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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

WHEN YOU FEEL YOU CAN’T GO ON
I’m sorry that you’re hurting so desperately right now. I know how painful the seconds, and minutes, and days can be, how long the nights are. I understand how very hard hanging on is, and how much courage it takes.

I ask though that you hold onto one day at a time. Just one day, and slowly this despair will pass. The feelings you fear you’re trapped in will serve their purpose, and then fade away. Difficult to imagine isn’t it? Almost impossible to believe when every cell in your body it seems cries out in agony, desperately in need of comfort. When it feels like the only thing in the whole world that can touch your pain and banish it is beyond your grasp. And after all this time, the assurance that you will heal has become an empty, broken promise.

Just let one tiny cell in your body continue to believe in the promise of healing. Just one. You can surrender every other cell to your despair. Just that one little cell of faith that you can heal and be whole again is enough to keep you going, is enough to lead you through the darkness. Although it can’t banish your suffering, it can sustain you until the time comes for you to let your pain go. And the letting go can only occur in its own time, as much as we would like to push the pain away forever.

Hold on. Hold on to appreciate the beauty of the earth, to feel the songs of the birds in your heart, to learn and to teach, to laugh a genuine laugh, to dance on the beach, to rest peacefully, to experience contentment, to want to be no other place but in the here and now, to trust in yourself, and to trust your life.

Hold on because it’s worth the terrible waiting. Hold on because you are worthy. Hold on because the wisdom that will follow you out of this darkness will be a tremendous gift. Hold on because you have so much love and joy waiting to be experienced. Hold on because life is precious, even though it can bring terrible losses. Hold on because there is so much that you can’t now imagine waiting ahead on your journey – a destiny that only you can fulfill. Hold on although your exhausted and your grasp is shaky, and you want more than anything to let go sometimes, hold on even though. Please hold on.

So much in life can be difficult, even impossible to understand. I know, I know… So many of us have cried in despair, “why?” “why?” “why?,” and still the answers and the comfort failed to show. Survival can be a long and lonely road, in spite of all those who’ve stumbled down the path before you. And it can be a treacherous, torturous journey – so easy to get lost, and yet impossible to avoid even one painful step.

And the light, the light at the end of the dark tunnel for so long cannot be seen, although eventually you’ll begin to feel its’ warmth as you move forward. And forward you must move in order to get through the hell of remembering, of despair, of rage, of grief. Keep looking forward please. Rest if you must, doubt your ability to survive the journey if you have to, but never let go of the guide ropes, although when you close your fingers around them, your hands feel empty, they are there. Please trust me, they are there…

When you’re exhausted, when all you have to count on is a weakened, weary faith, hold on. When you think you want to die, hold on until you recognize that it’s not death you seek, but for the pain to go away. Hold on, because this darkness will surely fade away.

Hold on…Please hold on.

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My heart aches since learning of Robin Williams death. Depression has stolen yet another bright and beautiful soul – one whose life work has offered up so many lessons – to live an authentic life, to love with our whole being, the distinction between curing and healing, what it means to be a father, to see the world anew each day, that life is truly a miracle, to follow our dreams, that sometimes when you win you lose, there is unimaginable power that lives within our stories, that death is not the enemy, to seize the day, and so much more…
Robin’s death is a grim reminder that depression is a liar and that we can never afford to underestimate its power to convince even the brightest and the best of us that there is no reason to hope, and that there will be no better tomorrow. It informs us that reaching out to those in our lives who are despairing can literally be a matter of life and death and that “having it all” doesn’t guarantee happiness.
We’ll miss him….

The Warning Signs of Suicide

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Then my world exploded.  Kristen shared a terrible secret that she’d been baring the weight of alone for far too long.  When she was a child, a family member had sexually and emotionally abused her repeatedly over a period of years.

As a therapist who had witnessed the unfathomable devastation of child abuse far too many times, I’d been determined to keep my child safe.  I’d carefully screened the few people who had access to her when she wasn’t in my presence, we had completed the coloring book that described red light/green light touches when she was four, and had read and discussed a children’s book developed to provide children with tools that would serve to protect them from sexual abuse.  We rehearsed what she should do if someone touched her inappropriately or frightened her, and had talked about the importance of never keeping secrets that made her feel “yucky.”

And now I knew throughout my body and soul what I had only known intellectually – no child is ever truly safe.  I had failed to protect my innocent little girl.  In fact, we had welcomed the devil into our family.  And now I was careening into a terrible darkness, on fire with rage, repeatedly tortured by images of my precious child’s abuse, and brutalized by the utterly overwhelming twins of grief and guilt.

In November of 2012 my mother died at 4:20 on a Sunday morning.  The two days preceding her death had been excruciating, and I am thankful that I was stroking her face and singing her a love song when she finally sighed deeply and slipped away.

My heart was far too full of grief, love and regret to make room for my brain to fully absorb her death at first.  In fact, I’m still in the process of coming to terms with the painful truth that she is never, ever coming back to me.  And although I was no stranger to the heaviness of loss and grief, for days following her death I was struck almost mute by the weight of a heart that was so swollen and bruised, I was absolutely exhausted from carrying it around.

In Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places, James Hollis points out that the word for grief originates from the latin term, “gravis,” which translates as “to bear,” and observes, “To experience grief is not only to bear the heaviness of the condition but, again, to testify to its depth as well.”  The gravity of my grief lead me down into the depths of both my longing and my love.  One moment I was strong.  I was the comforter and the matriarch.  And the next, I was weeping without warning — a motherless child, a guilt stricken mother, a woman underwater clamoring for breath.

Three months after losing my mother, I unexpectedly lost my oldest childhood friend, my anam cara – my soul sister…

I still remember the first moment that I saw her. She was a tiny little waif, leaning lightly against my grandmother and laughing at something that had just been said. I was a lover of fairy tales and with her blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and sweet pixie face, my eight year old self quickly concluded that here standing right before me, in my very own kitchen, was Goldilocks!

At eight she enchanted me, by ten she was fully integrated into my family, and by twelve she was my confidant and best friend.  I’m not sure when she became my sister and a vital part of me, but she did.

Her maiden name was Joy, which was both fitting and ironic.  As a young child she and her younger brothers had been removed from her parents and placed into foster care. As a very young woman, one of her brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by the death of his twin. Her only consolation was that she had been with him when he heaved his last breath.  Next, not long after she and her estranged father began building a relationship, he perished from lung cancer. And then, eight years ago, her husband of nineteen years (and my first love) went to work one morning and never came home. He died instantly, leaving her to finish raising three of their four children alone while battling the fierceness of anxiety and depression.

This past February as the abominable storm Nemo surged towards them, those same beautiful children bravely and graciously greeted friends and family who had come to honor their mother’s life. She had been admitted into the hospital with pneumonia and died there.

The amount of pain and suffering she and her children have faced at such tender ages was and is completely incomprehensible to me, and the urge to bellow up at the heavens, “why!! why!!!!  Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” sat wound tightly in my chest for weeks, threatening to explode and scatter shards of my shattered self everywhere. In fact, the urge rises up even now from the center of my chest as I write these words and something terrible and dense comes to occupy the space around my lungs and heart.

For the last three springs of her life I had  told her that I thought I could manage a visit during the summer, and yet had found myself apologizing each autumn when my plans to visit fell through.  I believed that we’d have many more summers, plenty of time.

She called me right after my mother died and left a message explaining that she understood that I might not have the energy to call back right away, (I didn’t) and that she would simply be waiting and available to me when I was ready to talk. She emailed me before Christmas and warned me that the holidays would be brutal, but that I’d get through them. I emailed her back and thanked her, promising that I’d call her soon. That was our final contact.  I ache still with the knowledge that there will be no more phone calls, no more heart to heart talks, no more promises, and no more summer adventures to plan.  I have lost my soul sister, and along with her I have lost a piece of myself.  I love and long for her fiercely now.

I’m unspeakably grateful for my years as a therapist, and for the fifteen years that I spent researching trauma and transformation in earnest before my own life spiraled so out of control.  I can’t imagine how I would have possibly moved through the pain, fear, and chaos that has occupied so much of my life during these past few years without having witnessed time and time again the tremendous strength and resilience of my clients, and the stubborn albeit shaky faith that I would be able to emerge deepened and refined by the excruciating yoga of despair that I’d gotten lost in.

And now at 12:01 on Wednesday, January the first, 2014, I am thinking about two questions Dawna Markova posed in her book, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life and that I have asked myself repeatedly during these past three years, “what if the moments of the greatest wounding in your life were also places where the divine crossed your path, and the unquenchable dream of your life was born?…what do you love that is bigger than this wound?”   While my answer to the second question has remained steadfast, it is only recently that I have been able to fully recognize where the divine had indeed penetrated my  darkness.  I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are surrounded by new life even in the midst of death, and that poet, Mark Neppo spoke the truth when he pointed out that “each cocoon must break so the next butterfly can be.  And it is our curse and blessing to die and be born so many times.  So many sheddings.  So many wings.”

When sunlight greets this first day of the New Year, I will welcome it with a heart that now holds as much gratitude as it does pain, and with a life that contains a love that is far greater than its wounds.

 

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Each Day is a Gift

Photographer: Kristen Fowles

The following is the first of three related blog posts.

On this, the last day of  2013,  I am reflecting on the past three years — years that have  proven to be the most painful and challenging of my adult life — my very own dark ages.  These have been years that have both tested and shattered me.  Years that I have needed every bit of wisdom and skill accumulated over a life time to pick up the pieces of my broken self.  Years that broke my heart and beat me down.  Years that I would never ever want to face again, years that had I been forewarned about, I would have run from screaming.

Why am I about to share such a huge part of my personal life here in this blog?  Because of an email that a young woman sent me.  An email that contained so much despair that it kept me tossing and turning last night until the wee hours of this morning.  She ended her email by writing that while she appreciated my wisdom and compassion, she knew that I couldn’t possibly understand, and though I had worked hard and deserved all of the wonderful gifts that my life contained, I had not had to face anything like what she was confronting now.   She concluded that some things that happen to us simply demolish us, leaving us without hope and in total darkness.

I wrote back to her explaining that I know all too well about fumbling hopelessly in the dark along an uncharted path which offered inadequate shelter and no exits.  During these past three years I’ve  endured pain so heavy and dense that even now it can literally take my breath away, have suffered so intensely that my body has still not recovered, and have fought to control a rage so consuming that I sometimes fear it will  burn me alive if I fail to break completely free of it.  Living has hurt, hurt desperately.  And much of what I have lost can never, ever be recovered.

I will share some of what these past three years have contained in my next two blog posts, as I am only now beginning to truly fathom how they have shattered, tested, taught and transformed me.  I am sharing this painful part of my life in order to connect with, reassure, and honor all of those who have lived through or are suffering through their own period of pain and darkness.  They are my sisters and brothers and I am holding them close in my heart as I write…

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Art by Steve Hanks, Bookends

Art by Steve Hanks, Bookends

One easy way that you can tell which books in my library have touched or taught me the most would be to notice which are the most marked up.  I came across a book just the other day that is filled with yellow highlights, it’s Dawna Markova’s, “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life.”   Beautiful and wise.  Reminding us of what’s sacred,  asking us what it would look like to live our lives “fully, sensually alive, and passionately, on purpose.”   Encouraging us to live days that are “a sweet and slow ceremony” and nudging us as winter approaches to let go of “what no longer is alive, to get bare enough to find the bones of what is important” to us.

“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit. ”

~Dawna Markova~

 

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This is a dark and dismal season of grief for me. Three months ago I lost my mother, and within this last week I have lost my oldest childhood friend, my anam cara – my soul sister…

I still remember the first moment that I saw her. She was a tiny little waif, leaning against my grandmother and laughing at something that had just been said. I was a lover of fairy tales and with her blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and pixie face, my eight year old self imagined that here standing before me, in my very own kitchen, was Goldilocks!

At eight she enchanted me, by ten she was fully integrated into my family, and by twelve she was my confidant and best friend. I’m not sure when she became my sister and an essential part of me, but she did.

Her maiden name was Joy, which was both fitting and ironic. As a young child she and her younger brothers had been removed from her parents and placed into foster care. As a very young woman, one of her brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by the sudden death of his twin. Next, soon after she and her estranged father began building a relationship, he died from lung cancer. And then, eight years ago, her husband of nineteen years went to work one morning and never came home. He died instantly, leaving her to finish raising three of their four children alone.

Yesterday, as the great storm Nemo surged towards them, those same beautiful children bravely and graciously greeted friends and family who had come to honor their mother’s life. She had gone into the hospital with pneumonia and died there.

The amount of pain and suffering she and her children have faced at such tender ages is completely incomprehensible to me. The temptation to scream up at the heavens, “why!!!!!!!! why!!!!!!!!!! Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” sits wound tightly in my chest, threatening to explode, scattering pieces of my shattered self everywhere.

Her maiden name was Joy. And even as she struggled on a daily basis with the fallout of a heart broken way too young and far too often, she embraced her life and held it and those within its orbit close and tenderly. She created countless special memories for her husband and children, faced her fears, followed her heart, and sweetly coaxed me to join her from time to time. For the past three springs I told her that I thought I could manage a visit during the summer, and apologized each autumn when my plans to visit fell through.

She called me right after my mother died and left a message explaining that she knew that I might not have the energy to call back right away, (I didn’t) and that she would simply be waiting patiently when I was ready to talk. She emailed me at Christmas time and warned me that the holidays would be brutal, but that I’d get through them. I emailed her back and thanked her and promised that I’d call her soon. That was our final contact. Now there will be no more phone calls, no more heart to heart talks, no more promises, no more summers…

Shortly after losing her husband, she lamented that in working so long and hard in preparation for retirement, he had missed so many tiny inconsequential and yet precious moments. She had made a promise to herself at his funeral that she wouldn’t postpone pleasure in the interest of a tomorrow that might never come. She kept that promise.

Stephanie Ericsson wrote:

“Grief is a tidal wave that over takes you
smashes down upon you with unimaginable force,
sweeps you up into its darkness,
where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces,
only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped…

Grief will make a new person out of you,
if it doesn’t kill you in the making.”

It’s not my grief that threatens to mortally wound me, it’s my love. And it’s not my love that has proven to be my greatest teacher, it’s my grief.

Thirty five years ago four teenagers sat late into the night talking about life and death and making predictions about how their lives would turn out. Before separating in the wee hours of the morning, they made a pact that when they were fifty they would come back together and see whose predictions came true. They never kept that oath. Not because they got too busy, or forgot their promise along the way, but because the only one who lived to see her fiftieth birthday was me.

I grieved deeply each time I lost one of them, and yet failed repeatedly to fully grasp the profound lesson contained within each death. It’s a lesson that we learn over and over again without fully comprehending, one that we pay lip service to but seldom turn our lives around to meet. Those we love will die. WE WILL DIE. And so, we must make of our love a sacred practice, allowing it to flow through our lives like a mighty river. We must invite ourselves to fall in love with life over and over again, allowing life and love to become inseparable.

Both my mother and Missie, my golden girl, are gone now, and this is more loss than I can face today. But there’s something that I’ve learned through the terrible pain of earlier losses which sustains me. The intensity of this grief will fade even as its lesson comes more clearly into focus. Life is a gift of unknown duration – the only certainty is that it ends, and so we must learn to hold it lovingly and closely, like Missie did.

Her maiden name was Joy….

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