currently in progress

i am living the story i want to tell you. yesterday afternoon, my husband got a call from his brother: his oldest daughter – my first niece – walked in from work the night before to find that her partner had shot and killed himself. it’s sunday morning as i write this, the 21st of november 2010, and i’m flying to colorado in just a few hours to see my niece.

sounds so simple when i write it like that.

i married into a small family of doctors and engineers. linear thinkers who are quite sure about the way things are and should be. they have degrees from highly-regarded institutes of higher learning. their practicality, clarity, and confidence intimidates a writer and slow cloth storyteller gal like me. their consistency eludes a constantly changing creative like me who also has a graduate-level degree, but finds it hard to focus on one thing long enough to develop a reputation as anything even approaching an expert.

[i struggle to type the word “creative” in the sentence above. it takes several minutes before i finally mash the “c” key. same goes for the word “expert”, but the hesitation is for different reasons.]

i begin looking for flights right after we hang up. even though we don’t know the funeral arrangements yet. even though there’s nothing, no specific assignment of something we can do. even though, even though, even though.

about an hour later, i call my brother-in-law to check in, to see if he wants me to call their aunt. they are a small family, my in-laws, my family dwarfs them in sheer numbers, which is to say, i’ve buried way more loved ones than they have. i think about things like the distraction of notification, about the salve of collective love.

[i am having trouble writing this. the censors chirp and caution me against being too uppity, getting too big for my britches. they remind me i’m not the only one who is empathetic and caring. they ask if i’m really, seriously trying to say that i’m good at being there in times of death, dying, and grief. they point out that i have no degree, no letters after my name signifying that i’m qualified and competent enough to do this kind of thing.]

“that would be great if you’d call aunt ginny,” he says. “i didn’t even think about that, and i don’t have her number.”

“happy to,” i tell him. “we’re looking at flights now,” then i hurriedly add that my son kipp who also lives in denver, will pick shuttle us to and from the airport, my way of assuring donn that we will be no trouble.

“you don’t need to come,” he says.

“we want to come.”

“but there’s nothing you can do. we’re her nuclear family. we have friends, and she has a lot of friends here.” he rattles off all sorts of reasons to defend his position that we should not come, then he delivers the sucker punch: “you’ll just be in the way.”

you’ll just be in the way.

let me be really, really clear here: there was no malicious intent in those words. he did not stop and think before he said them, they just tumbled out. which, to an armchair jungian psychologist like myself, gives them added impact. without knowing it, donn has just ripped open my tender place and poured a barrel of salt into the ever-gaping wound.

i think of myself as a committee, and now the dissident, snarky committee members go into full volume yell, starting with “i told you so.” his words, their words form a chorus that sets me back and the questioning of self begins:

Q: what will you do out there, anyway?
A: i don’t know.
Q: then he’s right: you’ll just be in the way.
A: maaayyybbbeee.
Q: don’t you have other things to do?
A: yes, but nothing better.
Q: it’s thanksgiving week. have you considered that?
A: yes, but that doesn’t seem the point.
Q: donn says she’s coming home this week and that maybe you can see her then, right? doesn’t that make sense?
A: it makes sense to that particular part of my brain, but my heart . . .
Q: oh, pshaw. why don’t you think about somebody besides yourself for a change?
A: i thought i was. i only wanted to fly to colorado and give betsey a hug.
Q: what will you say when you get there?
A: probably nothing. words haven’t been invented.

so in just a few hours, my daughter and i will climb into that big chair in the sky that will deliver us to denver. we’ll rent a car, meet up with my son, and tonight or maybe tomorrow, i’ll walk into a room and see betsey. i will try not to get in anybody’s way, try not to take up too much space as i make my way to her to deliver the only thing i have to offer: a hug with all the love i have coursing through me, seeping from my arms into her gentle, bruised, grieving spirit.

i’ll let you know how it goes.


many thanks to karen for putting these support stories. i am honored to be asked to participate and to be the company of such compassionate writer people.


  1. Kira

    Oh, Jeanne. My prayers are with you. Travel safe.

  2. Carynmirriamgoldberg

    My prayers are also with you, and it’s so good you’re going. Listen to your good heart — it knows the words for when it’s beyond words.

  3. Sarah

    love & death are messy and often in the way.

    like white blood cells in the body, love will rush to the wound to be on hand in the fight for its survival. your presence as a face, even in the blur for your niece, is witness to her grief, and however subtle, adds one layer of protection for her broken heart. a pair of arms, a set of eyes, the touch, the silence. and your daughter’s too.

    safe travels. no expectations. no goals. just presence.

  4. Square-Peg Karen

    Ditto everything that Sarah said – especially “adds one layer of protection for her broken heart” and “just presence” – praying that your committee is gentle with you — love you, K

  5. Dian Reid

    i am with you, jeanne. my thoughts, my prayers, and me. we’re all with you. and we’re no more in the way than you will be when you land.
    peace, love, and light to you and your dear family, my friend.

  6. Sally G.

    It’s amazing how many people hold their pain inside until no one is around to bare witness to it. I wonder if that’s what you’ll be in the way of, grief and pain and vulnerability that does not feel safe when witnesses are present?

    I think you’re beautiful for listening to your heart in spite of all the ‘demons’ that flocked in force to put doubt in your path. When we show up with Love and Compassion and Empathy ~ we impact more than we’ll ever know.

    I look forward to hearing how it goes. And I’d value beyond belief someone who could help me navigate the details that demand attention following death. Much love to you …

  7. Bridget Pilloud

    I am so sorry for your loss and your family’s loss, and so with you as you choose to be present, there, helping.
    My partner is linear too. He’s so linear. And when his sister died, it was like he closed that in a box in his heart, never to be opened again,and just went on. I didn’t know how to help him then, other than to be me and keep going with him.
    We creative, tangential people have the opportunity to sit with the entirety of an experience in ways that linear people don’t. We are conscious of our awareness on many different levels. We play the 3-D chess version of life. I struggle with this too.
    I wish I could make it better for you.

  8. olive & hope

    Jeanne I got word of this yesterday, and today I just wanted to come and be with you in this space. I felt each and every word, each and every question, each and every emotion. In times of grief we often don’t know what to say or do, but I know the sound of your voice, the tenderness of your hug, the showing up for your niece, the following of your huge heart…is right. oh. so. right. my thoughts are with you and your family. and I’m sending love your way.

  9. Kathyloh

    Healing comes in many shapes and sizes.

    “a hug with all the love i have coursing through me, seeping from my arms into her gentle, bruised, grieving spirit.”

    Sounds like a healing to me, of the two-way variety.

    I see all of us standing behind you, arms on your back and all our hearts radiating love into your heart and from your heart through those arms of yours into Betsey.

    This or something better……….

    love to you, Jeanne

  10. Karen Sharp

    Oh, Jeanne…

    My prayers for you, your neice, and everyone touched by this. Your love and compassion is beautiful.

    I loved, too, what Sarah said: “love & death are messy and often in the way.” Yes. All of it’s in the way. An interruption that breaks open our lives and shows us all how vulnerable we all are.

    And I also think, yes, you will be needed, there. In the way. In the path through, that your niece and the rest of your family will be taking. It’s a good place for you to be, a loving, giving place of presence, to accompany them in their way.

    Gentle blessings to your own broken-open vulnerability, as I know you will bring gentle blessings to their broken-open vulnerability.

    It’s all in the way.

    But where else were we going?

  11. Michelle Russell

    Jeanne, I’m very sorry for you and your family’s loss. But it sounds to me like you *are* following your heart–please don’t listen to the Committee member who is telling you that getting on that plane to Denver is selfish.

    Others here have expressed themselves so much more eloquently than I can at this late hour, but I want to thank you for sharing this story when you’re still right in the middle of it and *reeeeaching* for that inner support.

    You will not be in the way. You will be needed and appreciated. Truly. Trust your heart–it’s doing the absolute right thing here.

    I know you don’t know me, but I’m sending you and your family my love and good wishes anyway. And thank you for your courage in sharing this with us.

  12. mynde mayfield

    hi jeanne, sending loving thoughts & peace-filled prayers to you & your family. oh and this big hug. ((((( HUG ))))) xo

  13. terri st. cloud

    i will never be able to express all the things you just hit inside of me. my gosh. i’ve got tears running down my face and this feeling screaming inside ‘she knows! she knows what it feels like!’…….totally totally moved by your post. thank you for being so honest and real.

  14. Akasa WolfSong

    My heart is wrenching right now and I am at a loss for words.
    However I do think that all of the responses below are so absolutely right…follow what your heart is telling you to do and go be there with your niece. Many years ago my cousin commited suicide and I felt so broken by it…she was one of those favorite family members…and in my young self all I could think to say to my Aunt and Uncle was that I loved them, and my Aunt held me away from her and said, “That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day long.” I am sure that your being there and showing your love to your niece will be all that is needed and no…you will not be in the way at all. Your heart is a gift and a healing balm your niece needs.

    Thank You for touching My Heart!

  15. Shoreacres

    “So,” I thought to myself. “I have a little time – I think I’ll visit some of the bloggers I’ve liked so much but haven’t been able to read regularly.”

    And here I find you, wrapped in grief and just slightly unraveling around the edges, already gone now on your journey of compassion.

    Such journeys never are easy, but they’re never as hard as we imagine. Blessings on you, and a safe return.

  16. Meredith

    Presence and love are never in the way. My heart goes out to you and your family as you grieve. Suicide is one of the hardest things that could ever happen to a family, and love is the only solace possible, in the end. (I speak from experience, unfortunately.)

    Your niece will be so glad to have you there, even if she cannot put it into words.

  17. Natasha Hollerup

    I’m new to your blog, but my heart breaks for you and your family. You meant well and your husband did, too. It’s not wrong to be creative in a family of logical thinkers. Every now and then, my mother will tell me that while she and my brother are more logical people, my sister and I go off into our “dream worlds.” It hurts, even though they mean well.

    I hope that everything will be alright, even though it will probably never be for Betsey. It’s good that you and your children will be there to love and support your in-laws. It’s hard when the family’s small and the numbers dwindle.

  18. Laticiaw

    Coming from a girl caught in the grips of grief, I’m thankful your going. In amongst the remains of such a loss we most often don’t even know what we need or how to ask for what we do. A hug, a loving hand on the back, someone to cook dinner or do the dishes, just one small gesture can be the thing that keeps you from going under. Even if they don’t know it yet, your family will be glad you’re there.

  19. Devon

    Wow. I think you are incredibly brave. I’m blown away by your generosity of spirit and that you would share this difficult time with us.

  20. pamela

    you are a lovely soul jeanne. thank you for caring, and for sharing your words with us.

  21. Laura Kimball

    Wow, Jeanne, this is an absolutely amazing post. I hope you found the words for Betsey when you arrived.

  22. Amelia

    sometimes being in the way is a good thing- I can recall many times when someone being in my way bolstered me, even when I didn’t think I’d need it…sending love, thoughts and prayers….

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