how are you, today?

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Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to ask people in mourning, “How are you, today?” By emphasizing today, we acknowledge the bumpy nature of grief.

Sometimes, I think, asking, “How are you, right now…in this very moment?” may be even more appropriate because one minute you are fine washing the dishes, thinking to yourself about the awkward but funny comment your child made earlier (maybe you should stop referring to private parts by their correct names), and the next, you find yourself in a puddle of your own creation wondering what on earth to do next.

It has been three weeks since my mom died of metastatic breast cancer. Three weeks wrapped up in what feels simultaneously like 24 hours and 3 months. I knew this time would come and often wondered what it would feel like when it did. In the time forever marked as after. That picture was taken after my mom died. That was the kids’ first birthday after we lost her. 

The further I get away from her death, the more I feel like I am leaving the precious and intimately sacred space where time stands still and you are entitled, expected and even encouraged to be all consumed by the enormity of the loss. Friends and family wrap you up in a warm and protective cocoon. Thank God for that cocoon.

But time soldiers on. And eventually, you have to emerge leaving the safe and nourishing shelter as a completely different creature than the the one you were before you started the unwelcome but necessary journey.

You are a changed being now. You will never be the same. You start to acclimate slowly. You return home or the people you love go home. Work, school, plans, and chores resume and sometimes the familiarity is comforting and sometimes it just feels wrong. No, no, no this can’t be, I can’t be laughing and talking about Halloween costumes, my mother just died! In her house! And we were there. And it was intense and beautiful and heartbreaking but beautiful. Sometimes. Sometimes it was and is just plain sad.

I have been creating quiet, restful moments during the day. Grief requires this. And these are the moments when I relish the relationship my mom and I built and revel in the one we are still building.

As Thomas Merton said, “Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would be unheard.”

In this fruitful silence, I notice one palm tree swaying to it’s own breezy music while all of the other trees stand still. I hear the peck on the glass and turn to see a yellow finch trying to fly through the window. I am comforted, soothed.

Sometimes I talk to her out loud. Or I’ll say something to my kids that sounds just like her. Like the other day, as my son played piano in the dark, I walked into the room, flipped on the light switch and said, “A little light on the subject?”  How many times over the years did I hear her utter that expression? I love her expressions with their touch of humor and reliability.

As I feel the presence of my mom, I also feel more and more like her. And I remember the times when she would laugh and say to no one in particular, “I sound just like my mother”. Her mother, my grandmother, Nana, whom I also adored, still adore, and miss.

This week, my oldest turned 11 and my youngest daughter turned two. Our silly and sassy little caboose with brown hair, brown eyes, and a killer grin makes everyone in the room smile. Just like her grandma did.

When my brother said the day after my mom’s service that he knew he would be o.k., my sunny friend Derek enthusiastically said something to the effect of, “Well that is something!” And it is. Because sometimes it is enough to know that we are growing in the right direction. That in this moment, no matter how bumpy and how much we ache for the people we love, we know they are o.k, and ultimately, we will be too.

 

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i can just tell

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photo by Phoebe

Dear Blog, it has been four weeks since my last post. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been four weeks since my last confession. As a kid, I was always majorly intrigued by confessional scenes in movies like the one in Flashdance! The dimly lit space I imagine smelling like Frankincense, the mysterious presence behind the partition, the downtrodden expression on the confessor. Dancing, welding, confessionals, leg warmers, hot dogs. For some reason, I recall hot dogs, am I right about this? And the ice skater friend with the sweaty boyfriend and the pervy father. What a movie!

My current state of mind in this particular moment is supremely grateful for my friends, my husband and kids, my mother-in-law, our various babysitters, my siblings, my aunt and uncle who live near my mom, my mom’s friends, her caretakers and nurses, and the random stranger angels that the universe has kindly thrown my way. Like the one at the airport who saw me with the most loving and knowing expression in her moon shaped, chestnut colored eyes. I was alone with my three kids standing on line to get a boarding pass for my “lap child”, sobbing. After saying goodbye to my sweet mom and one of my closest and best friends who came to spend a couple of days with us, I was in bad shape. Always in airports.

This friend who came a visiting, asked if she could do anything to help while we stood talking in the kitchen. Well, there is one thing. I told her she could take my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, Betty, to the vet to have her anal glands expressed. She had been scooting on the floor and her bottom was clearly in need of attention. A google search informed me that this is not something human beings have to worry about, fortunately.

But the visual of my friend backing out of my mom’s driveway with my 7-year-old daughter in the back and the dog in need of anal expression riding shotgun, is a vision I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the look on her face when I told her I would need to get her prepared for the appointment with gloves and goggles. Fortunately, that was a joke. But talk about angels, she is the real deal, that Sal and I love her very much.

When I got up to the ticketing counter, the woman with the kind eyes, said, “I know how you feel, I haven’t seen my mom in two years.”  When I asked her how she knew that I was crying over my mother, she softly said, “I can just tell.”

Angles of all sorts are getting me through this time. Especially in airports. Must have something to do with wings and flying. But I take great comfort in knowing that when life is hard, we are never truly alone. And that we are supported by seen and unseen forces. I believe we are very much loved, appreciated and divinely guided.

And every glance, text, email, voice mail, hug, gesture, card, shared meal, walk, are the bones that hold us up. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We belong to each other.”  We really do. I can just tell.

 

i love you, i am listening

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When Rabbi Rami Shapiro was asked how he experienced God, he responded that God is the experience.

“How are you?,” asked a neighbor of mine the other day during a wave of abrasive heat on a walk with my dog. He asked in such a way that it brought me to tears. Right away. No time to think or process or adjust. Bam! Waterworks. I don’t know, it took me off guard somehow. I wasn’t expecting it. His asking was so earnest and innocent. So sweet. God is in the details some say.

The thing is, I am grieving. I am mourning. But the weird thing is that sometimes we do this before a loss. It is referred to as anticipatory grief. There are so many incremental losses along the way that can and often do paralyze us. Or when we feel triggered by the pain associated with our losses, we may feel more forgetful, angry, irritable, tired, heartbroken, distant, distracted. You name it.

And then sometimes grief does the opposite. You grieve. You cry. But then you feel like part of the world. Part of this seamless mystery that makes flowers bloom. Sometimes grief motivates us to be more human, more kind, more selfless, more apt to just get out there put our grievances aside and show up as much as we can, knowing that this is our one shot at doing so. No need to worry about saying the right thing, looking perfect, or sounding wise. That shit doesn’t matter. What is in your heart, that matters.

What a gift. What an opportunity. What a blessing.

Grief is internal but mourning is the outward expression of our grief. We need both. Sometimes solitude is the healing salve our soul yearns for and other times we need to share our laughter and tears with others.  We don’t need to say things are o.k. or well because they may not be in that moment. They will be again…someday. But crying right in the middle of a heat wave on the sidewalk happens sometimes.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. When we are grieving, our resilience is down and all of our emotions are so close to the surface. Seaweed floating on top of the salty sea. Seaweed, green, tough, and seemingly everywhere. And you have the choice to get entangled in it or swim through the clumps, revealing the clear water everywhere else. The clear water waiting to hold you, to support you, and wipe your beautiful tears away with an incoming wave, dispelling it and joining it with the rest of the sea.

We stop resisting. We surrender. We float.

And when we grieve, we don’t squander or squelch our feelings as much as we normally do, they just come out and recede like moving water, like passing weather.

And this too, as hard and awkward as it is, is also a gift.

Just swim through it like the seaweed.

After being embarrassed for much of my life about my readily available tears, I don’t apologize for them anymore. I don’t wave them away. I tell them I love them. I thank them. They are doing their job.

Which reminds me of a circle of lovely women I sat with recently on a nearby dock. On the steamy summer solstice evening, we listened to the lapping water and mind numbing planes overhead while discussing how we love ourselves in the midst of heavy, hard stuff.

Forgiveness. Self Care. Compassion. And sometimes if we are challenged to access this kind of compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves, we may think of how we would approach a dearly beloved friend and then turn that kind of attention to our own thirsty souls.

Life is here too in this grief. Laughter, smiles, rainbows, big colorful ones that keep appearing over the Bay, and then there is my littlest girl naked with a fuzzy halo on her head playing with flowers.

It is all Spirit. Truth. Source. God. You choose the name you are comfortable with, maybe there isn’t a name.  The soul in me and the soul in you.

It is the experience.

How do you love yourself? How do you thank your tears and your anger as well as your waves of joy?

They are all here to help us heal and to encourage our growth, to encourage our union with Spirit. Loneliness and Separation are an illusion. Or as my friend Erica said the other day, “a thinking error”.

It may be as simple as putting our hands over our hearts and saying, “I love you. I am listening.” – ( From the beautiful and soul enriching podcast, Live Awake by Sarah Blondin).

This is the experience.

 

 

 

 

ushering in the magic

“I am more vulnerable that I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined.”– Tedeschi Calhoun

Some days I pretty much have it together. And to clarify, pretty much having it together means a sticker on the bottom of my foot (thank you friend for telling me in yoga yesterday), a dress on inside out with the tags whimsically blowing in the breeze and shit everywhere…literally, my baby took off her diaper and pooped on the carpet on Sunday afternoon.

I had it so together yesterday that a young guy walked up to my car and asked me if I was his uber driver. I said no and we both laughed as I drove off with my perplexed son in the backseat and an infant car seat next to him. Oddly, I was flattered which may be something I should explore with my therapist.

But really I am joking, I never have it together. The people that you think have it together probably have odd fetishes and aren’t that much fun.

Really, right now, I am sad. And grateful. And tired, napping in the middle of a sunny afternoon tired. My mom, my sweet, Oil of Olay and Tide laundry detergent smelling mama, is in New Jersey coping with cancer. Again. And I miss her. I miss our almost daily phone chats. I miss her visits. So much has changed these past few months. I want to be with her. I want to be with my kids and husband. I want to be on a beach alone. I want to be helpful. I  don’t know what I want or need or how to be of service. Mostly, I wish we could go back to the way things were. But I know that is not a reality. I try to stay present and thankful for what we do have.

This being human business is hard work.

I am rereading Broken Open; How Difficult Times Help us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser because I love it so much and need it right now. I read this passage yesterday and it gave me chills. I felt scared awe as Einstein called it. Tears glimmered in my eyes like the soft track of light from the sun’s rays on the water. The presence of soul…

” If our senses were fine enough, we would stand around with our mouths hanging open at the glory and grace of it all. We would sense the presence of mystery everywhere: the angels keeping us safe as we drive home from work; the spirits hovering around our children; the thin waft of light pointing us in the direction of The Road of Truth. All we can do is try to refine our senses. We can try to quiet the noise in our minds, listen for deeper instructions, and leap without fear beyond what we think is so”.

These times call for a lot of checking in and grounding in the soul. The sadness doesn’t dissipate but it is accompanied by a big blanket of love, acceptance, support and appreciation of the universal mystery weaving in and out of every waking moment. I am trying to let myself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what I really love like Rumi tells us to do, and trust that there is something bigger at work here.

And then, in addition to the sadness, I feel warmly alive, thankful, at peace (sometimes) and even happy (most of the time). I don’t take the abundance of blessings and kindness of friends and strangers alike for granted.

Being human is hard but more important than hard, it is sacred.

Connecting to others is a saving grace. And true connection soothes sadness.

Although, right now, I often want to cocoon myself up with a good book, I find when I have chatted with dear friends, over tears and hope, that it feels rich and life affirming  Like an unfurling rose. It leaves me feeling better because we just touched something authentic, sweet, and universal.

So often we want to run in the other direction but when we swim towards what is hard and face it together, magic happens.

Because we all suffer.

But in the fog of suffering, there are angels everywhere. My friends have reminded me in so many different ways of the beauty, joy, laughter and meaning in the midst of it all. No small act goes unnoticed.

Jenny told me to listen to beautiful music because it supports the nervous system and keeps the energy up. So I listen to music I love (when my kids aren’t yelling at our Amazon Echo to play  “Baby’s Got Back” or “This is How we Do It”) and it helps. Because of more music, we have been dancing more too. And singing. While my particular singing may not be beautiful, it does unburden my heart and tether me to something collective, something humans have been doing forever in every corner of the planet during good times and bad. My chest feels softer, more open, and not so achy. Glory, Glory, Halleluja, since I laid my burden down…

Stephanee mentioned grounding, supportive rituals and lighting candles. It too reminds me of all of the abundant blessings all around. All the beautiful light ushering in the magic.

I used to think I needed more time to engage in such rituals. That to meditate or pray, I needed to set aside special time. But now I just do it whenever however in my own imperfect, not together way. The intention is there and intention is big. I burn palo santo and sage. I light a candle while I do the dishes. I pray out loud for all of the people I love and know are hurting while I am driving around in my car. I write in my journal in the pick up line. I say yes to help and food and walks. And no to what drains me. I take a bath with nice salts and probably don’t wash my hair because it is too much work during a ritual!

Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein speaks to this, saying that we don’t need to set aside time for spirituality, rather spirituality is simply unfolded into our days. The way we fold towels, listen to our children when they speak, and by being honest with one another about our feelings.

Grounding in the soul looks different to everyone and is often the medicine we most need. It may involve simplifying and prioritizing, getting in touch with what we hold most dear, and letting go of countless, energy depleting obligations.

This soul time means perfection has to go while compassion and self care takes center stage. Which for me means I must write this right now. But while I do, my baby girl is using an orange chalk pastel on the stucco wall outside. Sorry, Josh and thank you for understanding.

Engaging in small, meaningful rituals is a way to sustain the soul. Rest is always a good place to start.

Last week, I heard doctor and wife of Paul Kalanthi, author of the beautiful book, When Breath Becomes Air, say that while Paul was alive, he taught her that life wasn’t about avoiding struggle, it was about finding meaning.

One day, we will die but today we are alive. 

And our lives have meaning.

In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, she discusses finding meaning during grief and how we build resilience. One activity that helped her after her husband died was to write down 3 things she did well each day before bed. Smalls victories, maybe seemingly insignificant ones like checking email but anything that kept her going, kept her knowing that she was doing what she could to be engaged with living.

We live with losses and grief and the older I get, the more I realize grief is never something you get over. Rather, it is something we learn to live with. And that anything, any small thing that keeps us choosing life, light, and living with compassion, kindness and connection is a good idea. Our souls know that we will be okay.

 

 

creating from struggle

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The other day while giving my heart a little love on the elliptical at the gym, I listened to writer, Elizabeth Gilbert talk to a singer songwriter on her Big Magic Podcast. The woman had suffered through the death of her sister and was paralyzed with the overwhelming weight of her grief. She wasn’t ready to write about her sister. But yet she wanted to write about her sister. She was conflicted.

On these podcasts, Gilbert calls other creative people for their take and on this particular call, she reached out to novelist, Ann Patchett for her advice on how to help this brave young woman.

Her advice was that she absolutely had to write about her sister. She spoke of the two different processes at play. She spoke about the creative process and that one can “never shut a door to creativity.”

Then after allowing oneself the freedom to write whatever needs to be written, the decision becomes what to do with it. Whether to share it and what parts to share, keep it, or get rid of it.

Whether to keep the writing to ourselves or share it is our decision to make. But we cannot let this quandary of what to say, how to say it, and what will others think, get in the way of expressing our grief. Or any of our emotions and experiences for that matter.

Patchett said in regards to her own experience with grief and writing after losing a dear friend, that it was like “sticking her hand on the eye of the stove.” “How long can I leave it there?” Some days the answer was not very long.

“How could what I write possibly be worthy?” This is the impossible thing she says, but “in facing the impossible thing, you tell the truth. You keep trying. You realize the limitations of words and music to possibly express this love.”

But you tell the truth, you keep trying. Even if you can only keep your hand on that hot stove for a brief moment.

I believe when we write or create from a place of grief or struggle, we change our relationship to it. It becomes part of our life and not something to avoid. I’m not sure grief ever fully goes away. But maybe it can be transformed if we work with it, create from it, move with it, learn from it, and ultimately share it.

Listening to this story reminded me of an Oscar-nominated documentary by Tomasz Śliwiński called, The Curse about a young couple in Warsaw and their beloved new son. The boy, Leo, had been diagnosed with an incurable disorder affecting his breathing. He could only be kept alive on a ventilator. It was agonizing to watch but also beautiful to witness such love. The father and filmmaker said this of his decision to  film and then share their story:

“That period of our lives was depressing and devastating. But shooting this film helped us a great deal. It kept us going; instead of succumbing to depression, we could direct our energy into something creative. At the time, we were not sure if we were going to show this film to anyone – it felt much too intimate and private. However, after a few months I realized that we had gone through the universal process of coping with any obstacle, even one that seems impossible at first. It was then that I felt that we should share this experience with others. I decided to complete the film.”

When I read this for the first time I felt the desperation in his chest. The desperation in his chest and in his throat. It was too much to bear alone. But channeling his suffering into something creative and then sharing it, somehow helped change the experience. It was still awful and hard but there was so much beauty and love around it too. It was uplifting. It was almost as if surrounding his pain with art, he also made a new opening, a new possibility, a new realm to another more understanding world where pain can be transformed and healing occurs.

In another podcast I listened to recently, Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned that the definition of the word responsibility is the ability to respond.

It makes me wonder…How do we respond to struggle? To suffering, to obstacles, to grief, to being human? Do we do it alone? Can we do it together? How can we try?

It can be scary living and creating from such a vulnerable and open place. And sometimes it is scary for those of us viewing it. But it is real. And at least we are trying. One word, one brush stroke, one touch of the stove at a time.

For more info on Elizabeth Gilbert and her wonderful podcast on creativity, go to http://www.elizabethgilbert.com

and for more info on Leo and his brave story you can check out his father’s blog at http://www.leoblog.pl/en/

 

today trascendence

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“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” – Eckhart Tolle

Our anger, pain, and our sadness is fleeting. Our bad moods are fleeting. These emotional states often have such a grip on our hearts. But they are not who we are. We are the observer, the witness, the one that notices the rollercoaster of emotions.We are along for the ride.

These emotions, they come and go like a dense fog rolling into view and limiting our visibility only to later be burned off by the warming sun. And when the fog eventually lifts as it always does, a more sparkly, clearer, and truer sky is revealed.

Our souls are not fleeting. At the core of our beings, no matter what turmoil is going on around us, we are pure magnificence. Compassionate. Genuine. Loving. Light.

Even in death our light shines like a million shooting stars showering down on the earth blanketing those we love with a glowing embrace.

We are together in this. Our hearts, our souls at the deepest level are the same. We are one.

“In the end there are three things that matter. How well we’ve lived. How well we’ve loved. How well we’ve learned to let go.” – Jack Kornfield

We as human beings have this amazing capacity to be reborn at breakfast…everyday this is a new day, who will I be today? – Jack Kornfield

 

 

 

Life is but a dream

 

Life is but a dream…

Row Row Row Your Boat. I sang this to my baby girl today. And she smiled. Such a bright light. A bright light drowning out the noise.

The sadness, the horror, the violence. I bet the mamas of those slain men sang them this same song when they were babies. When their eyes shone bright with innocence, purity, and trust. Like all of us moms, they had dreams for their children, the loves of their lives, the pulse of their worlds, that they would grow up to be happy, healthy, and safe. Certainly alive.

They can’t drown out the noise. They don’t have the option to do so like I do.

We eventually go to bed because we have to sleep. We shut our eyes from pure exhaustion. For a moment in the morning we think we have been spared, that the nightmare from the day before was exactly that, a scary dream. Or it was actually someone else that it happened to. Which doesn’t make it anymore terrible and heartbreaking but it doesn’t impact your every breath in the same way.

You have survivor’s guilt but you bargain with the powers that be that you will behave differently, will be more giving, more helpful to everyone. You won’t talk shit about anyone anymore. You will not take one minute for granted. You are so thankful.

If only you could go back ,you think, and do things a tad bit differently. Kept a better eye on them. Kept them on the phone a bit longer. Not have let them go there. Told them to be careful. Told them you loved them louder and more often. But you don’t want them to live life being fearful of their every move. That is no way to live. We are free for fuck’s sake. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave after all.

But it is not your fault. You know that.

After a few very brief moments, the pit in your stomach is there again and it’s growing all the way up to your throat. You feel like you could throw up or you want to go back to sleep but of course you can’t. You want to numb it, take something, drink something, feel something else. Anything but this. Please G-d, anything but this. It has to be a mistake. It feels so surreal. Like you are just going through the motions.

Everything is different. Everything is tainted. You will never be the same. This is not a dream. This is real. This is very real.

People who pray will pray. People who paint will paint. Many will talk. Many will cry. Many will help. Many will not. Many will post to Facebook. Most don’t know what to do. Those of us who write will write. Because we can’t just sit here and do nothing. We don’t want to be insensitive. We don’t know if it is our place to say something, do anything, because we can’t possibly imagine what it is like. What they are going through.  We were spared, we are so grateful. This time.

It will be in the news, it will be everywhere. Constantly. Until it isn’t. Until the next horrific event happens. Until the initial shock and devastation is a little less raw. A wound. A scab. A scar.

Some reach out, some hide, some can’t take it. Some say helpful things. Some say annoying things.

For a moment there is something that gives you a glimmer of hope. Again. A glimmer of hope and peace. A view of the big picture. We can’t know, we aren’t meant to understand. We will do better. But then the light goes out. Again. And it happens again. Again. Again. Again.

We say ENOUGH! Or NO MORE! OR shout something else. But nothing changes. Or does it? Is it changing? We just keep being asked time and time again to come together and love each other more, and let things go more. To be more compassionate.

We can protest. We can lead with our hearts. We can sign petitions and write letters. We can speak the truth. We can volunteer. We can raise money. We can speak from our hearts, from our fears and insecurities. We can give voice to what we really think. We can talk honestly with one another. With our neighbors, our in-laws, our friends, those who are similar and those who are different, our bosses, people that intimidate us, our kids.

But more than anything, we have to stop being fearful. Because we don’t want to live being fearful.

This is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But until we are all brave, we won’t all be free.