Tree and the Fog

The Flying Monkey: When Is Too Soon?

My brother died in June 2023, and I am struggling with it. He was too young; it was too sudden, a brain disease that was untreatable and incurable. A million-to-one shot, but the more people I’ve mentioned it to, the less likely that seems. I mourn the visits, the conversations we’ll never have. He had spent 20 years in California and moved to Florida right before the Pandemic. I was hopeful.

Everyone’s grief is unpredictable, and mine is no exception. There is a point in every day where I still cry as if his death is minutes, not months, old. It’s not just his loss, but the loss of meaning in life. We all have to find our own, I know, and I am trying to hone in on my real passions and dispel the scattered feeling that plagues my days. I am working from home now until spring, a blessing and a curse, as they say. I am sorting, organizing, and packing things to donate. It all helps, but it’s not enough.

Poetry is, of course, responsible for the most exquisite elegies. Some are subtle, and some are blatant. Forgive me for the missing examples, but you don’t have to travel far in the stacks to find any. For me, I’d seen both deeply touching salutes and work that was designed to not only honor the dead, but to shine that attention-grabbing spotlight on the poet, too. I was terrified of being in the latter group. I shut down my writing for months afterward, not feeling I could trust myself to be honest, to be fresh, to be direct. Especially on a subject that teeters precariously on the edge of the cliché abyss.

But as I’ve said again and again, poetry is my therapy. Especially now since my long-time therapist has switched gears and is no longer in general practice. So, eventually, I started making notes on little ticks of paper. A word or a line I felt I could jump off of later on. This is my usual method- a note with a key phrase that I would use later as the seed for a longer thought. Soon, the pile was too high to bear. I allowed myself to start by telling myself that these poems didn’t ever have to see the light of day if I chose.

I have never truly believed in this, of course. Poetry consists of conversation starters and isn’t meant to be locked up in desk drawers or shelved in fancy blank books. So I began to write, then typed out my poems before the handwritten drafts self-destructed and became illegible in a day or so. I write in the morning when my thoughts are clearer and less cluttered with the detritus of the work day.

I think they are good. I have no perspective on this work, much less than other work. Once January came around, with its own predictable cold and snow, I felt like I had come to the end of this particular sequence. I have never had much luck in writing a chapbook of poems on a tight theme. In this way, the collection wrote itself. One manic morning, I hopped on the interwebs, and by the end of the week, I’d sent over 30 poems out to various literary magazines and the collection itself to 3 contests. Submittable, and indeed the internet itself, makes poetry submissions almost too easy.

I now check several times a day for results, although despite the new efficiency of the submission process, some magazines still take months to respond. But it gives me something to do between calls, and one small task to comfortably repeat each day. Like putting one foot in front of the other.

Of course, I have experienced other losses. I will be 62 at the end of the month, and it would have been a solitary existence for all that time if I hadn’t. Most of those losses were in the so-called fullness of years, or at least after extended struggles. My brother’s death took less than a month. Half his ashes remain at my sister’s, the other half with his son. I have a pinch in a silver pendant my sister gave me, but it is heavy, and I can’t wear it every day. The grief is another kind of heavy, but I am learning, I am contemplating meaning in a life that I thought I knew the meaning of. Is it too soon to write about? That, perhaps is up to the individual.

And we’ll see how the poems are received. They are the start of a conversation I want to badly have with almost anyone who will listen.

3 thoughts on “The Flying Monkey: When Is Too Soon?”

  1. Naked and so powerful for that nakedness, Cheryl. These days I don’t find writing therapeutic in the sense of “working through” whatever is troubling me–especially if I’ve entered into it with some kind of therapeutic goal in my mind. But I’ve found, quite recently, that writing without conscious intention into and through my own grief has allowed me to see the “bigger picture” in a way that comforts my aching soul.

  2. Therese L. Broderick

    Cheryl, deeply poignant essay. Deepest condolences on the death of your brother. Death can be balanced by the birth of new life, the birth of new poetry.

  3. I also lost my older brother to brain disease : frontal temporal dementia – he passed over on April 18 2023 – Mark was only 61 years old – I just turned 60 – to even write this words brings tears and heavy deep breaths to hold the tears back in and then my stomach begins to hurts. Grief for me is felt physically in my body and also grief causes my mind to dwell on my guilt.
    I should have been the one to die early – I have no children – his only child – my niece, is now pregnant with her first child – a boy – this comforts me alittle and brings some renewed faith. My mom is now to become a great grandmother and I am happy for her and also sad for her as she lost my dad 9 years ago – mom and I are left together to figure it out.
    I started to paint again recently after over 40 years of no painting or creating.
    I think to express grief and feelings via a creative process is good for you and for me. Some days I don’t create and paint and that’s ok. (Recently had a painting in the Poetic License exhibit – I chose a wonderful poem to paint by Tom Corrado – my brother would have loved to see it – a red – headed motorcycle lady with wild hair and a little man and his schwinn bike in the reflection of her headlight)
    I understand you and am comforted knowing there is another woman out there close to my age who also knows how I feel without even having to meet me. I send my love to you and I’m sure our paths will cross one day even if the path is only by written words.

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