On The Surface

Anyone who has read my writing knows that I find meaning and messages and inspiration and hope and healing and connection to my daughter, Dannica, in numbers and blue sky rainbows and signals and signs and in the synchronicities of every day life. My daughter’s death is the most painful of the many earthly losses I’ve experienced.

It is a very long story, full of numbers, blue sky rainbows, signals, signs and synchronicities that recently led me to become a participant in a Grief Recovery Method support group and to then become a certified Grief Recovery Specialist in order to continue my own healing work as well as to gently guide others in this direction.

Dannica loved worms.  She loved all living things.  She even treated inanimate objects that resembled living things with the same respect and compassion she’d have shown the living version! (Other stories for other times.)  As a child, whenever it rained and the worms would come out on the driveway and in the gutter, she’d pick up as many as she could and put them back in their happy, dirty places.  She gave them names and talked to them before finding some dirt for them to squiggle into and she loved them with all her little heart.  She didn’t know it, but I watched her, and loved her and was her enthusiastic student the entire time.  Now, I think of her every time I save a worm from becoming road jerky, and I *have* to do it!  I can’t stop myself.

I saved a worm on the path between the hotel and a coffee shop just before my first day of Grief Recovery this past June.  I found a beautiful feather where I bent to return the worm it to it’s dirty home; then a butterfly… it almost let me brush its wing with my finger and it followed me and it stayed close.  All of these, were whispers (to me, anyway) from the spirit of respect and compassion, from the spirit of Dannica, the spirit of my daughter, winking at me, giving me a hug, seeing the genuine joy through the tears as I took a deep breath and thanked her for lighting my way.  She got me there, to that place, to that class, to the next step in my own recovery and to the next step in fulfilling her purpose of making this a better world to live in for all living beings.

I’m not going to talk here about my experience in the group other than to say it was an emotionally intense and extremely challenging experience and I’m deeply grateful to have had it.  I believe from the moment of her passing, my Dannica has been telling me there are greater, higher purposes for her passing just as she did, just when she did.  We had an agreement (well, that’s what I believe); a sacred contract, that she would contribute in this way to making the world a better place and that I have a part to play in it too, and she’ll help me with that because this is not something either of us can accomplish on our own.

I’ve felt in a bit of a whirlwind since I got home from my class; web site stuff, facebook stuff, making flyers and plans, completely restructuring my business and private practice with this new focus.  Now some of that’s done, I’m getting out of my business mind and back into my heart.  It’s a better place for me from which to live and from which to be in my daily life.

Sometimes, a lot of times, as others in their lives go on with their lives, grieving people tend to feel isolated.  Their hearts are broken.  My heart is still broken.  I, as many do, heard a lot of the hundred plus comments, one generally hears following a loss; all of them made sense to my brain, none of them made sense to my heart.  I believed them and have even passed some of them on to others, each statement perpetuating another myth of grief and loss and grieving.  “Don’t feel bad, at least _______.”  “She’s in a better place.”  “Time heals all wounds.”  “This, too, shall pass.”  “Everything happens for a reason.”  “Only the good die young.”  As logically acurate and emotionally unhelpful as all of these were, the one that truly sent me reeling over the edge was, “It could be worse, honey.  I know of a woman who lost not only her daughter but also her husband in the same accident.  It was easier for her than it is for you though, because she had her church and her faith, and you don’t.  Do you have a relationship with Jesus?”

Yeah, if I had those things I wouldn’t be feeling any of this, would I?  But, I’ve lost those, too.  I couldn’t push her out my door fast enough.  I couldn’t slam my door hard enough when she was gone.  I coulnd’t have cried harder than I did in the hole I felt my own life to be in that moment.

Many of the things I heard from others didn’t make sense to my brain either, but I believed people meant well and probably had no idea what to say instead.  I don’t believe they consiously intended to shut me down or minimize my feelings to remain comfortable in my presence, nonetheless, that is how I felt, and many relationships have faded or vanished completely from my life.  More loss.  More grief.  More time alone. More believing there is something wrong with me.  It must be me.  I’m the one who changed, right?  Mine is the only life now different than it was before November 14, 2012.

Over time, I came to feel as if the world was just tired of hearing from me.  There are people in my life who continue saying things like, “We make our own happiness.”  What I hear, what my heart understands is, “GET OVER IT ALREADY!  Move on.  Let it go, I have. Be happy… just be happy so I can feel better about being near you.  You’re such a downer. Life’s too short!  I don’t have time for this…  I don’t have time—for you, Melissa, for you—not as you are – not like this.”

So, while my heart is broken and while I’m bleeding to death on the inside every day, I put on my happy face and I pretend to be happy.  That way I can tell myself I don’t need people anyway.  I’m all I need, right?  That might be true, but not when it comes to grieving.  Not then.  I know this now.  I didn’t know it before.

Day after day, I drift up from sleep into a panic in the pit of my stomach and part of me always wants to scramble back down again but it’s time to face the world with my happy face. The door to the world I’ve awakened from has slammed shut.  Day after day, I am the academy award winning griever playing the part of the amazing, strong, brave woman who’s daughter died and yet still buys groceries, still does laundry, still manages to work at a job (more or less), see a movie, have lunch or coffee with another human being and talk about the weather and the world as if she cares about those things at all.

There are days when I feel superhumanly powerful for walking from one room of my house to the next as opposed to crawling or just giving up on the trip altogether and taking a nap on the floor between rooms.  No one else knows that.  No one else sees that now because it’s been four years, 11 months,  9 days and that’s way beyond plenty of time for someone to be over this and move on with their life just like everyone else.  “That’s life,” and that phrase makes me want to take my own life every time I hear it.

The mantlepiece in my broken heart is lined with little golden Oscars.  One for each and every time I answered, “How are you?” with the word “fine” and someone believed it. One little golden Oscar for every holiday I’ve “celebrated” pretending to actually care about the centerpiece, the menu, or whether the toilet was clean, even when I wanted to sit in the closet until it was over but felt obligated to “make an appearance.”  One for every time I fooled even myself into believing, “now I’ve felt it all… nothing could feel worse,” and then it feels worse.

The Grief Recovery group and the specialist certification don’t mean I’m “there” yet even though I so wanted them to mean that.  I have a new direction in life and I have some new ideas and a new understanding of myself as a mother and as a human being and as a facilitator of healing in others.

Recovery from the pain of grief is a journey more than a destination; made a step at a time but in a direction I hadn’t intended when I first set out.  It feels like a detour because it is a detour…  a different path, well defined by others who see the bigger picture with better understanding than I do in order to get me safely from here to there with the least resistance and the most efficiency possible.

I still feel sad that my Dannica isn’t here with me physically, but I no longer push sad away from who I am in a given moment.  Permission to feel sad feels so different than feeling shame for feeling sad.  It’s my new way.

What I’ve Learned About Grief Through the Death of My Pet(s)

(Written May 1, 2016 – Posted February 9, 2017)

Two days ago, I made the difficult decision that it was time to say goodbye to Blueberry (AKA Budda-Bear), my pet budgie of 14 years.  He was a buddy to my other budgie, Emi, for 12 of those years and Emi’s 2nd partner.  Emi’s 14 years old now, too… 62 budgie years according to one website.  My paternal grandfather passed away the spring we brought Emi home.  My father passed away two years later.  He was also 62.

62 is very young for a man but pretty old for a little bird.  Kidney cancer took my dad.  Kidney failure took little blue.  Today is May 1; old age and complications of Parkinson’s took my paternal grandfather 14 years ago today.  I will forever remember this anniversary, not because I’m good about that, I’m actually pretty terrible about that, but one year after grandpa’s passing, my then 9 year old Dannica came to me before school that morning and asked, “Didn’t great-grandpa pass away a year ago today?”  I really wasn’t sure.  I said so and she told me that he did and that he was sitting in the chair in the corner of the living room waving at her to remind her of that…to remind me of that.

Now, May 1st 2016, I remember that incident and I think of my Dannica, with her great grandpa, perhaps both waving at me from the chair in the corner of the living room even though I’ve lost the ability to see it for myself.  I believe she saw it… I believe they’re there.

My mind is always looking for meaning in the numbers, for patterns, for messages, for answers.  I imagine if I could somehow graph all the significant numbers I notice day to day, they might look like a sacred geometrical flower of life or an infinity symbol, the repetition of birth, life, death, and over and over and over again… maybe it would look like the Golden Ratio present in all life, like the branches of a tree, or a nautilus shell… maybe my life with all its numeric mysteries looks like that too.  If it does, I’d say all is in order even as I feel chaos, and living continues to hurt more than I’d like.

The veterinarian told me Emi would grieve Bluberry’s passing.  I didn’t know what that might look like.  As I made the 30 minute drive home from her office, Budda birdie’s fluffy little body finally at peace and bundled gently in a box, I wondered how to break the news to Emi.  I dreaded hearing his calls not being answered, watching him search for his friend, seeing him sitting there all alone puffed up and sad.  Suddenly, comforting the living was more difficult than saying goodbye to the dying.

I know this feeling well as it’s been a constant companion since my Dannica passed 3-1/2 years ago.  Her brother felt and continues to feel her absence in ways I can only imagine.  I know what it feels like to have lost my daughter, my dad, my grandpa, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, clients, a true love, other pets… I don’t know what it feels like to have lost someone as close to my heart as a sister or my best friend.

Carrying the empty cage and the little box, I sat down next to Emi’s cage and I opened the door.  I gently lifted lifeless birdie so he could see.  I saw recognition in Emi’s wide, scared eyes.  He looked from Blueberry’s body to my face and back and forth and back again.  All I could do is cry and hope he understood.  I just kept saying, “I don’t know what to do,” and I didn’t.

I lit a candle and placed the little box near a photo of my daughter and asked her to take good care of him.  I know she will.  She loved animals more than anyone I’ve ever known and they loved her.  I dug a little grave under the apple tree where Dannica’s ashes are and put the little box in it, covered it over, sat there in the rain reminding myself that Budda Bear isn’t there, in that ground, any more than Dannica is there.  He’s in my heart and he’s in Emi’s.  He’s in the house, in the trees, like Dannica, he’s in the light.

When I came back in, I swept the floor near the cage.  I don’t know why I did that but I remembered doing the same thing close in time to my Daughter’s passing and other loved one’s passings; sweeping the kitchen floor, sobbing, and sweeping, folding laundry.  It’s what the body does when the heart and mind shut down.  It doesn’t know what else to do so it does what can be done mindlessly.

Chicken soup comforts so I started chopping vegetables.  I stopped and walked back to the cage to whisper to Emi, cry a little more.  He puffed up and sat on his perch and didn’t move for the longest time.  I went back to cutting vegetables and it occurred to me that Blue had been alpha bird.  Emi would need me to initiate things, like eating, that he didn’t usually do first on his own.  I grabbed a handful of chopped carrots and sat next to him eating them one at a time.  He watched intently and then jumped down and started eating.  That’s what hope looks like.

That first night, I couldn’t bear to leave him so I slept on the couch near his cage.  He was restless for a while; hopping from perch to perch, finally settling.  He cried.  Yes, parakeets cry.  Morning brought panic and I remembered my own disorientation upon waking following Dannica’s death.  Peace crumbling into reality as I fell out of bed each morning wondering why it was even necessary to do that much.  When I gently lifted the blanket from the cage, Emi was sleeked with fear, wide eyed, and looking anxiously for his friend.  I spoke to him softly but he clung to the side of the cage, little beak hooked over one of the bars, supporting his weight, just looking to where Blueberry used to be…incredulous birdy.

I decided it was a good idea to move the cage so he had a new view through the sliding glass door to the back yard.  The sunlight was lovely, dew sparkling on the leaves of the apple tree under which his buddy-bird now rested.  I sat with him, wishing I could say or do something comforting.  I said lots of things, but he only speaks budgie so I continued to sit.  I watched him watch the world outside; a world he’d never seen, one that no longer includes his blue friend.  Even if I spoke budgie, is any answer a good enough answer to “Why?”

After a time, Emi moved toward the side of the cage closest to me and started making happy budgie noises but then hooked himself, again, in the lookout position. Eventually, he returned to me on the other side of the cage and then to the perch allowing him to look out into the sunlit world again.

He sat there, looking out the window for the longest time, not preening, not sleeping, just sitting, just looking.  I remember the first days following Dannica’s passing, how I sat on the couch, looking out into that world, watching the sun rise, watching the light shift over the trees, the grass, the day go by, the sun light fade and the stars come out and I hadn’t moved.  Grief brings with it, in the beginning, the capacity to be still.  The only force acting upon me was the gravity that held me in place.  I saw the same in Emi, his little beak hooked over the bar of the cage… gravity… Mother Earth just holding him as she held me, as she holds the apple tree and the body of Little Blue Bird and the ashes of my Daughter.

Emi and I, we’ve spent time sitting, searching, watching, crying, each whispering little happy noises to each other in our own languages, becoming quiet once more.  Napping together.  Feeling sad together.  The most peaceful moments are the ones in which we simply sit together in silence and watch the world go on. Silence needn’t be awkward.  The power of simply sitting, fully present, with another being who is grieving can be profound and more healing than anything.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sadly, Emi developed the same painful condition Blueberry had and I let him go exactly one month after Blueberry.  He’s now also under the apple tree.  His favorite toys are hanging from the branches, little mirrors and bells.  Happy they’re together and with Dannica.  Happy they touched my life.

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Dear Me

Dear Past Me,

People don’t know you now. Don’t blame them. They’ve lost the “you” they knew and they are grieving that loss. It can be a little scary to meet new people. And, believe me, you are new.  It can be a little scary to meet new people, especially when you don’t want to; you didn’t exactly sign up for this particular opportunity. The people who seem to have turned their backs are now new to you, as well.

Many can’t cope with the depth of your pain because they haven’t felt it. If they have come close, maybe they can’t be there for you because they’re working with their own pain and wondering where everyone in their own world went.

You comfort those who don’t know what to say. That’s part of the unspoken job description of grieving. You’re letting others know that you actually are okay even when nothing feels okay. That’s okay. No one is obligated to actually be okay.

People are afraid to cry. People are afraid they’ll make you cry. If they talk to you about your loss and your grief they’ll feel it and that makes them so uncomfortable they’ll avoid it. The only way to avoid feeling anything is to avoid you. That isn’t about you. It isn’t about you at all.

Once your grief softens, once enough healing has happened that you can, once in a while, speak of your loved one without tears or, perhaps with tears of joy, with laughter, with gratitude, it’s easier for people to meet you where you are because it’s closer to where they are and where they remember you being. Your strength will build until you’re ready to meet people again, where they are.

Moving through grief and into mourning, which lasts a lifetime, is an incredibly lonely journey. You’d like to think you’ll really be there for someone else when they need you to be but the truth is, you won’t be because you are learning to live again and it’s taking all you’ve got in you. When it’s your turn to be there for someone, to comfort them, you’ll feel helpless, too. You won’t know what to say and what you do say will feel trite or heartless because you’ll think you know what they feel but you don’t. No one can know what can’t be known. Every loss, every grief, every journey on every path is unlike any other.

It’s not true that they were never friends anyway. Of course they were friends! They’re still friends in that they still care about you. People generally care about other people, don’t they? When you lost your loved one, you also lost the relationships the two of you had with others. It is loss upon loss upon loss. They were good times; there are gifts that won’t go away. Now there are spaces for new connections. The hardest work is allowing them in. The hardest work is looking outside yourself again.

You’ll think you can’t possibly feel any more alone or lonely than you do. You’ll wish that you could die. You’ll think, sometimes, it wouldn’t matter if you did. You’ll think no one would even notice and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t miss you; not this sad, angry, negative, hopeless, worthless being you think you’ve become. You’ll exist within a slow suicide. What you won’t be able to see is just how much you are loved by people you never even realized gave you a second thought; people who, despite their fear of your loss and your grief, never actually stopped thinking of you. How could you have known? You couldn’t have. That is why I’m telling you now not to give up on yourself. You can’t hear me. I know because I remember being you. But maybe somehow, because of you, I’ll be able to hear you now; and from now on.

It hasn’t felt like it to you, but you have been working so hard. You have a heart which slammed shut and erected an impenetrable wall around itself you weren’t even aware of. You still felt everything, profoundly, but you felt it alone. You could look out but no one could really see in even when you thought they could… or should, not even when you thought you were letting them in. What I want you to know is that it was important that it happened this way. It was essential that you go so far inside yourself you lost the entire world and everything in it including everything you ever thought you were or wanted to be and everything you thought was yours.

There will come a day, I promise you, though you can’t begin to imagine it, your heart will again be touchable and touched. The wall will come down. And when you step out again into the light of this reality, you will glow and your wings will be sparkling and radiant.

Remember, healing happens in the spaces of new connections.

Spaces are usually silent.

With love and compassion,
Holding you until you meet me where I am.

Future Me

A Different Sea-When the World Has Moved On – A Poem by Melissa Murphy

Grief softens

it shifts

it changes

it erupts

it cripples, it heals but is never healed.

It is a constant companion in all the shapes and forms and intensities it takes.

The loss takes everything

…all at once.

And anything you have left is taken up simply by continuing to breathe.

Continue to breathe.

A single breath followed by another single breath.

And continue from your side of this life, in the silence of your own breath, to embrace the one you love who died.

Continue to include that love in all that you do and you’ll begin to hear their whispers in the wind, you’ll feel their presence brush your cheek, they’ll paint magnificent gifts in the clouds just for you and for all the world to see.

For those who notice.

Many won’t.

Not until they do.

Not until their own hearts are ripped by loss, when the grief introduces them to gravity.

It will happen.  It does happen.  To everyone.

It’s just your turn to walk before them.

They haven’t abandoned you.  They haven’t turned their backs.  They have continued living their own lives as they did before yours crumbled around you and pulled them in for a time.

We don’t come together for life.

We come together and drift apart so there are spaces for new connection.

Healing begins to happen in those spaces.

The tide comes in and leaves some things struggling in the sand

What’s left when the tide returns is rejoined with the sea but it’s a new sea, not the sea that left you struggling in the sand.

—written by Melissa Murphy

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Closure

I used to think when people said they needed closure it meant they wanted to be done with the thing in all its forms and walk away.  That isn’t it, though, is it.

Dannica wanted to be “planted with trees.”  Simply learning of this so close in time to her passing is a miracle.  I overheard her and her brother laughing about the video game noises they wanted to make when they died.  Such laughter, such silliness… I loved being a “fly on the wall” for those wonderful interactions.  So much love between my babies, these siblings, these soul mates.

No music in the world was more beautiful than the sound of those two laughing together!

As I look back over our lives, I can see now that her soul knew.  There were so many signs she would not be with us for long.  Things said, things done, not done.  Things not done well.

Each moment since Dannica’s passing has been surreal… as time moves forward it only feels more so.  I look around me, reflect upon my daily activities and interactions and once in a while, or several times a day, remember *that night*, that moment, the horror, the incredulous split… the separation of my own spirit from form which was absolutely necessary to keep me taking one breath after another, one step, another step, constantly reminding myself that none of this is real.  Were it up to my conscious self to go on, I’d be long gone.

 

 

L.O.S.T.

I must be an optimist.  Life just hits me in the head with a bat day after day, sometimes a day or so in between but then, WHAK! another day, another bat.  I try to maintain that attitude of gratitude.  “Thank you, God, so very much for that bat to the head.”  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  And I choose to do it again, day after day after day with that glimmer of hope that it might one day feel a little different another day.

Why do I try so hard?

Why do I feel I have to?

Who actually cares?

Why does it matter?

What difference does *any* of it make?

What if I didn’t?

Who cares if I eat Goldfish crackers for dinner?

I know you’re still with me, I know you haven’t really died.  So what is the point of this exercise in pretending you have?  Why do I have to continue eating Goldfish crackers as if you never left?  Why won’t you show yourself again and eat them with me?  Show me a goldfish…

I sit on our park bench alone with the ducks.  I adore the empty sight of it each time I drive by and crave the company of *anything* sincere.  Of course, you’re there.  You’re there as much as you’re anywhere and it’s comforting as much as it can be to an earthbound human being.  My human heart will simply never get it.

My human heart will simply always bleed.

…and when I die of a broken human heart, no one will be surprised.