Re-Adjusting: Resurrection and Transformation

looking back

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If you have ever experienced the death (or loss) of a loved one, you know that your life becomes a series of firsts. First birthday without them, first holiday, first year, and so on. So here I am in my first month without him.

These last 30-days have been a slow drip through the surreal. My emotions have ranged from acceptance to anger, but mostly I just want to be in silence. My hospice grief counselor says I am right on schedule for feeling all the feels. She mentions that after 2-3 weeks the shock usually wears off and the emotions begin to rise. This feels about right, because it has only been recently that I have felt more anger and irritability mixed in with the pre-existing sadness.

I wish I could go on retreat, somewhere in the hills or forest, and just be in silence with every emotion that arises. This feels like the ideal thing to do, but instead I go to work, and mostly it has been okay. After a full day I am exhausted and do nothing (and I am grateful for the ability to do nothing). Sometimes I get a burst of energy, but as quickly as it comes, it slips away (I guess that’s why it’s a burst).

Being in my grieving life, and “old life” has had it’s consequences. One day, I came home form work to suddenly feel a horribly paralyzing anxiety that left me feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally agitated for hours. I realized that being in both my grieving life and my “old routine” life felt like a schism, and that living in both worlds was/is probably too opposing for my psyche.

The flashbacks have been the hardest. At times I can’t stop thinking about my father’s last days. I remember the lightness of his thin body, his agitated body movements, the pained expressions on his face, and the sadness in his eyes. The inability for us to verbally communicate haunts me as I wonder if he was in more pain that we knew. I wonder if he was scared. I wonder if dying was scary for him.

Then there’s the wondering. Wondering if he really had dementia. Wondering if there was something else going on and that we could have helped him more. Everything happened so fast that we didn’t get a chance for a decent second option or tests. This helpless experience has made it easy to feel guilty for not doing more, especially before he became symptomatic.

On most days, it’s the experience of a routine that no longer is. I never realized how much my dad was on my mind. Like an idling car, he must have been a constant hum in my subconscious. I still wake with the thought of calling my dad to see how he is doing, or spontaneously have the desire to tell him what I saw that day. If I have a really good cup of coffee, I think of him and sending some to him. One afternoon I sat in a medical lab waiting for a blood draw. I imagined the many times he did the same. Even though he was relatively healthy, he had routine blood draws and doctor visits to monitor his health. I imagined how this must have been so tiresome for him.

Despite all this, I trust that both he and I are well. I trust that I will land in my new normal. I trust that dreams of him are our way of staying connected and I trust he is with me in my waking life.

With today being Easter, I find myself more aware of resurrection. It’s everywhere all the time! A resurrection is an awakening, and re-birthing, a renewal, and a transformation. On my dad’s final days, I was well aware that he was in his own transformational journey. It was intense to feel our lives changing and falling into deep stillness. At that time I wondered what both our resurrections would look like.

Today I still wonder, and yet know, that resurrection and transformation is happening in it’s own slow and gentle way everyday. Anxiety attacks and all.

Saying Goodbye, Part 11: Earthquakes and Landscapes

I awoke on Wednesday to my first day home without my father.

I had spent the greater part of February in his home 3-hours away, in an unexpected whirlwind of emotional chaos, intense vulnerability, and the eventual release of him as I watched him being taken away for cremation.

I know enough to not expect that I’d return home to life as I knew it. “Now back to your regularly scheduled program” does not apply here.

I know that my life is now altered. Yes, everyday, our lives change. Each day is unlike the next. But this is different. There are these life-altering events that completely changes the landscape. Subtle shifts become earthquakes and aftershocks.

Upon waking, I take it slow. “What’s next?” in every moment. I try some “old life” on by checking e-mail (that felt okay, let’s try…) listening to a recorded call from a training I’m in (yeah, not quite feeing it. Let’s try…) suddenly it’s too much. My heart aches and I feel my energy in my belly. I remember a song that feels the way I feel now.

I listen to “Winter” by Tori Amos on repeat and break down sobbing just as I need to. Every part of me vibrating in grief. Why does life seem so stupid. All the things that took up space in my life seem to riduclous. I should have spent more time with him. Should have, should have, should have….

Goodbye Part 10: Earthquakes

arna 1

Arna Baartz, “You Are Beautiful”

The next few days felt silent. I took things slowly and found comfort in the company of my sisters. We shared memories about our father and continued to ask questions out of confusion. I mean really, what just happened? It was all so fast, so confusing, and so severe. We continued to re-trace our steps, question and doubt out decisions, and remember that my father’s quality of life was at stake. How do we begin to make peace with all of this?

Leaving my father’s home was harder than expected. Each day I was there kept me tethered to the lingering essence of him. As long as I was there, I was still “with” him. But I can’t stay forever (or can I?), and at some point I must re-enter my altered life 3-hours West.

So I wandered into his bedroom, saying goodbye to it, to him, and trying to remember him here. Sitting on the bed’s edge with his pack of chihuahuas surrounding him, making it hard to get close to him.

I said goodbye to the house, and goodbye to “visits to see dad”.

It was Tuesday when I made the drive home. It went surprisingly fast despite feeling my past-life slip away with each mile. No more thinking of my next time back, or what I would bring with me next time I see him. No more calling him to let him know I arrived safely.

As I merged onto the 101 South, I took a deep breath and sighed. I could feel the difference between the dusty flat land, and green rolling coastal landscape.

Luckily my first stop was at my therapists office. I somehow managed to recount my last 2-weeks, and by the end could feel a slight sliver of my life returning. As I stepped out to my car, the warm weather felt intrusive, reminding my it was too soon to be outdoors.

Once home, I lost myself in the distraction of unpacking, vacuuming, having dinner, and laying on the couch watching mindless t.v. I slid into sleep and dreamt about earthquakes.

Addiction: If you want something different…

Things have been beyond busy around here for the past few weeks. The new school quarter has really tested my ability to manage my time and grieving (aka my constant desire for doing nothing). Even though things have been busy, there have been plenty of insights along the way.

I believe that we all have addictions to one degree or another. Addictions are a mental distraction from what is causing us psychological/spiritual  pain. For many, this is also an issue of physiological dependence. I am not sure of how a psychological/spiritual distraction turns into a physiological dependence for some and not others. I can honestly say that I’ve tried to become and alcoholic or drug addict, but my physiology always found an extreme that it no longer wanted to continue.

I am also not sure of how the two are different, but I am aware of how they are similar. There is a pattern of seeking, bingeing, consequence, and guilt that appears to be a common thread along all addictions. Most notably, there is the intense fear and anger that arises at the thought of no longer having the object(s) of addiction in one’s life. For me I have realized and accepted that my addiction shows up in two forms. Isolation and food.

Isolation: It is what I know as my normal. Isolating myself is not only a protection from others, it reinforces my false belief that I am alone. As much as I hate isolating, I love it. I look forward to it when I am not at home, and when I am at home I loath it. I overindulge in it by sleeping on the couch for hours during the day. It has led to falling behind in school assignments, a resurgence in depressive symptoms, and most notably, a significant weight gain.

My therapist and I have put into place a plan of connection. She asked me to consider reaching out to support groups. Since my return to school, I have had to go from two counseling sessions a week to one, and two ACA support systems to one. She suggested that I need more support and explore how I can do this. I was resistant to it at first because my schedule is so demanding (and it would cut into my “do nothing” time as well). How am I going to fit in more things to do? But I decided to try.

So now I am going for a long morning walk on the weekend, going to Inner Light on Sundays afternoons, and attending an OA support group for my other addiction…

Food: It has taken me a long long time to understand and accept that I am a food addict. It’s embarrassing, but after really noticing the addictive patterns of friend who is an alcoholic and drug addict, I was able to see my own addiction to food. Not only has my physiological self been hurt by this, my psychological/spiritual self has been harmed as well. I eat to comfort/distract myself for the painful feelings I do not allow myself to feel.  The intense guilt feelings after bingeing and the love/hate relationship I have with food feels overwhelming and my life feels out of control. I worry about my weight and health (both now and in the future) and I am unable to love the person I see in the mirror.

At first I was very resistant. Most notably when I went to my first meeting and realized that if I decided to do this, I would no longer have food as a crutch. A surge of anger and fear went through me, and in that instant I knew that I truly was an addict. Slowly I am understanding what this relationship with food is about, and in some strange way it has opened up a new path towards loving and being more compassionate to myself. Hearing other people’s stories and experiences is very inspiring and a little scary at the same time. The fear of the unknown and fear of failure are definitely present, but that is what change is I suppose. As I once heard: “If you want something different, you have to do something different”.

Lessons the Ocean Taught Me

When my brother passed away in May, a friend of mine and her son scattered flowers into the sea for him. I was so grateful for this beautiful gesture and decided that I would do the same for my brother who passed away on Monday.

Yesterday morning was my brother’s funeral, and the whole night was excruciatingly painful for me. Not only was the pain of losing this brother painful in itself, it brought back, and was compounded, with the loss of my other brother in May. I don’t remember falling asleep, but upon waking, I decided to walk to the beach, flowers in hand, to spend some time in solitude.

He loved Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, and as I sat at the beach, this song played in my head. I cried at the pain of losing him and my other brother. When I felt ready to, I found a spot on the shoreline and watched the waves. What happened next was an unanticipated meditation exercise.

I believe that the answers to everything can be found in nature. Nature, although imposed upon by humanity, moves and exists in rawness and truth. With all my pain, I observed what was happening as I slowly walked toward the waves.

As the cold Pacific Ocean hit my feet, I couldn’t help but feel jarred awake and into my body. I watched the ocean rush towards me and pull back into itself. As the ocean pulled back, the sand under my feet began to shift. If I stood in the same place long enough, I would lose my balance. So each time the ocean waves pulled back, I moved to a new place.

As I watched the waves come and go, and as I slowly moved to new places in the sand, I began to throw flowers, one by one, out into the ocean. I took long pauses between each flower being thrown so as to watch how the ocean interacted with it. What I noticed was that it was the calmest waves that carried the flowers furthest out. The bigger waves brought the flowers back to me. When this happened I would pick it up, walk towards the waves, and wait for a calm wave to approach before throwing it out again.

To me this was a teaching moment. The waves represent life. As life moves, one must keep moving as well. If I try to stay in one place (try to maintain the illusion of control i.e. doing things “my way”), the sands will shift from under me and I will lose my balance and fall. But if I keep moving, I stay standing, and in synch with life. The biggest waves (emotional upheaval) brings memories back. This is just how it is. It is painful, and when things have settled some, the healing takes place, and memories are carried out.

The beach has warning signs stating that there are “Changing Conditions”. This is all too true. In the midst of calm seas, a rogue wave may come (seemingly out of nowhere) and with it old memories may come. I must be with it. I must meet the wave and yield to the shifting sand as I step to new footing. This is living life in all it’s pain and beauty. Learning to be yielding and proactive.

These are the things the ocean taught me this morning, as I grieved loss.

Goodbye

My beloved brother passed away on May 4th.

I left work early to make the 3 hour drive to see him. A week prior he looked better and was a bit more responsive than my initial visit to him in the hospital. But he also wasn’t eating, and barely drinking. There was no IV, and only meds given for pain and nausea. On May 3rd he was given 1 week to live.

On May 4th, I drove to him with a card that I made with the image of a wolf (a creature he identified closely with) and a few crystals and stones in a medicine bag. One of the stones had “Love” engraved on it. Another sister from out-of-state was flying in that night and a few more brothers and sisters were driving in that weekend.

I left home at 2:30 pm. At 3:00 pm I had a strange rush of calm go through me. My body seemed to settle as I thought and felt “He’s gone.” No, no, don’t think that. Just keep driving. You’ll see him soon.

At 4:00 I received that call that at 2:40 pm, my beautiful brother had passed away, with his son by his side.

I was angry, grief-stricken, and didn’t know who to call. “Who do I turn to?!?” I yelled through my tears. “I don’t blame you” I told him, “I get it, you had to go. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”

I managed to see his body at the nursing facility before they took him away. He looked really good in that he looked so young and so at peace. I sat next to him, crying and talking, knowing that anything I had to say was for my own sake. He was already gone and he already knew the answers. I said a prayer, brushed back his hair, kissed his forehead, read the card I made for him, and set the card and medicine bag next to him as the facility worker covered him and took him away.

I drove to my dad’s and stopped just shy of the doorway, bursting into tears. My brother doesn’t live here anymore. I walked in the door to find my sister on the phone and my father sitting silently at the kitchen table, staring ahead of him. His eyes still had a few tears cradled under his lids and his left hand was slowly and gently tapping the table. He didn’t look up at me and we said nothing.

I sat next to him in silence. After what seemed like so long, I started sobbing. My sister stood next to me hugging me as I wept. I reached out and held my dad’s hand.

As the days passed, people began to filter in and out of my Dad’s home. My siblings are 9 total, so including cousins, nephews, nieces, etc. the numbers add up quickly. For all the discomfort and dysfunction that my family embodies, there’s a strange sense of comfort when there are more of us there. It’s a thin veil of my childhood, when we were all together.

I was with my family for a week, and coming home was tough decision to make. But practicality pulled me to be home with enough time to do laundry, clean my room, and rest before going back to work.

As soon as I opened the front door I burst into tears. As I stood in my bedroom doorway, I scanned my room and thought “when I left here my brother was alive. I was looking forward to seeing him.” The pain that settled in that day was deeper and heavier than before. I was alone and knowing that I will never see my brother again was breaking my heart.

As the days have been passing, I can honestly say that time is not easing the pain. It hurts just a bit deeper every day and feels like an abduction has just taken place. Even in knowing that he is no longer feeling pain, no longer struggling, and no longer angry, I still also feel angry that he suffered through life as he did.

I know it’s all in the process. Just being with it. But since my mom passed away 17 years ago, I had all but forgotten what it’s like to really lose someone so close. Until now.

None of Your Business

As I drove to see my brother, I was listening to Iyanla Vanzant’s podcast titled “Moving Through Grief”. In this podcast she is joined by Robert Pruitt in talking with various callers about their grieving processes. I found many of the caller’s situations to be familiar, but there was one thing that Iyanla shared that hit me to the core.

She briefly mentioned dealing with the death of her young daughter and explained how she was so angry with God for taking her. In the midst of one of her tantrums with God, she clearly heard God say to her, “Your daughter’s life is none of your business.”

Got it.

Ghosts

Since things have settled a bit in the drama department, I’m feeling some anxiety.
My therapist asks me how much of it do I think is a) me stirring the pot (ACA trait of being addicted to excitement/stress/drama, chaos, etc.), and how much of it is b) feeling more due to the stillness. I tell her its equal amounts of both.
Yup, holding the paradox again.

I tell her that I’ve been feeling and thinking about past loves. M, T, and J are on my mind and I feel a deep weight in my heart. I basically just feel really sad. All I can think is “they’re not coming back”.

We looked at the 5 stages of loss and reflected on the idea that I am in a deeper stage of acceptance. I think it feels more like depression. I know these stages are cyclical. You don’t always get to check one off and move to the next. I’ve definitely been at the acceptance stage (as listed in the link) with J and T, but lo and behold, here I am back at depression.

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