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

Sweet Gum Ash

I am so touched by this. I won’t say more. My son’s beautiful heart speaks for itself.

A Haze in the Starlight

As I type this I am sitting alone in my room with the lights off and my sense of reality is rearranging itself.

A few hours ago I was laying on the couch watching Lord of the Rings: Return of The King with my roommates while I worked on a poetry project. I was laying there re-reading selections from Jay Ponteri’s Wedlocked when I was overcome by the urge to go into my room, grab the dry red sweet gum leaf on my bookshelf and crush it in my hands. I wanted so badly to  throw it into the driveway and scuff my shoe across it. I sat up, went to my room and grabbed the leaf. I stared at it for a moment while I thought about how crazy such an act would be for me. I make sense of my existence by my relationship to the landscape around…

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Maybe It’s Enough

So I’m not a phoenix rising.  So I’m perfectly human.  So I’m not amazing even though everyone told me I was.  So the world has moved on without me.  So I’m only able to drag myself through half a job.  I do love that job…that’s something.  That’s something.

So the dreams I had for myself have passed on, too.  So I’m mourning things I can’t even begin to express (in addition to my daughter’s life).  So I’ve been touched by this life just like everyone else has been or will be.  So I drag myself through half a life.  Sometimes, I love things about this life, such as it is… and that’s something.  That’s something.  Isn’t it.

So despite the flowers blooming and the trees budding out in the world, it’s still winter in my heart.  So it’s been winter in my heart for more than a year.  So it may be winter in my heart forever.  So be it.  I have my blanket.  I have my slippers.  I have a fire to curl up in front of.  I have hot tea.  That’s something.  That’s something It is.

So my daughter has passed on.  So she took half my heart with her and holds it forever wherever she is.  Maybe people can live with half a heart.  They live with one kidney and I have two of those.  I gave birth to two children.  I have a son, a beautiful, precious son.  So my daughter’s passing took half of his heart, too.  Together we have a whole one.  That’s something.  That’s something.  That’s everything.  Now.  And I LOVE that.

So I rest at the end of the day, with my two hands over my half heart.  It’s quiet.  It’s still.  I hear the rain and I remember the flowers.  I think there’s hope.  I like that.  Maybe that is enough.  So it has to be enough.  Maybe it is.

Sometimes the Phoenix Doesn’t Rise

If I’ve learned anything at all since I started writing this blog it is just how human I truly am… and how much I hate that sometimes. I knew it was possible to become stuck in anger, to become bitter, to push life away but I never actually believed I’d go there. I looked at that potential even in the moment I understood that Dannica had died, and I told myself I’d never go there.

I used to be one who tried to make eye contact with people and smile for no reason, not only during the holidays, but especially during the holidays. I used to stand in the middle of a place and radiate light out in all directions, healing & well-being for all. I worked hard for a long time to get there, to love life, to release negativity in all its forms, to find my own happiness in life even when life kept being….well life….  a challenge.  The truth is, I have fought depression and social anxiety most of my life; maybe all of it. Sometimes, I have won. Sometimes, I’ve lost miserably. Sometimes, like this time, I’ve just given up. Too tired to fight it.  Too tired even to try.

I have become, once again, the ones I used to see and wonder about.  The ones that looked down or away.  The ones who’s hearts I wanted to reach with those free and carefree smiles of hope, love, acceptance and compassion.

In the beginning, fresh grief filled me with a fearlessness I’d never before known. Once I stopped screaming because my daughter had died, I kept on screaming at life, “BRING IT ON!!  YOU WANT SOME OF THIS!?  COME AND GET IT!” I wasn’t afraid of anything. I was angry and it was normal. It gave me strength. It gave me courage. I had nothing but faith in the resilience of the human spirit…. my human spirit.  I thought of myself as a phoenix and all I could focus on was rising even as almost everyone around me said, “Go slowly, be gentle with yourself.”

I didn’t go slowly and I wasn’t gentle with myself even when I thought I did and I was.  Instead, I went boldly into places, I can see now, I didn’t really belong and I made a fool of myself.   I learned that I’m not a public speaker.  I’m not cut out to be a teacher, though I really felt, somehow, I was.  In fact, at 45 years old, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be anything other than perfectly human.  I’ve given up on dreams. I’ve extinguished hopes.  I am alone in my own little world as often as I can be and most of the time I like it that way. At least I know what to expect from my own judgment and my own pain. It’s comfortable even when it hurts.

Could this be acceptance?

I don’t want this blog to be filled with negativity.  But I do want it to be filled with honesty and, when I can find it, truth.  I’m going to keep writing, even when I feel horrible, because writing gets it out of me.  I understand if that puts you off, if you’d rather avoid the negativity altogether.  Life is hard enough without someone else’s negativity.  For this reason, I don’t watch the news, I read my local paper only selectively, and I have even ended seemingly good friendships when I felt the person never had anything positive to say.  So I *do* understand why I’ve lost contact with many people I thought were friends since my daughter’s death.  I realize that I am depressed.  With that comes negativity.  I do my best not to dwell there when I am with others.  But I’m only as strong as I am and a lot of the time I’m exhausted, I’m grumpy, God help you if you cut me off in traffic or say something stupid to my face.  And I *hate* feeling this way!!!

For now, the phoenix is down.  No sign of rising.  None. Unless you cut me off or say something stupid.  Please, know I am genuinely sorry.  I am.

Comfort

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.