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Chandra's Blog


Entries in grief (1)


Ticking boxes 

Over Easter weekend, I was searching for a recipe from a Caymanian woman for a heavenly, dense cassava cake I had jotted down in one of my notebooks, when I stumbled across this:


Boxes waiting to be ticked


My To Do list from the morning two years ago, after my sister and I discovered our father, ankles crossed, jeans, soft chambray shirt and Carpe Diem sweatshirt folded at the foot of his bed, with his hand over his heart, quietly gone.

On the list, there is everything from writing an obitaury and creating a memorial slideshow that somehow honored his long and vivid life, to gathering his eight children from the corners of the country for a service. There is the mundane, like cleaning out Dad's kitty litter box and fridge and contacting his attorney. And there is the emotionally loaded--calling his cardiologist and asking for his implanted heartrate recorder to be downloaded, so I could know once and for all, if I had gotten there earlier in the day, could I have saved him? (The answer was no--he experienced a silent heart attack before dawn. Dr. Harding said he probably didn't even wake up, reminding me of the line from one of his favorite Kenny Rogers' songs, The Gambler, "the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep". )

For weeks, through shock, grief, and excruciating jaw pain from gritting my teeth at night, I woke up and made these lists, with empty little squares in the lefthand column, waiting for my attention. My sister was making lists of her own, and at night, when we would check in with each other--how many times that day had we felt sucker punched by the realization of this new reality, life without him, sometimes we recounted our lists to each other, the squares we had filled, adding items for the next day.

"How are you?" we asked each other.

"Ticking boxes."

"Ticking boxes" has become code. It means we are getting up, going through the motions of getting things done, in spite of wanting to curl up and cry.

Today, my To Do list includes attending the memorial service of a friend murdered by her ex-husband, orphaning their three boys. She died a year ago. There was a funeral then too, standing room only, and a reception, in the gym where J and I once played hilarious, margarita-inspired couples' badminton across from Nicole and her husband after a swim team fundraiser. It feels like forever ago. 

When a loss is this huge, when it comes with the baggage of domestic violence, when a whole community is broken, it is necessary to acknowledge it again. To honor and remember Nicole, for as long as it takes.

The end of March feels like death and sadness to me now. I don't want to go to this anniversary service, to relive the feelings of this time last year, and the year before, and at the same time, I can't imagine being anywhere else. 

Ticking boxes.