Thursday, July 21, 2016

For Thor - 57 - Body Language

Grief impacts me in profound and new ways each day. I move through the moods, moments, waves, lulls, anxious buzzing, pain, sorrow and heartbreak, one at a time or in combo-paks. Sometimes sleep eludes me for weeks on end. Sometimes I can't sleep deeply enough, and I fall away from conscious thought almost before my head hits the pillow. Even as these experiences shift and push me to process emotions and thought on new levels, my physical body is paying a heavy toll. I've told you before how grief hurts, physically. But what I am learning now, is that the long-term effects of cortisol (that amazing stress hormone that is designed to keep us from being eaten by tigers) can be devastating to a whole system.

We are moving up on seven months since you died, Thor, and in that time I've done a lot of inner work. The work of processing such a profound loss is never done; the lessons come daily. But now, I am tired. I am so terribly tired. Self-care, self-love, life lines, eating right, emotional support, writing, meditation, and prayer have kept me going all this time. I still employ these tools to keep me on my feet and moving through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Even so, exhaustion, unlike any I've ever known before, greets me each morning and lingers throughout the day. It's like there is a vampire living inside of me that eats all the energy, leaves me to languish in a drained stupor.

Before you get too upset with me, I DID go to the doctor! Just like I've tuned in to listen to what my emotional and spiritual bodies are saying through all this, I am listening to my body's language, too. We are testing to see if the body has gone into acute adrenal crash mode. I experience a serious lack of resilience or reserve of energy. One stressful day puts me in bed for at least two more. I feel this keenly because I get out into the world more frequently and in richer engagements, now. Interactions with people and places often trigger my grief-stricken emotional state. I have learned that no matter how well-intentioned people are, they will do things that hurt and trigger me. It doesn't matter if they know I am grappling with grief with or haven't heard the news. Inevitably, something happens that deals me emotional body blows, and leaves me bruised and breathless. I find myself wanting or needing to tell people who don't know, since the change in me feels so profound, that surely these people see it and need an explanation. I feel anxiety when stepping into a situation with people I know and situations I used to handle with ease.  My brain is rewiring itself with new neural pathways - my personal regard of the world altered forever. Does it show? Can anyone tell I'm different? Will my fuzzy brain recall the right words at the right time? Will what I say make sense or am I really out there on the edge of reason? And all of this triggers a full-blown stress-state, which triggers more cortisol, of which the adrenals are rapidly becoming depleted. So, I feel a little bump in energy (thank you, tired but faithful adrenals) and then it's gone.

Welcome to Crash City. Population, one tired, broken-hearted mama.

I have to learn how to walk in the world again, and learn to navigate or negotiate the certain triggers. It sucks when I crash and don't have the mental energy even to make coffee. It appears that I need to slow this reentry down a bit. I have taken on too much, too fast. The body-mind are sending clear signals that I've pushed too hard.

Among several recent intense forays into the outside world, last weekend was the first time I went to Yogaville for one of the festival weekends. As the 50th Anniversary of Integral Yoga and the traditional celebration of Guru Poornima, I wanted to join in. Many people who sent their love, cards, donations and prayers from around the globe in the wake of your death had come to visit. With conscious effort, I went there to experience the weekend with this spiritual family. What I didn't expect was how draining it would be on my modest and hard-won energy reserve.

Many people want to grasp my arms and look into my eyes when they see me. They want to peer deeply to catch a glimpse of what rests behind the veneer I painted over my bleeding heart; I'm well enough to be in public. They want to ask me that most horrible question; "How are you?" It's well-intentioned but horrible. These are people who care about me and want to connect with me. They do want to know how I'm doing, but time is limited in these hallway interactions. We have an agenda to keep, other people are joining us in mere seconds, there is no time to share. How are you? I hate this question. It forces me to do one of two things, neither of which is what's wanted whenever I've managed to get out. I either have to lie and say something trite like "I'm okay-ish" or "I'm well enough" or worst of all "I'm fine." Or I have to deliver the truth, which involves me removing that veneer (the one that allows me even to be there in the first place) to reveal to them the depth of this sorrow. Either way, I end up triggered and drained. The truth is, I would love to sit with anyone of them, quietly, and share if they want to know, but they are moving at a pace that is too fast for me. It looks like they are trying to fit 25 hours of doing into 24 hours of time. I just don't shift that fast anymore.

I'm more interested in being established in a state of love that pervades everything; that flows from the navel of creation. My goal is to do only what needs to be done at any moment, with frictionless ease and efficient execution. The first thing is to restore the body to a balanced state since it is in acute crisis now. The joints and tendons hurt all the time. This skin hurts to touch. An inflammation state has become the norm. Stress hormones make weight loss nearly impossible, and this exacerbates the other problems. This is yet another aspect of grief I need to reconcile. I promise I'll work on it, Thor, with the same mindful dedication that I've applied to the emotional and spiritual bodies.

I feel you here with me, in support and holding me close. You prove your presence often, and I love it that you show up in my electronic devices! I know it was you reaching out to talk to me when my phone turned on and started playing in the middle of a Zach Brown song. The night before I felt separated from you and was super sad about that and I told you so in our pre-sleep chat. The next morning while getting ready to go, I walked by my sleeping phone which was charging on the dresser, and it just started singing "I'm gonna hold you tight. Under my wing, as long as I can." It repeated that phrase over and over in a gospel chorus. And it was just for me - from you! It's mind-blowing how, on earth, I got to be your mom taking care of you. And now you're expanded to the angel realms with super-awareness where you are taking care of all of us. You will always be a blessing to me as my son. Now you are a blessing to me as my personal angel. I hope you can stick around a while, Bubby, I still need you.

I've been saying Our Family Blessing, every day. It helps. I added the Prayer of St. Francis to my daily rituals along with singing Amazing Grace and chanting along with Snatam Kaur. It's a hodgepodge, but it works for me to keep my heart out of the ashes and my eyes on the horizon. 

I love you,

Monday, July 11, 2016

For Thor - 56 - Broken Shell

When I walk along the beach with the surf rolling up to kiss my ankles, I look for shells tumbling across the sand. I always like the whole shells, the ones that have all their little fins and whorls, that are perfect and clean. This year I've been to the shore a couple of times and found beautiful shells on both trips. The ocean offered them like little gems tossed onto the path before me. I pick them up and marvel at the intricate symmetry and delicate coloring of each one. It belonged to a living sea creature not too long ago, this piece of hardened silica and minerals are all that remain to tell the tale of their watery life in the deep. I can never collect too many shells, but I am pickier now about which ones I'll tote home wrapped in paper towels and stowed in my suitcase.

This last week we were on the Outer Banks, one of your favorite places, Thor. We celebrated July 4th with friends, and the ocean waves broke on the crystal coast under a bright blue sky. Families frolicked in the water and played games. Sometimes it's hard to see other families with their kids, all intact and…whole.

The beaches teemed with beautiful youth; they paraded past my umbrella-cast shade, cocky and loudly laughing oblivious to the fact that life is fleeting. They are so like you, not realizing it can be cut short in a flash. One crashing of the wave the shell breaks dashed against the rocks of fate and life ends. We know this is true don't we, Bubby?

The beach offers me a perfect place to feel the depth of grief I know over your death. Gosh, every time I write that I think it's going to be more real to me, but it's not. The grief is deep, the sorrow has substance, even. But my mind still has not accepted you are gone from our lives. Your dad and I took a long walk hand-in-hand along the shore one night and I remembered how utterly happy we were when we first met and got married. The elation we felt when we learned we were going to have you marked one of the best times in our twenty-two years together. And when you came into this world our hearts sang with such love and joy. We felt the enormous blessing of you coming to be with us, sweet boy. We felt so happy, blessed and…whole.

We are broken shells now, tossed on a beach and tumbled in the waves of grief and sorrow. Exposed and utterly at the mercy of the love that binds us, we are vulnerable and open. My points and whorls have been knocked off; I am smoothed and shaped by the tides of grief and the rivers of tears that carve my heart. One day earlier this year in Florida, I went for a walk. I rolled my pants up to my knees so I could feel Mother Ocean kiss my skin, and so I could let my tears fall freely into her waters. I asked her to show me a way forward on the terrible path of a mother who has lost a beloved son. I walked on, waiting, open and listening deep inside for that intuitive cue to guide me.

One by one I came across what looked like large whelks poking out of the wet sand and when I picked them up, they were broken. I would usually put these shells back, but something told me to keep them. Then I found shark-eye and moonstone snails, and giant cockles that looked whole, but were broken. I had a handful of these broken offerings when I stopped walking and sat for a while to contemplate what The Mother wished to reveal to me.

Are we not all like these broken shells? We work hard to appear whole, but we all have cracks and chips where we've pushed beyond the boundaries of our small selves. The Ocean offered me broken shells to remind me that even if something isn't whole, it is still beautiful. It has a story and maybe even has more to teach us than the tale of one that never experienced rough seas and high tides. I meditated on this for a while, sitting near the surf and watching the endless waves rise and fall. After some time I strolled into the water and thanked the Universe for granting me all my many blessings, even if they are broken, chipped or cracked in places. I gently laid the broken shells back on the shore, the message received. I turned my feet back to the house to see your dad and brothers. I carried peace in my heart, and a gentle smile lifted the corners of my lips. I felt a thump on my foot and looked down. There was a small but perfectly intact knobbed whelk, worn smooth in the surf. It was whole and beautiful. It rested my pocket and and I ran my thumb over the contours of its shape as I said my mantra.

I carried this lesson and the contentment it brought me with me these past few months. It helped me when I felt low and reminded me to be grateful, even when it's not perfect. I've learned a few things and realized that I don't know much at all, too.

So, when I went to see The Mother Ocean for the first time this past week, I couldn't wait to tell her Our Family Blessing. I strode into the water and let the waves roll up to my knees. I raised my arms to the sky and said The Blessing as tears fell into the water. I asked The Mother to share some piece of wisdom with me and that I would stand right there in THAT SPOT until I heard her. The very next wave rolled up, and I felt a thump against my foot. I looked down to see a beautiful, whole, intact channel whelk sitting on my foot (very rare where we were). I picked it up and smiled with my whole heart. It was like a rainbow promise telling me one day I would be whole, again. Maybe not the way I thought I would be, and maybe better than I ever thought I could be. It will not be easy, in fact, it hurts a lot. But feeling bereft and sorrowful is not going to last forever. I am a broken vessel now and slowly, I rebuild and form into something new, different, bright and...whole.

I love you,

Friday, July 1, 2016

For Thor - 55 - Wheel of Love

On December 31, 2015, a Thursday, at approximately 9:45 pm your heart stopped. Last night we observed the six-month mark of your Earth death, Thor. June 30, a Thursday, at 9:45 my heart broke all over again. I looked at pictures of you as a baby and young boy. I have to tell you, that as fine of a man as you grew to be, I will always think of you as my precious little bundle of love, my Bubby.

And I just want my Bubby back, you know. And I cried my eyes out for a while over that. Eventually, the tears slowed, and I settled into a contemplative state. I reached out with my senses to feel you. Sometimes I hold out my hand, and I sense your hand in mine. You've been hanging around a lot the past week or two. I know you're always here, but you've been making some effort to let us KNOW you're here. It's a huge comfort to me. And when I get to crying too long or get too sad, that's when you tend to make a big splashy entrance; like making my car dial your phone number over and over.

Anyhow, I got to thinking about the universe and time and the wheel of the year and specifically about this first year, peppered with milestones. The cosmos is full of bodies in motion, nothing is still or changeless, everything moves, dances, spins, floats, sails, caroms and even explodes in a spectacular display of light and energy. We are just tiny pieces of that show, doing our best to shine some light and make a difference. We establish references and relationships to our environment. We are on the planet, the planet spins day into night and revolves around the sun to birth the seasons. There is a circular motion to our existence, easily envisioned as a wheel. The Wheel of the Year for most people only marks the equinoxes and solstices, like Stonehenge.

For me, it's become something else altogether. When you died that was the beginning, this is the large stone in the center of my new Wheel. And the wheel has many aspects depending on the work before me. It is the Wheel of Grief and also the Wheel of Learning to Live Again, of Cherished Memories, of Sacred Tears, of Milestones that Matter, of Gratitude and Forgiveness. It is the Wheel of Love. Each day dawns to find me in a different position relative to your last day. Life moves on, I move on, but I have a new reference point in the center of the wheel; you, your life, your love and your death.

Right now is the apogee, the farthest part of the arc of the wheel before we begin to turn toward marking the first anniversary. We've come through so many milestones already, birthdays and holidays, turning of the seasons, friends' graduations and weddings, each one tugs at my heart and stings my eyes with bitter tears. I think, "You should be here." And you are, I know. But it's not the same.

I walked around in a triggered state for two weeks now. While I was freaked out about your brothers, well-being, that doesn't sufficiently explain the depth of how I feel. There is credence to this six-month marker, this half-way point in our first-year circumnavigation of your death. It is a call to reflect on how far I've come and to remember how much love we have. It is a time to soften and open my heart to where this journey leads and the insight gained. It's a reminder to bravely embrace the pain and learn the lessons, to sink deep inside and shine a light on my personal fears. Six months later I am so much stronger, but not in the way I ever expected to be strong. I am strong in vulnerability. My feet are planted in the richer ground of Universal Love even as my eyes look to the stars in wonder.  How did I get here?

Every day I say Our Family Blessing. I feel it working on me, changing my being, strengthening my resolve to remain open-hearted and loving. It is a beautiful gift that bonds our tribe more closely than ever, and that includes you, Thor.

We've come so far, but the road stretches on forever. I'm grateful, beyond words, to know you're here with me especially when we come upon these milestones that turn my awareness inward. The wellspring of grief seems to have an endless supply of tears for me to shed. As they fall from my eyes, I imagine them turning into crystal-winged butterflies that carry my love to you.

Oh, my sweet, I miss you so.