Tag Archives: death

What to say when someone dies

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No one really knows what to say to someone when their loved one dies.  You can say, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” and maybe that’s true.  Maybe you actually know what to think or pray on that person’s behalf.  Personally, I’m never sure. 

You can tell them that you’ll be there for them—that you’re their middle-of-the-night-phone-call friend, and promise to sleep with the phone near your bed.  You can write them a With Sympathy card and let Hallmark say something in lofty cursive and sign your name with love.  Or make a digital card with organ music to have a more flashy effect.  You can go to the funeral and wake and talk about all the good memories of their loved one, memorialize them with a slide show, give a toast, even ease the pain with some good jokes. 

You can bring them soup.  Bone soup, if you’ve been there.  If you know how hard it is to eat when you are in emotional triage.  It gets physical fast.  And every bite needs to hold health.

You can use social media to show support, post by post.  But do you “Like” an announcement of death?  Do you “Share” it?  Do you “Comment?”  It’s all a way of observing your friend’s loss.  But in the same place you share about what you ate for breakfast? 

You can give them books:  A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which the minister rages against the loss of his beloved wife, himself, his God, and Who Dies, by Stephen Levine, especially Chapter 8, where he goes deeply into Grief as an ultimate vehicle of liberation, saying, “We are dropped into the very pit of despair and longing…an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey toward freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”  But most people are not open to that journey in the first place, and certainly not when their hearts are shattered into splintered shards.

The truth is, and it hurts in the worst way…that ultimately, the mourner will be alone in their grief, and who wants to say that?  Who wants to bear the news that soon…people will stop Thinking, and Praying, and Liking, and Sharing, and Commenting, and bringing soup, and sending cards and emails and books.  Even the phone calls and texts will fall away.  The unspoken reality is:  People go back to their lives and you are alone.  You are in a club that you never wanted to be in.  And that’s when you watch Renee Fleming singing “Walk On” over and over on youtube as loud as you can.  And eventually…you do.  You absorb the grief.  And you start to see the “golden sky” she’s singing about.  But you never get over your loss.  Never.222

There is the opportunity, however, to use it.  If you’re in the club, you might as well be a steady and gracious club member.  I’m in the club.  And recently, one of my dear friend’s beloved husband dropped dead out of nowhere.  She’d lost her grandparents in their old age.  No one else.  She was bereft.  She asked me to write her a list of things that would help her, based on a phone call we’d shared.  Her mind was in a triage fog, my words were helpful to her, and she wanted to remember them. 

Here is what I wrote.  I offer it to you, if you are a new member of this club.  You are not alone.  And I offer it to you if you are one of those people wondering what to Think, Pray, Say…do: 

Hello, beautiful.  I am thinking of you non-stop.  Thank you for calling on me to be in your circle at this impossible time.  I am not afraid of this, so I’m glad you called me in.  I will be there for you.  The books you asked for should be there by the end of the week.  I will write some of the points I made on the phone here, since you asked for them.  If my words on the phone were helpful, it’s only because you are open to them.  I truly hope they help.  Here is what has helped me and some of the people I know who have been through deep loss: 

  • First of all:  Breathe.  I mean it.  That’s your most important tool to stay in the present, out of fear, and to sustain yourself.  You will find yourself holding your breath.  Try to stay aware of your breath no matter what and keep breathing…in…out…in…out.  Deeply if you can.  Little sips when deep is too hard.
  • Lean into Love.  Wherever you can find it.  In your God.  In friends and family.  In yourself.  Let it hold you for now.  Call on friends and family to give you what you need.  You cannot offend anyone right now.  Let us know what you need and tell us how to give it to you.  “Bring me dinner, please.  Come sit with me.  Read to me.  Sing to me.  Rub my back.  Draw me a bath…” 
  • That said, be careful who you bring into your circle.  Stay away from people who say things like, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”  They’re trying to help, and maybe those things are true, but right now you need people who are not afraid to hold the space for your pain.  You need to find the people who feel easy and safe and not necessarily wise.  Keep your circle small for now.  It might be that you call on people very different from the ones you habitually have in your life.
  • Make sure to eat.  Even if you want to throw up.  Please, eat.  And drink a lot of water.  You don’t want to block your natural energy flow.  Your body actually knows how to handle this immense pain.
  • Lie in bed with your feet up. 
  • Take a walk if you can, every day.  Even if it’s short.  Just get outside.
  • Take Epsom Salt baths.  Lavender oil helps.  Keep some in your purse, put a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together, then cup your hands to your nose and breathe deeply when you need grounding.
  • Write.  If you can.  Just a little bit.  If you have it in you, at some point sooner than later, it’s incredibly useful to write down your vision of what was “supposed to be.”  I heard those words come from your deepest place of sacred rage and I believe that to write that story, as fully fleshed out as possible, would be an important step in one day sending off that “supposed to be” into the sea of surrender.  So that you don’t have to hold it anymore and you can live into your future.  Letting the supposed-to-be go doesn’t mean that you do it injustice or that it no longer exists in dreams and heart.  But it’s important not to have it become armor of some sort.  It’s not time now to surrender it.  But I do believe that it would be helpful just to write it out with great details as a way to honor it.  And one day…yes, to let it go.  Writing is the most transformational and therapeutic tool I know and I think it should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of wellness.  Keep a journal by your bed.  It helps.
  • When the terrifying, claustrophobic, impossible thoughts come, do not let them multiply.  Literally put up a wall that keeps them on the other side.  They are not your friend.  There is no making sense of this loss.  Unless your thoughts are loving and forgiving and helpful, banish them.  If you have to shout “NO!” then do it.  What you let into your mind should feel and act like the very best friends and family who would never let you entertain fear, but only shower you with love.  Love yourself.  There is no thinking your way through this.  This is a time to really find what it is to just…be.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.  In out in out.
  • There is no check list right now.  There is nowhere to get.  There is no goal other than to fully live in the present moment.  You can’t skip steps with triage, grief, or healing.  Grief attacks at will, it seems.  Be gentle with yourself if you feel graceless around it.  You have to feel it to shed it.
  • Go slowly.  Be careful.  The only real wisdom I have gleaned from Grief is this:  Grief is one of our greatest teachers because it doesn’t allow for hiding places.  When we open to our sorrow, we find truth.   Your tears then, are truth.  Honor them.

That’s enough for now.  The main thing is to be gentle with yourself.  I love you so.  And the love you two shared will never ever go away.  He is Love now and he is all around you and in you.  If you can’t feel him, feel Love and you will be feeling him.

Hope that helps.  You can do this.  I am here for you.  I promise.  If only just to listen to your tears and let you know you are not alone.

Love, 

Laura

In honor of Dr. Nick Gonzalez 

205

 

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A Pilgrimage for a Dog

St. Ignatius mission-- Montana

 

A few weeks ago I had two thriving dogs—a black lab and a golden retriever.  Both around seven years old.  Both run free in my Montana land.  Both have wagging tails and healthy appetites.  Then I went away for a week to lead a few writing retreats.  When I returned, my black lab was emaciated.  She must have gotten into a gut pile, I figured. The hunters leave the guts behind in the fall and they melt this time of year, back in the woods near where I live and where my dogs play.  Maybe she’d swallowed something rotten that had messed with her system.  But she had zero appetite and that’s odd for her.  “Maybe it’s pancreatitis,” my friend the vet tech suggested.  She’s never sick.  Has the constitution of an ox.  Both of them do.  Well I’m sorry to say that you can tell where this is going.  Cancer.  “Ziggy has final stage cancer,” the vet told me with tears in his eyes.   He also doubles as my son’s baseball coach and is the father of one of his best friends.  “She’s not in a lot of pain now.  But she’s so tired.  I think the right thing to do is put her down.”

When I announced this to my kids, they both got mad before they got sad.  “How can we play with a life?”  “Who are we to decide when a creature dies?”  I couldn’t argue with them.  I agreed.  I called my vet, bawling.  He said that we could wait it out.  But with that waiting, comes quite often loss of dignity.  Urination and defecation in places she would normally be too polite to consider.  Seizures. Organ failure.  He promised that it’s painless.  Calm.  The right thing to do.

So after a few days of enthroning her in the kitchen on her dog bed, the kids lying next to her while she slept and they pretended to do their homework, crying most of the time, I kissed her, and said, “Want to go in the car?”  She came slowly, but surely, wagging her tail, skin and bones and a bloated stomach where the tumor throbbed and ruled…I put her into the car (she couldn’t jump in, though she tried), and drove her to town.  She looked out the window the whole way. I was glad for that.

Inside, we sat in a waiting room where she tried to get into it with another lab, but collapsed supine on her dog bed.  Then we went to the examination room, the same place I’d gotten wellness checks, and discussed ear infections, worms, gotten the cancer diagnosis.  My vet friend described the protocol.  I held her head in my hands.  She lay there, not moving, as if she was already half gone. He inserted the needle in her leg. I said, over and over, “May you journey well, may you journey well, may you journey well…” and suddenly I felt this sharp, nerve twinge in my left hand where it met with her head.  So intense that for a moment, I thought I’d been given the injection– not Ziggy.

It took two seconds.  “She’s gone,” the vet said.  That quick. She was that ready to leave her body.

My yogi friend says that the soul leaves the body from two places—the feet or the head.  You want the latter.  I told him the blast of energy I felt.  He said, “It was her soul.  Good.  It left through her head.”

I took a road trip after that.  Drove to a small mission church about a hundred miles from where I live in Montana, in a town called St. Ignatius.  I cried most of the way down, along the 30 mile long Flathead Lake in the sun, the water sparkling, thinking about souls.  Dog souls.  People souls.  Souls.  And I got to the church.  No one was there.  I went up the steps and opened the tall doors.  No one.  Murals all around.  Light casting across the pews.  Holy week this week, I realized.  Palms on the altar.  

I put in a quarter and lit a candle and knelt and cried.  Didn’t know what to say other than thanks.  To this beautiful vessel of love and light that lay by my feet for at least two written books and many moments of emotional life-wrestling.  Then I sat in a pew, opened the hymnal, found a few hymns that I knew, and sang.  Quiet at first, but I was alone.  So I sang louder.  Loudly. Very very loudly.  Angels and John the Baptist and Jesus and Mary looking down at me.  Dogs barking in the background.

Then I went to a bird sanctuary.  It’s spring.  Holy week even in the world of migration, and maybe especially there.  I sat on a rock in a boggy field at Ninepipes and watched blue herons fly and land.  Fly and land. Fly and land.  Long legs.  Long beak. Such trajectory and grace.  Then I drove home along the other side of Flathead Lake.  “How was it?” my children asked me.  They meant the death.

“Peaceful,” I said.  “Death does not have to be scary.”  I paused and braved the next sentence because when you’ve held an animal while it passes, you feel unafraid.  ”And souls live on.  I’m sure of it.”

Pilgrimage.  Sanctuary.  Souls.  The question is:  can we feel them?  Can we believe in what we can’t see?  Can we receive holy mystery?  I did that day.  And I’d like to keep receiving it.  Ziggy’s gift.

Ninepipes bird sanctuary-- Montana

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #27

 

Amazing how a wheelbarrow full of wood can mean the difference between life and death, never mind comfort. Mindful living beats button pushing any time.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

It’s amazing how the simple things bring happiness when we’re brave enough to stop and pay attention.  Please enjoy this lovely piece by Katie Andraski.  yrs. Laura

 

How the Teacher Introduced Herself to her Class on The Joy Diet Or The Teacher Writes About The Happiest Time of Her Life , by Katie Andraski

 

This happy time I’m in now, started with a pot of soup three years ago. It’s been the longest, most consistent time I’ve been happy. My husband, Bruce, and I had just driven five hours from Albany to Bath, Maine. We’d almost bought it three times when semis merged into our lane with us in it. Our nerves were shot. And we were headed for our second family, the Proctors.

I’ve known them since I could think. Gene has told the story that she met my mother when my brother started kindergarten and met her son Bruce. I had to be two, so I’m not kidding about how long I’ve known them.

There are all kinds of stories I could tell you about the Proctors. Martha Beck’s descriptions about how doing nothing can be a frightening exercise because “if you have suffered greatly and not yet resolved your pain, you may find it literally unbearable to become physically still, the moment you really quiet your body, you’ll feel the monsters of unprocessed grief, rage, or fear yammering at the dungeon doors of your unconscious mind” reminds me of my own resistance to taking up Buddhism. Bruce Proctor had challenged me to look into it, but the weird visions a person might see while sitting seemed too close to the demons I didn’t want to welcome into my life. Bruce Proctor literally did nothing for hours on end, days at a time. Sitting practice. I saw him move from a jiggly would-be rock star who couldn’t keep his legs or his eyes still to a man with a calm presence. It was as profound a conversion as I ever saw. Though to be truthful I saw him blast right past that to seeing auras on trees and gremlins hopping in branches and hearing Jesus’ voice. It was creepy how he’d sit on the love seat and weave like a cobra. He’d walked from Paris, Maine to Albany, New York by himself, following old rail beds. He had hooked up with the outfit in Boulder that became known for its excesses and sexual abuse during those years. Eventually he found his way to the Zen Center of New York. Now he photographs his visions using the light and shadow of desert landscapes and junkyards.

I could tell you about Ron Proctor sitting behind me in eighth grade because Proctor came right after Pauley, and he’d kick my chair and call me The Beast. But I was vindicated when I saw what he wrote in Donna Wright’s yearbook how she should be more like me. He is drop dead gorgeous and never been married. One year we were visiting his parents, and he took us to Pemaquid Point, the site of a well-photographed lighthouse where I imagined riding a brown horse along the rocks and into the sea.

He borrowed a skiff and took us to the Kennebec River fishing. The Bath Ironworks are awesome anytime you see them, but we were down in the river looking at sparks bright enough to blind us. Cranes big enough to tower over a naval frigate frightened me; they were so big. Hell, all that iron swept up like cliff faces frightened me. Somehow a hull that is halfway made is more awesome than a finished one. Is it the emptiness that makes it so big? My husband pulled a striped bass as big as he was out of the river. And the water was alive with chop and the amber colors of sunset.

These are men who I fell in love with as a young girl. Bruce Proctor as much as anyone inspired me to write and to think. Ron was my gorgeous classmate. I tried to convert them both to evangelical Christianity in these wonderful arguments about faith and atheism, Buddhism and Christian mysticism. My prayers and Bible readings around them shaped me into the kind of Christian I am, someone not so sure the hellfire preachers of my childhood told the truth. Oh I’d cry they’d come to know Jesus because hell was real as the gravel road and night I walked into. Then the Bible started to speak mysterious things about God not willing anyone should perish, about how praying in God’s will would make it so. So if I prayed for Bruce and Ron, even their whole family to know Jesus, than it was in God’s will, and they’d come to know him. They’d be saved. Don’t ask me how free will plays into this. I don’t know.

The apostle Paul himself talks about the Judeo-Christian mythology—Adam bringing death into the world–universal death that none of us escapes. Then the mystery—Jesus brings life and resurrection to the world, more so than Adam. None of us escapes. As far as I know neither one knows the Lord in the traditional evangelical sense I was thinking of as a kid.

Even after my father tried to talk Bruce into Christ, he’d lean back and say, “I don’t know about that. but you’re my second family,” which flipped when my parents and brother died and suddenly the Pauleys weren’t a family and the Proctors became my second family. It was Bob and Gene who took in my husband, Bruce, and I, giving us a second shot at the kind of love parents give—the pot of soup waiting at the end of a long day kind of love.

The wind had caught the sea at Birch Point, and the water was amber and the wind caught us as we got out of the car, whipping our shirts with enough chill that I didn’t want to walk out to the point. But my beloved Bruce settled himself as the wind and the waves blustered around him as joyously as a barking golden retriever.

Bob and Gene weren’t going to be home when we arrived because they had a wedding to attend. There was a slow cooker of vegetable soup and a pan of chocolate cake, and a Post It note telling us to eat up and enjoy. Which is what Bruce and I did. We took our bowls to the table and looked out their window at the amber light and point jutting across the way with a dock floating at high tide. Opposite us was a lobster boat tied to a buoy. We stared out the window hoping to see the funnels of the Scotia Princess below the horizon as the ship plied her way from Portland to Halifax. On the window ledge was a carved wooden fisherman, a wire hanging down, a line into the air, a line into water.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around themselves. That empty space where people live and move and have their being. The Proctors’ house is bigger than it looks even though it’s built on the foundation of a cabin, Maine’s rules for building on the coast, holding the Proctors to that space. It’s full of nooks and crannies with little things Gene has found at garage sales and flea markets here and there. When I’m there, I delight in looking at the dish full of sea glass, delight in the glass frog I sent one Christmas. I sit in the covered easy chairs, staring at the wooden ships and grandfather clock standing straight like a tall person who doesn’t have to stoop, standing tall under the cathedral ceiling, the moon in its face.

Part of hospitality is the home a family sets around their guests—two bathrobes hung on hooks in the bedroom, and orange juice on the front porch, the ocean as glassy and quiet as it was chopped the night before, the air balmy.  Gene has stepped into a mother’s role, taking me shopping at Renys, a Maine department store or buying me a necklace and earrings because that’s what moms do for daughters. Bob has told stories of when he worked as a civil engineer in Alaska and New York, family stories that don’t belong to me because I didn’t grow up with them, but stories that welcomed us to the hearth. They have welcomed us into a solitary space and listened when we’ve needed counsel for our lives. And they have delighted in the gifts we’ve sent, the bulb garden that bloomed in January adding color to the front window, and the black raspberry jam Bruce made from wild bushes in the field across the street.

There’s something about simple loving hospitality that helped put me in my skin after a hard, hard winter that was as close to a dark night of the soul as I’ve come, that began with a sentence small as a lemon twist from relatives I wanted to visit, saying in essence, you’re family, but not for Christmas, not even the Christmas right after September 11, when I wanted to touch my own blood. Amazing how a sentence can twist open a whole bottle of loneliness.

It didn’t help to be reading the classic by St. John of the Cross, wishing I wouldn’t go through a dark night of the soul. But sure enough I did. The details aren’t important—my beloved cousin died, my students didn’t come to my classes, my writing turned me inside out so much so that I felt like an emotional burn patient thinking nobody wanted to be my friend I was so dark–but what is important is how one seems to go with the other—mourning shall last for the night, but a shout of joy will come in the morning.

And somehow that pot of soup and cake and wind tossed evening changed everything. Somehow Gene and Bob throwing their arms around us, saying, “It’s so good to see you” stopped the rule of darkness in my life. Stopped it dead in its tracks. Everything flipped, and I found joy and light and quiet in the simplest of things. And the people I felt were far away suddenly drew near on their own, without me doing anything. Maybe that’s why Jesus says it all hinges on a cup of water or should I say a pot of soup.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #16

Such comfort from a front stoop in the snowy woods...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Having experienced much of this entry, I write in tears and thank Laurie Wajda for spreading her father’s light to those who read it here.  Thank you, and blessings to your family.  yrs. Laura

Community: Long Ago by Laurie Wajda

I love to read Laura Munson’s blog.  That’s not a plug, it’s true.  Reading her is like sitting with an old friend, chatting over a hot cup of cocoa. So when I read about her new contest, I was excited to hear from not only her, but others who would submit to her as well.  We’re all of the same breed, I think.  Reading the stories submitted is easy as a cool summer breeze.

I live in the sticks, as we call it.  In the middle of nowhere.  So when I heard the topic was “community” I thought—What would I do with that?—and had no intention of submitting this year.

I just sat back and waited for the others:  Waited to read about people who had others around them, with them, to lean on and comfort them if they so needed, teach them things…  I waited because I didn’t know what community was about, nor did I think I would find myself one any time soon.

And then I got the call.

My father has always been the strongest man I know.  (And, I may add, he’s made of pure love.)  I can’t remember a time he was ever sick—except that once when I was in fifth grade and he had a hernia operation, and had to sleep in the Lazy Boy for a week or so.  Since then, it’s been smooth sailing.  So, last week, when I was riding in the ambulance with him, and the paramedics asked about his medications and other ailments, I had nothing.  They just looked at me, as do the doctors now, like I have two heads.

You see, the paramedics and doctors, they look at him as an eighty-six year old man–one who is sick and frail and can’t get up to pee on his own.  They don’t see the man who was pushing his own lawnmower until it started to snow.  Or the guy who opens and closes his own in ground pool every year, and vacuums it all summer long.  They don’t see the man who served in WWII and then raised five children, helping them fight battles of their own all along the way.  No–they don’t see that at all.  But we do.  His family. His friends.  His community.

Turns out my father had a brain bleed, and has left us all bleeding from our very souls.

Bing.  Bing. Bing…  I sit and listen to the monitors and the buzzers, and the bells, and it’s hard to believe I’m sitting here at all.  We’ve met with doctors who first told us it was  caused by a cancer that has spread throughout his body, through his organs. Then they told us how his case is “puzzling,” that we still have hope because they might not be right at all… It might be an infection, or a blood disease, or benign…. And then he has a brain tumor… And each time they change their story and rip the rug from underneath us, we come together, closer, our little community, and we pray.

As I sit by his bedside, the emails and instant messages pour in on the technology we can all not live without.    Support.  Prayers.  Positive thoughts.  Daily, the texts roll in from old friends who heard, new friends who care, family I haven’t seen in years.  My nephew admits—he never knew he had such a support system behind him until he really needed it.  I concur. And now we know.

Right now, this is our community.  We are our community.  Family.  Friends. Neighbors.  People from Church.  People from Facebook, and Twitter, ones whom I have never laid eyes on are praying. We don’t all live in the same place–some from across the country or the globe.  But we all have the same goal, same thoughts, same prayers.  What brings us all together is love.

We pray for recovery, we pray they are wrong, we pray they will give us a definitive answer so we can fix it. We laugh because he keeps telling us he’s fine, we cry because we know he’s not, and then we pray, each of us in our own way, some more.  Our new little community, born of love.

Frequently in the last week I’ve asked myself–How do you go from sitting and laughing at dinner ten days ago to this?  How does this happen?  Tumultuous emotions. Rollercoaster rides.  Sleep deprivation.  Looking up on the way here the other day, I gave God the finger – how dare He?

And then later in a moment of my own solitude I apologized and asked for forgiveness, and serenity, and love.

My family, we’ve learned in the last ten days, not all things are fixable.  But as the days pass, we’ve learned to lean on each other a little bit more, to rely on each other’s strength that eminently came from our father, our grandpa, our friend.  We know that whatever hits us next, whatever bricks are thrown, we can face it together.

Our family has come together in a way I’ve never seen.  We are one. We have a bond that I’m sure was there but had never solidified.  My father is our core, our backbone.

Taking turns, I wait in the waiting room, waiting to see my daddy, listening to the buzzers and bells drifting in from other rooms: Rooms filled with others like my dad.  And I wonder if they are lucky as us?  Do they have the same support, strength, love, family, friends, neighbors?  Do they have communities behind them, wishing them well?   I hope so.  It would only seem fair.

And, being my father’s daughter, I can only pray they do.

 

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Breaking Point: #20

I am going to end this Breaking Point series with two stories of grief:  beginning in resistance, denial, anger and a final facing of the truth…and ending in Glacier National Park, a place I hold dear.  And a reminder that nature (or God if that is your belief) can hold us when we can’t hold ourselves.  “Let go and weep.  I will not leave.”  Thank you to all who have bravely contributed and to all who have bravely read and commented and shared with others.  It is Springtime now. 

yrs. Laura

 

Submitted:  by Laurie Wajda who blogs here.  You can get her ebook here.

Tribute to a Friend

It was 4pm. In all reality it was 5, but the recent time change had stolen an hour so the shadows were reaching their peak. I rolled down the sleeves of my jacket as a chill hit the air, and stood in my own eternity looking at the stone. It was 4:02.

The mist that had started to rise as I passed through the gate was growing denser with the twilight hours. It swirled up slowly, engulfing my ankles, and lulled across the grass, around and over and between each epitaph. Surely my imagination, but as the earth’s pores let out its steam, the pungent odor of decaying flesh filled the air. I stood fixated, pulling tight the coat around me as if to ward off some unseen evil.

I patted the two Michelob Lights I’d shoved into my pockets and settled myself directly in front of…it.

It was my best friend’s birthday, and I was bringing her a beer. The sad part?   I brought two, opened them both, and placed one at the foot of her headstone.  It had been two years since I’d been to this place.  I had to laugh as I looked around and said, “Well, kiddo, you haven’t changed a bit.” And then my head hit my knees and I cried like a baby.

I don’t know if I went there that day out of guilt or loyalty: Guess I never will. But nevertheless, there I sat.

“Listen… I know I haven’t been here in awhile. Well, I haven’t been here at all… A few times but … it’s not like I could forget your birthday or something.”  Phil Collins flashed throughmy head. No Reply At All. “Jesus. Listen to me talking to a rock.” I took a swig of beer and waded through my myriad of thoughts.

“Ya know – I read your name on that damn thing and I still don’t believe it. I feel psychotic sitting here but we always said the big 2-1 would be a hell of a party.  Some party…

“It’s not like I forgot you or anything…  It’s just that, well, it all feels so superficial…   I’d come here, drop off a flower and sit and cry… what’s the point?  It’s not like I’m here for a visit with some tea and a chat, right?

Listen, Kate, You were my best friend – always were, always will be. You were the person I talked to and trusted and partied with – and then you just up and died and I had no one to tell.   I can’t come here.  Just to look at a damn stone with your birth-date on it?  I can’t do it… I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

Before any tears fell I got up to leave. Hands shoved in my pockets, I slowly backed away. I turned my back on that stone, that grave. And then I walked toward the gate, never looking back.  I knew at that moment I would never return.

I left the beer bottles there that day. One full one and one empty one, standing side by side. They stood there together like old buddies saying I’m sorry and I forgive you and Happy Birthday all at once.

When the groundskeeper swept them up the next day, I’m sure his only thought was that a local drunk had left his garbage once again. He would never know that those two bottles stood for years of friendship and laughter.  For vacations and smiles and tears and
understanding. He would never know that those two bottles were a tribute to a friend.

Submitted by: Kaye Dieter  

“The River”

Glacier National Park’s Rocky Mountain Front borders the east edge of the North Fork of the Flathead River that winds its way past my childhood home.  These mountains rise rugged over the grassy, tree-dotted valley that holds this river that has been a friend to me for over 30 years, a friend that listens, always listens.  Even before I sensed it was listening, I was drawn to the river.  Before the sadness.  Before the tear drops would not fall, then carrying the tears that could not be contained, unnoticed and without a grudge, in its welcoming mass flowing cold, clear and comforting, away from where I stood on its rocky edge.

I have come to this place since I was seven years old.  Back then it was pure joy to be a seven-year-old girl with an hour, or afternoon on a hot Montana summer day, with time to be oblivious to everything but what absorbed me from my inner-tube portal.  Tied to a log in the mainstream of the river, my rubber craft allowed for enough interruption in the current that, if I sat silent and still, was usually rewarded by a glimpse of a bull trout lying heavily on the grey-green limestone river bottom.  The inlet, where the water flowed slowly in a clock-wise direction, and the spring glacial silt settled to cover the rocks, is where I drifted facedown, delighting in the newly hatched frogs that hopped from the muddy shore, and the minnows as they zipped, zigzagging through the mesmerizingly spaced grassy reeds.  I was keenly aware of the large water beetles swimming haphazardly, and then colliding bluntly, into whatever happened to be in their paths.  Any innocuous leaf or silent stick that was unfortunate enough to bump into the last 1/3rd of my foot (it required too much effort to keep it out of the glacier-chilled water), was unfairly accused of being one of the clumsy little monsters, and was reflexively kicked at. If the water beetles were monsters, then the slimy green-black leaches were blood-sucking snakes that brought terror into my inlet water world.

From the idyllic age of seven, the dependable nature of the four seasons initiated me into early adulthood sooner, and later than I would have liked.  The river saw it all, and listened the whole time.  When I had to leave the river is when I needed it the most because that is when the sadness became my constant, demanding and meddling companion.

During the winter months of November, December and January the river struggles to flow as the slushy islands of ice glob onto its edges.  By early January it is no longer a black ribbon meandering quietly between soft snow banks, it has become just another cold, hard surface for snowflakes to settle on.  But under the deep layer of snow, on top of the thick glass ice, the subdued river is still listening.  Then, as an 18 year old, I kick and glide, kick and glide down its unobstructed path, the snow greedily snatches the tears falling from my eyes, and the water below murmurs quietly.  I listen.

The river says softly, “Let go and weep, I will not leave. Even though you must leave again, when you return I will be here, and will always listen. I know you and I also feel your sadness. I knew and miss her too. I saw her watching you from the high bank.  Making sure I wasn’t playing too rough with you, admiring my graceful form in the varied shades of light, and paying me the highest compliment by putting my likeness on canvas.  Her protective gazes over you were over me too. So please, let go, weep, collapse, remember, weep some more, and when you are able, remember and smile.”

 

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Breaking Point: #7

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Laura Cassidy
My breaking point has come a few times in my life. I’ve always thought too much and felt too much, and writing was my survival skill for dealing with my pain so I was able to dodge the breaking point so many times.

I’ve had writers block since 1996. I was deeply in love with someone and he died in an accident when I was 22. I was devastated and felt I couldn’t or wouldn’t go on. I did, but nothing felt as close or connected and I didn’t do anything except drift for years. I started going to counseling and got everything out over three years.

I got myself a beautiful bouvier dog, and a year later I met a guy who seemed like the guy I would spend forever with, little did I know that he had a mountain of baggage that would later on cancel out a lot of bliss.

My dog got cancer and was put down, a year later we had a child. His dad died a few days after my child was born, his friend died a year after our child’s birth; and then he had a break down, ran off with a young girl, had another kid and got totally hooked on booze and drugs. He caused a lot of pain and suffering to me and my child first and then he disappeared. I had a partial break down. I laughed heartily at a joke that read:

” Grow your own dope, plant a man.”

It was just what I needed to see at the time. I had fantasies of pounding him into the ground, but instead I stood back and watched
him self destruct on his own and kept myself and my child from the danger zone.

I continued counseling; I ended up falling for my counselor and it felt mutual. After several years I told him. He kept seeing me for two years. Nothing happened but it felt like an emotional affair. I couldn’t stand going any longer but I couldn’t stand to leave.

I told him it was too much mental and emotional torture for me. He tried to dismiss it or get me to admit it was all only transferrence. My breaking point began then… I decided the only way to exit was to do something to make him not want to see me again. I contacted him too many times, knowing that would really piss him off and  he’d never want to see me again. It worked.

It had been a year and I felt myself slowly ebbing into a deeper and deeper breakdown… I kept myself going for my child but in my mind I kept feeling torn apart by all the loss, pain and unrequited love, leaving me feeling broken, torn and similar to ooze on the floor.

There had been too much loss and despair. Almost connecting and fulfilling a deep need but never completing the circle. Wanting to detach and never connect again.

Then a dear friend who was so close and we had shared so much, turned on me because her antisocial husband decided I had to go, because I couldn’t understand why an ipod their kid left here, but found shortly after was fussed over for three weeks.

I was told we were never friends, I was only a helper for years… their kid never liked my kid etc. I said I would miss them anyway and I was told we would never be missed…

That was it for me, I broke down and thought I can’t take anymore! Since age five, I couldn’t stand the agony in life. Sure there was joy and ecstasy in life but the losses and pains seemed to touch me too deeply and my child was taking after me in that department. She said to me, ‘Mommy, I think people just leave and that’s all they do. Right?’

I didn’t know what to say to her, so I paused and then said, sometimes but the good people and the right people for us always stay…

For me what’s been most heartbreaking are the losses and the betrayals and the fact that I offered my heart fully to those who served me with a hearty helping of pain and loss. What I learned from it and what strengthened me was that all our love is on the inside and no one can take that away from us.

All our feelings and thoughts can be chosen and let go of. Writing helps, music helps and good friends help. What kept me going was the ability to express the anguish, anger, fear and contempt for all the ins and outs of the pain and loss and finally a return to love, where home is in the heart and it really truly is.

Everything starts on the inside of us and goes outward and forms an exchange or not. No one can take away all our love, hope and faith or our warm inner sanctuary. That’s what’s helped me get through several mini breaking points and one big huge breaking point.

 

 

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Breaking Point: #2

Supple Weidner Ward

Supple Weidner Ward March 5, 1936 – April 28,1968

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Lauren Ward Larsen, author of Zuzu’s Petals: A True Story of Second Chances (In The Telling Press, 2011) who blogs here.

“The Day Dad Died”

April 28, 1968. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Not even this gross water sprout hairdo—a tight ponytail Mom has centered on the top of my head—can ruin my mood. I’m wearing my favorite dress, the white hand-me-down from Pam Eldridge, who lives down the street. It has a big fluffy skirt, tiny black roses all over, and it even ties in the back with a big bow. I have my favorite storybook, Hansel and Gretel, all ready to go. Santa gave it to me this past Christmas. It’s really big.

Today is going to be great! I’m going with my best friend, Debbie, to visit her aunt, who lives in Maryland. Her mom is driving. I’ve never been allowed to go on a trip like this without my parents going too. It’s just for a day, but still. I don’t think the other kids in my kindergarten class have been allowed to go away without their parents.

Debbie’s mom blows the horn of her light blue car and I’m flying through the front door of our house before Mom can remind me to use good manners. I yell good-bye to her as I go. (Dad left earlier this morning. He likes to fly his small airplane on the weekends, so he’s already hanging out with his buddies at the local airport.)

We drive for two and a half hours, eating snacks in the car and pretending to read the words that go with the pictures in my book. Finally we arrive at the University of Maryland, where Debbie’s aunt is a student. The whole day is amazing! We walk around campus among all the grown ups. We eat at the university cafeteria where the college students eat. We visit Debbie’s aunt’s apartment and play with the stuffed animals on her bed. My favorite is the five-foot long lime green snake. Debbie and I slap each other with the snake, his silly red felt tongue hanging out of his mouth as his head whacks our bodies.

The ride home that evening seems to take a long time. When Debbie’s mom drops me off outside our home, I’m both exhausted and exhilarated. I burst into the house ready to share all the details of my adventures with Mom and Dad. And then I freeze.

Uh-oh. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m in trouble. Why else would Mom be waiting for me in the living room with that weird look on her face, sort of mad, sort of sad, but also sort of confused?

But why are her friends here? There’s Nancy, who lives around the corner from us. And Evelyn, who lives right down the street (she’s the mother of Pam, who gave me this great dress). And Susan, Mom’s best friend, who is single and spends a lot of time with our family. They’re all sitting quietly around our small living room, Mom in the old orange wingback chair. None of this makes any sense to me, but one thing is certain: I’m in trouble. I can see it in Mom’s face. I can hear it in the uncomfortable silence of the room.

“Lauren, would you come into the kitchen with me for a minute?” Mom says. It’s more a statement than a question. I quietly follow her. When we round the corner to the kitchen, she turns to me.

“Your father had an accident while flying his plane today.” Her voice is calm, almost flat. “Daddy is dead, Lauren. Do you understand what that means?”

“Yes,” I lie. “Can I go upstairs now?”

I walk in a daze to my brother’s room, where I find my three siblings staring blankly at the television screen. I sit down and stare with them. None of us says a word. My adventures in Maryland are already forgotten.

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The Breaking Point: An invitiation to share your stories


When you record your pain on the page and people read it…something happens. You tap into something that is bigger than your pain. Bigger than pain itself. You are in total truth and by being there…you actually begin a conversation with healing. You invite it to happen. You invite other people to heal by being totally unattached to their healing. You are simply telling your story and your story has power. Your truth has power. Healing power.

I was once at a funeral. A boy had died suddenly in our community, and we were all rocked by it. Most of us had never dealt with death. Maybe a grandfather. But not a peer. Not someone that everybody adored, who was right in the middle of his happy childhood. A family member got up to speak and just held his breath until he coughed tears. The minister went to him, put his hands on his shoulders, and said, “Thank you. You give us all permission.” The whole congregation wept then. I looked around at all those faces of my youth: teachers, schoolmates, store owners, mothers, fathers…everybody was weeping. We needed to weep. And we needed to weep together.

At the end of winter, I invite us to weep a little here. It will be a gathering of scenes from our most broken moments. What they felt like, smelled like, tasted like, looked like from the inside out. 400-600 words. You can include your name and any website link info if you want. Or you can be anonymous. Your truth might be another person’s relief, knowing that we are in this beautiful and heartbreaking life together. Your broken open moment might be another person’s permission to weep. And heal.

Send your stories to Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com and I’ll post according to your request to be named or not. This invitation will last until the first day of Spring. Aptly.
Yrs.
Laura

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Memorial Day Re-visited

Every year Memorial Day gets a little easier. My father died on this day, May 31st, seven years ago. He would have been an old man by now. He would have been miserable. He couldn’t stand it that his 86 year old body wouldn’t let him skim down the stairs at the Northwestern train station in Chicago anymore. He couldn’t stand it that he couldn’t figure out how to “work a computer.” He couldn’t stand that all of his years of service to the freight car industry was not hailed, but rather, that he was quickly being lost and forgotten, even though he went into the city five days a week to try to do what he considered, good work. When his younger, more techno savvy business partner died suddenly of a heart attack, it was no coincidence that my father went home that night and had a stroke. He died a month or so later. We were all there. We helped him die– with opera and weather shows, Marx Brothers movies and family stories. He had to go and we all knew it. Like I said, he would have been a miserable old man.

I’ve written a lot about my father in my book, so I won’t repeat it here. But I will mention a bit about grief. I have learned that it is as physical as it is mental, and the emotion of it feels at times impossible to control. I talk a lot about powerfully choosing your emotions. That happiness is a choice. That freak outs are a choice. But grief? Maybe you can teach me something about grief, because to me, it doesn’t feel all choice. It feels like its own category, both visceral and emotional. Sort of like fear.

In the first years after his death, it was like my adrenal system was engaged in fight or flight. Like if it wasn’t for my adrenals, I would have died in the trenches in what seemed a certain war. Year by year, it has become less so. It feels more like fighting a cold now, than fighting an enemy. I write that pain can be our guide, and I believe this with all my heart. Maybe what I have learned about the pain that comes with grief has to do with welcoming it. Not resisting it. Knowing that it is going to be part of life now. Death doesn’t go away. The loss of the physical presence of my father will not go away. I can’t call him. I can’t tell him about my day. I can’t ask him how he is. He isn’t.

Last night we had the neighbors over for a Memorial Day picnic. Usually I talk about my dad on this weekend. I raise a glass, tell a story, look through old photos. This year, I didn’t want to. Instead, this year, I wanted to be quiet about it. I wanted to keep my grief for myself. We sat around the fire and listened to the frogs in the marsh and the owl in the woods and swatted mosquitos, and did our annual burning of the Christmas tree. That hot roar was what met and blessed my grief. That was enough.

And in the night, while I slept, I had a dream. I was in my childhood bed and my father came in and sat on the edge of it as he often did for storytime, only he was gasping and saying, “Lord Jesus” over and over again. And I knew I couldn’t save him. It was between him and his God. Instead, I held him while he died in my arms. Maybe another year of grief died in my arms in my dreams last night. Who knows what the fire did when it roared its heat. But this morning, on the actual day of his death, I feel like I finally let him go.


Addendum:
Here is a poem that struck me so hard just now. I called a dear friend today wanting to somehow cry a little, and he sent me here, to these words. There are no coincidences…

Fathers and Sons
I will walk across the long slow grass
where the desert sun waits among the stones
and reach down into the heavy earth
and lift your body back into the day.
My hands will swim down through the clay
like white fish who wander in the pools
of underground caves and they will find you
where you lie in the century of your sleep.

My arms will be as huge as the roots of trees,
my shoulders leaves, my hands as delicate
as the wings of fish in white water.
When I find you I will lift you out
into the sun and hold you
the way a son must who is now
as old as you were when you died.
I will lift you in my arms and bear you back.

My breath will blow away the earth
from your eyes and my lips will touch
your lips. They will say the years have been
long. They will speak into your flesh
the word love over and over,
as if it was the first word of the whole
earth. I will dance with you and you
will be as a small child asleep in my arms
as I say to the sun, bless this man who died.

I will hold you then, your hurt mouth curled
into my chest, and take your lost flesh
into me, make of you myself, and when you are
bone of my bone, and blood of my blood,
I will walk you into the hills and sit
alone with you and neither of us
will be ashamed. My hand and your hand.

I will take those two hands and hold them
together, palm against palm, and lift them
and say, this is praise, this is the holding
that is father and son. This I promise you
as I wanted to have promised in the days
of our silence, the nights of our sleeping.

Wait for me. I am coming across the grass
and through the stones. The eyes
of the animals and birds are upon me.
I am walking with my strength.
See, I am almost there.
If you listen you can hear me.
My mouth is open and I am singing.

Patrick Lane

Witness: Selected Poems, 1962-2010
Harbour Publishing

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More Eyes

My sister in law died not long ago and sometimes I feel her around me, making things happen. That might sound strange to you. But maybe you know what I mean. My dad died 7 years ago, and I feel him too. And why not? It’s not something to be cynical about. If you could contact the people you love after you die, wouldn’t you?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not. Let’s not get stuck there. Let’s receive it and let’s smile and apply the wisdom. I’ve always told my kids that no matter what, I’ll be in their heart. When they were little, they understood, nodding knowingly. Now at 11 and 15 they aren’t so sure. Their brains are in the way.

Today my husband is visiting his sister’s kids. They are going through her things. They found a box of horse tack. I am in need of horse tack. Just yesterday I thought about how expensive it is and how I really don‘t know if I can justify spending money on my hobby, even though it’s my therapy. We have bills to pay.

And then I get this. As my grandmother used to say: there are more eyes watching us than we’ll ever know.

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