One Year

…in a moment of silence.

A Haze in the Starlight

One year ago today was the worst day of my life. It was the day that I experienced the absolute greatest, most profound pain I will ever experience as I was told that my sister had died. This year has been one of sheer, blinding agony. From one moment to the next, one morning to the next, I’ve been burned alive from the inside out. Reduced to ash and shell. Every stability I’ve known has been shaken and torn. I smolder and laugh and weep. I’ve seen several things through the smoke and tears. My sister has clothed the world: all beauty is her beauty. The gardens are her gardens. The breezes are her breezes. My laughs are her laughs. My silliness is her silliness and my hope, her hope. She is my twin and therefore I look to the trees and mountains for comfort. I’ve seen through the fog…

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Could it be true, the idea that life is suffering?  There was a time when I would have rejected that idea outright.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Now, I’m thinking maybe there is something to that idea.

When I go out into the world, I see it all around me.  Many people, most in fact, seem to be uncomfortable unless they have a coffee cup in their hand; a travel mug,  the latest electronic device or three, a smoke, a snack, a something, an anything.  I am fascinated by the physical motion involved; the reaching out, the pulling toward, the taking in; the consuming, the comfort it brings, or seems to. Yet the reaching continues.

We were all born with it, of course.  Whatever it was, we touched it, we brought it to our tiny lips and it taught us about the world.  As we grew we perpetuated the motion and as adults we continue, though now tending toward coping, blocking out, avoiding, hiding from, feeling powerless to change and/or being afraid to fully live in this world without a Binky.

I recently read a letter written to Dear Abby by a young woman who at age 19 still sleeps with her baby blanket as the result of trauma and fear of the dark.  She’s worried her dorm mates will tease her as she was teased for it in high school.  I felt sorry for her believing she had to give it up at all, let alone at a time when really needs it… leaving home, going away, starting a new life; a grown-up life.  Abby told her to make her blanket into a pillow because many people sleep with an extra pillow and   that’s not odd.  Extra blankets?  Well, that’s just weird.

It doesn’t surprise me that teenagers want to wear their pajamas in public.  It doesn’t surprise me that many of their parents have followed suit.  It may be socially inappropriate but it’s comfortable in a time when so many of us seem almost desperate for comfort.  In this desperation, we move through life unconscious of what actually moves us, what calls us, what truly comforts us and why we need comforting to begin with, all the while snuggling into our pajamas and reaching out again and again to bring in something more to fill the fearful, lacking spaces.

About a year and a half ago, I started paying attention to what I was eating, how much, when, and why.  I began to learn what it felt like to be hungry and I learned that the feeling wasn’t going to kill me but that I had to feel it fully to understand the difference between hunger and depression, loneliness, fear, or boredom.  I realized how little food it actually took to stop the hunger and how long each meal kept that feeling away before I needed to eat again.  I realized the clock had nothing to do with when that would be and that lunch time could be 11:00 one day and 2:30 the next.  I learned a lot about myself through that process.  I also learned how to converse compassionately with the traumatized, afraid of the dark part of me who had come to believe potato chips would save her even when there was no trauma at hand and it wasn’t dark.

I apologized to her for all the times I’d yelled at her to shut up or given into her demanding tantrums only to resent her for it.  No wonder she was traumatized.  I think she forgave me, though, and the weight started to come off.  In the next couple of months I’d lovingly released over 25 pounds.

When my daughter passed away, 359 days ago, hunger vanished from my awareness completely even as loved ones began walking through my door with dish after dish of warm stuff or frozen stuff to warm later.  It looked wonderful, smelled wonderful, and I couldn’t eat any of it.  Hunger had been consumed by the emptiness that had also consumed all the light in my life, my nightly dreams, my ability to move, all motivation to live, the physical presence of my precious Dannica.  My traumatized, dark fearing, inner dear one was thoroughly insulted at the idea that a warm dish of something could even begin to comfort by trying to fill a space so abysmal.

I began observing the world around me filled with other empty people, the grieving, mourning, blindly hungry, mindless comfort-clutchers.  Initially, I felt sorry for them and wondered if they’d ever see what they were doing the way I could see it.  I wondered if they’d ever figure it out.  Then I came to realize just how much I am like everyone else.  I have my giant purple suitcase which allows me to bring all my clothes and all my pillows and all my slippers with me anywhere I choose to bring them.  I have my travel tea mug, my travel coffee mug, two travel cups with straws for iced things.  I’ve got my electronic devices, various bags and pouches and pockets for special pens and journals, snacks.  I wear pajamas out whenever I can get away with it.  I have a black flowing set that people often mistake as me getting “all dressed up.”  That works well.  I even wear a purple blankie around my neck sometimes.  I call it a scarf.  All I have to do is touch it to feel comfort.  I also wear a chain around my neck with precious charms from a friend and the rings my daughter had on her fingers when she died.  I touch them and I feel comfort.  I sleep with them and when the dark refuses to consume my consciousness, they do instead, and I am comforted.

Human beings require comforting.  It is in the job description.  Each of us is grieving, mourning, experiencing some darkness or emptiness.  Every one.  So whether life is suffering, I suppose, ultimately depends upon how good one becomes at finding comfort that doesn’t clog the arteries or cloud the mind.  I’m learning to meditate between bags of Goldfish crackers and cream of tomato soup.  I started with yoga.  It was terrifying.  I quit more than once.  When the others were resting seemingly peacefully in Shavasana, I was fighting back tears and starting to shake as the image of my dying daughter’s left hand falling over the edge of a stretcher consumed me.  Meditation is slowly teaching me to compassionately direct my mind in other directions when it’s necessary and appropriate.

By carving out the time and the space necessary to sit with myself, staring this endlessness in the eye I’m beginning to realize that despite the fear I feel about doing it, it’s a necessary part of healing my own heart and I’m going sit here in my pajamas, wrapped in my blankie if I want to.  My Dannica would be 19 now.  She had plans to go to college, too.  Were “Still Scared in Delaware” my 19-year-old daughter, I’d tell her she doesn’t need to leave her blanket behind; not for a few nights, not for any nights at all, not as long as she lives and finds comfort in the presence of her blanket.

Blankets don’t clog your arteries, they don’t cloud your mind, they don’t make you fat, they don’t make you sick, there are no side effects.  Being addicted to time with your blanket beats addiction to drugs or alcohol or another person.  Should there come a time when you feel ready to begin setting the blanket aside, a time when you learn efficient and effective ways to find comfort from the center of your soul there will be no withdrawal symptoms.  Should you decide to pick it up again, there is no shame in falling off the blanket wagon.  Think of it more as climbing onto the blanket wagon.  You’re certainly not alone there and it’s quite a comforting place to be.