It is dark now. The electricity has gone out and the sun is not up yet. It will rise soon, but right now it is dark.
There are streetlights where I live. This is town, and it is that civilized, but there is no electricity anywhere in Y-Town and so the darkness seems total.
The electricity has gone out because of the rain. It did not rain for a week after I returned from the Capital City, and I wondered why it had not rain. Now it has been raining for most of the last 24 hours. A steady, dripping downpour.
Which is fine.
Sam (Ghost) likes the rain, and it was a cozy, cold, crafty day spent indoors—the electricity was out yesterday too, but not for the whole day. Only most of the morning.
I expect it will eventually come back today too. But let’s see.
I was wobbly Sam most of yesterday. Or wobbly Ash with Sam thrown in. It ebbed and flowed, I suppose.
The walls between myself and the parts are more permeable, and it doesn’t give me a headache to switch anymore. There isn’t the same sense of pressure when they want out and it is easier to let them out. And I can sometimes be there a little bit more without entirely displacing them. We are not entirely mutually exclusive anymore. Which helps. Especially when you are in a 2-year-old part and he’s hungry.
I realized that Sam has suffered two catastrophic losses that are, for him, like amputations. He lived with the Keegans and loved them and came to feel at home with them. And then he was taken away. Nothing more was said about it. No acknowledgement. No nothing. He had no opportunity to grieve—and by grieve, I don’t just mean a chance to feel the loss and to articulate those feelings of loss, but to organize the experience of their having been a part of his life.
When we lose someone or something, we need to do that. It is not just about the loss and about feeling the loss, but needing to organize its presence. We organize it differently at the end of it than we do when it is ongoing. And this organization needs to be done.
In normal grief, this often happens automatically. We create rituals around it, but we are also not usually grieving alone. We grieve together and in the process of grieving together, we talk about it. We tell our friends or our family members who are also missing that person, “Do you remember when…?” We tell the stories of their having lived with us.
And in the process of doing that, we organize it. We make sense of what means that they lived with us. We carve out the memories that are most important—the highlights, the ones that really define our experience of them or that express their personality the most profoundly. And we keep those memories and let go of the ones that are not important or don’t express anything much. We construct a picture that way which is maybe less detailed but gets at the thing of it, because you cannot remember everything. You cannot remember every last detail about a person, and as their presence in your life recedes, the details become more and more lost because they are not reinscribed. They are not recalled and retold or repeated. But if you have a chance to organize the experience, this doesn’t matter. You have the main points in mind. You do not need to remember them brushing their teeth.
Sam had no chance to do that. There was no opportunity to say, “I remember when…” and no chance to say, “I miss them. This is what I miss about them most.”
There was also no sense of what relationship to have to the loss later. My family wanted to excise the memory of my removal from their lives, and so it seemed to him that he had to also.
He could not, in other words, go on having memories of them that made him happy.
No one was else was grieving for them—only he was. And the example of how to respond to his grief was amnesia.
That was the first catastrophic loss for him.
The second was Nata, and it was in many ways the same kind of loss. No one else was grieving for her. Most people I knew were not even aware of her existence. My dad knew she existed, but he did not care.
And so there was no one to talk to about her death or her life. There was no one to help him—or me—organize that experience of her having lived.
So yesterday I tried to help him develop a different relationship to her life. I made a pillow for him using a pillow case that is Nata’s favourite colour—or partly is. It is turquoise and pink and orange. When he misses her, he has a pillow to hug. He doesn’t think this is her, but it reminds him of her. And thinking of her, he feels less sad.
We made a memory box together. On the outside, I have written Natashka, and on the inside is her full name and the date of her birth and death.
On the inside, we put a small bottle of shampoo that smells like her with shavings of Dove soap. It is almost exactly her scent. And eyeliner. And a broken earing that is not hers but makes me think of her. And a fragment of a cup—also not hers, but a little like hers. There was always tea at Nata’s place. That is all that is in there now. If I find something else that reminds me, there is space for it, but for now it is enough that there is anything in it, that there is any space in my life to remember her.
I did not know this about grief. It is not just about expressing the feelings of loss and getting them, in a sense, out of your system. It is about recreating the relationship you have to them in the present, now that they are gone. I did not know you needed to go back through what you know about them and what you remember about them and create a new kind of story. I did not know you need to find the high points, and the essential parts of that person’s personality, and you need to make a different story out of that.
For Sam, the essential part is that she held him and he felt safe. She liked turquoise. She sang to him. And he remembers the feeling of sitting in her lap.
For Charlie, it is her shampoo. It is the confusion of sex—not rape, but for the first time sex—and an intense sense of connection that is almost indescribable. And wonder.
For Verka, it is that we played. For a few minutes or a few hours, there was this slice of being able to be children together and to play, because although I played with other children, with Natashka, I did not feel afraid. I could, for once relax, and be a girl with her.
For Annoushka, it is makeup and the tenderness of being touched—on the face and in other places. It is about learning how to be female, at least according to Natashka, that as a woman you ought to be beautiful, but this doesn’t mean you become an object. You need to hold your own.
I don’t know what it is for Katya yet. Not exactly. There is a sense of language to her memories and of love, of sounds and of language being used to love her.
There is also the experience of learning how to be with someone. It is hard to explain this, but it was so much a part of our relationship and it is a part of what I still need to do in order to navigate my world. I learned empathy from Natashka, an intense form of it, and I still use it. When I do, it is her living with me in my present.
For me, it is courage.
And it is beauty.
I have a story now. Not just of what happened, but of who she was and what she meant to me and still means to me
Probably that is why I woke up this morning and I began to make the bed and then I thought, Nata is dead. And I began to cry.
Things are beginning to sink in.
It is light out now and still raining. There is a gray blanket of clouds in the sky and the clouds have settled into the mountains like white arm holding them.
It’s time to scrub the laundry, to wash dishes, to sweep. To get on with the day and with life.