The death and ageing edition

The Authenticity Experiment, the death and ageing edition. Here is what the woman who is not my girlfriend said to me a few nights ago. She said, “I think in the past ten years,” (well, okay, she said five years, but it is really ten, she was just being gracious), “you’ve been under a lot of pressure and you make it look easy, like things happen sequentially and you simply manage them, when we all know there is a good deal more chaos than that, than in how you are making it look.”

That’s a paraphrase, but it’s close to what she said. I can’t remember exactly because I felt fairly triggered, which, if you know me, is a word you know I don’t use lightly.  We were talking about all the illness and death I’d managed: my mother’s MRSA infection, my father’s esophageal cancer and how he died intestate, Stef’s death and estate, moving my mom to assisted living, overseeing her estate sale and the construction of a new septic system on her property, and then her decline, death, and estate, too.

I started to cry.  The woman who is not my girlfriend says she can always tell when I’m about to cry because my voice cracks just a little.  But I’ve been hoarse for a month now and so it’s more difficult to discern—and we were on the phone, so she couldn’t see my face.  “Kate?” she asked, thinking she’d heard more crack then croak.  And I said, “It’s okay.” And then she knew then I was crying.  Because I almost always try to pass off crying as okay.

“I don’t want to talk about it now,” I said.  And then used that classic line, “It’s late.” It was—at least for me, anymore.  Already 11:00 pm and I had a full day ahead of me starting with a 7:30 am call.  But what cracked my voice, what cracked me, was that she said I made it look easy, like things just happened sequentially.  It threw me back, that phrase, through the space time continuum, to a fight I had with the Tines about holding a memorial for Stef Rhodes.  The Tines all but implied I was an idiot for doing so.  She said, “No one would do that.  You’re just the executor.”  As if Stef had not been one of my best friends.  As if helping Stef die and praying her out was just something one did and then was done with.

Then the Tines said, “Well, if it was me, I wouldn’t hold a memorial.”  Even though Stef left explicit instructions in a note I found for what she wanted at what she called her “Celebration of Life.”  For music and dessert the note just said, “Katie will know what to do.”  and “Katie knows what I like.”

And all this flooded my synapses in the moment when the woman who is not my girlfriend said, “…like things happen sequentially and you simply manage them.”  You know, like people die and then magically a service is pulled together.  Not like you have to dig through a person’s desk and file cabinet looking for clues as to what they’d like in a service because they died so quickly and unexpectedly.  Not like you must then work late into the night (a little drunk) at your computer, putting together a program, and writing an obit and a eulogy, and scanning a decent—if 1990s looking—picture of the dead person, back before all the ravages of living scarred their faces.

Like I wouldn’t do that for my friend.  Like my family and friends wouldn’t do that for me.  Like because Stef had few friends and even less family a memorial wasn’t in order.  And I was crying this night as much over the residual hurt of the Tines’ comment, crying as much about the death of Stef, as I was crying about how easy I made it look—and how it isn’t easy, wasn’t easy, will never be easy.

And how I am so very tired because of all this: the death, the grief, the lack of space in my heart for forgiveness because I am, did I mention, so very tired.  Holding onto that hurt over the Tines’ comment is really only hardening my heart, right?  I mean, Stef is dead and we had a lovely memorial for her.  And the Tines is gone.  So how is it that I am still crying?  I think because although I’ve taken off the black arm band and uncovered the mirrors, my heart is still at capacity, like a flooded field that is slow to absorb all the water, I’ve not yet slowed enough to absorb all the change.  I mean, how could I?

These past few years have taken their toll. Last week, I met my Designer Gay for coffee.  This friend walked with me through my divorce the same year his mother and sister died, weeping with me so hard at Starbucks each weekday morning that we had to switch stores on a weekly basis, so as not to drive away business.  My Designer Gay isn’t on Facebook and he wanted to see the pics of my sisters and me spreading my mom’s ashes, so I pulled them up for him.

I showed him the one of my sisters and me, the one we took when we were done throwing the asters and the ashes into the ocean.  I said, beach“I look old.”  He looked me right in the eyes and nodded yes.  He said, “You can’t go through what you did and not be changed by it.”  And I loved him for this.  Loved him for not denying that this has aged me, has changed me profoundly—that chaos is not sequential and it takes its toll in a variety of ways.

But then the chaos eases. It’s slow to dissipate though, like the water in that flooded field.  So that when my cellphone rings late at night sometimes, I feel my heart beat too fast and forget that my mother is dead.  Or when I am driving into town and startle myself, thinking I should call Stef or my mom to check on them . Or when I look at the calendar and see that I only have 17 days left before I have to file the final tax returns for both Stef and my mom, letting the IRS, the last to know, that there’s been some deaths and, that although I’ve handled all the tasks, jumped through all the hoops, that it will never be finished, it will simply subside.

#DarkAndLight #AuthenticityExperiment #KateCarrolldeGutes


This is my last post for a while.  I’m finishing the final edits on the manuscript of The Authenticity Experiment and it’s hard to write and edit simultaneously.  So, starting next week, you’ll hear from a variety of amazing writers, including the Alaskan Poet, the Idaho Playwright, the Country Music Singing Femme, the Michigan cum Minneapolis cum Missouri writer who doesn’t see the brilliant alliteration of his peripatetic life or think of himself as a writer, and a wide range of Portland-based writers who don’t have nicknames, including Kate Gray, Mel Wells, Ashley Brittner, Kate Ristau, and more.  You’re gonna love their writing.  Dark and Light, both/and from voices you should know and will soon want to be following.

If you miss my voice too much, you can always buy yourself a copy of Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.  And those of you in the Bay Area can see me at October 1 at 7pm, at Laurel Book Store in Oakland.  I’ll also be reading at the Magic Barrel in Corvallis, Oregon on October 25th.  And, after Thanksgiving, you’ll see me back here.  Until then, be well.


  1. Laura said:

    Oh dear…every time you write about it, I’m there. Wondering how long I’ll be so very tired and if it’s nuts that all I want to do is get back to my bed. Your words are sparkling clear–as is your heart. Big hugs to you.

    September 29, 2016
  2. Eric J Womack said:

    Kate, You are frickin awesome/amazing. You capture the essence of pain/sorrow and make it tangible/touchable. Let your heart heal, by forgiving those who have said hateful, unkind, or unthoughtful words towards you or those whom you love. When you don’t forgive them, you are only giving them power over you. Power that they do not deserve. Continue to be you. I love you. Eric.

    September 29, 2016
  3. Kate Ristau said:

    Thank you for finding words for the chaos.

    September 29, 2016
  4. Susanne Wilson said:

    Hi Kate! Having lost my mother in December last year and working with my two sisters on her cremation, memorial and the thousand and one details that have to be handled after a person dies, I can totally relate to the trigger of “you simply manage them”. It’s really, really hard and you have been hit with a garbage truck load more than your fair share of loss and grief in recent times. Thank God for Designer Gay’s understanding that all this changes us. And thank you for sharing your vulnerability and love. P.S. I know the Alaskan Poet and I’m very grateful she introduced me to your writing.

    September 30, 2016
  5. Danna said:

    Sending divine love your way. I”ll miss your posts…a lot! Was having withdrawals when you skipped a couple weeks recently. And no doubt many others feel the same about your posts. Will be great to see them in my inbox this winter though, when I suspect I’ll need them the most. Read your book on the plane ride home from CA in August. We had a big rain delay and had to stop in Cheyenne before coming home to Denver. I hardly even noticed, I was so engrossed in your words. Not happy that I didn’t get to say goodbye to you that Sunday morning at St. Dot’s. But then, I really hate goodbys. And my mom’s bout with cancer, my dad’s death, my cancer “journey” (bleh!), all that has aged me too. It just does. You still look like your same sweet self, and you exude light an love, even if you’re not feeling it. It’s contagious, that grin! … and I wish I’d stood up and danced with you in Lydia House that night. You looked so happy and free in that moment!
    Be well my friend and cut yourself some MAJOR slack ok?

    October 3, 2016

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