I walked on toward the sea.
There, always sudden in its arrival upon my anxious mind, the ocean,
vast bowl of cold seething shadows
glow of morning light breaking over sharp horizon’s edge.
I spend so much time boxed in small spaces that I forget the natural scale of things.
I love the ocean. Today for its careless abundance, tossing treasures at my feet
trinkets of stone and bone and succulent living matter.
Kelp in bundles of glossy strands
Glassy stones lunar white, length of rope thick as my arm,
tiny beards of lavender lace clinging to night-blue mussels,
wood polished pink by scrubbing sand and sea
tucked in beds of mouth-watering seaweed.
So much to delight in as I trudge along
that were I to stop and cling to one precious thing
I would miss the rest
so I keep on
sometimes sinking in the sand-spattered snow
sometimes my good rubber boots awash in the pleasure of cold waves.
Sea bubbles over flat shore and recedes
disappearing water leaving skin of pale iridescence
where sky and sea mix like gasoline on water
and an impossible view of pastel warmth in this almost frozen place
glitters before the next wave washes over once more.
And I know that I needed this
this way to get my bearings again
returning to waves and water and sky
and I know again that water shapes the shore even as
she is shaped by it.
Catharine H. Murray, Author of Now You See the Sky