My sweet man lost his mother last week, and in the worst way possible. 2000 miles away, he had to make the call to take her off life support. Because death doesn’t just slap you; when it gets the chance, it goes for the sucker punch. Continue reading “Life is a Really Strange Beast. Death is Even Stranger.”
It’s Sunday evening and my spirit feels spent but at peace.
It started Thursday, as we were driving the 5th wheel through the hills of Tennessee, reaching Knoxville during rush hour traffic, when the engine began to struggle for the power to pull 16,000 lbs up the steep incline.
We were on our way to surprise our family, who was gathering in Nashville to celebrate six generations, and my heart wanted to be there, not broke down in the parking lot of a Toys R Us.
It started there, but it didn’t stop there. Our weekend looked a little like this:
- Stress: The feeling when you send the truck up the hill on not much more than prayers.
- Anxiety: What creeps in when you almost don’t make.
- Frustration: When it’s 6:20 but everything closes at 6pm and you realize you’ll be sleeping in the parking lot right in front of the No Overnight Parking sign.
- Overwhelm: When the part you need is 24 hours away and you’re not certain it’s the right one anyway.
- Disappointment: When you have to cancel clients and the Organic Tribe.
And then it shifted into something like this:
- Sadness: When you see the stress on the face of your niece who is a new, young mama.
- Heartbreak: When she cries in your arms from exhaustion and the loneliness that can come after having a little one.
- Helplessness: When you see the unhappiness written on your brother’s face and peppered through his words from overwork and under-joy.
- Hurt: When you recognize that the only way the people you love know how to connect is through sarcasm and criticism
- Worry: When you see the lack of light in their eyes and the resistance to fun in their lives
- Concern: When the people you love are struggling to love themselves or their lives
- Powerless: It’s difficult to know the joy and love that are a part of your life are hardly a possiblity in the hearts of those you love.
- Sorrow: When I discovered that my paternal grandfather has passed away weeks before.
- Frustration: That I heard it through the grapevine, instead of through my paternal family.
It sounds like a difficult, unhappy weekend.
Six months ago it might have been. 2 years ago it certainly would’ve knocked us off course. It wouldn’t flipped our switches to anxiety, fear, and frustration, leaving us feeling sabotaged and unhappy and reeling for days.
But it wasn’t any of that.
It was beautiful. It was full of joy and connection and wonder.
Because we had love.
Love we received when I sent out a text to friends and family and received support in the form of prayers, Reiki, and kindness.
Love we found ourselves surrounded by on the side of the highway, with family and offers of help just 2 hours in one direction and three in the other.
Love I gave myself when I was about to snap in frustration.
Love I found within myself to give to my husband as he struggled with overwhelm and frustration.
Love that became awe and appreciation when he turned misfortune into miracles and rebuilt the part we couldn’t order to get us into town.
Love and gratitude we gave each other in a dozen moments, in the parking lot, at dinner out, before we got back on the road.
Love we found in the form of peace as we reminded ourselves that we are safe, that we all is well, that we are exactly where we’re meant to be, even if we can’t see why.
Love that gave us the ability to access peace, lean into Trust, practice mindfulness and patience and radical acceptance.
Love that reminded us to choose fun, gratitude, and beauty at every opportunity.
Love that I called on and found within myself to shine light and joy into the hearts of my family.
Love that I found in holding my great-niece, dance her to sleep and watch her eyes as they tried to tell me the secret of the Universe.
Love that I saw all over my brother’s face as he held and kissed and lit up around his beautiful granddaughter.
Love I felt between our hearts as I hugged longer and listened deeper and offered hope and support where I could.
Love that I continued to receive from my circles of friends in the form of texts and messages and emails and energy and prayers that I felt all weekend long.
Love that I dwelled in at the celebration of six living generations and the wonder and growth that this new little girl is bringing into our lives.
Love at the sound of laughter from my nieces as we hula hooped, visited the zoo or went horseback riding.
Love I felt with the dozens of small heart connections Justin and I would continue to make with a touch, a hug, a look, a reminder of one another and our support for each other.
Love for my husband as I saw him inspiring fun and laughter, silliness and playfulness for his nieces and the whole family in the ways that only a juggling, kilt-wearing, bike-riding-inside-Target uncle can.
Love for my son as he held my hand as I cried for my grandfather, or told us how luck he was to have parents like us, or made the whole family laugh.
And love for myself. As I acknowledged my own growth. My own strength. My own ability to remove the barriers to love I’ve held within myself and the beauty and joy accessed when I do.
My ability to continue to shine my own real self, not the person my family has known me to be in the past. My ability to continue to make my own joyful noise to fill the quiet spaces. To inspire fun and connection. To reach out. Love deeper. But not deplete myself.
I can’t tell you exactly why Life is so tough at times.
I can’t explain why we were meant to break down, why my niece gets to struggle as a single mama, why my brother has gotten to experience so much hurt in his life, why any of us have.
Except maybe that it’s so we can discover that love can still be found in those moments.
That joy can still be accessed when stress is threatening.
That beauty and wonder are always present, not despite the heartache, but sometimes because of it.
That the Truth of what is can overcome the fear of what might be.
To discover that fear needn’t be “pushed through” but simply loved on.
That peace and Trust come from within, not from the circumstances in our life.
I can’t exactly show you how all the dots of my weekend are being connected in my spirit, how the contrasting emotions played themselves out moment by moment; I can’t tell you exactly what it all means and why.
I’ve barely had time to process it myself…except to say that when I close my eyes in stillness all I hear echoing is the power of love.
And that sounds about right, the purpose of all of these messy bits of our lives – to understand what is and what isn’t love, and how and where one can and can’t access it, and how this incredible force of Nature is like the air, waiting to be breathed in or carried away on.
I wasn’t really sure why I added #8: Visit my father’s hometown, until we were actually pulling closer to Odessa, Texas. It had always been he and my brother who spoke about visiting. But as we were driving down the 20 it suddenly became very clear.
There were quite a few gaps in our relationship, some as wide as three years of silence. Others were smaller, missing pieces that you only come to miss when someone’s gone. It is the history, the connection to his past that I crave.
Based on what he spoke about I know exactly four things about his childhood:
- That any good dentist could tell where he was raised, because the water there was known for the stains on his teeth.
- That he moved away from his hometown and to Las Vegas when he was about 12 or 13.
- That he developed diabetes when he was 13 years old.
- That he and his friends used to cruise Fremont St before it became the “Experience”.
After he passed away, I found that he was born in Odessa, a bit of history he never really spoke about (he always just bragged about being Texan). I also found I had an uncle I never knew about (I searched all the Harold’s I could find and ended up meeting him and my beautiful cousin a day before the funeral; they never stayed in touch though). I also found a letter from his biological father just after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and a photo of him that I still own that looks eerily like my dad.
How strange is it to know so little of my dad before he was My Dad? My mom used to tell me stories about her and her siblings. I would visit her childhood home every summer until my grandparents finally moved. And I’ve watched home videos of her growing up. There is a history there, an ancestry I understand. I know my mother’s mother and grandmother and great-grandmother and their stories. But for my dad it’s almost as if he sprang into existence sometime in his 20’s.
So I went to Odessa, in hopes of drawing some map in my mind of who my father The Baby or The Toddler might have been. I guess in the back of my mind I was hoping to stumble across someone who had known my grandparents before they were grandparents, when they were still young and wide-eyed and bringing home a newborn baby boy. I was hoping to sit beside some old lady and hear stories of how my dad, The Baby, would cry or laugh or play with a toy truck while the adults ate together and drank ice tea in the heat.
Instead we found a directory that told me my grandfather was a truck driver, an address of where they lived when my dad would have been two, and a birth announcement with the address of his first home.
That home was gone, replaced with a concrete slab. The neighbors said it was a boarding house torn down in the 70’s, giving me more questions than answers.
The second home was there, though, and I tried to imagine my dad, The Toddler, playing in the yard. I tried to hear some child laughing or see some ghost of history there, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t picture what he looked like before the age of 29 or a grandmother who wasn’t in her 70’s.
Did I mention my grandmother died in June? No one called me to tell me. My other grandma found the obituary and my mom broke the news to me. And all I could do was sigh with the sadness of it all as that ancestral gap widen in my heart.
I didn’t know until now that I didn’t know the man I called Dad. I loved him and he loved me. But there was always something missing. Connection. History. Maybe he couldn’t give what he didn’t have.
But I can. I can love my dad for who he was, even if I’m not sure who that is. I can love the family I didn’t understand. And I can take what he didn’t give me as a gift, one of understanding just how important it is for your child to walk through the streets of your hometown and know where you once stood.
They all did the best they could with what they had. I have the chance to do better.
Life…and death…have sent me a reminder.
I sat at my kitchen counter as I waited for my macaroni casserole to finish in the oven, determined to finish The Omnivore’s Dilemma which was due back today. Justin came in, wrapping his arms around me in silence. I finished my paragraph, and asked if something was wrong as I looked up.
Something was wrong. My husband had tears streaming down his face. He told me he just got off the phone. A friend of his had shot and killed himself yesterday, leaving behind a wife he had recently separated from and his two small children.
I held my husband while he tried to wrap his mind around the pain this man must have been so deeply absorbed in. And as I tried to send my love to both my grieving husband and this man’s family, I silently admonished myself: My husband had come to me in quiet tears and I had to finish my paragraph before even looking up.
You think you know a lesson. It’s been impressed upon you countless times. And yet, in the every day minutes of life it is so easily lost.
It takes only a moment for our worlds to change. It takes a mere second for a trigger to be pulled and every wrong-spoken word up to that point to seem inconsequential, meaningless or unnecessary. It takes one fateful phone call to remind us that the true meaning of life lies within the actions of a single breath.
I don’t pretend to know what the experience was imparting on the father and husband in my arms, not to mention the grieve of the closest loved ones left behind. But the only thing Justin could utter was the humor and fun this man had brought to his life. He had made work worth going to on the days when no one wanted to get out of bed. His laughter left a legacy.
Earlier this morning, I had read a comment addressed to me about Zeb’s education or potential lack there of. And the words came swimming back to me as a reminder as I pressed my forehead to my husband’s and wiped away his tears. How can we wrap ourselves up in the things that will not matter in the end? Surely we can find a way to grow and learn and experience in this life without forgetting why it is we want to live in the first place? We chase those dreams for the hope of finding what we already have within our immediate reach – joy and happiness and peace.
We, our family, lives for love. We want to live in a way to never again hear about a person’s death and become overcome with regret over the last words uttered or the memories never made. (Please Gd, let it not be forgotten again.)
Let me repeat myself, if for no one else but myself: At the end of our lives, when the phone calls are being made from one person to the next, nothing else will matter but the memories that come swarming back into the hearts of the people we called friends, were lucky enough to call family.
Life…and death…have sent me a reminder. Gentler this time, but just as powerful. And I’m feeling impressed upon to pass it along to you.
In memory of Justin’s friend, Dave and his wife and most especially his babies: Put away your deadline or your goal. Set aside your pride or your impatience. Put down your book…and walk up to someone in your life right now with nothing more than unconditional love. Hold them. Tell them what they mean to you.
Give them something pure to remember you by.
Nothing else matters.
The past month has been such a challenge for me. Many realizations, many hard truths to swallow but one huge renewal. I feel beautiful and peaceful now, but for awhile there I felt like the biggest failure in the world. (This isn’t exactly easy to share but I’m determined to do so anyway.)
I was looking for solutions to why things “weren’t working” when I found them. And the cold hard truth broke my heart. I just didn’t see it before. But ask and ye shall receive. I did and I got my solutions in two forms. The first was a CD of unschooling mother, Diana Jenner, speaking at the Life Is Good unschooling conference. If anyone had the right to wake me up, it was certainly her. The second was a book, “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn. Both were Divine Inspiration and opened my eyes to several points that I had heard, had even spoken of, but had never really seen like I now do.
- I was the All-Powerful Mom. Nothing happens or doesn’t happen because of anyone but Mom. This was my issue and my fault and now it was my job to find the solution.
- My affection, my understanding, my patience had become wavering. My reactions to Z’s actions simply showed him that my compassion was conditional on a certain behavior. How destructive…how stupid!
- I realized my motives to unschooling were to still produce the kid I wanted to produce. I was following this path so that he trusted me enough to eventually follow my path. This kinda hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted him to be himself and be happy but I still held tight to my ideas of what that looked like.
- And lastly, at some mysterious point in my life, I had given away my free-thinking tendencies and compromised to care what another person thought of my actions. My inward focus had done a 180. I was doing things not based on whether they were good for us or good for Z but whether other people would think negatively of it. This is the most infuriating thing for me. Other people have no clue!! Other people don’t truly know us!! Other people can kiss my toe!!
It was not unlike years (and thousand’s of dollars) worth of therapy compressed into a matter of 3 hours. If that’s not G-d, what is? Oh yeah, a few tests of my new-found purposes:
Z came and sat beside me on the couch. As he’s chatting about Ben 10 and Pokemon, I notice he’s hiding under the blanket with occasional glances at the uncovered windows. In the two and a half years we’ve lived in this house, Z has been nervous about our lack of window treatments. Why didn’t I do anything about it? I don’t know. Here I was, fully aware of Z’s insecurities and in the position to make my son feel comfortable and safe in his own home and I didn’t. Lack of money coupled with lack of desire to hang Scooby-Doo sheets, I guess.
“Z if you’ll help me find some sheets, I’ll cover all these windows for you.”
“Okay, but can I wait upstairs while you finish it?” Abso-freakin-lutely.
Half an hour later, we were enjoying our newly privatized living/dining room with a bowl of late night mac-n-cheese. How simple; how silly that I never did it before. And how delighted Z seemed not only with the room but with his mom. Then was test number 2:
“Mom, sometimes I think I just want to kill myself.”
I went to him, knelt beside him and asked him why he feels that way. “Because I want to go to heaven , so then I’ll know if I’ll still be able to see.” He explained that he was afraid that when he dies he won’t be able to see anything anymore [without his body/eyes], and that he won’t ever [physically] see me or anyone else ever again. So, he said, if he died now he would know for sure what it’s like. I wrapped my arms around him and told him that I think heaven and hell are not a place you go when you die but how you feel about where you are, and that if he chose to leave I would spend the rest of my life in hell.
That’s when he broke down crying and said “It’s just not fair, Mom. It’s not fair we have to die at all. What if we never see each other again?”
I held him on my lap as he sobbed, my heart breaking over the fear he had never trusted me to accept before. I cried not knowing how long he harbored this fear. I answered him as best I could, explaining what I thought of true transcending love and the G-d I know today. I promised our souls to always be together. I apologized for not being able to change death. We sat on the floor and I held him and rocked him and cried with him as he fell asleep, whispering over and over “It’s just not fair we have to die.”
It’s not fair. It’s not fair that my little boy carried that burden alone, without the help and love from his mom. It’s not fair to him that I couldn’t fully wake up or let go, that I held onto my ideals without ever once realizing I was passive-aggressively controlling him. My inconsistency, my fear of judgement, my control pushed us away from truly loving and enjoying each other. All this time as I thought I was actively engaging in radical unschooling, I refused to see it wasn’t working because of me. I projected my end goals on him and it “wasn’t working working because he wasn’t working with me”. But in that one night, G-d showed me what I didn’t want to see – it really is “all about mom”. Whether I choose to see it or not, all our joy and all our problems have been wrapped around me the whole time.
But as I sat rocking my little boy on the dining room floor, I realized something that shakes me to the core. Life is just not fair; so much so that my little 8 year old hurts over it already. But from this moment on, although life will at times be unfair to him, although there will be times of fear or disappointment, never again will those things come from his mom. I’m the only safe place he has and wrapping him in that love is the only thing that really matters.
Well it’s a eulogy of sorts. It was what I felt led to share, although when the time came the formidable urge to vomit on my open-toed heels forced me to allow the minister to deliver it to the congregation instead of me. He’s a good reader.
There is an African proverb that says “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” It has been one that has gotten me thru a lot in my life, just by simply reminding me why I am here, why I have been given my life at all. It is one I’ve been repeating to myself a lot lately as well.
These past days have not been smooth seas but they are teaching me things I thought I already knew.
In January, my father and I got in a disagreement over his driving with cataracts. And out of love, I was concerned. But I allowed that concern to turn my love into frustration…and I hadn’t spoken with him since. When I had started to come to my senses, I was “too busy” trying to close my business, a decision I’d made ironically enough with family in mind. I thought I had time to make amends when everything was settled. In the last three months I allowed my stubbornness and my business to get in the way of what truly mattered in my life.
Because at the end of our lives, lying on our death beds, we will not be asking to see our success, our accomplishments, our bank accounts …and we will not be arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong…we will be asking for those that held our hands thru our lives moments, those that laughed or celebrated with us, those we loved and those that loved us.
I believe G-d created us for two purposes…to learn and to love. And really…to learn how to love. And I pray that through this time, we are able to come out of it with something to show for what we’ve all endured. All of life is a lesson in love, this being no exception. I pray we have all learned how to love deeper, better, less selfishly, and more freely. I pray that out of our love, we learn to let go of what does not matter and hold tight to what truly does.
G-d is love. And when we love, we are at one with G-d – a small piece of heaven on earth. My dad is now in perfect communion, fully at one with G-d. So by making the choice to love not only can we invite G-d and heaven into our lives, but we are also inviting my dads memory back into our hearts.
For each and every person who is wishing for a way to honor my fathers life – love.
For him, be the love that lights your life, that lights the lives of those you love. Because in the end, love will be all that matters.
My dad loved each and every person here. Not perfectly but he loved us. And although this is not the smoothest sea, G-ds love… and my dads love… and our love can be the bridge.
I’d like us all to take a minute to honor him, to whisper to him the things we need to say, to love him because in our love, he is here.