I am Not the Buddha

The following quote by poet Tyler Knott Gregson came up on my Facebook memories this week…

“To begin again, sometimes you have to take life down to the studs, knock down all the walls, and pull out the insulation that kept you from the world. You must get dirty and feel the ache in the muscles you used to pull the house down around you. You must stare wide eyed and grinning at the mess you have made, seeing through the rubble to the clean floor that will emerge when the work is through.

Now, now is the time to destroy the foundations of fear and apprehension, the walls of waiting and wishing; now is the time to begin again. Laugh at the piles of the past you stand in, knee deep and smiling.”

I so loved it at the time I posted it. Reading it again brought me back to that moment in time. It was two and a half years after I had split with my husband and moved out of our home. I had – we had – torn it all down. It was not working. We were not happy, though we had tried and tried. I had already gone through the grieving, much of it while we were still together. I was, at that point in time, ready “to laugh at the piles of the past in which I stood, knee deep and smiling.”

The date was February 2016.

About a month later, my ex-husband (and the father of my two girls) came out as transgender. Nine months after that, my beloved father died suddenly. Nine months after that, my mother was diagnosed with BRCA and stage 3 cancer.

Let me be clear – I am not comparing my ex being trans with death nor with cancer, but I list it here because…well because when the person with whom you were in a relationship for twelve years reveals this kind of secret – when you realize you didn’t know, percieve, understand…have an inkling of something so fundamental about your spouse as his gender – it has the power to shake one’s foundation. As is, for my girls and me, navigating the outward changes of our loved one. When you think about it – what is more fundamentally true to a child, than that Dad is a man? (Or to a woman, that an ex-Husband is a man, for that matter?) Love is love…and what is revealed within that can still be a wall rattler; a soul shaker.

Once again I found myself standing in the rubble that was once my life. However, THIS time – I hadn’t asked for it. I had not held the sledgehammer in my own two hands and swung wildly, hungry to tear it all down. I had simply woken up one day to find a big hole in the roof, and then I watched helplessly as the foundation cracked, and the walls buckled, and everything seemed to crumble all around me.

The question I find myself asking is – Is it possible to approach the rubble we’ve willfully created in the same way that we greet the rubble we did not? The rubble we never asked for? The rubble we never saw coming?

The Buddhist answer would be yes – simply greet what is. Embrace it.
I can assure you, I am not the Buddha.

As I have stood in the piles of the past, I have grieved. Heavily. I have cut myself on the jagged pieces of the past as I tried to fix what was there. I have tripped and fallen as I tried to hold up the pieces that were still hanging on by a few desperate nails. When you never wanted the destruction, it is hard to accept the fact that nothing can be put back exactly as it was, in its imperfect perfection.

Whether the rubble was intended or not, Gregson was right about looking THROUGH it all, “to the clean floor that will emerge.”

Because it will. It is there, beneath it all. It is always there. Whether we brought on the demolition ourselves, or we helplessly watched as everything fell apart. Either way, we must rebuild.

We have no choice, as we stand there in the rubble, but to get to work cleaning up the mess and to begin again…and again, and again.

Such is life – learning to push up our sleeves and do the work…

The work we asked for, and the work we didn’t.

I still may not be able to greet both with a smile – to greet them equally with gratitude as bits of the house that once sheltered me cling to my hair and dust my eyelashes – but I do understand that it’s the building and rebuilding of my house that will teach me the most about myself.

Above all I must remind myself that I am not the house.
Its destruction never has to equal mine.

Day 327/365 “The Air a Library”

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father.

Sometimes these thoughts wrap me in a blanket of melancholy. Other times they bring on a smile or even an audible laugh.

The stupidest things remind me of him – like my daughter asking me if I ever saw “Bedtime for Bonzo” (she was reading about Ronald Reagan). I never did see it, I told her, but Papa used to say that all the time as he corralled me up to bed…“Bedtime for Bonzo!” 

I don’t recall whether that expression was met with a giggle or a groan…but I remember him saying it…I can hear him saying it…with a grin.

Last weekend we got together for a family dinner at my mother’s house. All together there were eight adults, nine children and two dogs. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was outside. The children and dogs were running around in the late afternoon sun. As we sat there in one of my father’s favorite places – the terrace, under the wisteria vines – I just had a feeling that we were all thinking about dad.

Sometimes when this happens, I’ll bring a voice to it – I’ll say, “I really miss him.” 

Other times I feel it’s better to just sit with that sensation – that he is in the air all around us. We don’t have to say it out loud. It just is. 

I have the hardest time explaining how it feels sometimes – the sensation of missing someone so much, yet simultaneously feeling as though he is everywhere, permeating everything…especially in that house, on that terrace. 

I know those of you who have lost a loved one know what I mean…

They never really cease to be…HERE.

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I just finished a book yesterday…one of those books you are sad to finish. Below is an excerpt that I have read over and over and over…because it explains so perfectly this sensation of which I speak….

“Torrents of text messages, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between transmitters and metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefore and Evian, and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again. I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail, and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths? That [they] might harry the sky in flocks like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” – excerpt from All The Light We Cannot See

I asked one of my girls to read the above passage to me as I typed it out for you. When we were finished I asked her if she understood what it meant. She said no, so I explained it to her…

If we are constantly surrounded by words and information and messages of love that we cannot see…can’t we also believe that the souls and the words of the dead may also be swirling around us, all the time?

I could tell she found the idea of it a bit unsettling…that the souls of the dead are flying and flowing all around us.

I can understand that, especially if you imagine some of the less pleasant souls making their rounds, but…

To me, because of my father, it feels like love…everywhere…

“If you listen closely enough…”

“They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.”

…the air a library…

Just…poetry.

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 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 145/365 In Which the Reverend Angers Me (But She’s Right)

Those of you who have been following this blog probably know that it was inspired by my desire to shake my depression in the wake of my father’s sudden death.  Initially I wanted to write about something that made me feel grateful each day.

It has evolved into more of a daily journal, although it often is imbued with the emotions of grief and gratitude.

Grief and gratitude – an interesting combo…

Grief is defined as deep sorrow.

Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation

By definition they are world’s apart…and yet, the more I go through the grieving process, the more I realize how intricately woven they actually are.

The day after dad died, Ryan, my mother and I sat in my parents’ living room with the Reverend. She asked us to share some thoughts about dad. After listening to us for a few minutes she said to my brother and I, “You obviously had a wonderful relationship with your father.  You know, as much as that makes this so hard, it may actually be easier for you to let him go, than for someone who had a broken or nonexistent relationship with their father.”

How come you are so ungrateful?” she may as well have said. (She didn’t say that, of course, but that’s what I heard).

We were lucky enough to have had a wonderful father.

We were lucky we had no regrets about our relationship when he died.

We were lucky we didn’t have any unresolved conflicts.

We were lucky.

I can’t tell you how far from lucky I felt in that moment. Her words brought me no solace at the time. In fact, they made me a little angry.

How dare she tell us that what we got was more than most? Her words, well intended as they were, made me feel like a petulant and greedy child…to have had all this abundance and still want for more….so much more.

I ached for more with every cell of my being.

In time I was able to appreciate her words. It was because we had so much gratitude for our father that we felt so wrecked by his death, but it was also the abundance of gratitude for him that would save us. It would make it bearable, ever so slightly.

Our heavy grief was (and is) because of our preponderance of gratitude.

He left us so much for which to be grateful…

Not only the warm memories, but in the many parts of him which influence our very being. Our father was funny, kind and generous, smart and quick-witted. He was quietly confident yet incredibly humble. He was extremely level-headed, and of admirable moral character.  He was affectionate and friendly; warm.  He was forgetful, day-dreamy, and sometimes wouldn’t have noticed if there were a wolverine in the room (not if he were doing a crossword puzzle, anyway). He was also an avid singer and dancer, both of debatable skill and undeniable enthusiasm. He was a hilariously insufferable card game opponent. He loved his family to pieces.

I see so many of these traits – these gifts from dad – in my brothers and I, and even in our children.  Some make me proud, some make me laugh – but they all make me think of him…and I feel grateful in my grief, because…

We were lucky to have him for a father.

We were lucky to have him for as long as we did.

We were lucky.

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Day 122/365 Amnesia 

I forgot. For a split second, I forgot he is gone.

I was getting ready for a family dinner party, and just for a second, I got excited to see my dad. Of course he would be coming to celebrate Beau’s birthday.

It passed through me like a flash flood of emotion – happiness, recognition, sadness…guilt.

How could I forget he is dead?

Truth be told it happened to me a couple of times in the beginning. I can remember a week or so after he died, pulling into my parents’ driveway, seeing his car, and thinking – “Oh good, dad’s home!”

Back then, the grief hit me like a brick wall. This time though – seven months later – it was a weird feeling, the not remembering.

I looked it up (as one does) and it turns out this happens all the time to people who have lost loved ones.  They pick up the phone to call them, or even begin driving to their house…only to remember their loss, and subsequently feel a cocktail of grief and guilt.

How could we forget that we’re grieving?

Here’s how – we are so conditioned in our patterns; it takes time to rewire those habitual thoughts and actions.

Just because we forget our loved ones are gone, doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten them. It’s quite the opposite, actually.

In fact, it was lovely noticing how many times my dad was mentioned during the gathering. I am so glad we aren’t tiptoeing around his memory. We are all thinking of him – missing him – why not bring him into the conversation?

My sister-in-law talked about how she swears “Papa” helped my nephew to hit a grand slam at his (championship!) baseball game the other night – two outs, two strikes and the bases loaded – WHAM!

I laughed with everyone about how whenever dad would stay with me he would always insist on using the ice-cube maker in my refrigerator door – despite the fact that the thing simply does not work.  There would always end up being ice all over the floor, or a stream of water coming from the freezer.  Lately every time I open it, a hunk of ice falls out. I laugh every time, thinking of my dad. It feels like we are sharing a joke (and maybe we are).

Maybe having moments in which I forget he’s gone, simply proves that he isn’t.

Not entirely.

Day 100/365 Otherworldly

There is something about looking into the eyes of a new baby that transports us to another plane. I believe it’s because they have so newly arrived from the spiritual realm. They are pure light and love….truly otherworldly.

This weekend I was blessed to meet two new little beings of light.

Something about those experiences has made me feel lighter. Perhaps it is the simple reminder of where we are all started, and I believe, where we will all end up again.

I believe in reincarnation. I believe we return, over and over again, each time with the intention of elevating spiritually through the experiences and lessons of each lifetime.  I also believe we continue to incarnate with many of the same souls…we are meant to learn from one another, with one another.

So, perhaps it is as simple as being gently reminded that life goes on…and on, and on…

Those we’ve “lost” are not lost forever.  We will meet again.