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Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Easter Yummies!

Good Friday was tough this year; this is the first Easter since my mom died. What’s worse  is that last Easter was the first Easter without my brother (who died last January), so mom’s last Easter was really messy in many ways. But we celebrate nonetheless.

Grief and life and death and family and holidays can be so very complicated.  I found myself sitting outside of Wegman’s on Friday crying.  I am a novice at Easter; mom did Easter! I had a list – I never have lists – mom had lists! Actually I found myself outside of Wegman’s with my anxiety amping up into full blown panic attack mode.  Luckily I have learned a few tricks in my life – one being to reach out and ask for help. I called a spiritual friend and began crying.  As I was crying, I realized I really don’t cry much anymore, and when the anxiety starts it feels almost like lots of crying is crammed up inside of me and that is what is causing the lump in my throat and the racing heart that makes it difficult to breathe – the anxiety. So the crying was wonderful, and the talk was “soul food!” Complicated.

I talked about buying Easter candy for the first time in years, because my mom always did this. I talked about how my mom drove me crazy with the amount of money she spent on the holidays and the massive amounts of food she made, and how I was the one that was often left throwing it away. Now it is on me to carry this on – going into the store to buy cabbage and kielbasa and channelling my mom’s recipes (because we rarely follow them anyway and never write them down!), and making the Polish food, and carrying on the traditions – some of which really drove me crazy! Feeling inadequate about carrying on the traditions and not helping enough when she was still here. Complicated.

When my mom died – I felt a lot of relief.  She was dying in my home as my family cared for her knowing what was coming. She was often confused and scared, and so were we. When she died I was relieved and then went to work and got distracted. On Good Friday, I finally began feeling very sad and missing her, and feeling too exhausted to carry on these traditons. Worst of all is the guilt! Seeing how hard it is to do all of this, and knowing I was not very available to help her.  She wasn’t good at asking for help. Complicated.

But guess what? Easter was delicious! Alleluia!!  The house smelled like it always does on Easter.  I am sad leading up to the holidays – knowing how the absence of loved ones is so very present, but then people – the living people show up – and we laugh! We pick on each other as only family can, no one cares that i cuss (okay – maybe they care – but they love me anyway)! We talk about the dead, and we talk about the living! We connect, we eat, we all stare at the new baby, the new life, we live! Complicated!

This year was good. Not perfect – I used too much rice in the Golumpki –  but good. It’s a big deal making the Golumpki.  I am a novice, and I knew I used too much rice.  Funny – I said it a few times, and everyone said they were good, dismissing my self-criticisms. After the extended family left, I asked my husband – my soul-mate of forever, “How were the Golumpki’s?” He said, “Good.”  I said, Good? But?” He said, “There was too much rice.”  I was so thrilled.  Complicated.

We truly do have to get through Good Friday to appreciate Easter. For me it is mind boggling that I can’t quite get it that the thinking about doing is always, always, always, always worse than the actual doing! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not where I want to be with this lesson, but I’m not where I used to be either.  I do have this voice that tells me the thinking about doing is always worse than the doing. I then go through the self lecture, “stay right here in this moment – don’t go into the future. Nothing is wrong right here – right now – what are you really feeling – Okay – you are sad or tired or frustrated.  Just be sad or tired or frustrated, but still get into that store and get what is on the list!” Leading up to the holiday is tough, thinking about it, letting my mind control me.  However, actually filling the house with smells (that can be bittersweet, but yummy all the same), filling the house with family, filling the house with inside jokes, filling the hosue with connections – – this is the easy part, the yummy part.

The feast is the Easter Sunday part; the part that makes getting through the darkness of Good Friday totally worth it. I have this sense tonight that we all continue to grow, and evolve, and learn, and maybe even relax a bit.  It was good, really, really good. I held to some traditions, and I broke others.  We assembled a mere community Easter Basket instead of several individual ones  costing hundreds of dollars.  Although I said several times when cooking, “I don’t know if I am making enough. It is going to be a good crowd this year.” I didn’t overdo.  Rather than feeling guilty about being different from my mom in some ways – maybe I can see this as a lesson learned from her – no guilt – no intense feelings – just that – a lesson learned.  And let’s face it – who wouldn’t want to teach the next generation lessons. Complicated.



Holy Thursday. . .

Lent is coming to an end.   I was raised Catholic, and I have been blessed to change my views of church and God and Spirit at different times in my life.  Mostly I’ve been blessed to have spiritual supporters who accept me with whatever concept of God I choose today.  I’m not a weekly participant at the Church of my childhood these days, but I am also not angry or resentful about it; I respect its believers and many of the rituals – especially Lent.

When I was living in Utah I was very much involved with the Catholic Church as I belonged to a progressive, supportive parish on the campus of the U of U.  One Lent, when I was an undergrad at the U, I decided to give up make-up for Lent. The gal I was sharing this with reminded my that God didn’t want us to look like we were suffering during Lent – she pointed me to Matthew 6 (http://www.esvbible.org/Matthew+6/) in which Jesus instructs us not to be hypocrites and talk about how difficult this fasting and alms-giving is.  Jesus instructs us not to pray in front of everyone like a martyr but to go to an inner room and pray privately.  Her point was – that I shouldn’t want to “look bad” in order to praise God.  As we talked through this – my giving up make-up was more about giving time and service (and maybe even money) to things that were not about my physical appearance.  So I stopped – for about 15 years!

Life is so very much like Lent!  I mean entering that darkness and silence is so quiet, so peaceful, so different than what we usually do.  For me, it isn’t about not eating meat, it is about why we fast, give-up, and give more.  Each time I sacrifice, I am reminded to make peace with that which makes me uncomfortable.  If you are Catholic – it reminds us that Jesus was pretty uncomfortable for us.

More existentially though – it helped me practice darkness. When my spiritual quest took me to the Buddhist meditation cushion, I was reminded again about being at peace in all conditions. Although this time I wasn’t really being asked to fast (until I visited a monastery for 4 days), I was being asked to sit.  Most faith traditions have a contemplative prayer practice, but the Theravada Buddhists just spoke to me with their simplicity.  Just sit. Just breathe.  Just do this for 5 minutes! Ha! Five minutes seemed an eternity.  I actually began sitting on our sofa while the morning coffee brewed – this was about 3.78 minutes (but who’s counting). During this time I was a Buddhist/Catholic (I guess I still am); carrying principles of breathe, silence and mantra, and including the Holy Spirit into the mantras.

As I began sitting for longer periods, I needed the advice of those who went before me, so I began listening to Dhamma (teacher) talks. The one that sits in the back of my mind is one entitled “Making Friendliness with all Conditions.”  This talk was about sitting on the cushion and watching your mind tell you not to sit there!

I sit and try to just be right there, but what happens? My mind starts thinking about answering the email for work, or worrying about my daughter not doing her homework, and then failing, and then not graduating, and then not going to college, and then never leaving our home, and then people judging me for not being a good parent, and then, and then, and then, and then.  When I return to the breathe and bring it back into my living room, I am just breathing, and my daughter is just sleeping. No one is failing, no one is judging. If I had stood up and checked my work email when that first thought came to me I could have stopped all those other thoughts.  But then I wouldn’t have ever learned how that mind of mine is really out to torture me when I don’t just sit and watch it for what it is.

Watching it allows me to get to the point of me being judged – which really causes the heart to race and the sweat to start – it has very little to do with my daughters’ brief (doesn’t feel brief when you are sitting next to it) stage of adolescence. Making friendliness means that if I learn to sit on the cushion and just be comfortable with the thoughts, with the silence, with the uncomfortableness, that I can take this into life.

So when I am in the hospital holding the hand of a loved one, and my mind begins taking me to the future of planning a funeral and who I should call, and to the past of pointing out my inadequacies about not doing enough loving deeds and feeling guilty – I know this is just my mind.  All I am doing is holding the hand of a loved one who is dying. I am present. It is difficult. I am making friendliness with this difficulty. I can sit here in this present and not break and not explode.  I am able to be with the awesome present moment knowing that Lent ends and we experience the Sunlight and Resurrection that is Jesus.


Saying yes to life. . .

The Thing Is. . .

To love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
― Ellen Bass

I really am not sitting around ringing my hands, going through old pictures of loved ones who have passed, reading depressing poetry, and otherwise looking like an old haggard lady.  Yesterday I write about death, grief.  Today I post a poem about suffering.  BUT – in the poem and in the post we say “Yes to life!”

I’m wondering if some of you think I am stuck grieving? Or feeling sorry for myself?  The thing is I think for a whole bunch of years I had a pretty charmed life.  I actually had a pretty horrific young life, and a dangerous adolescence, but in my mid-twenties, I started “living right.”  I got in with a group of folks who were also “living right,” and this is when the charmed life began.  I married my soul-mate, had two lovely children, lived with my mom to help her avoid financial difficulties, she helped parent my kids, we had gardens, we had a wealth of friends, good health, employment.

Unfortunately I began believing that as long as I am living right bad things won’t/don’t happen.  Delusional?  Defense mechanisms? Humanbeingism? When I began suffering with all this loss and grief, I was living a life that didn’t allow for much “numbing.” So I was feeling everything – I was absolutely not in control – paradigms were shifting all around me – I was full of fear – and I was feeling everything.

I thought if I just prayed enough, or tended to others enough, or was honest enough, or was good enough, or surrendered enough, or let go enough,. . . that it wouldn’t hurt so bad.   I didn’t know that many human beings approaching 50, raising teens, losing loved ones – hurt so bad too.  Everyone else just looked like they were reading (or writing) the rule book on life, and to me it was all Greek (which I don’t understand).

My head knows all the right sayings – “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”  or “Let go and Let God.”  I knew all of this stuff intellectually, but none of it stopped the hurting.  In fact it was really enough to drive me mad, because I KNEW IT and yet it didn’t work!  At least not in the magic wand sort of way.

Somewhere along the journey, I got the message that it was easy to suffer, that deep meaningful writing and art came from suffering.  That suffering builds character and makes us interesting characters. It does.  . .eventually. Suffering can really only be treated by going through it. I can’t pray it away, I can’t work it away, I can’t gamble it away or drink it away or sex it away or buy it away.  Well – I could, but it all of these things would ultimately create more suffering. What I can do is say yes to life.  And learn how to say no often!  Suffering finally helped me to tear away the formalities in life – saying yes to obligatory parties and commitments.  Suffering taught me to preserve my energy, and to choose carefully where I expended that energy.  Suffering taught me not to feel guilty about not writing a thank you card or forgetting a birthday. Suffering taught me how to say shocking things for the pure sake of shocking people.  Suffering also taught me to laugh, and laugh and laugh.  Mostly at really irreverent things.  Suffering taught me not to be afraid to say irreverent things – especially if it makes people laugh.

People think I am pretty messed up for some of the things I say.  Someone will say, “My sister and I went to the movies yesterday.”  And I will say, “That’s nice – my only sister is dead.”  Someone will mention their family coming in for the holiday, and I will say, “Most of my family died over the last 2-1/2 years.” No one quite knows how to act when I say that.  To be honest – I’m just saying it.  Saying it doesn’t make it any more or less true.  Saying it just puts it out there.  One could argue that I say it because misery loves company. But I will argue that I am not really miserable.  In fact, most often when I answer the phone or run into someone the thing that happens is we laugh.  I think I say it because I want you to know that I have suffered and am still standing. I am still here saying difficult things, saying ridiculously stupid things, saying poignant things, saying important things, saying useless things.  I’m still here, and I’ve started writing a BLOG!!!!


“People are oft…

“People are often at their best when they are at their worst.” from the journals of J. Stilling – written while caring for her dying sister.

My first blog – and I’ve decided to quote myself!   I can’t believe my sister died on April 15th, 2010 – the images are still etched into my brain as if it were just last night.  My mom died just 5 months ago, and I can barely remember those scenes, but Terrie’s life, illness, and death are clearly imbedded into my consciousness as unique as dental records.   Perhaps the brain can only hold so much death.  After all – my brother died between those two deaths.

Was I at my best when these loved ones were dying?  Of course.  Do I feel this way all the time?  No!  I often feel guilty or shallow, or self-centered or lost or dark or empty.  But I am 100% certain that I was the best I could be in those moments considering the circumstances.

The above quote is more about the people I watched die – especially Theresa Marie Stilling born March 7, 1957 – my only sister.  My older sister by 7 years.  Not that the others didn’t die with tremendous grace and dignity, but my sister’s death (and life) hooked me in.  I was there – on the firing lines.  I was there for the others, but my brain won’t let me keep those scenes in the same way. Maybe Terrie’s death was just too big, or maybe I am still sorting through the lessons of that one to make room for the others or maybe this is simply where I am on this snowy morning in March!

My sister’s illness came on so suddenly and in the midst of an already heavy phase of life.  Her son was in the throes of addiction, and that alone was infiltrating every aspect of her life and of our relationship.  In fact the morning I received the call that she was admitted to the hospital – I refused the call.

It was in June of 2009 and I was with a meditation group about to enter the silence of a 30 minute meditation.  I saw the number and turned my phone off thinking it was some drama about my nephew.  An hour later, I heard the words “Leukemia Blasts” in the blood.  I was worried – since I do that so well, but I had no idea the nightmare that was to follow.

I guess this blog is about that today.  The fact that 3 years later I still have these memories. That 3 years later I have not only buried my sister, but my brother, and my mother, and I am still here – being my best self.  That 3 years later I am working, tending to a marriage, raising teen girls, working, praying, cleaning the house, working, reaching out to others, tending to friendships, working, stressing, dealing with menopause, working through anxiety, working, meditating, talking, accepting I’m a workaholic, and now writing.


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