The Road Ahead

It’s time to get on the road again.

Yes, it is.  Time to sit in the driver’s seat, put the car in drive, and set out on the highway of this life.

See where the road takes me.

I pray my car doesn’t stall.  Because if it does, I just might change my mind.  Put it in park as I sit and try to tell myself that it’s fine to shut down.  Hold off on this trip.  Stay right where you are, I’ll say.  Sit here.  Sit for a while.

You don’t have to go anywhere.

That’s what I’ve told myself for a few years now, shifted in neutral…idling here.  Going nowhere.

Let me tell you…I don’t know how long I’ve been here.  I’ve been looking out the front windshield sort of stymied.  Stunned.

On the outside, it’s been raining real hard.  Pouring most days.  Wipers barely sweeping the downpour away.  Lightening and thunder crashing all around.  Wind rocking this car from side to side.  Putting me into a stupor, lulling me to sleep.

Keeping me stuck in the mud.

Oh, there are days when I can see a little of the road up ahead.  Maybe a feet or two.  Or even beyond the bend of it.  Those kind of days are more frequent now.  The rain is starting to let up some.

Drive! I’m told.  That’s what you have to do, they say.  Simply drive.  Move on ahead.

What they don’t understand is that I don’t really have anywhere to go.  I don’t know where to go.

You see, there is no specific address to punch into that GPS.  Your map looks to me like winding, tangled up strands of rope winding round and round and round in frightening highways, and roads with no names, and unfamiliar streets, and alleys with no way out.  All of them waiting to bind me up and choke me til I die.

It’s safer parked here.

I am proud of myself for this, though.  I put the key into the ignition…giving it that half turn click it takes to start up the engine. I can feel the vibration of it.  Hear the sputter, purr, and hum.  Feeling the wheels move forward as I take my foot off the brake a little.

Just a little.

I guess I will take my chance now.

Head out on the road again.

Blindly wander into places unknown.

 

 

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Resurrection

I heard the sound as if it was a ricocheted bullet rebounding from some far away target.  Bouncing back with a loud, deafening reverberation.  The echo of it roaring through my head in wave upon wave.

I wanted to cover my ears with my hands, bury my head, and curl up like a fetus to protect myself.  My chest was burning and heaving with the rhythm of a hollow drum.

I didn’t think I could stand it.

In fact, it was so long a foreigner to me.  A lost loved one who came knocking at my door after years gone by.

Oh, it wasn’t completely absent.  No, there were times when it skimmed the surface.  Brushing the air with a fraudulent response appropriate for the moment.  An expected courtesy.  The nod of the head.  The curling of the lips.  The forced, broken tap, tap, tapping from the back of my throat.

Faking my way not feeling much of anything.

Doing what normal people do.

I knew it would have to come eventually.  I knew I could not avoid it forever. In truth, I intentionally put it off.

I buried it deep into the ground.  Covered it with dirt.  Placed a stone at the head of it and engraved it with sacred words.

Six feet under.

When it unearthed, I was completely caught off guard. I imagine those around me heard the exaggeration…felt the desperation.  Wondered why I clutched my stomach and bent over with the force.

Thinking I was a bit mad.

Once it started, it would not stop.  Rails and rails of chained up tension came rising to the surface.  As if it were set free.  Cut from its shackles.

Raised from the dead.

Resurrected.

Laughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auld Lang Syne

Another Christmas has come and gone. I made it through.

Everything Christmas past is packed up and stowed away. Resting until this year flies by with lightening speed and I will again take out those boxes and say right out loud: “Hey, didn’t I just do this?  Doesn’t is seem like yesterday that I took all this down?”

It won’t be long until it all rolls around again. I wonder if it will be easier next year.

The decorations aren’t so hard. No, it’s the Songs of Christmas are still hard to hear.

I think that for the grieving, almost all music hurts a little. I am not too sure why.  Maybe it’s the intensity of it. Music is created to interpret and conjure up feeling. And listen, I am a walking, living, breathing — churning cauldron of feeling these days. Yes, I would say that is the reason it is hard for me to listen to music at times.

I don’t need a reminder that I should feel.

It’s remarkable to me how music is attached to memories.  I can hear a song and am immediately transported back in time to a circumstance in my life.  It’s as if the song has a magic wand attached to it that grants me a wish of reliving.  I can be taken back to an event from childhood years, family gatherings, a first kiss, a wedding.  Milestones and life events are often intimately entangled in this or that song.

In fact, each decade has its own style.  It’s own kind of banner hanging over it with the popularity of music played on the Top 40 radio.

I’ll bet if you stopped right now and a song came to your head, you could assign it an event in your life.  Good or bad.

Music of the seventies and eighties is possibly the most powerful for me.  It was during those decades that I was really growing up. Trying to find my way. My son was born on the tail end of the seventies.

When I hear music from these decades…well, it does something to me.  Puts me right back into the day and time when my son was alive and we were both trying to figure things out together. The memory is more than in my imagination. I am there. Right there with him.

And it’s the darndest thing. Why is it that walking through the grocery store is like walking down memory lane?  The music over the intercom is enough to do me in. Right there in the aisles between the cans of tomatoes and ethnic foods. I’m guessing seventies and eighties music is played because it’s mostly Baby Boomers who shop.

Lucky me.

I think of all music combined, Christmas music brings to mind most memories. It’s set up that way.  Tucked away a day or so after and brought out again right about Thanksgiving.  It’s in a category all its own.

Creating a sensory overload. Christmases past can be seen, smelled, heard, touched…all with the first playing of a song.

It’s all about the birth of a baby. One very special, one of a kind Holy Baby. The idea of a child being born, especially a firstborn son, well…that strikes a chord in me bone marrow deep. And the idea that Momma Mary knew and understood the pain and sorrow of that precious, first-born baby boy as he died? Oh, man.

It’s just too much.

I cannot ever equate myself to such a miraculous and beautiful story. But I do believe Mary and I have a few human things in common. I bet we Mommas could compare a few notes.

After Christmas is over and the music stops, there’s a lull in the week between then and the New Year. A stretch of a few quiet days.

Then on New Year’s Eve…at the stroke of midnight…a familiar but who-truly-understands kind of song is sung all over the world. I have never really liked the song, never really got the meaning of it. Mainly, if I ever sang it, I did it because that was the thing to do.

One could think of it as a drinking song. A reason to raise a glass and toast to a New Year.

I did a little study on that familiar, but who-knows song.

Auld Lang Syne.

Long, long ago. Old long since.

Days gone by.

The idea of the Robert Burns poem put to song is that we look back over the years and remember. Should days gone by be forgotten? Should old friendships and relationships be put aside?

I know it will get better, but it’s hard for days to go by since Michael died. I don’t want to put time and distance between it and now. I want to remember it fresh and new as if it just happened.

“Hey, didn’t I just do this?  Doesn’t is seem like yesterday…?”

I want to preserve it all somehow. Keep it all close to my heart and mind and never allow it to be forgotten.

As much as I know I have to.  I don’t want to remember the old and move forward into the new. Because all of the old is gone. Just like that.

Someday, my son’s story will be a long, long ago one.

As I looked up the words to the entire song, I found the following verses.

 

We two have paddled in the stream,

From morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since long, long ago.

(Chorus)

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!

And give us a hand of yours!

And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will

For long, long ago.

(Chorus)

 

But seas between us broad have roared. 

I’m tossed about in that sea just now. The one that stretches broad between the two of us.

But Son, here’s my heart in my hand. Take my hand. It will never let you go.

It won’t be long until time rolls around. Someday all of this pain and sorrow will be a distant memory. We’ll be together again then. One day we will both look back on this story and Praise God I survived it.

Raise our glasses filled with all this salty sea water turned into sweet wine and finally understand.

For Auld Lang Syne, my dear, For Auld Lang Syne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surrendered

What else is there to do?

What else can be done when the battle seems lost and the threat of destruction closes in from all directions like the wave of ten thousand soldiers marching in for the kill?

Hard pressed on every side. Perplexed.

It’s the specific time when it seems the bitter end. I’ve had enough. Enough pain. Enough doubt. Enough sorrow and grief. Enough.

The idea of being strong seems to fade in the light of realization. The fight is too hard.

This pain will never end. It’s simply not going to pass.

Oh, tactics can be implemented to advance forward a bit. Journal and cry. Talk it out. Set up rituals and memorials. Mark milestones. Do what you can to honor the loss and allow the pain. Try to put yourself back together again.

As if there is any strategy to stop the pain. Or even lead you to the end of it.

I know the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

I’ve known about these for so long.  I’ve read and studied and tried the best I knew how to help others through them. Yes, I thought I knew.

I even walked through these stages in different circumstances of loss in my life.  I have lost battles over the course of this half century plus of mine. I sure have. Who hasn’t?

Yet no fatality is greater than the loss of a child.

I had no idea. None at all. I have been clueless.

I hadn’t fought this particular battle. I was never really in the thick of this war. My hands were never covered with the blood of incomparable defeat. Now I know.

I’ve often wondered how great men of war have felt. Standing in the middle of the battleground, perhaps on a hill. Looking around them as loyal men lay dead or dying. Precious blood of sacrifice seeping into prized territory. What goes through the mind at the realization that all is lost? All those months and years of preparation and strategy defeated. Conquered.

What thoughts come to mind when it’s realized there is no other choice. None at all.

No choice but one. Surrender.

I wonder if that great man of war personally carries it with him at all times. That stark white, colorless flag of submission.

Is it constantly available tucked inside a pocket? Folded or crammed in the breast of his jacket? Behind hard earned medals of honor and badges of recognition. Is it there, kept safe from bloodshed? Stain free and pristine, pure and untainted. White as snow.

Or is it tattered and torn, wind whipped from past losses.

When he reaches in to take hold of it, can he feel his heart race in his chest…or is it beating slow with the resolve. The resolve to acquiesce. The choice to give in.

End the fight.

I believe I’ve marched through all of them. Those first four of five grief stages. I’ve trampled in and out of each field. Camped out in some, revisited a few, been beaten and battered by the ram of them. It’s been such a painful war, this struggle with grief. In fact, it has almost killed me. For sure, it has left me with deep and seeping wounds. Long and jagged scars. I’ve been shattered to pieces on the field.  My head over there, an arm lying here, my chest ripped wide open, yet my heart still beats.

I am battle weary.

The life of my son is now history. All of his days lived and now gone. No amount of fighting will bring him back.

I believe I am resolving that.

The thing about life and time is that it marches forward. Like a valiant soldier, it does not look back. It takes no stock in the loss. It does not set up camp among the dead. It simply buries them and carries on.

I’ve been thinking. About how to get back to living. Stop retreating and move forward.

I believe the victory is in relinquishing the fight.

Accepting that this pain will never end. Reach in for my own white flag.

What bare threads are left of it, anyway.

Truly, the only thing left for me to do

is Surrender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thing About Writing

The thing about writing is that I put myself out there.  And what I mean by “out there” is heart on my sleeve, neck on the line, and often dangling from a limb. Being transparent is risky.

The subject matter of my life right now is unpleasant. Deep. Raw. Painful.

Who wants to talk about death? Who wants to follow grief?

It can look like a tangled mess. All wrapped up in intense emotion and wound real tight.

Yet, here I am and this is the way it is. For now.

At first, I thought I would open up this space simply for chronicling the journey. I don’t ever, for as long as I live, want to hide it away and forget one single second of what I have gone through this past year. I don’t want to lose one minute of what I’m walking through now in this precious time of what I call The After.

Writing soothes my soul. That might sound cliche, but let me tell you…it is everything for me just now. Everything.

I sit here at this keyboard and watch as the words slip and slide out from underneath the cursor one letter at a time. It’s beautiful to me, how that happens. Letter by letter, the words form in the white space of nothingness.  The depths of my heart and mind untangle to find their visual form. It is as if my invisible emotions come alive. Tangible and real.

This space and these words are my therapy. But I’ve got to tell you, I can’t write everything I think and feel. So often, I want to do that.

Sometimes I long to throw up all over the page.

But I don’t. I save that for the deep inside. All of that vomit is tucked safely away in the recesses of my heart. One might think that this kind of emotion needs to find its way to the surface. I find myself incredibly protective of it, though. It’s mine and mine alone.

I have no doubt you all know what I’m saying here. Yes, you all have that kind of hidden pain, too. At least to some extent.

Writing also means following some kind of formula. Watching the p’s and q’s. This, however, is my greatest weakness.

I am not one who wants to follow the rules.

I like to write in fragments. Sometimes run-on sentences just feel right. I love to see single sentences suspend alone in their own paragraphs. I have an aversion to commas, too (yet that one is nicely placed, isn’t it?). I have thought about this a lot lately. Wondering why it is that I don’t care about the grammar of it all.

It has dawned on me lately as to why.  It’s because this is how I think. It’s the way my thoughts flow and how the emotions long to show up. There are times that if I stop and think about the mechanics of it all, well…I get stymied. The technicalities put a choke hold on the words.

I do know that all of the grammar stuff needs its respect. In fact, writing beyond those boundaries is a liberty that disregards the reader at times.  Writing in a way that I deem best can often come across as selfish on my part. In essence, I am asking you to think the way I do.  To feel the same as I feel. I’m making quite an assumption in doing this.

But for now, I liken these words of mine to the contents of a box tucked away deep in the corner of a basement somewhere. A box containing what’s similar to Christmas lights taken down hastily last year and shoved inside without the thought of the next time they are needed. My emotions are tangled up and twisted together, nestled down in the dark bottom of the box with the lid snapped tight, taped down for extra measure. Stored away until it’s necessary to get them out again.

Sooner or later, that box has to come up out of the basement. The lid has to be taken off and the stored lights have to be lifted out in their tangled, knotted up, and disordered mess. Even if it is frustrating, the untangling begins.

And no matter how painstaking it can be.  No matter how long it might take, inch by inch, light by revelational light, the unraveling creates a straight, single line. Soon, all of those wires and lights connect together to make something quite worthwhile.  Something beautiful.

This is what writing is doing for me. Unpacking the tangled mess and pain. Lifting it out of storage and helping it all unwind. Little by little and inch by inch, these words of mine are doing much the same.

Untangling it all.

 

 

 

 

 

Drug of Choice

I would like to tell you that I am health conscious and eat for health and life.

I can be and do that. In fact, several years ago I dove head first into paring down my diet, cleaned it all up, and was feeling better than ever before.

It’s amazing how food manipulates a body, soul, and spirit.

When steps are taken to eliminate the bad, processed foods and add live, healthy, full of nutrients and enzymes, and all foods good for you, the hard work is worth it.

In fact, I felt like a new person. Better yet, the person I am meant to be.

I also added fasting.  I learned about fasting years and years ago for spiritual reasons. I would fast for days with the intent to hear the voice of God clearly and watched as my prayers grew more in line with His wishes.

Let me tell you, if you have never fasted before, well…you are missing out. I know that there are some who cannot fast for medical reasons, but truly, it’s a game changer. This is where miracles happen. Or better yet, this is where a mind gets clear enough to see miracles that happen every day but is blind to.

I tell you this because I feel that those several years back, I was being prepared. I know this can sound strange to some, but for me, it sounds pretty powerful.

Right up until the time I was called to the hospital, I was on the cleanest diet I had ever been in my entire life. I was eating the highest and best of what was right for my body, which left me clean, clear, and bright. My senses were sharp. I was thinking clearly without unhealthy chemicals floating around in my brain to warp my thoughts.

From the very first ring of my phone, and even all of the things that happened prior causing that dreaded phone call, every cell in my body was fine tuned. My brain was running on the best grade fuel, and looking back now, I can see this as one of the many miracles in my life.

Yes, I believe God prepared me as sure as a soldier is prepared for war.

Because you see, I needed to be on my toes. No…more than that.  I needed to be open. Wide open to hearing the voice of God. I needed to hear and know and feel and see all things spiritual. This became automatic. I didn’t have to try to do anything. Anything.

During the initial days, I would often try hard to pray. Use the right words and say the things I thought were right to say. Ask God the right questions. I would literally stop and try…but trying hard to do this felt so futile and shallow. At first, I would kick myself hard because…well, actually, isn’t that what a Good Christian does?  Isn’t that what a Good Momma is supposed to do for her children?  Pray?

And listen, I did pray. But it wasn’t like I imagined one would pray in the face of possible or grave danger. No. It was more like a constant current of conversation. There were no words to tell God what I was feeling, and even if I had the words, those feelings were wildly vacillating from one moment to the next. Often, it seemed like around every momentary corner, something new was happening and new information had to be processed. This wasn’t just any circumstance that keeps you on your toes like being super conscious while driving in heavy traffic, or being in a huge crowd at some sports event, or getting ready to take off on an airplane.

No.  This was life or death.

How can I tell you how marvelously present God is in the face of death? It is both surreal and intensely real. Visible and invisible.

Powerful.

I remember times in my life when I have prayed for someone and was overtaken with the words of a request I often ask of God.

“Lord, be as close to (this person prayed for) as the mention of Your Name. So close, Lord, that if she would simply open her eyes and turn her head, she could swear she’d see your face.”

I don’t know how many times I have prayed those words out loud. But not for myself.

Yet there He was.

And I swear I could feel His face next to mine. I could hear Him breathing, and feel the heat of it against my ear. He never left. Not once.

I was not hungry during those fifteen days in the hospital. Not really. I was surprised, however, at the amount of unhealthy food available. Oh, I could make OK choices from the bad, but it all started with coffee.  It was offered freely and I did feel the need for it at times, so I started drinking it. Quick trips to the cafeteria only offered carbohydrate laden bagels, sandwiches, and the like. I am sure I was burning so many calories just to survive, so I did compromise and began eating what was there. Often things out of a bag. Lacking nutrition. Empty calories.

I was comforted by the quick fix they offered…all of those carbohydrates. How they took over the pain for a little while. Gave me the needed energy to get through the next hour or two. It didn’t take too long before I was not even thinking about what I was eating at all.

Yet, God was still there beside me.

I don’t want to make this a conditional thing. I don’t want to lend the idea that we have to work at or do something specific for God to be close. One doesn’t have to follow some kind of strict diet or rules to get His attention. That would be religion. Law. Works.

But there is something to the idea of forsaking the comfortable things to reap the sacred. Denying the flesh to see in the Spirit.

This year after my son’s death, I haven’t cared much about what I eat. In fact, food has become the drug of choice. It is what I can turn toward to make me feel better.

I believe this has contributed to the pain I feel. I truly think this is what has pinned me into some negative and sad thinking. It has kept me dull and half asleep.

It isn’t the entire excuse. I know that the sadness must make its way up and out. I get that. But the things I mindlessly put into my mouth only contribute to the depression and can keep me here.

I have to add that I can look at someone who is, say…an alcoholic, or a drug abuser. I can look at the person who is painfully struggling with eating disorders or any kind of self medication and see myself. I’ve got a glimpse now into what might make a person turn to external and unhealthy things to cope.

I don’t claim to know exactly how they feel and why they do what they do, but I understand the desperate need to escape. If only for a little while.

But I want to wake up now.

It’s time to wake up.

It’s been said that the road to recovery from anything is to see the problem. Be aware that there is an addiction. Admit and confess it.

Like in the twelve step, “Hi, my name is ____________, and I’m a(an) ______________.”

So, here goes.

“Hi, my name is Libby.  I am a carbo/foodaholic.”

It’s a start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix Numb and YouTube Trance

How does one find reprieve?

What can be done when the mind won’t stop, and the feelings of intense grief continues to rise and crash to the surface and threaten to rub its concentrated saltiness into already stripped and peeled off skin? What can be done to redirect those thoughts and feelings or simply stall them for a while?

I mean, a Momma can only take so much pain.

It starts during pregnancy, actually.  In the beginning…yes, those words.  The beginning of a child forming in a mother’s womb does change everything.  Not every Momma is thrilled, but I will go so far as to say every Mother feels something.

We have no choice, really. All of those maternal hormones flood through our bodies and sets us up. Every part of me during pregnancy was every part of my child. We were one in the same. The feelings and emotions were intense.

And it never, ever ends.

My son grew to thirty-seven years old, yet to me he was still a little boy. Still my baby. Oh, he would blush and grin at this idea, but I know he secretly loved it. No matter how old my son would have grown to be, he was my firstborn. My child. My son. My boy.

So when what I gave my life for and invested so much time, energy, and emotion into was ripped from me? Well, those feelings didn’t die along with him.

In fact, they intensified. I found myself reliving every single day of Michael’s life. My mind goes back in time over and over again. Sometimes remembering the wonderful, but a great deal of the time, thinking about the hard stuff. How I handled certain things. How I disciplined him at times and when I said no and when I was hard, hard on him especially in his teen years.

I was barely an adult myself then. What did I know?

Absolutely nothing. I certainly did not know that he would up and die on me.

If I would have known that, for sure I would have done so much differently.

Isn’t this how we all think?  After life hums along and you really believe you’ve got more time to do this, or fix that, or say what you need to.

Tomorrow.

Next week.

Next time.

I believe this is called regret.

And all of us know that we should not live in that.  Regret.

But regret had its claws into me and wasn’t going to let go. It was planning on leaving its mark. Its goal to leave me battered and bruised and scarred for life.

I tried to keep myself busy with the everyday stuff.  Housework and busy work and errands that needed to be done or things that I made important even when they weren’t. I tried to take up a new hobby.  Knitting.  That was helpful for a few cast on rows, but it was hard for me to keep count of all those garter stitches.  I always seemed to slip one here and there. Just like time had slipped away. Days of life dropped just like that.

I could not concentrate to read. Not one line. Reading took a lot of effort. The words became all blurry and smeared and ran together through the tears.

I don’t know exactly how, but one day it began.  With remote in hand, I started surfing through channels on the television. The noise and the glare and the constant movement on the screen crowded out all of the thoughts taking over my brain. Soon, a sort of numbness set in and there was a sweet relief to be found through this portal of endless distraction. I discovered drama and comedy and hours and hours of series lumped together on Netflix. I traveled near and far on PBS and to tell you the truth, I do not remember where.

All I know is that I got lost.

The hours slipped by and the night time came and then I could finally go to bed and sleep. I made it through another day.

There was a time when I logged on to this computer and I happened to see a small square of screen flash about something on YouTube.  I was not one to venture there much in the past, but the beckoning to learn something DIY drew me in and I was hooked. Soon, I was watching women much younger than I am tell me about a new make up line and how to apply eye shadow to make a perfectly smokey lid and about all of their used up “empties” for the month and let me tell you…it all mesmerized me. I don’t even care about make up. I don’t care much about the newest hair style or the perfect jewelry or bag to buy that goes with most everything. I just don’t care.

But like a fly caught up in a spider web, I was held captive.

The glory of it all was that I believed I had power over it.  In fact, the idea is not lost on me that the buttons that turn things off and on is known as the power button. The power switch. I could hold that remote and control what came through the television screen. I could pause, rewind, or stop a Netflix or YouTube video at will. I could turn the volume up or down or entirely off.

At least I thought I was in control.

The numbness would only die down when the power of these distractions was turned on. I had become so acclimated to the noise that the silence in between the series and streaming grew louder and louder and I realized that what I had done was allow myself to become a zombie. I was in a trance.

I checked out.

On this side of things, I can see the truth of it.  I am fearful that someday, when I look back I will be haunted by an even greater regret. I will wonder if I gave myself a chance to process my loss or if I simply covered it up with all of this numbness.

I believe I allowed all of this to swallow up more precious time.

Because these feelings of loss and grief will never go away. Just like his birth, the death of my son is now part of me. They are one in the same. Why would I ever want anything different?

Why would I want to be numb to it all?

It’s time for me to realize that this Momma can take in so much pain. I can walk through it. It simply comes with the honor of being a Momma.

And it should never, ever end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Loss (and Eyes of the Wise)

This post was written as a guest post for:  https://juliocean.com/   

Thank you, Juli, for including me in your space.

 

Sooner or later, life hands out a season of abrupt, painful loss and change.

There will come a time when the bottom seems to fall out of everything, and the feeling of plunging deep into a dark, dark pit seems uncontrollable. Much like a dream experienced in the depth of night that wakes you with a panicked jolt — arms flailing and heart racing.

Somehow, even while you’re sleeping and falling all at the same time you know that surely, you will soon wake up.  It’s not real. You can breathe normal now.

In reality, you haven’t much choice.  Hardship has to be lived out wide awake and there is little to no time to catch your breath.  It’s as if you are floating strangely still in the eye of it all and the nightmare swirls around you like a violent hurricane eager to suck you in.

As you stand stunned and silently watching, your mind tells you that well, here it is.

It’s your turn.

For so long you’ve watched as others struggled in their loss. Vicariously, you’ve lived out scenarios by proxy, or through reading countless books and hours immersed in television or movies.

So far you’ve been a voyeur, but not a partaker.

Suddenly, all of that watching and all of that reading falls away. Those things have let you down.  You realize that they haven’t equipped you.

There’s a pivotal moment when a decision must be made as to how you’ll be. How will you handle it all and what will you do?

It’s at this precise moment something in you dies.

The naive ceases to exist.

In that split second or two you can distinctly feel the transition. The click of some sort of proverbial switch within. You can hear an innate call to either crumble or step up.

Fall apart or rise above.

Only the experienced can tell you.  The seasoned ones of life will, with great clarity, relate your moment to the moment that changed them.  The moment that changed everything.

The wise will recognize the nightmare in your eyes and the panic on your face. They will offer up a safety net to catch your fall and embrace your flailing arms. Take you by the hand and breathe life into you, telling you to hang on.

Sugar, hold on.

For as sure as hours flow into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years you will get through this.

As sure seasons turn, you will make it.

You don’t know it yet, but what you need to survive already resides in you. Yes, it sure does. In fact, your entire life has prepared you for such a time as this.  All you have to do is believe.

And greater still, if you let it, this circumstance will do the miraculous.

The flames of pain will burn away what does not belong.  The wood, hay, and stubble of insignificance will char to ashes. What you once deemed important and allowed to steal life away, and what kept you stumbling around walking in your sleep must die.

Don’t be afraid.

This change has come to do a great work in you. If you give permission, it won’t be long until you begin to see that this momentary, brief affliction will be your greatest teacher.

Your most valuable gift.

When your storm dies down and all destruction has been buried, you will find yet a greater change.  One that is priceless beyond your wildest dreams.

You will see yourself as you are truly meant to be.

Strong.

Resilient.

Powerful.

You will soon be ready to step into all that is ahead of you.  Walk out of this old skin of the naive and walk into the rest of your life with eyes of the wise.

You will find yourself reborn.

And sure as anything, it will be your turn.  Your turn to see the pain in another. To look into the eyes of the fearful.  Take them by the hand.

You will be the one breathing life into another.

And tell them to hang on.

Sugar, hold on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year of Firsts

I have survived.

I’ve stumbled through them all.  And I’m still here.

It’s now been over an entire year since my son died.  A year since he was buried.

The very minute after his death and burial commenced some sort of advent pointing toward the One Year Anniversary.

I didn’t quite understand the enormity of it all back then.  I was aware that there would be holidays and days of celebration without my son alive and well to live them out.  I realized that.  I knew these days would be challenging.  I knew I would be sad.

But I was not prepared for how each and every Day of Special would cut to my core.

Special days like his birthday, or the birthdays of his children. All family birthdays, especially mine.  Mother’s Day.  Father’s Day. Holidays of all kinds.

They all painstakingly magnified the loss.

Even the simple holidays that once were minor to me became horribly hard.  Like Veteran’s Day.  Memorial Day.  Fourth of July. Oh, I always understood the reason and meaning of days like these.  But now they are more.

Yes, these days will become far more meaningful to me now.  My son joins the ranks of those we honor on these days.  I’ll be forever flying a Flag to commemorate them, for sure.  Standing before My Flag will bring up a well of pride and deeply mixed emotions.

The American Flag will be forever Sanctified to me.  It once blanketed the coffin in which my son now lays.  The Flag is much more than just a Symbol of Freedom for me.

It is now a Sacred Shawl.

A red, white, and blue Cloak of Great Honor.

A Crown of Stars and Stripes Glory.

That American Flag…well, I will defend and honor it until the very day I die, too.

There were football games and special this and that days for his children. There were last days of school and graduations.  So many things I know Michael would have loved to participate in and would be incredibly proud.

In my grief, a holiday would crop up quickly without my knowing it.  It was as if I was in some kind of time warp and they would simply sneak up on me.  I lost track of time anyway, but the days would pass and suddenly I would realize that it would soon be Thanksgiving, or Christmas.

I was never ready.

And time seemed fleeting in between.  It was like a holiday passed and soon another came into being.  I barely had time to catch my breath in between. Barely had chance to recover.

It has been exhausting.

Harder still are the ordinary days. The passing of weeks and months. The seemingly abrupt change of seasons.

Oddly though, I found relief at the ending of summer last year.  I found solace in the coming of autumn and felt a craving for the dead of winter.  It was strangely comforting to watch everything die down around me and go into a deep sleep. The days became shorter and the sun went down earlier and the dark of night brought with it a sigh of relief for me.

I could crawl into bed and sleep a longer night away.

My son died on the 22nd of June.  Around the third week of each month, I felt myself start to spiral down.  Sink into some kind of memory that I was not consciously aware of.

I would find myself pulled down lower and lower around the third week of each passing month.

My sight would become strangely dim. My thinking grew sluggish and dull. My head would throb in such pain and my mind would search and search for something I could not quite pinpoint.

I would walk about in seemingly slow motion. My feet like concrete, my arms so heavy. My fingers would strain to move.  I became strangely numb and oh! so weary, and life’s mundane would become difficult.  The days were hard, hard to get through.

I would enter into a new fog of loss, an unaware sense of knowing.  My subconscious mind would not let this go for me. Each month, a few days before the 22nd, my inward parts would remember.  It would not allow me to forget.

That “X” months ago, My Boy died.

It took me a few months to connect those dots.  And let me tell you, it was as natural and as easy to fall into that funk each and every month as it is for one season to turn to the next.

A Circadian rhythm of Mourning.

I wonder if you would believe that I look back on this Year of Firsts with tremendous affection. I know this might sound morose. Macabre.  Yes, I understand that.

I have grown to liken my past year to the year of a newborn child.

All of those Firsts of a newborn are so incredibly endearing.  How you long to capture each and every moment.  Put them all in a bottle somehow.  Stop time and take it all in.

Yet there is no way to do that.  Oh, the days and milestones can be recorded in a book. Pictures can be taken and each incident locked into the brain just so.

But there’s a desperation in it, too.  The idea that they are all gone.  A vapor.

Just like that.

No chance of getting them back.

I look back to the day my son died as a day I was reborn.

Into this new creature that I have no clue who she is.

And it would seem like I wailed to be fed and learned how to see all things new. During these days I had to get up off the ground somehow.  Learn how to crawl through the pain and pick myself up and learn how to walk.  All over again.

Oh!  Such a bitter, bittersweet time.

Painful but yet somehow Glorious.

These days past in my Year of Firsts were the infant days for me. The days of tremendous love and pain and all of it…all of it such a contradiction of tragedy and triumph.

Because it was all so incredibly painful yet remarkably beautiful still.

I did it.  I made it through.  And somehow I’ve grown and flourished among the days.

They are behind me now. Gone. I now have no choice but to move forward. Into a life of the unknown new.  I guess I will, with these baby steps of mine, find out what that new means.

My Year of Firsts.

I will deeply treasure each and every day.

I will miss them.

 

 

No Place Like Home

During the first fuzzy and surreal weeks home — when all was quieting down and everything began settling over me — one by one letters started showing up in my mailbox.

Important looking letters in formal envelopes imprinted with Army insignia up on the left hand side near the return.  My name and address typed right there perfectly in the middle.  Exactly where it was supposed to be.

All formal and impressive.

The first letter came from some Army officer.  Some high and lifted up man who, I am sure, was respected by my Son.  I will bet Michael would have been impressed.  Honored somehow.  Proud.

Inside was a sheet of paper headed with the same insignia.  Words of condolence typed in neat paragraphs. Thanking me.

Telling me sorry for my loss.

Just now I can feel the tears welling up as I try to decipher all of the feelings that rushed over me when I read those words of condolence typed in those paragraphs.

I was washed over with pain.  I am now washed over with fresh pain at the remembrance of it.

In my hands and in front of my eyes was a stiff and formal letter to a Momma telling her that her son was valued.  He was important. The loss was felt.

I was proud.  For sure, I was.  I am.

But one of my first and immediate thoughts was this:

My son went off to war many times.  I did not get a letter thanking me then.

I remember so well that the thought came to my mind that someone should create a Department of Letters.  Yes.  Someone should step up and take on the responsibility (and I would say great honor) to sit down and type up a letter to each and every Momma who’s son went off to war.

Thank them then.

Why wait until they die?

I folded it up neatly, placed it back into the envelope with the Army insignia, and put it in a box for safekeeping.  A box that I’ve put things in over this past year.  I have so much in that box. Not like in quantity, but definitely great quality.  Someday I will write and tell you what is inside that box.

I don’t even know quite for sure what is in it exactly.

I have not been able to open it.  If I have something to put inside of it, I simply lift the lid and shove it in.  Shut the lid down tight again.

I tell myself that I should go through it.  Yes. That would be so brave of me. Healing.

I just can’t yet.

A few days after that first letter, came another.  From someone else high and lifted up in the Army.  Saying pretty much the same.

Sorry.

Thank you.

Later on, another.  And this time, I could see more than familiarity.

Each letter was the same.  The exact same.

It was a form letter.

Now, each one of them was signed personally (maybe one was signature stamped).  But I cried when I realized it.  I didn’t have enough energy to be indignant or angry or even horribly disappointed.

I could only be sad.  It all seemed so rote.  So cold.

There was a day when a letter came that was different.  My address was handwritten. The letter inside had words scribbled in ink by a human hand.

My son’s unit went off to Afghanistan a few days after Michael went into the hospital. His troop leaders came to visit us the night before they left.  All of them so kind and attentive.  Spending extra time getting to know me.  Telling me about themselves and their families.  About their work life with my son.

I especially liked the highest ranking official.  And listen, I know I should know this and that title and rank and name….but I cannot for the life of me think of them now.  I’ve stopped to wrack my brain, but the titles won’t come.

And I’ve thought to go open that box just to see…to give you more accurate information on these high and lifted up men in my son’s life.

Then I realize it would not matter.  Oh, it might impress you.  But in the end, it does not make a difference.  Does it?

After all, they are only men.  Just like any other.

The hand written letter was so much more detailed.  The man who wrote it took time out.  I could tell he thought it all over and poured out his heart.

Making me laugh at the sentences that pointed out how Type A Michael was and how they often bucked heads.  But in the end, he had deep respect for my son and would miss him terribly.

This letter meant everything to me and it melted some of the ice frozen around the previous form letters.

After I read this letter, I suddenly remembered something that I found just a few short weeks before I got the dreaded call.

A panic flooded me as the image came to my mind.

I was cleaning out my basement, going through memorabilia and trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away.  I was on a purge and I was going to clean it all out.

(How hard that is to do.  For a Momma to go through years and years worth of handmade or seemingly insignificant things and make the decision as to what stays and what goes.)

As I was sifting through, I found a letter written to me by my son when he was barely eighteen.  And you’ve got to realize that my son was not one to write letters.  He was always so contained and private.  In fact, this was the only letter I ever received from him while he was in the Army.  Soon came the days of email and Skype.  Even those were rare.

He was just finishing up boot camp when he wrote it.

Tucked into a small, ordinary, everyday basic envelope was a one page note. Filled from top to bottom with my son’s small but precise handwriting.  In it, he described some of what he was going through.  How he was so proud of himself because he was the youngest one there. He was going to prove to them all that he was tough and resilient.

He was going to do great things in the Army.

As I was folding up that less formal and touching letter from his commander, I remembered that letter from Michael.  All those years back.

And I was struck with a panic.

Where did I put it?

I looked here.  There.  Places I thought it would be.

I could not find it.

I could hardly catch my breath.

I remember starting to cry.  Hard.  I ran about in a growing hysteria. Frightened, so frightened that I could not find that letter.  A letter that now was more than a simple letter to a Momma filling her in and keeping in touch.

It was now to me like a sacred scroll.

Had I lost it?  Misplaced it?  Horror still, did I possibly by accident throw it away?  While I was doing all of that needful purging, what did I do with that letter?

In a full fledged panic I started tearing open drawers, going through boxes, and pulling things off of shelves.

I could not find it.

And let me tell you…I was like a crazed animal.  My  husband and son watched, helpless as I paced and wailed and tried to calm myself to stop and think.

At one point, I had several boxes all strewed out on the basement floor.  There was only one more to go through.  I would have to think harder after this one or go through them all again.

But there it was.  In that very last box.  Sitting right on top.

In fact, it was all laid open.  I remember reading it a few times those weeks ago.  I must have read it more than a few times and laid it there on top.  It was still open, not tucked into the envelope.

Right there on top at the beginning.  The sacred salutation for me to read:

Mom.

I sat on the floor to read it yet again.

So sweet.  So young.  Trying to be so grown up.

As I read through and down to the closing. There it was. Yes, I remember it so well.

Tell everyone I miss them.  I miss you.

Mom, there is no place like home. 

You never know how important something will become.  When you first receive it and it does have meaning, but not like you would ever, ever think.

These letters are all nestled together now.  All of them in a neat stack inside my sacred box.

It is not lost on me.  These letters.

Like chapters in a memoir of sorts.  The life of an Army boy.

Not just any Army boy.  Mine.

From beginning to end.