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Time and Loss

The first half of this summer was an embarrassingly blissful stretch for me: I finished the book manuscript that I'd been bashing my head up against and got it submitted to the press, and I got to spend a bunch of time doing some creative technology stuff (including rebuilding this website) that rekindled a fire in my brain that I've missed. We were in a really nice apartment in Vieux Montréal, where we were able to walk out for delicious dinners every night without having to repeat too frequently. It was quiet and sweet, and I had control of my time in ways that let me use it to pursue goals that were both high-level and pedestrian.

But then things started going wrong, at first just a little and then finally a lot. And sitting here at what I most sincerely hope is the end of "a lot" -- and what is definitely the end of my summer -- I'm trying to take a bit of stock and see how much it's possible to recapture that feeling of being astonishingly, creatively alive.

The initial things that went sideways were relatively small, and we found a way to make them a bit of an adventure. The building we were in, for instance, sent out a notice that the water tower connected to the building's cooling systems had to be shut down (and thus all air conditioners had to be shut down), because city inspectors had found critical levels of legionella and the tank had to be shocked. A brief moment of panic later, we made a reservation at a hotel and decamped for the night, until we received the follow-up message saying that it was safe to turn air conditioners back on again. Both of us spent that time enormously grateful for the privilege that allows us to make a hotel reservation at a moment's notice without worrying too much about it -- not to mention the privilege that allowed us to be in Montreal in the first place. A minor inconvenience; no harm, no foul.

When we got back to the apartment, though, we discovered that something in our apartment had sprung a leak, and we got caught up in an endless stream of building managers and plumbers and messages to and from the apartment's owner, who was understandably distraught to be three time zones away, and a barrage of alternating requests not to use the shower and to turn off the a/c. And then I had to come back to East Lansing for a couple of weeks, where I was even more surrounded by contractors, as part of the reason for our trip to Montreal was that we were having our bathrooms renovated and wanted not to be plagued by dust and noise. (See above re: privilege, squared.)

The above tribulations (and a few others that I'm going to elide here) are nothing but static, though, just a crackling in my ears that I really wanted to go away. The big loss came at the end of July, when my stepfather suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

He and my mother were on their own dream vacation -- a river cruise in eastern Europe -- when he started feeling pretty unwell. My mother had begun trying to make arrangements for them to leave the cruise and come home early, and then she woke up one morning and he was just... gone. It was full cardiac arrest -- his heart just stopped. And in some ways that was a real blessing for him; it's how he always said he wanted to go, peacefully and in his sleep. But none of us were ready for it to happen this soon.

Least of all my mother, who was now stuck in a small hotel in a small town in Croatia with only a representative of the cruise line to help her navigate the extraordinary bureaucracy involved in trying to get both herself and my stepfather home. I cannot conceive of the loss and the emptiness she must have felt; I offered to fly out and join her there but we couldn't figure out how to make it work. It was three days before I could meet her at JFK and bring her the rest of the way home to my family, and another ten days after that before my stepfather's return.[1]

I got back to East Lansing again a couple of days ago and am trying to regroup, trying to figure out what my family is going to be like without my stepfather, trying to get my head back into my to-do list and the imminent semester. Trying to figure out what happened to this summer. There's a big hole in the middle of everything, and I think right now I'm trying to fill it with words.

  1. One word of advice resulting from this experience: dying is an extremely expensive business, as we all know. Dying overseas is horrifyingly so. Buy the trip insurance. ↩︎


  1. Philip N Cohen Philip N Cohen
    @kfitz "There's a big hole in the middle of everything, and I think right now I'm trying to fill it with words" <-- writing our way clear
  2. Sarah Sarah
    @kfitz oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry to hear about your stepdad. So much love to you and your family
  3. Kathleen Fitzpatrick Kathleen Fitzpatrick
    @wynkenhimself Thanks so much, Sarah. It's sad and painful in all kinds of ways. I'm so grateful to have a community of friends like you. <3
  4. Tanya Tanya
    @kfitz Sending good thoughts your way.I have had a similar started full of hope and been a lot ever since summer that has involved broken bones, houses and cars, job drama, mental health crises and fires among me and my kids. I was wondering why I have been feeling “off” and then realized although we are all fine (or will be once the folks en route from Inuvik to Thunder Bay procure a new vehicle, lol) it has been a very, very long 6 weeks (!?) and I am *tired*. Please do report in as you get back on track! 🌻🌻
  5. Sherman Dorn Sherman Dorn
    @kfitz I am so sorry for your loss. In college, the father of one of my friends died overseas, and I would never on my worst enemy wish the Kafkaesque process of figuring out how to get a loved one’s body home. My heart goes out to your mom and your family