Day 304/365 Show Up

Some of you, especially those who have been reading this blog from the beginning, have come to regard me as somewhat of an expert on grief.

Well…let me clarify

I am not certain that I have had any revelations that literally anyone else who has experienced loss hasn’t had – but what I have done is share my thoughts and feelings about my father’s death (among many other things, as it turns out) with all who care to read about them.

As a result, I have been told that my gift is putting words to some universal feelings around loss and grief. I suppose in this way I am able to shine a light on the fact that as human beings who have loved and lost, we are never alone in our pain.

Many readers have told me that when someone they know experiences a loss, they recommend my blog to help that person process it. I have to admit this feels good. I like knowing that my choice to process my grief in such a public way has helped people (other than me), and perhaps will continue to help people even after I am done with my “365 days”.

I hope so.

At the moment, though, I feel that my words are completely inadequate.

My 45 year old friend, Melissa, became a widow one week ago today – a widow and a single mother of four.

I have written about how we do ourselves and others a disservice by comparing our pain (or our cause of pain) with that of others. I have said that grief is grief; loss is loss. We feel how we feel, they feel how they feel. Everyone’s feelings are valid and true, regardless of whether we perceive someone as having more or less reason to suffer than we do.  As with anything in life, comparing ourselves to others in any way does not serve us.

While I still believe that to be true, sometimes I just can’t help it.

As I watched the children’s faces as their father was being lowered into the earth, I felt emotionally gutted. I couldn’t help but think: I had roughly three decades longer with my wonderful father than these children had with theirs.

My pain was enormous. So…what of theirs? Can you even image?

As for my friend, she lost the person with whom she planned to spend the rest of her life (happily, I might add). The life she has, they built it together over the course of more than twenty years.  Everything in her home whispers a story about Jaime.

He is everywhere and nowhere all at once.

In some ways I feel afraid of (or perhaps intimidated by) the grief I imagine she holds within her. I am not proud of that, but I will own it, because I know my discomfort comes from a desire to relieve her pain, coupled with a deep knowing that I can’t possibly do that for her.

Her pain is hers to process, and she is so incredibly strong and capable.

That being said, I can show up for her anyway. I can show up even when I know I can’t take away the pain. I can show up to witness her in her grief. I can show up for the hard and messy and complicated stuff that lands heavily and mercilessly after the dust settles.

I can show up.

 

Day 302/365 No Words

Today was a hard day. My friend, Jaime, was laid to rest.

It was incredibly touching to see the community of support around his family, and to bear witness as we all tried our best to collectively shoulder the enormous weight of our grief.  Honestly, I was completely wrecked by his grieving children, who must live with the cruel paradox of having had the most wonderful father, but for not nearly long enough. 

Jaime was young and vibrant and had so much love to give. There’s more to say about that, but for tonight…just this simple bit of gratitude.

After the service (burial, collation…), I felt exhausted in the way that only emotions can exhaust a person.

When I got home, I told my girls (who had been home with a sitter) that I just needed to lay down for a few minutes.  I went into my room and laid on my bed, curling up on my side and closing my eyes.

Moments later, Beau came into the room. She climbed onto the bed, and laid down with her back to me, shimmying herself into the hollow I’d formed with my curled up body. Next, Ruby climbed in behind me, pressing herself into my back, and reaching for my hand.

No one spoke.

Then, for the first time in years – the three of us took a nap.

Tonight I am thankful for sharing my home with intuitive beings, who know when all I need is someone to be with me…to hold my hand, and to not say a word.

Rest in peace, J’aime.

The Thing About Jaime

The world lost a beautiful man last night. I struggled writing this, as it just seems so wrong…writing about him in the past tense. I kept writing “He is” and having to go back and correct myself…He was.

It seems impossible that someone who shone so brightly could leave us so soon.

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I remember a story about when Jaime met Melissa, his future wife. He told her that his name was spelled Jaime (rather than Jamie), because “J’aime” means “I love” in French.

Honestly, we had a good laugh about that, because – Come on! What a line!

But…the thing about Jaime was, although I’m sure he delivered this explanation of his name with a grin and a twinkle in his eye…it was the truth.

He loved.

The love and devotion that Melissa and Jaime had for each other was always plain to see. They really cared for and respected each other. They still looked at each other like people in love. They also had fun – they made each other laugh every day. Jaime was always quick with his wit, and Melissa loved that about him. Even when he was experiencing the worst days of his life with his illness, he loved to make her laugh.

They loved the life they built together. Melissa, and their children – Ryan, Gavin, Maeve and Michelle were the center of Jaime’s universe. He was so proud of each of his children. He always smiled broadly whenever he spoke of them.

He loved. 

His love was big enough for his whole community. He really cared…about everyone. If you were talking to Jaime, you had his full attention. He had a way of making each person feel like they were really important to him – because they were.

We all were.

Over the years I have heard so many stories about things that Jaime did or said to help others, and you know what….not one of those stories did I ever hear from Jaime. Not one.

He was so humble.

Nothing he did was ever for recognition or even for a thank you. It was because that was who he was. He knew no other way to be.

He loved. 

I am sure in the coming days and weeks, so many more stories about Jaime’s big heart will come pouring out from the community, because not only did he love…he was loved.

So loved. 

 

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.