Saturday, December 31, 2016

For Thor - 79 - 365 Days

I've seen 365 sunrises arc across the sky and melt into sunsets through tear-stained eyes. I slogged through fifty-two Monday through Sunday schedules filled with the mundane, the spectacular, and the unbearably sorrowful. I flipped twelve calendar pages one by one as we slid through four seasons in turn; winter, spring, summer and fall. Our earth spun one orbit around the sun marking a full year since that last amazing and tragic day of your life.

It's astounding to me that a whole year has flown by, all this time, all these days and experiences without you here. You didn't breathe a single breath of air in all of 2016, exiting as you did at 9:45 pm on New Year's Eve, 2015. I arose before the sun today and watched the sky turn orange and then peach and pink through teary eyes. There are not enough words to say how my heart hurts at the thought of this year coming to a close. As hard as this year has been, it was all so new and I felt close to you. The year of firsts is intense, but special, too. And now I find myself on the threshold of the anniversary of the worst day of my life - the last of the firsts. The Big One. After today it will be the year of Seconds which feels infinitely farther away from that pivotal point in our lives. There is a precious, tender poignancy to the Firsts that doesn't carry forward as they turn into Seconds. I imagine this will make the year of Seconds (and Thirds and Fourths and so on) that much harder. There is a terribleness to the process of growing accustomed to something as awful as the death of a child.

One full year has passed since I saw your sweet face; since you had that last fantastic day of your short life. What a day that was! Hunting, hanging with your pals, enjoying the freakishly warm day in a tee-shirt, riding around in the truck with the windows down and music blasting, spending time with Starr, eating all your favorite foods, laughing it up with your brothers, singing and dancing to the soundtrack of your youth with the family. When I reflect on that day, it makes me smile and cry at the same time. It makes me wonder if somehow, on some level, it was a gift of God knowing that the end was nigh and so you were granted a perfect, glorious last day with us. It gives me something to hold onto, something that allows me to forgive myself for parenting mistakes, missed opportunities, causing you harm in any way. I have this last day to remember you by and the treasured last pictures of you; me and you dancing in the kitchen.

As much as I don't want to believe it, the calendar doesn't lie. Tonight some of us are gathering at the launching pad (the tree), to light candles and remember your life and passing, Thor. We all are changed by your life and love, and because we love you so much, we are transformed by your death, too. It will be so terribly difficult to stand in that spot, on the anniversary of that moment when your truck screeched around a bend and hurtled through the December night air to end its flight in an abrupt stop at that tree. It will be impossibly hard to stand there on that piece of ground where your body lay as the warmth of life leeched into the leaves beneath it. But there is nowhere else for me to be. I must be there on this last of the Firsts - the First anniversary of our last day with you. This is our story with its tragic twist. It's the way it unfolded for us, and the path of grief is the path I face. I could choose to sidestep, ignore, downplay or deny what is, but that, somehow, demeans your life and that's something I can never do.

And what a life you had, my darling! What joy you brought to me--to us! I miss you so much. I long to laugh at your infectious playfulness. You had a quick wit and funny sense of humor that brought laughter to anyone, even if they were feeling sad. You were willing to make a fool of yourself for the sake of getting a laugh. Sounds a lot like your dad, to me. I hear time and again how much your friends relied on your kind and empathetic listening ear. You had a wisdom about you that belied your young age, and you shared what you could with others when they asked. You embodied and shared many of the spiritual lessons you learned during your young years at the Yogaville school. Mr. Mahen and Mrs. Raji, along with the families all helped to fortify and give voice to that inherent goodness you were born with. Even so, you were rascally and wild and free, (sounds a lot like your mother…ahem!) you lived each day like it was the last and didn't have many regrets, in the end, I think. Maybe you would have like more time here, but I don't know if souls have those kinds of longings. I hope not. Regret sucks.

Recently, I chuckled to myself when I thought about how many times you skipped school so you could do whatever it was you wanted to do. It makes me wonder if, on some level, you knew you had a short time here, and it couldn't be wasted in a classroom. Still, you managed to graduate and could walk with your class (thank you, Sue Miles!). I snapped a photo during graduation where you have the sweetest expression on your face, it melts my heart.

I loved cooking for you. Since you started eating food you gobbled up whatever mama made - heck, you loved breastfeeding for that matter! Ha! I miss your appetite and appreciative Ooohs and Mmmmms! I baked you epic birthday cakes that took hours to decorate; your wish was my command. Monster Truck cake? Sure! Hot Wheels cake? No problem! I still prepare your favorites, chicken & dumplings, chili, venison chops, pork chops, gumbo or jambalaya, often and think of you as I do it, offering it up from my heart to you, wherever you are.

I would give anything to have you come storming in the house full of excitement because you had landed deer or were heading out to go fishing with Travis and Aaron or any your dozens of friends. The outdoors called to you, it was your favorite place to be. Well, it might be a toss-up between the great outdoors and cruising and thumping in your truck along a country road, both were right at the top of your list of Awesome Shit To Do. Also on that list was: riding four-wheelers, mudding, drinking a cold one, hanging with friends, spending time with family, working on motors, building something, helping anyone with anything, loving a pretty woman, picking and grinning with dad (and showing him up, a little) - not necessarily in that order.

I long for the hugs we shared. I think about your little arms when you were small wrapped around my neck for comfort or security. As you got older, those hugs became a somewhat more sporadic but no less sweet. As you grew into a strong, young man I treasured the days you'd come to visit, and you'd wrap me up in those big arms and plant a whiskered kiss on my cheek with an "I love you, Mama." I wish so badly that we'd get more of those days.

Most of all I miss your physical presence, your vibrational energy that was larger than life; a vibration that we echoed in each other since before you were born. It was suggested to me that you and I might be operating as twin souls; we are brother and sister of the spirit taking new life with each other to further the experience for each.  This notion fascinated me and resonates as true, it speaks to the inexplicable, deep connection we share.

Last week, at work, I heard Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison, and I broke down and cried. One of my favorite songs since I was a girl, Grandpa let me listen to that 8-track tape over and over and over again. You told me that you wanted that song for us to dance to for the Mother-Son dance at your wedding - whenever it would be. Even if I don't get to see you get married, at least I have this, we had our plan. Every time I hear that song now, I imagine you and I dancing; me a proud mom of a handsome groom and you, happy and excited for your life with your new bride. Some might think that's just crazy to think that way, so painful and sad. But not to me, it's an imagining full of wishes and love that squeezes my heart just enough. I think that if I wish it enough, we'll get to have that dance someday, maybe on a day when we're both angels.

Yesterday I reread many of the letters I've written to you over this year. I wanted to see if I still feel the same way. If I've made progress (whatever that means). I discovered many things about myself and about love through the profound and crushing weight of grief. I plunged myself into the pain, suffering and sorrow to explore and understand what lessons they could teach me. I read my words where I poured out longing and confusion and frustration and anger. It's amazing to me how often I found Grace and Peace and Love as a salve for my bloodied, battered and bruised heart. This year of firsts brought more heartache but also more open vulnerability to experience Love from a deeper place. As the weeks folded into months and the winter melted into spring, I dove to depths of my heart to find what matters.

We've all come so far on this road. Your dad, brothers and I traveled to mountain and shore together, learning how to BE without one of our limbs. We let the wind and the waves wash away the agony of heartache and let the sun warm sink it's healing energy through our skin and down into our bones. We learned how to smile and laugh, again. We see you all around us in the beauty of nature and hear you in the chimes that sing in the wind. Over these months we've leaned heavily on each other and on our friends, calling on the prayer-energy and love that surrounds us to keep us afloat. We delved into new hobbies and homestead projects to keep our hands busy and our minds from stewing too long in the agony of grief. Our hearts are heavy with loss, but also light with love and the happy memories of our life together. We smile through the tears and somehow find the will to carry on.

I am a broken shell, (aren't we all?) beautiful in its imperfection; the symmetrical whorls cracked to reveal a new, unique pattern. I can live with brokenness. It's not a death sentence, but rather an invitation to explore a different way of being. It takes guts to embrace the jagged edges, own them, walk ahead with them as part of my new arraignment. I am adorned with the crystalline pieces of my heart strung like a necklace about my neck and shining like diamonds from the waves of my hair. If I pause to look at these shards I see the love we have for each other reflected there; it shines like a million suns and dazzles in dancing rainbows. I am broken, but remade, rearranged and attuned anew to a higher vibration.

The experience of mourning your death has transformed me into someone I hardly recognize, but whom I kinda like, Thor. A purer, lighter version of me emerges from the crucible of sorrow with much of the calcified layers of opinion, ambition, self-doubt, insecurity and fear burned away. I am content in my own skin. There is still so much work to do, Thor, so I can stay rooted in and living from peace and love and joy. As far as I've come, I still slip and fall on this rocky terrain. For the road is not smooth nor predictable. And for all the inner work I've done, the fact remains that I will live the rest of this life with the terrible knowledge that I've lost a beloved son. That's a hard life path, baby. I feel more equipped to travel this path through the rocks and crags now. I am delighted to find surprise oases of pure Joy and Light; for while the road is impossibly hard, the treasures along its way are unspeakably rich and rewarding. My job is to keep moving and stay open to what the journey reveals.

A year has flown but the number of days between us can neve diminish the love I have for you. It only grows stronger.

I love you,

Thursday, December 29, 2016

For Thor - 78 - Kintsukuroi

Well, Bubby, I survived. One more holiday milestone has come and gone. I worried and cried and hurt over the idea of a Christmas morning without you here. I retreated deep inside myself to weather the storm of emotions that raged inside of me. I made a plan and went about executing it step by step, with all the determination of a space explorer; follow the flight plan and survive, don't follow it and risk being blown into oblivion. This morning as I sit listening to the soft patter of rainfall outside, I see that I did more than merely survive it; I nailed it. I enjoyed celebrating life and love and being together with your dad and brothers, and with all the family and friends. I didn't spend the whole day teary-eyed and sad, missing the moments with my loved ones who are still here for mourning the death of the one who isn't.

This is not to say I didn't have excruciating moments where I felt hollow like a gutted fish and was sure I looked just as glassy-eyed as one of those finned creatures laying on the ice in the grocery store, staring blankly at nothing with nothing to look forward to but a frying pan. But that hollow-fish feeling didn't rule the day. The big sunshine-yellow shot of JOY that you dropped by to give me several evenings ago, the one that lifted my heart out of sorrow long enough for me to smile widely and laugh from the depths of my toes, that JOY is what came through in the end. It oozed in and around all the cracks in my broken heart and melded them together with delicious warmth. Like a Japanese Kintsukuroi pot, except all the cracks are filled with golden LIGHT instead of molten gold.

Of course, the survival plan had it's part in keeping me buoyant, too. And this plan was designed to ensure complete mental, physical and emotional occupation, and to get something useful out of the deal, to boot. After all, Thor, your mama is nothing if not pragmatic. I was worried that the long weekend would allow too much time for us to fall headlong into the Thor-sized hole in our lives. We needed something we could all do together that didn't allow us (okay, mainly me) to sink deeply into the morass of grief. And so we decided to remodel the kitchen. It's something we were planning to do last January, and with everything that happened after you died, we never got it done.

We started the demolition on Christmas Day, in the afternoon, after the gifts were opened and we'd drunk our traditional mimosas and noshed our traditional bagels. (This year, Chaz made the mimosas for me, willingly taking on the task you used to do so well.) We emptied the cupboards and ripped out the counter tops, took out the sink and lowered the light fixtures. Then we began putting it all back together in the new configuration. Mimi and Pap came for their annual Christmas visit and helped us get it finished. Then Nana came over to help me re-organize all the cupboards and throw out boxes full of accumulated things that I no longer need. By the afternoon of the 28th, the project was DONE. Oh, Thor! You would love it! It's a beautiful labor of love.

In the middle of all this chaos, Lady had to go to the vet for emergency surgery to remove some bladder stones, one of which had become a blockage. Driving in the car is when I'm tested, for real. Rolling down the road with the countryside sliding by in a spectacular wintry display of pinks and blues is when the busyness ceases, and I'm peaceful enough that my feelings can rise to the surface of my consciousness. There within that bubble of steel and glass is where I face the day-to-day stark reality and horror that you are dead and gone. It's also where we get to hang out together. I listen to the music that feels like the soundtrack of your life and conjure your beautiful face in my mind. Some days I cry a lot. Most days it's the greatest comfort in the world to spend that time thinking about you.

Xander rode along with me to keep Lady calm and even with the worry of Lady looming large on my mind, the sorrow over your loss found footing and began to rise. It's fingers wrapped around my neck, choking me with unshed tears. I tapped my fingers and breathed great puffing breaths, sharply exhaling and then biting my lip to keep from falling into the wracking sobs that I knew were coming. We dropped the pup off, leaving her in the capable hands of Doc Auten, and got back in the car to head home. I turned on the car and as the stereo started up, the first bars of "I Love This Life" came on. I lost it. I stopped the car and let the tears come. They felt good and right and would not be denied for even one more second. I know you don't want me to cry too much, but sometimes it's good to lance the wound of this grief and let off the emotional pressure. As good as I'm doing at times, that wound weeps constantly. I think you showed up in that song, in that moment with a cue to cry, like a pin prick releasing the pent up sorrow that I've kept in check for your dad and brothers' sakes. For my sake.

And for your sake, too. A couple of friends mentioned that seeing us happy and finding our way out of the wrenching pain of acute grief would give you great peace, too. One of them told me that a departed soul has to spend time absorbing the lessons of the life lived and also to see and absorb the suffering left behind. And that seeing their loved ones finding their way back to joy, peace, and love would help them with this process. I don't know if it's true, none of us does, really. But it's a beautiful thought, that our healing here is somehow helping you there, wherever that may be, Thor.

Last night you woke me with the wind chimes, again. I sat in the glow of the eternal candle that flickers next to the urn holding your mortal ashes. My mind was still churning with to-dos and musts. So I sat wrapped in the warmth from the woodstove and rocked gently in the chair. Gradually my thoughts quieted down, and my mind stilled, like a lake surface that is no longer whipped by the wind. Thanks for reminding me that I need to carve out these times of sanctuary, not so much to feel grief, but to cultivate an experience of peace. As this first year without you ticks to an end, I find that grief is more often replaced by peace. There is peace in knowing we are forever connected and that our love will never die, even when my life is over, the love that brought you to me as my son carries on. The comings and goings and doings of the earthly realm are not what that matters most. And while we can experience many things here, the love that emanates from the soul comes from that endless source, the wellspring of life itself. Tapping into this peace and love is what matters most. Living from this peace and love is what matters most. Experiencing and sharing this peace and love is what matters most.

Keep waking me up so we can sit a while in the wee hours of the night, Thor. I'll be listening. We'll have a cup of tea at the new kitchen table.

I love you,

Friday, December 23, 2016

For Thor - 77 - Comfort & Joy

Dad and I have been wrapping gifts, buying the groceries and planning a project for our time off, but I go about these activities with a pall of sorrow. I feel like a jewel-toned watercolor painting that someone washed over with gray. It's still me; I'm still here, but all my colors are subdued, muted. Functional (mostly), okay-ish (mostly), happy-ish (sometimes), grateful (always).  As I drove home from work yesterday evening, I ticked off the last few shopping things I needed to do before allowing myself to settle in and experience whatever this first Christmas without you has in store for me.

After supper, last night dad and I wrapped a humongous gift for Chaz and were quite the pair of giggling conspirators as we tried to figure out how to cover this box that stands 7 feet tall! There was joking, all on Dad's part. To get me to smile, he is willing to be ridiculous, silly, bawdy or anything else that might make me grin. And it worked. I'm not sure what happened, but I know you rode in on that joy like you'd be waiting for the shell of heartbreak to crack, again, as it has so many times this year. Every time I allow myself to be broken, open --- melty, I am able to rest in that state of being that allows for a greater experience of love.

Later last night, the insistent tinkling of the wind chimes outside my bedroom window caught my attention and drew my gaze out across the darkness to where the constellation that I now call, Thor, sailed high in the sky. Under the steady gaze of those stars, a feeling of giddy happiness bubbled up from inside as if my whole heart had swallowed the buttery-warm tonic of the sun. I laughed out loud in what can only be described as an expression of pure joy. This is your gift to me this Christmas, Thor. You came to visit us as we prepare for the holiday and literally warmed my heart, touching me with your spirit; bestowing an angel blessing upon me. There are many Christmas memories to treasure from the nineteen magical years together, and this is a new one from our new way of being. Now we're separated by the veil of the unknown, but we are also connected by what we do know in every cell of our Selves: Love.

We took our places in the living room to watch A Christmas Carol, and as we settled in, I made a joke, that was very much at your Dad's expense, but it was so funny that I cracked myself up. Xan and Chaz cracked up, your dad took it well even if he was stunned that I would make such a joke. But I think he appreciated the fact that I was laughing. I mean, I really laughed for the first time in a year. I attribute this to the shot of Joy you hit me with when you called me to stand by the window and listen with all my being for what you're trying to tell me; Live in Joy, Mama!

Grief is an expression of love, pure and simple. Grief grips me tight because I cannot hold you in a big hug and I will never get to see the father you would have been. I won't get to see if your children favor you in looks and charm. I grieve because there is a hole in my heart that cannot be filled because it goes all the way through to the core of me being, back to where we all come from. I grieve for your life cut short, for our journey together this life ending the way it did. I grieve for your brothers and dad and your Starr. I grieve for your friends who miss you terribly and feel uncertain in life, now, not sure about what can be counted upon. I grieve for so many reasons, but they all come back to one root, love.

I grieve because it's Christmas and you're not here with us in the flesh, eating, drinking, laughing, plotting about gifts and making plans to celebrate with your friends.

If all of this is love dressed up as grief, I say that Joy is an expression of Love, too. I am joyful because I am your mom and we share a love and bond that even death cannot break. I feel joy for the memories and the stories I carry that keep you alive in my heart. There is the joy for the way you changed me from being a woman to being a mother, your Mama. I find joy in loving your Dad and brothers, and you. I express joy through tears as I am overwhelmed with love every single day. My broken heart is open to the simple beauty of seeing the full moon setting in the West while the sun graces us with a soft glow in the East - a sight that sparked joy in my heart. Joy can live next door to grief because it is the same love that expresses in each. And if joy is an expression of love, then it can fill the Thor-sized hole in my heart, because if you are anything to me, you are joy and love combined.

When I bought my new car in September, I also got new license plates. I picked out the Protect the Pollinators style that has hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies on it. And then I personalized it with a message not only for me but for anyone who happens to be riding behind me on any road; LIVJOY. I admit, Thor, this is a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of statement, allowing myself to LIVE in JOY and to LIVE JOYFULLY eludes me at times. Grief and sorrow will not be denied, they have their way with me, wringing my heart and sweeping it clean with tears. But it's okay, I don't mind the grief. It is ours, together. But now we are sharing Joy, too, and that is the biggest gift of all.

I'll try to remember your visit as we roll closer to the anniversary of your death. That is a sad, sad day for me. But I am staying open to what you might reveal in the wee hours of the night; of how I might find my way out of pain and into Joy more fully. I'll be listening for you to ring the chimes and sing to my soul, sweet boy.

It's Christmas Eve, Eve and we'll be going to the party with the family. It's going to be hard to be around everyone with that empty spot where you should be standing, in the picture, in the conversation, in the making of new memories. But I'll do my best to tap into that ball of yellow, sunshine, JOY you hit me with.

There will be tears.
Tears of sorrow. Tears of joy. Both bring comfort in their turn.

I haven't been able to wish anyone a Merry Christmas this year. The words get stuck in my throat and dry to dust in my mouth. I think this is because I don't feel merry inside. In order to bestow a wish, one must feel the thing being wished for; happiness, merriment, etc. While merriment might be out of the scope of my experience this year, comfort and joy are certainly in my grasp. I can wish Glad Tidings of Comfort and Joy!  I'm grateful for this gift, dear boy. Thank you for staying close and for helping me find my way. 

I love you,

Monday, December 19, 2016

For Thor - 76 - One Step. Then another.

This was a heck of a weekend, Thor. The holiday rush is upon us in a cascade of red and green, of gifts and festive gatherings, of traditions made rich with the love of friends and family. And we wonder moment by moment how we do this without you here. I find myself at odds with the expectation of carrying on and the desire to experience some joy here among the living. Some moments can be called good, these days, but most are hindered by the choking weed of sorrow that has taken root in the garden of my heart.

Dad and I went on a grand adventure yesterday. We decided that we are going to "do" Christmas this year as we have every year. There will be presents and a visit from Santa. I'll bake cookies and will prepare all our traditional favorites complete with ambrosia and mimosas on Christmas morning. There was shopping to do, so we sojourned on our annual trip to "the North Pole" as we always say, braving the crowds and moving shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Christmassers through store after store. It was a good day and also a very rough day. Many times I conveniently got lost for a moment or two so the tears that pooled in my eyes could slide down my face unnoticed by dad. I thought of you, and my heart broke over and over as we moved about the day and through the motions of preparing for this holiday without you.

Little things triggered a smile and fond memory alongside the tears. Monster Trucks in the toy aisle were especially moving for me. I have many memories of you and your brothers playing with the Monster Trucks, and then of watching them one TV each night. You and I liked Max-D while the rest of the family stuck with Grave Digger. Remember when we went to Monster Jam live? And the Monster Truck birthday cakes? And Christmases with Monster Truck tee shirts and pj's and remote control vehicles… I laid a finger on one little die-cast truck yesterday, and it all came flooding back.

Putting things in the cart in sets of two instead of three was another tough one. A million little paper cuts sliced my heart as we didn't have a list to fill for you. It was a silent omission as Dad and I selected things for your brothers, like usual. Stocking stuffers and sets of pj's, normally bought in threes all reduced in number by one-third.

We've had other milestones this year, the firsts of many important days that found me aching over your death more than words can say. But Christmas is different, it hurts more and in deeper places. It's so entwined in my memory with the magic-like happiness of my youth and, later your youth, too. We pass the joy we knew as children on to our own in the handing down of our favorite traditions, the ones that make our hearts sing. Christmas is pregnant with romantic illusion, it can elevate us to great heights of joy for those who are able to keep that spirit alive, or it can crush us under the weight of sadness when the chambers of our hearts are full of sorrow. I'm mostly in the latter state, I'm sorry to say. But I'm soldiering on, one step at a time and then another and another.

It's the grinding, ever-present grief and heartbreak that wears me down. I feel like I'm being ground into dust and that one good gust of wind could vanish me. And yet, somehow, inexplicably, I'm still here. My body still breathes the cool, clean air of a new morning and my heartbeat still quickens when I see something beautiful. I have hope that I won't live my whole life feeling like moon dust inside, devoid of life.

As if to prove this to myself, today I baked Christmas cookies. I made Russian Tea Cakes, poppy seed and nut rolls. Later this week I hope to roll out and ice the sugar cookies. But we'll see. I'm just glad I baked some cookies. All these things are so hard to do this year, and yet doing them is helping all of us feel a little better. Somehow, I feel like if I'm able to do Christmas by our tradition, it's doing so much more. We're looking for joy at a time when we could be easily consumed by a dark and sucking sorrow. So, I'm glad to have the fortitude (and Grace) to carry on, even if only in the modest action of baking some cookies.

Your cousin, Rani, graduated from JMU this weekend, too. What a great accomplishment for her. She struggled a lot during the spring semester after your accident. But now she's done and is preparing for the next adventure, in England. There was a gathering of family and friends at Nana's house this afternoon. I went over for a few minutes, but even if I didn't need to get back home, I couldn't have stayed. The tears I held back all week and then all day yesterday so we could get the big shopping done, finally started. The trigger, of course, was being in that roomful of the family who knows me so well and is hurting, too. They know I'm barely hanging in and there's no point in hiding it…cue the tears. Life is moving on for everyone, but it's your brothers' and cousins' new adventures that are so bittersweet. You should be here with them, celebrating, lending a smile, teasing and joking around. Mahi got married, Rani graduating from college, Madhuri is in school and working. The Bertram's are moving to England. Xanny has a girlfriend and Chaz is a published journalist for the college newspaper. So many things are happening that you aren't here to see and experience with us. That's one of the biggest things that guts me, the knowledge that we won't get to share more experiences together in this life. That just flat sucks.

I sense you being "here," but it's not the same you know. We're living on, continuing to play this game, whatever it's point, while you've slipped into a different dimension. You're here, and you're also everywhere. I'm not sure how that works. I suppose we all find out, in time.

Starr and Kenzie came over today. I hadn't given Starr her birthday gift, and I wanted to be sure she had it before she got her Christmas present. Kenzie brought your dad and me some sweet little gifts. I got a pair of cardinals that now sit near your portrait. As Kenzie said, they represent my visitor from Heaven; you! I also got a beautiful sign with the saying from Christopher Robin to Pooh Bear. "Don't forget, You are braver thank you think, Stronger than you seem, Smarter than you think and Loved more than you'll ever know." Blew me away. I am going to take it with me to work so I can see it all the time during the day. We had a good visit. It feels so good to hug Starr Baby. It's like you are there hugging us both. We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Kenzie, shared some laughter and some tears, too. This time of year is really hard on us, Thor. Kenzie is really hurting, I know you know this already. Keep close to her, she's so young to have dealt with so much.

We're on the downhill slide toward Christmas and are closing in on the anniversary of the worst day of my life. I just don't know how to hold all these feelings in each moment, but I'm trying. I've felt you around me so strongly, lately. I swear I can hear your voice talking to me at times, encouraging and helping me find my way through the devastation. Sometimes I know you are trying to tell me something and my broken heart gets in the way of hearing. That's when you seem to find other ways to send me a message. Thank you for those, they help me keep the faith that we will continue to have a relationship in this new form.

The glow of the Christmas tree gently holds space for all these feelings and thoughts to surface. In the middle of the night, it's just you and me. Glad we found some time to chat, Thor. I miss you more than I can say.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

For Thor - 75 - Hide and Seek

Good morning, Thor, my darling, darling boy.

It's a cold December dawn that has me out of bed and writing to you while I sit in front of the wood stove sipping a cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Lady is curled up next to me; a warm, solid, little mass of furry love. She keeps me company in these early hours. The Christmas tree lights glow softly, reflecting off the ornaments we hung there last week. Many of them "yours" or your brothers'. Scooby Doo, Sponge Bob, Spider-Man and about a hundred Santas with tractors, trains and race cars bedeck the tree. This carefully curated collection, amassed over the years, tells a story of my three boys, what you loved, and what dad and I thought represented you each year of your precious boyhoods.

I'm glad the tree is up, but I didn't know if we'd even get that much of "Christmas" going this year, so I'm giving myself a pat on the back for getting this far. It's so hard for me to think about this annual celebration of family, and friends, and life and JOY when we are closing in on the first Christmas without you. And worst of all, we are closing in on the dreaded anniversary of the day you died, and my heart broke. It's the heartbreak that has me crippled, you know. It's always right here inside drawing me deep, like a drain plug in the bottom of a lake was pulled and no matter how much life tries to fill the lake it just keeps draining out. I feel like I've plateaued in the progression of processing your death, Thor. And maybe that's because I must focus on the business of living again. Work and the daily tasks of running a home call me away from the intense soul-work I was doing so steadily.

My whole life my personality leans toward the introverted side. I have a rich inner life that I find comforting and fulfilling, insightful and energizing. So, I like to have quiet, and I enjoy time alone when my thoughts and feelings can surface like colorful fish in a still pond. I retreat inside myself to recharge, reboot, find inspiration, and ask my inner knowing to show me what's next. Even so, I've always also had not just an ability, but a desire to engage with the world. I wanted to interact with others, work on projects, dream big dreams and make plans. I sought out conversation, collaboration, and camaraderie. Extroversion suited at times and balanced my life.

Dad and I had a good talk last night. He made an observation that I think is spot-on; he sees that since the trauma of your death, I've retreated inside myself totally, now. I am introverted completely. He sees that I've lost that enthusiastic willingness to engage outside myself, preferring and choosing, the relative safety, calm and breathless depths that exist in my personal retreat.

I have to say he's right on some levels. I'm going through all the motions, emulating how I used to live, but my heart's not in it. There are meetings to keep and lunch-time strategy sessions, and the daily banter with my team at work and every day I am there, doing it; getting it done and I even have a smile on my face. I really do like what I'm doing! But the truth is, I am only partially there. Most of me is still down here in the well of grief, hurt, sad, and utterly bewildered by the violent loss of my beloved son. Most of me is unwilling to allow the noisy world to run roughshod into this sacred space inside myself; where my broken heart still bleeds freely, and I can mourn your death without reservation or censure. I am the walking wounded, and on some days when the grief is particularly heavy, I feel like I'm the walking dead. No one can really know how much I hurt, how sorrowful I feel. It's sorrow that sets me apart from everyone else because it is so pervasive, influencing every thought, word, and deed.

It's like I'm looking through a glass, living from the other side of a barrier. I can see everything, and I can interact enough to keep up appearances and obligations. The gaping wound in my heart is a vast expanse which I am trying to reach across. My hope is that there will be time enough for it to heal. That I'll feel whole enough to step fully into the world, again and engage with joyful enthusiasm, the way I used to do.

Unless they know me really well, most people don’t even know this is what's happening. But your dad does. He feels my retreat most keenly because he cannot follow me there and therefore can't help me there, either. I think that if couples don't survive the death of a child, that this is why. There is no way for them to find each other when grief drives them to places where the other one cannot go. The saving grace is empathy and maybe a lot of patience.

One night this week I came home teary-eyed and downtrodden. I had cried almost the whole way home from work and my heart hurt so badly. We ate dinner, and I had a restorative glass of wine and settled in comfy clothes on the sofa. I still felt raw and disconnected by grief. Dad came into the living room carrying two shotguns; one was mine - which used to be his, but he gave it to me even though it's one of his favorites - and one was yours, Thor. So, dad asked if I wanted to trade my/his gun for yours. I lovingly held the gun and worked the action with a satisfying "schunk". It's a beautiful shotgun, all the more beautiful because it was yours. I made that trade as tears of appreciation welled up in my eyes. Then dad disappeared again and reemerged, handing me your deer gun - this time both of us had tears in our eyes. This is the gun we gave you for Christmas and that you used to put a heck of a lot of venison in the freezer. They now rest in my gun rack along with my pink plinkster which you were known to like to borrow. It was a sweet gesture that meant a lot to me, to have dad give me your guns. Of course, he said that now I'll have to get my tukus out there and shoot! Well, that's an easy thing to do. I love shooting. More importantly, he found a way to reach me where I am, here in the depths of sorrow. 

Being in the depths of sorrow has a purpose. I'm playing Hide and Seek inside myself. I'm in here, deep and seeking something. I want answers, I want to know where you are, Thor. I want to feel your presence and listen to the wind for a whisper that tells me you're around. I hide deep inside myself to protect this fragile broken heart, while I seek solace here in the same place. I rest the bottom of the well where I can reach out and touch the source of the stars and seek their timeless knowledge of who we are and why we're here. Is there any sense, purpose or reason to all of this? What is the point, exactly, of living a life on this planet? Why do we go through the motions of all this activity? What matters, in the end? What's the bottom-line calculation which, when analyzed at the end, means anything?

I dive deep and hide out, listening with all my senses to understand.

I seek, with an earnest query to What Is, I trust that the truth will be revealed. It might be time to earnestly seek a way back to living in joy, too.

One day, the seeker shall find.

Until then, I will try to live beyond the utter agony of heartache and step into life. One breath at a time. One step at a time. One interaction at a time.

I love you,

Thursday, November 24, 2016

For Thor - 74 - Thanksgiving

There isn't enough room in my skin for everything I feel today. It's Thanksgiving Day, and I'm home alone, by choice. It wasn't easy to decide to stay here while Dad and Xanny are in Pennsylvania. But as this day drew close, I knew that I didn't have feasting and celebration in my heart. Myriad emotions and states of being tug and pull at each other in a constant battle. One moment my heart overflows with gratefulness and the next, grief smashes in to steal all the air and energy. Then I manically run from the pain; busy being busy, filling the moments with anything that keeps me from focusing on the one dreaded fact I cannot outrun, ever. No matter how many projects, people, plans, or holiday feasts come and go, you, my beloved boy, are dead. And I live on, rooted in the bottom of the well of grief.

My mind is at once my tormentor and my friend today. It takes me on a poignant journey through the memories I have from your nineteen years with us. I recall your sweet face, beautiful blue eyes, bright smile and the total love you showed to your family. You adored Thanksgiving; it's as if this feast day was made for you. Autumn, hunting, friends, family, food, laughter, joy, and appreciation of the bounty showered upon us, appreciating what is; enjoying what is in each moment. Then my mind turns darkly and pulls up the starkness of the empty chair where you should be. That glaring empty hole is not just in my imagination; it is in my heart. I visualized going through the motions of our traditional observance and it feels so hollow to me. I mentally walked through the preparation of a Thanksgiving meal, making the dressing, the gravy (your favorite!), setting out all the plates and silver and all the effort…without you. Every time my heart broke all over again. I ended up in sobbing tears, wracked with pain. It's too soon for me to set a feasting table, a celebration of bounty and plenty.

It's not that I'm not thankful. I practice gratitude every day as part of my way of living, again. Every day I write or recall the reasons for being grateful, and I touch on some of the millions of beautiful gifts for which I'm thankful. To be honest, this is the single most important thing I do to keep going day to day. When it comes to you, I am thankful, so deeply, utterly grateful for each precious moment we had together. I am working to forgive myself for not being "present" enough for many of them, living as I was in a state of complacent disbelief that anything bad could ever happen to us. I took too many of those moments for granted. I assumed I'd always have you, it never crossed my mind that life would throw such an ugly twist into the story. And now here we are. I'm mourning you with hot tears streaming down my face and my heart broken into a million pieces. There isn't anything of myself that I wouldn't give to hold you in my arms again, to hear your voice and kiss your cheek.

Dad and Xan headed to PA, I stayed home (with Chaz). I don't have it in me to pretend to be okay-ish, nor to be around everyone and cry all day, either. I want to hibernate deep in the bottom of the well and feel what I feel without distraction. I want to commune with you, Thor, for a while and remember the beautiful gift of your life with us. I want to be here, where I can look at the family pictures and say your name out loud and cry and wish and lament and just be sad, broken-hearted mom. Because this is what is, this is what I am every day, but more so today.

Yeah, there is too much to feel for my skin to contain. Stretched paper-thin any little thing pricks that surface and taps the grief that waits there, barely contained. The silliest, simplest, random things set me crying. Yesterday it was a stupid news story that made me angry, and I burst into tears. The day before that arguing about politics with friends on Facebook was a distraction that felt better than how I feel inside. This morning the day dawned into a family-based holiday, and I can't stop crying. My heartbreak is leaking out of my eyes. There's nowhere to hide or run. I have to endure the day. And I will somehow, I have options available for any moment. Opting out of the "todo" of traveling and preparing a feast makes it more bearable. I only have to worry about myself today and not how the rapid-fire emotional changes affect others. They say that it might be good to create new traditions in the wake of death in the family. Maybe it's time for that to happen.

Chaz stayed home, too. He was worried about leaving the Metro side of the family without any Stishes on this first Thanksgiving, and he wanted to be close to me, too. He's coping, too, with the company of his cousins and friends. What a sweetheart. He's been ready with a hug more than once already and held my hand for a while in silence. Lady is on high-alert, too. She is such a sweet little being. She cuddles her little furry self right next to me. And I can feel you, my beautiful angel, hovering nearby and wrapping me in your wing.

Oh, Thor! I can hardly write as I can't see the screen or keys for crying. I want you to come through that fucking door! I want you to here in our home, eating dinner with us and kicked back watching football. I want to hear you and Dad and Pap play guitars together again. I wish so badly that I could be irritated with you for wanting to spend most of the holiday hunting and then would be proud of you for getting a deer, too. I want to chide you for putting too much whipped cream on your pie and laugh as you goad me by adding even more. I want to snuggle down after the Thanksgiving revelry is all over to watch A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation with the family; a tradition I can't imagine keeping this year without crying the whole way through and laughing ruefully at all the jokes you loved so much. The glaring hole of your absence is too much for me. It swallows me whole and delivers me to that dark, breathless place where grief is thick and cumbersome.

The weather is supposed to be pleasant today; it may beckon me to take a long walk. Or we may decide to see a movie. Or we may just stay here and chill. Chaz and I are playing it by ear, minute by minute and he's cool with whatever the moment needs. I'm not sure what the day will hold, Thor, but you can be sure you are indelibly on our minds and in our hearts no matter what we're "doing."

Today I give thanks for all that is. Even if it's impossible to understand. Even if it hurts because I miss you so terribly. I offer thanks in the form of tears and remembered the joy and with an eye to life yet-to-be-lived, in each moment.

It is with a GREAT, FULL heart… that I offer thanks to Life for letting me be your mom, a happening that transformed me completely. For bringing you here to be my son, a relationship that continues, still. For the nineteen years of life and love, we shared here, together. For the eternal love that connects us, beyond the realm of the living and into the unmanifest realm of peace and divine love from which we all spring. I give thanks for my broken-heart that shines love through the cracks even as it weeps bitter tears. I offer undying gratitude for every single moment with you. I am so breathlessly grateful for the sweetness of life with your brothers and with your dad - our family. I am thankful for faith and grace that shower me with inspiration and strength in the moments when I'm unsure I can walk ahead.

I am thankful for the sun that shines through the front-door glass, a ray of hope that cuts through the gray clouds like a golden sword. 

I love you,

Thursday, November 17, 2016

For Thor - 73 - Starlight

I'm supposed to be working. Instead, I'm here writing to you. My new job started a little over two weeks ago, and while it's amazing to be a part of something so cool, in all the hectic activity I've missed you more keenly, more deeply. There is no place for my tears in my new day. And when I get home there is the rush of activity that naturally follows an intense full-time job; get supper on the table, debrief from the day and plan for the next, collapse and try to get some rest before doing it all again. I have two hours each day in the car, and on many days this is the time for tears to fall and for us to pick up our conversation. A conversation that is all too one sided for me, Bubby. But today, I have to set aside work for a spell and write. The whirl of emotions has reached a crescendo and is spilling out beyond tears and gut-wrenching agony to take the form of words on a screen. My to-do list will have to rest unattended for a bit.

The leaves on the trees glow with sunlight filtering through them in hues of amber, gold, and ruby. They dance and spin through the air in an autumn breeze. I watch out the window as nature once again shows me the total impermanence of anything in this world. A leaf that lay on the ground today, riddled with holes and crisp with frost was once the harbinger of a new season, unfurling to greet the spring. Our lives so very like these leaves celebrated in each expressive phase. Your leaf was a whole, healthy, bright green beauty, torn from life's branch by a terrible wind of fate. I long for you to have lived a long, full life greeting so many more sunrises before falling to the earth, my boy. My heart overflows with love, but also anger and regret. How is it that such a fine, strong son is struck down before he even gets going? Where is the sense or justice or fairness or reason or anything that tells me how to find my footing when you are gone? How do I reconcile a broken heart and a joyful life?

Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and I'm a wreck inside. I don't want to think about family gatherings. Our collective presence shines a stark light on the edges of the hole, the empty place, left by your death. Every day it's there, but on these holidays it looms larger and more painful, pointed up like long shadows cast by a bright light. Christmas ads, carols, invitations to parties, hints at the celebration that typically bring a smile and spark anticipation are like a million terrible knives cutting me all at once. I want to run away to somewhere where these holidays aren't in the culture. I checked airfare to Fiji and Bali, I don't have a passport, so it's a rhetorical exercise. The horrible thing is that no matter how far I run, I'll never outrun the fact that we are closing in on the worst time of the year and there is nothing to be done. I have to endure it, somehow. That's what has me short tempered, uncertain, quick-to-cry and lacking resilience.

Each day dawns with new promise, and I try to find footing to walk ahead into that possibility. I sit in meditation and visualize peace washing over and through me, I pray for Grace and vision to see the way. I long to see your face and hear your voice in my heart. Then I get in the car and drive into another flurry of activity, putting my heartbreak aside for a few hours. I've gotten away with it for a couple of weeks now, but today meditation brought tears that rose out of the depths of love and sorrow. The drive to town took longer because I had to stop along the way when I couldn't see the road for sobbing.

We had a work party putting the barn on the roof last weekend. The trusses went up, and the sheeting went on. Dad is thrilled to have his things under cover. We missed you greatly, darling. Chaz discovered that he could wear your Red Wing boots. My heart was in my throat as he laced them up and strode out with determined, proud steps. All day long, we could have used another pair of hands, and it went unsaid, but clearly understood that those hands should have been yours. You would have eaten that shit up! These are the things that twist my heart in new agony. It was a gorgeous day with friends and family working together, and yet, there is an undercurrent of sadness that just won't fade.

I went to the "launching pad" the other day and hung a new wreath on the tree. I straightened the myriad offerings of flowers, candles and little trinkets collected near the base. I still sit on that little patch of earth where you left us, where your heart stopped, and you breathed your last. I sit there because it is the last place you touched on the actual earth. I have a handful of this earth in a little jar at home. People wonder how I can stand to be there. To me, it's sacred, holy and eternally ours. Maybe I'm crazy, but I do what feels right at the moment.

One morning I went into the bedroom to wake Xanny. His face nestled under the blankets in just the right way to reveal only his hair, brow, and nose. He looks so much like you, Thor! At that moment I couldn't breathe. I just stood there looking, reveling in the gift of seeing "you" in the flesh, seeing how you live on in your brother. And you do live on in your brothers, in many ways. In memories, and music, hobbies and movies and most of all in the love we have for you.

I don't know what I'm going to do to survive the upcoming holiday season, Thor. I don't want to celebrate. And I don't want to let it all go, either. Maybe we need to change things up and do something different. Traditions seem to fly in the face of my grief this year. Gifts and candy and cookies and lights and decorations and parties. God, it all sounds so contrived. My heart isn't in it.

Maybe it's just going to suck, and that's all there is to it. I pray for the strength to walk ahead when all I want to do is fall on the floor and sob.  Maybe the joy will infiltrate the sorrow like stars on a night sky; it seems hopelessly dark, but if I give it time, those stars can show the way.

I renamed the constellation Orion to Thor and it rises high in the sky this time of year. Lead the way, boyo. I'll follow as best I can. 

I love you, Mom

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

For Thor - 72 - Solace by the Sea

Hi, Bubby, my love.

So much has happened since I last wrote to you. The main thing is that Dad and I went on a retreat for bereaved parents down in Kill Devil Hills, NC. I knew we needed to go, Dad was not so sure about the trip, but he was willing to be there for me. He would walk through fire for me. As it turned out, that level of dedication wasn't needed. The retreat lived up to its name, "Solace by the Sea." We gained new insight into how to walk this terrible road of grief as both individuals and as a couple. Thinking about this time together later, I realized that this was the first time he and I had the space to grieve, together, without anything else going on. In all these months we haven't found space, time or safety to be together in grief. This past weekend we were free of the usual stressors that block us from feeling how we feel and being able to talk about it. This fact alone made the trip worth it. But there was so much more, and it took a lot of courage to be open to what might happen.

Before the retreat I could maintain a somewhat conceptual view of you being dead, it seemed dreamlike or surreal. I could imagine you had gone on a trip to Mars and were hurtling through space in cryo-sleep. I could suppose you had somehow tricked us all and cheated death and were alive and thriving among The Fae. I see you in my mind's eye whole and hale and so full of life that I can refute the evidence that you died. But something happened when I placed your photo, fireman's badge, guitar pick and a few other little items on the altar alongside the photos and treasured mementos shared by the other parents in remembrance of their beloved children. Your handsome face shone forth from a picture frame surrounded by the beautiful pictures of your new tribe; a tribe of child-angels who look over and guide their parents from the other side.

My mind didn't want to grapple with it at first. How is it possible that we were there and that your picture was on that table? How is it possible that Dad and I have to learn to talk to each other about you, our dead son? How is it possible that we became part of a story that is so intensely eviscerating without our consent? We had lived blithely in a bubble of secure protection for so long; sure tragedies happen, but not to us. Right? Well, that bubble blew the fuck up on Dec 31st and left us broken, bloody, naked and ill-equipped to face the storm, the aftermath of your death. And even after all these months of writing to you, crying, floor pacing and hand wringing, I can still imagine it didn't happen. Right up until I saw your photo on that table and began to listen to the stories shared about each of those precious lives cut short. I heard the stories of Theo, Joel, Austin, Michael, Logan, Nicholas, Brooke, Nikki, Jacob, Madalyn, Tyler, Matthew, Julia, Matt, and Charlie. And as Dad and I shared your story right along with them, a new level of knowing clicked into place. We are bereaved parents of our dead son. We share the sacred journey of loss and love with the parents who've had to say goodbye to their sons and daughters too soon.

And that was just the beginning, something profound happened when we did an exercise where we paired up, and each had 30 minutes to tell our partner about our children. The idea was that later we would each share what we heard about our partner's child with the rest of the group. I was eager to talk about you, Thor. I don't often get to do that. I wanted the group to get to know you, how brilliant and awesome you are. So I rambled about various things for 30 minutes while my partner took notes. When the time was up, I felt like I could have talked so much longer, like I had so much more to say. And when we came back together later I listened as my partner related what I had shared with her about you; the snapshot into your life here with us and what kind of amazing person you were in life. She had listened well.

Later when I went to bed, I broke down in tears and sobbed. I hadn't done you justice. I hadn't told the most amazing things about you or even the most iconic. I forgot to say how much you loved to play guitar and loved anything with a motor. I didn't tell her how you captured everyone's heart with a flash of a smile and those lovely blue eyes, including the lady at Giant Eagle when you were just 2 years old. I forgot to say how you used to hate cheese until you discovered pizza. I didn't tell her how you fit so perfectly in my arms when you were a baby and that we took naps together. I didn't share how much you loved machines and trucks and guns and the outdoors. I hadn't remembered the best parts of the story of your life; I had generalized and conceptualized your character illustrated by only a few tales told in a rush of words.

A sickening realization dawned on me; I had no idea how to talk about you. As a matter of fact, I don't think anyone has ever asked me, "Tell me about your son, Thor." I didn't know how to relate the funny, real, interesting, quirky, loveable details of you, Thor. I have to practice sharing the details that made up your life and shaped the man you had grown into being. In the morning I told one of the other mothers how I felt and she said she felt the same way, so I didn't feel quite so alone in my self-beratement. We had come face to face with a new aspect of the journey, learning how to talk about our dead children. Totally intense.

Thankfully, the ocean was our constant touchstone and she offered her vast expanse to absorb the heartache, pain, sorrow, regret, guilt, sadness, loneliness, endless tears and so many emotions or states of being. We threw rocks into the ocean after writing a word on them that encapsulated something we want to leave behind. I wrote Loneliness and Uncertainty both of which stem from this feeling of being utterly broken and somehow irretrievably damaged. I wrote those words on the rock and flung it into the sea. Then we picked up a shell or another stone to write word symbolizing something we wish to take with us. I wrote Love. Self-love, Universal Love, All-encompassing Love. Love of Family. The Love that binds you to me and all of us, Thor. It's the only thing I could think of that is changeless and could remedy the loneliness and uncertainty I feel in my heart.

Dad and I took some walks on the beach, and one time we headed out across the highway and over to the top of the Wright Brothers Memorial. The last time we were there was with all of you boys in 2009. Ghostly echoes of that beautiful May day played in my mind as we ascended the top of the memorial hill. I remembered taking one of my favorite photos up there, the one where you three brothers stood beneath the words "THE BROTHERS" etched in the stone. I opted for a selfie in front of the word FAITH; it just felt right. It's gonna take a lot of faith to keep moving through this process to where we can live a life with joy, again.

On the last night of the retreat, we did a simple remembrance ritual, lighting a candle for our children and saying their name. We stood in a circle under the night sky full of shooting stars and the sound of the surf pounding the shore. Our faces lined by tears and the warm candle glow that represented the lives and love of our children. I realized that we hadn't done any formal ritual for you, Thor, since the funeral. And once again, I was struck by the fact that I have now joined the ranks of "candle lighters," of the vigil holders that I could only peripherally imagine before. And I was so moved, opened and shifted in that simple gathering. The flame that represented you, Thor, shone brightly alongside the others as we arranged the candles in the shape of a heart. Each child's life, legacy, love, and memory were added to the whole like a bead on a wire. Each candle shone brightly as a treasured piece of our collective heart, the new tribe defined by shared loss, utter heartbreak and our ultimate transformation.

I learned a lot, Thor, some of which I won't understand until it unfolds and unpacks itself in its own time. The way continues to reveal itself day by day, moment by moment. As solitary as this journey is, now I don't have to walk it alone all the time. Your dad and I are finding new ways to reconnect through and across the ocean of grief that swells and rages between us. And now we have connected with other beautiful souls who understand the daily struggle to find the courage to take a step, and then another and then one more. We step bravely into the new way of being that incorporates and encompasses all the grief as a beautiful expression of the deepest love. It is a terrible and magnificent road we walk now hand in hand and heart to heart. I am so grateful to have found Colleen, Doug, Cheryl, Tamera, Cindy, Susan, David, Joanna, Karolane, Michelle, Tamara, Karrie, Karla and Jamie.

What a journey, my boy. What a trip. I'm leaning in, staying open and being simultaneously brave and vulnerable. I say Our Family Blessing every day, several times a day and it really helps me connect with you and, well, everything. I feel you most clearly when I am still and open-hearted, and that's the best feeling of all. 

I love you, 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

For Thor - 71 - The Line Between Bravery & Foolishness

I cried myself to sleep last night. And the night before that. I woke this morning to see the sunrise through teary eyes. Tears fell in the car, at the soccer field, in the shower and while cooking supper, yesterday.

Friday night was family night at the funeral home for Uncle Dick's mama. I wanted to go, for the family. This is the first time one of our generation (my sibs and spouses) has lost a parent, and it was important to me to be there; like they were there for me. It was the first time I'd been in that room since your service, Thor and I tell you what, it might have been brave to try, but there is a fine line between bravery and foolishness. I landed just a bit on the foolish side of that proposition, I'd say. As much as I love my sister and Dick, I think it would have been better if I hadn't tried quite so hard. But we never know our limits unless we test them, right? And now I know a little more about myself than I did on Friday morning. Even foolishness has its benefits, I suppose.

Would it be bad never to go to another funeral as long as I live? I don't know that this is the answer, but right now I'll do just about anything to avoid a full-sensory flashback like the one triggered on Friday. The whole experience was surreal, from walking up to the door of Dunkum Funeral Home and catching the first whiff of the smell in the room to the lighting and the energy vibration, I was transported in time, space and emotion to January 4th. I could not clearly see what was in front of me, the sweet family of a lovely woman who had left this earth too soon. Her photo and the flowers surrounding it floated like a ghostly image superimposed over other images; terrible images, seared forever in my mind. All I could see was you laying in that damned box with a gazillion flowers in a stunning array around you. All I could smell was the mums, roses, and sunflowers that draped the coffin and lent their natural beauty to make this worst moment just a little bit brighter. I shakily hugged a few people, the ones I had braved this environment to see, but the tears wouldn't stop. Hugging someone in that space, the space of grief, was like hugging people from that night in January when I embraced over 800 folks who came to say farewell to you.

It was clear I had to leave. The evening wasn’t about you and me, Thor. It was for someone else's pain and loss as we come together and take a moment to cherish a particular life. But for me, there was nothing else happening other than the vivid Technicolor replay of your funeral. It felt like I was going crazy with an alternate reality running alongside the one my body was currently occupying. All my senses turned traitor, adding to the full immersion experience. I could feel your cold hands, and I marveled at your beautiful hair as I caressed it one last time. I traced the funny little curve in your ear that I've loved since I first nuzzled it, you just a newborn babe. I stroked your cheek and tried to make believe it was not ice cold and hard…I tried to remember the last time you hugged me and how you smelled then, warm, clean sweat, laundry soap and you. I tried to block out the formaldehyde smell that clung to you as you lay lifeless in that damned box. Oh, yes. I had to get out of there.

My goodness. People are kind. Aunt La, Aunt Poorna and Aunt Radha along with your sweet dad and many friends, they helped me get done what I came to do; pay my respects and offer my love for the family. So many kind smiles and feelings of tenderness came our way, as everyone knew that it was hard for your brothers and dad to be there, too. So even though my mind was stuck in a dreadful place, there were lifelines of love that helped me get back to the current moment. We stepped outside into the twilit evening to head home. I breathed out forcefully, clenched and unclenched my fists, and shook my head. Dad offered to drive, but I welcomed the distraction of engaging my mind in an ordinary task. Riding as a passenger would allow me to linger with the pain.

I had escaped but not before uncorking a fresh bottle of memories and emotions. Holy shit! It hurts so badly, still. As we were driving home, Dad put his foot down and forbade me to attend the service the next day. He knows the signs of a crash coming. He's only ever firmly stopped me from doing anything two times in twenty-two years. This is one of them. I knew he was right, so I acquiesced without my usual defiance and let out another cleansing breath.

That night the moon rose fat and bright over the horizon. As I lay down, the silvery light drenched my bedroom. It looked like Angel Light to me, radiating with a soft glow that felt like angel wings wrapped around my heart. I sensed you right there, lending comfort as my tears slid silent and unending to soak my pillow.

I'll never stop missing you.

I love you,

Friday, October 14, 2016

For Thor - 70 - Melty Edgelessness, For the Win

Do you know why the ocean is the master of all the waters? It's not because it's the largest and it's not because there are whales. Although whales are freaking cool. And dolphins. I adore dolphins. The ocean is the master of all the waters because it rests beneath them. All rivers and streams run their sparkling courses through hill and wood to eventually end their journey in the vastness of the ocean, where it waits with infinite patience in the total knowledge that it already encompasses them all.

A few days ago my little skiff was bobbing wildly down a raging river. Anxiousness and worry spun the river (my mind) into frothy whitewater. A raging river is loud and distracting, and like a drunk monkey, it demands attention. It threatens to dash me on the rocks and tumble my raft in the rapids. I naturally rise to engage and fight the current, battle the waves and stare down the boulders in my path. I take on the identity of a person who needs to gain control of the situation. The terrible thing about this is that it's a no-sum game. I would be doing battle with my mind, the illusions of demons that don't exist outside the thoughts that bounce around in my skull; the lies I tell myself about how I'm not good enough. If I continue engaged like that, I will end up where my attention was set, dashed on the rocks. Instead, I remembered a lesson learned on the night you were born, Thor. And it calmed that river right down.

Hurricane Fran had pummeled us with over ten inches of rain in one day. The trees swayed in the wind and bent starkly under rain-soaked leaves. As the storm approached it did more than just knock out the power and flood the rivers; it triggered labor. Planning to have a home birth, I called the power company to see how long it would be before I could flick on the lights. The man advised me to evacuate to a hospital since the substation that supplied our area was under ten feet of water and that it would be at least three days before we could expect to have power restored. Oh, holy Lord! I was unwilling to consider a going to the emergency room to give birth to you. It didn't feel right; it was not our story. So, your dad and I decided to stay and make do with what we had along with heavy reliance on the advice of our midwife, Nana and Aunt La.

At one point Nana and our beloved midwife suggested I stop walking around and try to rest awhile. I laid down on the sofa, sweaty in the sweltering humidity of late summer in Virginia, and had a conversation with the Great Unknown. I thought about the countless numbers of women, my ancestral sisters and mothers, who had given birth under the stars, on the plains, in cabins, caves, yurts, teepees, and igloos. I thought about the countless mothers who breathed in and out to tap the power of the Earth so they could bring their babes safely to life. Mentally, I linked arms with this vast sisterhood and turned my attention inside. I would do this freestyle, without the carefully wrought plan we had created over the past months. And without running water, or power or anything else save the love, support and experience of those who attended this blessed event. (Your dad was a rock star, btw!) I breathed in and out, in and out, innnnn and ouuuut. Surrender it to God. Surrender it all. Accept no blame, nor praise. Just be here now and allow life to be lived through me. Breathe innnnn and ouuuuut….all the tension left my body rendering me edgeless and free. You and I were so connected at that moment, Thor. I felt you saying "we got this mama." And so I was resolved to a primitive homebirth with whatever resources we could garner at the moment. With a final exhale, I let it go.

In that very instant, the power came on! The ceiling fan started spinning, and the air conditioner sputtered to life. I laughed aloud and whooped! I don't know if surrendering allowed the power to come on or if it was coincidence, but I can tell you that taking a position of surrender was the best thing I could have done for me, and us. It's impossible to fall off the floor, right?

The lesson is one of surrender and faith. All rivers lead to the ocean. If I wish to be the master of my life not a refugee in it, I need to cultivate a state of being that allows for the continuous experience of love. Allow my stance to remain humble, vulnerable, kind and patient. This means being kind to myself, too. We are often our own worst enemies. My thoughts can cut like knives into the tender places in my heart, bleeding me dry of precious energy, disconnecting me from Peace and Love. The anxious thoughts and passing fancies are not real; they are fabrications made up of old tapes, old stories, old hurts. They are the ghosts of the past coming to haunt the present and seeking to derail the future with fear and doubt.

This week I grappled hard with the concept of resilience as I tried to pick myself up from that sad, angry, low place. In the months since your death, I've gained a measure of resilience as it related to me, individually. I can focus inside to tap in and find that calm, deep peace from which all creation springs. It's like cold, clear water in a desert. Nothing is better. The rub for me is when I get involved with the world and have to find this resilience when faced with all the various agendas, ideas, needs, struggles, pain, suffering and terrible beauty that surrounds me. In these interactions the connection to peace is tested. I'm out of control in these situations, and that makes me edgy, not edgeless. Other people's decisions, actions, and timeline can affect the daily life of my family, and this vulnerability spins up anxious thoughts and cues the frantic doingness that I just don't want anymore.

I went for several long walks along sun-dappled lanes and tree-lined rivers to spend some time in silence and prayer. I intentionally worked to reconcile the truth of the situation with the inner dialogue that was running amok. It took some doing, and I didn't get it right the first time out. I still struggle with this at times, because being vulnerable, open and bright is hard to do when one is looking for a job. Job-seeking seems to bring out the bullshit adjectives splashed across a resume and forces us to cover the soft places in our beings, to leverage interactions. It spawns a tendency toward fakeness that makes me physically ill. I want to do it differently. There is something attractive, like a magnet, in people who are authentically strong and vulnerable, humble and wise, silent and yet so clearly heard. I want to be like this in the world, melty and edgeless and also clear and focused. "From an authentic state of being with love and open hearts…" Right out of the Family Blessing, right? This is it. This is the next level of reconciliation work I'm doing, Thor. And it all stems out of the work I'm doing as I mourn and grieve you, my sweet boy. There is a heart opening that has let me glimpse the connectedness of all that is. To let that go unexplored and uncultivated would be to walk away from you and the spiritual call to expand, grow, learn and radiate light.
I played with some images to envision and empower this idea of having melty edgelessness in juxtaposition to being clear, focused and incisive. The best thing I could think of was spicy, hot nacho cheese! Delicious, memorable, goes with just about anything, totally useful. The idea had me tipping my head back to whoop with wild laughter, only the trees and the outline of the mountains bore witness to what might have looked like a mad woman in the wood. But I know you were laughing too, shaking your head and wiping tears from your eyes. I imagined you saying, "That's nacho mama, that's my mama!" Cue more giggles.

I'm no longer seeking a job. I put myself out there in a way that was as honest and clear as I could be. I stumbled and fell as I grappled with the insecurity and vulnerability of that position. But the risk paid off, a job offer rests in my email inbox along with several other rich possibilities for additional collaboration. There is always energy behind the right thing, and this is the right thing, with the right people and at the right moment. I am not sure if crying "Uncle" is required for the gift of grace to be bestowed, but as soon as I surrendered and smiled from the melty nacho-cheesy Love in my heart, the call came.

Why take a chance? Surrender it all now. Give it up, now. Accept no praise, nor blame. It all belongs to God. My only job is to keep showing up, with that empty cup, like the ocean that rests beneath all the waters. Let Life be lived through me.

Be the ocean. Be humble. Rest beneath everything in a position of infinite love and patience. Everything comes to you there.

I love you,

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

For Thor - 69 - Stumble & Fall

Trying to keep my head above water feels like a full-time gig. As if dealing with the constant disbelief and grief of losing you isn't enough, I am now unemployed. Shit happens, they say. The money runs out, and things move on; the company pivots and leaves some of us behind to figure it out on our own. I am grateful for the time, space, afforded me to catch my breath. But it's too short; the world spins with a sickening lurch. It's too quick, and there is no warning, no sign; End of the Road Ahead. There is no solid ground under my feet as I frantically seek traction, like Wile E Coyote when he realizes he's off the edge of the cliff. I have to keep up, catch up, man up, pony up, get up…get up off the fucking ground where I fell when they told me you died and where I've been mentally for all these months…and walk ahead.

How am I supposed to do this? I still feel broken. Damaged. Not whole. I've made progress; it's true. I'd say was at 50% of the functionality, rationality, execution, decisiveness and the flat-out badassery that I had before Dec 31. But now I face a steep re-entry curve that looms over me. I read adverts for positions, jobs that I once would have eaten for lunch, and I feel threatened by the language in those descriptions. The list of must haves is intimidating and shines a harsh light on the jagged edges of the hole in my heart, my absence from the workforce this past year, the rusty skills and troubled mind…I feel unfit…and scared. The world is hard, and I am too soft.

Grief has tumbled me in the waves until I am smooth and edgeless. I lack the sharp elbows and pointy thinking that the world values so much. Wanted: Go-getters with can-do attitudes. Wanted: Sharp, professional, high-energy, high-performance Olympians with no emotional strife. Wanted: Someone who's mind is analytical, clinical, architectural, logical - not reeling and blown-away by the loss of her son. Good lord. What am I good for now? Being a grandma? Canning pickles? Raising sheep?

The urgency of finding a job has me scurrying in a rapid succession of "doings." And as that pace picks up, I am more and more despondent. I could hardly get out of bed this morning to face another day of "doing" something, but I'm not sure what and I'm not sure why and I'm not sure if it’s the right move for my family and me. I am not supposed to be "doing" like that. I've learned that in the past ten months. But if not that, then what? What? What the hell am I supposed to be doing? The bedcovers can't protect me from the harshness of the dialogue in my mind.

The energy is ALWAYS behind the thing that's right. Waiting for it to reveal itself is the hard part. Not filling the moments with frantic activity is impossible as the old paradigm of my chronic "do-ership" takes over. My heart is screaming at me to STOP!!!! I can hear you, Thor, telling me to STOP!!! And I do, for a nanosecond. Just long enough to realize that I'm freaking the fuck out and that won't help anyone. But then it starts all over, again, spinning up to drown out the sense of peace and connection I've worked so hard to reclaim over the past ten months.

I don't know the answer. I just know that the universe has decided to push me off the edge one more time. The journey toward the new me is not complete, so there is no point in resting here. I would start homesteading if I had found a single place where I could settle in and look around. Cue Universe: "Not so fast there, Cassandra!" a voice says as a bony finger reaches out to fling her into the unknown. I feel like a refugee in my own life some days; that's just sad, and I hate it. Or maybe it's inevitable for a seeker to be ever on the move, never settling down, always evolving, growing, learning. But what does that look like in practical, bill paying, grocery buying terms? I have no flipping clue.

All of this upheaval, as stressful as it is, is merely an echo of the explosion I realized when you died. I thought I might be stronger than this…and that may be true, but I don't feel strong. I don't feel good at all. Paper mache is more durable than how I feel today. I bullshit my way through, donning a mask over the swirling, sucking whirlpool of grief, and now uncertainty, that spins in my heart. Gut wrenching agony still grips me in the middle of the night when the memory of your death comes calling. All of this and I'm supposed to go forth and reinvent myself? Holy shit. "How?", I ask. What more can I give?

The worst part of all of this is that when the cacophony blares in my mind, I feel disconnected from you. And that breaks my heart all over again. I've tried so hard to face this head on, to feel everything, to learn how to live and breathe again. I feel more adrift than ever now. I've stumbled and fallen, hard, Thor. I need a hand up. But more than that, to have the way forward revealed would be great. I feel like I'm wandering around in a desert with no map and no destination.

A deep despondence blows in with the cold wind of early Fall; it is insidious and toxic. I know this, and I'll need to untangle myself from its tentacles if I am to survive. Grief and despondence team up in horrible ways; they make me feel that nothing is important, that nothing matters, that the struggles of life are inane and pointless. Yeah, I'm pretty fucking low right now, Bubby.

Glimmers of Faith and Grace do shine through, at times, like stars peeking out on a cloudy night. I know they are there and I can feel them working for and through me. But it's like I'm a patient in surgery, anesthetized and unresponsive, while they perform their transformation and healing. All I can do right now is keep showing up, with that empty cup. I check my mind for the wrong and hurtful thoughts, try to replace them with something positive. I sit in meditation, as futile as that is lately with the runaway team of horses in charge of my mind, for a few moments and say Our Family Blessing. I write to you, here. All the while I feel like I'm riding a tiny skiff down a raging river. I can hear you saying, "Hang on!" and "Have Faith!" The river must go somewhere, right? I just hope I don't drown before I find out where.

If you stumble make it part of the dance, right? Sigh... Here, I'll try...

I pray for bold, courageous daring to flood into my sails and for inspiration to set the rudder toward a shining star. That's all I got for now. It'll have to do.

I love you,