Category Archives: Erika Saboe

There Are No Small Deaths

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This post is in defense of those who have connections with other people we don’t understand. As I hope we’ve all experienced, it’s possible to meet a person and ‘get’ them, as if we are estranged best friends. Some of these bonds are stronger than those of family. It’s possible to feel closer to one’s fourth cousin than one’s grandmother. Bit players in our lives often morph into the main actors. By living in reverse, we don’t see their importance until they’ve stepped out and away from our lives.

Only the person experiencing the feelings of loss at a person’s passing knows to what depth those feelings reach. Tendrils of connection are often invisible, incomprehensible, and unknowable. It’s important that we abandon the false expectation that we understand the loss someone else is processing.

There are no small deaths.

Even with my best arsenal of words and passion, I sometimes struggle to describe the nuances of another person and their importance accurately. That’s the best-case scenario even when I’m communicating with someone who shares a great deal of humanity. It’s a fool’s errand with those who lack a common understanding.

When a person commits suicide, it’s human to question all your choices, as well as your attention to the person who has left us. Even without the shadow of self-harm, we tend to experience a depth of introspection when we lose someone.

Whether it’s fair or not, suicide strikes us an accusation. We have to give space to those who need more time to find first gear again. Implying that the loss isn’t a reason to grieve is an unacceptable reaction.

Because of the invisibility of many of these connections, one of the most traitorous acts you can do is to doubt or question whether the relationship was real when another person is suffering from the unexpected rupture and loss. “Did you know him or her very well?” or “Were you ‘friend’ friends?” both serve to undermine and accentuate the pain of the other human being you’re inadvertently demeaning.

“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot” is one of my favorite clich├ęs precisely because it reminds me that I’m not privy to all the information contained in a situation or between people. I’ve committed the error of assuming I know. Worse, I’ve judged people based on what I perceive as only imagined depth. Because I’m human and stupid at times, I fear that I’ll do it again.

A typical example of callousness is when someone says, “It was only a dog” in reaction to someone’s disabling sorrow at losing a pet. Such shallow and meaningless comments only serve to highlight the accuser’s fractured self. We should feel compassion for them, as they’ve been deprived of a pleasure in life that they’ll never understand. It was indeed ‘only’ a dog. The greater truth is that a human being had a deep love for that dog. You’re not demeaning the dog; instead, you’re demeaning another human being’s choices and authentic feelings. From the right perspective, such an attitude is monstrous.

Likewise, when people are involved, the callous person can’t know the person they doubt shared a bond with you. The connection isn’t measurable. We can’t see the swell of your heart or the yearning you wish upon the Earth to have this person inhabit your space again. Grief makes even the best of people uncomfortable. As you learn with age, it also unhinges people who have no foundation to come to terms with the helpless sorrow they see from other people.

Perhaps the person who passed once took a moment and literally reached out to let you know that you were seen, measured, and appreciated. Whether you were indeed at your rock bottom, their outstretched hand and openness pulled you out of the abyss. These moments create a bond that’s difficult to inventory – and treasured forever. Because these moments are often private and held close, those left behind are often the only witness to their measure.

As people die, it’s important to remember that grief is terrible, personal, and unknowable. Each time we’re the one experiencing the loss, if we are lucky, we suddenly remember the lesson of connection.

Time, with its caress and embrace, imperceptibly diminishes our pain, even as it prepares us for the next dark surprise.
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*…written for someone struggling with friends who don’t understand the loss…
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Guest Post: Erika Saboe – A Musical Memory

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When I was 15 I had a very emotional time. I was horribly sad. Enough so that I asked my parents to commit me. What I was going through seemed so insurmountable I could not fathom working through it. My parents did not ignore my plea. And for a month I was institutionalized.

It was almost like a twisted resort of sorts… I had a private room but a shared bathroom, I didn’t mind that. My days were scheduled for me. When meals occurred, when activities happened, etc.

When you arrived you were stripped of all boons. No music or pleasantries you were used to. This was before cellphones or internet. My makeup was taken away. One could break the mirror in a compact or the the glass a nail polish bottle was made of and use it as a weapon or device to cause pain. The bathroom mirror was a sheet of metal to allow us a way to see ourselves and ready for the day without being dangerous.

Walkmans were big then. Cassettes. We didn’t have cd’s at this point. They were a privilege. So any kid who checked in lost theirs until they earned it back. You did well you raised a level and got privileges.

For some odd reason…. they did not find mine when checking my luggage. They took everything else but… my Walkman was still there with one cassette in it.

What did I do when seeing so? I stood on my bed and lifted the ceiling tile. Put it above me. Every single night while I was there I would elevate, push my fingers and lift that tile. Pull that Walkman out and listen to Crosby Stills & Nash. I have no idea how they didn’t catch me but I am so thankful they didn’t.

This song, it played so much it has become a trigger for the memory.

I’m aware now, as an adult, that the world is a painful place even when usually comforting. Sadness… it is nothing more than an emotion we feel every day.

Nonetheless this song I wear close to my sleeve due to the memory shared.

Crosby, Stills & Nash – Helplessly Hoping

Guest Post: Erika Saboe – A Cigarette Memory

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The following is a social media post by one of the best personal essay writers I’ve encountered. This one was written without any idea it would be retransmitted elsewhere. I can only imagine how vivid the words would be if she didn’t write casually. The pictures are ones I made to help her see humor in her struggle to stop smoking.

I’ve been a smoker the majority of my life. I grew up in an era of it being perfectly acceptable. I can remember being 11 or 12 and walking to the rinky-dink gas station across Old York Rd and buying a pack for about a dollar. Smoking on the porch of the lunch commons at my high school. I actually remember smoking on an airplane!!!

My father was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer in 1999 or 2000. I was living in Memphis at the time and probably smoked about 2 or 3 packs a day. This was when you could smoke just about everywhere still without stigma. I didn’t know what IIIB meant, had to look it up on the interweb I had on my Sega Dreamcast (ha!). Then I really got it, like a cinderblock to the face.

My dad asked me to quit and it was a no brainer. I stopped that very day. Was there ever a better reason? NO. I also chose to end my relationship at the time and haul ass home to care for him while he was sick. I spent the next 6 or so months by his side until he passed. And after stayed smoke-free for a good long time. Years.

One day I saw an old friend I hadn’t had the pleasure of hanging with for a long time. He smoked. I threw an ashtray on my table and said, “I’ll have one with you for old time’s sake.” Stupidest idea ever. It started me smoking again for another 15 years. I tried many times to quit. It never took.

I always said, “How will I find a better reason than the first time when my dad was told he was going to die and asked me to quit?” And anytime I tried to quit it seemed impossible. Nothing was enough to make it stick more than one day.

I hated smoking but loved it. I rationalized that it was one of the few vices I had that gave me momentary peace and comfort, but what a line of bullshit that was to simply give me an out to not try. I thought about quitting again all the time. No day was ever right, no reason ever great enough.

I was at the tail end of a work week. Got a fabulous new job a month or so before. Told myself when THAT happened it was my sign to quit but even then I couldn’t. Not a big enough reason to my psyche I guess lol.

Anyway, I was running low on smokes and had this crazy idea to just not buy any more when they ran out. I was already contemplating heading to the convenience store to get another pack when I realized it was Mother’s Day. Thought to myself, “let’s give mom a gift she will really appreciate and stop.” I’ll admit I wasn’t 100% sold but figured I would give it a try.

And shortly after was about out the door to replenish after weakening when I saw what the date was on my watch. It hit like a prize fighter’s knockout punch. It was also my late father’s birthday. Wow. What a crazy coincidence… or was it? I kept looking for a big enough reason to stop again and never could, but it was Mother’s Day and my dad’s birthday all at once. Could the stars align any better to tell me it was the day without being as tragic as the first time? No.

It has been 4 months. 4 months after 15 years of smoking since the 1st quit. 30+ years of smoking total. I haven’t caved once and while at times walking by someone smoking smells delicious (while also repulsive) I have no desire aside from Pavlovian urges brought on by ingrained routines.

It was so hard to quit for so long. And then a day presented itself. That’s really all it takes. Finding the day or reason that flips the switch. When that occurs it becomes the easiest thing imaginable.

If you want to smoke I don’t judge you. It was a vice I loved for a long time. As I said there was an age where it was par for the course. I hope for the people I know who still do and want to stop that they keep their eyes open for the perfect day, and I really want it to be bittersweet like my most recent, rather than tragic and traumatic like the first.

 

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