Saturday, June 25, 2016

For Thor - 54 - Tears for Fear and Love

I am not happy right now, Thor. I'm trying hard to find my footing, to learn something, to glean insight, to expand my awareness, to open my heart, to make sense of your senseless death. The fact is, this fucking sucks on a scale of suckiness that is outside the realm of words and is beyond what a mind can comprehend. I can't piece together language that matches the depth of what I feel.

I've purposefully leaned into the pain and gone to the bottom of the well of grief. I marinated my heart and soul there in that oppressive depth trusting sorrow to show the way. And I've taken bold, brave steps along that path strewn with the litter of our broken lives. Yours cut short. Mine encumbered with the pain of losing my son. The sharp edges of shattered dreams cut my feet, but still I walk on. There is nothing else to do.

I got scared a couple of days ago and it triggered a tremor inside that stirred the pot, big time. I've been feeling somewhat settled, still in pain, but I could breath more freely and think new thoughts. Then, I walked into the house from a much-needed trip to the beach to find Chaz on the couch in his pajamas. It was too early for bed, being the middle of the afternoon. As I fluttered around the house, bringing in my bags and assessing the status of plants, birds and fish in my absence, I asked Chaz about his day. He said he was happy to be alive. I thought this a curious thing to say. Then he told me that lightning struck him just an hour before while he was on the back porch. The strike was close enough to him that he saw a blinding, white flash, and it buckled his knees out from under him. At first, I wasn't sure if it actually happened, or had he just been scared and exaggerated the experience. Then I discovered that the strike had tripped three circuit breakers, and I thought I was going to throw up. I froze inside. My emotional self shut down as a protective barrier wrapped around my heart. I heard myself asking clarifying questions about what happened. Asking if he feels okay now. Taking care of facts of the situation like a battlefront nurse; my emotional self, parked outside the story. I went to bed early not understanding why I was so drained.

When I awoke, there were tears on my face. I had been crying in my sleep. The tears wouldn't stop. I wasn't sobbing; they just ran like a river. The mere idea of fear of losing your brother in the wake of the pain of losing you was more than I could take. There was nothing to do but go there, to that dark place and let it all out.

Fear leads to anger. Yep. I was scared and it pissed me off, so I yelled at God. "No fucking way you fucking asshole! You CANNOT have another one of my kids! Just take your fucking lightning and all your bullshit and get the fuck out of my life!" Mama is not happy, Thor. I don't care about swearing at God; he can take it, the fucker.

When Chaz got up, I wrapped him in huge tear-sodden mama hug. I kissed his cheek and told him how scared I was and that I was so sorry for the delayed reaction on my part. I had totally freaked out inside and needed time to process. He is so sweet to hug me back, just as hard. We're both suffering, you know.

I took some deep breaths and downed a cup of coffee. There were things to do and appointments to keep. So, getting ready for work was the next thing. Somehow, I managed to find an outfit that I could stand to wear and got myself in the car. I cried all the way to Charlottesville. My eyes ran like faucets. I had a meeting, and I was gonna look like heck. Oh, well. This is what happens, right? I have to go to work and sometimes I just don't have my shit together, not even a little bit. A coworker gave me a hug and tears fell. The person at our meeting peered with apparent wonder at my red eyes. I told him the truth, I had lost my son and was just getting back to work. I blinked back a new rush of tears. Is it okay to cry at work? Is emotional vulnerability acceptable? I don't know how to stop it or to be any other way, so I just roll-on.

As if all this wasn't enough, I got another crazy curve ball thrown at me. I was so upset about Chaz and you that I knew I needed a sister lifeline to talk it out. So I hit the button on my steering wheel to tell the car to dial "Poorna" for me. Instead of connecting me with her, it dialed YOUR NUMBER, Thor! Gah! So, I breathlessly canceled that command and tried once more. It dialed your number AGAIN! New tears. Fresh, hot, terrible, sacred mama tears streamed. I probably should have pulled over. But I didn't. I drove on with the nickname I gave you in my contacts list, "Thorminator", glaring from the dash. I finally accessed Poorna by hitting the phone icon next to one of her text messages. Your name remained on the dash, even though the Bluetooth had dialed her. Lord, child! What are you doing to me?

I miss you like crazy. It makes me fucking nuts to think you're dead. I can't believe we are edging up on six months that you're not here with us. I want you to walk through that door for supper. I want to hug you and never let you go. I would give anything to listen to you play music with your dad, again, or to hear your laugh. I want to have a conversation with you because I still want to know some things...

Where are you?
How are you?
WHY THE HELL did you have to DIE? Did you wish you could change it? Or is the afterlife so great that you'd be nuts to want to come back?
One crazy ride. One dumb choice to not put on your seatbelt. One bump on the head and that was it. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY??? Holy shit.

Yep, I'm back to the same old questions that swirl round and round.

But you know me, Thor. I can't stay here in this lamenting space for too long. The sense of right and purpose-driven living that is in my very core leads me to attempt to ponder some other truths; It's All God. Everything is purposeful. Ugh! It's so hard to wrap my head around these concepts, right now. But I take a deep breath and swallow hard to remember there is always more to the story and I refocus on the beauty of your short life. I savor and marvel at the impact of your nineteen years on all of us; your family and your friends. The legacy of kindness, friendship, service, and love that touched all our lives. The impact of your death, even, is enormous and far-reaching, bringing people and cultures together in one swoop.

Will I ever be able to reconcile all this honestly? I don't know. I keep walking on this path of sorrow. The pieces of our broken lives cut my feet, and it doesn't matter. This is where I am. It doesn't work to pretend I am somewhere else. I walk on leaving a trail of bloody footprints and a river of silver tears. The path leads me through my center and into the Love that connects us all. This Love is the only thing that doesn't change in this whole existence. I seek solace, comfort and strength there. I strive to connect with you, Thor.

Still, there are tears, they shine and reflect the ever-changing emotions that dance through my being like clouds across a summer sky. Some are sweet (I think of holding you as a baby and looking into your pretty eyes), and some are bitter (You'll never be a dad and I won't get to rock your kids and gaze into their pretty eyes). Some are hot with anger (I'm still pretty fucking ticked off at this whole situation), and some soothe with love (I am softened and melty in the world now. Love oozes out of and through me). All the flavors of all the tears; I let 'em flow.

I just have one thing to ask of you today. Keep those big angel wings of yours around your brothers, okay? I have a feeling you did just that for Chaz, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You're a darned good angel, sweetie. As if you could be anything else. Ha!

I love you,

Monday, June 20, 2016

For Thor - 53 - Ramblin' Rose

It feels mostly good to get back into the swing of things. I also feel like I'm doing some of this stuff for the very first time. In some ways, I suppose that's true. When you died, and I began the terrible process of grieving which profoundly changed me. Now I am slowly learning how to live, again, from this new orientation.

I used to live out of my head. I thought, pondered, and analyzed my way through the day. I worried over words in conversation and held back heartfelt expression, unsure of its value in my world of busyness. I ran at a too-fast pace, missing so many beautiful details and opportunities for meaningful connection. I lost precious years of your short time here. I was tired, exhausted and lost in the craziness I had created. I struggled to find peace and joy in each moment, driven as I was. Then death blew my mind. All that buzzing bullshit came to a screeching halt. The grooves in my mind where years of thinking had worn familiar tracks were gone. That tsunami wave of tragedy crashed over, erased and wiped them clean like sand on a shore; a hard reset.

I can't live out of my head, anymore. Trying to do so gives me a headache and makes me feel physically ill. The well-spring of energy that moves me sourced much more deeply. It rises from through my heart from the soul. The mind is just a collection of functions that gets this body from A to B and allows me to do stuff, like write these words. I walk in the world now with a softness I maybe only had as a young child. I mean, shit, the worst has already happened to me. My beloved son is dead, and I have had to keep breathing. I don't have anything left to protect anymore. Your death left me wide open and vulnerable; I live from this space. There is no purpose for a mind that plots and plans out of fear. I live from love. I'm a big heart, with feet.

When I began my tentative ventures back out into the world, Nana coached me to have my response ready when people ask about the family…or you. I practiced a bit, rolling the words around on my tongue to see if I could utter them without bursting into tears. It's good to be prepared for social situations. People always ask about your family, Do you have kids? "Yes. I have three sons; two are living." or, Cassandra! Where have you been? I never heard back from you about xxx. "I'm sorry I haven't been in touch; I've been on leave." Why? "We lost our eldest boy this past New Year." Oh! I'm so sorry for your loss! "Thank you, sincerely." I can practice for the direct questions; this is good for me and the person I'm talking to who has no idea that under this fragile veneer of control is a swirling sea of grief that could swamp us both. Practice desensitizes me to the words. I can say them and not feel my heart twist. I can glide by them and blink away the sting in my eyes if I practice.

Being prepared is one thing. But it's the moments when my guard is down when I casually share stories from my life that are deceptively dangerous. Anyone who knows me knows I like to talk about you and your brothers. Any topic anywhere could eventually find me lending a tale from my life with you three. "One time me and my boys…" or "My boys tease me about…"Every time I made chicken and dumplings, Thor would show up for supper…"

The words dry up in my mouth. My mind freezes. I suddenly stop breathing in mid-sentence. I am so used to talking about my boys, my THREE boys. Who are now my TWO living boys, and my ONE dead boy. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

One. Dead. Boy. For as much work as I've done processing this horrible fact, this tragedy, I still get caught on the barbs of these words. They are cruel as they cut into my still-raw heart.

This is how I walk about these days. I appear fine, regular, unchanged. But I harbor inside of me a swirling vortex that spins down into the core of Life and connects me with something so vast and primordial, I barely feel human, at times. I am trying to figure out what's next, what am I supposed to do? All of this happens while I seem to be doing what is normal - going to meetings, buying groceries, working with my team, planning things for your brothers. My only refuge is to be present in each moment and allow whatever comes to express, which may bring tears. Sometimes I fall into the wellspring of love, and the expansion it creates in my being allows a wave a gratitude and peace to flow into those painful places to soothe and calm them. Sometimes I need to be alone, focused on weeding my garden or washing the dishes where I breathe out the pain in long, puffing sighs. It reminds me of Lamaze breathing in labor. That fits, this is labor for certain.

It's hard to talk about it, anymore. I feel like a record on repeat. Sad. Angry. Grateful. Sorrowful. Love. Hopeful. Wistful. Longing. Sad. Sorrowful. Wistful. Angry. Grateful. Longing. Love. And on and on. I spent hours, days, weeks and months processing these states of being through the lens of grief. How do I talk about them anymore? I've said all I can say. The facts never change. You are dead. I am not. You are free. I am grieving. Your story ended. Mine is twisted in tragedy. You are fixed in time, forever young. I've aged a decade in the past six months. You are my angel-guide, ever at my side. I feel you with me, always. You are dead. I play on.

I'm a Rambling Rose, today, Thor. Maybe it's because life gains momentum as I get back to work and attempt to find my footing and I don't have time to process and write to you as often. I only get snippets at a time, and I don't always have the hour or two to deeply explore when feelings surface. But it's okay. This is part of the story, too. I am learning to integrate and incorporate my continual transformation into something useful in the world. What good are all these insights if I can't share the light with others? I have less time to sit quietly in the navel of sorrow, but it doesn't matter, the current of love that runs through this sea of grief continues to work on softening and shaping me. I just have to keep showing up. The way will reveal itself.

I love you,

Monday, June 13, 2016

For Thor - 52 - Flashback

A new level of peace, you could even say joy, blossomed in my heart in the past week or so. A new spring animates my step. I feel wonderment at the beauty of the world and how life is supporting me. The animals and birds recognized this new aura; I could tell because they would put themselves in my path and linger long. I tapped into something bigger than what my finite human consciousness can comprehend. So, I roll with it, staying open, soft, willing, faithful, kind.

One realization that helped me turn this corner, which is more like a deep knowing in my very cells, is that you are always with me. I feel your presence as surely as if you were still walking this physical plane with me. My mind visualizes this sensation as the purest, bright light that shines from inside, beneath and behind me all at once. You reside in this light where we are all connected to one another.

The delicious and sweet feeling of you right here greets me in the morning. I don't have to conjure your memory in my mind all the time to sense your presence. I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I had found some solid ground. Maybe each day wouldn't be shadowed by death, but rather an expression of delight in BEING ALIVE! I applied myself back to work with more zeal and at a higher level of commitment than I had in months. I greeted each new day with profound hope. What did I have to be sad about? You are right here with me.

This perspective refreshes my capacity and ability; it's energizing. But it's very precarious as it shifts and turns, becoming inaccessible at times. Tears come in sneak attacks of grief and they flow freely when I think about how many cool ass things we won't get to do together. I want you here, playing, living, laughing, loving with us! Regret over lost dreams tarnishes my newfound joy and shakes the ground beneath my feet.

It occurs to me that life is like a video game. We are all playing together but separately from our unique consoles. We each have a role, characteristics, resources and skills. We play our best, interacting with other players, trying to conquer whatever objectives we set for ourselves. You lost your life, Thor, and can no longer play the role of my son, here. But the energy that animated your life in the game is hanging out with me, watching as we all play on. Just like when you played Xbox with your brothers, and one of your avatars "died" in the game, the game continued, and the player who operated the avatar that "died" is still alive, in the room. For the players play on, our attention completely engrossed in the display before us. We are unable to see those other players who "died" but who are still in the same room.

And this is the dual vision that I live with these days. I know the ultimate, existential Truth that you are free, eternal and right here with me. I also express the deepest anguish from a mother's broken heart that you are not right here with me. I still play this game. When I realize it's a game and can soften my gaze and expand my awareness to see more, feel more, that's when I find you hanging out, just waiting for me to say "Hey, Bubby."

Glenmore Fire Department had a chicken barbecue fundraiser yesterday. Your dad was there all day, and I popped in to help for a bit. I enjoyed volunteering, laughing and chatting with the ladies of the auxiliary and the firefighters. This is the team you were planning to join in January if the cards had dealt differently. The fine men of Glenmore VFD are the ones who responded to the scene of your crash. It's one of the hardest aspects of being a volunteer in a small community; first-responders likely know the victims of fires and accidents, the families of the wounded or deceased share your church pews and your kids go to school and play soccer together.

It was the first time many of them had seen me since that horrible night. They are our neighbors and now are your dad's brothers in service. We are tied together in many ways, but they will always be the ones with us on the worst night of our lives. It's a different kind of intimacy and vulnerability than I've ever experienced. As the chicken was cooked, tables set and drinks put on ice, everyone bustled about and joked with each other. I couldn't help it; I kept looking for you. In my mind's eye, you were right in there, making a joke, hauling buckets of chicken, passing out dinners, making all those who came in feel welcome with your cheerful, fun-loving countenance. It was a "You should be here!" moment. I didn't realize until later how much it gutted me.

I slept fitfully, last night. Anxiety and sadness kept me agitated and held sleep at bay. On top of that, your brothers went to see a movie and were not expected home until 1 am. We got a phone call from Chaz telling us that they planned to be home and were not spending the night at their friend's house. I kept half an ear turned to listen for a car on the drive and their footfalls on the step. At one point, in a frustrated attempt to get comfortable I rolled over and noticed that the porch light still glared. In my sleeplessness, I had not real idea of time, surely it was earlier than it felt. No. It was 230am. I went to see if Chaz and Xan were in their beds. No. I went to see if there was an update text message telling me they had changed their minds. No.

Time stopped. My knees shook.

I went from sleepless angst to a full-on flashback of that terrible night in a nano-second. All I could see in my mind was flashing lights on a dark road. I went all the way back there like I had never left. My heart pounded in my ears and my heart raced. I took a deep breath and punched a text into my phone; don't sound too freaked out, don’t assume anything, sometimes no news is good news, right? Hit send to Chaz and Xan. I dug my fingers into the bedcovers as I waited for a response and tried to curb my reeling thoughts and emotions. After a few minutes that seemed like an hour, Xan responded to let me know they had decided to stay at their friend's house after all. The movie ran later than expected; they didn't want to wake us. I responded with only a hint of the devastation I felt, but mostly I felt flooded with relief and said my goodnights with several kissie-face emojis. I washed the sweat off my face and filled a cup with cool water. My mouth had gone dry.

Restoring sleep continued to elude me. At one point my flailing around actually knocked Lady off the bed.

This morning I awoke to a jumbled mind, a troubled heart, anxiety coursing, tears falling. I avoided the news again today, as the horrific shootings in Orlando would only stab this already bleeding heart and push the anxiety through the roof. I had to get my shit together for a critical meeting and product demo today. I ran through all my lifelines in an attempt to find my core peace and reserves of strength; meditation, Hatha Yoga, listening to beautiful music, sitting in the garden with my coffee and Lady by my side. I fed my fish. I called my mom. I started writing you.

When the boys finally came home, I didn't yell. I told them they were not allowed to do that to me; I can't be left in the dark not knowing. And I cried. Chaz immediately hugged me and was sorry. Xan, being unconvinced that he'd done anything wrong, was less appreciative of the direness of the situation, but he came around. I am trying so hard not to suffocate them under the anxiety that losing you produces. I want them to live their lives and feel me supporting them as they learn to fly. All I need is for them to text me. Often. I need hyper-texting. And they know this. They had been doing so well with texting me, that the lapse in judgement last night set it up for me to believe that something really could be wrong. Gah! What a fucking mess.

The Universe, as ever, looks out for me and provided me some space. I got a call to ask if I can reschedule the meeting for today. I felt my whole being collapse in relief. More tears. I have some time to get my feet back under me, again. I'll seek out that connection with the light and you, Thor. That's the work before me for now. Return to that feeling of peace and that glimpse of joy that I had last week. Whatever it takes.

I love you,

Thursday, June 2, 2016

For Thor - 51 - Keeping it Real

I have a new companion, and his name is Death. I reckon he's been around me since I drew breath almost 51 years ago, but I only became acutely aware of his icy presence on December 31 when his bony fingers reached out and snatched you away from us. I know Death is everywhere, as pervasive as life, keeping things in balance. And I've experienced the appearance of Death in my life before, but never like this.

When our elders pass on after a life well-lived we miss them, it's true. When death calls our wizened and aged ones home, we celebrate those long and full lives. We come together to offer tribute to our closest ancestors as they pass into that ethereal realm and take up the mantle of carrying on their names and legacies.

When Death insinuates itself into Life in a surprise, sneak attack to steal you away before you even have a chance manifest your dreams, it feels flat out wrong. When you died before your life was lived, I sparked with indignant outrage! "How dare you take my boy!" I yell into the silent maw of the deepest parts of my being hoping that there will be an answer, an accounting or some God damned assurance that it unfolded as it was supposed to. "I did everything I could to keep him safe and help him grow to be a good man. The kind of man we want to keep on the planet! And now he's gone!" These are the agonizing thoughts, the ones that keep this wound raw and bleeding. They crop up from time to time to torment me anew and spin me into bouts of tears and pain.

Thankfully, I am mindfully open to what grief and sorrow have to show. I see and feel more than the anger and the agony. Beyond, beneath and behind the outrage of my traumatized mother's heart is a newly crystalized awareness. I am keenly aware that each moment could be the last. I feel like I walk around with Death's fingers ever on my shoulder, a specter that shadows my every move. I can't shake the feeling, the knowing, that each breath I draw is expressly a gift of Grace. At any time and for no reason at all, Death can call anyone of us away from this field of play, this life.

This awareness is admittedly a little creepy, and it sometimes spawns anxiety. I worry for the safety of your brothers and dad. I send prayers for protection to encompass your cousins and friends. I have to breathe through this fear to help me remember that nothing has changed. The daily risks any of us take are still here. Driving to work on Hwy 20 is just as safe as it ever was. Xan riding his bike is just as safe as it ever was. Chaz walking to work is just as safe as he ever was. Only now, I have a heightened sense that Death is very much in play - and always has been in play. When I settle in and remember that nothing has changed except for my awareness of the possibility of death, I can let go of the gripping fear, and I can even flip it. I can refocus my attention to tap-in and feel sincere gratitude for all that is, in each moment. I am forced to remain hyper-focused on the gifts engendered in each nanosecond of life, because I know, all too well, how fleeting they are.

Yesterday I had the delicious pleasure and honor of visiting some friends who just had their first baby. The sweet energy and love of welcoming a new life into a family are one of the most beautiful experiences in life. I rocked the baby in my arms, and my heart bloomed, spilling over with poignant love. I remembered holding you, Thor. I remembered those first few days of utter bliss blended with utter exhaustion. I tapped back into that very moment when you and I looked into each other's eyes, and we saw each other. I felt you with me, my angel, surrounding that moment, that memory with perfect joy.

I held that new precious life with same hands that bore and lost a dear son, with the awareness of all that transpired inside of me since that horrible day. Right then, I knowingly witnessed the encompassing and coupled natures of Birth, Life, and Death. I knew, really knew, that each one is here, with us in each breath, playing its role. They are the warp and weft of our existence, creating the very framework upon which we weave our lives. One cannot exist without the other.

Timing still bothers me. I still hate it that you left us after only 19 years. I still want you here with us for more time. I wished that could hold your baby in my arms, a first grandchild for your dad and me. Regret over lost hopes and dreams yields bitter tears. And as angry as I am that you are gone, I know now that Death is and always has been in its rightful place in existence; the primordial counterpart of life, the price we each pay for living. Each breath is a gift, a treasure to be used to enrich, enhance, enliven and enlighten the world. Where will I invest that treasure? Where will spend the coin of Life while that currency flows? Who are my investment partners and what are the expected outcomes for a life well-lived?

Your short life was a testament to how to do this right. You gave all. You laughed loudly. You befriended all. You released pettiness and judgment. You were humble and kind, never boasting or bragging, just quietly going about the day spreading your unique brand of joy, love and goodness. So when Death came stealing in the night and swept you into the other room, the memory of the impact you had on us all is what remains.

I've been listening to Zac Brown Band, again. Well, a lot, actually. This week the words to "Remedy" run incessantly in my mind, a welcome earworm to encourage me to ponder…


I've been looking for a sound
That makes my heart sing
Been looking for a melody
That makes the church bells ring
Not looking for the fame
Or the fortune it might bring
In love, in music, in life

Jesus preached the golden rule
Buddha taught it too
Gandhi said eye for an eye
Makes the whole world go blind
With a little understanding
We can break these chains that we've been handed
I've got the medication
Love is the remedy

Pray to be stronger and wiser
Know you get what you give
Love one another
Amen (amen), amen

I've been thinking about the mark
That I'll be leaving
Been looking for a truth
I can believe in
I got everything I need
Let this heart be my guide
In love, in music, in life

I'm not saying I'm a wise man
Heaven knows there's much that I'm still finding
Making my way down this winding road
Holding on to what I love
Yeah, and leaving the rest behind
For love, for music, for life

Pray to be stronger and wiser
Know you get what you give
Love one another
(Love is the remedy)

We're all in this world together
Life's a gift that we have to treasure
Happiness, now that is the measure
Love is the remedy
(Love is the remedy)

Everyone can be forgiven
One love and one religion
Open up your heart and listen
Love is the remedy

Pray to be stronger and wiser
And know you get what you give
God is love one another
Amen, amen, amen!

Isn't that a great song? It uplifts my heart so much even when it makes me cry.

So, with Life coursing through my veins, Love blooming in my heart and with the ever-present specter of Death on my shoulder reminding me to keep it real and focused on the fleeting nature of this life, I continue to learn to walk anew in the world. It's good to have you as my angel guide, sweetness. I am grateful to feel you near as I find the way.

What a trip, Thor. Mind = blown, for real.

I love you,