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Death and Taxes

I wrote this entry a year ago.  I wanted to write another for today, but I thought instead, I’l just repost.  Writing is a wonderful way to chronicle the feelings of our past; we can relive them. Writing keeps our memories alive.  I continue to change and grow through this loss – through this grief.  I continue to live in the “now,” and try to live fully by not fearing sickness and death.  It’s a journey – one in which I will certainly continue experiencing loss. But for today – I repost the past, and hold in my heart my sister, Terrie. Caring for Terrie changed my life drastically.  Dang I miss her!


Today is April 15th – Tax Day.  It is also the day my only sister died at age 53 after battling Leukemia for a year; a battle she was absolutely positive she was going to win! The entire time I wanted to shake her and tell her to realize she may die, that she should take this seriously, that she should follow instructions. I would call people crying hysterically – I was so afraid she was going to die.  The wise friends would respond,”Of course she is going to die; we are all going to die.”

What good would it have done to have made her talk to me about dying, about her death, about the arrangements.  Sometimes I thought she was amazingly optimistic, and at other times I thought she was purely delusional. I was her caretaker, I got so close to her, so close that I started referring to her as “we” when saying things like, “we really did great today in physical therapy,” or “we need to eat more to gain our strength!” It became a joke between us; an inside joke.

It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done – caring for my sister day in and a day out during her illness  I was there to talk with the docs, to fill in the family, I was there to wipe her nose and her butt, I was there to hold her hand while she was in a coma, and to watch her eyes open when she regained consciousness.  I had a role, a job, a place in life. It was exhausting and difficult, and sorrowful, and yet it could be the most blissful experience as well.  Feeling just for one moment that I had comforted, made the right medical decision, impressed someone with my medical vocabulary (the docs would say, “Do you work in the medical field?” I would respond, “No, but I’m here everyday!”

One day when Terrie was recently out of a coma, she asked me, What time is it?”  I said, ” 3 o’clock.” She exclaimed, “In the morning?” I said, “No silly, in the afternoon.” This was the same day it took me 20 minutes to get her situated in bed after sitting up for a few brief moments.  At one point I was huffing and puffing and bent down very close to her face and she looked into my eyes and said, “Please don’t leave. You being here makes it bearable.” I don’t know if I ever told anyone she said that. . . until now. When friends and family and loved ones would tell me I had to back off and take care of myself and get some rest – I could see Terrie’s beautiful blue eyes staring at me and saying, “You make it bearable.”

It’s been 3 years, and my problem is I still have expectations of how it should or shouldn’t feel. I realized today how tired I am and how today – the anniversary day – brings back that feeling of walking through cotton wool.  I can’t remember words as I am in mid-sentence.  I read a text but forget to ever respond to it. I forget to pay bills. I sometimes forget what year it is. I am stuck in 2010 – I write this year more often than not on checks, etc. I think the phrase should be “grief induced ADD.”

And today there were bombs in Boston. What right do I have to be sad? She was 53. It was Leukemia. There are worse things. And this – this comparing – this ability to put things (pain, death, loss, terror) into compartments as if they are knick knacks in a shadow box – is how I survive. I know that it is okay to be sad today, but I can’t just be sad. I have to get up and go to work and act, and wonder what it would have been like to just stay home, to just be sad, to not have to make it bearable for anyone anymore. To just let go, just fall apart.

I wanted to write something here today, but instead I was falling asleep in the living room when I forced myself to grab the computer and write.  I force myself to write as if writing this is so damned important. As if writing makes my feelings real or valid or . . .heard.  You see I only let myself cry silently tucked away – not in front of the kids or my husband or friends – but just tucked away. As if my grief would be unbearable to you.

Today – I googled my dad’s name because I forgot his death date.  What appeared were the listings of the obituaries from my mom (78), October 17, 2012, my brother (56), January 18, 2012, my sister (53), April 15, 2010, and finally my dad, April 24, 2007.

I still have a brother – he is the oldest – I am the youngest, we are close even though we live 2000 miles apart.  I emailed him today, “Thinking of you today. . .tax day and all.  Peace.”  He knows what I mean. There are so many songs, and jokes, and history that I want to pick up the phone to ask my sister.  And what will I do when the next death comes? We are all going to die, but God I could use a break from the complete exhaustion that grief brings to me.  I’ve tried to act, and go on, and run, and work, but still the grief exhausts me. The grief isolates me. Going to events with lots of happy people just seems like it would zap any energy I may have right from me.  Each decision to go to a social event or visit a friend is weighed in a meticulous way that once upon a time wouldn’t have been a second thought. Grief is heavy.

So I write, and writing brings me acceptance. Writing makes the comparisons and fitting into compartments sound useless.  Writing seems to be a comfort, it seems to make this bearable. I read the obituaries that popped up – it was a lot to read. It is a lot of grief. I cried, and then I wrote, and now I will sleep.  My taxes are paid, and tomorrow I go to work, and maybe even run or cook a meal. I don’t know what is to come – that is good – and terrifying.




Daily Ground – – -January 16th

To truly listen is to risk being changed forever. “ Sa’k’ej Henderson

Truly listening is a skill.  I love to talk, but that does not mean I haven’t learned to listen.  I remember the days when I was afraid to be changed by human connection – when I couldn’t truly listen.  I would appear to be listening, but I was trying to figure out what you were going to say so I could have some profound response.  Driven by fear before I could be changed by connection.

A few years ago,  I attended a 4 day silent retreat. Some people were incredulous learning I was going – either remarking how they could never do this, or offering their opinions of how I couldn’t do it. It was pure gift. It makes one realize how often we use language to distract us. I would see someone, and want to say, “I love your hair, yoga pants, energy, etc.” Because it was a silent retreat, I was left with myself to ponder, “What is the importance of saying that?  To make others feel good? Is that my job? To make others like me? Am I really worried about that? ” This isn’t to say any of this is bad or good. What the silence provided was a slowing down of the automatic pilot that is usually in control. It put a stop to simply being driven to speak, and allowed me to discern.

The art of listening is becoming rare in the digital age.  I cannot pretend to be truly listening if I am checking my phone, or surfing the web.  Today, I will be open to being changed by truly listening. . .to you. . .to myself. . .to God. . .to whomever is in front of me.


Long, lazy, summer days

Last June, my husband, two teen girls, and I discovered a small, sleepy beach town on Florida’s Atlantic coast.  Last week we visited there again. I usually plan an adventure over the winter and we go somewhere different each year, but this winter I didn’t have the energy, so we went with the sure bet.

We drive from Maryland.  How does that sound? Most people gasp when I say this.  I love it.  I love being enclosed in a minivan with my family; moving speedily down the highway while at the same time weighed down by the space in the vehicle. This is where the groundedness of vacation begins for me.  The slowing down.

I often have a difficult time going on vacation.  Throwing off the structure and routine scares me.  It helped knowing what I was getting into this year – knowing where we were heading. It is beautiful; the condo is right on the beach.  The first full day, I was on the balcony with my husband and feeling as if it were just too much trouble going down to the beach.  I was grounded to the point of being heavy, slow moving, like a sloth. So I sat on the balcony searching for the dolphins in the ocean before me.

Without the distractions of work and house – I am forced (or I chose) to see.  I see that for the first time, I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to perform. I am that person who was always running, working, cleaning, planning, talking, partying. Even on vacation – I had to keep busy.  But now – I’m ready – I’m ready to just be.  (See what I did there? I have to get ready to simply be!) And yet I can’t throw off the pangs of guilt that creep in – the guilt that is always about comparing my insides to others’ outsides.

Even the waiter at our favorite restaurant at the beach asked what we had done – water taxi, para sailing, National Seashore? “Uh, no, no, and no.”  We didn’t do anything.  We went to this awesome used book store and bought 10 pounds of books.  We read, we sat on the beach, we swam, we played Scrabble and Phase 10, and we slept.  And I watched baseball.

It was Tuesday before I became grateful for the heaviness, the sloth like body that I took on.  It was Wednesday before I  stopped comparing. It was Thursday when I realized that if I had written a story about my future – what kind of family I thought I wanted – it would not have been the one I have.  I would have written all kinds of things about money, and success, and the Caribbean, and parasailing. It would not have included used book stores and teens that sleep until 1:30.  I would have been selling myself short. I have the most incredible family; the perfect family . . . for me.  Especially now – in this moment – in this year of my turning 50 and the girls being 14 and 17 and Jeff loving and accepting us with his whole heart and soul.

Especially now – as I let go of past and future expectations. Especially now that I begin not caring what others want and expect from me. Especially now that I have lived long enough and been brave enough to look beyond the surface into the darkness to see what was driving me and and pushing me to do, do, do instead of be, be, be. Especially now as I am in that uncertain time of life where we stand on the bridge between having children and launching young adults.  Especially now as I experience both the  sadness of knowing this moment is fleeting and the excitement of knowing this moment is fleeting. Soon – it will be Jeff and I in the car alone traveling – how wonderful . . .and how sad.

Next year – we may stay for two weeks. Peace.

Rainbow without rain

Running Away – Want to go?

I am a runner – although I rarely call myself one – I make excuses why I’m not really a runner.  I’m wimpy, I don’t LOVE it (except when I do), I have only ever run 6 miles, sometimes I walk.  But one thing I am usually pretty good at is running away from my feelings.  But they catch up to me and I am one big ball of snot and tears, and I can’t figure out why I’m crying.

Today is that day. It’s Tuesday at noon and I am in bed.  My head is killing me and I spent 2 unproductive hours running around work trying not to cry.  I eventually came home. I work in a school, and I really don’t like the students or other visitors to see me crying so I usually stay in my office.  My colleagues there – I’m not so worried about, because I’m certain they have felt like crying before.  Adults get it – – – except some of them don’t!

Once  a few years ago I was crying in my office (away from students) about 3 days after my brother (who was only in his 50’s) died suddenly.  A colleague/friend was with me, and an adult walked in the room and said, “What’s the matter!?!?”  I said, “My brother died.”  She said, “Oh my God, your other brother?” As if, after 3 days, I shouldn’t be crying over this loss.

This sadness today has been brewing. But I have been too stubborn to simply sit and let it steep.  Nooooo, I had to keep running.  Sunday I was headed to a spiritual gathering.  I was so heavy with sadness, and I started thinking how peaceful and joyous I felt just a week ago. So I start with the bad talk, “What is your problem? Look around at the beautiful tress, and feel the breeze.  There is nothing wrong – stop feeling like this!”  It’s been brewing.

I started leaking yesterday, but today was full force!  The worse thing is – I tried to work. Things got complicated. I began crying, and the person I was with said, “Are you still in therapy?”  I really just wanted to scream!  There is so much to be sad about that I think people who don’t cry are the ones who are unstable! Granted – if we all went around crying all the time – that wouldn’t be good, but most folks know I’ve had multiple losses in the past year or two, so crying is the norm – – -sometimes.

I did receive a blessing. My boss needed something from me as I was leaking. She came in my office and asked if I was okay.  I shook my head.  She asked, “Is there anything I can do?” Again, I shook my head, but this time I said, “I just wish I could keep it together!”  She gave me a hug and said, “You keep it together 99% of the time. Why don’t you just go home and fall apart.  I’ll see you tomorrow” I didn’t even have to make up some problem or explain – she didn’t judge me on my falling apart – she actually judged me on the whole shebang! The whole kit and caboodle (is any of that spelled right?). Falling apart is simply a moment – it does not define me.

I’m not good at this coming home to fall apart.  I am actually all cried out, and my head hurts so I will try to sleep.  But writing helps.  It gets it out, and I am hoping that someone reading this someday will simply let themselves fall apart.  Fall apart – for God sakes.  Just do it.  If you are too afraid to fall apart – borrow my faith! You must have the faith to know you will be back together again soon – laughing, enjoying the sunshine, and feeling the breeze.  So go fall apart, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

And – if you aren’t the one who needs to fall apart, but you are in the presence of someone who does – PLEASE, PLEASE just let them! It is a gift that cannot be repaid. It is God working through you.


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