on grieving

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I don’t want to write about grief all of the time. But it wants me to write about it.

In fact, at 2 am, it asked that I take notes. So I did. Standing in the kitchen with a pen and pad of paper.

When grieving, it told me, it’s not that our hearts break once and then heal, it’s that our hearts break over and over again. Be patient. Be diligent. Give this grief the time it deserves.

Last night, I set my phone down near the bathroom sink and accidentally called my mom’s home number. And instead of her voicemail or voice on the receiving end, I heard, “This number has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” I called her cell, same thing. I sat there in silence and sadness and deleted her contact info in my “favorites” while questioning whether I should delete it all together. It felt like I was not only erasing her information but her existence. It left me feeling hollow.

The strange, fortunate and sometimes bittersweet thing is that smack dab in the middle of this grief is so much life. My youngest daughter is dancing around in her first pair of ballet slippers and pink tutu, clutching her hands to her chest and saying, “My favorite.”

And then when she wrapped her arms around my neck for a hug, I said, “Oh Iz these hugs are so nice, they make me cry.” And she said, “Cry?, nah.”

I too clutched my heart when I played one of my favorite old songs by the Samples for my son when he was home sick with the flu and he loved it. And then again, my hand on my heart, as I listened to my eight-year-old daughter cry about having her feelings hurt while spring is popping up everywhere out our windows – gardenia, jasmine, and orchids re-blooming in brilliant purple and white.

And while I sit in a circle of incredible women weekly, I find myself in constant awe and reverence as we courageously reveal our true selves to one another. They amaze, inspire, and encourage me with their wit, wisdom and bravery. And they remind me how strong we are at our core.

Glennon Doyle Melton writes that we can do hard things. How many times has this mantra swam in my consciousness this past year? Especially as I said a slow, heart wrenching goodbye to my mom. And almost daily as a parent when one of my kids get sick or doesn’t want to go to bed or feels blindsided by how mean people can sometimes be.

We not only can do hard things, we are made to do hard things. We are created to bend with the wind like palm trees do. One step at time. Separating fact from fiction, reality from anxiety, and facing our fears with deep breaths all while praying they we are not doing this alone. And that somehow, someone or something always has our back.

And as my heart continues to break, I am reminded that only by embracing the breaking can we enable the healing.

This is how the heart mends I think, simultaneously, as it is breaking. It is not a matter of doing well or not. Or being strong or weak or resilient or stoic or keeping busy or keeping it together or crying at unexpected times. It is not that someone was a fighter when going through the cancer that killed them or didn’t. There is not a right or wrong, good or bad way to be sick, grieve or live.

But joyously, gratefully, there is grace. Unconditional love and a willingness to let pain be pain and joy be joy. There is time. Space. Patience. And a deep connection with the people we love. When we welcome the feelings that arise like choppy waves, while giving voice to what is voiceless, we slowly feel the chop recede, and the tide change.

There is nothing wrong with tears. Or sorrow. But when we avoid or deny them, we deny how great this life affirming Love is.

And the tears are as natural as rain falling.

And rain is essential for true green growth.

 

 

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this is how it happens

tim-gouw-165094Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We can practice love as a deliberate strategy to dealing with the pain of loss. It requires practice to respond to anguish with love, but it works. Each time a wave of grief threatens to tear you apart, ask yourself, “What does love ask of me now?”  – from The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. 

I used to never consider traveling back to the same place unless of course it was to see family and friends. I thought, why spend the money on somewhere I have already been? But now, if I feel a connection to a place, I want to go back and experience it again and again. Maybe it has to do with being parent-less and getting ready to put my home away from home, the house my mom lived in since I was a junior in high school with all of our family portraits on the walls, memories, and reliable snacks in the cabinet, on the market. I want centering, grounding, comfort. I want to experience that some things never change.

I just finished reading, The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. According to Brock, they are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Today when my daughter was standing contemplatively at the sliding glass door in a sparkly princess dress too big for her and holding a stuffed Minnie Mouse, I could hear my mom sigh, “What a great picture.”

When I heard a bird singing but couldn’t identify what kind it was, I had to stop myself from picking up my phone and imitating the bird for her on her voice mail. She would get home from playing bridge, listen to it and laugh, call me back and say, “That’s very good, Linds.” I would then tell her that Will had been home from school the last two days to which she would respond, “Poor Will”. She would tell me she didn’t have a lot planned for the weekend and we would talk about her upcoming visit to Florida. I’d hang up but first, I would say, “I love you.” Even though, she would comment on occasion that she didn’t grow up saying this, and didn’t always find it necessary, I did it anyway and she did too. And I think she liked it, even though maybe it was awkward at first.

Yesterday, when I had lunch with a friend, a friend I adore and don’t see all that often, mostly because we are at different stages in life, but also because I don’t see anyone that often other than my kids and husband, she asked me with so much heart how I was doing.

That question again. A sigh, this time from me. I appreciate it. And if it doesn’t come, I am miffed, but when it does, I feel my answer is never quite complete, inadequate. Honest but not sufficient.

It feels as if I am dancing around the edges, as if my feelings are the lacy or sparkly border of a Valentine’s day card made out of pink construction paper. Getting to the center is where the meat is, the real message.

In so many ways, I am o.k. I feel at peace, mostly. And partially I feel this way, I think, because of all the I love you’s and thank you’s I said to my mom over the years.

Recently, during a meditation, I saw my mom’s death from a distance. And thought to myself, wow, it really was beautiful and surrounded by swaths of light and love. In fact, it was light and love. I also heard this message, this is how it happens.

With my son home sick from school, I looked at our fruit bowl and saw so many browning bananas. Like the little spots of discoloration popping up on my own skin. I thought of an easy recipe for banana bread, one that I had found on line last Spring when I was home visiting my mom. She loved it. And then another time when I was back, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast – meals being one of her few sources of pleasure and variety in her day – to which she replied, sweetly and enthusiastically, “I think I’ll have some of your banana bread.” I told her regrettably that I didn’t have any but that I would make some for her again. Anything to perk her up and see sunshine on her face.

So much has changed, so much so that it feels as if giant boulders have been shifting around inside of me trying to settle into their new places. I am letting the experience change me. I wouldn’t want to be the same person I was before. The experience of losing my mom has taught me to be more loving, more understanding, just plain…more.

And that it is never inappropriate, mushy, overly sentimental or too much to say in any way we are able to, I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you and I love you.

soft heart, strong back

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While we are called to show strength during times of struggle, we are also required to surrender to softness. We simply can’t only muscle through. The way through is a soft heart and a strong back, my friend Stephanee told me when I shared with her my struggles over being so sensitive and emotional so many years ago.  Soft heart, strong back, beloved author, Elizabeth Lesser, reiterated during a retreat I was on last week in Sedona.

Where there is fear, there is love and softness seeping into all corners of our lives. It pours through our windows as sunlight and shows up with friends over tea (or wine) in front of a warm, amber colored fire.

Welcoming the way of softness is an invitation to come home and rest. To come home to our hearts, to ourselves and really listen, honor, and accept what we are hearing and who we are.

We are wired for connection. We yearn for true support in our families and community. We want to help and be helped so we can all rise up together.

The way of softness is tender and big-hearted. It is brave, deeply open and spacious. It can also be extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable at times.

Softness is about taking care of ourselves by simply noticing our crazy buzzing thoughts with what Elizabeth Lesser refers to as “unconditional friendliness”. Softness is about melting into who we are and showing up with our battle wounds, scars and tears. And when they flow, not wiping them away or apologizing but letting them be seen.

Softness is learning to look at and accept the imperfect perfections we are born with. This radiant softness is brimming with limitless possibilities for hope and positive change.

I think it takes both strength and softness to look hard and honestly at our stuff and make peace with our own personal limitations. So many of us feel inadequate. Like Keven from This Is Us.

I know the people closest to me love me unconditionally but when I was little and I sucked at math, got in trouble for “issues with self control” and held a pencil wrong, I didn’t always feel all that lovable. Now I make an ugly cheese plate for company, still suck at math which is now called finances, and get really nervous before I speak. Sometimes, I still fear being unlovable. And no one can accept and love these parts of me unless I accept and love the heck out of them first.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and start claiming what I’m not good at. Let’s get that out of the way first so what we can pay attention to what we are good at. No distractions or disillusions. Let others help us in the areas where we need help. Isn’t this the sign of a good leader anyway? That they know how to pick the right people. The people who’ve got our backs and support and love us through all of it. The ones that are better and smarter then us at certain things? The ones who are willing to meet us soul to soul while putting comparison and competition to the side.

Which reminds me…

Right before I left for Christmas break, the first Christmas without my sweetest mom,

I was having a royal messy and crazy-ass moment when picking up my kids from my friend’s house after getting IV fluids to help flush out a nasty virus that was wreaking havoc on my body. As I opened my car door, plastic cows came tumbling out. My daughter was still in her pajamas. And it was late afternoon. A friend earlier had told me I looked terrible. I was bleary eyed and hungover after taking Nyquil the night before. And then my very neat, aesthetically pleasing friend whose tampons are even pretty, picked up a glass in my cup holder that contained some melted chocolate and two to three, I can’t be sure, half – eaten, glazed munchkins, and said, “Lindsay Bomstein, this is why we love you.”

I heard her say it, I really heard it and laughed. And maybe for one of the first times in my life, I didn’t feel all that embarrassed by it.

And while I was on my retreat last week, as we sat around in a circle, I sat up, spoke and once again the hot tears came spilling out. Oh jeez. Again, in front of all of these women I don’t know.

But you know what? Some of these amazing women came up to me and told me that they admired my tears. My openness. My ability to cry and be seen. Holy shit, really? Yes, really. Because that is me. And you need me to be me as much as I need you to be you. That’s all it takes. Who the hell wants to be impressed by how together we’ve got it? I want to be impressed by how together you don’t have it but that you still smile and love the heck out of life. So remember the next time you have to show up and you feel out of sorts that what you deem as your imperfections may just be the most authentic, beautiful gifts you have to offer. That and your soft heart and strong back.

And thanks to Melissa Biggs Bradley for creating opportunities for connection around the world. She mentioned the self-determination theory in an email last week from Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe, that really spoke to me. The theory “holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.”

And to connect to others, we’ve got to feel our strength and also soften up a bit too.

love is love is love

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photo by Abby Paterson

“Sometimes our intuition shines brightest in our darkest moments.” – Molly Carroll from Trust Within;Letting Intuition Lead

While getting a pedicure a few weeks ago, I felt wholly taken care of. It was such a treat. We will call the angel woman giving me the pedicure, Alice. (She must be an angel to work with feet every day). Her touch was gentle and tender and she had kindness flecks like little remnants of star dust in her eyes. She told me about working hard and how she loved her kids.

Something about recalling this memory now feels sleepy, like a lullaby, like falling asleep as a child surrounded by stuffed animals and celestial mysteries swirling around my nighttime ceiling sky lit up by glow and the dark star stickers.

I miss my mom. I miss being a daughter. But here, here is love and I’ll take it. In whatever form it arrives. My mom’s love is not contained, it is everywhere. It is in these hands touching me and the color in my son’s eyes.

It brought back memories of my friend Phyllis, a woman I  met when I was in my early twenties when I volunteered for Hospice. She quickly became a dear friend and a spiritual teacher. I gave her weekly massages and spent cherished hours chatting with her about everything under the sun.

Once, she told me about a trip she took to Lourdes, France. Lourdes is a sacred pilgrimage site known for it’s healing waters and miraculous cures. She spoke of how loved she felt when the women there got her dressed after she bathed in the magical water. Their touch, she said, was patient and careful as they graciously put her clothes back on. It seemed that when she spoke, she was reliving the experience and how each moment was marked with an infusion of sacredness and grateful attention. We paused together marveling at the thought of this, the thought of every action being created from love, light and a deep sense of gratitude and peace.

As Alice massaged my feet a few weeks ago, my shoulders dropped and I relaxed completely in the oversized leather chair, the one that massages and vibrates (sometimes so much so that it makes me wish I had worn a sports bra). I let go. I stopped thinking so much. And I just allowed this transfer of energy, of complete kindness from a stranger, to swirl out of her fingertips and into me.

I feel this too in yoga when my teacher friend comes around while I lay still in savasana and she cups her palms on the sides of my face. It is hard to explain but it too feels celestial, almost other worldly, and it feels like grace. And home. I feel like a child again. Tears often well up in my eyes and a smile springs to my face.

I feel this in the morning when the sun slowly wipes away the sleepy sand from her eyes as I lay on the couch next to my kids, our legs intertwined with blankies and my nose rests on their soft sweet smelling heads.

Love.

Love is available to us in so many different ways. And I cannot help but believe our loved one’s spirits shower down on us through blessings manifested in our dreams, beauty, and kindness.

Life, inevitably at times, is overwhelming and sad. In these moments though, we can still give love, receive love, and be love. Because we always are, whatever our mood or station in life, part of this web of interconnection. Part of this loving exchange of energy and part of what makes good things happen. You provide love and you receive love. You are love.

This exchange happens with your permission and participation. If you are curious, open, and accepting. And if you allow it. The dream you had, it was a miracle, a blessing and a gift. But only should you choose to see it as such. Your mind may interfere but your heart knows. Maybe all we really have to do, no matter what we’re doing, is be love.

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.

 

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.