Sweet Gum Ash

Melissa Murphy:

I am so touched by this. I won’t say more. My son’s beautiful heart speaks for itself.

Originally posted on A Haze in the Starlight:

As I type this I am sitting alone in my room with the lights off and my sense of reality is rearranging itself.

A few hours ago I was laying on the couch watching Lord of the Rings: Return of The King with my roommates while I worked on a poetry project. I was laying there re-reading selections from Jay Ponteri’s Wedlocked when I was overcome by the urge to go into my room, grab the dry red sweet gum leaf on my bookshelf and crush it in my hands. I wanted so badly to  throw it into the driveway and scuff my shoe across it. I sat up, went to my room and grabbed the leaf. I stared at it for a moment while I thought about how crazy such an act would be for me. I make sense of my existence by my relationship to the landscape around…

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To the Dear Ones Who Comment

Thank you.  I so appreciate your comments.  I know I’m terrible at responding but when I’m done writing I feel so drained I need to step away.  I log on and I read the comments and I cry and feel connection and love and support from a family I don’t want to be a member of.  Then I feel guilty for not at least acknowledging those who reach out to comfort me or to share their own pain and process and I feel so much for you all in return; so much love, and I feel your pain and just like everyone else, I have no words.

Many have nominated me for this or that blogger award and I want you to know I am flattered, honored.  I don’t have the energy to participate.  My ego doesn’t need the strokes.  I’m too tired to “pay it forward.”  I know that sounds terribly selfish, but I’m doing this for me, for my own process, my own healing, my own discovery.  The fact that it’s actually touching other human souls touches my own human soul *deeply* and in a way, keeps me going.  I’m learning I’m not alone.  I’m learning others feel exactly as I do.

Thank you.  I hope you’ll keep talking to me even when I’m “one poor correspondent, and too, too hard to find.  It doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind.”

Maybe It’s Enough

So I’m not a phoenix rising.  So I’m perfectly human.  So I’m not amazing even though everyone told me I was.  So the world has moved on without me.  So I’m only able to drag myself through half a job.  I do love that job…that’s something.  That’s something.

So the dreams I had for myself have passed on, too.  So I’m mourning things I can’t even begin to express (in addition to my daughter’s life).  So I’ve been touched by this life just like everyone else has been or will be.  So I drag myself through half a life.  Sometimes, I love things about this life, such as it is… and that’s something.  That’s something.  Isn’t it.

So despite the flowers blooming and the trees budding out in the world, it’s still winter in my heart.  So it’s been winter in my heart for more than a year.  So it may be winter in my heart forever.  So be it.  I have my blanket.  I have my slippers.  I have a fire to curl up in front of.  I have hot tea.  That’s something.  That’s something It is.

So my daughter has passed on.  So she took half my heart with her and holds it forever wherever she is.  Maybe people can live with half a heart.  They live with one kidney and I have two of those.  I gave birth to two children.  I have a son, a beautiful, precious son.  So my daughter’s passing took half of his heart, too.  Together we have a whole one.  That’s something.  That’s something.  That’s everything.  Now.  And I LOVE that.

So I rest at the end of the day, with my two hands over my half heart.  It’s quiet.  It’s still.  I hear the rain and I remember the flowers.  I think there’s hope.  I like that.  Maybe that is enough.  So it has to be enough.  Maybe it is.

Sometimes the Phoenix Doesn’t Rise

If I’ve learned anything at all since I started writing this blog it is just how human I truly am… and how much I hate that sometimes. I knew it was possible to become stuck in anger, to become bitter, to push life away but I never actually believed I’d go there. I looked at that potential even in the moment I understood that Dannica had died, and I told myself I’d never go there.

I used to be one who tried to make eye contact with people and smile for no reason, not only during the holidays, but especially during the holidays. I used to stand in the middle of a place and radiate light out in all directions, healing & well-being for all. I worked hard for a long time to get there, to love life, to release negativity in all its forms, to find my own happiness in life even when life kept being….well life….  a challenge.  The truth is, I have fought depression and social anxiety most of my life; maybe all of it. Sometimes, I have won. Sometimes, I’ve lost miserably. Sometimes, like this time, I’ve just given up. Too tired to fight it.  Too tired even to try.

I have become, once again, the ones I used to see and wonder about.  The ones that looked down or away.  The ones who’s hearts I wanted to reach with those free and carefree smiles of hope, love, acceptance and compassion.

In the beginning, fresh grief filled me with a fearlessness I’d never before known. Once I stopped screaming because my daughter had died, I kept on screaming at life, “BRING IT ON!!  YOU WANT SOME OF THIS!?  COME AND GET IT!” I wasn’t afraid of anything. I was angry and it was normal. It gave me strength. It gave me courage. I had nothing but faith in the resilience of the human spirit…. my human spirit.  I thought of myself as a phoenix and all I could focus on was rising even as almost everyone around me said, “Go slowly, be gentle with yourself.”

I didn’t go slowly and I wasn’t gentle with myself even when I thought I did and I was.  Instead, I went boldly into places, I can see now, I didn’t really belong and I made a fool of myself.   I learned that I’m not a public speaker.  I’m not cut out to be a teacher, though I really felt, somehow, I was.  In fact, at 45 years old, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be anything other than perfectly human.  I’ve given up on dreams. I’ve extinguished hopes.  I am alone in my own little world as often as I can be and most of the time I like it that way. At least I know what to expect from my own judgment and my own pain. It’s comfortable even when it hurts.

Could this be acceptance?

I don’t want this blog to be filled with negativity.  But I do want it to be filled with honesty and, when I can find it, truth.  I’m going to keep writing, even when I feel horrible, because writing gets it out of me.  I understand if that puts you off, if you’d rather avoid the negativity altogether.  Life is hard enough without someone else’s negativity.  For this reason, I don’t watch the news, I read my local paper only selectively, and I have even ended seemingly good friendships when I felt the person never had anything positive to say.  So I *do* understand why I’ve lost contact with many people I thought were friends since my daughter’s death.  I realize that I am depressed.  With that comes negativity.  I do my best not to dwell there when I am with others.  But I’m only as strong as I am and a lot of the time I’m exhausted, I’m grumpy, God help you if you cut me off in traffic or say something stupid to my face.  And I *hate* feeling this way!!!

For now, the phoenix is down.  No sign of rising.  None. Unless you cut me off or say something stupid.  Please, know I am genuinely sorry.  I am.

Autumn’s Fall

A year and four months following my daughter’s accident and passing, my mind is still easily consumed by the most traumatic memories of that evening.  The smells, physical sensations, the taste of my tears, even the sounds are all gone but for a few:  The sound of the EMT, “Get her out of here!”  The doctor’s voice, “There’s no easy way to say it she’s dead.”  My son’s cry, “No! No.. No…no…no.  Even when I try, I don’t get it all back.  But the images.  The images are bright and clear and vivid and silent across the dome of my mind.  I am standing right there under the dome.  I see everything over and over and over and over again bigger than anything I’ve ever seen but the night sky.  It is no wonder I am exhausted still.  The physical, conscious effort it takes to push my mind in any other direction seems to me a superhuman one.  It might be easier to bend steel or stop trains.  If only there really were a Superman to reverse the spin of the planet until my Dannica was alive again where I could hold her tight and, this time, keep her safe.

November 14th 2013, one year.  We lit candles.  Many, many candles.  I don’t seem to be able to recall more.  Remember, I’ve only just dragged my mind and spirit up from the sea floor.  It’s rusty now and full of silt and reluctant to try.  The part of me that once obsessed with documenting everything doesn’t care about that now.  So I’m losing details at four months out and I’m sorry about that.  Ask me anything you want about sixteen months ago, though, and I can give you everything.


November 20th 2013, we had our dear German Shepherd, Teva, put down.  It was horrible.  It wasn’t a peaceful passing and it was devastating.  I could see it in her eyes as her sweet spirit left her body, “Why do you want me to go away?  I would NEVER leave you!” … she didn’t understand.  How could she?  The next day was my birthday.  The year before, that day was the day of Dannica’s memorial service and the day after that, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving a year later I cooked.  I like to cook once in a while.  It was always Dannica’s gift to set the table.  She starched and artfully twisted cloth napkins into fans or candles or bishop’s hats and added flowers or glittering leaves and made the table so beautiful.  I tried.  My napkins wouldn’t cooperate.  This year they were frustrated rectangles.  I bought fresh flowers but couldn’t make myself glitter anything.  Dannica’s place was set with the flowers, candles, her photo…  it was okay until it was time to eat.  It was quiet.  I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t eat.  I tried not to, really hard I tried not to but then just cried.  Of course, I’m so grateful for my husband and for my son.  Of course I am.

For a minute I wanted to do Christmas the way Dannica would have done Christmas.  I wanted to deck every hall and light up the place, every space.  For her.  But my heart and mind were giving each other the silent treatment and trying to get me to take sides.  My heart won… my heart wasn’t in it and we did the best we could to find a little joy and I think we did.  A little.  It will never be the same; any of it, ever.  How could it be?

2013xmastree 004  2013xmastree 002

Happy New Year.  Yes, happy new year.  I was happy to see the last one go, anyway.

On Hollow


When I created this blog, I didn’t have to think of a title, it was just there.  It was the first thing that came to my mind because it was exactly how I felt; completely hollowed out.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t done being hollowed out.  I actually believed, in that moment, I couldn’t get any more empty and yet that is when the words began to flow, like my tears… or Doritos.  “…we’ll make more.”

Breathing out and out and out until I cannot breathe out any more.  My body starts to panic, my cells begin to starve, I could keep breathing out and out and out until my life passes from my body completely but then I gasp, against my will to continue breathing out until I am empty.  And then I give up and just keep breathing in… and in… and in.

In this moment, hollow brings to mind deep and mysterious forests, dark and quiet woods.  Dear but dirty little people wearing rustic, raggy clothing, cooking simple meals in kettles over fires.  I find the thoughts and images they create to be comforting.  As a child these ideas inspired endless hours of adventure.  The hollows were places I actually wanted to be.  The hollow of an old tree, the hollows inside bushes, the hollows between branches of the christmas tree, the tiny bathroom I would “sneak away” to write in my first 5-year diary complete with lock and key, pretending it was a hollow elsewhere, the hollow in the perfect limb of the apricot tree where I watched people walk by below never knowing I was there even when they were looking for me.  Later, the hollows were nooks.  A breakfast nook in my and my husband’s first house, a reading nook in the study downstairs.  The nook that is my bed, where I sit now, surrounded by pillows and a canopy.  These are the places I’ve always sought out, felt comfortable with, curled up in.  Never have I actually *been* one of these places until now.

I look around and it’s very dark.  It’s very quiet, but for this heart beating against my will, but for these sobs softened from screams of despair that echo from the walls at a distance I can’t quite fathom…returning and returning until they’re only whimpers and then I hear only the tears falling to the floor like a leaking pipe.  There is nothing soft here, nothing cozy, nothing comforting.  Not really.

Today is the 10th of March, 2014.  I sat to write, having forgotten I’d written the above on November 10th, 2013.  I had intended to post this on the one year anniversary of Dannica’s passing four months ago on November 14th.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I tied a heavy stone around my mind and my spirit and I tossed it into the sea and watched it sink until the bubbles no longer surfaced and then I walked away.

So Here I Am

…months since my last blog post, not even aware of the person who wrote the last one.  I have a vague memory of who that person was or at least who she thought she was or maybe who she wanted to be.  The one writing now, however, is the one who is… me… now…   .

I write constantly in my mind.  But I’ve been so tired.  I’ve been so sad.  I’ve been so dead….not really, that’s a joke.  I’m alive.  That’s a joke, too.  Because I’m not alive.  Well, alive but not living.  When I started this blog I was a person who believed in the resilience of the human spirit.  I held in my mind, even as I was crumbling into dust, images of myself overcoming the most powerfully destructive force in my life; the sudden, unexpected, tragic, horrifying, devastating, loss… theft… death.  of my.  baby girl.  daughter.

Whoever said it, and I forget now who that was; “The second year is harder,” yeah, you were right.  So, from this can I assume the third and fourth and fifth will be harder still?  I’ve seen others do this better than I’m doing it.  I’ve admired them for it.  I, however, am stuck.  Here.  Sad.  Lost.  Isolated.  This is not my cry for help.  If I cry anything other than tears it is, “Leave me alone.”

…and I get my wish.  Day after day after day after day… I get my wish.  Why the fuck am I even here?

One Year

Melissa Murphy:

…in a moment of silence.

Originally posted on A Haze in the Starlight:

One year ago today was the worst day of my life. It was the day that I experienced the absolute greatest, most profound pain I will ever experience as I was told that my sister had died. This year has been one of sheer, blinding agony. From one moment to the next, one morning to the next, I’ve been burned alive from the inside out. Reduced to ash and shell. Every stability I’ve known has been shaken and torn. I smolder and laugh and weep. I’ve seen several things through the smoke and tears. My sister has clothed the world: all beauty is her beauty. The gardens are her gardens. The breezes are her breezes. My laughs are her laughs. My silliness is her silliness and my hope, her hope. She is my twin and therefore I look to the trees and mountains for comfort. I’ve seen through the fog…

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Could it be true, the idea that life is suffering?  There was a time when I would have rejected that idea outright.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Now, I’m thinking maybe there is something to that idea.

When I go out into the world, I see it all around me.  Many people, most in fact, seem to be uncomfortable unless they have a coffee cup in their hand; a travel mug,  the latest electronic device or three, a smoke, a snack, a something, an anything.  I am fascinated by the physical motion involved; the reaching out, the pulling toward, the taking in; the consuming, the comfort it brings, or seems to. Yet the reaching continues.

We were all born with it, of course.  Whatever it was, we touched it, we brought it to our tiny lips and it taught us about the world.  As we grew we perpetuated the motion and as adults we continue, though now tending toward coping, blocking out, avoiding, hiding from, feeling powerless to change and/or being afraid to fully live in this world without a Binky.

I recently read a letter written to Dear Abby by a young woman who at age 19 still sleeps with her baby blanket as the result of trauma and fear of the dark.  She’s worried her dorm mates will tease her as she was teased for it in high school.  I felt sorry for her believing she had to give it up at all, let alone at a time when really needs it… leaving home, going away, starting a new life; a grown-up life.  Abby told her to make her blanket into a pillow because many people sleep with an extra pillow and   that’s not odd.  Extra blankets?  Well, that’s just weird.

It doesn’t surprise me that teenagers want to wear their pajamas in public.  It doesn’t surprise me that many of their parents have followed suit.  It may be socially inappropriate but it’s comfortable in a time when so many of us seem almost desperate for comfort.  In this desperation, we move through life unconscious of what actually moves us, what calls us, what truly comforts us and why we need comforting to begin with, all the while snuggling into our pajamas and reaching out again and again to bring in something more to fill the fearful, lacking spaces.

About a year and a half ago, I started paying attention to what I was eating, how much, when, and why.  I began to learn what it felt like to be hungry and I learned that the feeling wasn’t going to kill me but that I had to feel it fully to understand the difference between hunger and depression, loneliness, fear, or boredom.  I realized how little food it actually took to stop the hunger and how long each meal kept that feeling away before I needed to eat again.  I realized the clock had nothing to do with when that would be and that lunch time could be 11:00 one day and 2:30 the next.  I learned a lot about myself through that process.  I also learned how to converse compassionately with the traumatized, afraid of the dark part of me who had come to believe potato chips would save her even when there was no trauma at hand and it wasn’t dark.

I apologized to her for all the times I’d yelled at her to shut up or given into her demanding tantrums only to resent her for it.  No wonder she was traumatized.  I think she forgave me, though, and the weight started to come off.  In the next couple of months I’d lovingly released over 25 pounds.

When my daughter passed away, 359 days ago, hunger vanished from my awareness completely even as loved ones began walking through my door with dish after dish of warm stuff or frozen stuff to warm later.  It looked wonderful, smelled wonderful, and I couldn’t eat any of it.  Hunger had been consumed by the emptiness that had also consumed all the light in my life, my nightly dreams, my ability to move, all motivation to live, the physical presence of my precious Dannica.  My traumatized, dark fearing, inner dear one was thoroughly insulted at the idea that a warm dish of something could even begin to comfort by trying to fill a space so abysmal.

I began observing the world around me filled with other empty people, the grieving, mourning, blindly hungry, mindless comfort-clutchers.  Initially, I felt sorry for them and wondered if they’d ever see what they were doing the way I could see it.  I wondered if they’d ever figure it out.  Then I came to realize just how much I am like everyone else.  I have my giant purple suitcase which allows me to bring all my clothes and all my pillows and all my slippers with me anywhere I choose to bring them.  I have my travel tea mug, my travel coffee mug, two travel cups with straws for iced things.  I’ve got my electronic devices, various bags and pouches and pockets for special pens and journals, snacks.  I wear pajamas out whenever I can get away with it.  I have a black flowing set that people often mistake as me getting “all dressed up.”  That works well.  I even wear a purple blankie around my neck sometimes.  I call it a scarf.  All I have to do is touch it to feel comfort.  I also wear a chain around my neck with precious charms from a friend and the rings my daughter had on her fingers when she died.  I touch them and I feel comfort.  I sleep with them and when the dark refuses to consume my consciousness, they do instead, and I am comforted.

Human beings require comforting.  It is in the job description.  Each of us is grieving, mourning, experiencing some darkness or emptiness.  Every one.  So whether life is suffering, I suppose, ultimately depends upon how good one becomes at finding comfort that doesn’t clog the arteries or cloud the mind.  I’m learning to meditate between bags of Goldfish crackers and cream of tomato soup.  I started with yoga.  It was terrifying.  I quit more than once.  When the others were resting seemingly peacefully in Shavasana, I was fighting back tears and starting to shake as the image of my dying daughter’s left hand falling over the edge of a stretcher consumed me.  Meditation is slowly teaching me to compassionately direct my mind in other directions when it’s necessary and appropriate.

By carving out the time and the space necessary to sit with myself, staring this endlessness in the eye I’m beginning to realize that despite the fear I feel about doing it, it’s a necessary part of healing my own heart and I’m going sit here in my pajamas, wrapped in my blankie if I want to.  My Dannica would be 19 now.  She had plans to go to college, too.  Were “Still Scared in Delaware” my 19-year-old daughter, I’d tell her she doesn’t need to leave her blanket behind; not for a few nights, not for any nights at all, not as long as she lives and finds comfort in the presence of her blanket.

Blankets don’t clog your arteries, they don’t cloud your mind, they don’t make you fat, they don’t make you sick, there are no side effects.  Being addicted to time with your blanket beats addiction to drugs or alcohol or another person.  Should there come a time when you feel ready to begin setting the blanket aside, a time when you learn efficient and effective ways to find comfort from the center of your soul there will be no withdrawal symptoms.  Should you decide to pick it up again, there is no shame in falling off the blanket wagon.  Think of it more as climbing onto the blanket wagon.  You’re certainly not alone there and it’s quite a comforting place to be.


Countless times in the past two months I have settled in to write again only to become afflicted with a condition known in my home as “yo-yo-butt.” I’ll write a few words then jump up to make coffee or tea or grab a bite of something. Sometimes, I’ll check the mail or take the dog out. Once in a while I’m sucked into the often substantial, gravitational pull of the couch after deciding my mind will feel much better about this when I wake up. It’s taken me this time to realize it isn’t my mind making the decisions, it is this heart, and this heart still just wants to curl up in a ball some days; most days, in fact. Today is no different but I am resisting the urge with full reverse thrusters.

The events I wrote about in my last post were a big deal to me. My trip and the journeying that happened within it was a big deal. Physically, I picked up and flew out of my reality and landed in a different one but it didn’t take very long for the one I live in to catch up. At that point, my heart broke open releasing waves of grief, hollowing me out completely once again. Once that pressure is relieved, there is space; to sit quietly, to reflect, to seek comfort, to find peace, and to question everything. (I am now resisting the urge to make coffee. Reading the word coffee made me want some but I am staying put…increasing thrusters)

The questions generally consist of, “Who am I *really*?” and “Why the hell am I *really* here?”  Once in a while I will have what I feel to be a genuinely, divinely guided day where everything is a message that I actually understand and so much makes sense, even senseless things. But then the next day I’m asking those same questions again. I have this short-term memory when it comes to miracles, I guess. Whatever angelic company I keep must just shake their haloed heads and roll their holy eyes at this one because it’s never enough. I always want one more, you know, just to be sure.

I find that most things I do, now require recovery time and the past two months have consisted of a lot of recovery time.  I’ve had the beautiful opportunity to spend a lot of time with my step-son, Peter.  I got to hug the stuffin’ out of him as well as my other step son, Jordan.  We had the opportunity to talk and to cry and to laugh.  It was a bittersweet “so long for now” sending the two of them off again.  They’re amazing young men, striking out into the world, making their way as they should be.  I feel richly blessed and so happy to be a part of their lives but it has been an adjustment, again settling into the emptier nest.

Also since last posting, I have experienced loss and fresh grief again, twice.  Tiny beings, dear pets, my son Braeden & Dannica’s pets.  Each of these little passings was the loss of another living connection to our Dannica.  I’ve also done a lot of things in these two months. I’ve met new people, made new friends, become acquainted with new clients, begun leading a meditation group once a week, said yes more often than not to all manner of invitation and event and I’ve wanted to say yes to more than I have. I believe this is the equivalent for me of yo-yo-butt on a lifestyle level.

Doing, doing, doing, wondering when I decided it was actually good advice to “keep busy.” I’m not saying doing the things I’ve been doing is bad, I’ve just come to realize how important it is not to “keep busy” to the exclusion of allowing my heart to break fully open again on a regular basis. There’s always a message there, like cracking open a cosmic fortune cookie. Why wouldn’t I want to receive that message?

This is how far I got before the word coffee just yanked me into the kitchen. (25 minutes have now passed) You may not be surprised to learn that before I got to the kitchen, I saw my shoes in the hallway so, naturally, I put them on and took the dog out to get the mail then sat back down here having completely forgotten about the coffee, yet not even realizing it had been forgotten until I re-read what I’d written about being yanked into the kitchen. Crike. Welcome to the chronic yo-yo-butt of bereavement. Why do I do this? Why do we all do this?

I have a confession to make. I was guilty of this behavior even before my daughter’s passing. In fact, I’m not sure I remember a time in my life when I wasn’t guilty of this. It has been since my daughter’s passing, however, that I’ve become more fully aware of it because it has been since my daughter’s passing that I have had to begin learning how to be genuinely alone with myself, in a comfortable way.  Even now, sitting here looking this fear in the face, I am resisting the urge to put the laptop down, get up and leave this room.  There is an empty space within me that seems to believe that something out there is needed to fill it and its gravitational pull is more substantial than the one around my couch.

Of course nothing on earth creates a larger empty space than the loss of a dearly loved one; for me one of my children, my sweet girl, my daughter, Dannica.  Yet, despite realizing the necessity of taking this time for myself, I found the further in time I got from the previous post, the more I feared facing the next one.  I began to question myself for writing at all, for sharing any of this with anyone.  In fact, I received some pretty harsh criticism regarding Beyond A Shadow of Doubt, and nearly decided to hang it up completely.  I was called “despicable” for that one.  It takes one more despicable than I, however, to kick someone when they’re bleeding and bearing their soul in hopes of healing.  I realize there will always be critics.  I also realize that despite the fact that I am generally a very private person, I have decided to move through the process of debilitating grief in a very public way so perhaps that is to be expected.

So here I sit.  Hollowed out.  Again.  And it feels good to have wept again.  To have faced the eternity of Dannica’s physical absence on earth again.  To have allowed the gravity of mother earth to hold me tightly to her in affirmation of my own choice to live the best I can… here.  Also important to me is letting those I love and those who love me know how I really am.