With a mind full of loved ones and a heart full of love…

Dr. Joseph Chuman, beautifully said*:

…I think we express our loyalty to those who are gone not by denying our own lives, but by recognizing what they have given us and how their values have merged with our own.

…those who are gone do not totally leave. They remain to populate my mind, and my mind has grown very crowded with the memories of people I knew and loved, and with whom I have significantly shared my life.

It is challenging to belong to a culture with traditional values that expect you to mourn for a given amount of time and act a certain way after your loved one(s) have passed away. I went to the beach with my little one the day after my mom’s burial to the horror of my family and friends. It happened to be Mothers Day, and in my befuddled state it seemed the most logical thing to do. I had to get out. Nature seemed like a good option and my daughter was happy to have a change of scenery. It ended up being an okay morning. Granted I was kind of numb, but felt genuine joy amidst the sorrow because I didn’t have an option: seeing a 3 year old tumble in the waves and emerge with a full head of sand is bound to make you laugh. I had to keep repeating to myself that I knew my parents would have liked me to move on with my life for the sake of myself and my children.

How refreshing it is to hear someone say, not that those who leave populate the heavens above us, looking after us, and possibly chastising us for having a little fun,  but that they are inside our minds. What a beautiful thing to have our loved ones living inside of us in the form of memory.

I think it’s time for people of religious backgrounds to be compassionate towards those who do not believe in an afterlife. As a society we need to start gaining consciousness that blanket statements like “now you have an angel looking after you”, “she is in a better place” or the most presumptuous of all “you will see her in heaven one day” are hurtful to those who do not believe that there is a “better place” and who do not expect to see their loved ones ever again.

Why not just cherish the memories and continue with our lives, honoring those that have gone before us by having the most amazing lives that we can possibly have? It’s a refreshing thought.

With a mind full of loved ones and a heart full of love,

L.S.

*Quotes part of a Platform address by Dr. Joseph Chuman, leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, November 4, 2012. Please take the time to read it in it’s entirety, it will be well worth your time.

Can’t wait to see this movie

I love the ending of this trailer… maybe it is best to not overthink happiness.

I also found this 2006 discussion with Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Krauss & Sean M. Carroll very interesting. I loved this Noam Chomsky quote on atheism:

“I don’t even know what an atheist is. When people ask me if I’m an atheist, I have to ask them what they mean. What is it that I’m supposed to not believe in? Until you can answer that question I can’t tell you whether I’m an atheist, and the question doesn’t arise.”

LS

I am still here and some days it still hurts…

I haven’t written in months. Almost 7 months. This does not mean I haven’t had anything to say 😉 And it definitely does not mean that I am done thinking about my loved ones that have passed. I’ve just been busy with work and a new baby (and of course my 2 other girls).

Some days I feel like I am never ever going to be done grieving. But somehow I am okay with that. I constantly ask myself “am I happy?” and for the most part the answer is yes. Sometimes I find myself smiling and feeling quite amazing just to be surprised by a little feeling of emptiness somewhere in there.

Recent events (I’ve been sucked into a complicated law suit regarding my parents old house) have made me feel quite desolate, like my life will never be normal without them. I try to rationalize things as much as I possibly can, and I try to let go of the things that I can’t control, but still I have this void. And I am in fear of expressing it because everywhere I turn I find someone telling me that all I have to do is trust God and believe that he will solve everything.

And that is why I am here. Because I know that trusting a god is not an option for many of us and I know I am not alone.

Laura

Did the ‘Sandwich Guy’ just call me ignorant/plain stupid?

I’m 2 weeks away from my due date. I had a crazy busy day, running errands, dropping files at work, doctor appointments… in the midst of it all, I got hungry and realized it was 1:45 pm. A bit shocked with the realization that I had “skipped lunch” I stopped at the closest sandwich shop I could find.  I ordered my sandwich and then sat to wait for it, sipping lemonade, enjoying the stillness of the moment.

The man behind the counter (probably the owner?) must have felt bad for me or something, because he felt the need to join me, and chat me up. I’ll call him ‘Sandwich Guy’.

Sandwich Guy (SG): So, I see you are pregnant, when’s the due date?

L: In about 2 weeks

SG: How exciting! Grandparents around?

L: My in-laws are.

SG: What happened to your parents, where are they?

L: Dead

SG: What? but you are so young, when did they die? was this recent?

(at this point I should’ve told him to leave me the fuck alone, but I had entered auto-pilot)

L: Yep, about 3 years ago, my mom, 4 years ago, my dad

SG: Wow, what happened? I mean, they were young right?!?

L: They died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

SG: Well, I’ll tell you one thing, people have to be ignorant, plain stupid, not to believe in life on the other side. I mean, how can you NOT believe that there is something else out there? beyond death?!?

Right there, probably looking exhausted and beat and about to go a little crazy and unload on him, I took a deep breath.

L: Well, thank you. Is my sandwich ready? I have a busy day ahead of me.

He looked at me with a confused look and went to check on my sandwich.

Why I didn’t tell him what I really felt? Why do people feel they have the right to tell you how “wrong” it is to not believe in an afterlife?

I’m too tired to over-analyze this interaction. I feel like I should write something insightful and deep about this, but I guess I am still in a bit of a shock. A part of me is angry and a part of me is just too tired to care.

L.

I’m still afraid

... unexpected turns in the grief-recovery road...

… unexpected turns in the grief-recovery road..

Yesterday my husband left with my little one and I felt a pang of fear. I thought: “I hope nothing happens to them”… then I quickly questioned myself: “why would ANYTHING happen to them?”

My next thought was that I hadn’t felt this irrational fear in a long time. So I came here to look for a post I wrote a while back, about some nightmares, which triggered my last bout of fear of loosing a love one. I’m still not sure what made me sick with worry yesterday, but I found the post I was looking for. I found it saved as a draft. It had never been posted! So here it is…

Written back in January:

My mom passed away at the end of April, 2010. It is now January 2013 and I just had a nightmare in which my daughter had passed away and then my husband had passed away.  This nightmare was definitely rooted in an irrational fear that someone emotionally close to me will die next.

My grandmother passed away in 2007 and then my dad passed away in 2009. As a consequence, when my mom died in 2010,  I started feeling this immense fear that my daughter or my husband were next on the list. At the time, it seemed to me that losing 3 of my closest family members in such a short period of time was very unusual (and unfair).  Every time I would get sad the sadness would turn into an irrational terror: who was next?

I haven’t had deep bouts of sadness (or fear) in the past years. With the birth of my second daughter (Fall 2010) I started the process of healing. I wanted my daughters to have a happy mom, so I made an effort to not let myself go down the slippery slope of giving in to my fears. A part of me always told me my fear was irrational. Why would anyone be next? I don’t believe there is any higher power dictating who dies and who stays to live a long life. Even so, the irrational part of me questioned (over and over) why did my mom (a loving and caring mother and grandmother) passed away when some retched old people, full of hate, get to live well into their 90’s? My parents were perfect grandparent material; with their death my daughters were left without the opportunity to have grandparents. I thought the whole thing was very unfair, but could never pinpoint ‘who’ was being unfair to me. It couldn’t be life: I’d lived a wonderful childhood with both of my parents and grandmother and a large extended family. I had the opportunity of being educated. After a divorce, I randomly met the future father of my children, the love of my life. I’ve had a successful career that gives me the flexibility to work from home part of the week, so I can be with my children. At the time of my mom passing away I had a beautiful, healthy toddler and was pregnant with my second daughter. There was no way I could claim ‘bad luck’, yet I felt the world had spited me by taking away 3 loved ones in the space of 3 years.

Dreams are interesting beasts, and pregnant women (because of hormonal fluctuations) tend to have vivid bizarre ones. I hadn’t felt the irrational fear of having my husband or daughters “be next” in a long, long time – yet last night I had horrible dreams that felt very real. In summary, in my dream, my eldest daughter had fallen to an illness and died in a matter of days. Then I dreamt that my husband had suffered some water-related accident, I’m not sure if he was eaten by a shark, or lost at sea. That’s the short version, because my dreams were full of visiting family members and horrid details that I am not going to go into. I am sure my dreams were triggered by my daughters’ recent tummy issues, and a story I recently heard of a group of fisherman that left of the Pacific coast of Baja California (Mexico) to go shark fishing and hadn’t returned in 8 days. That and I’m 6 months pregnant.

I am aware these were just dreams, but the fear (and resentment) was very real.  I think it’s perfectly normal to fear losing your loved ones. I fear every time my husband drives home amidst a snow storm, or every time my children are sick. But this fear I am talking about is different. It’s rooted on this irrational thought that somehow I am destined to lose everyone close to me. In these dreams I was suffering deep sorrow and questioning why had I lost yet another family member. I was fearful for my second daughter, worried she would die next. I was feeling lonely without those closest to me.

I woke up with a deep dark hollow feeling in my chest. I woke up feeling true fear, the panic kind. Then I felt the baby in my belly move and I realized some time had passed since the death of my mother. My husband was sleeping next to me. The girls were in the room next door.

L.

What I was, at your side, I will keep

I recently came across this song full of heartbreak.

It’s Julieta Venegas “Ya Conoceran” (They Will Know). I will not attempt to translate the whole song, but in summary it’s about people not understanding your grief, and telling you things like “life will go on”, “someone/something will occupy the space left” to which she responds that they don’t understand because they “have not swam in the dark depths of the ocean [of grief]”.

This touched me because I recently had a conversation where someone “brushed off” the fact that this will be the second baby I will deliver without my mom being around, and how hard it is for me to not share the experience of having a brand new baby with her. As if because I’ve done it once before this should be any easier. I tried really hard not to think about this interaction too much, and put it in the perspective of this person’s life. I told myself this person lives close to her mother and has her around every day and there is no way she can comprehend the pain I go through when I think of my mom never knowing my two youngest children. Even though I tried – arduously- to look for the rationality behind the conversation, it still stung.

The song is meant to be about a breakup in a relationship, hence the title “ya conocerán” (soon they will know)- Just wait and at some point you will experience this type of loss… but what struck me about this song was the following lines:

Lo que a tu lado fui, me lo guardare/ What I was, at your side, I will keep. 

 

Here are the lyrics in Spanish:

Ya conocerán
Todos los que no entienden de perder
te diran no pasa nada la vida seguira,
todos los que no saben de soledad
te diran todo se olvida otro ocupa su lugar,
como van a saber si no han nadado en la profundidad
ya conoceran la verdadera sensacion del ma

Lo que a tu lado fui
me lo guardaré
solo pido que deje de doler (x2)

A todos nos tocara enfrentar por primera vez
la mirada que nos cambia,
a caso no es algo natural buscar en los demas
el consuelo que nos falta,
ya te encontrara siempre te va buscando la verdad
un dia entendera lo poco que va quedando en su lugar

School shootings, what does God have to do with it? (Part 2)

It’s been over 4 months since the Newtown shootings, and I still can’t get over it.

A couple of days ago, the senate rejected expanded gun background checks, even when the majority of the population of the United States would like to see an expansion on background checks for gun sales. This makes my heart ache and my head spin.

“The most recent surveys included a CNN/ORC International poll released last week that indicated 86% of the public supported some form of background checks that are not currently required by law for gun sales, and an ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday which indicated that 86% of Americans said they favored background checks for gun sales on the internet and at gun shows… The ABC/Washington Post survey also indicated that 86% of gun owning households supported the proposal.”

We owe it to the families in Newtown (and to the families of other gun-related tragedies)-  we owe it to our children-  to do something about gun control, but if we can’t even get the most basic (and popular) of measures past the senate , then what can be done?  Lighting virtual candles, praying and having vigils will do nothing to prevent future mass shootings.

Which brings me back to the days following the tragedy, when many people were talking about angels and God, but no one would dare to talk about gun reform because it was “too soon” to talk about these things. Using this moment to unite the American public as ‘one nation under God’ was completely acceptable, but talking about the solutions to the problem was called “politicizing” the tragedy.

In those recent days I read a great blog in the Washington Post that addressed this. This is my favorite part of the post:

“If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it. 

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.”

Then the author goes on to enumerate 12 facts about gun control and mass shootings that are very interesting and informative. Including the following graph:

So this brings me to the following, in the wake of a tragedy, what does God have to do with anything? We have solutions at our hands, simple solutions that the majority of the American public supports, yet our nation feels compelled to minimize the tragedy by saying that these kids are angels and are now in heaven and even someone went far enough to say that for these kids “this was the best Christmas present ever, to be in the presence of God”.  As a parent I was disgusted to read that.  No parent deserves such trivialization of their pain.

And then there was the poetry… I won’t transcribe the insolent version of  ‘Twas the night before Christmas, titled 11 Days before Christmas 2012but I can’t help myself from transcribing “The Field Trip

Please don’t cry, we’re okay.
We went on a field trip today.
A secret place where there’s fun to be had.
And the principal’s with us, so we won’t be bad.
It’s full of toys and rainbow slides.
Cotton candy and high cloud rides.
A funny zoo full of different things.
I even saw a man with wings.
We’re not alone so don’t you fear.
We’re chaperoned by Jesus here.
It’s really nice so I think I’ll stay.
And hold your spot til your field trip day.
I know Christmas is here and there’s toys to be given.
So please tell Santa that I’m here in heaven.

I don’t even know where to start with this little piece of lyrical prowess… but I saw this poem all over Facebook, at a time when not many people were mentioning gun control.

I am still mourning this tragedy. I still can’t look at photos of the Newtown parents without tearing up, thinking of my children, thinking about how small a 6 year old is, how innocent. I can’t comprehend how the public is not demanding concrete action from the government.

All I can echo is: shame on us if we’ve forgotten!

L.

Making ourselves (and others) happy

“To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts.” -Robert Ebert

As you probably have heard by now, Robert Ebert passed away last week. Years ago, I’d read a very interesting Esquire Magazine interview with Ebert that left me feeling grounded and humbled. The article was published in February 2010, but I didn’t get around to reading it until late that summer, some months after my mom passed away.

The interview put my life in perspective, and pushed me to view life outside of my circumstances. It wasn’t just the usual “there are people out there that are worse off than you” sentiment, it was more the “you need a new life paradigm if you are going to be living in this world, where circumstances are –for the most part- not ideal and in some cases down right tragic”.

Then last weekend, I was watching the movie The Magic Trip (how I ended up watching it, is a roundabout and convoluted story), and there was a great clip of an interview with Ken Kesey in which he explained in one sentence what our approach to life should be: “I feel like you only come to this movie once, and if you don’t get something rewarding out of every minute you’re sitting there, then you’re blowing your ticket.” 

It amazed me how that movie, disjoint as it seemed from the death of Rober Ebert, helped me ground some of my thoughts on the fleetingness of life…  and to round it all up, yesterday, I came across this essay from Robert Ebert’s book Life Itself: A Memoir.

I recommend you read the whole thing -here are my favorite passages:

“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.”

“What I expect to happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.”

“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Yes, “contribute joy to the world” which brings me back to the Magic Bus and the Merry Pranksters and the fact that people could not resist smiling when they saw them driving by, playing instruments in their psychedelic bus. The sense of excitement was palpable, contagious.

I find it incredibly inspiring to see how different people can be, but how everyone can -in their own way- make others happier.

Laura

It is nice to know that there is a community of people reading my stories and following this process with me. It gives me immense relief to have a place to bring my thoughts and share things that have helped me wrap my head around the concept of loss.  If you like what you are reading, please click “Like” below. If you want to chat, leave a comment.

The Middle Place

My "Middle Place" feels like the Grand Canyon

My “Middle Place” feels like the Grand Canyon

 

The Middle Place: “that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap” -Kelly Corrigan.

Last night I dreamt that I was just as pregnant as I am now (about 7.5 months) and having contractions. In my dream this didn’t worry me one bit.  I called my mom and told her we needed to go shopping, because I didn’t have diapers or anything and the baby would come soon. She drove over and very nonchalantly asked me where I wanted to go shopping. We chatted for a bit and the rest of the dream consisted of us menially choosing baby stuff while I stopped every 5 minutes or so to breathe through a contraction.

I woke up feeling quite normal and thinking that maybe I should prepare a bit for this baby.  This will be my 3rd girl and I haven’t bought anything, so maybe getting some things will calm whatever subconscious anxiety I am carrying. I’ll start with a box of newborn diapers.

Then, as I had coffee, I started thinking about the beauty of the dream, about those little things I really miss. The ability to call my parents and say things like: “I need to go shopping.” Not that my mom would be able to hop on a plane and be by my side to take me on a shopping spree, but it helped to have that person to express all these little things to.  Of course, if I called my mom and said: ‘the baby is coming early’ she would hop on the first available flight and be by my side, ready to help me with whatever I needed, but that’s not what this is about.

I have friends and a wonderful husband, but there is no one to whom I will ever be as relevant as I was to my parents. To them, the mere act of hearing my voice over the phone was a joy, and they wanted to listen no matter what I had to say.  If I talked to my dad and told him about my car making a funny noise he would want to hear all about it, even though he couldn’t solve anything for me. Even though he knew my husband would certainly take care of it. He just wanted to listen, because I was there, willing to take the time to talk to him. I could call my mom and gripe about the simplest things and hang up feeling that my unexciting life really mattered, at least to her…

I listen to audiobooks during my work-commute, and I just recently started The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. A couple of minutes into my drive, it reads:

“[The Middle Place is about] calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork—a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns—clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”

And that is the one thing I am not prepared to let go of… I still want to (badly) be somebody’s daughter.

Laura

All loss is one, and one loss becomes all

All loss is one, and one loss becomes all,

a single death the key to the gate that bars memory.

– Diana Gabaldon, An Echo in the Bone

 

This sentence struck deep, the main character in the novel is having a conversation with his sister about the death of her husband/his best friend, which stirs up questions, and emotions, regarding their father’s tragic passing.

In my case, it’s amazing how one loss, big or small, will be that key that widely opens the gates to memory, triggering all sorts of feelings, all sorts of rambling thoughts. Reading the news, hearing of someone’s passing, even having a dream or loosing some photos can send me into a vortex.

It’s been years since I lost my mother, and even longer since I lost my father, my grandmother, my religion… These days, fogged in a haze of pregnancy hormones and fatigued by a horrid combination of insomnia and nightmares, I’ve lived it all again. Sometimes a dream makes me think my mother is still alive, then I wake up to realize she is gone. Sometimes I dream I am having a casual conversation with my father while the kids run around, just to wake up and realize he’s never even seen them walk.

I’ve even been dreaming with my ex-husband, guilt laden dreams that make me loose perspective as to why our relationship ended; from those I wake up wondering if I could have made it work, why did I leave him?… all while the love of my life sleeps peacefully next to me. The reality that I left him more than 10 years ago and for very legitimate reasons slowly sinks in with the sunrise as I start questioning all the emotions of tenderness and love I felt in my dream. Other dreams with my ex are completely different; I dream that I am trapped in a relationship with him, I dream of him not wanting to grant me the divorce I so wished for… I dream that he wants to take my children. In these nightmares I desperately try to explain to him that these are not his kids. I explain that I have a new life, that I have a new husband, and that the children I have are from this new relationship… I explain that he needs to let me go. I wake up in a panic and find immediate relief in seeing my husband peacefully asleep next to me, and even though I know my children are in the next room I still sometimes get out of bed and check to make sure no one has sequestered them. I realize that all of this is happening while my ex is thousands of miles away blissfully oblivious to the fact that he still haunts me. Then I confront myself angrily: “who is the one that needs to let go?!?”

I’ve heard many times that grief has no timetable. That those who grief will never fully “get over it”… is this what people mean? I spend months feeling fine, being happy and fully functional then suddenly a fictional character in a novel dies, or there is a school shooting, or I loose my iPhone, or I have a dream and it all comes crumbling down. Today I am calm and focused and I am able to write about all of this, yesterday I was trying to work immensely grateful that my office has a door and that I keep a solid stash of chocolate in my desk drawer, because I couldn’t even read the tabloids without tearing up.

Laura