Day 299/365 Gone

This week there has been a hole in my heart…and in my home.

My eight year old daughter has been gone all week on a school trip. At her Waldorf school, the third graders traditionally go off for a week to a farm about three hours away. They learn about animal care and farming. They milk cows, make yogurt, and feed piglets…among other things.

I know this is an amazing experience and I am so grateful that she has this opportunity. I have no doubt that she is having what will be one of the most memorable experiences of her life.

And…

They are not allowed to call home. I have not seen her face nor heard her voice all week, and I am aching for her.

It is so quiet in our house.

Without her, everything feels off.

There have been a few times this week when I have stopped to consider the horrible pain of parents whose children are truly gone…not for a week on a school trip, but…just gone. I understand it is a pain of which one cannot truly comprehend the depths, until you have been thrust there.

I can’t imagine the feeling of coming home, for the first time knowing your child will never walk through the front door again…will never again sit at the dinner table, will never again be tucked into their warm bed. Being surrounded by evidence of their existence everywhere…from their clothing that still holds the smell of them…to their toys and drawings…to their toothbrush…

And then, yesterday there was another school shooting. Yet another group of children left home in the morning, on what their parents thought would be a typical day…and now they are gone. 

Really and truly…gone from this Earth…just.like.that.

I saw a boy on the news…a high school student who survived the shooting spree. He said, “You are the grown ups. We are just children. It is your job to keep us safe. You need to fix this.”

He is so right, this boy.

I want to tell him that we will.

I want to tell him that we know how.

But…until I can understand how anyone can look at the anguished faces of these parents and tell them it is about politics, or money, or gun owners’ rights….as long as lawmakers can look at the these people going through absolute hell, and tell them that our right to own assault weapons is more important than the lives of their children…we are failing. 

We are failing our children.

We are failing ourselves.

These are our babies. Not hers or his or theirs…but OURS.

Make no mistake, this can happen anywhere, to anyone….and I don’t say that casually nor flippantly.

I say it GRAVELY, because it is horrifying.

I feel angry and sad and helpless, as I somewhat breathlessly await my daughter’s return…fully aware of this sad truth –

When I am able to wrap my arms around her tomorrow, I will be one of the lucky ones.

 

 

Day 293/365 Fear is a Needy Neighbor, Maybe I Should Fix Her Up

When you have dealt with fear a lot over a short period of time, there are some benefits – the biggest one being, it is not an unfamiliar sensation. You don’t have to go through that, “Oh shit, what is this feeling? inner dialogue.  You know...and you usually understand why it is being revealed in a particular moment or circumstance.

For those of us who have made its acquaintance somewhat regularly, fear becomes a bit like a needy neighbor with a penchant for “pop ins”.  We didn’t invite her over, but it is the compassionate thing to do to invite her in, to see if we can’t ease her suffering in some way. Sometimes just giving her that little bit of attention is all she needs. Other times she camps out on the couch for so long we’re afraid she’ll never leave…and boy does she ramble on and on.

My own needy neighbor doesn’t seem to do this much anymore – the camping out, that is. It helps that she doesn’t need to keep reintroducing herself. I know her pretty well, and she’s not all bad.  She does usually bring with her wine and desserts, and she spurs some interesting self-reflection, so I mean…she tries to be a good guest.

The other day my needy neighbor showed up unexpectedly (as she is want to do). It seemed like she was making herself pretty comfortable on my couch, when I grew bored with her chatter and decided to distract myself with a book. I picked one up, flipped through it and read this passage…

“When gripped by fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up, or remove oneself. Yet when we feel the reflex to hold on, that is usually the moment we need to let go. When we feel the urgency to speed up, that is typically the instant we need to slow down. Often when we feel the impulse to flee, it is the opportunity to face ourselves.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I don’t know about you but I can think of so many times in my life when I reacted to fear and anxiety by doing all of those things – holding on, speeding up, or removing myself. 

I know for a while I hung on to my marriage out of fear. I labelled it loyalty or commitment…but I see now that it was just my old friend, fear. I did not want to face myself. I did not want to hear myself silently screaming that I didn’t want to be there anymore…telling me that being afraid wasn’t a reason to stay.

What was I afraid of?

I was afraid of being seen as a failure, afraid of emotionally damaging my children, afraid of not being able to support myself, afraid of starting over.

Unfortunately being steeped in feelings of fear within a relationship creates a pattern – a conditioned response. Do you remember, I wrote a while back about creating an account on a dating site? How I panicked when I was asked to describe myself? I couldn’t go through with it. The only man I have allowed myself to want is someone who would never let me close. I hid there in plain sight – emotionally unavailable on account of wanting someone who is emotionally unavailable.

How clever of me.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid of making the same mistakes. I am afraid of thinking I know someone and finding out I don’t. I’m afraid of rejection. I am afraid of that cold, painful purgatory we find ourselves in when love is replaced by obligation, and bitterness is all we can taste on our tongues.

Fear knocks on my door whenever I even think about risking myself in this way. She really considers herself to be an expert on the topic of love. She has twisted love and fear up in my head so insidiously that I almost believe they are the same.

But I know something she doesn’t.

I know that when the right person arrives, I’ll muster the courage to introduce him to her (it’s only polite, after all). I suspect he’ll make an introduction of his own – his fear, to me. Perhaps his fear and mine will keep each other company, and they will be less likely to pop in on us unexpectedly, and…

When they do show up…

I hope we will try – to let go when the urge is to hold tightly, to slow down when the urge is to speed up, and to stay…when the impulse is to flee.

To use our fear as an opportunity to face ourselves, together. 

Artwork Foraged and Photographed by Meredith Brower Photography.

Available at www.630photo.etsy.com and at The Power of Juice.

Day 290/365 The Way You Made Us Feel

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 72 years old.

Everyone I have ever talked to about losing a parent has said that the loss has stayed with them, always. To me it feels like a hole that can never be filled. I can learn not to fall into it so easily. I can even plant flowers around it to make it more beautiful. Perhaps the flowers are manifestations of all of the memories I cherish. Yet the awareness of the hole, and the beauty of those memory-blooms, can never make it cease to be.

I’ve been thinking all day about what I’d like to say to honor the day – to honor him. I thought of making one of those lists of “things I learned from my father” but instead of a list, a quote kept coming to mind.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

That’s just it. He was kind and wise in gesture and in words, but it wasn’t what he said or what he did that made him the man he was. It was the way he made us feel. It was the way he made everyone feel.

A few months after my father passed away, my brother, Bill, found this poem in my father’s desk. I’d like to share it with you. Happy birthday, Dad.

Growing Old by Rollin J. Wells

A little more tired at the close of day,
A little more anxious to have our way,
A little less ready to scold and blame,
A little more care for a brother’s name;
And so we are nearing the journey’s end,
Where time and eternity meet and blend.

A little less care for bonds or gold,
A little more zeal for the days of old;
A broader view and a saner mind,
And a little more love for all mankind;
And so we are faring down the way
That leads to the gates of a better day.

A little more love for the friends of youth,
A little more zeal for established truth,
A little more charity in our views,
A little less thirst for the daily news;
And so we are folding our tents away
And passing in silence at close of day.

A little more leisure to sit and dream,
A little more real the things unseen,
A little nearer to those ahead,
With visions of those long loved and dead;
And so we are going where all must go —
To the place the living may never know.

A little more laughter, a few more tears,
And we shall have told our increasing years.
The book is closed and the prayers are said,
And we are part of the countless dead;
Thrice happy, then, if some soul can say,
“I live because of their help on the way.”

Day 280/365 The Wind (A Flashback)

Early morning, September 22, 2017…

Standing on my front porch with a warm cup of coffee between my palms, I assess the damage. Strong winds from a tropical storm off the coast have been lingering for days. The street is littered with small branches, and leaves torn prematurely from the trees. Trash cans are overturned in the street.

“Distress is the wind spirit of transformation” he’d said, when I had told him how I was feeling the day before.

As the wind whips the hair around my face, his words seem eerily prophetic.

I brace myself for the day (…weeks…months) ahead.

I have known of her diagnosis for less than two weeks. She kept it from us all, wanting to soak up the rest of the summer without being weighed down by sad and pitying expressions on the faces of her children and grandchildren. She still insists on keeping it from the kids. She doesn’t want them to worry.

“Mom, where are you?” I hear a small voice call from inside the house. Ruby peeks out the door and then steps out onto the porch. “Is it going to clear up today?” she asks.

Not today,” I reply.

“Are you okay?” she asks, searching my face.

I force a smile, “Of course I am! We’d better go, or we’ll be late.”

Moments later we arrive at the bus stop. I hug the girls, and watch as they climb onto the bus and find their seats. I smile and wave as the bus pulls away, suddenly aware I’d been holding my breath.

I exhale loudly.

I stand there in the parking lot, feeling raw and exposed to both the howling wind and the fearful anticipation of what lay ahead. I would be driving Mom to her first chemo treatment this morning.

I turn and see him standing there beside his truck, watching me…waiting to offer a hug or a few words of support. He’s one of the few people who knows of my mother’s diagnosis.

As I walk toward him he asks, “How are you?”

“Fidgety.” I say, looking down at my shaking hands.

We lean into each other. He wraps his arms around me. I try to relax into him, but it seems an impossible task. I step back to look him in the eye. “This is going to be hard,” I say. He nods, “I know.”

I notice we are holding hands. I realize don’t know if I grabbed his hand or he grabbed mine, but it doesn’t matter…neither lets go. I am grateful for this moment of comfort. I lean into him again, and he wraps his arms around me once more. I want to hide here, sheltered from the wind…and from what lay ahead.

Hours later I find myself sitting beside Mom in the infusion center…another loved one hooked up to hanging bags, tubes and wires. I startle every time the IV peeps…flashing back to January in the ICU with Dad.

In some ways it’s harder to sit beside someone who is conscious. I didn’t have to pretend to be brave or strong or optimistic while sitting beside my dad. He couldn’t read the fear and sadness on my face, nor hear it in my shaky voice.

I know I need to dig deeply for my inner strength…for her and for myself.

“I’m tired of feeling like a perpetual damsel in distress…”

That’s what I’d said, as I was telling him about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, right on the heels of grieving the loss of my father a few months prior.

“Distress is the wind spirit of transformation…” he’d said.

And so it is.

Day 278/365 Neither Here Nor There

Harveys are dreamers…literally. We tend to have very vivid dreams. I know I have mentioned this before, but…

It’s late, and I am up writing because Beau (my eleven year old) woke me up from a sound sleep by calling out for me, urgently. I went in to check on her and soon realized she was not awake at all. She said in a very distressed tone of voice, “She tried to hand it to me. I don’t know why…why did she do that?!”

One night when she was in my bed, she sat bolt upright and said, “Mommy…do you see them? They want to steal our toilets! The only way to get rid of them is to throw candy at them! DO WE HAVE ANY CANDY?!”

As I have gotten older I find that I don’t recall as many dreams in the detail I once did…and I miss it. When I wake up aware that I have been dreaming, the details often feel frustratingly just out of reach…like a name on the tip of my tongue.

I had a dream about my dad one night, not long after he died. We were standing in the rain outside a large office building. I was cold, and standing barefoot in my wet pajamas. He wrapped his overcoat around me…a coat I remembered as having belonged to his father too. In the dream I was aware that my father had crossed over, and that this visit with him was otherworldly, and desperately important. He tenderly placed the palms of his hands on either side of my face, as if to be sure he had my full attention, and then he spoke…

When I woke up I could remember the texture and the smell of his coat, the feel of my rain-soaked clothes…and I had this sense that what he shared was of powerful significance in my life…it was the key that would make it all make sense…and it was this…

I have no damn clue.

(That’s not literally what he said, though at the moment that strikes me funny as hell – The ultimate wisdom from beyond…”I have no damn clue.”)

Actually, I couldn’t remember what he’d said.

Oh, it’s the worst…when you wake up and you feel as though you could have solved life’s mysteries in your sleep, if only you had been awake enough to hear the answers.

I’d like to think that on some level, I heard him…that he did impart his wisdom. Perhaps I will unlock it at the right moment…or maybe I already have, somehow.

Maybe our dreams are where we can really connect with those who have passed on…we can visit them in a place that is neither here nor there.

Dreams can be beautiful gifts.

About a month ago, I had a dream in which I was at a party. I was standing in a crowd, scanning the room as if I’d just arrived and was looking for a familiar face. From across the room, I saw the unmistakable figure of my grandmother, Lynette. My heart leapt, for she had passed twelve years prior.

I couldn’t wait to see her…to hug her.

As I began to walk toward her, someone came racing by me from behind. It was Beau. She tore across the room toward my grandmother, and when she reached her, they belly laughed and wrapped each other up in their arms.

This was the most beautiful thing to witness, because…in this lifetime, they never met.

Day 274/365 I’ve Gotta Go, I Love You

Sometimes I find it really hard to write the blog because my head is so filled with something that I don’t want to share, either because it’s too mortifying (yeah, there’s stuff in here I don’t share – scary considering all I do share, I know) or because I feel like people are tired of my whining.

I really don’t walk around like Eeyore all the time. Life goes on. I mean, I smile and laugh and carry on with my day, almost always…but sometimes the core of me is just really sad and writing anything other than that seems inauthentic.  This blog is supposed to reflect how I really feel. It’s supposed to be about all of the stuff that is percolating under the surface, threatening to suffocate me if I don’t get it out.

Yet – how many blogs can I write about losing my dad?

Well….quite a few, as it turns out…but how many will you want to read?

It’s then that I have to stop and remind myself why I started doing this to begin with – not for you, but for me. So, I’ll write. I’ll purge. I’ll let it out.

I’ll exhale.

(Still, somehow I feel like I owe you an apology. Like I’ve lured you into a dramatic film and you’re kind of stuck here waiting for the happy ending so you don’t have to go to bed sad.)

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They kept my dad heavily sedated (can you believe they can sedate someone who is already unconscious? Oh, the things you learn…).

They had to do this because he was having seizures, constantly – petit mal – the kind you can’t see. The doctor described them as electrical storms in his brain. They didn’t want the storms to (further) damage his brain, so they sedated him to stop them.

The problem was, with the heavy sedation they couldn’t tell whether there was any “normal” brain function.

So we had to wait, and wait. They’d cut back the sedatives, and the storm would begin again…so they’d put him back on them…again…and again.

The entire week – this week last year – we were in this horrifying purgatory…and we all keep having flashbacks.

Both of my brothers called me today, and I talked with them each only for a few minutes as I was at work. At a certain point in each conversation, someone needed my attention and I said, “I’ve gotta go, I love you,” when what I wanted to say was…

I know.

I’m there too.

I’m right there with you.

I’m watching my tears drip onto his impossibly warm hand.

I’m soaring at the sight of his suddenly open eyes, only to realize they see nothing.

I’m sitting on the cold floor in the corridor, because it is somehow less depressing than the waiting room.

I’m sitting in the hospital chapel, embarrassed by the fact that my first real talk with God is happening here – in a glorified closet – after all of the hallowed places I’ve been.

I’m there, in the cold conference room with too many chairs, waiting to hear them say what we already know.

I’m there, wanting to throttle the neurologist with the nervous habit of smirking while she says the worst things a person can say. Doesn’t she know her words cut like knives?

I’m there, but I also have to be here – today.

So, life goes on…despite the storms in my brain.

Dad, I’ve gotta go…I love you.

 

Day 271/365 It Isn’t The Dying That Matters

It has been a rough couple of days.

December 27th was the one year anniversary of Dad’s passing. Well…technically it was January 5th that he died, but he was never conscious again after his collapse on the 27th.

I wrote before about how Mom knew he was gone that first day (see here), and thus it has become the day of greatest significance to us.

She wanted to have a dinner out in honor of him, which we did. As we sat there at dinner I thought about how hard it is to comprehend that someone so unassuming and humble could have left such a big void at the dinner table. Our collective aching for his presence was as palpable as the cocktails we hoped would numb it.

Throughout the day I kept replaying what I was doing one year prior – I’d spent the day roller skating with friends and family, followed by a spaghetti dinner with the girls and their two buddies. The five of us sat down to watch The Princess Bride…the girls, their two friends, and me.

It is eerie to recall what a fun day it had been….

Before the call.

I don’t presume that everyone’s experience with remembering traumatic events is the same. I can only say that for me, I don’t remember it all in clear detail…the whole evening…nor the entire terrible week that followed.

Some details are exceptionally vivid, while the rest of it comes across in my memory as a permeating feeling or series of feelings, rather than a clear sequence of events.

I don’t remember the faces of the doctors and nurses, but I remember how I felt when they entered the room…comforted, or terrified, or angry.

When I think of that night it tends to raise my heart rate. I feel my chest constrict. Sometimes it nearly brings me to my knees, still.

The most vivid memory is of my brother Ryan’s voice on the other end of the phone. I knew it was him (caller ID), but his voice was contorted by the most gut wrenching chords of despair and pleading…

“What’s wrong with Dad?”

I knew nothing. I hadn’t been told yet. For a moment we took comfort that it must be a mistake.

How could I not know our lives had changed?

Moments later I knew the truth, and I was frantic to get there…to get to the hospital before he died…

What if I didn’t get there in time?

Little did I know I would have a week of purgatory to live through before saying goodbye to him; before kissing his warm cheek for the last time.

I have thought a lot about death and what I’d wish for if I’d gotten to choose.

Would I wish for…

A sudden death (so we wouldn’t have had the agony of hope)?

An extended illness (so we’d have had more time to prepare)?

Or would I have chosen the slow acceptance with which most of us were faced that last week – the week in which Dad’s heart, in the cruelest betrayal, continued to fuel his body, but not his brain?

After much deliberation,

I’ve decided it is all utter shit.

All of it. 

There’s no good way to lose a loved one. 

There’s no perfect scenario that is going to mitigate the shattering of your heart.

But…

My Dears,

It isn’t the dying that matters.

It’s the living.

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Day 268/365 May I Sit At Your Table?

Writing is hard to do right now. I could tell you I have been busy, and that I am exhausted at the end of the day…and both of those things would be true, but the real reason is that I am struggling, emotionally.

So, why am I reluctant to write about that?

I certainly have done so before.  It’s kind of – what this blog is about.

Yesterday afternoon I sat at the bar at The Mooring, a beautiful waterfront restaurant in Newport, with Lynette and Ryan. There were some tears. We laughed at ourselves as we dabbed our eyes with cocktail napkins.

I mean…poor us, crying into our oysters and wine.

I don’t know – maybe that is a big part of my struggle. There is so much abundance around me – nourishment in all forms…

Yet, the fact that I have the time, the money and the wonderful family to indulge in an afternoon like that doesn’t bring back my father. It doesn’t make my mother less sick.

It doesn’t make life less heavy right now.

We left the restaurant, and after walking around Newport awhile with Monica, we went our separate ways. As soon as I got into my car alone, I really let go.

Big, heavy sobs.

I pulled myself together to run a few errands – grocery store, liquor store, pharmacy, picking up one last gift…

I pasted on a smile, but oddly I felt as though every clerk was treating me with kid gloves. They each were kind, but subdued…offering a particularly gentle “Happy Holidays.”

When I got home and looked in the mirror I understood.  It would have been glaringly obvious to anyone who looked at me that I had been crying.

In that moment, taking in my reflection, I actually felt guilty for having subjected the world to my obvious despair – and on Christmas EveEve.

How rude. 

But there it is, isn’t it?

There is an expectation of joy that we place upon the world at this time of year. None of us want to admit when we aren’t feeling in the spirit.

The truth is…

We all have our ups and downs in this rollercoaster of life. When you’re at a highpoint at Christmastime, it is an insanely intoxicating time of year, full of joy and hope.

When you are at a low point, you become a detached witness to the joyful hustle and bustle. You don’t feel a part of it…and that makes you feel all kinds of shitty emotions – ungrateful, guilty, embarrassed...like you don’t belong.

Like you’re at a party you weren’t invited to.

It is that feeling of being lonely in a crowd….of searching the room for your people….

The really-I-am-so-blessed-and-grateful-but-I-am-also-really-sad-and-this-is-not-my-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year people.

Ahh…there you are.

May I sit at your table?

I’ll bring oysters and wine, and lots of cocktail napkins.

My parents, 196?

Day 267/365 Christmas Tree-age

This past week I have been thinking about the idea of triage…ranking injuries according to severity, to determine which ones take priority in terms of attention.

[Sorry for the title, by the way, but Dad always liked a good pun….or even a bad one. I mean really, isn’t “good pun” an oxymoron?]

We had about eight months to focus on tending to the wound my dad’s death inflicted upon us all.

I can’t really bear to go back through the blogs yet, but I remember that August was a turning point for me. My wound was healing. I had come to understand that it would never completely go away, but I didn’t have to expend so much energy tending to it daily.

It was no longer urgent care – it was….maintainance.  

Then came the cancer diagnosis. Energy and attention shifted immediately to my mother. Nothing takes attention off of the death of a loved one more than the very visceral fear of losing another.

Chemo has been challenging for mom, strong as she is.

These last four months, I have been more focused on how she is feeling physically, than on how we are all feeling emotionally.

The mother wound usurped the father wound.

It just so happened that my mom finished a twelve week course of chemo last week, so they gave her a week off before starting her next round.  This means she will have a full week of feeling human…just in time for Christmas…

Just in time to fully experience the pain of our first Christmas without dad. Just in time for his death-aversary.

And so triage shifts again to the father-wound…busted open and in need of urgent care.

 

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Day 265/365 Show Them

My father was easy to love.

Sitting here thinking about him, the worst things I can think of to say about him are that he was sometimes absentminded, and that he got lost in his thoughts sometimes (you’d realize halfway through a story that he hadn’t heard a word you’d said).

To me, he was perfect. Perfectly imperfect.

I know it is easy for me to sit here and tell you to appreciate everyone you love – even the ones who are hard to love sometimes, but I am going to do it anyway.

Nothing brings into focus the unpredictability and fragility of our time with one another more than death.

(I know I’m being a bit of an Oracle of the Obvious there, but its true).

Let’s see, how can I say this?

To me, at this point in my life, it makes me feel great pain to see people who love each other construct road blocks to the giving and receiving of that love. Whether it is out of fear, anger, a lack of understanding, poor communication…

When you would give anything to have back someone you’ve lost, it becomes incredibly hard to reconcile the idea that anyone would withhold their love…

That anyone would choose to close their heart when the time to open it is not infinite.

Time is not promised.

If you love someone, say it…but don’t stop there.

Show them.

Show them by opening your heart, your home.

Show them by having the hard conversations.

Show them by not being afraid of what you don’t understand.

Show them by choosing to see the best in them.

Show them by loving them even when it’s hard to do.

Show them by remembering why you began loving them in the first place.

Show them by giving them second chances, or third.

Show them by not giving up.

Show them while you can. 

Show them.

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