Friday, July 27, 2012

Grief Mansion Part 4: Memories

In time my foot healed enough that I dared walk again. I shut the door of Physical Pain and clunked down the shadowy hallway, still searching for the exit, always looking for the way out of Grief. I jiggled a doorknob. Locked. I sighed and stumbled past more closed wooden doors. Also locked. More musty wallpaper. Grief is so obscure, so heavy. So endless. I needed a place to rest. Something caught my eye. Wait. I doubled back. My fingers touched the bumpy texture of a scrapbook page on the wall. One cut-out word predominated: Memories.

     Suddenly, a hidden door creaked open. Light angled into the hall. Someone was singing a song with no words. The tune sounded familiar. My lips curled in a smile. I walked into Memories where tall frosted windows bent beams of sunlight into surreal wavy patterns. The room, filled with piles upon piles of photo albums stacked on tables and sofa and covering the floor, ebbed and flowed like a mirage. I blinked to focus. Some albums were large, some small, but all were crammed with pictures of Steve. I lifted a book from an overstuffed chair. It felt real. I sat with the album on my lap, propping my feet on an ottoman.

     It all felt like home.

     The picture book transported me to the happy, younger days. That was me shielding us with my bridal bouquet from an onslaught of bird seed as we left the church. There we went hiking alone. Oh, and now in this one it was with baby. The tune played on. I knew that song. Oh, and here was the one of Steve with his Master’s degree. A tear trickled down my cheek.

      I turned page after page, sinking deeply into the chair. Words rose above the tune as the chorus repeated. “Memories…” Looking up, I saw a widescreen TV. A movie was showing: The Way We Were. Only this one wasn’t starring Barbara and Ryan, it was Steve and me. And he looked so real. I reached forward to touch him, certain that I would feel flesh on flesh. Convinced that I did.
I talked to the Steve on the screen, both reliving our life and telling him what was happening now. In this room, he was here again. A little magical bubble where I felt secure.

     With another album I sank more deeply into the chair. The chair and I were one for days, weeks, longer. I mopped honest tears with tissues. I didn’t want to find a way out of Grief anymore. In here, in Memories, I felt complete again. I wanted to stay right here with the past always present until I understood how it was that Steve had made me whole.

     How could I leave this place feeling like half a person? I had to understand what Steve had supplied to the me in the pictures that looked so alive. Was it something I could muster on my own? 
I turned pages of the photo albums searching for answers. I catalogued Steve’s virtues. Arranged those that balanced my weaknesses into neat rows. But how could I carry them with me? I cried out to my God who cares for the widow.

     He spoke words from the weeping prophet: “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.”

     I sobbed. Because death of a spouse in a crazy way feels like rejection. Because it’s forever. Because it feels mean and on purpose.

     A disconnected crackling sound emitted from the TV screen. I looked up in time to see an outdated station sign-off rainbow. I stared at it in disbelief. Even here. My world had moved on. The music had stopped playing. The pictures in the albums were beginning to fade. I could not extract wholeness from the past. Intense homesickness invaded my soul with this unwelcome certainty: Life would never, ever, be the same.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Grief Mansion Part 3: A Room Called Physical Pain

     I left Busyness and hurried down a dark corridor, crashing into a sharp dysmorphic something. “OUCH!” I tumbled to the dusty floor. “Great,” I lifted my foot. “I’m grieving and now I have this horrible pain to deal with!” Slowly, I pulled up along the wall and continued on my way, limping, until I felt the outline of a door. I turned the knob and fell into a room called Physical Pain. 

     A hospital bed stretched before me with a blue and white gown laid out upon it. A nap sounded good. I donned the gown, then scrunched between starched sheets, trying to ignore medicinal smells. I rested my head on the pillow. No sleep came. I stared at the ceiling thinking about my sore foot. My throat felt raw too. And… Did I ever get the results back from that ultrasound?

     I obsessed about various other pings and pangs, knots and not rights in my body. I’d been worried about Steve for so long. What if…? 

     Concerns for my health led to a barbaric biopsy and an operation.

     After surgery, with my foot wrapped in a bulky dressing, iced, and elevated on pillows, I experienced the side-benefits of Physical Pain. First, sleep came. I’d been exhausted through Steve’s illness and during the early days of mourning. So exhausted I couldn’t cry. It was as if my tear well had been drained as I sucked up the emotional energy needed to get through each day. Maybe I had depleted my adrenaline reserve. All I know is that I labored under a deep, dry, tearless sadness. And I felt alone. All alone.

     But now my foot throbbed. The pain cut through my defenses, revealing its second benefit. Severe physical pain allowed me to release tears, washing away crusty edges of my sorrow.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Grief Mansion Part Two: A Room Called Busyness

Even before the funeral, I found myself in a room called Busyness. Here papers mounded high on a vast wooden desk: bills, wills, and certificates of death. Mundane yet mandatory. I picked up a bill, wrote the check, and licked the stamp. The satisfaction of a task measured and completed when everything else in life seemed out of control could not be overrated. As I shuffled papers, I lost my pain among them. 

When the first bills were stamped "PAID" and stacked in neat rows, I looked for more to do. And then more. I needed the comfort of activity, discovering no respite in stillness. Anytime I stopped moving, grief pricked my heart. 

The post-obituary life cooperated for a good long while. Eventually though, even busyness couldn’t dull my pain. It was time to visit another room.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grief Mansion

Grief Mansion 
By Sally Slevin
Part One
I had seen the signs but refused to draw the conclusion. Then one day in spring of 2003, I saw something I couldn’t ignore. Struggling to think of a benign cause for jaundice, I finally blurted out, “Steve, you’re yellow!” 

Tests revealed that my dear husband had pancreatic cancer--the cancer at the hopeless end of cure. As we prayed for healing, God transformed our faith. We determined to trust Him, His good and perfect will, even if for Steve--as for Habakkuk--the fig tree did not bud. Through the cancer journey we found the Lord to be our strength. He drew us to a high spiritual mountaintop even as Steve seemed to wither on the vine. But by summer’s end our Lord took Steve home. 

He took me through another transformation called grief.

My grief experience was not a neat series of stages such as Kubler-Ross wrote: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and finally acceptance. Grief descended upon me, snatched me up, and swept me away. It held me captive in a dark and mysterious place. I could only feel my way along Grief Mansion’s dim hallways, stumbling through endless rooms but never seeming to find the way out. I desperately wanted my life to be normal again. But I was trapped. In time I learned that each room had been purposed for my healing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's a Gray Post Christmas

It's two days after the glamor and glitz of December 25th. Instead of a blanket of snow we have puddles of dark, icky mud that sticks to the paws of our pups. Weary. My hubby has the flu. I'm trying to nail just one or two witty sentences to complete my book proposal.

It will never happen. I'll never be done with this book. It will never get published.

Words like that crawl around my head, creating a bleak certainty--as bleak as the gray Ohio sky defying me to be creative. Heavy.

"But!" I lift my chin to the drizzly gloom. Real writers don't sit and wait for inspiration. I order my muse to drill from my fingertips onto the page. Haha!

It's coming...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Betty (not her real name)

The editor suggested that readers of Christian novels mean to escape the harsh realities of our 21st Century world. Therefore, they don't want to read stories cluttered with things like suicides, alternative lifestyles, or graphic violence.

This proclamation sparked a string of questions inside me:
  • Standards vary, even among Christians, from those wearing Mennonite denim jumpers to Mainline mini skirts. Who determines what is allowed?
  • Do I read primarily to escape? Am I looking to live vicariously through heroines able to go to places I'll never go, see things I'll never see, and achieve goals beyond my abilities?
  • And, more to the point, will my novel meet the requirements?

Ultimately, it is the publishing house that determines what is allowed. It's their business to know their readers. No publisher wants books returned, or never leaving the shelves, because readers find them offensive. I also suspect that they occasionally take risks, but certainly only when the story is brilliantly written and important to their overall goals and standards. 

It's the writer's job then, to write well and to know thy publisher.

And so, why do I read? Am I trying to escape, or is it something else?

More in the next blog.

Meanwhile: Why do you read? Please post and tell us.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Sometimes I'm not sure what it is exactly that I enjoy about writing. It's more like the "ahh" feeling you have after scratching a deep itch. And then it feels so good that you scratch a little more. Sometimes I dig and scratch until I notice, too late, I'm bleeding (code for exhaustion). And I suppose that's what I'm trying to figure out.


How can I balance a nursing career, family, friends, church, keep my writing from itching and my body from bleeding?

Of course, if somebody PAID me to scratch, that would automatically prevent bleeding.


Okay. Maybe not.

Maybe life is all about finding balance no matter what your itches are.

What do you think?

I think I better find a new analogy. I'm breaking out in hives!