Flash Friday Fiction

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Picture courtesy of Santosh Writer    

My garden is one of my favorite spots on earth. I have watched it grow and thrive over the years, a truly magical place. This week’s prompt made me think of tears captured in time on a leaf and this is the story that came.

Word count: 99

Full Circle

Sitting in my garden after the rain, everything feels washed clean and new again. This is my safe place; my beloved plants ground me, connect me to the earth again.

Strolling the path, my fingers graze each leaf with tenderness, gathering dew like teardrops on my fingertip. I linger, letting the pain roll off my shoulders. Time would heal, they said. I had nothing but time ahead.

I turn toward the house and see the “For Sale” sign by the road. I blink back tears that look like dew drops, a singular reminder of all that’s been lost.

© Erin Leary

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Angry Words

I took the afternoon off to bake cookies for an annual cookie exchange in the neighborhood yesterday.  I worked until about noon and then sat down to lunch before rolling up my sleeves to get busy.  I scanned the headlines while I ate and realized that something bad had happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  As I read more, I felt sick.  Then I felt angry – really, really angry.  It surprised me how strongly I reacted, but then I went back through all the times I have had this same feeling of being sickened by tragedies caused by guns and I know why I’m so pissed off.  It’s because it’s still happening.

I reflected on the all that I’ve done in the past – the times that I have advocated for better gun control laws, for awareness, for legislation.  I’ve supported the Brady Campaign since its inception.  All of this in the past 20 years has changed nothing.  And that makes me really, really, REALLY angry.

How is it possible that we still allow this kind of thing to happen?  Is there any reason that a person needs to have access to guns whose sole purpose is to kill other people?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating against guns entirely.  I am simply asking if it isn’t time we stop the madness.  An article I read yesterday that really hit home was entitled “Kindergartners and Courage”.  In it, the author asks “How do we find ourselves asking kindergarteners to be more courageous in the face of a gunman than politicians are in the face of the gun lobby?”  And that is really the message here – the innocent victim is left to deal with the fallout and the gun lobbyists and the politicians wail and gnash their teeth bemoaning the tragedy.  But I place the blame squarely on them.  Why is this allowed?  Is this what the founding fathers meant when they crafted the Second Amendment?  Hell no.

While making the cookies, I turned on a Christmas channel for music.  Do you know how many songs are about wanting to be with loved ones for the holiday?  Almost every other song, it seems to me.  And my heart ached, thinking of those families who would be missing someone this Christmas.  Those parents kissed their kids goodbye – babies, really – that morning, never doubting they’d see them again that afternoon.  This is not something that should ever happen in a place that is meant to be safe.  This is not something that should ever happen to little kids.  This is not something that should ever happen. 

Those parents undoubtedly bought some of their Christmas gifts already.  Those reminders of their loss will haunt them, mocking their sense of security. How could they possibly put their kids in harm’s way by sending them to school?  As a parent, how do you reconcile that?  I cannot wrap my head around it.

I have been hit by periods of sadness as we have made our way through the holiday maze this year.  I miss my parents and my sister a lot during this time when families draw close.  I am wistful for their absence and have memories come out of the blue that knock me over.  I get through it and know it’s a part of the process.  Yesterday, I was reminded that my loss is a normal part of life’s patterns.  One’s parents are meant to pass away before them, and a sibling may, as well.  Children?  No.  Not usually.  That loss would be so much harder to bear.  It defies understanding if you’ve not experienced it.

I had some pangs of guilt yesterday after I tweeted something with a really bad word in it.  It came into my head with such force and such clarity that I made the conscious choice to send it out unfiltered.  Those who know me probably would be shocked to hear such bad language but it was heartfelt and it came from a place of true frustration and rage over another senseless tragedy.  I almost went back and deleted it, but I chose to leave it out there.  I have to acknowledge that I am, indeed, really angry.  I can’t change the laws and I can’t fix the problem alone.  I can, however, express my opinion again and again and again, which I will do whenever there is an opportunity.  It doesn’t even come close to being enough.

I finished up the cookies and boxed them in festive holiday packages.  They look lovely and taste delicious.  Sadly, they feel like sawdust in my mouth.  This is a feeling I know well. It is the feeling of loss.  It’s as though I feel guilty about my ability to enjoy a cookie when those who’ve left us are no longer able.  Survivor’s guilt, I guess.

Over breakfast this morning, I read a personal account from Justin Peters, who writes for the Columbia Journalism Review.  He attended the prayer vigil in Newtown last night.  It was heartfelt and touching and brought home again the pain that is felt by so many.  It is pain that could and should have been prevented.

We bond together when things like this touch us.  We find comfort and solace in our shared pain.  I appreciate that, but what I want to see is a rising up of people who say we are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  One more mass shooting is too many.  How long will we continue to acknowledge the problem but do nothing about it?

For the children and families of Sandy Hook Elementary, it is now too late.  It’s up to the rest of us to make a change. As I recall from my earliest class on Civics, one’s rights extend only to the point at which they infringe on another’s.  I would say this is the ultimate infringement.

To all who have been touched by this tragic event, my heartfelt sympathy and prayers.  To the rest of us, I challenge you to step up and make a difference.  It’s time to put aside politics and do what is right for our children.  Make a stand for real change and reach out to your legislators to let them know that another mass shooting in anyone’s community needs to be prevented.  Let’s get this fixed.   That’s just common sense.

Time Marches On

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” (Kahlil Gibran)

These words gave me a great deal of comfort when my dad died two years ago.  They summed up how it felt to lose someone who brought you great joy in your life.  That joy is made all that much more poignant by the fact that it is now gone.

I’ve been struggling with a multitude of feelings this past week.  The simplest things, like going to the Hallmark store to buy a card for a coworker, left me feeling morose instead of uplifted.  I was hit by the fact that I would have been, in the past, buying all sorts of cards – a birthday card for my dad’s birthday today, a mother’s day card for my mom, an anniversary card for them both – and I felt my loss profoundly.  This time of year is a tricky one to navigate – lots of significant days to notice what has changed.  I miss my dad, I miss my parents, I miss my sister.  It comes to me in waves and I am reminded how fresh the wounds still are.   No surprise there, really.  Just a part of what it takes to get through this maze of grief. 

The card I bought was for our office administrator.   Wednesday was the Office Professional’s day, and in recognition of that, I took her to lunch and had a card for people to sign in appreciation.  One of the things I have done for the past several years is to buy a gift for each of the administrators on our floor.  It is a small gesture of gratitude for the work they do – even though they don’t work directly for me, they are always helpful and pleasant. One of them asked me why I do it – why do I go out of my way to do that for them?  And I thought about it and I realized that it was my dad’s doing.  He taught me to take the time to reach out to people and make the human connection.  He told me that when you do, you never know what it might mean to that person and more importantly, what it can do for you.  I explained that to her and was reminded again of the legacy my dad left.  It is one way I can honor him through carrying on his tradition and it feels good to continue to plant those seeds of caring whenever I can. 

Today, I saw some glorious trees bursting into their spring time best, glowing from the sunlight that hit them.  The sky behind them was dark and stormy, and the contrast of light and dark made the trees look especially lovely and vivid.  It struck me then – it is the contrast that made them so.  Light and dark, joy and sorrow – it takes one to make the other stand out. I am lucky to feel the way I did about my father and I miss him dearly.  He lives on in the seeds of kindness he sowed and I will continue on in kind, in honor of his memory.

Sharing With Others

When you get hit like this with an overwhelming loss, others reach out to you to ask how to handle things for themselves.  I have found that helping others helps me.  I am better able to get perspective on what I’ve been through by looking for ways to share it with someone else.  In an email to a college classmate in June, I offered this:

First of all, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I understand how lost you feel. Having a parent go suddenly is so very disorienting, even when they are at an age when people assume they’ve lived a “long life”. Like you, I wanted more – and with my mom, expected it! Her mom and sister both lived in to their 90s, so I was thinking that mom had another 10 years ahead. It was such a shock to have her go so soon after dad.

It’s taken me a full year to get through a lot of this. Feeling normal is just now something I can do. I spent a lot of days “acting as if” – meaning I would try to be normal on the outside while hurting. I think in some respects it is easier with both parents gone, as I no longer am worrying about how my mom is doing. It’s strange, but there’s comfort in that thought. Not that I would have wished for that outcome, but you find solace in the strangest things.

I wear my mom and dad’s wedding rings on a chain when I need them most. As one of 5 kids, I don’t presume to own them, but each time I’ve offered them to one of my siblings, they’ve said they wanted me to still hang on to them. It helps me feel their presence in a tangible way. I talk to them, too – just to tell them I am missing them. Not in a whack-a-doodle way, but in a healthy, missing you way. 🙂

I’ve used writing to help me process things. I have a series of short essays I’ve written that give me a chance to reflect on how this has been. I’ve reached out to my brothers and sisters and leaned on them when I’ve needed to share. I’ve taken up traditions that were my parents and am trying to carry them on. Staying connected to what mattered to them most – family and relationships – makes me feel like I am honoring them in the best way possible.

I know the expression “one day at a time” is probably the last thing you want to hear, but it is one that works. Take each day for what it is – if you feel sad, be sad. If you need to connect, find a way. If you are missing her, go through pictures and remember the wonderful times – like you did today, here. That will help keep you afloat. Then slowly, you find it gets easier. Your kids will be there to distract you – and give you an outlet to pour your love in to. Be kind and patient with yourself as you go through this year and know you’re not alone.

If you ever want to read some of what I’ve written, I’d be happy to share. I am here to be a shoulder for you to lean on – and hope you know I care.

The more we reach out to another person, the more connections we maintain and those connections are critical to feeling better.

Things can’t get any worse, right?

A year ago I returned from Tucson.  Dad had died and mom was adrift.  It was Mother’s Day and I wanted to spend as much of it as possible with mom, to help her get through the first few days.  I was the last child to leave and I felt like I was leaving a part of me behind.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for her – but I was coming back in a week to help with the local memorial event.  It was the first of mom’s baby steps on her own.

My family picked me up at SeaTac and I fell into Laurel’s arms and sobbed.  I suddenly realized that all of this pain wasn’t just mine; it hurt everyone.  It felt good being back while at the same time I felt guilty that mom was alone.  But life – specifically, my life – had to go on.  Sitting with everyone at dinner that night, I was thinking how lucky I was to have them all there for me showing me their love on Mother’s Day.  I was exhausted, sad and happy all at once.  I thought I’d been through the worst.  Turns out, it was just the beginning.

Over the next few weeks, life was a blur or comings and goings.  Seth! was off to Oregon for his cowboy adventure, then I left for Tucson to help mom again.  I returned from that trip only to head to Whidbey Island for a planned weekend with friends.  Seth! left for a conference before I returned and was back the day before we left for Denver for Dad’s main memorial service – poignantly enough, on Memorial Day weekend.  Returning from that trip meant our lives would settle down and things would finally feel normal.  I felt hopeful that would be the case.

Except then, the next worst thing happened.  On June 1, I discovered that my marriage, as I believed it to be, was over.  Throughout all my grieving and during all this travel, Seth! had been involved with an old friend and professed his love for her, all discovered in email on Facebook.  Heartbroken at losing dad, I was already in great pain.  This was like a knife in the heart when I was huddled on the floor in tears.  All that I once thought sacred and true was no longer real to me.  I lost both my dad and my marriage in a matter of weeks.  This had to be the worst.

I’d like to say that each month, things got better.  There were more downs than ups this year. Nothing was clear except I had to stick to what I had laid down as my plan before – separate and work on things apart.  It helped me stay sane to cling to the idea that doing what I said I would was staying true to my core beliefs.  I didn’t need to know more at that point.  I just needed to do that one thing. I felt cheated, though.  From the time of dad’s death to the discovery was only a matter of weeks.  My grieving for dad was stalled as I struggled with this new pain. I still find myself thinking of dad, wistful for his calm presence, and know that I miss him more than is possible to convey in words.

Losing mom in February after a whirlwind diagnosis and decline was the icing on the cake.  It felt too familiar – and scary – to go through that before I knew where things stood in my marriage.  I was afraid to trust any comfort or support, because the last time I had, it ended up being false and bad things happened to me.  I had to be very clear in my own head about what I needed, what I could accept, and how it felt to go through this again so soon.  I’m still not completely sure I know how I feel about losing them both so close together.  I long for a dream with both of them in it, as they once were.  To see them again, and to feel, just for a moment, that we can be with each other would be a comfort.  It would be like a warm embrace from the two people who loved me best.  It seems to me that then, maybe, I’d know I was making progress through my grief.

In the past year, I’ve lost my father, my husband’s faithfulness, and my mother.  I know lesser mortals who might have caved.  I am still standing.  Wounded, scarred, battered and worn thin, I am upright nonetheless.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I wouldn’t wish it for myself.  But it wasn’t a choice, and going through the fire was the only way out.

As this year comes to an end, I can only hope that the cosmic circle is coming to a close and each anniversary or milestone date provides healing and a sense of release.  I have felt held hostage by pain the past 12 months and am ready to stop hurting and be free.  I pray it is so.

Five Five Eleven

I have lived a year without you but never a day without thinking of you.  Sometimes with joy and happiness, sometimes with pain and sadness, but always with a feeling of emptiness as a result.  The times I thought to pick up the phone to tell you something or share news, the memories of past times together remembered but no longer possible – each time I am reminded anew that you are gone and my lifelong tie to you is severed.

So I have conversations with you in my head, I hear your deep voice rumbling with laughter and I know that you are always with me –  in my heart, in my head and everywhere around me if I choose to look.  For that, and for all my wonderful memories , I am grateful.  But I miss you, every day, in so many ways.

A year, a blink of an eye, an eternity….I am still learning  how to live in a world without you.

Joe Kearney, the best dad ever

Remembering My Father

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

This quote reflects in a few perfect words all that I have been feeling.  I have felt great sorrow in losing dad.  It was too soon – he had a lot of life left to live.  It was a tough year, watching him go from a robust, healthy man to a cancer patient struggling to make it.  In this sorrow, however, has come profound joy and gratefulness.  I have felt so lucky to be his daughter and to have been loved by him my entire life.  It hit me like a thunderbolt on the way to the hospital that last day.  I was so very fortunate and felt truly blessed.  How can I feel sorrow in the face of all that good luck?

As an educator and a people person, dad taught me many lessons, one of which was to treat people as if you’ll never see them again – that way, you don’t forget to be kind.  I learned that lesson when I was about 10 years old and our dog, Murphy, died.  I felt guilty because I had lied to stay home sick from school that day.  I thought Murphy’s death was my punishment for being a liar.  Dad’s lesson to me was one that has stuck with me.  He reassured me that I didn’t cause Murphy’s death and told me that we should always be kind to people when we see them, because we never know when it will be the last time.  Because of this philosophy, dad had a gift for making people feel special.

Dad was the king of giving nicknames.  To him, I was his Erin Lynn, Bonks, and later on, Madame Executive.  To me, he was Dad, papa-san, and the Big Guy.  He never failed to greet people warmly, with his great low voice asking how the pride of Cle Elum, or Woodway High School, or wherever was.  His memory of the little details of people’s lives was legendary. It was one of his many gifts.

Watching him live his life, it was clear that it was never about words alone for him – it was about actions.  The adage that actions speak louder than words was evident in everything he did.  As kids, we saw him take the high road on many occasions, we saw him give the gift of himself to people from every walk of life, and we saw him living true to his word.  He was who he was and we never doubted that what we saw was the real thing.

Another thing dad taught by doing was how to be a good partner.  His love and admiration for our mom was a wonderful thing to behold.  I’ve heard the saying that the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother, and he did just that.  The two of them were a true partnership and they set the standard for all of us. 

I hope to take what I learned from dad to heart even more so now.  Hearing from so many people who were touched by dad’s kindness only reinforces for me that life is really about the connections you make with people, not about things or success or money.  I want to become the type of person my dad has been and leave a legacy like his.  If I can do that, I will have lived a successful life.

Thank you, dad, for taking the time to teach me so much by the way you lived your life.  I am so proud to be your daughter.  It has been an amazing adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it.

With my remarkable parents