bad news on the doorstep

by christie shumate mcelwee

When I woke up this morning, I was assaulted by bad news. Tragedy all around us. My heart shattered. I took my coffee to my front porch swing and sat while the late spring breeze whispered a few lines from “American Pie”: “Bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step.” I pondered the lyrics of this iconic song, remembering how my friends and I would pour over them and attempt to find some meaning in Don McLean’s symbolism. We knew it was about the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, but we also loved the tune and vainly attempted to memorize this 8 minute epic. 

After I came inside, I pulled up the song and its lyrics, and listened to it again, suddenly coming to the realization that “American Pie” is a mourning hymn. It sings of grief and regret and loss and confusion. Where do we go when our heroes die? Can innocence be lost over and over again? What saves our souls? Who do we turn to when all seems unsalvageable? The song doesn’t give any pat answers. It just allows us to sit with our heartache.

This is where many of us are right now. We don’t know what to do with our feelings of despair. We see the numbers: positive cases, deaths, unemployment figures, shuttered small businesses. The news contains wrenching stories of hate and lies and gaslighting. Fear is everywhere and hope seems, well, often hopeless. How do we process all of this? We often search for silver linings and gratitude, listing our simple joys, but sometimes we just need to sit with this overwhelming sadness. Sometimes life sucks. Don McLean sang of how it appears as though the devil is “laughing with delight.” How do we go on if evil is cackling at our pain?

I am not a theologian or a great philosopher. I’m just an anxious, messy, and awkward woman who writes rambling words with questionable syntax and punctuation. I attempt to find some type of solace through song lyrics, poetry, and prose (along with coffee and wine).

Today I found it in “American Pie.” 

I met a girl who sang the blues

And I asked her for some happy news

But she just smiled and turned away

I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed

The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed

But not a word was spoken

The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died

And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry

And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die

This’ll be the day that I die

music and lyrics by Don McLean

How About Love?

 Green Gables Cottage
Green Gables Cottage

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?
In daylights?
In sunsets?
In midnights?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in a life?

— “Seasons of Love” Rent, Jonathan Larson

How do you measure a year? 

On May 12, 2017, we traveled, with cats in tow, from our old hometown to this new place, this new town. We signed stacks of papers and eagerly entered a different phase of our lives. We downsized. We minimalized. We put together furniture, arranged throw pillows, and planted flowers. We hung a white swing on the porch, and quickly settled into our little house with the green gables. This cottage would help tell our next chapter.

A year and a few days have passed since that warm Friday in May. We have acclimated to living in a bigger city, discovering cozy breakfast joints and maneuvering chaotic expressways. I’m not clenching the steering wheel as hard as I did last summer, but traffic still accelerates my heart rate. And no one, except maybe my husband, needs to be subjected the language that spouts from my mouth when I encounter a distracted driver swerving from lane to lane as he texts at 70 miles per hour. Nope. It could make a burly truck driver swoon.

We love all the choices: of restaurants, of grocery stores, of places to walk or hike. There are wineries that snake down 94 we will explore this summer. Seat Geek will get us into Cardinal games. Our weekend galavants will include the Missouri Botanical Gardens, a new museum at the Gateway Arch, bike trips on the Katy Trail, and even a road trip up to Mark Twain’s Hannibal. 

As I rejoice in our not so new abode, I do miss certain things about our hometown. It holds our stories, our families, our histories. I miss running into friends at the store. I miss having the grandchildren over for Sunday night dinners and hosting big holiday meals. I miss long walks at Rock Springs with my sister. I really miss the timed stoplights that run the length of the downtown center.

This past winter I went through a few blue months. At first I attributed it to the cold, dreary weather, but I soon discovered I was grieving, truly grieving for what I missed. My yoga tribe. Our favorite Mexican restaurant. Weekly lunch dates with my mom. The grief was real and palpable.

That grief has lifted with the coming of spring. I sat with my winter sadness of what we left behind, but after a year, I welcome what we now possess: a community, a cozy place to land, a home filled with laughter and music and wine and pie. My friends here are no longer new. My husband and I have another favorite Mexican restaurant. My brother’s family and our new grandchild live close. Our gatherings are more intimate. We welcome visitors. We are surrounded in love. 

This is how we measure a year in the life.

 Our New town
Our New town

 Finn kicking back in the kitchen
Finn kicking back in the kitchen

  cozy office/home yoga space
 cozy office/home yoga space

 tribe
tribe

 family
family

 holiday pies
holiday pies

 birthday sunset
birthday sunset

 morning coffee with zozo. i sure do miss her highness.
morning coffee with zozo. i sure do miss her highness.

 This is us: crazy, complicated, weird, drunk on love
This is us: crazy, complicated, weird, drunk on love

The Winter (and Spring) of Our Discontent (and Joy)

“Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” William Shakespeare, Richard III

The bleak yet resplendent winter bled into cruel spring. Great loss and tremendous riches were callously thrown together.  Our broken hearts were pieced back together, and again tossed asunder. These storms have had us seeking refuge in kind words and gentle souls. Our sense of stability shattered, yet love still blooms even in the darkest of alleys. 

When we said goodbye to one of our cats, we were enveloped in a cloud of disconnect and deep grief. This bitchy feline who had graced our lives for the past eleven years with disdain and adoration caught us mourning her absence in every empty corner of our home. The one left behind snuggled closer, confused with the disappearance of his companion. We ached.

A new grandchild came three weeks early, making his family’s “party of five” complete. He had little problems entering this world other than jaundice and the complete surprise of his parents. Schedules had to be readjusted, appointments rescheduled, and more diapers purchased. We rejoiced.

Another grandchild made her dramatic entrance six weeks early, causing worry and distress among all who love her and her mother. After only two weeks in the NICU, this tiny girl is strong and fierce and adored by all. We celebrated and breathed.

A father’s heart stopped beating, leaving his family grieving the loss of this big, loud, loving, complicated man. We are still wrapping our wrecked hearts around the finality of this loss. Gratitude flows for the people who have shown up for us, offering their presence, their words, their sympathy. We grieve.

A daughter-in-law, after three years of intense study, is graduating law school on Saturday. All who love this smart and splendid women will be walking with her as she accepts her diploma. We beam with pride.

This weekend we will gather to honor mothers, family, and that damn circle of life. Each loss chips away at our hearts, but with every birth and joyful occasion the wounds begin to heal. We steady one another, throwing out our arms to the universe and embracing all that is joyful and agonizing and glorious. Summer is still weeks away, yet we feel its warmth and its light. We love.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” – John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Gilmore Girls and Grief

(I promise, no spoiler alerts.)

Oh, Gilmore Girls on Netflix, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. The coffee, that refrigerator, Kirk, Kirk’s pig, Paris’s bathroom meltdown, more coffee, Chilton, Jess…sigh…Jess, Lorelei and Luke, Paul Anka (the dog), Paul Anka (the singer), Babette, Gypsy, Emily’s maid Berta and her extended family, Sookie, Lane and her drums, and especially Emily, Rory, and Lorelei.

This show has had a special place in my heart for the past sixteen years. I followed the exploits of mom Lorelei and daughter Rory for seven seasons, and I continue to watch it in reruns, especially if I am having a rough day. Just settling in on the couch with the strange and lovable misfits of Stars Hollow heals my aching body and soul.

So when Netflix announced a four episode reboot, I was both excited and anxious. I wanted to see where everyone was now that almost ten years had passed since Rory got on Obama’s press bus and Luke and Lorelei finally kissed again. I knew since Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino were in charge, the integrity and essence of Gilmore Girls would be honored.

After one day of binge-watching on my phone, I was not disappointed. Everything was there and more. I know some have complaints about plot holes and pacing, but I was entranced. 

What I loved most about Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall is how grief was addressed. Richard Gilmore, the family’s patriarch –  Emily’s husband, Lorelei’s father, and Rory’s grandfather – has died of a sudden and massive heart attack. A wife of fifty years is forced to reevaluate her privileged life. A daughter who had an ever-shifting relationship with her father now feels untethered.  A granddaughter no longer has his steady voice to help guide her through life’s precarious tunnels. All three of these women are stumbling. They are angry, hurting, and lost in this new world without Richard Gilmore. Each woman is frantically searching how to navigate life. I won’t give anything away, but the process is magnificent to watch.

Grief is never a neat, tidy paragraph with an introductory sentence, some exposition, and then a conclusion. It doesn’t follow some pattern. It’s messy and heart-wrenching and damn awful.

It has been almost eight years since I lost my father to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. The grief is still present. It has dulled a bit, but it continues to poke at my heart.

This father of mine was a father of his times. He didn’t get down on the floor and play with us, there weren’t long conversations about our feelings, and he definitely wasn’t my best friend. He was my dad…dependable, loving, and kind. Always there…sitting in his easy chair listening to his big band music, grumbling over money, and worrying about his children.

When he died, each member of my family dealt with his loss in separate and distinct ways. I can’t speak for my siblings, his grandchildren, or my mother, but I know I felt a sense of despair I had never known before. It was cavernous, like I was calling his name out into the canyon, but I just kept hearing my own voice echoing back to me. Like Lorelei, I had to figure out how to live without my father’s influence, his presence, his fundamental character.

Shit, I’m still struggling. The loss of a parent never really goes away, it just becomes a distant tapping on your heart, reminding you of what made you….well, you.

I know I will revisit Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall again and again. These stories are music, both funny and sad, filled with emotions that are oh so relatable to my kooky life.

Thank you, Gilmore Girls, for reminding me of the brilliant agony of grief and what it still continues to teach me about love.

 media.thecelebrityauction.co
media.thecelebrityauction.co

Still Grieving: Confessions of a Stunned Bleeding Heart Liberal

“We are screwed.” This is the message that came from my friend Ryan at 11:53 PM last Tuesday.

My husband turned over and asked what was happening, and after repeating Ryan’s words to him, the tears fell. 

On Wednesday morning, I kept trying to emerge from the quicksand, but I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt drugged. When I finally crawled out from under my covers, I immediately deleted all my social media and news apps. I needed to step away, weep, and attempt to figure out what to do next.

Here is the deal. After almost six days, I am still not sure about anything. My naive belief in democracy has a big, gaping crack in it.

I am not going to engage in the back and forth. I’m too exhausted. I won’t put up with gloating, because considering who is going to be the 45th, that is bullshit, and deep down, you know it, too.

I feel bruised, battered, confused, scared, shattered, and just plain shitty. I’m achy and nauseous, and my optimism has been on the dimmer switch.

I know people I loved voted for this…man. You had your reasons, but you all have to understand at some level why I and many others feel betrayed. Only a quarter of our country voted for him. This is not a majority. My friend Ann said she is angry at the people who refused to vote; that’s the travesty in this whole mess. 

All I know is right now I am drowning in a crazy amalgam of the five stages of grief. 

    Denial: I still can’t believe this is happening to our country. 

    Anger: I’m fuming over the ignorance, the hate, the greed, and the slew of lies that got us into this fucking mess. 

    Bargaining: What the hell? Bargaining? How do you bargain with the devil?

    Depression: I’ve been despondent since late Tuesday evening, and it doesn’t seem to be lifting any time soon. 

    Acceptance? Sorry, Oprah and Obama, I can’t even say his name, let alone recognize he will soon be the leader of the free world. The thought gives me vertigo.

So where do I go from here now that I’ve tentatively crawled out from my safe haven of books, yoga, music, food, and lots and lots of wine? 

I will continue my break from social media. I’ll peek at it, but I’m not wallowing there. It’s too angry, too sad, too much. If you want to contact me, give me a call. We’ll get coffee.

I will concentrate on still harboring the light in the world, which will be even more pressing as we enter a new era. This administration’s decisions will affect us all. My innocence has imploded, but my determination is still strong. 

There is still good. There is still decency. There is still hope.

But right now I am still grieving.

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

— J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

— William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Endure and persist; this pain will turn to good by and by.

— Ovid