Low Points



In the vast terrain that is Memory of my life so far, there are gentle slopes and curves, a few sharp turns, more peaks than I probably deserve…and four deep trenches.

I can name them.

1) When I was eleven or twelve years old, my baby sister, Darla, died. She was not quite two months old. I can picture how she was in life, her sweet cheeks and fluff of hair and Cupid’s bow mouth. I can see her, still, in the small casket, in the white baptismal dress each one of us wore before her. I remember how we clutched at each other in sadness and in fear, at her death. Fear at seeing our strong parents crumbling in their grief. Fear of our own newly realized mortality.

2) After fourteen years of marriage, I divorced my husband. I never planned for that turn of events. I didn’t see that as even the remotest possibility, going in. We had planned to grow old together.  In my Catholic family, I was the first to use that option. Divorce changes everything. It alters your past memories and future plans. It ruins holiday traditions. It changes the whole world’s opinion of you and the way your own children perceive you. It forced me to re-think the person I was, and the person I would become.

3) When my youngest daughter was fourteen and a half years old, she chose to go live with her father. It didn’t go well, or certainly not as I would have liked. I couldn’t make her come back and the courts wouldn’t force it, so I watched from a distance with great sadness and regret.

4) In the summer of 2011, my sister, Sheila, died – without warning – less than two weeks before cancer took my mother’s life.

These are the low points of my life, the trenches in my memory.

I’ve had other losses, other break-ups, other heartache…but none have shaped my life the way these have. None can pull me back in the way these can.

It happened just yesterday.

I was writing about my little dog.

I’d been running through it in my mind.

There was the walk in fresh snow, when we came upon the tracks of a coyote who had passed by. Both dogs – Clover first, then Rosa Parks – dipped their nose into each paw print, then, nose-to-nose, looked into each others eyes. “This is serious!”, I imagined was the message that passed between them.

I was going to write about the idea that Rosa Parks is about the size and weight of a year-old baby. That the heat from her body, when she curls up to sleep in the bend of my knees or around my feet, makes me question my resolve to spend the rest of my life alone. I didn’t realize how much I was missing the warmth of another living thing, until I got her.

I was going to tell how snarly Rosa is, how protective of her space when I go to get into bed. In the morning, though, with tiny baby noises, she crawls up to give me little nudges, to show me her belly and to let me scratch her ears.

I started to write it, but wandered, and before I knew it, the story was about my tragedy more than it was about my little dog.

I don’t live my life in grief. I’m quite happy most days. I certainly don’t plan to introduce my loss into everything I write.

Yesterday, I just strayed too close to the edge.

14 responses »

  1. Cindy, you are such a beautiful writer. I am so thankful to be reconnected with you in our “old” age. I do remember when your baby sister died. It was the first time I’d ever heard of a baby dying, and I think it changed the way I saw your family, too. God bless you, my friend.

    • Thanks, Kate, for your continued support and kindness! It’s amazing, when my sisters and I get on the topic, how many “issues” we have that lead right back to that first, early loss. Even Amy, who was younger than Darla and never knew her, says she always felt the absence!

  2. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have lost two sisters and a mother, and then the others. Painful. Brutal. But your writing about grief is stunning. Truly stunning. Thanks for sharing these imporant moments from your past.

    • Thank you, Kathryn! If I’m going to be wallowing in misery – which I seem to be, too much, lately – it’s good to know I can do it well! Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

  3. Dear Cindy,
    What a mind shaking post. Your writings are so truthful and meaningful. As I read your story I could feel your grief. You write so well. I can only imagine what those deaths were like and the divorce and then your daughter leaving to live with her dad. That had to have been extremely difficult to take. Personally it would have been an affront to me as a mother. But you have survived and survived very well- at least it seems that way. I really like the way you write and that you are not afraid to reveal a part of yourself. And I am so glad that you have little Rosa P.


    • Thanks very much for your kind support! Yes, these were definitely the lowest points of my life. They were huge, to me. Still, many, many others have worse lots to bear. All in all I feel I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and don’t spend too much time dwelling on these sad times. They do seem like trenches, though, and sometimes when you slide into them, it’s not so easy to get right back out. Thanks again, Yvonne, for reading, and for your comments.

  4. Indeed the trenches are difficult to avoid, much less climb out of. The scars and wounds that never heal are things that shape our lives for better or worse. Losses that change lives forever are necessary yet dreadful, but to have loved to deeply to feel the loss so intensely is a beautiful thing. Revisiting grief once in a while isn’t such a bad thing; but wear your climbing boots to crawl from the darkness back into the sunshine.

    • That’s a very clear assessment, Sara! I do think I have gained and grown from every loss. Other than the birth of my daughters – raising children changed me so much – losses have been the biggest factor in shaping the person I’ve become. You’re right about the climbing boots, though…I don’t want to stay in that place for long! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  5. Sitting with your grief, Cindy, and imagining how it shaped your life, your perspectives. I think a part of me wants to make grief disappear. When reading some of your posts I feel more like welcoming grief as a long-lost friend into this labyrinth of life. Hugs…doggie and human.

    • Yes, sometimes I do need to just sit with it. I don’t necessarily understand it, or why some events stick with me – change me – more than others. I do know that others have suffered much worse. This is only my story, my selfish perspective and its only my promise to myself to not censor what I feel I need to write that keeps me putting it out there. Thanks for reading, Kathy, and for your comments.

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