Friday, August 25, 2017

For Thor - 88 - Chain Link

Yesterday morning the alarm went off at 4:30. Dad and I threw on our clothes and headed to the surgical center in Charlottesville. The docs finally felt like they could remove the shard of glass that's been in my toe for over a year! While it's only minor outpatient surgery, it's still surgery. And they have protocols that they want you to follow. Don't eat or drink after midnight. Don't take any medications. Don't use hair products that have alcohol. Remove all jewelry. When the nurse called to talk to me about these pre-op requirements, she was emphatic on this point. All jewelry must be removed. Yes, that included the wedding bands that are almost impossible to get over knuckles swollen with the toils of everyday use.

The night before, I carefully removed my rings which took a while and the seven earrings I wear every day which I never take out. I took a few moments to remove the chipped polish off my toenails just so everything was clean. I paused to look in the mirror to see if I looked any different without those diamond studs shining back at me, framing my face like stars. My gaze dropped to take in the moonlight silver gleam of the chain -- your chain -- draped around my neck. I ran my fingers over the warm links inching toward the clasp to spring it open when suddenly I couldn't move. Tears stung my eyes as I considered removing from my neck. I imagined lifting it off my chest, feeling it gone from that place it's been all these months. I haven't taken it off since your dad put it there on the day of your funeral. He had gently unclasped it from around your neck as you lay in the coffin and settled it around mine. Then we turned, holding each others shaking hands our heads tipped together, and we gazed for the last time at your face as they closed the lid, and we saw you no more.

My breathing became shallow, and my hands got sweaty. I traced the links one by one and raised the chain to my lips and kissed it, blinking away hot tears. There was no way this necklace was coming off. Not until the day I die, and it passes to one of your brothers, will it leave my body. The surgical team would just have to figure out how to do whatever they need to do with it in place.

So we hurtled through the pre-dawn darkness, arrived at our destination, checked in and waited. I knew they would challenge me saying the chain wasn't safe, that somehow it's a liability to have it on during a procedure. I knew they would want to make me conform to the rules, but I couldn't. Any more than a veteran with shrapnel could remove the metal from their body could I remove this chain from mine. A bomb had gone off in my life, blown apart our family, my faith in the world, my heart, our lives - the chain that was once yours had been transferred to me.

As expected, the very professional and astute nurse spotted the necklace and told me I would need to remove it. I told her I can't, that I had tried and found it impossible. I said it belonged to my beloved son who died and that I tried to take it off but ended up freaking out. She told me about the bad things that could happen in surgery if a person is wearing conductive metal - burns, mainly. I still shook my head. I asked what you would do if I had metal pins in my bones? There has to be a way for me to keep it. Can we wrap it in a towel, I asked? I cannot take it off, I gasped and shook my head with tears running down my face.

She asked me how long I had been wearing the necklace. I told her 19 months and 20 days.

They brought me a waiver to sign. With a shaking hand and teary eyes, I did. I would rather be burned than suffer the pain of removing that chain. But the nurse warned me that every other person who saw the chain would tell me I need to remove it. Already triggered, tired and upset and admittedly a bit nervous about the prospect of what we were actually doing there in the first place, I burst into tears again and felt a full-blown panic attack coming on. I asked her to please call your dad to come from the waiting area. His steady presence was a godsend. He looked right into my eyes and said it would be okay. His hand held mine, pulling me back from the edge one step at a time.

Meanwhile, the doctor arrived. Through the striped privacy curtain, I overheard the nurse tell him about my plight. To his credit he whooshed right in with a warm smile and calming manner to tell me not to worry, he wouldn't be using the tools that conduct electricity. I could wear the chain without any concern for burns. The prep nurse and then the OR nurse and the anesthesiologist all came in and each one, in turn, assured me that I would be okay. That the wearing the chain was okay. They all asked about you. Gradually, my breathing returned to normal. But the tears kept running, and there was nothing I could do about it. I've learned not to turn them off.

The procedure went well. I'm glass-free and so grateful. But I was still raw and upset over the whole experience.
I look in the mirror and the reflection staring back at me appears normal, but I'm not, really. Or maybe I am. Maybe this is normal for a mom that's enduring the loss of her beloved boy. Maybe this is as good as it gets as I learn to live my life with the horrible truth that you died. Each and every day I think about and miss you, Thor. The maelstrom of emotion swirls and heaves beneath the surface of this normal-looking fa├žade. I apply moisturizer and mascara and paste on a smile to greet the day.

And the days go by, peeling in a constant curl as the blade of time cuts through. Grocery shopping and back-to-school planning, cooking meals and giving the dog a bath, going to work and taking care of the chickens, dinner conversation with your brothers and downloading the day's stressors with your dad…I carry on. And I look pretty normal. People don't suspect the vastness of sorrow that sits just below the veneer. I have become a good actress, not only for the world to see what it wants. But for me, too.

A few days ago, on an otherwise "normal" weeknight, Steve Bodek came by on his day off. It's not often that I see him out of uniform and his appearance at the house one evening in his personal vehicle and in plain clothes surprised me. We visited a bit about this and that while we waited for your dad to get home. Eventually, dad rolled in, and we all came to the house, Bodek insisting that we call Christine, who was apparently a co-conspirator in this venture and get her set-up on speaker-phone. Then he told us to find a comfortable seat and that he would follow us in bearing the gift he'd brought for us.

I'm glad Dad and I were sitting down because nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. Steve started by telling us how much he loved you, Thor, like his own son. (I didn't know that) He said that he thought the world of you and considered you to be one of the best kind of people. He told us that it meant so much that he was able to be with us at the scene of the wreck that claimed you. I know what it meant to me to have him there, and his surety that you wouldn't be left alone kept me from losing my mind. And as if that wasn't enough to count him as family, Bodek and your dad share the Marine Corps bond.

Then he humbly revealed a beautifully handcrafted piece of art that is so heartfelt and personally meaningful that I could barely breathe. He had taken a gorgeous piece of cedar from the interior of a church (infused with all the prayers and hymns over decades) and added to it a scroll-sawn Maltese cross on one side and a scroll-sawn heart-stopping firefighter in profile with angel wings. Christine had given Steve a photo of you wearing your gear that he could use to draw the piece out. And it really does look like you, too. He added hand-cut lettering that stretches across the bottom and reads, "Forever on our minds, Always in our hearts." which is so true for all of us who love and miss you, Bubby. Then, literally to top it off, in sycamore wood (what could be more fitting for a boy from Sycamore Creek?) he added the letters, T-h-o-r.

To say I was moved to tears is a vast understatement. I, once again, got a glimpse of how much other people regarded and loved you, Thor. All these months later, when I felt like maybe it's time for me to bear this burden mostly on my own, Bodek shows up with an utterly stunning tribute of love and respect - and mourning - that bowled me over. Many walk this road of sorrow over your death, Thor. We all miss you so much.

With this experience so recent in the rearview and knowing that what would have been your 21st birthday is just around the corner, I suppose it's no real surprise that I lost it over the idea of removing your chain. You are present and close these days, picking up on my thoughtful dialogue and sending me songs. Thanks for doing that. Thank you for all the signs you send and for being patient with me when I'm too wrapped up in grief or anger or stress to see them.

I love you,

Sunday, August 6, 2017

For Thor - 87 - Soar

Good morning, Thor!

Gosh, I miss saying that to you and be rewarded with your sweet smile in return. It's Sunday, again, I was thinking of making chicken & dumplings for supper.

Last weekend, I took part in a beautiful and healing Yoga for Grief and Loss retreat with other women who have suffered traumatic losses in their lives. It was right here at Yogaville, so I didn't have to travel and got to sleep at home. I did, however, drive past the site of your wreck each day. On the first morning as I headed to the retreat house, I was compelled to stop there and sit, once again, on that ground; the last place on Earth where you were alive, and feel anything that came up. This pause in the forward momentum of the day was powerful, helping me surrender and open myself to feel the pain I carry around daily, wrapped and bound. I allowed myself to sink into my heart and to give voice to those waves of grief that crash and swell inside.

I picked chicory from the roadside and wove those tiny blue star-bursts into the wreath that adorns the tree that abruptly halted your flying truck and sent you into a new realm. It is a tragic and magic place, both. It is the sacred site where you slipped through and became a bigger version of yourself, leaving me here to figure it out. To walk on. Every single day of my life from now on is reframed with this knowledge: That which we love can be taken. Nothing is guaranteed. Change is the only thing that is certain. Love is the only constant that exists beyond this ever-changing-certainty.

A few days before the retreat started I received an email from a blog that I subscribe to, in it I was gifted a message that was timely, something to use as a new focus. Suzanne Giesemann offered this from the Sanaya Says collection of posts:
“I will grieve for the rest of my life.”

"If this is truly your belief, then for you it will be your truth. Do you wish to feel the deep sadness for the rest of your life, or do you wish to continue living and growing without that feeling as a constant companion? You will always be able to recreate that pain. You know the trigger points and you know how it feels to grieve, but hear us well: you can train yourself to become aware of when you feel that pain and transmute it with higher emotions. “Ah yes, I miss my loved one. I know this feeling, but now I choose in this moment to focus on the joy my loved one brought me and to be grateful for that experience.” From there you can allow your thoughts to drag you back to that place of pain or ask those you miss to remain in your heart as a pleasant, ever-present companion. What do they want for you now from their vantage point across the veil? Peace. This is the training ground. You control your thoughts."
Several ideas stuck out for me in that writing:

  1. I can always recreate the pain of losing you. It's so true. I can ruminate upon that night and caress each terrible memory taking the stabbing pain like a masochistic and embracing it. My heart breaks and my emotional body responds with wracking sobs that stop my breath and buckle my knees. I can cut myself on the sharp edges where your death blasted through the fabric of my life and altered me forever. 
  2. I can choose to do this. Or I can work toward a new awareness.
  3. This is a training ground and that I am training to experience Peace. I can train myself to feel that pain and learn to transform it with love and joy. We had a lot of love and joy in our life together, Thor. It is not hard to remember the sweetness of being your mom.
  4. We stand on this precipice together and with training, practice and no small dose of bravery, I can step out and trust that my heart will rise on the wings of love and lift joyfully to the open expanse of possibility. 
This is my work.
The first night of the retreat we go around the circle and talk of our departed loves and on the second time around the circle we are asked to set an intention for the retreat. At the retreat I did last October, my intention was much more focused on survival. This time I felt compelled to take a new direction, to move beyond survival, because that intention has been met. I'm here and my heart is still open. I smile and laugh and make plans for tomorrow. I didn’t give up, shut down, crawl in a hole and wither. I didn't will my heart to stop so I wouldn't feel that agony. I steeped myself in the pain when it needed to be felt and allowed it to breath through me and be released through tears, and hugs, and prayer -- and writing. Every time I write to you another piece of this experience is allowed to float away. My choice was to survive the devastation of losing you, my beloved son, so that I could learn to live again. This time when we went around the circle the second time I threw a handful of sage leaves on the flames and as they ignited and lifted white smoke to the sky I said, 
"My intention is to SOAR."
Easier said than done, for sure. And that's okay. I know where I’m going now, I charted a new course in this journey we're taking, Thor. We're going up! But like any journey, it's a process. I have to start from where I am and allow for the gentle unfolding and inevitable challenges and unforeseen beauty to be revealed. 
This is my work.
So I stopped at the tree each day of the retreat as I made my way from home to join my fellow travelers in grief. I went there to remember that fateful night and to begin to insert new emotional programming into that memory. I sat on the ground where you breathed your last and I thought to myself that the veil might be super thin right there in that spot. I closed my eyes and sent a huge wave of bright, yellow sun energy toward you. My heart song said, "Thank you! Thank you for letting me be your mom. Thank you for the love we share. Thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for staying by my side, even now." Tears fell from my eyes, but they were not bitter, salty tears of anguish and suffering. They were bright and beautiful and as the light shone through them, they turned to rainbows.
Later that day, surrounded by the love and support of my new sisters in the sacred space we created together, I wrote a poem and created a mandala art piece that reflected this pivotal experience, Thor.

Rainbow filled teardrops fall
    to the earth
From the blood-red chambers of my heart
            to the earth
From my pinon-colored eyes
                   to the earth
Where flowers burst forth
                                 and bloom
Yellow tickseed bobs in a breeze
    Periwinkle chicory twinkles
        in the high-summer sun
            The color of your eyes
                 when they regarded me
                    Adoring and bright 
                        with the love we share
      My sunshine!
             My son shine!

So, here we go, Bubby. Soaring on the wings of love across a chicory-colored sky.

I love you, beyond words, beyond realms, baby boy!