Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I keep seeing labyrinths, or rather I am just noticing them. They have always been there. There is a sticker labyrinth on the stop sign near the funeral home four blocks from my house. One on the cashier's necklace. One in the bricks in front of my Monday night meeting. To walk a labyrinth is a meditation, perhaps even a prayer, so says The Wise Wiki. There are things I have forgotten, and this is one. My memory of labyrinths involve minotaurs, and Daedalus, and Ariadne. There wasn't a meditation there except do not let the bull-man eat your head.

When you go into a labyrinth, though it looks a tangle of confusing pathways, you always come out. I remember my natural birthing coach telling us this as she taught us to draw a labyrinth on cardstock. It was an exercise. Drag your finger around the path. You can't make a wrong turn. You can't get stuck in corners. You aren't in a maze. I like that there are no tricks. No cleverness here You are on one long path, spiraling to a center that turns around and spits you back out. She coached me to think of labor this way. I forgot, for obvious reasons, anything involving natural child birthing. It just was zapped out of my skull, like Attica Greek and the minutes before I found out she was dead. Wikipedia says the labyrinth is a symbol of our path to God, or the path to something else entirely. The beauty of that analogy sits in my brain for a moment. That is more comforting than minotaurs in the middle.

I dream of the dead. My grandfather and alcohol. They both smile and remind me of what I no longer have. I miss them both, separately, for their own reasons. And yet their absence is okay, they lived their lives.

My grandfather died in the same way that my grandmother died. She harbored an invisible and undetected cancer in her lungs, but still, they both died from pneumonia in hospital, eleven years apart. After my grandfather died, I found a notebook in his belongings. It was from the last days of my grandmother's life as the disease took residence in her lungs, ravaged her. She had a breathing tube in her throat and could not speak, so all their conversations were on this stenographer's tablet.

I can only read a page here and there. It is too overwhelming to read. Sometimes I wonder why I keep it, yet it seems too sacred to throw away. She writes, "It hurts, Michael. So much more than I can bear." And the next line, she asks if he found her socks. To read her suffering in her own handwriting on the page...I have often wondered if in his last days, he thought about that notebook. If he knew the pain that he would experience, the desperation that would be coming. I wonder if that death was something he feared, or more like the devil he knew. Pain I expect is always less than the pain of the unexpected.

The grief changed with the notebook. She suffered. I put that out of my mind, I suppose. I washed the death, because I was not there. It was a beautiful death in my mind's eye. She waited for my grandfather to come to the hospital. Then she let go in his arms. But this notebook reminds me that it hurt her. The illness wrenched the life out of her, squeezing her lung. This strong woman wept and begged for her life.

I never asked myself before if Lucy's death hurt her. Did she suffer? It is so easy to fall right into a maze of torturous grief thoughts. So easy, I didn't even realize I walked into the huge hedge maze with the sign in front that reads:


The other day, we sat at the traffic light in front of Harleigh Cemetery, the one behind Dunkin Donuts, where Walt Whitman is buried. It is a few miles from my house. "A famous poet is buried there," I said to Beezus. I don't know why I mentioned it to a four-year old. In the moment, I suppose I thought if you bury me, bury me next to Walt Whitman.

Beezus didn't miss a beat. "Is Lucy with him?"
"What do you mean?"
"Is Lucy buried there?"
"No, honey. Lucy was not buried. She was cremated. Do you know what that means?"
"It means that after you die, when your soul leaves the body and that person no longer feels any pain and all the tests are done, they burn the body and make sacred ashes. We have her ashes in our house."
"WE DO?!?!"
"In the living room."
"I suppose in some ways she is, but in many others, the important ways, she is not."

But is she in the living room? It feels like a puzzle I cannot solve. And I felt like I had to say over and over, but she is not hurting. It didn't hurt her to be burned to ash and fit into the smallest jar in the world.

I saw this sign the other day and I can't shake it.

I do not have a soul, it read. I am a soul and I have a body. 

Maybe the body is a labyrinth, our soul climbs in and travels about, like a corporeal pilgrimage. We think we are our thoughts. We think we are the body. We forget that there is a way out again. Like Icarus, the way out can be wax wings rising above the whole mess, or the way out is to go back the way we came, but the way of wisdom is to follow the path, wherever it goes, no matter how pointless it feels, because we know we get out somehow.

Grief, however, is a fucking maze. And there is a minotaur in it. The minotaur wants to eat your heart, and then have sex with your corpse. I know it is disgusting, but I am only telling you the truth of the matter. It's a goddamned minotaur. Awful oversexed beast. The maze is designed to catch you up. It looks straight forward, like a hedge path at times, but then it ends, abruptly. Straight up there is a green, dense bush. It can't even be called a bush, it is a wall of hedge. You turn and take another path, and there is another fucking minotaur. Except this minotaur has a concerned look and is asking you why you aren't over her death yet. She was so little, he says, and she hadn't even breathed yet. Maybe it was God's plan, and who are you, really, to question God's plan. You stammer. You  scream at the minotaur, "THERE IS NOTHING TO 'GET OVER'! I JUST MISS HER, ASSHOLE!" The minotaur feels sorry for you, tries to eat your head, and you tell him you taste bitter and salty. Later, after walking for a few more years, it becomes something else, the maze, I mean, not the minotaur. You realize you are walking out of it. You no longer give a flying fuck what minotaurs say about grief. Maybe the maze is an illusion so convincing, it should just be called real. You get out of it, but you must find your own way out. You create the turns. You create the exits. You must believe this path has a way out, even when you don't believe it. It is a riddle. After you walk out of it, you realize grief was a labyrinth, not a maze.

Except maybe that is an illusion too. There is never a way out, but there is always a way in.

I am trying to figure out what I want to say about death and grief, but it is right there, stuck in this puzzle.

Walk forward. You already are in the maze. Walk deeper into the rocky maze to walk out. Trust that you will come out. Or don't. But you will.


  1. Oh, awesome. This convoluted mess went live. How fucking awesome. Obviously, I am struggling with where I am at and where I fit into the world.

  2. This wasn't supposed to go live? It seems finished to me.

    For some reason, I really like Bea's reaction to Lucy being in the living room. And I really like that body/soul quote.

  3. It was complete. But I sit on them for a day or two and usually rewrite 1500 times.

  4. Those damned Minotaurs. This was beautiful, as usual, by the way...

  5. All of those questions about pain - I try to run away from them, but they tie my stomach up in knots. I want to know, but only if I get to know what I want.

    I'd like to write something here about how I wish I had known what to pack for the maze, the labyrinth - sandwiches? a thermos? maybe a flashlight? the traditional ball of thread? - but really, today, I just wish I'd never gone in there, that none of us had.

  6. The labyrinth makes me so fucking tired. I should be growing or praying or meditating or finding some kind of inner peace, and instead I'm just walking in circles, wanting to sit down and have a good cry. I need to remember that labyrinth's aren't mazes and there is a way out eventually.

  7. Have you read Kate Mosse's Labyrinth? A cracking good read with lots of musings about love and grief and the eternity of it all.

    I have to confess I never wonder if Emma's death hurt. I need to assume that it didn't and I can't deal with another truth. There were no signs of distress at all and it was a sif she simply slipped away and then I feel anger because I don't want it to have hurt her, I want to think that she died enfolded by my love and my body and there isn't a better way to die but if it had hurt ... just a little ... might we have noticed. Might pain have saved her life ... and I'm back in the maze.

    Your unfinished posts read better then anything I manage to finish!

  8. In the first weeks, I thought for sure I would never return. Stuck staring at a stone wall with no exit. A maze of pain.

    Now further in, I am starting to see a pattern. I think it is a moment when I step to the other side that I feel peace again but inside of the me, I know I must return.

    One place you fit is here for sure. Your writing always inspires me.

    I get lost over and over and see that stone wall but it is easier now because I know if I retrace my steps I can find a way out once more. I think I will return often in my grief probably for the rest of my life. But just knowing that days will come and go where I am okay and I can smile and laugh on the other side. Well it makes the maze easier to navigate.

    I hope you are able to find a place where you fit. This must be a dilema that we all get stuck in. Lately I ask myself the same question, Where am I and where do I fit into the world?

  9. Angie, I can't begin to tell you how much this post resignates with me. I can't believe you proof your posts, no need this first draft is beautiful! I'm glad it went live. I don't think it could have been any better.
    Thank you for giving me the labyrinth analogy. This is a perfect way to describe grief of a mother. I have often struggled with the Minotaur. I'm almost comfortable with him. He makes me feel reality; my son is real, I did give birth to a healthy baby that never breathed outside of me. The Minotaur is my reminder that this is real and will never go away. Now, I just need to find an obedience class for the beast and tame that son of a bitch!

  10. "But is she in the living room? It feels like a puzzle I cannot solve. And I felt like I had to say over and over, but she is not hurting. It didn't hurt her to be burned to ash and fit into the smallest jar in the world."

    Oh my yes. I struggle with this often. It hurts my brain to puzzle it out.


  11. Right, it didn't hurt her to be put in the smallest jar in the world, it hurt me. It tore at my flesh. It burnt me to a crisp. It floored me, gutted me, left me ash-y.

    Stefanie- I feel like I need to clarify that this isn't necessarily a first draft. I first write in MSWord, then put it into notepad to get rid of the html formatting of word, then I put it in blogger and format it. At that point, I usually save it as a draft. Then I sit on it. I never used to do that, but there were a few posts that if I had thought about for a little longer, I would have held. Maybe not hurt people. I find that when I go back, I tend to edit out the extremes of my posts, like the words hate, loath, anger, fuck (I edit out most of my cussing. Only a third of the fucks survive and most of those don't need to be there.) In this one, perhaps the minotaur would not have sexually violated anyone. Maybe this part isn't interesting, or maybe I should write a post on it. What happened with this one is that when it was blogger ready, I put it in, formatted. I sometime schedule posts for the next day, or later in the day, so I have some lag time to think about it, edit in my head, etc. This one I didn't set the schedule, thought I did, but just pushed publish. And then when I went to my reader, I saw it was in there.

  12. I really liked this post. I'm glad it went live even if that was unintentional and you didn't feel it was finished quite yet.

    I was obsessed with mythology when I was a child and so this post has done all sorts of strange things to my mind.

    And ah, that notebook. That notebook. That will stay with me for a long time.

    Who doesn't wash death? Just a little. It's such a temptation and if we had to look at it close up, perhaps we simply couldn't stand it. I know I wash Georgina's death and I was there. I know she suffered but I choose to wash that thought away. Because that is a maze from which there is no exit. Or perhaps it is a labyrinth. I quite like the idea of Georgina's body as a labyrinth. Or perhaps I'm just washing again. Sigh.

    I don't know, perhaps they are hanging out with Walt Whitman somewhere. Our daughters. Perhaps they are in our living rooms and our wardrobes.

    There is so much here that I would like to respond to but I feel I'm not doing it justice. So I'll stop here. Thank you Angie. I'm glad you are writing about these things.

  13. Sometimes I wish I had had Holden cremated so that he could be here with me. Then I remind myself of two things. 1. That is not Holden. That is Holden's body. and 2. I did what I could at the time. I can't regret that because it didn't hurt anyone. His body is buried with my beloved grandparents and my father's older brother who died at only 3 days old. So his body is in a good place. It is with family. Or HE is, if I forget that those are only their bodies.


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