Thursday, January 5, 2017

Coming Alive after Death

Me and my Lovie xoxoxo
Year before last, I wanted to die. My therapist and all the reading I'd done told me that this is a normal reaction to the death of a very close loved one and though I've found that they rarely put "time constraints" on grief, this was my experience of the first year after my daughter passed. 

My loved one was/is verrrry close to me, having been my earthly, wonderful, beautiful, giggle-puss daughter for 26 years, now metamorphosed into her bigger, most beautiful and giggle-puss spirit self. She came from my belly, we fell in love at her conception, and we did life together and apart for 26 years. We laughed, we cried, we talked, we fought, we loved, we shouted, we sang, together. She was a "fixture" in my life from the very beginning, and one around whom I made decisions, bought things, dreamed things, and lived, as I also do with my son. It's family.

Beloved baby times xo
She got sick. And when she died, she took my heart and sense of purpose and so many facets of my being with her. I think the things I felt are similar for others who experience the death, especially, of a child. I want to share some of the things that help me to come back to the land of the living, to feel joy, honor, a sense of accomplishment and control, to learn to trust again. There was a time I wasn't sure I'd make it, and that, I'm told, is normal too, but it feels scary when you're going through it.

My Lovie sharing a can of luscious black olives with me xo
During the first year after her transition to her celestial home I felt a lot of shock and trauma - for months - the memories flooded in and I didn't know what might trigger them. Some part of myself didn't expect that she would die - we believed she was 80% recovered during the 4-month stay at home with us, and that she could successfully go the rest of the 20% and reintegrate into her life at her beloved home in Portland, Oregon. 

But that wasn't to be. After she passed, I couldn't listen to music because it brought up emotion and made me cry. I was flooded constantly with emotion, both gloriously beautiful and devastatingly sad. I couldn't wear certain perfumes - such as Shalimar, which I wore for all the years my kids were young. After the divorce I chose new scents, but when they visited in adulthood, or when I missed them, I'd put on Shalimar. Divine scent. I wear it now sometimes on special days. It has beauty and comfort where for a couple of years it had only pain. I mention this to share the extent to which a death like this can affect a human being. Be kind, be kind...for we don't know what battles others are fighting.

I went to get my hair cut at the place where I took her before she went back to her beloved home in Portland to die alone; I cried in the car after the first time I went. I went to the dentist, where I also took her to have her teeth cleaned before she went back to her beloved home in Portland to die alone; I cried after I left the dentist and drove straight to the Universal Unitarian church to sit alone in the place where the ministers give sermons. No one knew I was there. There wasn't anything anyone could say that would make it all right. But I sat and soaked up the love in that place for a good long while. I hadn't known she would die. Her haircut and the dentist was my way of loving her, and after her passing I had to find new ways of loving her, and feeling her love.

That first year, I had to go Christmas shopping for my family and went into stores that we'd gone into together, in joy, before I knew she would die. I had to pick out cards for my family members and bypass the cards for daughters (!!! OUCH!!! I had soooo enjoyed sending her cards throughout the years). I even saw cards that I had sent to her or cards that she sent to me, and if THAT isn't a trigger, baby, I don't know what is. In particular, I saw the thank you card she sent to me after she was home, 3,000 miles away, and I was here. "I picked it because the picture on the front reminds me of the watercolors you do Mama," she said to me when I could hear her lovely voice, here, alive. I breathed my Lamaze breathing there in the cardshop. No one was around. 

I watched movies that told stories about mothers and daughters and fell apart, going into the bathroom to cry over and over again. Cold washcloth on my face, deep breaths. I can't change this. I must accept it. I must honor it. I must make it all right. I must find the pathway to acceptance. I wanted to smash dishes and demolish things, but I didn't. I wanted to get in the car and keep driving and driving forever, but I didn't. I wanted to run, but I couldn't run away from this - it was, and is, and will always be a part of me - a part of us.

I felt completely helpless every single day and night - I had not been able to control the process of healing her from her sickness (along with 12 doctors of various specialties), and as a result of her passing I lost trust in everything, I lost confidence in myself, I lost the knowingness of "who I am," and I lost the will to live. I was afraid to love the people around me because the pain of losing them was too much, entirely too much to risk.

My beloved husband helping Jess with her bills xo
I got pneumonia towards the end of the first year she died - at holiday season, no surprise. Also not unusual with the loss of a very close loved one, and nearly died, coughing up bright red blood and suffering temps around 104. Zombie me. My physical body just shut down and I retreated from the world under blankets with the noncommercial TV movie channel comfortingly in the background and a happy-ending book in my lap where I'd read and reread the same page several times to get it into my head. Holding HER. Holding HER. Breathing. Holding HER in my heart. 

My Lovie, underweight, but gaining strength xo
At first, I needed to learn how to be in relationship with her even though she was no longer a part of my daily reality. I was grateful I'd done a lot of research and reading about death, since I was no stranger to it, but still, I felt unprepared for the enormity of THIS death. I felt she'd been snatched from my heart, she'd slipped through my fingers, I'd failed her.

Her last birthday - I went to cry in the bathroom
before we ate our cake. I hope she didn't know.
I am very lucky to have absorbed the steel core that my father instilled in me - the will to survive, the sense that I'm here for some reason (which I largely associated with raising my kids), and the will to be useful while I'm here. 

I'm also lucky that at the very beginning, just after she died, there were little things grabbing my attention, like orders for my beadwork, people coming over, medical papers and details to take care of, laundry and house chores, pups that needed care - just things that required my attention even if my mind and heart were almost completely occupied in "holding her." 

One of those days I received 15 different medical bills in the mail all at the same time. 15. I went and poured a shot of cognac and drank it and fell apart. I think it was 11 0'clock in the morning. I did the phone calls and paperwork - having her death certificate copied so we could send it over and over and over again. It is a beautiful document, all swirly and colorful and stately. But it's also crushing. I had to sit on hold with the phone in my hand over and over and over again. I used to love checking the mail, but those two years were very very hard. I loved doing the laundry, it was warm and clean and folding was comforting. Even if the memories came rolling in of when I did her laundry while she was here, because she couldn't get down the basement steps. Laundry is good. Laundry is love.

She gave me signs of communication. "I'm all right, don't worry." "I'm happy." "I want you to be happy too." She sent me songs, spiritual numbers that we'd talked about and that hold profound and comforting meaning for us, and we wrote letters back and forth, yes, even after her passing. We still do and they are precious.

We had a loving relationship and still do xo
Now I have not only survived the second year of her passing, but managed to create a bit of a foundation under myself - and to open the delicate petals of my heart a little at a time to welcome and embrace new friends, new experiences, new feelings of confidence, new victories, a restored sense of purpose, and a restored trust in loving the people around me.

What helped, in the early stages of grief, on the most minute scale (which was actually huge, since it ignited life in me) was my plants. They needed me. I loved them. I had to get off the couch to water them, to repot them, to tend them, and they responded. A tiny first light of hope sprouted with this activity. I did not let them die. My ministrations made a difference. For those who are grieving deeply, I recommend getting a plant, learning about it and tending it. It gives back. If your first plant dies, get another one that's not so damn fussy. It's a plant. My wonderful husband, the horticulturist, has no problem yanking them out and replacing them. 

Celebrate and love and live life xo
What helped, in the early stages, was my pups, Lil Bear and Benji. In the early stages all I could think was that they would also die and I would be overcome by emotion yet again that I wasn't sure I could handle. But they begged so beautifully, bringing toys as offerings in trade for tidbits when we ate. They curled up with me to sleep and snort and wiggle their little feet in dreams. They brought me off the couch and into the world of light and weather and beauty, needing walks. I gave them baths and brushed them all silky soft. I kept my heart warm and loved them and they loved me back. It was a risk I was, and still am, willing to take because the alternative of having a cold heart does not appeal to me. Thank you my Pup Lovies. If and when you're ready, if you don't have a loving animal to caretake, I recommend adopting one. When you are able to risk loving them, they love you back and it fills your heart with joy in so many ways.

What helped in the early stages, was my kitty, Joey Max.

Kitty love xo
Joey Max lives with our two pups, and he keeps a low profile during the day. They get along pretty well, but they're not exactly pals. During the first two years after my daughter's passing, Joey waited til the pups went to sleep with my husband around 11 at night, and then he came into my studio, where I couldn't sleep, and purred and cuddled with me. I bought him a couple of new toys and we played together and I found soft giggles erupting from inside me and fleeting relief from the weight of grief. 

After a few months I started looking for work because I had retired early from my 16-year occupation as an instructional designer with a top ten university when my daughter first got sick. I took a part-time job over the summer last year, and it was many levels down from the responsibilities of my "career" skills - I thought it would be meaningful, yet leave me free mentally after work to do my art stuff. The position didn't work out and I walked away after discovering the boss was training my replacement behind my back, with no meetings and no discussion of where I wasn't fulfilling her needs even though I'd asked for them. (I wasn't fast enough, and our styles were too different, according to her.) I have retired "fast." I'll leave that to the youngsters eager to build their reputations and grow their skills. I have no sense of urgency anymore (I now know what real urgency is and I couldn't do a damn thing about it) - the relativity of it just doesn't exist in my world; it's all about flow now.

That part-time job brought many blessings and reminded me of "who I am," "what I care about," and "how I can serve in the capacities that I've built and am building within myself." So a blessing in disguise.

I continued to look for work, but got very choosy about how I wanted to spend my time and how much time I wanted to spend doing what I call my "service work," which contributes to the larger community and must be meaningful and improve the lives of those who can benefit from the work I do. Bingo! In remembering "who I am," and "what matters to me," I was able to land a position with an innovative educational organization that I respect and that needs my services. And what a surprise, the work is fun, addictive, and I get to learn and teach a lot. It comes with many freedoms since it's completely virtual contract work. I'm a lucky girl.

Angels are watching over us xo
What this work does for me is help me to rebuild confidence in myself, to feel a sense of control, to be connected with others who have similar goals, and to restore my professionalism. It's great for my head to focus on creating something that thousands of learners will access to help them on their pathways to creating their own careers. It's meaningful. 

So at this point, nearly two years after my beloved daughter's passing, I no longer "want" to die, though I have no fear of it. Living is infinitely more painful, though beautiful and sometimes rewarding. I've learned that honor has a solid place in respecting my daughter's spiritual choice to move on. I've learned to be in relationship with her in different, creative ways. I've learned that though I've been devastatingly wounded, I'm a warrior and I can heal and rebuild, carrying all the beauty and strength and love of our experience with me into my current and future endeavors. 

Never give up. We are connected to our loved ones, but we are also ourselves. And each individual Self has value and purpose and contribution. I think the secret to coming alive again is to place the focus on who you are and what your personal purposes are. To start with baby steps, focusing on the little tiny sparks of beauty and service/purpose in life and grow from there. Hang on for the ride, and soon you might feel yourself swinging with the movement of it. Maybe dancing to the music. Maybe singing along with it. Maybe planting your flag on the top of an 'effin mountain.

It's a long climb up, and we cry. Our very souls cry and our hearts feel broken, and sometimes we think we can't make it. But if we keep going, with our focus on little tiny things at first, we find we can eventually scale mountains step-by-step, and reach out a hand to others climbing behind us. 

Keep going. Create what is important to you. Offer your beautiful talents and skills to the world and help others to do the same. What else is there? 

I am what I am.
In having faith in the beauty within me, I develop trust.
In softness I have strength.
In silence I walk with the gods.
In peace I understand myself and the world.
In conflict I walk away.
In detachment I am free.
In respecting all living things, I respect myself.
In dedication I honor the courage within me.
In eternity I have compassion for the nature of all things.
In love I unconditionally accept the evolution of others.
In freedom I have power.
In my individuality I express the God Force within me.
In service I give of what I have become.
I am what I am: Eternal, immortal, universal, and infinite.
And so be it.

~Stuart Wilde

I am what I am: Eternal, immortal, universal, and infinite. xo



  1. Thank you.....I need this so much.

    1. You're most welcome Bev. Big hugs coming your way.