Sunday, May 27, 2012

broken or broken open

Writer, Mark Nepo, talks about the difference between being broken and being broken open.  There is an enormous gulf between the two and yet they are so closely related. 

When you lose a child, “broken” is a given . . . the unavoidable, sudden emptiness is crushing.  Much of the grief journey is then making our way through that darkness to seeing anew.  Some people talk about the journey as moving from only being able to see through the lens of loss, to noticing what is left, to discovering what is possible.  It is a journey that is much easier to talk about than to travel.  And like any journey, it has twists and turns, detours and obstructions along the way that must be navigated.  Sometimes we sit and rest in order to keep going; sometimes we get lost and need a guide to help us back on the path; sometimes we see the destination off in the distance but wonder if we have the energy to keep going.

Mary Oliver says, “Make of yourself a light”.  And maybe that is a better way to think of it.  Maybe not so much a journey that takes our energy to travel as allowing ourselves to "break open" .  Let the light which cannot be extinguished shine through. . .  that is, the love that is at the heart of your grief . . . let it penetrate everything and shine through your ragged edges.     

Monday, May 21, 2012

being sad

being sad
  feeling the loss of a precious smile, the absence of a strong presence
doesn’t erase gratitude

struggling to learn to live in a new reality
  doesn’t overshadow the gift of cherished memories

this is the strange truth
            that opposites
                        like despair and relief
                              absence and presence
                              loss and gift
                              joy and sorrow
            can co-exist,  conjoined,  mysteriously meshed
  challenging our tendency to divide reality into distinct parts
 redefining clarity and wholeness
 and coming to rest deep within
     as peace

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

knee deep in ashes

Last year we were evacuated from our house because of the sudden threat of wildfires raging through our neighborhood.  We didn’t have time to think. At the sound of the firemen’s bullhorn warning us to leave, I grabbed my dog, almost forgot my shoes and roared out of the driveway to escape.    

Three days later we returned and everything was exactly as we left it – dinner preparations still on the kitchen counter, flowers still blooming – all our home intact, quietly untouched.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having been spared, but haunted by thoughts of those who were not.  The TV and newspapers were full of visual reminders of the devastating losses around us. It was impossible to just go back to life as usual.
So, in the next few days, the opportunities to respond became obvious.  I collected needed supplies and helped deliver them to the affected areas, driving on tiny back roads to avoid the fires that were still burning.  I saw how communities responded and poured their energies into helping each other.  I participated in a training program to learn how to work on a team that would be sent into burn sites to help retrieve what might be left.   

Armed with heavy gloves, a hard hat and a mask, we were assigned to burn sites to help sift through ashes for precious belongings.  Homeowners would describe precious keepsakes in hopeful detail and we would search the debris anxious to find something to ease their losses. The backbreaking effort of pulling metal from the sea of ash was exhausting.  The sound of bulldozers roared in our ears as they cleared slabs of debris that used to be chairs, beds and pictures of family vacations. 

Then came the hidden gifts that invariably grace our efforts to help others.  While we worked, I heard incredible stories of heroic efforts to survive, talked with the people who cared for huge numbers of rescued animals until their owners could find them and watched as tireless volunteers prepared lunch in a church gym for anyone who walked in the door.  Despite the scorched landscape and life changing loss, here was the collective human heart opening itself up to receive and to give.

Then it struck me . . . I was walking in the very midst of the physical destruction that looked and felt for all the world like my own heart when Matt died.  I was standing in the burned out refuse of treasured dreams and cherished memories.  I could smell the power of grief . . . .  and, once again I knew,  there is no other way.  We wade into the ashes; we open our arms for the help that is offered and amazingly, despite the debris all around us, we realize that what is most precious cannot be completely taken away. 

Some blessings lie so deeply in the heart that they are immune to destruction.

Friday, May 11, 2012

making it through the hard days

Some days are simply harder than others.  The most obvious ones are “special days” like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays when families gather to celebrate.  They have the power to scare us with the intensity they add to the pain we carry.  

How can we help ourselves to make it through these days - especially the ones dedicated to the joy of being parents ?    

There are no set answers, really, only suggestions for ways to focus the energy of the heart.  First is the unavoidable truth.  Face that and name it.  Light a candle, put a picture of your beloved in a prominent place of honor, tell cherished stories. . . . do something, no matter how quietly and private, that says you remember.  Maybe it brings the deep tears, but it will help, because pretending just takes too much effort.

Then remember that in many ways you are still parenting your precious child.  You still love them with your whole heart and want their spirits to be safe and at peace. You still embrace them deep inside and carry their smiles wherever you go.  Those ways of being a mother or a father will never change.

You have been given an irreplaceable gift of love. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

slow down . . . pay attention . . . don't give up

Such simple instructions . . .
and how clearly they describe the challenge of facing deep loss. 

Honestly, instructions about how to do that need to be simple, because the heart that is bereft cannot take in much more than the pain it feels.  

I remember thinking that I really didn’t know if I could live through it.  I was literally brought to my knees and didn’t know how to even go about my days.  The life altering tragedy of such a loss is a totally unacceptable turn of events and leaves no choice but to stare at the complete rearranging of life and let it do its work.    

I literally lost who I was.  I no longer felt strong or capable.  Always having seen myself as the “one who helps”, suddenly I was the one who needed help . . . and a lot of it.  I needed patience, encouragement, and guidance.  I needed loving friends and family who could tolerate the sorrow that dripped from my face.  And blessedly I had that.    

Still, I knew I needed some very specific and simple guidelines to follow if I was to do more than  survive.  So, I slowed down, tried to pay close attention and kept trying.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:

          I learned to be careful with what I expected of myself.  I was emotionally exhausted most of the time and so had to deliberately choose my activities and exposure to people.  Too much of either and I could implode.  Mostly I just tried to breathe and be kind to myself.     

          I learned that, for me, the only way through this was to keep trying to see each truth that I had to face.  I had to allow myself to become this new person, a bereaved parent.  I had to let go of my idea of how my life was to unfold.

          And the hardest thing I had to learn was to let go of Matt the way I had known him . . . .his physical presence, his smile, his touch, his stories, his dreams, his things. . . . and allow him to be with me in a new way.  I had to learn to be patient with the time it would take for me to learn this part.    

          So, up to now,  (and the learning goes on) I have learned that unfathomable things can happen – pain can strike a heart and rip it to shreds. . . . . and it can mend . . . amazingly, it can mend. 

For me now, peaceful contentment comes when I can be fully in each moment noticing the beauty that is always waiting to surprise me, taking time to sit quietly each morning (usually outdoors) and remember these lessons so that  the pace of the world doesn’t take my energy or dictate my priorities. 

And when I do that, I see all that I still have that is wonderful.
I know that I haven’t lost Matt.   
Yes, being with him is different, but he is so close now, so close. 
It is good.