What Else? What’s Behind the Chair? Writing Through Grief.

Writing through grief is a new blog post series. This is my honest recount of my grief at the loss of Lonnie who passed Saturday, January 16, 2021. Those of you who have read Dear Universe, I Get it Now, will know she’s been there from the beginning. Those of you who know me personally will know she was my second mother.


I brought my cup of coffee up to my lips, the sleeve of my bathrobe hanging down from my wrist. It didn’t exactly match the one she had, but it was close. Flannel, predominantly red. Anytime I wore flannel, even when she was alive, I thought of her. Flannel button-up shirt over a denim dress or jeans.

I sip my coffee. It’s lukewarm. My coffee has to be piping hot, the steam still rolling off the top. But it’s too much energy to go to the microwave to reheat it. I put the cup back down.

Outside the window, there’s a nest high up in a tree. I hope to see what bird lives there. She loved birds. I imagine she’ll come back to me as a bird when enough time has passed.

The phone rings.

I haven’t felt much like talking to anyone beyond text, but I answer.

“Hi, there,” I say.

“How you doin’?” Jen asks.

My lip starts to tremble. “Fine,” I croak out, the tears now spilling. “Mornings feel hard.”

“I know,” she says.

She lost her mom to cancer some time ago. So she knows. She knows this loss.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” she follows.

I nod even though she can’t see me.

“What do you need?”

“I don’t know,” I say and cry more.

“What’s behind the chair? What’s up in the attic,” she asks.

Taking her literally, I look at the rocking chair two feet away and glance between the slats. There’s the wall. The windows.

I don’t have an attic.

“What’s behind the chair?” I repeat, knowing she must mean something else.

What’s behind the chair?

“You’ve never heard that expression?” she laughs. “It means, ‘what else.’ You know like when you go searching for something it might be behind the chair or up in the attic.”

I laugh. “Oh. I was taking you literally.”

She laughs, again. “You probably like, ‘I don’t even have an attic.”

Exactly, I think.

“So, what else?” she repeats. “Whatever it is. Let it out.”

I search for what’s coming up.

“Well… I have no regrets. I got to say what I wanted to say. I got to be there for her last breath.”

“What else?”

“I’m glad she’s not suffering, but I desperately want another cup of hot coffee, a game of UpWords, and a conversation. COVID, cancer, they both made those things impossible.”

“What else?”

“I’m heavy. I ache everywhere. And I’ve got this pain in my lower back and hips I think from sitting in their dining room chair all last week and working from the kitchen table.”

“What else?”

“She was always the person who was there for me during loss. Anytime I grieved anything, she was right there. Now she’s the one I’ve lost and she’s not here. It’s strange.”

“What else?”

“Everywhere I look … there are so many things in my house that remind me of her.”

“What else?”

I think. I take in a deep breath and wipe my eyes on my sleeve.

“I don’t know,” I sniffle. “That’s it, I guess.”

Our conversation continues but talking about self-care, grace, and other things I now can’t recall. But for the rest of the day, I ask myself what else? 

And I knew it would lend itself to this post. That it would become the first of many. Because the way I process is to write. Except for this time I’m not going to wait until it’s (this painful moment in time) all over and write in hindsight or retrospect. I’m going to write through it. I’m going to be writing through grief.

So, what else?

The first night back home after all was said and done, I painted my nails with her paint color. I took it with me before I left her house.

I’ve dug out an old sewing mat to build the Christmas puzzle she gave back to me just over a week ago. I had given it to her for Christmas two years ago. It’s mine again.

I’m banning the 16th from the calendar. On Sept 16, 2004 my college roommate died. On Jan 16, 2006, I was date raped. On Jan 16, 2021 Lonnie passed. The 16th can go fuck itself.

People ask what they can do. Send food. Not flowers. I’ll kill the flowers. I can eat the food.

People ask how am I doing? I’m not sure. Okay. Not awesome. Fine. Not so great… It comes in waves.

I keep waking up before 6. No matter what time I go to bed. No matter how I’ve slept. And I’m just plain tired. I feel like lead.

No matter what, it seems painfully still, painfully silent.

I think about when she will reappear and how. And how long will I have to wait.

Maybe I should go back and read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I wonder if she was writing through grief or if she wrote it after.

What else?

What else?

What else?

I tell myself, Be brave. You can do hard things.

2 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Wendy

January 21, 2021 - 16:25

Wow, Ally, so powerful – and so painful. Fuck being brave – be you once again as the child who needs to express their emotions. Cry, cry, cry – scream if you have to – just get it out. Nap A LOT! Grieve like it’s nobody’s business and know you will go through a lot of shitty emotions before reaching the other side. (Warning: the anger stage REALLY sucks if it grabs hold of you, especially because it is the most surprising. But not everyone has it hit them – and, well, each phase sucks anyway. 😏). You will know when you get there. And she will be comforting you along the way – you just won’t be able to see her physically. There will be signs, so watch for them! I’ll tell you my stories when we talk.

Btw, I had never heard that phrase before either (behind the chair, in the attic) and I am WAY older, so thank you for teaching me about it.

Big hug!
Wendy

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ayb

January 22, 2021 - 15:48

I will be watching for them…

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