In memorial

A few Memorial Day’s back I picked up the phone to hear my sister Anna greet me cheerily with, “happy dead person’s day!”

The opener totally resonated with me and my macabre sense of humor.  Anna, who has since passed, also had a no-nonsense, Charles Adams sensibility to life and death.

I don’t mean to dilute or insult the symbolism of Memorial Day.  We have lost so many who have served our country on foreign soils and many who are serving still and wait at the ready if we need them.

I’ve been thinking of my dad today, a man who served in “the big one” WWII.  His Army unit famously crossed the Bridge at Remagen before it collapsed into the Rhine in the closing weeks of that war.

Like most vets of that generation (and maybe most generations) he did not talk about his time there, but we all knew it impacted and chipped his psyche in a way we could never relate to.  He came back from Germany to his Kentucky coal mining community a bit emotionally damaged but buried it underneath the constraints of the time.  He married, fathered five children, and pioneered a better life in New England.  Over the years and especially after retirement, his demons or whatever he had tamped down for decades, would surface and we would rally around to ensure he was safe until the episode passed.

My parents now lie in a veteran’s cemetery in Florida.  My mom went first, and I remember her graveside ceremony clearly.  There is a tower there that plays military-themed chimes on the beautiful cemetery property.  As they lowered her into the ground, “Anchors Aweigh” chimed in the distance.  I had smiled to myself over that.  Again, that macabre sense of humor surfacing to rescue me from the mire of sadness such occasions bring.

Laughing gas

I had cause to have a molar extracted recently and it wasn’t pretty.

With age comes the encroachment of our body parts starting to show wear and tear.  However, teeth have always been especially problematic for me.

When I was very young my baby teeth grew in black and rotted.  I still don’t know exactly why that happened.  One sister speculated it was the “vitamins” they had pregnant women take back in the ’60’s when my mother was carrying me.  I mean, I surely was not the lone first grader spitting tobacco juice out on the playground gravel.

In any case, I had to have all of my teeth extracted at one sitting so my adult teeth could come in.  I still remember that “rubber ball” smell of the gas mask they put over my face as the procedure began – but blessedly not much else.

Fast forward to last week when I had to have a tooth extracted to make way for an implant.  Thinking perhaps of that time 50 years prior, I timidly asked if I could get gas.

“Oh yes, we can give you gas and Novocaine,” the oral surgeon’s assistant assured me.

Sweet!  This will be easy, I thought.

Early into the procedure it became clear all was not sweet, but had instead turned as sour as sauerkraut.

“Well, you have a nasty infection underneath your tooth and I’m afraid the Novocaine won’t touch it,” my oral surgeon, Captain Obvious stated, as my writhing turned into full-fledged muffled screams of pain and panic.

I’m sure it was actually a short time that I experienced such pain, but as is true in any unpleasant instance, it seemed to go on and on.  Tears began to leak out of my eyes and since I was reclined, pool into my ears.

The tears were only in part due to the pain.  I was mortified that I had screamed and made a fuss.  I know clinically the pain was bad, but as an adult, was embarrassed by my lack of stoicism.

Also, whenever I face trauma now, I tend to get upset because James is no longer here to help me.  I started to think about that while in the dental BarcaLounger and cried even more.  In my past life, he would be there, and has even sat with me while I’ve had some minor albeit painful procedure done.  I’d look at him and since he was not wincing or showing distress, take my cue that it was going to be OK.

My life is now like that broken tooth.  I worry it with my tongue.  I chew around it, and try not to fully engage it.  It will never be the same.  And when I feel like I might be able to start acting like my old normal self, the hidden infection that is grief and loss, resurfaces to remind me painfully, that it is not.



Do’s and dont’s when addressing grief

Now that we’ve managed to muddle through Valentine’s Day for all of you happy Hallmark people, I’d like to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I don’t normally “cheap out” on my posts but this recent article by David Pogue featured in The New York Times echoes many of the things I’ve been saying or felt these past few years.

What to Say (and What Not to Say) to Someone Whose Grieving.