Saturday, December 12, 2009


There are things I'm unable to reconcile.

Around the world hundreds millions of people live in the most wretched of conditions. I surfed to do some fact checking and found a UN report from 2003 that said 25,000 people in the world die each day of hunger. Somewhere, millions of people live in constant fear of violence and are forced to choose between being monsters in order to survive, or die.

Living with this knowledge requires some interesting machinations. One is to not think about it. There are various ways to 'not think about' it: literally not allow it to cross one's mind, or if it does, to keep it firmly in the realm of abstraction, like watching an engaging movie, or reading a heartrending book.

Other people can't casually dismiss inequity and resort to other means to rationalize. We quote Jesus and say there will be poor always. We believe that we have the privilege of our security because we lived well in a prior life, as a matter of luck, or because of some virtue we possess in this life. If we believe that god rewards good behavior, then the converse is that he punishes bad; therefore people who are in bad circumstances must have done something bad. Some people are just glad that it's someone else, not them, and choose to not question further.

There is a schism between the given that everyone deserves to have enough good food to eat, warm dry shelter, clean water, and the fact that the majority of the world's population wants for these things. I really cannot enjoy my comfort the way I would if I knew that a decent standard of living was accessible to all. This is a discrepancy I just can't reconcile, yet must live with.

The worst has happened to my friend Toni. She got the news Thursday afternoon, and it was conveyed to me through our mutual friend, Marti Friday evening.

I've known them since 1982. They were part of a circle of friends I met in my climbing days, through my then boyfriend Charlie (When we broke up, by default, I got the friends. I feel grateful for that.). At the time I'd thought this would be my community forever. Yet so much of our lives were in flux...for me relationships came and went until I met Gary in 1989, but I stayed in touch with this group, mainly through the women. We went to each other's weddings: Kathy & Michael and Toni & Greg the same year, after years of co-habitation, then Marti & Sam. Mindy & Steve had already been married a few years when I came into the mix. We staggered the births of our children, which was foolish, because it meant we weren't much support to each other. When Mindy and Steve had Alec, I had no idea what it meant to be a new mother and wouldn't for another 13 years. By the time Toni and Greg had their son, Alec was nearly 2 and at a stage that wasn't compatible with an infant. It was years later before Marti and Sam had their son, and I was the very last to have children. I benefited, I think, because these women had grown wise in what it meant to have a newborn, and able to be tender to me in a way I had not been with them. They went through their early mothering years in relative isolation.

Parenthood changed the things we did and the amount of time we spent together. Toni and her now ex-husband Greg moved 2 hours up the Columbia River Gorge 17 or 18 years ago when their children were 6 and 3. I moved on to other climbing and skiing circles, eventually ending up with Gary. Marti and I started a tradition of breakfast every Friday morning, which endured until I moved to St. Louis. We resumed when I returned 5 years later, modifying it to every-other week, and to accommodate the restrictions of Gary's lost job. The women of the group would sporadically see each other. We've made an effort to meet regularly for dinner, every other month.

I was not a part of an extended circle of adults that was a constant in the lives of any of these children, now grown. I wasn't a surrogate parent to these children. Greg and Toni formed friendships in the small community they moved to, where their two children went to school; did these friendships serve the function of extended family?

In The Oregonian this morning:
A man's body was found near railroad tracks west of (a city) on Thursday, officials said Friday.Union Pacific Railroad workers on a westbound train spotted the body at about 10:15 a.m., said a detective of the County Emergency Services in a news release. The Sheriff's Office deputies located the body of a white male, 20 to 30 years old, lying close to the tracks in an isolated area west of the city near the Columbia River. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday, the detective said. The man's identity is being withheld pending notification of his family.

The next of kin have been notified. They have the notes. The man is the son of my friends Greg and Toni, dead by his own hand on his 24th birthday.

I'm looking at the weather. It's not quite 7 am, and we had freezing rain yesterday. The main highway along the gorge was closed yesterday due to 'extreme icy conditions'. The state route on the other side of the river is open. It's 26 degrees and I'm not sure I can get up my driveway. In a little while I'll call Marti and see what she thinks about our ability to get down our hill (she lives up on the ridge too, about 9 miles east of me. She has 4wd, and we were going to take her car, assuming I can even get to her house). Our plan is to go, to take some simple appetizer food the family can set out for people who come to visit, make ourselves available for errands, to abide.

This situation exposes how far we've allowed our intimacy to drift. I realize I don't know the things an intimate should know. If I had been part of the extended family circle that raised their David, there would be no question. I would have received the news nearly the moment they did, and I would probably be there right now. But I don't even know if they have people there with that kind of familial urgency, amongst their friends and neighbors in that town. If they do, have they already been inundated with food, and with people? I've known Toni nearly 30 years, and Marti has known her longer. But David I hardly knew at all as a young adult.

I'm also dismayed with how easily I slip into considering this tragedy with the same rationalization I use to stay sane when I put food in my mouth while knowing there are hundreds of millions of people who have none. It's like a gravitational pull, the inclination to stay remote. I'm caught between two gravitational pulls, the one of friendship which has cooled from lack of attention, leaving me vulnerable to the pull of distance.

But at this very moment, as I sit here, with my sons safe downstairs (for how long? The death of David merely underscores the fragility of safety), my friends are shattered under the weight of loss that squeezes the air out of their lungs. They've entered a new universe, a new gravitational field, which is organized around their son's suicide. Its field is relentless, and crushing. Every breath they take pulls it in. Every exhale is a sob, even when they're cried out.

Around the world a mother cries over her hungry, dying child. I try to not think about it as I prepare the meal for my family. It's discomfiting to recognize the same impulse to use the same strategy as I think of my friends 80 miles away.

I'm not a stranger to grief. I do not want to think of myself as someone who runs and hides when someone is devastated, the ways strangers to grief often might. This is grief of a different order, though, than losing my sister.

While searching for Mrs. Spit's post on Abiding I found a post on Glow In the Woods on how to support a babylost mother. While searching Mrs. Spit's site I also found this:
If grief is not the same, I find myself wondering, to what extent can others participate in our grief, and to what extent do we grieve only on our own? And how do we share and recognize the grief of others? How do I recognize the sadness of friends, of family, of our church? I am thankful that others miss Gabriel, I am thankful that he was a child of a greater community of friends and believers, not merely an accomplishment of mine and Mr. Spit's. But how does this actually play out in real life. What does it mean to grieve as a community or a family? Is it an act we do separately, while in the same space, or is it something that builds and ties and binds us to one another, and helps us each become more fully human?

How do I respect the grief of others, at their tragedies, and abide with them in their sorrow. To join in the place of grieving and give my physical presence to them, so that I may be with them as they grieve. --Mrs. Spit

These thoughts will go with me, as we go to be with our friend.


The roads are still closed, and very bad where Toni lives. The weather is supposed to begin to warm today. Perhaps the roads will be safe Monday. Marti can't take any more days off work; she maxed her time off when she was moving her parents from Idaho. I'll go by myself, tomorrow.


Lavender Luz said...

I feel like a big old faker, crying here the way I am. I don't even know Marti. It shouldn't hurt me, right?

This is the second post I've read this hour that deals with the suicide of a child. This one was on the child's birthday; the other one was on my birthday.

The feeling of helplessness is awful.

Mrs Spit affected so many people with her abiding post.

So abide I will. With Marti and Greg. And you.

Mrs. Spit said...

We give them the gift of memory. We tell the stories, we ask the questions, we shout names into darkness.

There are no good answers in this, none. I wish to hell there were. But, no.

Tonight, when I go to bed, I will stop and I will pray for this family, holding them up, asking for comfort and what peace can be found.

That's all you can do. I wish there was more. Abiding seems so small.
(I can back search through the posts)

Aunt Becky said...

I'm just so sorry. So sorry for everyone.

Sheri said...

I feel so very sad reading your post. Twenty years old is so young -- not much older than my own children.

The way you expressed their grief was poignant, " friends are shattered under the weight of loss that squeezes the air out of their lungs. They've entered a new universe, a new gravitational field, which is organized around their son's suicide. Its field is relentless, and crushing. Every breath they take pulls it in. Every exhale is a sob, even when they're cried out."

Someone close to me committed suicide a little over a year ago and the sadness still remains. How could he feel that sad and desperate? How could I have helped? Could I have helped?

I am praying for you and your friends as you move through this time.

Ailey said...

I am just so sorry for their huge loss and the now gaping hole in their lives. They are in my prayers from this moment on...

Maddy said...

No platitudes - my thoughts will be with you [admittedly intermittently] during your journey. Your presence means everything and words are superfluous.

excavator said...

Thank you for your presence.

It's been an odd journey, just to get from this point to the other side of the holidays. The incongruity has been jarring, and I wished I could be helping my friend even as I was preparing for and taking care of relatives.

It helped me to read your comments. Yet even as I write that I realize there is no such comfort for my friends.