Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cracked Grace: Grief’s Presence Revisited

Cracked Grace

I don’t often repost blogs, nor do I have a year-end review. I make an exception today. January 20 of 2014, I said a final goodbye to my friend Kathy Dwyer Fulton. I consider the blog I wrote the day after her death my finest writing of the year. I did not share it on Facebook or other social media, but I share it today. Why today? Each of us is touched by Grief’s presence. We have been over the last year and likely will be during the New Year. As long as we live and love, we are not immune to loss and the pain it engenders. However, it’s important to continue to live and love, because in the end, love is all that matters.

Grief’s Presence

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form . . .
King John, Act III, Scene IV
   By William Shakespeare

Grief has a presence, it is tangible, as noted by the preceding Shakespeare quote. It takes up space. We feel it as it moves into and takes the place left by our loved ones when they die. Recognize and honor Grief for what it is. When Grief’s persona comes into our lives, often the only thing we can do is walk with, sit with, and even lie on our beds with Grief.

* * * * *

Grief and I crept into my bed on Monday afternoon.
I curled my body atop the down comforter, warmed from the sleeping cat.
Chocolate, English Breakfast tea, a heating pad, a deck of cards, and a book accompanied me.
Spent beyond tears, beyond speech, beyond communication, beyond sleep,
I set the heating pad on high to rid my bones of a deep, persistent ache.
Chocolate and hot tea were my lunch.
Solitaire and a book were my diversions.
Grief stayed on, its quiet presence perched at the edge of my bed, persistent as the ache in my hips.
Earlier that day, I suggested a half-hearted duel with Grief,
And stretched my mind, heart, and soul to carry on, to walk through, work through the day.
I failed to drop my glove, so Grief was gentle with me,
And recognized that my efforts at avoidance were in vain.
Grief outstretched its hand to mine and together we tiptoed to my room, where I stayed throughout the day and into the night.
At morning light, no longer spent, nor encapsulated in sorrow,
I left the evening-chilled dregs of tea, chocolate wrappers, heating pad, cards, and book behind.

I then ventured with tentative steps toward a changed life.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cracked Grace: Sitting with, Experiencing the Pain

Cracked Grace
What to Do with the Pain

“Ouch!” It hurt, but not in a physical sense, unless one counts the metaphorical heart as physical. It was a direct snub, so it wasn’t a big thing, just one of the hundreds of things we face because we are human. It feels like I’m home watching The Love Boat while everyone else is at the dance. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, but it does.
Revenge, snide remarks, and disassociation all crowd my head as I consider the pain once, twice, a third time. “Forget it, and move on,” I tell myself. “Take _________ off the list.”
I stopped short in my mental dialogue when I realized I was doing everything to avoid what was most real for me: I’m hurt.
I know that to “move on,” I have to sit with the hurt and experience it, rather than react, rather than respond. In my grand scheme of what I call my life, how I react—or don’t—and how I respond—or don’t—matter to me as a person and reflect how I yearn to conduct my life. I want to be of use to myself, to others, to those I know and love, and those I have yet to meet on my journey. So, first, foremost, I will feel, then I will move forward, and then I will move beyond, absent the pain, but secure in the knowledge that I did not create more.
* * * * *
Rather than react, respond, or seek revenge, what can you sit with today? What can you resolve? How can you continue to maintain and create peace?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The tiniest coffins are the heaviest."

Dear Pakistan:
I Am Your Sister in Mourning
 “The smallest coffins are the heaviest.”
(The quote is from a poster held outside the school in Peshawar, Pakistan.)

Evil personified oozed its malicious presence into a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Wednesday, December 17. Before being exorcised, Taliban gunmen wrought their cruel, misguided, and dark brand of religious justice on those within the school’s walls. They said their god is great as they rained down a particular hell of their creation. No god of greatness would ever sanction such atrocities.
One hundred and thirty-two children died from their bullets. Thirteen adults died from their bullets. More than 100 people are injured from their bullets.
One hundred and thirty-two children will never again sleep in their beds. Mothers and fathers, siblings, family, and friends now grieve one hundred and thirty-two children. Funerals were held for one hundred and thirty-two children. At least one hundred and thirty-two mothers and fathers stumble in their homes, shrouded in grief, dulled into shock and dismay.
 Peshawar, Pakistan: What seems so far away from my Florida home is not. As I consider this unfathomable loss, it’s here in my kitchen. It’s here in my living room. It’s here beside me as I walk throughout this day, as I walk throughout this life.
I did not bury one hundred and thirty-two children, but I buried one. I know the broken heart of a mother. I know the bitter pill of mourning a life cut short far too soon. I cannot claim to know the particular pain of a parent whose child has been murdered. I cannot claim to know the particular pain of a parent who sent their child to school, believing they would return later that day, and then knowing their child will never come home again.
I do know the pain of loss, though, the pain of missing so many things: my child’s laughter, my child’s kisses, my child’s love. I know the pain of a longing that will never be fulfilled. Because I know that much of the pain of a child’s death, dear Pakistan, I am your sister in mourning. I am your sister in grief. I weep with you from miles and mountains and oceans away. I wish to comfort you, yet know that I cannot, that your journey through this singular agony is your own. I reach my hands toward you in a prayer of peace.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Laughter Opens the Door to Joy

Laughter Opens the Door
And Joy Comes Inside

“Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain
by being joyous.” ~ Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

The first time it happened, I was confused—a stranger in an unknown land. I stepped off the plane of sorrow and into a foreign place, one where I didn’t know the language and was unfamiliar with the customs. But I knew that language at one time in my past. I had practiced that custom—often.
Where had I journeyed? Into the land of laughter, into the presence of joy.
Four weeks of soul-deadening grief had stripped my defenses bare. My husband, my fourteen-year-old daughter, and I mourned with unceasing tears the death of our child, the death of her sister. It was fitting that even in South Florida, those November and December pre-solstice days were dark, not only in our psyches, but also in the days that had so little sunlight. That lack of light mirrored how we felt as we trudged through the short days and longer nights that signal the most profound grief.
Nowhere was laughter present. Nowhere did joy show its face . . . until one evening at the dinner table. My daughter Vee said or did something zany and laughter seized the three of us. It grabbed us by the collars and refused to let go until its joyous peals rang through the house and echoed from the walls that had been painted with sorrow.
Laughter erupted from deep within each of us, released from that which had bound it for weeks.
Tears of mirth trickled down our cheeks, our noses ran, and we shook with glee. When my laughter faded, it struck me that it was the first time I had experienced joy since Alexa died. I felt no guilt. Never before or since have I been so aware of laughter—so aware of joy.
I welcomed the joy as I might a new friend into my life. My grief wasn’t over; it never will be over, but that laughter opened the door and let joy return to my life.
Often, after profound loss, we take on the cloak of grief as if it’s our new responsibility to wear it for the rest of our lives. We fear that if our sorrow leaves, our love for the one we lost also will leave.
Joy cannot and will not diminish the love we have for those we now grieve. Our pain and loss are not nullified when we once again seek, find, and welcome joy into our lives.
The joy that returns is the same joy that our loved ones brought to us during their livesor we wouldn’t grieve them. It is the same joy that leads us to live meaningful lives in spite of loss—and sometimes even because of loss.
Laughter and joy bring light and even more love into our lives, and for that we should never grieve, but rather be grateful. Laughter and joy are the healing balm that mends our hearts.

In this holiday season and every season, remember to open yourself to joy, to open yourself to laughter, and to open yourself to love.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ack What?

Ack What? Akrasia!
Americans often fritter away their time just like they use oil—as if we have an unlimited supply.
Akrasia is a fine “fritter-away” word. It’s the state of mind in which we act against our better judgment, through weakness of will. It’s also when we do something we want to do, all the while knowing we should be doing something else.
Akrasia stepped across the page I read earlier today. I wanted to read instead of tackle the “do-do” list. But more than that, I wanted to do the things I love that make me feel whole, healthy, alive: exercise, practice yoga, write, garden.
Like oil, my time is finite. Akrasia, step aside, I’m doing the things I love. How will you use your time today?

You can find the definition of akrasia here:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Just Desserts Leave a Bitter, Burning Taste

He Is Dead
Lost and Found Among the “Hurting”
I lost my compassion last week. I misplaced it at CNN.com, MSNBC.com, HuffingtonPost.com, Facebook.com, or Slate.com. My compassion disappeared as Ferguson was set afire in response to “Burn this bitch down.” The flames, looting, fists, and fury set my own psyche afire. Because I had watched the video of the store manager roughed up when he protested the theft of Cigarillos, I decided that the gunshots that rang out a short while later were just desserts. I pooh-poohed the “gentle giant” quote when I saw a man get shoved by someone who was for sure a giant, and for sure not “gentle.”
I was angry and I still am. I don’t know what happened the night in Ferguson when Michael Brown died. I don’t know what evidence the grand jury heard. I don’t think anyone knows for sure what took place, except two people: Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. Only one lives to tell his story.
I’m angry that Ferguson burned. I’m angry that racism continues. I’m angry that being a young black male is so dangerous. I’m angry that young black men are feared and accused far too often because of who they are: young black men. I’m angry that the societal pressures they endure reinforce and perpetuate so many negative stereotypes.
I was so angry last week. Of course, I was certain my anger was righteous. I felt the keen edge of crime and punishment and was judge and jury all on my own. I was disgusted by what I saw, what I read, what I heard.
In my anger, dismay, and disgust, I became someone “other” than my real self. Anger, righteous or not, indignation, righteous or not, does that. Being jury and judge and determining just desserts does that.
I maintained that anger, dismay, and disgust for several hours Monday and into Tuesday. Midday on Tuesday, at a tea shop in town, where I met some friends, I found what I had lost: my compassion. One woman teaches biology at a local college. Earlier that day, she deviated from her lesson plan and showed videos. She asked the students why she was showing videos (other than being the coolest teacher ever). She told them she knew they were hurting that Tuesday morning after the Ferguson decision, the Ferguson burning. They needed something to lighten their day. She didn’t specify for what reason they were hurting. She didn’t specify on which side of the decision any of them sat. She simply noted that they were hurting. She also wanted them to know that although the world can be quite dark at times, some really, nice, cool folks are doing creative, fun things, and they can, too.
She also shared with me that she knows a relative of someone who was murdered a few weeks ago in our area. Some have surmised that he was a drug dealer who was shot for owing money. The facts aren’t all in and the details of the crime aren’t known, but one thing is known: He is dead. Regardless of on what side the victim sat or on which side his relative sits, he’s dead and she’s hurting.
My missing compassion showed up when I heard “She’s hurting.” I realized I had forgotten something more important than Ferguson burning, the looting, the grand jury, or Officer Wilson’s claim that he acted in self-defense. I forgot about people hurting. I forgot that Michael Brown is dead. I forgot that his mother buried her son. I forgot that his father and stepfather buried their son. I forgot that parents, relatives, friends, teachers, neighbors were hurting. I forgot that they buried Michael Brown. I forgot that regardless of what happened on that night in Ferguson, it ended with a young black man bleeding and dead in the street.
Just desserts don’t mean a thing when that dessert leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
“They’re hurting.” “She’s hurting.”
Hearing those words erased the images of fires and broken glass, the words decrying the decision, the anger, and the despair.
A son, a relative, a friend, a student: He’s dead. And he is mourned because he was loved.
I have loved less-than-perfect people, and so have you. I have mourned less-than-perfect people, and so have you. When I lost my compassion for those few days, I also lost a bit of my humanity. I lost a bit of my heart.
I am grateful for the words that helped me find my compassion and my heart: “She’s hurting.” “They’re hurting.”
When people are hurting, rather than sit in judgment, rather than decry their actions, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we could step up and do whatever we can to stop the pain, stop the hurting?

The following links are to some of the videos my friend showed post-Ferguson—to help ease the “hurting.”