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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss Warmland.

Posts tagged #death

 

Check out my interview with Avril Ewing!

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We chat about:

  • What brought Avril to Port Hope
  • Avril’s favourite things about Northumberland County
  • The various work Avril does both professionally and as a volunteer
  • The seasonal offers she has going on as an officiant
  • Working in the funeral industry
  • How to grieve effectively
  • What to say (and what not to say) to someone who is grieving
  • Owning a business and being a woman in business
  • Emotional labourand more!

    Featured Tunes:

    The Funeral Party by The Cure
    I do I do I do I do I do by ABBA
    Lovers in Dangerous Times by Barenaked Ladies
    Hasn’t Hit Me Yet by Blue Rodeo

I’ve been listening to poetry
For hours trying to find
Something that feels as familiar
As you did the first time you
Introduced me to the static
Of this world that mid summer
Burning
Crimson
Red hot
Rose petal
True love
My mother
You were like a Friday evening
And I was Saturday morning
You looked at me like I was
The best choice you had ever made
So when I celebrate you on
This day I am tied to
With the roots of your arteries
On this harvest moon
I’ll hold you at the helm
Of the care that you gave me
While I hear the echo of your
Heeled shoes through the sound
Of the still static.

After I’ve opened myself
A thousand times
-More than that
Uncountable times
Exposed the insides
That I wear so outwardly
You would think that
Maybe
I would find some way
To feel held
By the fractured ice,
By salt stains, bright lights
But as it turns out,
It is me
My plain language
My “could be pretty” face
My still-too-big body
Where I sit with my
Self-loathing
Where I turn it into
Care and compassion and the
Tight embrace
I have searched through
Winter for
For eleven years.

CW: death (feat. lyrics by Dashboard Confessional)

I remember her body
tiny and frail
convulsing in my arms
still pretty
still in this physical world
back then.

I sang to her

“she smiled in a big way”
her dry, thin lips unmoving.
“quiet in the grasp of dusk and summer”
it was late December,
but she was quiet.

“you already lost”
as she faded from me.
“when you only had barely enough to hang on”
it was true.

“she made you better than you were before”
I wanted it to be so.
“she told you bad things that you wished you could change”
and I grew up
so young.

“she said, nobody here can live forever”
And she died a couple of days later.
“Some things tie your life together
With slender threads,
And things to treasure,
And days like that should last and last and last”

he came home
I was already awake
he didn’t have to say anything.

my brother,
silent,
hugged her body.

I,
frozen,
touched her hand.

my suddenly too-big body
vibrating
I drew in a deep breath
cold air
scraping against my insides
inflamed.

CW: death, death of a parent, cancer, mental health, care-taking, crisis

I don’t remember very much about the summer I was fourteen except that I did backstage crew for Les Miserables put on by the Burlington Student Theatre Arts Camp. I’ve always measured my life through association with whatever show I was working on at the time. I also spent a lot of time that summer sitting on the back deck with my mom in the backyard of the house I grew up in surrounded by flowers, two Japanese Maples, and the pond that mom was constantly re-creating. We would read trashy, secondhand, paperback novels (V.C. Andrews for me, Nora Roberts for her) that smelled of coffee and mildew and eat sweets alongside our vanilla tea.

It was a time in my life where I was discovering the constant ache that is clinical depression and generalized anxiety (and everything that comes along with it). Ever the researcher, my younger self took to the internet and then the library for something to describe what I had been going through for the last few years. I wanted so badly to understand. To be honest, none of the psychology books ever came as close to describing what I was going through as My Chemical Romance did.

The week before I started grade nine, I was sitting at the kitchen table with our freshest secondhand book store scores, waiting while Mom finished preparing our teas. She was talking to me about something casual and nondescript that I can’t remember anymore. She kept losing her train of thought and stumbling over her words, something she had been doing a lot lately. We had chalked it up to “fibro fog”, a common symptom of fibromyalgia, which she had been diagnosed with for years. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had been struggling to read all summer, and most of the time I had spent sitting on the back porch with her, she had simply been pretending to read and enjoying sitting beside me.

She started to sob in frustration. She couldn’t remember my name.

“Green…green, I can’t…”

It was rare to see my mother like this. She was a woman who shared a lot with me, but who always tried to spare my brother and I the extent to which she struggled with chronic pain and fatigue. It was a struggle I wouldn’t fully understand for a few more years. The night before, when I had been in my room, I had heard her scream at Dad and throw a plate at him. This wasn’t like her at all, and I knew something was off.

Since I had been researching my own struggles with mental health, I recognized her sudden change in behaviour and cognition as signs of a potential mental healthy crises. I had read about this. I knew what to do.

Dad and my brother were at some hockey thing or some golf thing. So I called my mom’s sister at work and said, “Something is wrong with mom. I need you to come pick us up and take us to the hospital.”

Mom sat at the kitchen table and cried. “Green,” she pleaded with me.

“Everything is going to be okay. We are going to get you some help,” I told her. I didn’t cry.

My aunt arrived and assessed the situation, agreeing with me that something was wrong. She called our family doctor and asked him to meet us at the hospital, and we drove there. They admitted her, and then I don’t remember very much more until the next day, when I came to bring mom a laptop and some O.C. DVDs. I think it was Dad who told me that the scans had come back, and the doctors had found a brain tumour on a part of Mom’s brain that affected language and emotional regulation. They were going to do surgery the following week, and once they had removed the tumour, they would do a biopsy to see whether the tumour was malignant or benign. There was hope that this would all be over in a week. Maybe Mom’s fibromyalgia would even be cured, who knew. Mom, who had always smoked, immediately quit, cold turkey. I took the cigarettes from the top drawer of the hospital cabinet, sat in Mom’s bathroom upon getting home, and smoked my first cigarette.

I remember going to all of my classes a few days into grade nine and explaining to my teachers that I would be keeping my ringer on my phone, and that I would leave the classroom immediately if it went off because my mother was having brain surgery and it was important for me to be able to handle potential crisis. Mom deserved that from me.

My phone didn’t go off during class, but when I exited the front door of my new school that day, Dad was there to pick me up, even though we only lived a fifteen minute walk away. I already knew what he was going to tell me, I had known since the moment I had heard the words “brain tumour”. It was malignant. It was also in her lungs and adrenal glands. I had lived with chronic nightmares and the seemingly unfounded belief that my mother would die from cancer when I was fifteen, and that premonition I had chalked up to anxiety was coming true.

For the next year and a half, I watched my beautiful, intelligent, opinionated, creative mother die. She fought, never wanting to believe that the cancer would kill her. After her brain surgery, she lived through radiation and chemo. I used to go sit with her during chemo while we marathoned crappy t.v. shows. I wish I had known more about cannabis at the time, but I had chosen to stay completely sober upon learning about her diagnosis. She needed me more than I wanted to learn to party, but I often think now that maybe cannabis could have helped her.

She went to all of my brother’s hockey games for that first year. Bundled up, makeup fully done, she was there. She had begged the brain surgeon to spare as much of her hair as possible while he removed the tumour, but shortly after starting chemo, she bought a beautiful wig that looked a lot like her hair had been, but thicker, which she was pleased about. She laid in bed while I sang to her and begged me to tell her it will be okay, just like I had as a kid when she was mourning the loss of her own mother to cancer.

“It will be okay, mama”.

A lot happened that year. I started getting really into going to shows. I fell in love. I joined choir and band. I watched my friends struggle with their relationships with their mothers and learned to cherish mine, even though it was hard and the brain tumour came back shortly after the surgery, so she still couldn’t speak fluently or regulate her emotions. It was really hard, and I have had to work hard to forgive myself for being wrapped in my own life as much as I was and not spending even more time with her.

Mom died at 3:00 a.m., January 1, 2007, which was four days before my sixteenth birthday. I gave a eulogy at her funeral, and I didn’t cry. I often feel spirits around me, but almost never hers. Ten years without her, I am still learning to own the affect losing her has had on me and learning to celebrate her life, even though I only remember bits and pieces of her from before she got sick. I wish I had gotten to know her more. I wish I remembered the sound of her voice. Sometimes though, I hear the sound of her wedge heels and catch glimpses of her when I look at my own legs or in my face when I do full theatre makeup.

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She told me once
“good poetry is what makes you feel”
something real, something bigger
than you:
The Moment.
I am a robin in the tree behind her house
snow cascading, furious,
settling on my wings
like cotton, like my mind
I am hope, she is a tree.
An orchard stands around her
blankets of snow
over firmly-rooted toes
curling around the soil
grounding, anchoring,
pulling her close.
I am a robin, and she is a tree
still close to me.

this time around,
I don’t feel the need to
fight/flight/freeze/fuck
or to perforate my
scar-stained flesh.
it helps not to be fourteen
fifteen
sixteen
seventeen but
twenty-six. 
it helps that I have loved you
and know now
that love is
patient/kind/hopeful
not
envious/angry/selfish
loving you-
is delightful because it is true
loving you-
is the taste of sugar
after black coffee.
it helps that I have loved you.
and though my body is here,
I am sitting on the bed with you
laughing too loudly
over curse words and cold tea
and how our love
is delightful because it is true.

For years,

you and I would
find a spot
in the corners of
the bathroom floor
legs folded
into impossible positions
a demented form of comfort.
I still sit that way.
At seventeen,
I sang a song
“here I am not, seventeen
trying to beat your record
nothing but a teenage whore
lying on the bathroom floor
Mama, take me with you”
– a shrill cry
about how you weren’t
on the bathroom for
not with me
not at all anymore
and I smoked.
I still smoke.
Now,
blue and gold pack
the fan sucking in the smoke
while I sit
and breathe
and sing to you
so you may hear what I hear
taste the smoke from my cigarette
fit with your legs
entwined through mine
impossibly still.
We celebrate,
the way that you are alive
because I carry you
in my identical legs
and my identical lungs
and the way that I am alive
because I choose it to be so
because only those that stay dead
shall remember death.

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When I was fifteen, I designed a tattoo I wanted to get to commemorate my mom. The word, green, was the name she gave me when her tumour-riddled brain refused to let her access words- including my name. The font was taken from the band that played the first show I ever went to (with my mom), and I incorporated a moon and star- we had always shared a love of the sky. It was meant to symbolize our relationship, and it included symbols of all the most formative things my teenaged brain could comprehend at the time. My dad made me wait until I was 18 to get the design tattooed on me, but he did suggest engraving it on the bench that looked on to her grave. On my eighteenth birthday, he handed me a hundred dollars, I picked up my best friend, and I finally got my green tattoo on my left forearm. Years later, my brother would get the same tattoo, tying him to us even closer than he had been to start of with.

A year and a half later, my dad and I had a huge confrontation that resulted in us barely speaking for years afterward. During this confrontation, he expressed his disapproval of some of my choices, and I told him, through salty, gasp-filled breathes, that I was an adult who was capable of making my own decisions about my life. That same summer, I got my fourth(?) tattoo by a woman who was just learning to tattoo in her apartment for $20. Three birds sitting on a wire on my left wrist, one flying away. Dad, my brother, (still at home), and mom (who left, but is still here). On my right arm, there is one lone bird, soaring. Independence. The birds are facing me- a reminder. I went straight to a concert (The Specials) and danced until I was so drenched in sweat that the bandages on my wrists fell away into the pit and the ink smudged throughout my new tattoos.

It has been eight years since my first tattoo, and my body is now home to seventeen pieces of permanent art. Seventeen stories to illustrate my life so far. Just a couple of days ago, a lovely friend graciously offered to hand-poke one of her drawings into my skin. I looked through her sketchbooks and found a thin evergreen tree with an eye for roots, complete with straight lines extending downward. I instantly felt connected to the naturalness, the resilience, the grounding, the good vibes, the introspection, the connection of this image. I thought for a while about the placement, and after discussing with another close and cherished friend, my initial intuition was confirmed, and I decided on the placement: my left forearm, parallel to my green tattoo, and so that the roots of my new tree, which faces away from me and out into the world, extend towards the lone bird on my wrist wrist.

This series of tattoos wasn’t even meant to be representative of my healing process as I have learned to grieve for my mother while simultaneously standing in my power. But it was. Really, it’s a perfect expression of how when you learn to accept the universe as it is, that’s a step towards ending your own personal suffering. I am so grateful for this process.