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Archive for the tag “Grief”

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.

Peace.

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Freedom in the popularity of Mindfulness

When I was first exposed to mindfulness practice it was Buddhist in nature.  Theravada Buddhism to be exact; as there  are many different traditions in Buddhism.  As someone who was raised Catholic, I felt I had a choice to make, and working in a Catholic school I felt I needed to be careful how I spoke about my new practice (not that you have to be Catholic to work in  a Catholic school). Even though my Buddhist mentor consistently advised me that there was no need to choose, I was rigid and content on doing this right!

I eventually had a group of likeminded people coming to my house on Sunday mornings to “sit.” Sitting involved just that – sitting. We would sit and meditate mindfully for 20 – 40 minutes. We would then break for tea or coffee and return to listen to a Dharma (teacher) talk for another hour or so. It was. . .enlightening. Unfortunately, I never let go of my struggle of choosing.

In 2009, my sister was diagnosed with Leukemia, and the next couple of years were filled with her extreme illness, and eventually her death, and the illness and death of other people in my family of origin.  I was busy planning Catholic funerals and had lost the ability to “sit.”  My sister actually said at one point in her illness that she didn’t really want a Catholic funeral, but this was early on, and I could never really get her to engage in actual plans of her passing (she really thought it wasn’t going to kill her). So I did what any good Catholic daughter would have done – I planned a Catholic funeral knowing this is what our mom needed.  I have said often that I love the way Catholics do death.  There is hope and peace present in a Catholic funeral.

I finally felt the veil of grief lift slightly in the late summer of 2013. The intense waves finally subsided to dull pangs. I once again was called to “sit.”  Death and life does something to you (if you are lucky); there are lessons in all of it. I wasn’t so rigid anymore. I didn’t feel called to one particular Tradition. In fact I discovered American Buddhism and a Mindfulness Practice that had gained much popularity since I had last practiced. These practices were less spiritual – more psychological.  I didn’t feel defensive, upset, or rigid about it.

Once again on Sundays, a group of folks gathers at my home to “sit.” Some are Christians, some are Buddhists, some simply know there is a God and they aren’t it. We all believe that slowing down, creating space between our feelings and others’ feelings,  and not taking things so personally helps us grow emotionally and spiritually.

Even though I am not suffering from the intense waves of grief, sitting is not easy.  Life is still difficult, so sitting with it can be difficult too. Even though it’s difficult, I’m surprised to hear people say they can’t do it. It is just sitting. Mindful sitting, however, allows me to watch my thoughts. In watching my thoughts I see the vulnerabilities in me and how they can be stirred by people I encounter in my life. When this happens I become angry, sad, proud, frustrated, etc. My first reaction is to blame the person that stirred me, but in sitting, I see it is me being stirred. By sitting and seeing this mindfully, I can usually stop acting out in the ways I used to.

After all of these years, I still don’t do it right, but I now know that doing it right isn’t at all the point.  Doing it is the point. That is progress. Living mindfully brings peace to myself. . .and to those I encounter.  I’m still Catholic although I do enjoy going on silent Buddhist retreats.  I think Jesus would be a big fan of mindfulness.

Peace.

Cartoon Amazing Race to Enlightenment

Daily Ground – – -January 18

“If you haven’t yet, you will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”– Anne Lamott

My brother died 2 years ago today.  It was sudden. He was young. They say the first year after a loss is the most difficult, but after losing four of the six people in my family of origin within about 5 years, I’d say it just gets different. I haven’t found it gets eaiser. The first year it’s difficult to function and I find myself displaying misdirected anger at innocent folks in front  of me. It was difficult to sit still and just hurt for the pain felt as if it would kill me, so I ran in some robotic fashion that kept me at a safe distance from any real feeling.

The second year – I stop running so fast. This allows the pain to come.  Because of the distance from the wound, the pain doesn’t feel like it will kill me. It’s more the numbness of a migraine that subsides enough so you can finally open your eyes in the light. The dull pain is nagging, but you can sit upright and feed yourself. The missing – that is what gets worse.  The gnawing – that longing that something is missing.  Yup that’s the limp you learn to dance with.

Peace.

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