Moments of Meeting, in The Tragic Gap.

I carry your heart with me. E.E. Cummings

Please note, this post may not be shared or reblogged without permission of this writer.

Charlie came to me in the Tragic Gap. The Place Parker Palmer describes as ” the space between what is and what could be”. The solid place between what he terms corrosive cynicism and irrelevant idealism. Palmer believes if we maintain a grounded open-hearted place between these non-helpful states or views, in a sense, we maintain reality and open mindedness. And though this can be a painful place it is a state of accepting what is true in each moment. He believes we do this best with both solitude (resulting in genuine self-reflection) and community. For Palmer Community implies at least one other who will listen to you and help you explore your inner self. The place our true self, growth, and answers that are best for us and humanity exists.

This is where my relationship with Charlie began. He came in the form of, an unintended inheritance of sorts, my brothers’ constant companion. A beautiful mix of Old English Sheep Dog, and St Bernard, with hints of American Pit bull and Pit bull terrier. He is an oddly energetic 10-year-old, furry pile of grey and white plush floppiness who lives in every nuance of my life. An initially unknown gift, that is a 135-pound living connection to my brother Clifton. In truth, he has supported me in this journey through grief, anguish, and my commitment to trying to stand in the tragic gap. This place between what is and what could be, or what I most want to be. (Photos of Charlie attached at the end of this post.) 

Many articles and books written on grief provide an overview of what one might expect during the grief process. Most discuss the five stages of grief as researched and written about by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and of course as mentioned here many times, David Kessler’s excellent book “Finding Meaning” discusses a 6th stage. Many of those, that I have read, that attempt to discuss time frames, seem to agree it is at about the two to five year mark that we might start to acclimate to life without our person again. I think, in truth, it takes conscious grieving to re-acclimate at all. Meaning if we are consciously acknowledging, allowing, and processing our emotions on a consistent basis we can come to a place of acceptance ( assimilation of the loss into our everyday reality) and living more fully in our own life again. This is a lot to manage in grief and really isn’t an ingrained instinct for most of us. This is true even when we’ve been trained to acknowledge and cope with feelings.

December 7th (7 days before his 49th birthday) marks the 5-year anniversary of my brother’s passing, and the day that holds the memory of the beginning of this life without him. It is a much emptier world without him. When I think of him, I still cry, I still hurt, I still wish he were here, and we were together at his kitchen table (Charlie laying at his feet) us having a cup of coffee and talking about politics, spirituality, conspiracies, our family, or any variety of subjects he always seemed deeply informed on. I still wish I could make him zucchini bread with the enormous squash he grew in his enviable garden every year. I would give anything to see his smile (his room lighting beautiful smile that was set so genuinely in his handsome, and often, pained face) and the true delight he always took in such gestures.

Clifton (Cliff) physically struggled in life. He was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 7, and Chron’s disease at age 9. He had the first of seven surgeries, multiple hospital stays, and missing school and friends, at age 16. It took a long time for us (his family) to truly understand the strength it took for him to get through a day. Our early lives were spent (pre and post diagnosis) seeing him in and out of hospitals and genuine unknowns about his future. These were scary and life shaping years. But still he smiled and even laughed. He, in some way, managed this even when his eyes held the deep pain of his worst days. He had a silly (verging on absurd) sense of humor which he shared freely. It was his coping. His strength in managing the many forms of pain his complex illnesses mercilessly poured over and through him.

In ways that I am still making meaning around (as David Kessler tells us is the sixth stage of grief) it is complications from these illnesses and medical interventions received the day prior, that unexpectedly took his life in the early morning hours of that December in 2016. He was there, at his home, with Charlie at his side.

Cliff always told me it was hard (he used more colorful language) being the only brother to four sisters. I expect it was. Still, he did try to give (and did) give solid brotherly advice. He was gentle and kind, with a firm jawline and deep brown eyes. A true gentleman, much like our dad who raised us with good manners, solid values, and a strong work ethic. He has a beautiful dark-haired daughter and a long lanky quick-witted grandson (so much like him) who he loved deeply (and now a beautiful little, brown-eyed granddaughter who he didn’t meet in this life). He loved music, gardening, restoring furniture, family gatherings with home cooked food, talking about any topic but most favorably the state of our world and its people. Cliff loved just spending time and being with, sharing an occasional IPA, long hikes with Charlie (stretching out across miles and hours) and truly loved only one girl who he no longer had.

When I began writing this morning, Charlie nestled under my desk at my feet now, I was thinking of a day (that seems both a long and much too short time ago) when L and I first moved into this house (our home). Cliff and our younger sister (also first initial L) and her grandson O (a tiny toddler at the time) had come to say hello and to visit our new home. We eventually made our way to the lower yard talking and visiting. I was telling them of my hikes exploring the hills and wooded areas behind the house, along with tales of some of the interesting characters I had come across during these excursions.

Cliff, in the brotherly way he always did, seemed concerned about me. Cautioning me to be careful in the woods. I remember, as if it were yesterday, him saying “Donna you need a big dog out here”. I agreed believing in my heart that would never be. I didn’t think I had the time to commit to giving a dog what was truly needed. We (Cliff, L, and I) sat for long time relaxing under the blooming cherry blossom trees, overlooking the water, watching O explore the yard with all its budding places to crawl under and over, and just being with each other.

When I remember deeply enough, I can still feel the clean Spring air, the clink of our long neck IPA’s (brought especially for this occasion) as we toasted this place, the sound of his, mine, and L’s laughing, the easy flow of our conversation, and the concerned way his voice sounded when he cautioned me of the woods.

I have come to think of Charlie as a gift my brother left me. A way to help me live here in the tragic gap, without him, between what is and what could be. I will admit in the early days (weeks, months) of Clifton’s passing when I put my arms around Charlie I almost (almost) believed I felt Cliff there too. Joan Didion talks about this phenomenon for grieving people in her excellent book The Year of Magical Thinking. In this helpful writing Didion explores her own response to the sudden and traumatic loss of her husband. She finds in her research that in mourning and grief we can convince ourselves that, in essence, our thoughts and wishes can alter reality.

I would imagine it is the inability (our energy focused on survival) to deeply explore these thoughts and wishes that can take us to such places. I really did and do wish I could hug my brother again. I really did and do wish that many things could have been different for my brother, how I understood his experience, and how he experienced the world. I have many wonderful memories of him as well as many regrets, places that hurt around his memory, and a deep sense of sadness and anger (that I can still touch) at the medical system which so profoundly let him down. (A provider and a system that were held minimally accountable in the aftermath of my brother’s death and all that this means to us (his family).

Palmer teaches that accepting reality means the willingness to stay open (keeping an “open heart”) to that which we accept or value (in ourselves, others, and in our world) and that which we do not (or have a hard time accepting or valuing) that allows us to live fully present in our experience and open (and helpful) to ourselves, others, and our larger world. I am trying to do this. I am trying to see the hard places of Cliff’s passing. It is difficult.

Palmer tells us that the world is full of paradox, and it is our ability to see and experience one part of the paradox that allows us to appreciate the other. I.e.,” there is no light without dark, “no gold without dirt”. He suggests, “It is possible for the heart to break in two ways. “The heart can shatter into a million pieces sending fragments (“fragment grenades”) at people or the heart can break a part but open to greater capacity”. We can “emerge larger people more compassionate, kinder, open, and more forgiving because loss makes life more precious”. He says, a question he asks himself each day is, “How do I keep my heart more supple so I can stay open when the big hits come”.

It is a good question. I can, with deepest sincerity, say the sudden loss of my brother has made me much more conscious of the precious and fragile nature of this life and more cognizant of the life after. I do show up and love more intentionally. I do share what is in my heart and am intensely aware of the importance of this.

These days, Charlie keeps me company in the sweetest and most precious of ways. We freely roam the hills and wooded areas behind my home and many others we find strewn across the Pacific Northwest. He is my constant companion in the paradox that is loss and life. A “big dog out here” who keeps my heart open, aware, and turned toward acceptance. A gift, and ongoing connection to my brother.

Charlie for Blog

In closing, I will share a meaningful quote from Alan Wolfelt’s book Understanding Your Grief.  “Light is known to exist by the virtue of darkness. One is the chair upon which the other sits.  (anonymous).

As always, thank you for reading. It is my hope that you found something that resonates with you in this writing.

My deepest Care to each of you,

The resources noted in this article follow.

Copyright Protected Material: © 2020 LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW.

All rights reserved. Written content on this blog (Perspective on Trauma) is the property of the author LaDonna Remy, MSW, LICSW. Any unauthorized use or duplication without written permission of the author/ owner of this web log is prohibited. Excerpts or quotes may be shared in the event the author is fully cited with reference and direction to this blog.

Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational. It is not intended to provide advice, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis. Content is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, or to engage in an informed treatment relationship within this format. If you or a loved one need support; it is important that you access this care from your own (specifically assigned) health care provider.

Agreement of Use: In consideration for your use of and access to the Perspective on Trauma Blog, you agree that LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW is not liable to you for any action or non-action you may take in reliance upon information from the Perspective on Trauma blog. As noted, it is not possible to provide informed (personalized care) through blog content. In the event, support is needed it is your responsibility to seek care from your own health-care provider.

National Hotlines:
Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-8255)

Photo: Image found on Pixabay

Web Based Resources:

Kessler, David. Ted Talk. Sept. 1, 2021: How to Find Meaning After Loss.

The One You Feed Podcast: July 5.2016.Episode 133. Parker J Palmer. One You Feed Podcast:Episode 133.

Palmer, Parker: The Center for Courage and Renewal. https:/www./

Didion, Joan. 2005. The Year of Magical Thinking. Alfred A. Knopf Publisher.

Kessler David. 2019. Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Penguin Books.

Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth & Kessler, David. 2005. On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Grief. Simon and Schuster.

Palmer, Parker J. 2004. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life. Jossey Bass Publishing.

Wolfelt, Alan. 2003. Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing. Companion Press.


30 thoughts on “Moments of Meeting, in The Tragic Gap.

  1. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal and moving story, LaDonna. I am sorry for your continued mourning and loss, especially during a time when the holidays are ramping up.

    Your brother sounded like an amazing human being and this was a lovely tribute to his life and your happy memories.

    Charlie is a cutie pie! I am glad that you inherited him into your life and that he provides a continuation of your brother’s memory.

    And I agree that Joan Didion’s book is wonderful and so insightfully written. Just like your reflections.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh my goodness LaDonna, I am so saddened to read about your brother Cliff. Your story is so emotional, and I honestly had to go back through your sentences several times, through my tears. Your thoughts about loss making life more precious resonate so strongly with me.

    I guess with the recent loss of my sister in July, the message of your story makes me connect to that open heart you speak about, that open heart of healing. Even though I still miss my parents after 18 years, I understand such an intimate loss, because the pain pierces so sharply when I have my moments. I send out Christmas cards every year to family and friends, and my sister and her family would always be the first Christmas card I address. This Christmas is definitely going to be emotional, as was Thanksgiving, but I think everyone who has experienced such a close and intimate loss can rally around the depth of your pain and feelings.

    It is such a blessing to have Charlie as your companion, your gift, and an ongoing connection to your brother as you mentioned. Even with a 5-year window, this anniversary will always be a reminder of the day you said goodbye to Cliff. But, in my heart, I know that those who have departed peek in on us every now and then, and we know when that happens because you can feel it, just as you felt with Charlie. I think Cliff probably told Charlie to take care of you in his absence. I adore your story and send an armload of cyber hugs to you my friend! 🤗😘❤🤗😘💖🤗😘💝

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kym thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your words, compassion , and sharing your experience. I am truly sorry for the loss of your sister and your parents♥️.

      There is truly a special bond with our siblings. One that I don’t think is understandable unless experienced. I send you lots of love and care as you navigate this holiday season and time moving forward.

      My deepest care and genuine appreciation to you♥️. And, I do believe our relationships continue. They are in a different form, but they are there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. AMEN LaDonna! I appreciate you my friend. We will get through this the best way we can. We just remember those precious memories, and ask what would they would want us to do. From there, no matter how difficult, we will manage, albeit differently. We are not called survivors for nothing right? 🥰

        Sending you much love and my deepest appreciation. Your words gave me great comfort. Thank you for that! 🙏🏼💖🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  3. LaDonna, I am feeling your great love for your brother and for Charlie, too. Grief is such unknown territory, and each person must find his/her way. This piece is just beautiful. Also–I have stumbled upon Parker Palmer twice and have found his sharing very meaningful and helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words Kathy. Cliff and Charlie mean the world to me. I agree with what you have shared, grief is such a personal journey. One we will all take along the way. I truly appreciate your insights and am glad you also find value in Parker Palmers. Sending you lots of care 💗💗

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, LaDonna, what a beautiful post. I’m deeply sorry for the loss of your brother. My heart goes out to you. ❤️❤️

    You write so elegantly, and have so much to offer this world. As I sit in my armchair and soak in this post, and openly weep, for your loss, my losses, humanities losses, it hurts, and, yet, also feels healing. It feels deeply connected to myself, to you, to anyone and everyone that has suffered loss. This gap you write of in this wonderful post, is, I think, that space. It’s a space where we can hold both, and know that that’s, while painful often, as you write, the space where the jewels of life live, where we get to receive all that life has to offer. As you know, I was unintentionally habituated to ignore my emotions as a child, which, makes these experiences all the more powerful, I think. I appreciate you, my friend, and am always honored to read you, and be here. Have a wonderful weekend. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your kind and beautiful words are deeply meaningful. I am more appreciative than you might imagine for your sharing of your thoughts and feelings♥️. Grief is such a strange journey with lots of places to learn about self and humanity. I appreciate you very much ♥️♥️.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, LaDonna. Always. ❤️ It’s always my pleasure to share myself in the space you create. It’s an honor and privilege. Grief is that, strange. It is so true, learning never really stops even within the grief process. Painful and beautiful. Thank you, LaDonna; and I you. ❤️❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This beautiful share brings to my mind Rumi’s “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Your loving, well-told story caused emotions to well up inside of me, LaDonna. How beautiful to have inherited Charlie, a soul that must have meant so much to your beloved brother. I appreciate your interweaving info from your favorite writers and pouring the contents of your heart onto the page. Blessings to you, my friend, on your continued path to healing this loss. 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lisa. ♥️ It is a journey to be certain. I do love this quote by Rumi. It resonates as deep truth. I also deeply appreciate your kindness and support. Charlie and Clifton had a true connection . In some ways he has accompanied us both on long and difficult journeys. My genuine care is sent to you ♥️.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. LaDonna, this is a beautiful and moving tribute to both Clifton and Charlie. Thank you for sharing your story and your valuable insights. My own story has many similarities to yours.

    Over twenty years ago, a puppy named Clifford became a member of our family, bringing love and joy. Less than two years later, my brilliant and extraordinarily accomplished quadriplegic husband died. For the next thirteen years, Clifford was our connection to the loving husband and father we had lost. Clifford’s empathy and enthusiasm supported us going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheryl thank you for the lovely compliment and sharing your experience. I am so very sorry for your loss of your husband and Clifford. This life is certainly a journey of complexity. I am grateful everyday that I get to have Charlie and I am very glad you had Clifford as an ongoing connection to your husband and companion in your journey. My care to you and wishes for a good day ahead. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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