Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quilt Story

It was near this time last year that I finished this quilt. Ages and ages and ages ago. I was in the midst of whatever I was in the midst of, thinking this was going to be the last baby quilt of the year because I was going to start school. It wasn't. I squeezed in another one that fall, a fan quilt. Electric fan. The colours were that bright, that intense.

This quilt, the one up there, went to a baby born to a newly widowed mother. Her partner, also a friend, and client of mine, hung himself in their farmyard when he found out they were expecting again. He'd been unwell for a long, long time. Longer than I'd known him. Longer than she'd known him. Maybe always. I suspect this pregnancy coming so soon after the first baby was more than he could imagine coping with. He definitely took a turn for the worse after the first one arrived. She was only about six months old when he died.

He killed himself in November. Her parents came to help their daughter deal with all the myriad details of death, and suicide, and property matters. An ex-girlfriend was stealing things out of the yard, and claiming the property for herself. His birth family, threatening to sue for custody of the grand-children, threatening to sue for the property, but not willing to travel back West for the funeral. It would be hard to imagine a worse scenario, and it was all for real. It was all worse than this, actually, and went on for a year, but there's no point in me telling it. Unbelievable. The sort of train-wreck you'd read about in the news.

He'd stopped dealing with garbage in the months before he died. And what can anyone do in a situation like this, except bring food and boxes, hold babies, help clean? So that's what we did, those of us who could or would. I still had the elderly van at the time, so I took charge of the garbage situation. Thank the gods it was November and not July. Instead of taking things to the dump, he'd just stashed bags and bags of trash in all the little outbuildings scattered over the property. So I went searching, found what I could, skated it back to the van and took it to the dump.

Her dad pointed out the shacks where he knew for sure there was garbage. He took me into the lean-to and showed me the footprints in the dust on the metal trash-can lid. "This is where he did it," he said, pointing at the rafters above us. "This is where she found him." Because she did find him, after hiding from him for two days because he was behaving so violently. She came back to the farm with her mother beside her, the baby in the back seat of the car, came to get her things and move out. She walked to the house, realized what she was seeing in the lean-to, turned around and walked back. She didn't go look. She didn't go look, because she knew what she was seeing and what was the point? She didn't look, and she's so glad that her professional mental-health training kept her from looking. Who needs that picture forever?

My picture is those footprints in the dust, on the lid of the trashcan. I don't think of it too often. When I do, my imagination supplies too much information as it is.

I didn't talk much about this at the time. I didn't realize when I first posted this picture that I needed to talk about it now.

I saw him a couple weeks before he died. I invited them over for tea and a lunch, and they came with the baby and we visited around the table, and his eyes were wild. He talked about the red-road spirituality that he'd adopted as his own, about his experience at the lake when a spirit reached out of the water at his face and screamed at him. What did he see? "Not all spirits are good spirits," I said. This is true. I don't know what the spirits are, whether our own fractured selves manifest so clearly in moments of stress that they take on shape and form and personality, or whether these are otherlings, but that there is something, this I know. And not all spirits are good spirits. I talked a bit about power, and that in the end, kindness trumps most everything else. He listened, but I don't know if he heard.

When he left I had nightmares for days. I went to my acupuncturist, told her what had happened, let the needles pull me back into myself. Yes I love acupuncture because it makes our bodies well, but I love acupuncture because it's a window into your own soul, too. It helped. I was able to clear out the noise and trash he'd left behind. I think that's the only time in my life when I felt so polluted by an interaction with another person.

Then I got her phone call and gasped for days while arranging meals and running back and forth to the dump, tears raining down my cheeks behind the wheel.

I dream sometimes. Three days later I dreamed that I was driving along a vast lakefront, and there was a house on fire, but very very slowly. More like a creeping cinder that was definitely consuming the building, but over the course of days rather than minutes. I stopped because I could see children running in and out of the front door. I went in, and there was a woman packing clothes and boxes. The house was utterly decrepit, broken windows, peeling lino, empty spaces in the cabinets where drawers had been. I asked her how it was going. She smiled wearily and said it was time to go anyway, that there was a better house waiting for her. I left and drove away, and watched a raven diving into the sea after fish.

I told my friend about it later. She started to cry and told me his totem animal, the one he felt most connection to, was the raven. She felt that this was a sign that he's moved on. I hope so too.

I still wonder if I should have said more when I realized there was something really wrong. But I can't imagine what that would be, or even that he would have listened, or that it would have made a difference. Sometimes things just have to unwind the way they're going to and all you can do is stand witness. Maybe, as brutal as it is, the kindest way is the way he chose after all.


Alecto said...

not all spirits are good spirits. I'm thinking about those footprints and I think it's an incredible brutality all the way around, but it is final and the finality of it all is a kindness.

I'm not sure I breathed through that entire post. Good you got it out into the light. xxxooo

Hellena Post said...

What an amazing story. I can relate to a lot of it - my friend Michael had just been in jail for assault, though a usual gentle and compassionate soul. And he left behind children. And struggled with mental dis-ease. And hung himself. You were awesome to help her afterwards, and help her get rid of his waste.....

I spent a bit of time thinking about all the things I could have done to help him too.

And the quilt is beautiful:)

Thankyou for sharing.

sledpress said...

I suspect nothing we can say at these times makes a difference. I've been closer to suicide than I want to talk about now, close enough to feel the guilt and bewilderment and wonder what I was supposed to have done. It's just not a burden than any of us are required to bear.

You do your diligence by helping the living. After the moment of drama, there is always the chopping of wood, the carrying of water, and that's when you see what people are made of.

I know what you mean about acupuncture. It helps things that most of us would be hard put to name or assign to a category even.

CG said...


gfid said...

you're back! with a summer to breathe, before re-joining the big kids, and kicking intellectual butt! with the exception of the evil mummy and the idiot sister, you're probably the only person on the planet who's EVER doubted your mental prowess. .... or your compassion.

Karen said...

What a heartbreaking and lovely story of pain, loss, and love.
I was drawn in by the gorgeous quilt and stayed for the story.
I do hope your friend has seen the last of such tremendous levels of pain and chaos...
Peace to you, the good kind of friend, the kind who *really* loves,

Mercutio said...

This is terrible.
Water is known to harbor spirits, and as you say, not all spirits are good spirits; in fact, some are quite bad.
A body of water is a window into another world. In the old days, the warriors would tie themselves upside-down by the ankles and gaze into pools of water for hours on end to travel into other worlds. Water carries things.
A lot of the wisdom they brought back has been taken to be myth or nursery tales and such; but they were using words they knew to describe something there were no words for. There is so much to life and being alive that we really don't know.
The way I call it, a bad spirit came out of the water and got him. It's probably still there; and I wouldn't want to go there to find out. It probably doesn't have much power to move very far out of the water.
I say it was that bad spirit that hung the man.
I think you should sprinkle salt around all the rooms of the house. Pour some salt in your hand and sprinkle it over every wall. The salt will drive the spirit away. In about a week, maybe less, there will be a significant difference in the feeling of the place. If not, more drastic measures might be required.
But it's a dangerous situation. The vessel has been removed, and the spirit has been spilled.

Shadowmoss said...

Making what needs to disappear just disappear is a great kindness to a friend who is stressed. The letting go, even of garbage, can be painful and full of guilt to the ones directly involved. I say that the most blessed gift my best friend gave me during my stressful 2 weeks of packing up my house to move across country was that when I said something needed to disappear, she made it so.