Monday, December 31, 2007

Year to Come

On this day of last year I was walking around less than one cross-eyed look away from falling and crashing into sharp, jagged shards of myself, the result of living too long without sleep and compressed by the full, combined vulnerability of motherhood and small business ownership. But a day or two later, there was something about the turn of the year that encouraged me. Sometimes it does. The Fall was behind me and the just-finished retail season's numbers were very good compared to the previous year's. The store was closed for the first week of January, which gave me a break, and our first day of inventory seemed to go well. Major plumbing work happened that was long overdue. It seemed like even if I was still fragile, I was getting a little more functional, and that there was reason to think things would settle down enough for me to catch up on lost sleep, at least.

Then Helen Hill was shot and killed by an intruder in her home. A few of you reading this knew her and were rocked by her death as much as I was. I spent January in shock and tears, searching the internet for answers that weren't there. I read every newspaper article. I combed her memorial site constantly. I read every blog I could find. I listened in on message board discussions between her friends in Halifax and between slime who'd never met her but were willing to say that her political views led to her death.

Anything that mentioned her name or her husband's, anything that gave me a scrap I could use to understand what had happened, I searched it out, hour after hour for weeks. I wanted to spin those scraps into a story that would let me contain the shock of Helen's murder, but what I found instead was a map of the way one violent death in one doorway in one American city tore into person after person, uncontainable.

It tore into her husband and son more than anyone, of course.

I've been sending them care packages. I sent the first one the day I heard, a package of books that had in common that they held no mention of parents. The exception was Michael Rosen's Sad Book, a simple, searingly honest picture book about the author's anger and grief at the death of his mother and son. Charming Boy's father and grandmother later told me that during the weeks they stayed with Helen's family, that was Charming Boy's favorite, the one he wanted to have read to him over and over.

Since that first package, I have tried to send one box a month. I haven't quite met that goal, but maybe every six weeks, I've collected a few books and toys and added things Z. or I have made and sent them off. Z. is only a few months younger than Charming Boy--if he were going to her daycare, they would be in the same class, so she takes a close interest in these care packages. We usually have a box going, collecting things over the course of a few weeks, but after I sent the last one off--late, as usual, mailing out my blue-and-silver-wrapped tchotchkes a few days after Hanukkah ended--well, I haven't started a new one.

What could I possibly send for the beginning of January, the end of the first full year without Helen? The beginning of the next year? The beginning of all the next years? I'm stuck. All of a sudden that next package feels beyond me.

I think I need to send it anyway, though, and I think I need to get it in the mail before Friday and Helen's yahrzeit. But I have no box going and I can't begin to think about what to put in one. I sort of want someone to give me a shopping list this time so I don't have to think and can just do. So I'm asking you for one. Be my autopilot, will you? What should I send this time?

And, no, at the risk of sounding snarly, I don't want to be told about what a nice gesture the care packages are. I just want to get a push to get over the lump of my grief so I can keep going with them.


Jenny Davidson said...

I don't have an answer, I just want to say hi & wish you all the best for the new year...

Julia said...

Comfort foods? jams, hot chocolate, nutella? Pictures from Z to Charming Boy. A note from you to his father. A promise to burn your candle on yahrzeit too.

kathy a. said...

i am so sorry, S.

they need to know she is not forgotten. it may be too painful this year, but at some point, perhaps you can find and copy photos, write some of your thoughts and memories. and/or collect those in a memory book from your circle of friends.

what do you think about sending a living plant or tree? perhaps something they could plant in the spring? not practical for a box, but a local nursery might help. we have planted flowers, trees, rosebushes to remember our loved ones -- kids can help plant.

for charming boy, perhaps a snuggly blanket?

E. said...

I think the key is to make clear to them just what you made clear in this post: that you recognize that anything you send is completely inadequate. I don't think it matters what you put in the box because the point is the disjunction between the ephemerality and triviality of the objects and the permanence and enormity of the loss. The care package, then, is a signifier of the fact that you remember, not what you remember. In other words, your gift is important not because whatever objects you choose can offer true comfort, not because they are metonyms for your relationship with Helen, not because they can capture even a bit of the experience of her loss, but because they serve to mark the void, the emptiness, the pain...and thus the memory.

To that end, here's one suggestion: maybe you can make this package include things that signify the tension between permanence and ephemerality, the concept of absence, and the act of memorialization itself. A shopping list: a journal or blank book, candles, a plant (as Kathy A. suggests), pressed flowers or leaves, a clock or watch, photos and photo albums or frames, a glass ball that refracts the light, a mirror, something that holds water, a note explaining why you've included these items.

Good luck.

elswhere said...

My own inclination would be to send things for Charming Boy that let him get lost in regular kid things--like those pirate band-aids. But that's me; sometimes I shy away from the hard and real work of grief, and go for the frivolous and flip.

Though, come to think of it, some fancy kid band-aids might not be the worst thing to put in along with some of the other items people are suggesting. They're inadequate for serious wounds, but they can be comforting.

There's also a book called "Courage" by Bernard Waber that's really good. But maybe not for this package. I don't know.

Anonymous said...

What a terribly sad time.

Sending the package so they know you are thinking of them is more important than the actual contents. What about some art supplies for Charming Boy so he has something creative to do when he opens the box? And I like the idea of something to grow. A plant is probably too difficult to send, but maybe you could slip in a few seeds.

One last thought - a suncatcher to hang in a window? Mom

jo(e) said...

I was going to say something along the lines of what e said. A blank book ....

Mostly, I just to leave a comment to say that I read this beautiful post.

kabbage said...


S. said...

Thank you, everyone. This helps. I like the idea of things that can be used up or filled, like food or candles or blank books. There are also a couple of pictures of Helen I've never scanned, that I should.

I realize there's something about the physical solidity of presents that feels wrong for this box, so E., your comment helped me think that through.

And Els, great minds! We did send pirate bandaids in September, for Talk Like a Pirate Day.

susan said...

A box for Charming Boy--a box he can paint/color and then keep treasures in.

This is a beautiful post, S.