Tag Archives: grief

You Are Here.

loss

How did I get here? That’s what I have been asking myself for the last few months. I am on, what I hope is, the tail-end of the year from hell.

In January my partner’s passive aggressive ex blatantly let me know that she was still after him. He and I had been together for over four years at that point. I have been putting up with her bullshit for over four years, hoping she would not only catch a clue, but that she would give up her childish, manipulative, passive aggressive games. To find out so obviously that she was still hanging on and still happy to make my life hell was not a good start to my 2019.

In March we went on a vacation that included air BnB’s with scented plug-ins that inflamed my multiple chemical sensitivities, sending my health into a downward spiral and making it a necessity to wear a mask for several months. I still carry it around with me, because it only takes a few seconds of smelling someone’s synthetic perfume—or even clothes washed in scented laundry detergent—to make my skin start burning and itching and the coughing start.

Soon after returning from our trip, it became evident that it was time for my old cat and dog to be helped into their next life. I couldn’t justify putting one of them down without the other, because they were both in pain—despite both being on pain meds—were both old, and were both peeing all over the house. I was exhausted mentally and physically, trying to take care of them, not stress them out, keep my partner soothed about animals peeing in the house all the time, and trying to take care of myself.

So, in April I called our veterinarian and discussed it with her. She agreed with my sad conclusion and said she’d come to the house so they wouldn’t have to be stressed with any travel.

It was one of the saddest days of my life. I still mourn their leaving and am crying right now as I type. I miss my weenie-boy, Mr. Stormy, and Miss Bella the crazy, one-eyed, feral, pirate cat.

In May, I received a nasty email from someone who had never had the decency or balls to confront me in person, like an adult, to tell me about all the (apparently) horrible things I’d done to her. She told me how bad a person I am/was and then proceeded to tell me what I should do to remedy my many problems. She advised that for the sake of everyone around me, I should quit my job and not inflict myself upon them anymore.

She wrote it as a nice, this-is-for-your-own-good type of letter—you know, that passive aggressive, “sweet” style that ensures that anyone besides me reading it would assume she really did have my best interest at heart. I never responded, but it sent me into a new tailspin.

Meanwhile, I was still grieving the loss of my pets, and my health was still suffering. I couldn’t seem to get back to my own “normal” on the scent issue. Every little sniff of perfume, laundry detergent (clothes folks were wearing), cologne, scented plug-in, etc. sent me back down the proverbial rabbit hole. I ended up having to wear my mask almost all the time when out in public (this is not a fun thing to do, trust me).

Another “meanwhile” came in the form of having to navigate constant big transitions at work this year—with dangerous undercurrents of mistrust and, what still feels like, hate. The stress of having people always think the worst of me has taken a huge toll on my life, happiness, and confidence.

As fallout from losing my pets, in the summer I visited an ex from years ago to get to see his cat—one of Miss Bella’s kittens from years ago. I just needed to be in the presence of something Bella had created. I missed having pets so much. The house felt so empty and weird, and I couldn’t seem to get over how empty my life felt without my fur babies.

Mr. Maui lived with my daughter and me until he was about four years old, then we asked my ex if he wanted to take him. I found out when I visited him that my ex’s early-onset dementia had progressed to such a state that he did not recognize me. A few weeks later, I found out he was being moved out of his home of 40 years to a memory care facility, and it broke my heart to think of him losing his life that way. I began grieving again—or maybe just added another loss to the pile.

Then in August, my partner of five years told me he was going through what looked and sounded like a personal existential crisis. He began examining his life, and began the exhausting work of figuring out what he needs to do with himself, his life, what his purpose is, etc., to the degree that we are not living together, so that he has the space and time to figure things out—even though he continually (in the face of my over the proverbial top, stressed-out worrying) assures me that we are still a couple.

Despite his assurances, my (normal for women) over-active amygdala continues to talk me into losing faith, and I have difficulty believing anything positive right now.

It is October now, and I ride my bike as much, as long, and as far as I can each day to keep from imploding, to keep from disappearing. When in doubt, pedal it out, right? That has worked for me for years. It is still a good practice. Last week while riding the Poudre Trail, the question surfaced again, “How did I get here?”

How did I let my life slip into this unhappy, unhealthy, unnatural state? I must have been so very oblivious and/or asleep to have let this happen on this large of a scale. I know I am responsible for my life, but it feels like, somewhere along the way, I handed the tiller over to someone who doesn’t give a fuck about all those sandbars and rocks up ahead in this stormy, choppy sea. I’ve been crashing into them for months now, limping along trying to survive each hit, each ding, each rupture. I’m taking on too water.

I am tired. I don’t sleep well—or I sleep way too much. I am raw and stressed; I cry all the time. I am fearful. I am depressed. It takes gargantuan effort to reply to normal, simple, everyday questions without shattering and flying into tiny little shards of grief, sadness, anger, oblivion, & regret:  the shrapnel of too much stress for way too long without a break and no relief in sight.

I spend my time alternating between working my ass off to stay busy and preoccupied, numbing-out by watching too much Netflix, working on my own shit when I’m able (self-hypnosis, BWRT, EFT, EMDR, I’d like to buy a vowel, Alex), trying to meditate and remember those things (where are they?!) that make me happy, not giving a shit what anyone thinks about anything I do or say, caring way too much about what everyone thinks about what I say and do, wanting to move far away and try that stupid geographical fix thing (which everyone knows does not work), breathing, sleeping as much as possible, staying home as much as possible, going out to do things I (might) love to do, (did I mention the crying thing?), obsessively watching the movie Interstellar, and talking to amazing girlfriends who are sweet and funny and make me laugh—even at myself.

How did I get here?

While pedaling, the answer came, “It doesn’t matter HOW you got here. YOU ARE HERE. How are you going to get OUT of here? That is the important question now.”

I saw myself inside my head under a big, black, not-to-proportion “You are here” arrow on a directional map.

Yes, there I am. Under that big arrow. You are here. How the fuck am I gonna get out of here? I don’t know.

Yet.

“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.”  ~REM, Out of Time

Dementia Grief.

maui

Mr. Maui

What if you woke up one day and a bunch of your friends showed up unannounced to take you out for the day to have fun, and then at the end of the day they took you to a totally different place, and told you that this is where you would be living from now on and that you could not return to your old life?

This is what just happened to a long-time friend of mine. He has early-onset dementia and has been struggling to live in the “regular” world for a while. He has steadily become more forgetful in the past few years, to the point of not even remembering me the last time I went to visit him.

I totally understand and support the move his sisters and friends carefully arranged for his benefit. And I know absolutely that he will be taken care of. I feel better about him now, knowing he is in a memory care facility that will ensure his comfort and safety.

And I wonder how much he understands and remembers about his former life. Does he realize that he is never going back to the house he has owned for over 40 years; does he remember his cat of eight years, and does he know they will likely not see each other again? His house is being cleaned to get ready for an estate sale. Then the house itself will be sold.

What does he know and not know? What does he remember and not? That is the insidious nature of dementia, isn’t it? And everyone knows, according to the standard safe practices of our day, that the best thing for those with dementia is to, at some point, make sure the dementia-sufferer is kept as safe and as happy as possible.

When I last saw him, he was quite frustrated and agitated. He was paranoid, as anyone would be, I suppose, who can’t remember people and events. I mean if you can’t remember where you put your shoes, and you have looked everywhere, then maybe you really would begin to think that someone is coming into your house to take your shoes. What other explanation would there be if you can’t remember that you can’t remember, if you are trusting yourself, but don’t remember that you can’t trust yourself anymore?

I have a deep fear of dementia, I think, because that last paragraph gives me the actual chills. And we, ourselves, at some point, would never really know if we have dementia or not, would we? We are at the mercy of those around us to tell us what is going on. And that involves great trust, doesn’t it?

Wow.

He is an introvert, and he valued living by himself, spending whole days in silence, alone. My sincere hope for him at this point is that he actually doesn’t remember too much. Because if he does, I know he is grieving mightily. If he remembers too much, then I know he is grieving the loss of his privacy, his home, his kitty, his huge workshop with all of his wood-working equipment, and his life.

Maybe it’s just me grieving for him. Maybe – hopefully – it’s just me that is trying to fill the hole in the universe that was his life. Maybe. I hope. I pray.

Meanwhile, my kitty has been returned. He went to live with my friend about 8 years ago when Maui was 5 years old. And now he is back with me. I lost my last pet in April, and now Maui is filling the house with lovely, sweet kitty energy again. I feel him missing my friend, so I cuddle him close and leave my tears in his fur. Life cycles around and around us, doesn’t it?

The trick is, can we ride that cycle with grace and humor and acceptance, or do we fight it and make ourselves and everyone around us miserable?

I don’t know what to do right now except mourn for my friend and be happy and relieved for him all at the same time. The Universe marches on, and time rushes at us like a metal measuring tape rushing back to its little shiny metal house we’re holding, rolling itself up at high speed, ready to snap off a finger if we’re not careful.

Godspeed, Stephen.

From Death to Forgiveness.

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I have a few things that I can’t seem to forgive.

I live with these things bumping around in here—bruising and hurting—have lived with them a long time—some longer than others.

I, like Brene Brown—who says she worked on forgiveness for 10 years—have been letting the notion of forgiveness steep inside me for a long time, mulling it over, periodically pulling out my still-needs-to-be-forgiven incidents to see if I can fit a square peg into that round hole once more.

I was relieved when I heard her say she had been rumbling with forgiveness for ten years. I was beginning to lose hope for myself and forgiveness, beginning to think we would never hook up, never even be able to be in the same room together. To find out that someone else had also been struggling with it for so many years, put me in good, albeit stubborn, company.

I am aware of the famous quote: “Holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I know I should forgive. I know it only hurts me and not my forgivees. I want to forgive. But I just can’t seem to make/let it happen in some situations.

“In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die.” ~ Rev. Joe Reynolds

So, a few mornings ago, when I once again heard Brene tell the story of how she had worked on forgiveness for 10 years and then heard her pastor in church say the “something has to die” line, so that the pieces finally fell together for her, I found myself wondering if maybe that was the piece that was missing for me too.

I felt some hope—mixed with dread at the thought of death and grieving—that forgiveness might be possible for me. So what is it that needs to die so that I can forgive?

Three days later I was still thinking about the dying and trying on the grief that must necessarily follow death. I didn’t want to grieve. But I thought Joe and Brene might be correct. I think I might have to let something die in order to be able to forgive.

There are incidences from the past that still bring up pain and anger, even though I understand why the person did what they had to do. Is that forgiveness, the understanding of the cause? Or maybe some form of forgiveness? When I agree with them and see their point and am even kind of glad they did it that way, but still feel the pain it caused me at that time?

Maybe I don’t understand what forgiveness really is. A quick search brought up:

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

I am finding that there is in me a small, hard-to-pin-down, part that thinks my lack of forgiveness provides me with something useful and justified. It provides me with a type of book/place mark, a reminder, of sorts.

By hanging on to the resentment, pain, anger, etc., so that it brings up the pain every time I think of it, I don’t ever allow myself to forget to protect myself against such instances. I think, after many years of working on this for myself, that that is what lack of forgiveness means for me.

And indeed, to let go of my pain and anger, almost seems like a betrayal of myself. Because if I succeed in letting those place markers die, mourn the loss and manage to be able to forgive and move on, don’t I leave myself wide open to further pain and possible hurt?

If I forgive that person, then what defense do I have to stop them from harming me again? What reminds me that I must keep my guard up against them and those like them?

And why do I think that my defensive stance would stop anyone from hurting me again? That’s not going to stop anyone from offending or harming me. It’s just stopping me from living fully.

Lack of forgiveness holds the pain that never lets me forget—and never lets me rest. And I am tired; I want to rest from this lifelong vigil.

Lack of forgiveness also allows me to feel superior to the offender. Even if I never say it out loud, I get to think things like, “Well at least I never did that!” when I somehow hurt someone else. So apparently, I have degrees/hierarchies of offense, and if I judge their offense/faux pas as worse than mine, then in some sick, convoluted way, I win.

Is it a simple tit for tat, then, for me? I can’t let go because I might need that pain for ammunition some time in the future to use against them—even if it’s only in my own mind?

Wow. Yuck.

So, more determined than ever to resolve this lifelong dilemma after those lovely discoveries, I am still exploring what might need to die. After much thought this last week and after watching Brene’s video several times, I think it is ideas I hold that have to die.

Here’s the first list:

  1. The idea that those who love me will never hurt me.
  2. The idea that I will always be able to avoid hurting others.
  3. The idea that people who hurt me are always wrong.
  4. The idea that if they do hurt me, they must not love/like me.
  5. The idea that anyone who hurts me is against me and is out to get me and must be my enemy.
  6. The idea that anyone who hurts me is doing it deliberately (it must be personal).

Why has it taken me so long to realize and face the fact that it is not possible to never hurt anyone?

Sometimes we must make difficult, hard-won, unpopular decisions based on our ethics, morals, obligations and beliefs. When we make these decisions, perhaps choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils, we can expect that not everyone is going to like our decision. And we can also expect that our decision may hurt someone. That someone may be a person we dearly love, respect and admire—someone we are close to.

I cannot ask anyone, even someone I carefully love, to go against what they know is right for them, in order to keep from hurting me. I just can’t justify that in any way—even when the pain it might cause may be bumping around in here for years afterwards.

Enter Death. Grief. Pain.

Hopefully followed by Forgiveness and Release, those two bedfellows who travel closely, gracefully and mercifully together.

The elephant journal version: I Can Never Forgive You

When You are Dragging Yourself Through the Dark Night of the Soul.

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Most folks dread the void. I know I do.

I hate being in that place where no information seems to be forthcoming from the Divine, no options present themselves—and even if they do, no decision feels right. I feel mired in the muck—stagnant. Nothing feels comfortable. I feel like I’m a stranger in my own skin, my own life.

When this happens, I tend to view this state as a failure on my part—failure to connect with the Divine, failure in my ability to navigate bad, foggy times in my life, failure to adjust, failure to be a good, faithful human, failure to blah, blahblah, blahblah…

I get very frustrated; I worry. I tie myself up in I’m-not-good-enough knots, creating even more difficulty for myself.

I begin to think I’ve lost my mojo, my groove, that something is so wrong with me that I will never hear my inner guidance again, never feel the presence of the Divine again, never be able to be myself again.

I have been in this foggy, void-ish place for several days. Or has it been weeks? It could be weeks, because I totally suck at Earth time. But whatever the time frame, it is sucking like a big dog.

My friend, colleague, sister and mentor, Jo Underwood, who is an all-around good, kick-ass friend, colleague, sister and mentor, suggested a few days ago, when I was crying to her about this void-ness, that I just sit still.

What?! And not do anything?! Not figure out where it came from, why I’m in it, how and why I created this? How irresponsible is that?! Sit still!?

And indeed, it becomes clear, when I look at the last few weeks, that there have been plenty of signs that I should be “sitting still.” A month ago I popped my ass out of joint on the right side by doing yoga on the beach, for christ’s sake—something that is supposed to be good for me—soothing and calming. Oh my gawd, that hurt—and it still hurts!

Okay, Grace, so that is not slowing you down? Then we see that pain in your ass and we raise you a broken pinkie toe—all on the same side, by the way. Because two weeks ago I stubbed my right pinkie toe so badly that I’m sure it broke. I stubbed it on something in my house that has only been sitting right there in that very same spot for about three years. I know it’s bad when I stub my toe and it hurts so badly that I can’t even cuss about it—it quite literally took my breath away, it hurt so much.

Hello. Slow down. Sit still! But did I get the hint? No.

Okay, how about a bruised tailbone, then? Will that do the trick? I totally racked myself on my bike! Me, someone who has been riding a bike all my life, racked myself. It was because of the fucking broken toe, too. It was cold and raining, but because of the broken toe, I couldn’t wear shoes, so I was wearing my flip flops on the bike, in the rain, my feet freezing, and my foot slid off the pedal while going down a (smooth) curb. I jerked backward and landed hard on the bike seat, right on my tailbone.

Did that do it, then? No (have I mentioned that I’m stubborn?).

Just last week, while moving furniture so I could help put in my new flooring (!), I stubbed my right big toe. At that, though, I had had enough. I straightened up and began yelling—in the general direction of the ceiling, while looking wildly around (for the burning bush?), “What?!?!? What do you want from me?! Stop hurting me!! I’ve had enough!! What! Do! You! Want?!” I stood there, fists clenched, shaking and waiting… for lightening to strike, maybe?

Enter my conversation with Jo and her admonishment to sit still—stop pushing, stop trying so bloody hard to wrest an answer from God, from my Higher Self, from the Universe, from the broken toe, for fuck’s sake—when there might not be one.

To put the exclamation mark at the end of “sit still,” yesterday a client came to me for the very same reason. She was upset that no options for resolving any of the many issues in her life were presenting themselves—and hadn’t been for a long time. She was almost frantic, feeling so unlike herself, who is usually connected and flowing in the Divine River of life.

I always attract clients that are doing the very same thing I’m doing—proving to me, over and over again, that the Law of Attraction is very real.

It was easy to give her an answer to her void issue. It’s so easy when it’s someone else, isn’t it?

Slow down. Sit still. Stop pushing. See this as a time of rest instead of a time of nothingness, the lull before the storm, the caterpillar inside the cocoon, doing its necessary work (which when observed from the outside, looks like it’s doing nothing) to soon become the butterfly.

And the next piece of advice? What would you do for a close friend who came to you feeling this way? You’d comfort her. You’d make her a cup of tea and ask how you could help. You’d run her a warm bubble bath and light some soothing candles, you’d wrap her in love and comfort and hugs and soothing words and sounds. You’d take care of her, because you love her.

So why aren’t you treating yourself that way in this time of stress? I gave her the advice I most needed to hear for myself. Treat yourself like you would treat your close girlfriend if she came to you with the same problem. Stop beating yourself up. Stop gnashing your proverbial (or literal) teeth about it. Stop thinking you have to figure everything out. Stop thinking you have to have the right answer, right now.

Sit still. Let this be a time of mental/emotional (and perhaps, physical) rest. Let it just be whatever it is and stop fighting it—stop fighting yourself and please stop yelling at you. Stop rushing around—inside your head and heart, and in the world.

Use this time to retreat—from the world around you that says you must always be moving and conquering and slaying dragons, retreat from your very not useful harangue at yourself and also re-treat yourself: Comfort yourself instead of berating yourself that you should know what to do.

So when you are dragging yourself through the dark night of your own soul, or through that empty void where nothing feels right or true and when you can’t locate North on your own internal compass… consider just being still—inside, but perhaps outside too.

And be good to yourself. Rest. Cry. Sleep. Just allow. Pray. Grieve. Maybe patch that hole in the living room wall that has needed it for years. Maybe not. Give yourself the clichéd break. You don’t always have to be traveling down life’s road at absolute break-neck, hell-for-leather speed.

Breathe. Sit. Stay.

This too shall pass.

“When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now”
~ out of Peter Mayer’s song, Holy Now

Also published at elephant journal.

Grace is a Certified Hypnotherapist and Registered Psychotherapist in Ft. Collins, CO, USA. She gracethanx2013.3sees clients and facilitates Divine Feminine Hypnotherapy workshops for women. She’s a flaming, Earth-loving, tree-hugging, save-the-bees, believes-in-faeries, bike-riding, card-carrying, spiritual but not religious, hippie cowgirl liberal poet therapist—yep, they do exist. You can find her creations here. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Breathing Underwater.

underwater1The water was freezing and violent and I was filled with fear, but I knew that was where I was supposed to be.

I found after that day of being ambushed by grief that the only way I could do my life was to stay in meditation as much as possible. When I couldn’t do that, I walked around crying, the pit of anxiety in my gut sometimes doubling me over in pain.

Even writing didn’t help, which is bloody unusual for me.

Sunday I sat and meditated for at least four hours. It may have been more than that, but I know it was at least that. I suck at tracking time, so I’m not so sure.

I was determined to sit and meditate and not sleep, even though the sleep deprivation for the past few weeks was hard to ignore. I didn’t want to set myself up in the cycle of taking naps so that I couldn’t then sleep at night.

As I sat in meditation, breathing into the panic and heaviness, I was aware of sliding in and out of dream-like states in my fatigued condition. When I was aware enough, I kept the focus on my womb space.

Wanting to stay in my body as much as possible, I concentrated on breathing into my womb space and seeing the fire in my belly glowing brightly.

The get out-of-the-body type of meditation is a very Masculine way of meditating. I admit to using that type of meditation for most of my meditating life without really knowing there might be another way. When I began exploring the Feminine way of spirituality is when I began to focus on staying in the body while meditating.

Focus on the body, emotions and senses is the Feminine way.

While I sat that day, determined not to sleep but to actively process emotions, not just sit and enjoy a ride out of my body, I went into some sort of visualization. I don’t know if it was a past life, a dream, a metaphor—perhaps I fell asleep? I don’t know. But if I did, it was a type of lucid dream.

I was looking down at a blue and white ocean, boiling and spraying. It was violent. It filled me with fear to look at it. I was high on the cliff looking down at the violence.

I knew I needed to get to the water, but I was looking down from the high cliff and everything between the ocean and me was a steep boulder field of huge, sharp, black, slippery rocks and crags.

The waves continued to throw themselves up and against the cliff and the huge, sharp boulders. The water and spray were freezing me.

I started down, and somehow I was able to make progress down the steep, black, slick, rocky incline. When I got close enough, I launched myself out and down into the ocean by pushing off in a jump to hopefully make it out past the rest of the cliff and into the water.

The water was freezing and violent and I was filled with fear, but I knew that was where I was supposed to be.

From my high jump, I sank easily down past the foam and spray and whiteness and then kept descending without trying. It was a beautiful, clear blue-green down below the violence. I was holding my breath.

Down there, it was not as turbulent and I felt like I was being gently rocked back and forth. My feet were down, my arms out, like I was standing in the water. I looked up and could see the violent whiteness above me, but it was silent and almost calm here.

That’s when my sister appeared in front of me, smiling, her long, beautiful, curly red hair spread out all around her like seaweed. I noticed it moved to that same rocking rhythm, waving softly around her, her skin so lovely and pale, her blues eyes somehow warm in all this freezing blue water.

I was so happy to see her again! We smiled at each other and held each the other’s arms, so that we were together, but had room between us to look into each other’s eyes.

I was beginning to notice that I needed air.

She smiled a small, kind of sad smile and shook her head at me—slowly and lovingly. I pointed up and motioned that I needed air. She shook her head at me again, still smiling—patient, understanding.

I began to get frantic, but she wouldn’t let me go so that I could rise to get more air at the surface. She took my face in her hands and looked at me intensely, conveying to me that I must stay. Some part of my brain thought of the drowning scene in The Abyss.

And indeed, she held me there just like Bud held Lindsay in the movie, looking into my eyes softly, with the water beginning to fill my lungs in stabs of scorching pain as I fought her, thrashing about trying to get loose.

Even though the water was freezing, it hit my insides like white-hot heat, searing me, burning.

Finally, with my lungs on fire and with her still holding me in front of her, I took in a deep, lung-filling inhale and completely filled myself with water. Horrified and still looking at her, I realized I was breathing water instead of air at that point.

It felt heavy and laborious to breathe this way.

She was still smiling. I opened my eyes wide and shrugged to ask her how the hell this was happening. She just smiled wider, holding my gaze with hers.

I relaxed as much as I could and looked at her, ready to “talk” to her and find out why we were both here.

That’s when I noticed she was dying in my arms, becoming limp. Her gaze left me and became unfocused and her eyes slid away and over my right shoulder. I began to shake her and was yelling, “No!” at her through the water.

She was already gone though, limp and beginning to sink deeper into the darkness below. I grabbed her and held her to me there in that cold, gently swaying blueness and looked at her face. It was pale and lifeless, her eyes still open and blue. Her long, seaweed hair surrounded us in the water, weaving itself all around both of us.

My tears were indistinguishable from and lost in the ocean water.

She looked like a blue-tinted version of the body I had witnessed in her coffin—deflated and flat and thin, wearing one of her favorite pink sweaters that was now heavy and pulled downward by the weight of the water. The never-to-be-healed knife slashes and stab wounds were now apparent again on her face and neck, showing the tiny stitches.

She had kept me here and helped me learn that I could survive in this “foreign” world below the violent waves above. Then she was gone, reclining now in my arms, both of us swayed and rocked by the water, surrounded by her long, floating, seaweed hair.

I “woke up.” I didn’t know if it had been a dream or a vision or what. I concluded it didn’t really matter.

I use Bing as my home page on my computer because I love their photos. The next day when I opened my laptop, Bing’s page came up and the underwater ocean scene was the exact color my underwater “dream” had been.

The Autumn of Grief.

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I couldn’t keep from crying; the sadness kept coming in ever-increasing, confusing waves.

I had biked to work in the morning as usual, only to have to leave work after a couple of hours.

The transition into Fall has been triggering sadness and regret in me, but I couldn’t get a firm grasp on why it was so intense this year. My usual bike ride to work that morning was filled with tears and feelings of dread every time I looked up at the changing colors of the leaves on all the trees.

I found myself avoiding looking up at the trees—the exact opposite of my usual joyful practice.

Autumn used to be my favorite season, but in the last few years, I’ve noticed my reaction to the season becoming progressively sadder each year.

I’ve been obsessed with death and dying for the past few weeks. I even completed my Five Wishes, Living Will and shared it with my daughter. And while I recognized I was obsessed, I couldn’t figure out why, even though I was constantly searching for the answer.

I hadn’t been sleeping well, and when I did get to sleep, I was waking up too early and couldn’t go back to sleep. I love sleep, and I usually sleep a lot, so the sleep deprivation that was piling up was no small problem.

I could barely express my need to leave work, I was so overcome with grief and sadness. When I left to go home, I took my usual bike route down by the river, thinking it would assuage the grief and comfort me into healing as it usually does.

But I discovered that was not the case that day. In fact, as I squatted by the moving water, sheltered from view from the bike trail by the high, sandy riverbank against my back, I found the grief multiplying, and I was growing more desperate. I felt panicky.

With my face against my knees, I sobbed seemingly endlessly, my body jerking and pulsing with the those deep, silent sobs that rhythmically shake the entire body, and I was grateful for the river’s rush and roar to cover the noise of my loud, ragged, intermittent, desperate inhalations between those silent bouts of shaking.

I couldn’t seem to stop crying; there seemed to be no end to the sadness. At one point, some autumn leaves fell into the water in my line of sight, landing on the water to be whirled downstream by the river. That’s when it hit me. My sister’s death—her murder—twenty-three years ago, had occurred in autumn.

But how could this be effecting me so severely now, so long after the fact?

I suddenly and spontaneously began experiencing the shock and grief I remember going through when her murder actually happened all those years ago. I felt the panic at not knowing how I could continue life without her. I felt the hopelessness at knowing I would never see her again.

I found myself angry at the leaves for changing color and falling. If the leaves would just quit fucking falling, all would be well! I was sure of it! I cursed the leaves, yelling at them as I stood there by the river to stop falling, gawd damn it!

We had plans together; she couldn’t be gone yet. We had always said we’d live near each other and raise our children together. We’d run them all outside each morning to play and then just hose them down at the end of the day before herding them back inside for the night, not really keeping track of who was where—just as long as everyone was happy and fed, healthy, sleeping and loved at the end of the day.

We said we’d grow old together, and sit out on the back porch, drink iced tea and gossip, laughing at the memories of our early, wild days—the copious amount of alcohol consumed during our college years, the basketball and football games in high school, cheerleading, almost burning the new gym down, growing up on the farm, hoeing cotton, sitting in the sweltering heat under a swamp cooler shelling peas to get them all frozen and canned for the winter with all the women in the extended family, riding horses, showing pigs and lambs at the stock shows, riding our bikes down the dirt road to visit the two Keith boys and play 2-on-2 baseball with them.

Everyone always knew that whoever had Mickey on his or her team would win; it was just a historical fact. But we also knew Murray, the younger, funnier one, on the other hand, would elicit more laughter. Which one to choose? It was the usual pleasant dilemma.

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We’d grow old together and have way too many cats and maybe we’d even die together on that back porch, sitting in the shade and just nod off back into the infinite again, keeping each other company even then.

At the river, the panic growing ever stronger, I was beginning to worry it would never stop—the same sensation I had those 23 year ago. Some sane part of me recognized I needed help, but I was unable to focus, so didn’t know from where it would come. Panicked, it was getting more and more difficult to herd my thoughts in a good, positive direction and think; I was getting desperate.

And suddenly I knew where I needed to be. Fortunately, it wasn’t far away either. I jumped on my bike—tears, snot and sobs still all flowing freely and headed for church.

My problem was this, though: I did not have a phone or a watch, so I had little idea of the time. It was a weekday morning, and I knew the office hours, but didn’t know the current time, didn’t know how long I had squatted there by the river.

So I didn’t know if the office was still open or not—didn’t know if anyone would still be there. I tried not to think about the possibility of it being empty already—that only brought more panic.

I just pedaled—and bawled.

At one point on the way there, I was surprised to hear my own voice and realized I was praying out loud like I was repeating some sort of chant or a rosary of sorts, “Pleasestillbethere. Pleasestillbethere. Pleasestillbethere,” repeatedly and over the top of sobs, loud, jagged in-sucks of labored biking breath and wiping snot on the back of my gloved hands.

I met plenty of people—in cars, on foot and on bikes. I was careful to avoid eye contact at first, but then lost all semblance of propriety in my desperation, gave up caring and continued chanting/praying and crying.

I’m certain I was scary. I’m glad no one stopped me. I was incoherent by then anyway and couldn’t have explained anything to anyone.

I finally reached the church and felt relief flood through me to see Peggy and Leane’s cars still there. I dismounted and ran in, calling for Leane. When she looked up from her desk at me, a stray, coherent thought wormed its way to the surface, and I knew my wild, hysterical state would scare her.

I didn’t want to scare her, but the only thing I could think to say as she ran to me to take me in her arms was, “Madi (my daughter) is okay,” just before she enfolded me.

Then all hell really did break loose, because I finally felt safe enough in her arms to soften enough to allow it an opening—to let it come get me and take me away.

I wailed and sobbed and cried, and the pain and intensity of it doubled me over into her body, my chin on her shoulder, as she took the weight—both emotionally and physically.

As Leane held me, I remembered how at the news of her death, we had traveled to my parent’s house and then to the funeral home. And I saw my sister in her coffin for the first time. At my reaction, Joey, her husband, grabbed me and kept me from falling. I realize now he was expecting that, had stood there for that very purpose, ready.

He held me tightly and securely as I cried and struggled against him, unable to cry politely at the sight of her marred face, by the attempts to stitch her freckled-face beauty back together, showing the scars that would never heal, never need to.

It was not easy to look at, but I remain grateful that I got to see her lifeless, scarred body. I needed to see her that way to be able to believe it, somehow.

I knew he understood my reaction to seeing her. His sad, determined firmness as he supported and held me told me this. I knew he was already in the place I was just entering.

Did he feel, like me, as if he had failed her? I was the big sister; it had always been my job to protect and shield her from harm.

I felt like I had let her down; I hadn’t been there when she needed me.

My mind returned to the church office as a part of me registered that someone else was there with Leane and I. Someone had come to help and had their hands on me, one hand on my heart in front and one in back.

Whoever it was held tightly, pressed hard. I needed that pressure. Needed the support. Needed the strength to hold me together, because I felt like I was flying apart, little pieces of me spinning off and out in all directions.

I could feel that person breathing deliberately, pumping that breath and energy into me through her hands, through her prayers. They shuffled me in this manner to Peggy’s office and sat me down, still holding me, still breathing for me.

It was only then that I realized it was Peggy breathing for me.

Finally, the panic and depression lessened some and I looked up at them and tried to explain. They sat with me, quietly and sweetly, listening to my memories and stories, asking gentle questions—just absorbing—letting me work my way back to something like normal for me.

I eventually ran out of stories, memories and energy; I felt dry and used up—empty and exhausted. It was a blessed feeling to be so empty after having been way too full of grief. I thanked them; I can’t express enough gratitude to them for their kindness and love and patience.

I rode home somehow—I don’t remember the journey—curled into bed and slept for three hours.

A friend called me later and when I told him what had happened, he suggested I had been ambushed by grief. I had never heard that expression before, but instantly when he said it, I knew it described my day—in fact, it described the slow sneaky ambush that had been approaching for several weeks and had only finally just pounced. I could see it in hindsight.

Saturday I called my daughter and told her I was basically useless, but that I wanted her to come to lunch anyway as we had planned because it had been so long since I’d seen her.

I needed groceries and wanted to wait until the crying stopped that morning before going, but it never did, so I ended up going to the grocery store and walking around shopping while bawling still.

I didn’t know what else to do. How was I supposed to do my life? How am I supposed to do my life?!

While doing research on the subject of being ambushed by grief, I must admit to not finding a lot of information. But I came across a blog that describes it thus:

“Even as I write now, I continue to learn that grief is not a short-term spiritual, emotional, mental and even physical struggle that you just “get through”. Perhaps, this will be a lifelong journey until I reach my eternal home.”

Another one:

“You will be ambushed by grief. Count on it. If you have ever experienced any sort of loss or heartache in life, grief will surprise you from time to time.

Sometimes you can come to expect it, and then you’re somewhat prepared. Sometimes not.”

How am I supposed to do my life now? How long will this continue? Will this happen every Fall? I am trying to honor this grief and my sister by allowing myself to feel the emotions that perhaps I never allowed myself to feel before.

Why else would they return so strongly, so insistently?

I don’t understand it, but feel I must respect it as best I can and just somehow continue to walk through it. I am grateful to have such a wonderful group of friends to help with this trek.

Have you experienced a grief ambush? How did you handle it? Does it continue to happen? Is there any way to prepare for it?

A version published at elephant journal.

If the Leaves Don’t Fall.

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The leaves are falling,
but

If the leaves don’t fall
You’ll sleep in that morning

If the leaves don’t fall
Joey will kiss you goodbye one more time,
changing the timeline

If the leaves don’t fall
You won’t even go into work that day

If the leaves don’t fall
The pastor will decide to delay his trip to the bank to make the deposit

If the leaves don’t fall
You won’t hear the knock on the office door

If the leaves don’t fall
You won’t be your usual kind self
and open that locked door for them

If the leaves don’t fall
You make to the storage closet,
the one with the deadbolt

If the leaves don’t fall
The pastor comes back in time

If the leaves don’t fall
They don’t decide to rape you while you bleed out

If the leaves don’t fall
I don’t get that call that sends me flying up
and out of my own body to try and find you

If the leaves don’t fall
Your daughter doesn’t search my face to try and find you in me,
wondering where her momma is

If the leaves don’t fall
My other niece doesn’t have to spend months at the therapist talking
about the “two bad men with a knife who killed Aunt Brenda”

If the leaves don’t fall
Your now grown daughter’s face,
just like yours,
doesn’t cause me pain

If the leaves don’t fall
We get to grow old together as we planned.
Two old ladies in houses next to each other
With too many cats
Sitting on the back porch each night cackling
just like Big Momma used to
To our own juicy, irreverent, wild-woman jokes

If the leaves don’t fall
You could even be here tonight,
sitting at my kitchen table,
smiling at me,
making me laugh

If the leaves don’t fall
I won’t have to leave work early yesterday

If the leaves don’t fall
I won’t ride to church,
snot and tears flying,
praying that my friend,
herself a church admin,
is still there to break my fall

If the leaves don’t fall
You tell me why you are so angry at me

If the leaves don’t fall
We never have that last,
disagreeable,
conversation

If the leaves don’t fall
I am no longer the most selfish person you’ve ever known

If the leaves don’t fall
You forgive me for whatever it is that causes our argument

If the leaves don’t fall
I don’t dread Autumn each year

If the leaves don’t fall
I still have you,

my sister