Archive for the 'Grieving' Category

31
Jan
13

deep memory days

Have you ever had times when you feel a life-time of painful memories sweeping down around you, enveloping you, not letting you go; memories that spread their awesome distortions on the today of where you are but cannot claim being there? These are the memories of things wrongfully done either to you or by you, that have woven their woeful song deeply into your name. You may feel it somewhere around your heart, but it’s not about your heart; it’s physical as well as emotional, but not organic. It’s about feeling trapped in the old songs with their voices—loud in the head—fueled by something in the present—words or deeds that layer themselves upon each other until the deepest pain is reached and you are just a mass of deep purple hurt. Sometimes it happens fast and you’re down for the count. Other times distinction between today and all the yesterdays melts slowly downward like an ice cream cone…all over your hands. These are times that I struggle to stay oriented and call upon God as the Ground of My Being for help. They are also times when, as an aging person, I feel tired of the effort and just want it all to be over. (Don’t worry, I’m okay.)

This can be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder…what is now referred to as PTSD. It is that for me. The inclusion/exclusion experiences of the past several years since returning to church, have attached themselves to a number of earlier church experiences of abuse, as well as early personal experiences of betrayal. I am sensitized to this in many colorful ways. Now, thanks to thousands of veterans, survivors of military malevolence, we have an explanation for what happens to people when they can no longer tolerate painful memories that tend (like flash-fires), to blossom disproportionately without consent. For some of us with much simpler forms of this human condition, compassion and consideration is a good bit of first aid. I would like some of that please. And for dessert, I would like affirmation. One never outgrows the good affirmation can bring. It’s like yeast: makes the spirit rise and the soul feel loved. This quote from Gladys Bronwyn Stern is a favorite of mine: “Silent gratitude isn’t  much use to anyone.”  Ah…so very true for me.

I am cycling out of this gloom that I’ve been in this morning. It’s a given…I always do…eventually. But I never stop wondering why it has to be this way…so complicated and dense? Maybe it’s because we are always the same age inside? Human nature, I guess…we are all a little bit dumb and careless with each other. Me included.

I need to dance.

I feel better already. I hope I didn’t bring you down… 🙂

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04
Nov
10

update and post script

My posts have been few and far between for a while now. I have been on a journey and not through yet, but thought I’d just try to bring this blog somewhat up to date before doing so becomes a gigantic, uphill climb with a backpack too full of stuff to sort out, let alone write down for public consumption.

This year’s summer was a hard trek, but in a different way than last year’s summer when I was torn into pieces by the church we were invited—then uninvited—to join. Last summer the pangs of betrayal I experienced were felt in the warmth of my family—Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter Bettina and I. We set about fitting into the little church that welcomed us in on the rebound. We were beginning to breathe, but by September Bettina’s cancer returned for a fourth and final time. She died just ten weeks into the new year.

I was completely absorbed in caring for Bettina, and completely involved in helping her to die well. For a long time afterward I was equally absorbed in the loss of her and of our family of three. There were many losses since my cancer diagnosis in 2006 and they came swarming together in a great anguished whoosh. The repercussions were enormous. By spring, I no longer knew where I belonged or why. I was a traveler on the grief road without a sense of direction…just drifting in deep pools of sadness and disconnection. Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, quite unexpectedly as if by magic, I became a mother-in-law and a grandmother. There was no time to practice. The summer wore on and still the quiet, disconnected sadness. I yearned for spiritual connection and began attending Catholic Mass, while at the same time continuing in my position as visual art maven at the little quirky church on the edge of the city. The grandchildren were pinpoints of joy—lone stars in a dark sky. I became a woman with many faces, but no mirror in which to see them.

August was a particularly desperate time and called for desperate measures. I could not relate to the little church and could not keep from receiving the sadness bubbling up within. It was a time of affirming forgiveness, 70 x 7 and then some. My path became stony and disorienting. In response, the little church said don’t leave…let’s talk, and formed a small listening group around BD and me. Many things happened in rapid succession, both inside and outside the group. Issues fell into place as we became aware that four years of losses with little time between amounts to post traumatic stress. I don’t normally cotton with these labels, but this time it is fitting, and we are glad to have this understanding as a way to make sense of our wobbly-top selves. I am grateful to the several persons who were angels unaware in this drama, for I was not always so lovable. These people were willing spiritual conduits, each with a different message, each with a different angel’s feather touch. Each bearing God’s love and grace.

In the end, an aha moment was this:  understanding that in the loose, laid-back character of this quirky little church, lay freedom and trust and possibilities, and in return, I must give it all I’ve got. I’ve been busy ever since, not with more than you younger readers are prone to taking on, but with more than I am accustomed to taking on in quite this faith centered way. There are not enough days or hours in the days, and certainly not enough weeks in the month for me. I am swimming in a rushing river to some where that I know not…every now and then caught by an eddy of old thoughts and memories that must be untangled and set out to dry. In a couple of weeks I will turn a ripe 72… Despite my good health report, I am very aware of the time I have left—sensitized to it. Insomnia plagues me lately. It’s not a workaholic compulsion that is the culprit, it is this sense that I am in transition—in training if you will—for the last chapter of my life as a doer/giver. I am such a late bloomer…I want 20 years doing and giving in the space of 10! Sometimes I feel like a child who cannot wait for Christmas morning. Other times I feel like skipping Christmas morning entirely, for surely a gift with my name on it will be much too heavy for me to manage.

Called by name…that is the word I received many times in the dark chemotherapy nights.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame  shall not consume you. Isaiah 43

So when I am not wobbling over with extremes of joy and anxiety, I generally say, Here am I. Send me!”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me! Isaiah 6:8

20
Aug
10

thinking of you

Today I found a little drawing by a very talented young girl from the church Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter Bettina and I attended until June, 2009. It was given to Bettina shortly before she died last March. The drawing was of a beautiful horse with a coat of many colors. At the top of the drawing this little girl placed a perky little pink flower with green stem and leaves. At the bottom, beneath the colorfully happy horse she wrote: I’m thinking of you.

This artwork had been amongst a pile of things collecting for months on the table next to my computer desk. Why I saw it today and not yesterday, or the day before, I don’t know. I saw it today—early this morning as I booted up and began my electronic day. Looking at it—its simple beauty took me by surprise as though I hadn’t seen it months ago, when it first came to Bettina’s bedside. She was always so happy to have these gifts from children. From child to child is how it went. I’m thinking of you, it said; and so I am, and do, and did all day long.

I decided to add another posting to her blog, Longing for Light. I called it Hovering, and published the drawing with it. Afterward, I worked again at thinning down her last few belongings…the ones most difficult to deal with. The most difficult thing was reading through the letters she had written…remembering all of the good and all of the painful things that ran through our knowing each other. I made some progress, mostly organizing and separating things for final distribution. There isn’t a lot, just a couple of small boxes, but it was difficult and I thought about her all day long.

I’m thinking of you, Tina…and the sadness returned.

Hovering: Tina promised to hover. She told everyone she would learn to hover. I don’t know if she has learned, or is learning, or maybe flunked 101. I don’t dream about her, don’t have visions, don’t feel her presence…except when my little cat Bella jumps up to sleep with me at night. At that moment I feel Tina…as though Bella brings her to me. I am especially glad when Bella chooses to come right up to my chest, settles down and stretches out there. I say, “Hi, Tina, where have you been?”

So this is Bella…or Tina…or just a pretty orange tabby. You can decide.

29
May
10

beyond pentecost

A great deal has happened since I last wrote. A dear friend of mine advised me to speak to my community…to tell them what I need to feel at home with them. I took his advice, and although painful to be so vulnerable, I believe doing so has released the bird in me from the wire that held me fast, and has provided freedom to move…eventually to fly once again. This time I must learn a new flight pattern—a slow and easy circling pattern that allows for the inevitable waiting that is often the life of faith. I am a bird flying carefully and quietly so that I hear God’s voice and feel the leading of the Spirit. I have a lot to learn at the same time that I have so very much to give. Holding the Both and the And together, while walking forward with a basket of life balanced on my head.

Tonight I went to bed early but couldn’t get to sleep. Night can be a very difficult time for those of us who are loss-prone. All the needles and threads of daytime busyness fade into the deep, velvety-blue, darkness of night and there is no covering. I deeply miss adopted daughter, Bettina, whose let’s get it done energy melded so well with mine, allowing me to venture forth in foreign lands with bravery. There are birds who fly on the loft others create in flight formation. I am learning to fly solo and grateful for the several friends whom God has provided as air traffic controllers during this time of transition and initiation. They are my angels. I think they know who they are…

At night I turn on my Taize music, take my meds, turn off the light and wait for Bella, my little orange cat, to come join me. I talk to God. I say everything and nothing. I pour out wordless thoughts and painful experiences. It is my most intimate God time. I ask why and I ask how. I mostly ask for help. There are always tears. After a while Bella comes and with her comes Bettina to say, Goodnight Mamma. I like that.

My soul aches…not for any one thing or any one person. My soul aches for something it needs…God.

I am a bird circling high overhead, hoping it does not rain…preferring the clear blue of a sunny sky.

07
May
10

what could have been

I’ve been reading a new book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Ms. Norris is a highly acclaimed poet, and author. All of the words in the title of this book are appealing to me, even the word acedia, and that is because I had no idea what it meant. Acedia, I am told, is a state of spiritual listlessness, sadness, melancholy, apathy, carelessness, and lethargy—a pathway to sloth. Originally an affliction among the monastics and religious, it was considered to have the potential of undermining faith and sensibility. It differs from clinical depression in its spiritual orientation, but can be the precursor of depression.

After the first several chapters I came to see the funk I’ve been in much of the time since adopted daughter’s death, as acedia in varying degrees. This definition stops my free-fall state with a safety net of insight. Like a person ill for years and finally getting a diagnosis that it is not “all in the head”, I feel relief. The book is dense with messages for me on all levels of my life—from aspects of faith life, to matters of creative work, marriage, illness and death, I am infused with new insights to my own shadow side.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ms Norris shares the story of her husband’s illness and death from cancer, and her experience as sole caregiver, that got my heartfelt attention. I identify. That’s me in both places: cancer patient and caregiver. Her account of care giving, both during her husband’s illness and after his death speak loudly to me. I’ve been there. I know. I’m still there.

It has been 9 weeks since adopted daughter died. Not really that long in grieving terms, but my grief has a twist to it. As executors of the estate and caretakers of all things left behind, we have been stunned to find shelves and shelves of her life that she did not share with us—did not share with anyone. In fact, we see that she lived her life in serial compartments, like an old-fashioned rolltop desk. There is a quotation my mother would offer about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This could be applied. The problem is that the original comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:3) and is a moral directive to giving, not hiding.

What I have seen is a person I loved dearly enough to call daughter, who didn’t trust me, or anyone else enough to confide the many truths of her life that would have made the executing of her estate a far less messy and painful affair. But more than this consideration is that the love and trust she did give me was the best she could do. That says volumes. Hidden until the end. Every time she called me mamacita, she did so with the half she felt would not be rejected. “I would have loved you anyway’, I say to her memory. ‘I would have loved you and helped you make the crooked as straight as possible in the few days and weeks that were left”. If she were anyone else, I would be speaking philosophically and with a bit of distance, but because I took her as a daughter, I speak with the pain of not having been able to do all I know I could have done for her. This is a tragedy to me. Although I witnessed God’s redeeming forgiveness to her in those last few days, and know Grace was given completely, I feel a mourning for what was left out between us. I would have liked to give her the human forgiveness she was sure she didn’t deserve. But maybe in her morphine altered days, she knew it was there, and maybe she made that transaction in the shadows of her heart and soul…maybe that’s what I saw in her face as I administered the meds hour after hour with more tender love than I thought I had in me to give.

So what is the problem? Why does acedia haunt me like a child playing hide and seek in dress-up clothes? I don’t know. I am beginning to think that acceptance, letting go, and letting be is my spiritual discipline forevermore.

I hoped that by the time I finished writing this post I would have pushed through acedia, at least for a time. The estate is not yet settled and my personal sense of mourning for what could have been is not over. I do not have the sense of adopted daughter’s presence as I did with my sister after she died. I cannot explain this except to say that she never allowed herself to belong to anyone. Despite her promise to learn to hover in our lives, she does not. Perhaps there is a learning curve in the afterlife. Perhaps we are connected by this curve…she over there and me over here. Perhaps there will be a happy ending when my soul finally floats free.

Postscript: The deceptions we keep in our lifetimes may very well come to light after the funeral when there is little that can be done to alter them in any way.

03
Apr
10

lessons in grieving

Today marks one week post Bettina’s memorial service, and five weeks since her death. I should have written about the memorial service last week but couldn’t. It really was beautiful, just as I’d imagined in my March 22nd posting, 2 weeks later. In fact, much more beautiful than I’d expected, but just as heart-wrenching. My dear old friend (DOF) flew in from New Mexico to dance to, Who has Known (the mind of God…), and that was sheer blessing. From now on I will no longer refer to her as dear old friend, even though she is my oldest  and closest friend. She is a dancer inside and out even though her best dancing days are behind her. I will now call this person the Dancing Queen in this blog: DQ. (Do not confuse with Dairy Queen, please.)

The memorial was truly worshipful and I know Adopted Daughter, Bettina was there enjoying every minute. The next day was Passion Sunday and our church did a deeply  moving version of the Stations of the Cross. It was so deeply moving that I became just as deeply depressed. Up until then I was busy with so many things to do, then suddenly it was all over. DQ went on to visit daughters and grandchildren. The house resoundingly empty…silent…like it had been the minute the oxygen machine was turned off.

My heart cried out: “Where did everybody go?” I knew I could phone one or two friends, but also knew everyone was tired and busy getting on with their lives. It had been a very intense weekend. Big Dawg and I were unable to address each other’s needs. She went out feeling confused and helpless. My chief fear—abandonment—had been touched. I was alone with emotions too deep for words…too painful for comforting. I sank to the floor with emotion only anger can express. I was uncontrollably angry about many things. I yelled everything I had at God until there was nothing left to feel. Then I stopped yelling and stopped crying and waited. I felt remorse. BD and I would get through this. We would turn the page, start a new chapter. I just didn’t know when or how. Bedtime came soon and I prayed for help toward a better day.

The next day was dark and dreary. I was very depressed. Empress Bird called to check on me and we talked for a long time. Poor Empress. I did put her through some arduous paces. The day was craggy and disjointed. Nothing made much sense to me. My dear friend, Deeply Thinking, was coming that evening to help me start a new project—one that Bettina had supported wholeheartedly. The meatloaf I’d prepared that morning for our evening’s supper never made it into the refrigerator. When I saw it sitting there on the counter at 4:00, I panicked and the depression-fueled feelings of failure took over. What to do? Cancel? Couldn’t do that because I knew I’d feel worse. Tearfully, I took something out of the freezer, all the while wondering, who am I…who am I turning into? The doorbell rang. DT stood outside the door smiling. I said I was in a terrible mood…very unpleasant…not a nice person, etc., come at your own risk. He came in, took his shoes off and prepared to meet the monster I felt I’d become.

While we were all in the kitchen, I managed to burn my hand on the oven rack and proceeded to have yet another melt-down. DT is very cool. Whatever phases him does not manifest quickly. BD suggested we to go down to the studio and get started while she put dinner together. We did, and sat down in front of the computer. I proceeded to deliver an intense monologue about what a really nasty person I was and all of the unpleasant, unloving things I felt. Again, DT listened with barely a muscle moving on his face…no judgment issuing forth, no advice-giving and no insights. I appreciated that began the slow rise to the surface. I love this DT and I know it is returned: Grace.

Dinner went well and we got a good start on the project. Grace flowed. I had a few hours of light gray to off-white and then it was time for bed and another prayer for help, this time intercessory prayer as well.

To be continued.

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25
Mar
10

birds would walk

I heard an ornithologist say in a documentary program, that birds would walk if they could. That’s how he explained the ostrich and the penguins and the 40 some species of other flightless birds. He said that most of them have evolved in the absence of predators. Hmm, I wonder about this. Why would a bird give up that incredible gift of flying? Why not keep flying on the back burner as a fun thing to do every now and again, just for the heck of it? Evolution, he said.

Well, I envy the birds who fly and fly and fly. I am a bird—clearly evolved past flying—yet something I feel/imagine. My bones, though small, are way too heavy to fly, and yet I think that I should be able to do so. I fly in spirit. Right now, my wings are wet and heavy with grief, so I only make circles low to the ground.

I have entered a time of life when losses seem to be piling up all around me. But still I fly…maybe not so high, maybe not so joyfully, maybe not so vigorously…probably more mournfully than not. But God has provided some angels to walk with me. Each one strokes and dries a different feather. I need all these angels and am grateful for them, even if I don’t seem to sound that way. One of these angels gave me a book that I often read at night. Last night I found this poem. Listen:

THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH

I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,

and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
the forests.

I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
world.

For so many faces do that–
cage us.

The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or

a glance void
of love.

I wanted to live in that cloister of
light’s silence

because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.

St. Catherine of Siena (translated by Daniel Ladinsky from his book, Love Poems from God.




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