Learnings through grief

When I was given the news that Mom’s condition has worsened quickly and her organs are shutting down as marbling process has begun, I fell into a whole host of emotions.

It’s an unimaginable sadness for her condition. Shocked over how quickly she had degraded since I was out there in July.

Anger & frustration because I cannot do anything from 16 hours away.

Remorseful for being such an asshat in childhood.

Guilt ridden that your Aunt has had to support and comfort mom in these worst days without me there to give her relief

Fearful that because this is hereditary our children will have to experience this very same thing

Really sad that there’s no cure for LBD and this couldn’t have been reversed

Hopeful mom’s suffering is short.

You weren’t aware of the pain I was processing while my mother was in her last days, as I try to shield you from most of the unnecessary burdens to keep you on your own path. You should never shoulder the pain of mine.

I had those who reached out to offer solace and comfort as I processed. My good friend offered these words,

“…our challenges are but learning opportunities. Sometimes we cannot make it right with that person but we can make it right going forward taking what we have learned.”

I share that opinion. And I searched for the learning. From the hospice website, it instructs to try to be a calming presence while the loved one is dying. Sharing memories and playing their favorite music because they can still hear.

I sent as many songs as I could think of for your Aunt to play softly to our mother. I played them myself and a whole flood of memories came back. A lot of these songs reminded me of the times we grooved and bopped along while spring cleaning. Or the summers sunbathing and planting marigolds, bachelor buttons and zinnias in the back yard.

This lead to extended memories while your Aunt and I were young and we’d spend days watching shows together with mom. Teaching us yoga in the living room, laughing along with the Galloping Gourmet and the game shows, or watching soaps, Phil Donahue and Oprah.

My best memories were the little moments.

But the larger learnings were those times when I would fall short of strength or courage and in her toughness she’d inspect the situation and declare, “Oh, you’ll live.”

She encouraged independence and self reliance, through her own example of complete dependence. As a cautionary tale, we knew she wanted more for us than she allowed herself.

And although she and I had a rocky relationship as I grew older, I often wished our relationship was as close as the mother-daughter bonds a lot of my friends had with their own mothers.

My take-away from all of this is that we may not get the mother we hoped we had, but the one we were intended to have to make us who we are today.

For that I am grateful, I am independent and self reliant. I strive to be attentive and ever present for you.

I know both you and your father feel I do things with so much extra effort that you deem may be over the top and over-extend myself for others needlessly; but you see, I am taking what I have learned and striving to be better with the time I have been given.

On Fearing the End

My mother tearfully told my sister she knows she is dying and she feels that it’s too soon and she doesn’t want to leave us.

I agree, it is too soon. But unless someone comes up with a miracle cure for dementia with Lewey Bodies, it is what it is.

I feel as though she is being given a powerful lesson on the gift of life. It is not to be wasted. I can only feel extreme sorrow for her situation.

As I read the Qu’ran this year as part of my annual reading challenge; I’ve come to understand that this is as prescribed for her. It states that we will all come to know the hour of our death when it is time. And God will reveal our destiny based on our deeds.

I’m eager to give her some comfort in knowing that her destiny lies ahead after her death and all of this suffering, the blindness, her hallucinations, her inability to find balance while mobile, her loss of memory are part of this journey and will be nothing but a relief when the end arrives.

Logically, it is something on which to look forward. Shedding this suffering for peace. Joining those who’ve departed before her.

Personally, I’m now looking forward to being able to shed my attachment to this material existence just after reading what I have so far from this book which offers so much comfort and something more concrete than the holy texts before it.

The problem I have is that now that she’s in a nursing home I cannot find the pocket of time to convey what I feel might bring her comfort and hope. Being so far away makes it difficult because when I can call, no one picks up or she is asleep.

So I’ve chosen to send flowers with messages of comfort every month with the hope that these messages will be read to her and bring her some peace.

I wish that someone could visit with here in a therapeutic capacity to help her process her feelings. Ease her fears and help her cope. I trusted that my sister would arrange for that level of care but she also is in need of assistance to process what is happening and cope with the stresses of this situation.

I pray that my sister finds the strength to ask for help instead of believing she must go at this alone.

Why I Study Religion

As a child, I had a series of recurring nightmares which began always in a similar manner. I could feel myself sinking in a tunneled blackness and I knew it was about to begin. The vision of this man whose face was splitting apart endlessly. He smiles as it happens; but it was so horrifying to me as a youngster. It seemed like he was right there in my room.

I would scream and scream and my Mom would rush in; turn on the light and he would be gone. As soon as the light went out, he would reappear and his face would continue to peel open revealing face after face. Smiling at me.

This occurred night after night. Quite a stressor for a 5 year old.

At some point my mother convinced me that he was not real and the dreams discontinued toward other recurring dreams fueled by the normal stressors most go through. Teeth falling out, falling from some endless height, the deaf and blind girl being mowed down by rolling logs in the darkness…The usual.

I didn’t really connect the first dream to anything spiritual until now. You see, I follow the work of Takashi Murakami on Instagram and he was doing a tribute to the statue of Hoshi Washo and I immediately recognized the statue as the figure in those recurring dreams of my youth.

It is so strange that it has come up now. But I think it is part of my quest.

When I was born, my parents had me baptized in the Roman Catholic tradition. Although, I was not immediately raised in that faith. We hopped from church to church. Unitarian, Lutheran and some neighbors who were Southern Baptists were adamant, that I needed to be “saved” and I was baptized in a backyard service in their peanut shaped above ground pool.

By third grade, my mother decided that the public school’s open classroom curriculum was doing no service to my attention deficit tendencies so I was enrolled in a private Catholic school. From there, I learned more about the Roman Catholic faith from grades 3-12.

During my last year in high school, I had a comparative religions course for one semester where we were tasked with attending services and reading texts of other faiths to compare and contrast with Catholicism. I chose to read ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran and my foundation of understanding was blown apart.  In a very good way.

I became fascinated by world beliefs from that point.

I chose to attend a private Presbyterian College after high school which had a diverse international student body. Exposing me to a variety of cultures and belief systems.

By far, my best decision in life was attending that college.

While visiting family on a holiday break my freshman year, I had another dream experience where I was in the blackness and in the distance a man in robes was approaching me. I knew in that moment I was meeting who I believed to be Jesus and I figured it was my time. I begged, pleaded and bargained for extra time to make more out of this life if I was given the time. He nodded and walked away and I awoke with a start.

In the back of my mind I have always believed that there is one God, one life creating force which ties us together. Every living thing — great and small.

It breaks my heart to hear the single minded, speak in the manner that they do about how their faith is the true faith and everyone else is wrong.

I simply cannot accept that.

What I can believe is that we were given a message from a variety of prophets all over the world and how we interpreted it over the centuries is what fractioned us unto the various believers we are today.

I love Paul Thorn’s song regarding faith, “You Might Be Wrong” (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IFRM4oJwLdc
) which is why I continue to study.

Every year, I make it a point on my annual reading challenge to find books which explore and explain faiths of various cultures.

In my journey through this beautiful life, I have met people who are the closest to the ideal of what it is to be the embodiment of God’s message and not every one of them are of one particular faith. I’m in awe of them.

Some much closer than others. Because of that, I feel more certain that all who walk this earth are bound by one.

Now, I must reveal who Hoshi Washo represents and why now I should have not feared this face peeling spectre of my dreams.

This statue shows/represents the moment a monk reaches enlightenment. More specifically, in Japan, this is commonly referred to as the incarnation of Kannon (aka Guanyin aka Avalokitesvara). Kannon, as the stories tell, was actually a monk before he achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha.

So, I believe that I was being shown my path or rather, my purpose.

No, not to become a Buddha; but to pursue enlightenment. I think we are all called to be better versions of our prior selves and the peeling I witnessed was the act of discarding my old ways for better ways.

Heavy, no? I’m choosing to believe my course is to truth and I will forever be a student of faith and self actualization.

 

Losing Track of Your Whys

In my years on this big blue marble, I have found it most difficult to be a comfort to those grieving a tremendous loss.

I’ve experienced great sadness over the loss of dear friends, family members and I’ve been witness to those experiencing losses far greater than I can fathom.

In high school, a classmate was killed by a drunk driver and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So I said what most say in their deepest sadness– “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It seemed a thin sentiment, because at the time, I couldn’t sense how profoundly losing someone you love can leave a chasm of emptiness and suffocating pain. And that grief would be ever present.

As the years went on and I journeyed through life, I had my share of grief personally. But before that, I experienced the helplessness of watching a friend process the loss of a beloved parent.

Nothing prepares a friend to be a support for that. Your heart breaks for them as they go through the five stages. It’s a dangerous time for some because they can lose their why.

No, that last statement wasn’t a word choice mistake. I really did mean why and not way. Although losing your why leads to losing your way in life.

You see, our why is our inner sense of purpose. What is our reason for being here? How is it we are here in this path we walk? That’s actually an opening to a song by the Moody Blues. (ref.: A Question of Balance) Though I digress… just check it out sometime. It’s a beautifully thoughtful song.

Sometimes the upending loss can make one question: “What’s the point of even being here? Why go on?”

They can begin a path of self destruction to deaden their pain or support their reasoning when they reach that depth of grief.

As a friend to someone who reaches that point, you can be their support best through carefully listening as they process this pain and help them find their path back towards their purpose by patiently employing a gentle Socratic method of questioning to lead them back to their whys.

Everyone has whys. They push them aside or forget about them in the noise that is the grief and sadness.

I learned most about this from the writings of Viktor Frankl– a holocaust survivor who was intent on studying those who survived the concentration camps and how they carried on. His findings further developed approaches to helping people contemplating suicide find their inner purpose. (ref.: Man’s Search For Meaning)

I can tell you I lost my whys a couple of times throughout my life. On 9/11 for example, I sat there for hours at my desk realizing nothing mattered. You were my why in that moment.

Later, I lost my whys when I realized I was grieving over love lost and paralyzed with fear after the heart attack and turned to self medication in the form of alcohol and danced ever so close to succumbing to the disease. You saw that and it really took a lot to bring me back. But I had to find my whys again. It was a little harder because you were older and my reasoning was stronger that you’re best off without me.

Through counseling and will, I was able to ask myself the questions to get me back to a personal sense of purpose.

Questions which really helped me comfort and guide when I was needed:

  • Who is left behind who still needs your care and love?
  • What impacts have you had on others so far?
  • What have you wanted to do that you haven’t already?
  • What do you think the person you’ve lost would advise you to do in this moment?
  • If it was reversed and they were here and you weren’t how would you hope that they cope?
  • What brings you happiness, joy and/or peace?
  • What are the ways to bring meaning of the lost one’s impact on you in your daily life?

Notice that none of these are yes/no sorts of questions. Always keep them open and encourage the sorting out of their feelings and thoughts.

Most importantly, be there for them and assure them of your love and support through it all.

Hard to Fight But Scared To Give Up

I have shitty veins. They break, I bruise and most times, it’s nothing. Occasionally it is something.

Something that should have killed me.

Those times I was in the hospital and stents were placed.

Recently, I’ve become more exhausted than usual and moderate to light activity causes chest, and limb pain. Sometimes a headache or neck pain.

The two smallest toes on my left foot are mostly numb. It’s a weird feeling.

I believe I may have Peripheral Artery Disease in addition to the Coronary Artery Disease tiara I wear currently.

I brought it on myself. I don’t exercise regularly, if at all. I have a sedentary job. I have a horrible past of eating like crap and weight has always been a problem for me. Smoking too.

I can talk the big talk by saying that no matter what, I won’t fight another episode; but, frankly speaking, I’m sad and afraid to allow my life to end. This is painful.

Yet the current state of my life, with the stressors of my job and family…I kinda do want a clean out.

I know! I just got done watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the second time this season and I cried as always knowing that life is a gift not to be thrown away.

It’s a pity I did whatever the hell I wanted while young with no second thought to the damage I was doing down the road.

I’ve read the articles on reversing heart disease and I do eat a mostly vegetarian diet. My daily fats don’t include butter (unless it’s nut butter) and I eat high fiber foods for breakfast and lunch and add it to our dinner with lean meats or a vegetarian option.

And yet here I am. My left leg numb and stinging after light activity, eating nitroglycerin like tic tacs.

I keep thinking if this is an aneurism or dissection or claudification, I just want to be home to die. I don’t want it to happen while driving or in a stinky hospital or god forbid — in the bathroom stall at work!

I’m finding it harder and harder to go to work in this kind of pain. I’m actually finding it very hard to justify working until I can either recover or just spend my days where I want to be. Home.

I’m also afraid to sleep while in this pain. What happens if I don’t wake?

The control freak in me worries about what mess I may be leaving you and your father to clean up. The paperwork, outstanding bills and accounts to close down. It’s all just a hairy pain in the ass.

I never wanted you to deal with my passing. That’s why I paid for my funeral in advance. That’s why there’s a book that has instructions for after I go. I just don’t have all the rest of the shit in it. Like accounts and passwords. Contacts.

I really must do that for you. I promise if I’m given tomorrow I will get that done.

And if I stroke out (and it’s not deadly) but leaves me where ultimately I am in a vegetative state, do not waste the money keeping me alive. Let me go.

Our healthcare system will ruin you and your father financially if you try to keep me going.

I hope that the afterlife is true and even reincarnation is possible. If I had that assurance I might not be so scared to let go. But this is where I am.

Stuck.

Heartsick.

Sad.

Tired.

Jealous of those who have shittier habits and will outlive me.

A teensy bit angry at myself for wasting the time I had.

Just know that I bragged that my veins were mostly Twinkie frosting when I was your age. How ironic it was for me to hear you brag that yours were filled with cheese this weekend at your grandpa’s house?

I’m here to warn you that even if you don’t smoke and you do stay active, your dietary choices will lead you right down the red carpet I genetically rolled out toward artery disease.

Please do the research now and make the necessary lifestyle choices that reverse the damage you’re doing and you outlive your mother.

It’s Only Human

The single most challenging thing in life is to know when to ask for help, remembering that one is never left to go it alone. Turning a blind eye to the helping hands around you when in a time of great need is a grave mistake.

There are some who get an intrinsic reward from sympathies of the masses by hoisting themselves up as martyrs in the face of great adversity and challenge. Whether it is out of pride they find no resources, or to get the attentions they crave, remains a mystery.

There is no shame in asking for help. Please never take the load yourself if you feel like you are drowning. Reach out when you are overloaded. Someone will offer to help or point you toward someone who can help.

It is no sign of failure or weakness if you ask for help. The important point is that you must recognize when you need help.

  • If it is sapping your energy/resources and there seems no solution in sight, no matter what you try; then you need help.
  • If you feel your back is desperately against the wall with no path to resolution, then you need help.
  • When you feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks/expectations set before you and you begin to shutdown physically or emotionally, then you need help.
  • When you’re experiencing a highly charged emotional state and it seems never-ending, then you need help.

Being in any of these situations it is easy for one to be blinded by the situation and not see who is around who can help – thinking you are alone to handle it.

The important thing is to know you are never alone.

Let me repeat that with emphasis…

YOU ARE NEVER ALONE.

There are hundreds of thousands of folks who probably have gone through the very situation(s) you are in and can offer guidance and solutions. Maybe family, friends, professional agencies, counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, support groups, message boards…even a complete stranger.

But you must open your mouth and say, “I need help.”

Simply complaining or staying silent will not alert those around you that you need help. Everyone around you is working through issues of their own and may not be intuitive enough to know you are in dire straits and need assistance.

Know too, that just because a person is busy does not mean they are not open to help. Please do not use that as an excuse to keep sch-tum. If they cannot help directly, they may know someone or some resource that can help.

I know it is humbling to admit vulnerability, but we are a community and we are put on this earth to help one another.

When that help is given, remember it. Do not claim that it was never received or disregard the help that is offered. You are less likely to be helped in the future.

Some of my favorite songs regarding helping

The Band –

Billy Swan –

Joe Cocker –

The Staples Singers –

The Little River Band –

The Youngbloods –

And most importantly – Bill Withers

 

To Meh, or Not to Meh?

That is the question.

Lately,  I am finding it difficult to see the good in humanity. At a time when the most good should be happening; I am witness to mass shootings, general apathy toward those in great need of compassion and empathy.

I read an article about a teacher who posted why she is quitting her profession, whereby the most selfless giving is necessary because it was too much for her to bear.

She complained of the lack of respect the kids she taught had for the resources in the classroom, which she often supplied out of her own personal budget. How the kids had little to no regard for their own progress and were failing her class and she would let them because she did all she could to allow them to succeed with the exception of ultimately doing the work for them. And now she will have to face irate parents when she does fail them to answer for why they are failing. She has declared she is done caring. She was lauded for this post and it was shared virally until she deleted it. However, it became an article on the internet with screenshots and responses.

I wanted to share that with you, because what challenged her will challenge you as well. I held back as I didn’t want to dissuade your path if you truly feel you can contribute and you have a passion to serve in this way.

It scares the holy beejeebers out of me that you will be taking on a position where some whack-a-doo with a semi-automatic rifle could end your life and/or the lives of those under your supervision. I worry that some out of control child could assault you in the classroom.

But I know you are my son and you have a natural leadership style which will help you greatly in this career.  However where you excel here I see where you may end up in her position of rant and leave before you begin because of apathy and lack of compassion towards others.

You see, when I lament over the lack of interest in family, your friends’ milestones, your disinterest in sentimental things; it is because these too, are key elements to what makes a teacher strong in their field. Genuine caring, humanity.

I don’t quite know where I went astray in instilling this sense because I exposed you to a life of service, moral teachings, and leading by example. Yet I know I am not alone.

The governor of Texas also notes that what is systemically wrong in society is a lack of humanity. The lack of caring for one another and generally, respecting life. He labelled it hypocrisy. I cannot completely disagree with his points.  We do not want people to be violent yet we are encouraging it in television, film, games, books, music.

He speaks of a desensitization of our society as a result of the bombardment of these things. But I think there’s more to it than just a lack of respect.

I was watching a scene from a television show (I know), where one character is teaching another to drive and the student driver is very concerned about everything and everyone around them. The instructor says “You cannot worry about them, all you can do is worry about yourself.”

This is what is wrong too with society.  Encouraging self centeredness.

There is a scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Sally Brown, Charlies’s sister asks Charlie to write a letter to Santa; and as she becomes more selfish and adds that all she wants is 10’s and 20’s, Charlie gasps over the extreme commercialism with, “Even my baby sister!” She defends herself by quietly stating “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”

Schulz identified the spiral toward where we are today with his social commentary on this self centered mentality and yet it went over most peoples’ heads.

No one is owed anything. Education, great grades, goods, pay, jobs, etc. All require hard work and all require a sense of humanity, a sensitivity toward others.

We need empathy, compassion and community. This is what makes our society and this is what needs to be encouraged. In books, film. television, music, games…

I do know you are thoughtful and proactive, and I simply hope it remains strong and grows further as you grow older.