Today all I can say is what I keep telling God, over and over: that I need for this to not be true.That is what I need. And I need it really badly and I need it now. Right now.
It has only been about four weeks that I've been smoking now, as a self-prescribed form of sedative, but still I need a method for quitting. My three tools for the first day of not smoking yesterday: fresh lemon juice, several packs of Dentyne Ice, and my Stanley hand saw.
Every time I thought about a cigarette I popped some gum and went out to trim shrubs.
But the larger part of the recipe for quitting was the love of family. My (nonsmoking) sister and her husband spent the weekend here, we had an awesome day with (nonsmoking) family in a nearby state forest, last night I attended the 96th birthday party of a friend who is like family, and in a week or so more family come in. Their love surrounds me. The love of all my friends and family who are holding me up in spirit is a tensile lifeline now.
I still have no answer when folks innocently ask, "How are you?" Because if I answered honestly, you would be decimated by the amount of pain and loss I could describe. So I won't. When you ask how I am, I just change the subject and talk about something else. It seemed that the smoking helped me this last month. Almost as if it was something to hide in. But I am glad to be leaving it behind.
"It's so real, and so unreal," she says, holding me. The hugs are the best comfort anyone can offer. Ninety percent of what people have said to me these first two months has not been helpful, despite their best intentions. Including and especially people who have said, "I know how you feel; I lost my (son, daughter, mother, father, dog...."). This is not helpful to me. It just makes me more sad. As if that were possible.
Not too many years ago, this friend, B., lost her son while he was enjoying life in the great outdoors, similar to how I lost my daughter. Whenever she wanted to talk about him, I held space for her grief-searching from time to time after the accident. Now, unbelievably, it is my turn for her to help me.
My tears flow as she holds me, standing on the wide, stone steps leading up to her house.
When she says it--it's so real and so unreal--I feel the overwhelming truth of it like a thunderstorm. On one level, this simply cannot be true. Any day now I will wake up and my phone will ring and it will be Corey, laughing, and I will realize this was all a bad dream. Because it cannot possibly be real.
But on another level, it must be real because I have built an altar to Corey in my house, with photographs of her gorgeous, bright smile shining out across the room. I suppose she is not here in the flesh and blood because I must have had a reason for making this, covered with her photographs and her movie-star sunglasses and her jewelry and a rock taken from the place that I now call Ascension Hill. So unreal, and so real.
I grab a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby from the freezer, make a rose-scented bath and slip under the water with the first Game of Thronespaperback on the tub beside me. The fragrance in the bathroom is sweet and the warmth of the water envelops me. Crunch into a chocolate chunk as sweet milky cold fills my mouth. The only thing missing is my other new vice. But I just couldn't figure out how to have a cigarette while reading and eating ice cream in the bath.
None of this would be unusual except that I am lactose intolerant and I don't smoke.
I took them up one by one, the new vices. The first Game of Thrones novel was a shoe-in once I heard that Corey had read the series and liked it.
"The Lords of the Trident keep the King's peace," Ser Raymun Derry said. "The Lannisters have broken it. We ask leave to answer them, steel for steel. We ask justice for the small folk of Sherrer and Wendish Town and the Mummer's Ford."
"Edmure agrees, we must pay Gregor Clegane back his bloody coin."
In the novel, manly, armored knights ride gallantly forth into the great forests, wielding their silvery swords of justice. At least somebody gets to avenge the wrongs of the world, goes out to fully express the sense of unfairness that swells and implodes at times like this.
I don't smoke and I don't associate with people who smoke. Or, I didn't until about the third week of June, when suddenly cigarettes seemed like a great idea. A comfort. The swirl of smoke cocooning me and my daughter's fiance' and their friends, out at the ranch in California. We sat morning, afternoon and evening, between errands and after meals: talking, grieving, theorizing, ranting--and smoking.
It is a good thing I never tried heroine or crack or barbiturates. It is a good thing I'm not on anti-depressants now because the doc would have to amp up the dosage to levels appropriate for a gorilla. The sky's the limit. It is a good thing I have no tolerance for, no taste for, alcohol. Maybe twice a month I enjoy a glass of wine with friends (never alone: that would be depressing). But If I loved alcohol I would start each morning now with a good stiff drink, and who knows how the day would proceed after that? I would most likely watch the sun rise and set while lying on the sofa--eventually the floor-- unable to move, steeped in the peaceful golden haze of bourbon. But I have been spared that predilection, and so I use the vices available to me: Ben and Jerry's, Game of Thrones, American Spirits.
I knew I was in trouble the morning I laid down my yoga mat and before I could get through the first vinyassana I thought about having a cigarette and a cup of coffee. I have a little history: from the age of 15 and a half (when a very close family member suddenly and tragically died) I closet-smoked a half pack a day until I became pregnant at 22. Motherhood and smoking simply do not go together. In the ensuing decades I had three brief returns to smoking, all lasting a year or so.
I tell myself: Corey smoked (she called us excitedly when she quit several times a year), many great leaders and authors and people I admire smoke. My mother and father smoked, back in the days when cigarettes were completely cool and men in crisp white coats (supposedly doctors) advised everyone to take up cigarettes for the relaxing health benefits. But my mother died of emphysema and my father died of lung cancer so that does not bode well for me if I were to keep this up.
I didn't know what brand to buy so I just got what my daughter's friends were smoking: American Spirits yellow. The light ones. I know it is a shameful scam, the name of these lung-killers, but reaching for the pack, I feel patriotic and rebellious at the same time. Totally American.
Quitting these things won't be easy. But for now, in these early weeks of getting through each day, I will lean into it and ask for help giving it up later on. It is possible that I will end up a fat, grieving cigarette smoker. But maybe not, since I am still drinking fresh kale-beet-carrot-ginger juice and hiking a couple of mountain miles each morning. We will see.
The question that can't be answered is...why? I have finally stopped asking it now.
After Corey's accident the first week of June, I spent the next month in California, immersing in her life. I slept in her bed, shared the large ranch house with her fiance' who slept upstairs, and his sister who slept downstairs in the room next to mine.... Corey's room. Corey's bed. Corey's sheets and pillows. After three weeks I did change the sheets but it took that long before I was ready to give up her smell. I wore Corey's clothes, I put her earrings in my ears and her necklaces around my neck. I communed with her friends every week. Nearly every day, I hiked three miles up the hill and back, to the place where she slid a little ways off a gentle embankment.
"It doesn't look like I pictured it," one of her friends said, as I led her up there. You look at the golden mounds that slope gently towards the valley, with lush vineyards below, and you can't believe that a person would slip off and lose their heartbeat on such a peaceful, nonthreatening place. To those who ask, how did Corey Considine die? I would say first that Corey is still with us, and ask you to look for her inside your own heart.
At the physical level, I can tell you that her fiance' and one of his best friends and I went over every blade of grass, examining the tracks and trying to figure it out. Corey wasn't speeding. She was sober. She had enjoyed a wonderful week of classes at the healing arts school she attended. She had given healing touch to dozens of people that week. The last thing she did that night was mentor and encourage a friend for a half hour on the phone, then text the young woman five inspirational messages. The last text was to their friend to thank him for watering the garden while she was in school that week. Corey and her fiance' shared a deep, mature, soul-filled love and were to be married in June, 2014. Every facet of Corey's life was a field of rosebuds about to bloom.
Maybe it was too close to sunset to head up the hill that night, but it was a place that Corey drove several times a week for two years in their ATV for a 360-view of the glorious sunset. All we can figure is that she was turning around and slid -- just about twenty gently-sloping yards -- off the embankment. But the thing flipped and landed on top of her. Her heart stopped beating instantly. The thing is, many people have had much worse accidents and walked away.
One day as I walked the hill trying to come to terms with it all, knowing that if I am to keep my sanity I must find acceptance, I heard the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
As her fiance' and I said to each other with our tear-streaked faces, I would have given my life in an instant in exchange that she might live, but no one asked me. I cannot change this, that I know. And so I pray with everything in me for the serenity to accept this unwelcome change. The courage to see it as a new beginning of some kind, the wisdom to believe that if I keep breathing into the eternal continuum, if I keep my hopes up, I will find Corey where she lives now.
Thanks to my friend Erica Rainhart for her art that I use in this post. I turn my full attention to the eternal time-space continuum.
Learning to Grieve
Let us learn to grieve.