I left off part 2 of Family Poems Are Hard saying I thought I was done writing family poems after my first full-length collection, Dance Inside My Bones.
In the book, I have lots of poems about growing up in a difficult family situation.
Like most of us, I suspect.
There is no such thing as a perfect family.
And maybe, not even a normal one. What’s normal, anyway?
There are poems about my mother, my father, my brother, grandparents, uncle, friends, and boyfriends in Dance From Inside My Bones.
There are poems about the state of my heart and mind, from childhood to young adulthood.
So what else was there to say?
Mostly, all my relatives were alive when I wrote and published the collection. They didn’t read it.
Then, over the years, loved ones started dying off.
Some, of awful lingering illnesses.
Grief is always hard. Grief over difficult relationships ending, is especially complicated.
Complex & powerful.
My brother, who had helped with rescue endeavors on 9/11, was diagnosed with a rare, likely incurable leukemia.
My brother and I had never been able to be close growing up because my mother pitted us against one another. She was a master of hateful mind-games. And she forced my brother to to inflict physical punishments on me, as well.
This did not inspire a deep, loving relationship between us, as you can well imagine.
But with my brother’s fatal diagnosis, I realized time was short. If I was ever going to have any meaningful dialogue with my brother, it had to happen soon.
In what turned out to be the last eighteen months of my brother’s life, we talked–
really talked–a few times.
We said things, I never knew were possible.
That brief time was such a gift. A tremendous gift for which I will always be grateful.
And then, my brother died, after living his last days with a grace I never imagined possible.
A hero in life, and in death.
There was so much I never got to ask him. Or to say.
So much about our relationship I still needed to process.
So I took up my pen.
I took up my pen because writing is how I process my emotions.
Writing is how I sort what I am feeling and thinking.
I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.
Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.
I never intended to publish these poems.
But I did share a few at readings.
Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.
Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.
And then, a year later, my mother died.
My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.
Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible lung cancer death.
Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.
Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.
Unlike my best friend, who had a bad headache that turned out to be an inoperable brain tumor.
Unlike my brother, who fought the illness as hard as he could, for as long as he could.
I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.
But angry all over again that other people I loved had.
To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.
But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.
So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?
Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.
Shreds them, actually.
I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.
And more poems came.
Because there was more to say about family.
And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.
If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.
Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.
And so, I went ahead and published the new family poems in journals.
I read the poems at readings.
And eventually, I let the book enter the world.
I have no regrets.
The Dead Boy Sings In Heaven is for my brother.
And for anyone else who comes from a difficult family.
I believe if my brother could see the book, he’d give me a hug.
And he’d tell me that the Godzilla poems were his favorite.
Though family poems are hard…
family poems are healing.
Thank you for reading this far, and listening to my heart.
May you always find healing whenever your heart hurts.