A Birthday Gift

On April 11, my son turned 23 years old.  In celebration of his birthday, he wanted to spend the day at Powell’s Books in Portland and then go to dinner at one of his favorites, Sweet Tomatoes.  It had been eight days since my hysterectomal hollowing  (yes, I conjured that word using my own wand focused intent.)  I was tired and in pain, even with prescription pain pills, but I wanted to spend the time with my son on his special day and his dad was driving so I was happy to be able to join.

Powell’s Books, for those unfamiliar, is a massive place.  They describe themselves on their website as occupying an entire city block and stocking more than a million new and used books in 3,500 sections, making them the largest book store in the world.  There are 3 city block levels full of books.  Awesome is the only word that fits, and it is, without a doubt, that!

We arrived and parked, wandered in and went our separate ways.  Since Dannica’s passing, reading hasn’t been for me what it once was.  It’s been terribly difficult for me to get into anything that isn’t somehow comforting, whereas, before Dannica’s passing my reading list was full of Diana Gabaldon, Terry Goodkind, E L James, George R.R. Martin, Deborah Harkness, and Stephen King, among many others.

I have books on my Kindle, unfinished and awaiting my return but since Dannica’s passing most of what was my passion has passed as well, so I really felt a bit lost in this City of Books where I once would have gone crazy just to keep from spending every penny of disposable income at once!

The first stop I made was the coffee shop to get a green tea.  They let you wander the store with your beverages!  I began to wander.  I wasn’t there for anything in particular other than time with my son and, as I said, I was tired and in pain, so I hoped to find a comfy spot to sit, sip and read whatever was closest, I didn’t care what.  On my way to wherever, I found myself walking through isles of books and, for once in my life, not caring what they were, just touching them with the fingers of my right hand, holding my hot tea in my left; like a child with a stick in those old movies, where they walk mindlessly, just making clatter along a white picket fence.

Suddenly, I lost my balance, but what actually happened was I was pushed, from my right shoulder, where my hand was touching the spines of books and where I was passively looking.  This shift in motion forced me to find my balance by grabbing the shelf to my left, where I had not been looking and suddenly now was.  The next book I saw was entitled, “I’m not dead, I’m different… Kids in spirit teach us about living a better life on earth.”  I shit you not.

I stood there staring at the book.  I grabbed the book.  I held it to my heart and I cried.  To my knowledge, I was alone in that isle of books in that city of books but I couldn’t have been to be pushed that way.  I felt Dannica with me there just the way I feel here, in this isle of homes in this city of homes in the town where I live…and she pushed me!  It’s something she would have done and did do when we’d walk together…bump my shoulder with hers, playfully, until I’d lose my balance.  I came home that day with ONE book out of over a million possibilities when I wasn’t looking for a single thing other than a comfy chair and maybe an interesting magazine.

I read the book that weekend.  I read it again.  I ordered a bunch of copies and read it once more.  There are many stories I could tell of the people I was guided to give the copies to but here I will share only mine; this book brought me so much comfort, changed my thought patterns and my grief patterns and validated my beliefs that my daughter, my Dannica, is not gone.  She’s not dead, like that emergency room doctor callously heartlessly told me she was.  I knew he was wrong.

We left the City of Books and sat together at dinner.  My son’s dad asked him, as he always asks the birthday person, “What wisdom have you to offer for having lived 23 years on earth?”  My son said he’d need to think about that for a minute.

After a long minute, maybe several, he replied, “I have learned that it is possible to be very sad and very happy at the same time.”

What hell he’s been through for such wisdom.  What hell we’ve all been through.  I struggle every day to remember that happy and sad are possible within the same heart.  If that is possible, so much more becomes possible.  I’m so grateful for the gifts I received on my son’s birthday and for the gift that he is every day of my life.

A Fluttering of Ashes

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to learn to again look at people’s faces, even into their eyes, when I’m at the grocery store and to smile at the same time and mean it.

…to be able to have a conversation with a stranger, or a new client, without mentioning Dannica’s passing of my own choice. For so long, that has been who I am, how I define myself, and it was important to me that everyone within screaming distance knew it.  The distance has softened.

…to learn to gently place the trauma of Dannica’s passing in a box, of sorts, and set it aside long enough to have a good day.

…to hold myself compassionately when I can’t seem to put that same box down in order to have even one good hour.

…to feel I have anything in me worth offering others.

…to again find joy in being of service.

…to accumulate the energy to be of service in the first place.

…to consider myself ready to begin going through Dannica’s belongings and to begin recreating her room as a Precious Hollow within our home.  A beautiful, quiet place of reflection and comfort.

…to officially and fully reopen my holistic healing practice.

…to embrace the challenge of redefining, even releasing completely some of the many relationships in my life now that everything has changed.

…to smile and feel overwhelming love while standing in certain places and at certain times that even a month ago would have crumbled me again.

…to again hold myself compassionately when I smile, feel that love and then crumble anyway.

…to truly understand that while loss, death, grief & mourning are in the cards for each and every human being on the planet (past, present & future), each and every human experience of these things is unique and individual.  We sympathize, we empathize, but we never truly grasp the experience of another.  On Mother’s Day, 2014, a neighbor stopped by.  She also lost a child, which I didn’t know until I saw her face the morning following my Dannica’s passing…the story was in the paper.  The tears in her eyes, the look on her face… she was the first I encountered who *knew*.  She’s in her 70s now and I don’t know her story other than it’s been quite some time.  This Mother’s Day, though she wasn’t here to check on me (I don’t think), I couldn’t help asking, “Does it ever get easier?”  She smiled sadly and her eyes filled with tears before she answered, “Not much.”  I told her, “I don’t know your story, but I do think of you.”  She replied, “Well…we all have our stories.”  She left it at that.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing.  Perhaps she’s simply shared her story enough times for her own good.  Regardless, I admired the wisdom that emanated from her as she took me into her arms and allowed me to sob without needing to know my story, either.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to realize that in the face of another’s loss and grief, I feel as helpless and awkward and terrified of saying the wrong thing or offending someone as anyone else, despite what I have experienced.  How do you hug someone who’s been burned from head to toe?  You can’t!  No matter where you touch, it’s devastatingly painful.  A grieving person is a burn victim with wounds you can’t see.  Every interaction is a mine field and simply sharing your own story isn’t necessarily the balm that soothes.  This is *never* easy for anyone on any side of it…well except for the ones it’s easy for and they’re the ones you just have to ignore to the best of your ability and then do something extra nice for yourself simply for having survived their presence.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to spread a safety net over the mine field that is my own experience of loss and grief.  To give people a break and the benefit of the doubt the best I can, to realize that even as I explode inside and rain down fiery cinders that could easily ignite the earth with ferocity, they really *do* mean well and genuinely feel what they’re trying to convey.  There truly are no words adequate enough to express my grief or another’s sorrow at the fact that I am experiencing it.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to do a normal thing and have it feel in any way normal.  By this I mean pulling weeds, having a client session, a phone conversation, paying a bill, buying eggs.

…to do more normal things because it’s finally beginning to feel better doing them than it is to avoid doing them.

…to realize the extent to which I had been carrying the grief and/or guilt of others with regard to my daughter’s death and to set those down so I could begin to feel the actual weight of my own grief & guilt.

…to come up with appropriate answers to the question, “How are you?”  The easy answer is, “Fine,” but the real answer is a million shades of shattered!  It’s not a pleasant experience when you’re fighting for air or trying to persuade your heart to beat just once more, and again, and maybe once more.

…to again realize how amazing is the man I married; the same poor guy I recently roasted on a spit in teaching him simply not to ask me the above question while I figured out how to answer it for anyone else who asked it.  He’s saved lives in letting me be as angry as I need to be.  He’s hurting, too.  I love him dearly.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to realize that there is no tricky answer that will ever avoid fully answering the questions, “Do you have children?” “How many children do you have?”   The only answer that feels authentic is the real one.  I have a son, he’s 23, he’s doing this and that and I am happy for him and so proud.  I have two amazing step sons, they’re doing this and that and living in Austin, Texas and I love them so much.  And I have a daughter (the tears well up) she was killed in a car accident 18 months ago.  This June she’d have been 20.  I cry a little.  It is the real me.  I don’t have to pretend I’m okay with it.  If I can’t be the real me with another person, I can’t heal.  I don’t want to intentionally make another feel uncomfortable but if they were intentionally filling space with small talk, well, maybe they’ve learned a little something too, and maybe they’ll show me a little of their own authentic they.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to understand that I never know how I’m going to feel day to day, let alone month to month or year to year. Last holiday season was a deep dark pit covered over with reeds and branches waiting for me to fall into it.  This holiday season I’ll watch my step and do my best to remember what I’ve learned along the way.  I am planning ahead…this may not be the year to light everything up and go all out.  But it has the potential to feel more peaceful than the last two.  Eventually, there might be another one that feels “normal” and includes other normal things like phone conversations, paying bills, buying eggs… sending cards or maybe gifts.  Maybe.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to again feel that I have more I want to get done in this life than I probably have time to accomplish.

…to understand the depth and breadth of the depression that has spanned a great deal more than the 18 months since I last held my daughter, Dannica, close and smelled her hair and heard her say, “I love you, too.”

…to begin reconstruction of my faith.  Early on, someone asked me what this loss had done to my faith and I told them it only made my faith stronger.  If he’d asked me what I had faith in, I’m not sure I’d have had an answer.  The tears in his eyes told me he had none left for himself.  A bit later, I did lose my faith; lost it completely and have only just begun to find it again.  When God takes your child, it can become incredibly difficult to trust in anyone or anything but suffering, sorrow, and pain.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to trim the fat from my life while adding it to my body.  No news is good news and good news is even better!  I’ve worked not only the past 18 months but especially the past 18 months to eliminate negativity from my life in any way I can.  I’ll call that trimming the energetic fat.  As for the other sort, well… there’s a reason “comfort food” is, well, comforting!  While it is absolutely not allowed as a condolence to me with regard to Dannica’s passing, I hereby allow the condolence, “It was just her time,” should that time come for *me* soon as the result of all the bacon and goldfish crackers I’ve eaten in the past 18 months. (This one even made my doctor laugh.)  You now know the menu for my own ‘celebration of life’ ceremony, as well.  My blood pressure, I am thrilled to announce is perfectly normal!  I credit Celestial Seasonings Zinger teas as it sure as hell ain’t my diet.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I recently gave up entirely on the idea of myself having a thing in common with a Phoenix other than being burned to the ground.  I have started, however, to become aware of the ways in which I burn myself to the ground and the ways in which I keep myself un-huggable.  I’m working on those things just like all the other things I’ve mentioned.  Isn’t every process of life just that?  A process?  How to know when it’s done… I suspect it can’t be known because it can’t be done.

In my grand Phoenix analogy, I somehow managed to forget that the poor creature burns to the ground again and again and again in a never ending cycle!  Here I was thinking of being burned to the ground as a one time thing…the worst thing imaginable.  Naturally, in that mindset, rising would be a one time thing, too.  A triumph over the process.  But it’s not; not a one time thing and not the worst thing imaginable and not a triumph.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal.  It happens all the time, over and over and over, like being Hollowed Out… it is simply a process known as the Experience of Life on Earth.

Don’t get me wrong.  Nothing makes my Daughter’s passing okay with me.  I will *never* be over it.  At some point though, in every grief process, even the worst imaginable, the soil warms a little.  Eternal winter hints at something else.  Within the ash, there is a flutter.

I have been Hollowed Out many times in 18 months; so Hollowed that I was blind to the Phoenix that did rise, more than once, only to be burned again to the ground.  Perhaps 18 months is the time I needed to see the pattern emerge.  I was standing too close.  I was standing in the fire…again.  I couldn’t see…again.  The smoke is just clearing…again.

I would like to end this post with a message I received from a dear teacher of mine this past week.  She admonished me and others to acknowledge the sorrow we have experienced but also to look for the door of freedom that sorrow opens.  As we give intent for this door to open within our own lives, despite the sorrow, we begin to experience the sacred opportunities that are born from our challenges.  Our experiences transform themselves, when we allow it, into a gleaming column of wisdom that makes future challenges, future sorrows, lighter burdens to bear.  This, in turn, creates more opportunities for us to be of service to others.  And that is what I believe is really the reason any of us are here.

A final thought:  This is my path which is why I say it’s taken 18 months for ME to experience what I have.  Please, be gentle with yourself and know that whatever the time frame, you’ll get there, too.  We’re on the same path.

Hollow Body

In late March of this year, my doctor told me I was not a candidate for endometrial ablation.  I’d hoped I would be, because I am somewhat attached, in many ways, to the bits I was born with.  As science continues to reveal, each part of our bodies does more than we realize and I wasn’t certain, though it was making my life miserable, that I wanted to be rid of my uterus.  Family history triumphed, however, and the surgery was scheduled.

Nearly 20 years ago, I had a laparoscopic procedure and I naively thought, “That was no big deal, how bad could this be?”  I was told it’s an outpatient procedure (no big deal), couple weeks off work (no big deal), I get to keep my ovaries (yay & good).  The only thing on my mind was relief that this bleeding phase of my life was finally… done.

Truthfully, though, there was something else on my mind.  I realize what I’m about to say negates every “no big deal” above, but I clearly hadn’t thought any of this all the way through.  More than relief from heavy, awful, painful & debilitating menses, I wanted a near-death experience.

Yes, the rest was necessary and I didn’t go to my doctor with that last revelation in mind, but once it was certain that I’d be having surgery, I wanted nothing more than 10 seconds in the realm my sweet daughter now calls home; to check out the neighbors, find the closest grocery store, urgent care clinic, park, Chinese buffet, GoodWill, guest parking….I promised I would come back!  I promised!

To my knowledge, I remained firmly anchored to my human form and my first thought upon realizing I was conscious was, “Damn!!” followed by “Oh, thank God.”  I guess it’s time to accept that I’m here for good.

The procedure I had 20 years ago was a tubal ligation.  My lighthearted joke at having my recent hysterectomy was, “No more children for me!” (hahaha since that was decided 20 years ago and I wouldn’t be having children at my age anyway.)  Still, it’s a little bittersweet to consider.  I think about places in this world where people are forbidden by law to have more than a certain number of children and that concessions are made, sometimes, when a family loses one of those children so they may try for another.  There are also people who cannot conceive any children no matter how much they want to regardless of how many they’re allowed, while others manage to deliver child after child into situations of abuse or neglect or desperate poverty.  Apparently, “fairness” doesn’t enter into this, not naturally, ever.

My own situation involved a condition known as “Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”  It sounds like something Hermione Granger might shout with wand-focused intent (and it would make a darned good curse, for that matter!)  Apparently, it is another triumph of family history from both my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family, which simply dropped me to my knees in front of the toilet for 6 months of each of my pregnancies.  Home I.V. therapy kept me out of the E.R. and I will probably never enjoy eating green grapes or peanut butter sandwiches, among other things, again as long as I live.

As sick and terrible as I felt, I knew my children were growing and thriving within me.  I understood that pregnancy is a condition of health, not disease.  I knew that I was able to give them everything they needed to form strong, healthy, perfect little bodies and though I was ultimately losing my teeth and my hair, I didn’t care.  It was for them… my babies; the brilliant beings I love more than any other in existence.

Just like so many aspects of the grieving process, I didn’t expect to feel what I felt following my hysterectomy.  The physical pain was difficult; the emotional pain put me back in November 2012, reliving the trauma and the loss of my daughter’s physical existence.  In a strange sense, having lost her, gave new value to the part of me that brought her into this world, and now that was gone, too, and I felt again Hollowed Out.

In her book, “The Magic of Flowers” by Tess Whitehurst, the author describes wombs as being like hearts; emotional centers of universal mothering instincts be they for our children, other’s children, other people, animals, plants, or the planet.  I wish I’d have found this before my surgery but I am grateful to have found it since.  That passage has helped me to make some sense of the emotional pain of this physical loss though I am still disappointed that I didn’t get my near-death experience.