Tag Archives: Grief

How Lancelot can enter any hospital tale

16 Aug

Uncle John’s Band fills the room, and I can’t look at my Father. He’s wearing a diaper and his breathing is like a death rattle emerging from deep within. He’s been this way for hours. We have said our goodbyes two days before.

“Daddy, I love you,” I say, and he goes, “I know.”

A part of me still doesn’t believe him. How can he know? How can he know that the distance between us is because I can barely stand to be around him? I don’t know this man with a cane – I don’t know this man who does 2nd grade word problems to help with his memory. How can he know?That looking at this man makes me want to take the fetal position and never get up again – that if I did that I’d be an utter disappointment, but at least he would know how much he was loved.

Though, that’s all done now. A week before I noticed that he was silent, sitting at the edge of his bed with his feet planted on the floor. The TV was on, but I could tell that he wasn’t really watching. It rang out like empty noise that was meant to distract – not entertain.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, and as he usual he responded with, “nothing,” and I didn’t believe him because despite everything he still couldn’t admit to me when he was in pain.

I wasn’t sure if he fully realized what he was doing. How long he sat there like that. I wasn’t sure if I should try to talk to him or leave him alone. Our conversations were stilted, and at times they seemed to take away all of his energy.

Months before I had witnessed his writhing body laid out before me, and while my Mother screamed at me, “tell him a story,” and I began to tell the story of Lancelot – not the knight, but the handsome, womanizing, almost-lover that I had become friends with in the North of Colombia. I had no idea what I was doing, but I went with it.

Under most circumstances, I loved telling the story a Lancelot, and it wasn’t just because of his name. He pulled me into a corner in a dark club in Taganga, infuriated with my inattention toward him and demanded, “but Samantha, who do you like? You seem to like everyone,” and I wanted to explain to him that what I liked was being free.

Outwardly calm, but deeply panicked, I couldn’t stop the story’s telling. My Father murmured, “morphine,” and I said, “Daddy, it’s coming, don’t worry. You know what’s really funny? Well, maybe not funny, but umm, when I met Lance I was traveling with another guy..who was my friend, of course. But, um, I was annoyed with him. Ever heard of helicopter Moms? He was kind of like that, and when I saw Lance what I was really seeing was an opportunity to get rid of him.”

All the while I kept thinking, “I’m a terrible person. Not only did I ditch that guy and use Lance to do it, but now I am telling the story of Lancelot to my Dad whose every nerve is tensed in excruciating pain.”

So, I paused and wracked my brain for any other story, and all I saw was nothing.

Everything was covered in this mist, and I couldn’t even see my own recent experiences. I gripped my Dad’s hand, and plowed on, moving onto the part where Lancelot bought wine and cheese, and we laid by the pool, flirting, until I slipped and hit my head on the concrete in an attempt to be both sassy and sexy. After a bottle of wine, it seemed okay to stalk off, in false indignation, on a slick surface.

When it came time for the apology behind closed doors, I paused again. I couldn’t go on with the story, even the beginning wasn’t really parent-appropriate: the nightclub, the traveling with a man who I ended up leaving. It was all in my first months of backpacking, and it was a delicious chaos that I had never permitted myself.

But, here I was, standing in an equal chaos, and in response to my Mother’s demands to distract, it was the only story that lit up in my terrified mind.

She kept screaming at me, “what’s wrong with you? Talk to him, you’re not helping – can’t you think of anything?” and I wanted to lean across the table and scream at her, “how are you making anything better?” I wanted to weep for my life, which took me far and wide, and yet always yanked me back to where I began.

Eventually, the morphine kicked in and my Dad fell asleep. I looked at the white walls and laughed to myself; it was all so absurd.

In the silent room, I took in the white: the sheets, the pillowcases, his gown and the walls, and I knew that each room contained another person who was wearing the same thing. Some had families and some didn’t, and we had been there so many times over the years that the staff knew us. That they were witnesses to our families’ story; that they probably knew us better than our closest friends because they had seen our pain.

I looked down at my Father, “my Daddy,” and again I was wordless. Overcome, I knew that nothing had come to me because everything was nothing in the face of this – that Lancelot needed to enter into this moment because I was trying to save my Dad through a story.

Through my fully lived life; that was rich in experience, many of it joyous, adventurous, and I drove myself into the ground at times with it all because when the time came I knew I wanted to grip each moment into my hands and offer them up as worthy.

Looking into the grim reaper’s eyes, and whisper, “I’ve learned.”

New Beginnings and Loss – it’s all the same

17 Jan

I have suffered so much loss – incredible loss.  Heart aching, breaking loss – more than I ever talk about, more than I can express through action or words, and long before my Dad died.

But he did die, recently, on the exact same day my Grandpa died – one year apart, so I have lost the men of my life.  There really haven’t been any other, and in a way, I haven’t allowed for anyone else because those I did allow betrayed me – all when I was very young.

And now I’m 30 – a significant age, an age I’m happy to be, and I’m in a time of my life that I’m happy to be in, but it all feels strange because I’m without a Father, and grandfather, and I know in my heart my childhood drifted away amongst all my adventures.

And I’m not unhappy, nor happy.  I just am here, navigating this new phase of my life with all of it’s uncertainty.  I truly have no idea what’s ahead.

And I can’t run away because I don’t want to, but I am consistently seduced, tempted by the thought of changing locations, of endless travels in endless cities where everything is an adventure and nothing means anything with the quiet hope that somehow, somewhere I will find that unknowable something that will allow me to know here it is, my final stop.

But stopping is a choice, as is living, as is not letting the undertow of grief sweep you away and allowing the happiness to continue on.

As is never letting life beat you, as is never letting shame overtake, as is forgiving yourself for the missteps and haps that occur along the way.

As is the journey continues on, even while stopped because roots need stillness, nourishment, need actual planting to grow.

So I will try and trust this moment, that is what I tell myself everyday, let’s stay here, and trust that it will grow.

And trust that I don’t have to know everything, know what’s next, that I am strong and capable, well-traveled, ready and experienced; that I can make life what I want it to be even while stopped, even in grief, even in the shadows of happiness that dance across the moments where I let it in.

In fear, in pain, in joy, in sadness, in rage, in desire, in frustration, in love it’s all there all the time, this spinning wheel of uncertainty and in the living we create, and in the loss we evolve, so here I am, in this moment, uncertain, sad, joyful, wanting, hopeful and angry that life isn’t always what we want it to be; that love is not always waiting; that expression isn’t always possible and that acceptance, choice and change is all that’s left.

My Father’s Battle

21 Feb

I know that every time I walk away from my family I am leaving a Father who’s slowly dying.  I knew this when I chose to move to San Francisco in 2008, I knew this when I left for South America and I know this as I type this from my studio in Boulder.

Of course, we are all slowly dying, though we don’t like to think about it.  People, in jest, always say, “well I could get hit by a car crossing the street,” but the truth of that is it’s actually true.  Anyone’s life could end in the next five minutes, and probably somewhere in the world someone has died as I’ve typed this blog.

I first experienced loss when I was nine.  My best friend, Rebecca, got hit by a car and became mentally retarded.  She experienced a living death that I did not quite understand.   As a child, life felt like it was forever, and there I was standing across from my disfigured friend trying to be brave.

From that point on I lived with a fear that haunted me for years.  I was afraid to leave my parents because I thought that they would die if they weren’t in my sight.  I refused to be separated from them, and they began to get angry; they didn’t understand my need to be sewn together.

Eventually we went on vacation, and I began sobbing in a restaurant in Florida, “Didn’t they know a Hurricane could come and sweep us away?”

My Mother took me aside and said, “Samantha if you don’t knock it off we are going home.  And if we are going home, you are going to be locked in your room for the rest of the year.”  That’s when I began hiding my fear of loss.  I sang songs to myself, carried trinkets of comfort and wore a watch so I would always know the time.

Years began to pass and I got older.  Suddenly, I wasn’t a child anymore, but an unhappy teen who desperately wanted to life live on her own terms.  Loss slowly faded from my mind because I had so much ahead of me.  Everyone around me was focused on the/ir future, and I could not wait to get started on mine.

I did what I was told to do.  I got accepted into a good, if not prestigious University, and created a happy life for myself within my student bubble.  I made friends, volunteered with children, got a job at Hollister and maintained a high GPA.

When I turned 19 things began to change.  I was home for the summer, from University, and heard my Mother’s scream from the laundry room.

“This is the worst thing that could have happened to us.”  That is how I found out my Father had epilepsy and had lost his job because of it. Epilepsy turned into degenerative strokes turned into congestive heart failure turned into lupus anticoagulant turned into something I don’t even know the name of.  Now my Father takes 42 pills a day.

Every employer I’ve ever worked for has seen me fall apart over my Father.  Each time I was convinced that he wouldn’t live long and his Doctors agreed with me.  One of his doctors recently told him “it’s a miracle that you’re still alive,” though I think his determination to live is what’s really miraculous.

We are always faced with choices in life – both obvious and subtle.  I’ve found that the most important choices are usually the ones that are most difficult to make; these are the choices that define our lives.

This past summer I flew back to Chicago to take care of my Father and my family told me that I should, “Go LIVE!”

This is how I cultivated the courage to quit my job, with no back-up plan, and travel South America.  And I knew then, as I left, that I was completely liberated from my fear of loss; that even if I felt afraid (and I was terrified) that it wouldn’t stop me from living.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is because me living with the daily possibility of loss is no different than anyone else; it’s just my possibility is more obvious.

My Father’s suffering causes me pain, and I know that losing him will hurt more than I can imagine.  But I know he fights to live because he wants to; that’s his choice.  I support his battle to the best of my ability, but if I sacrificed my opportunities on the alter of his health he would stop fighting.

Happiness starts arriving in our lives when we make space for it; when we have the courage to be true to how we believe we should live no matter what we might lose.  After losing so much, more than I can share in this too-long blog; after living with loss since childhood, the only thing I am certain of is that we must go on.  That no matter what happiness is always possible, even in the midst of tragedy.

What I Do When Things Fall Apart

18 Jul

Life can look like an unspooled thread all in knots at your feet, and your whole self becomes consumed looking at the ground.  I know this because there have been times when this has happened to me; when I’ve been stuck in my own unraveling.

After my last break-up I was stuck up in my own knots, and for the first time ever was presented with the desire to just give up and sink down into my own mess.

It wasn’t the loss of this particular boy; I had lost worst, and it wasn’t the fact that we had just moved in together, though that was inconvenient; it was that this wasn’t the first time that things had fallen apart.

They fell apart so entirely because of the apartment, and the dreamed future, but also my career was entwined with “us” too.  I was barely getting by on freelance writing and a part-time job, which was fine if we were spiltting the bills – not otherwise.

Crying in the bathroom at my part-time job I seriously doubted my ability to start all the way over again; to have to harness all that energy up within me and launch myself out into the world, “wasn’t twice enough?”

However, I didn’t have a choice, and so I found solace in what always saves me, my love of reading.

Normally I always escape into the world of fiction, or some autobiography about a person who overcame a challenge far worse than mine, for perspective, but since I had evolved into being a Yogi I turned to Pema Chodron’s ‘When Things Fall Apart.’

That book began to set me straight, and I recommend it to anyone who feels like they’re standing in their own self-created destruction, wondering why it all happened, feeling that there’s nothing left to grip onto; that to put yourself back together one more time is just too much, it’s not.

Pema writes, “I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us…It was all about letting go of everything. p.7”

I repeated that sentence to myself, and instead of cursing the situation I began to see that it occurred because it was time to break the cage that I had placed myself in; time to set off without another and discover what was there for me on my own.

After two remakings it had been healing to insulate myself in another, a person who was kind and didn’t present much of a challenge, but life held more for me, it wasn’t going to let me settle into something comfortable, and I had to reach into what could not be touched by destruction within me; that spirit, that spark we all have; the one that makes hope happen.

And so because I cannot say it better myself, I’d like to leave you with Pema’s words, “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy)”

The Yoga of Grief

15 Mar

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I’m reaching out, across the room with the top half of my body going one way and my butt going the other.  My feet are gripping the floor, and one angled while the other points straight ahead.  I am reaching out, as far as I can to the person across the room, and there is a sharp but soft ache around my left hip bone.  I tilt forward with my arms open wide, desperately trying to touch the floor as my other arm is stretching toward the ceiling trying to touch that too, and the teacher keeps saying, “breathe, breathe.”

So I breathe into it all, and take a breath to think about how I’ll feel after this Yoga class, and what Yoga has brought to my life because in some moments I really wonder why I’m putting myself through all this twisting – though I know the answer.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2008 I was really sad.  Not the boohoo my-boyfriend-has-dumped- me, or I-didn’t-get-the-job-I-wanted kind of sad, but the soul-crushing, I’m-not-sure-if-I-want-to-live anymore kind of sad.  There is a difference, which I didn’t know at the time.  True grief is another land that lucky people don’t visit until they’re older, but it’s a country that almost all of us travel to.

Grief is another state of being.  I’ve found that grief takes people from the Major to the Minor key – the notes are still the same, but their song changes; it becomes more muted; more aching, and it causes others to react to the familiar differently.

For me, it felt like a part of me was numb, untouchable, and it was the part of me that could feel deep happiness.  I would guess that many people who are stuck in the land of grief feel this way and some people never escape.  This new self can become an identity you’re attached to and no matter how you’re being it’s hard to let a self go.

While it may seem like a San Francisco cliché, Yoga is what helped me heal.  It took my body and asked it to twist into shapes that weren’t entirely comfortable.  It asked me to bend forward time and again and touch the ground.  It told me that I could always get down on my knees and be a child just for a moment if I needed to rest.  It even allowed me to practice the final stage of life Shavasana or corpse pose (for that’s part of life too).

I had tried everything: talking to people, moving cities, screaming, getting a new job, therapy, sobbing and the ever-classic alcohol.  None of these things made me feel any better (yes, sorry friends); none of the latter schooled me in the art of letting go with grace.

That’s why I am ever-thankful for the day I randomly walked into the Yoga studio near my house on the first day of a 40 day Yoga workshop, and on impulse, feeling like maybe this was a sign, I joined.

Everyone grieves differently and we all have to find our own flashlights to help lead us out, but to me Yoga is more than just an effort to stay in shape.

It’s a life-long practice that reminds me each day its possible to get a little bit more open, to reach out a little bit further, to take a shape that you never thought you could and that if needed, you can always get down on your knees with your arms flung out and kiss the floor.