All posts tagged: Loss

tuenight peace whitney johnson brother suicide

On Going to a Better Place: What I’ve Learned from My Brother’s Death

Originally published in the Loss Issue, 2016 I have a picture of my younger brother when he was four days old. I’m sitting on my parents’ black and white geometric-patterned bedspread, cradling him. It’s one of my favorite photographs. I’m the oldest, followed by my sister, 13 months later. Almost a decade passed before my parents had another baby. Bryce’s birth was momentous. He was charming from the first day, with a wide, impish grin. As time went by, my mother would say, Bryce is going to do great things: He has the brains, the work ethic, the brawn. When Bryce was thirteen, he started drinking. In our family, drinking wasn’t just about experimentation. No one in my family drank. At fourteen, when the cops called to say he had broken into our neighbor’s house on the hunt for cash to buy booze and drugs, my mother called me at college, desperate and knowing there was a real problem. What had begun as acting out for Bryce had become a salve for anxiety and depression. When my …

Even When Dad Was Dying, We Kept Laughing

(Photo: Stocksy) I am one of the lucky ones whose parents, through a combination of good genes and good living and good luck, were still around when I was in my 40s. When I thought about losing either one of them, which I did rarely and fleetingly, I pictured myself sobbing next to a hospital bed, drained faces, the gaping abyss that would come with the loss of someone who had loved me unconditionally from my first breath. Then my dad got sick in June this year and died in July. And I realized I’d left out an important facet of the process of losing them: laughter. Admittedly, mine is a family where a quick wit was prized and prodded to higher purpose. A sense of humor was as important growing up in my home as was the ability to work hard, tell the truth and clean the rabbit cage without being nagged to do it. I don’t believe we were special that way; the proprietary humor that can thrive between family members is part …

Grief and Gratitude: Knowing Nannie Was Worth the Pain of Losing Her

Heather in the kitchen (of course!) with her Nannie. (Photo courtesy Heather Graham) In early 2007, we sat around my Aunt Mary’s dining room table talking about ways we could celebrate my grandmother’s birthday. Nannie was turning 80, and though she referred to her contemporaries around town as “the old folks,” she in no way considered herself one of them. She’d still have been driving (like a bat outta hell) if her last hip surgery for a degenerative condition hadn’t significantly weakened her pedal-pushing leg. Las Vegas came up. We sipped coffee—my aunt, my mom, my cousin Erica, Nannie and I—as we imagined a glitzy adventure littered with Elvis impersonators, convertible Caddies, big winnings, free booze and overflowing buffets. We envisioned ourselves road-tripping cross-country to party in Vegas. The things we’d do, the people we’d meet. It was even suggested that Wilhelmina might come out of retirement—Wilhelmina being my grandmother’s vagina. Come November, just 45 days before anyone could assess the fire hazard of shoving 80 candles on a cake, my grandmother left this life. …

Rings to Remember: The Art of Mourning Jewelry

A collection of mourning with distinct features; broken tree, urn, and pearls. (Photo courtesy @luckandlockets) When I was 10 years old, my parents gave me a copy of Gone With the Wind as a birthday present. While I didn’t understand it all, one of the many things that stuck out in my mind from the book was the concept of mourning. I learned that in Scarlett O’Hara’s world, society had strict rules to follow about behavior and attire after the loss of a family member. In just a few chapters, Scarlett goes from 16-year-old flirt to widow, and, as society dictated, being a widow she wore a long veil and black, eschewing social activities in observance of her loss. While these strict customs have mostly faded, one physical relic that remains from that time is the jewelry. Called mourning jewelry — also referred to as memento mori jewelry — these pieces commemorate the death of a loved one and serve to remind us that death will come for us too. As an antique jewelry enthusiast, …

Margit’s Note: My Mourning List

After rolling out of bed every morning, I shuffle to a particular spot on my living room rug, take a few deep breaths, set my intentions for the day and then mentally list the names of the people I miss and mourn: grandparents, aunts and uncles, half a dozen pets, lost friends, parents of friends, a few people I never knew personally but left an indelible mark (this year, it was Sharon, Bowie, Prince, Leonard). These are people I just don’t want to forget. I gather them up and sort of hoard them in my head. Each time someone I love (or someone I love loves) dies, they get added to my morning/ mourning list. I once told my 70-something mom about this routine, and she laughed, “Oh, that list is going to get unmanageably long.” That may be. But, for now, it keeps their spirits alive. And, in fact, a few of them now have a job to do. Several years ago, I was dealing with some sort of pressing decision about work while walking …

Ghosted and Gone: I May Never Know Why She Left

Let’s call her Jane. Out of respect for her feelings. Even though I haven’t spoken to her in several years, even though it has been almost seven years since we stopped being best friends. Well, I thought we were best friends. Was I wrong? Maybe. We met when we were both editorial assistants at a chic, smart women’s magazine. Obviously, we were both thrilled to be there. She was Ivy League Official, though. I felt intimidated by her legit status. At first, I didn’t like her. I’m sure it was some kind of competitive pheromone exchange that made me instantly bristle and want to turn away from her. But she would pop over from her aisle to mine, plopping down in my visitor chair to chat with me and the other assistant across the aisle. I remember that I always made her laugh, which warmed me up to her. I remember that she was really smart. And wore way too much brown for my taste. I remember a few months later when I told her …

tuenight drugs dionne ford kids

The Drug Talk I Never Needed to Have

I’ve never had the drug talk with my twelve and fifteen year old daughters because I’ve never felt like I had to. So many people in our lives have died from alcohol and drug addiction that discussing the point seems moot. Death has been talking loud and clear. My daughters’ first life and death lesson with addiction came when they were eight and eleven. I was picking up the youngest, Dev, from an after school activity one early fall afternoon. A bunch of us parents were waiting in the school parking lot for the kids to be dismissed, when a young girl ran up to me. “Excuse me, Dezi’s mom,” she said, tears about to spill out of her eyes. “My dad drove me here to pick up my brother, but he was driving weird.” Her dad was drunk, she said, and she didn’t want her or her brother to have to get back in the car with him. Stacy was a sixth grader like my daughter, Dezi. Her brother and my youngest daughter were …

Random Acts of Cancer

I went to a memorial service today for my friend, Jeanne, who died two days before Christmas from brain cancer at the age of 58. Her sister spoke, as did her closest friends and her children, but it was something her husband said that stayed with me: “I used to think things happen for a reason. Now, I believe things just happen.” To me, those words underscore the randomness of cancer. With the exception of people who practice risky behaviors that increase their chances of getting cancer, the rest of us can only hope that luck is on our side. Cancer strikes with ferocious democracy — it doesn’t care how young we are or whether we’re complete innocents or evil to the core. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Many scientists believe in the randomness of cancer, too. Last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used a statistical model to determine that random mutations may account for two-thirds of the risk for getting many types of cancer, leaving heredity and …

Me & Jo: When a Friendship Breaks Apart

We met when we were in our late 20s, acting in a play together. On breaks from rehearsal, Jo used to scoop me up in a fireman’s carry and walk me around the room, yelling, “WHY, GOD! WHY DID YOU TAKE HER!?” while I went limp and pretended to be dead. The first time I hung out at Jo’s apartment was around Christmas, where we bonded over our insane love for the holiday while basking in the glow of her tree. Our friendship deepened and I felt free enough to bring up a small incident that had bothered me, something reasonable Jo had said, but at the wrong place and the wrong time. There was something about Jo’s being that made me feel that it was safe to be honest with her about it, and she listened receptively to what I had to say. A new level of trust bloomed in me in that moment: trust in her and trust in myself. It was a giant gift, and I heard from a mutual friend that …

Late Night Snack: “Loss” — Our Very First Podcast

Well it’s appropriately and officially “Late Night” (almost midnight, here on the East Coast) and we’re posting our very first podcast. Back in October when we had professional actors read some of our stories aloud at our TueNight birthday party, we realized how fun it was to hear our words aloud. And, since we Google Hangout (amongst ourselves) each week to plan upcoming issues, we thought we’d also share a bit of that behind the scenes with you, dear reader. So HERE. WE. GO! This week: We discuss this week’s theme and our own forms of “Loss” — from loved ones to cats to heck, virginity. We read an excerpt from Wendy Goldman Scherer’s piece, “The Inlaws: The Collateral Damage of Divorce“ Rebecca Soffer, co-founder of Modern Loss talks about her own grief, and why she started a site all about loss. Have a listen, and please tell us what you think in the comments below. Production Notes: Adrianna Dufay did an amazing job producing this whole shebang. Much love friend. Special thanks this week to Ben Patterson, from HeresTheThing.com for the mic loan and more. …

Being Small is the Greatest Escape

There is no such thing as quantifying loss. Loss is beyond measure, inherently both heavy and weightless, its true burden to be measured only by those who are carrying it. In that way my dead parents equals your failed business venture or your sister’s cheating spouse. We cannot assign it a hierarchy. Loss takes, and takes, and takes. This price is what equalizes. We only need know it takes. I had the hubris to write a book about walking through a season of loss in my life. I called it Falling Apart In One Piece, a bit of wordplay that pleased me, because with it, I could announce my failures and overcome them, too, in a single breath — even though the truth is, it took me almost three years to walk that distance. The night of the book’s official publication, I was feted at a party. It was a poignant kind of triumphant: I stood on the stairs in the entry hall of a friend’s beautiful suburban home, surrounded by dozens of people listening …

The In-Laws: The Collateral Damage of Divorce

I married young. Well, young-ish. I should have listened to my grandmother (who didn’t live to see the wedding) when she told me it was a mistake. I should have listened to the voices in my head. I should have called it off before we stood under the chuppah and definitely should have called it off before the mauve-flowered brunch. But I didn’t. It was heartbreak to realize my husband had no interest in being married to me after two years. Sure there were signs. Big fat neon signs. And when he basically stopped speaking to me, I truly got the hint. He was a horrific match for me. We had nothing in common, it seemed. And that day (it was Rosh Hashanah) when he told me at the park that he hated my father and that I was just like him, it stung. Sharply. So when he asked for a divorce, I was all in. But at that moment, I didn’t think about how hard it would be to tell my parents who paid …

Ode to a Lost iPhone (A Poem)

It’s morning in ChelseaI have but a selfieto show where you might last have been.I’ve scanned all the garbagePeered under the cushionsI love you like dearest of kin. Are you in the dryer?Looked lower and higherIn search of my wee data fix.Seems my 5S is goneI’m such a moronMaybe I now buy a 6?I lost all my contactsMy apps are for naughtHow can I now get an Uber?Hailing a cabAnnoying and drabFeeling like such a big loser.How ’bout the cloud?Oh, I was too cheap!to cough up for additional storage.Hubris, my friendYou got me againPlease now talk me down off of this high ledge.Hey — I never claimed to be a poet. Although poetry writing was my major in college. Whatever. Just read on, phone owner.My license allows(poetic that is)To above say some technical fallacyOf course I have back upto prevent for the lack ofmy iJunk but oh now-you-seeHow punished a girl(a person, to wit)Can feel by the loss of a phoneTo keep track of my gearand prevent such bad fearI may need a personal drone.So …

10 Years After Losing Twins, A Mother Reflects

I was almost six months pregnant with twin boys after undergoing IVF when, at a routine anatomy ultrasound, we discovered one twin had died, and shortly after we got the rest of the bad news. I was suffering from preeclampsia, a severe case, and I had to be admitted to the hospital immediately. Twelve hours after I was admitted, the doctors surrounded my bed and told me that I was going to die unless the pregnancy was terminated. Either my son and I could both die, or I would just lose my son. It was the worst day of my life. After I came home from the hospital I disappeared into grief. For three weeks I lay on my couch, watching reruns of the vampire show Angel, and listlessly eating junk food. I spent most of my time in the gray of loneliness, a hand on my empty belly, feeling terribly lost. I remember handing out Halloween candy to the neighbor’s kids while silent tears ran down my face. I remember occasionally swimming out of …

What I Learned When I Lost My Hair

For most of my freshman year of college, I wore a wig. My mom’s stylist had cut and dyed it to blend seamlessly with my own thinning hair. It looked natural, but I was always afraid that someone might find out. Maybe someone would knock it off-center at a party. Maybe a professor would notice the fake hairline behind my real hairline. After a few days of clipping the wig on behind closet doors or inside bathroom stalls, I realized I had to come clean to my roommate. The possibility that she’d spill my secret filled me with terror. People would find out that I was ugly, resent my fakeness, and leave me alone in a new and daunting place. All I could do was communicate how immensely important it was that she not tell a soul. I wanted to scare her into silence and she kept quiet like I’d asked. I didn’t consider the possibility that another person valued me enough to respect my wishes. I didn’t feel valuable, only afraid; anxiety is super …

The Beast with the Least: Taking Our Manx Home

Straight out of college, back in 2001, I took a job with the San Francisco SPCA’s animal hospital. Every morning I’d drive down to the Mission and spend the day processing new pets and arranging veterinary care for others. I saw homeless people with piles of donated towels they’d collected and brought in to use as payment for their beloved pets’ medical bills; I saw sweet old pit bulls covered with bite marks from when dogfighters had used them as bait; I saw a stone-faced lady lie down on the floor of an exam room when it was time to put her cancer-ridden Rottweiler to sleep. I’d cry the whole way home in the car every night. It was wonderful to spend so much time with animals — all I’d wanted when I was a little girl was to be a veterinarian — but the reality of so much suffering I was unable to prevent bowled me over like a wave. It was a kind of helplessness I’d never imagined, much less experienced. One day …

Close to Death: From My Hospital Bed, I Could Hear Her Dying

Someone was wailing. I pawed through the bed sheets for my 3-month-old son, but I couldn’t find him. Everything felt hot and damp from my leaking breast milk. I heard the cries again. Oooooh! I kept trying to peel back the twisted linen. And then, Mercy! Mercy! This was not my son bellowing. Instead of his fuzzy head I found a giant call button. Then my eyes made out the lopsided fruit basket and plastic pink water pitcher. I tried to sit up, but got caught. There were wires snaking out of my gown and I smelled like a sour armpit. The past 24 hours leached slowly back into my brain. I was 40, had just given birth to my third child, and was training for a half-marathon when a night of “bad indigestion” turned out to be a heart attack. Instead of picking up my older kids from the playground after school, I’d found myself on a metal table, gazing up as a handsome Italian doctor stented one of my coronary arteries and chatted …

Margit’s Note: What We Leave Behind

As we get older, there’s more and more we leave behind. Or we packrat it up in a plastic bin and try to hold on. But with people, places — and even hair, pets and phones — we know there will always come a time to let go. This Week: Cecily Kellogg reflects on the loss of her twins. Lauren Oster returns her beloved Manx. Wendy Scherer parts ways with her in-laws. Shira Mizel contemplates the loss of her hair. Stacy Morrison asks what happens when you lose everything? Jody Jones writes an ode to last year’s iPhone. And for Modern Loss’ Abby Sher, death is only a hospital bed away. Offline: TueNight Talks: If you’d like a little behind-the-scenes on this here site, I’ll be speaking at the Indie Media Camp in Brooklyn tomorrow (November 19) in a talk entitled, “I Started a Site Last Year and This Is How It’s Going.” Yep, pretty self-explanatory — should be lots of fun. Also at the conference will be Fusion’s Dodai Stewart, Medium editor-in-chief Kate Lee, Gothamist’s …