Writes With Pencils

fiction, memoir, essays and poetry

Tag: Death

May 18th



Today is the anniversary
of two traumatic events,
one of a grand, cosmic scale
and the other intimate and personal.

35 years ago today,
Mount St. Helens
erupted violently, spewing ash
that blew through several states
swamped rivers,
and destroyed enough trees
to build 300,000 homes.
I still remember the feel of the air
the grey dust everywhere
and the feeling that I
could no longer trust
the earth to be still.
I was 13.

10 months ago today,
William McClure
fired a single bullet into his head
that instantly ended his life
sent ripples
that shocked and grieved many
and destroyed our loving home.
I still remember the officer’s voice
the stunned friends’ faces
and the feeling that I
could no longer trust
that love was real.
I was 47

In these 35 years
I’ve felt the firm earth,
I’ve felt it shake,
and I’ve learned that
it is the earth’s doing
not mine,
and I walk without worry.

In these 10 months
I’ve felt the warmth of love,
I’ve felt its loss,
and I’ve learned that
it is love’s doing
not mine,
and someday my heart
will open once again.


The Language of Death



When someone dies
we talk of her passing away
that he left us
she departed, is deceased, rests in peace
or even simply that he died.
But when someone dies
by his own hand
we say he
committed suicide
the way we say that one
commits a crime
or a sin
and with it comes the judgment,
confusion, and shame,
the ostracism and otherness
we cast on the committer.
We plague ourselves with “why?”
trying to understand
the incomprehensible.
We separate ourselves
from this conscious, evil act-
“How could he do this to me?”
runs through the egos of our minds,
distracted from the death’s true nature.

Words are powerful things.
Simultaneously, they describe
and form our thoughts.
Words can become our masters
if we simply swallow whole,
without tasting or chewing,
those that are fed to us.
But just as easily,
if we peer beyond the rhetoric,
we may choose
to make of them a tool
or the raw materials
to build a new idea or belief.

Therefore I choose and propose
a different set of words,
a phrase that best describes
the manner of this death,
so reviled and misunderstood.
When I tell the story of William’s death
I now say that he
died of suicide.
Like dying of cancer
or a heart attack
it describes an illness,
in this case of the brain,
a disease so massive
that it causes a suffering person
to go against all base instincts
of self-preservation
and survival
to end his life.
It is not a choice,
like what movie to see
on a Friday night
or whether to have ice cream
instead of cherry tart.
It has a progression,
it runs a course
and once the brain
enters the tunnel of despair
unable to see light on either side
the organs of perspective, reason,
and optimism
shut down and cease to function.
It becomes terminal.

Suicide is a disease,
not a choice.

A Note from the Clean-Up Crew


There’s more than one way to commit suicide.
Pointing a gun at your head
and pulling the trigger
is only one of them.
I’ll leave the other countless ways
to your imagination.
All of them
permanent solutions
to a temporary problem,
all of them.
All of them messy,
all of them.

Even if you take sleeping pills
or use a small caliber bullet
or your body is never found, swept away by the currents,
you’ll still leave a mess behind.
Even if you leave your affairs in order
and wash all your clothes
and leave a list of all your accounts
and passwords,
you’ll still leave a mess behind.

A mess for the person you said you loved
to clean up.
A mess for the person you said made you feel loved
cared for
and heard
to clean up.

All the accounts to be closed
back taxes to be filed
storage units to empty
and friends to inform, many of whom I’ve never met.

There will be your things, all the incidental things:
the mix-matched silverware
the camp stoves
neck pillows
report cards
and the hideous, cat-scratched recliner
that was so “you”
to be sifted through
packed up
given away
pitched in the bin
or kept.
Each one a task.
Each one a decision.
Each one a mess.

And the little intimate things,
the things that will make me cry
when I find them,
the hand-printed t-shirt I bought you
on the first trip to Hawaii,
the one with the gecko on it
that made you smile when I gave it to you,
and your phone
where I discovered the beginning
of your unsaid wedding vows to me
sketched out in notes.
I’m keeping those,
even though just thinking about them
still turns me into a snotty, crying mess
nearly ten months later.

Then there’s the messiness of shared places
and shared memories
and shared meaning
to clean up.
It took six months before I could drive by
the place I used to drop you off at work
without crying.
The restaurant where we had our first date
I managed to visit with a friend
the week after you died,
while I was in shock,
it used to be a favorite
even before I met you
but I haven’t been back.

Everywhere I look, I see you.
Not your ghost, but the vision
of what we shared,
dreamed of doing,
promises made,
or simply my wondering
what you’d think
or feel
or say
if you were there.

You’re everywhere,
I’ve washed the sheets and still
I feel you between them
and the emptiness
of your not being there with me.

A permanent solution to a temporary problem,
a withdrawal from pain
and suffering.
An end to pain
and suffering.
For you.

And that end
is only the beginning
of the mess
and the pain
and the suffering.
For me.

Postcard from the Universe



This week the earth
has shaken its pinnacle;
falling bricks and crashing ice
have claimed 4000 peaceful lives.
Last summer a mind
shook its own foundation;
deluded thoughts and fired bullets
claimed two single peaceful lives.

As I checked in this morning
with the receptionist
for my annual medical exam,
a conscious attempt at self-care,
she asked whether William
was still my emergency contact.
No, he’s de…ceased, I responded.
With kindness she offered
a cup of hot mint tea
in response to my flood of tears.
With gratitude I accepted
the random mug
she had grabbed from the clinic break-room,
a souvenir brought back
by one of the nurses
from a life-changing trip
to the top of the world.

As I inhaled the fragrant steam
I smiled at the beautiful image
of a Nepalese temple
which now no longer exists,
a postcard from the universe
reminding me
that mountains crumble
whether made of character or stone.

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