just a brief journal on old memories

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I find myself sipping moscato and trying to think of all the Thanksgivings I can remember as a child. Unfortunately, I don’t remember very many Thanksgivings before my mom died almost thirteen years go. That period of my life all feels like a blur sometimes. I’d like to take a little bit of time right now to reflect on one Thanksgiving that I do remember…

We had just moved to California — my dad, my mom, and I — and we were living in my older brother and now sister-in-law’s tiny apartment. I remember my parents slept on the futon in the living room and I slept on a cot of some sort not too far from them. I was only twelve and hadn’t lived with my brother for three years, so it was nice to me, those cozy moments piled together in one place.

I only remember snippets from that day…

One snippet is about how my obsessive compulsive disorder came out in full swing. I don’t remember what I was compulsively doing, but I do remember my mother getting frustrated with me. My compulsions were really bad at that time in my life.

On a happier note, I remember watching television. We didn’t really have a dining room or a table, so we all sat in the living room with our Thanksgiving plates and watched TV. It was right around the release of the second Harry Potter movie, and the three child actors were on Oprah or something… I just remember them talking about Dobby, who must’ve been cutting-edge CGI at the time. Oprah kept saying, “You mean Dobby was just a tennis ball on a stick?” “I mean, what was it like talking to a tennis ball on a stick?” At one point, my mom exclaimed, to the laughter of the rest of us, “We get it! He’s a tennis ball on a stick.”

I’m not sure if it was that day or some time before or afterwards, but we all gathered to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first movie. I remember running away from the TV and freaking out. I think it was my dad who followed. I kept trying to say that I couldn’t watch that movie, that it was bad, that people from our old church in South Carolina told me it was bad.

My dad (or my mom, or both) told me that it was just a movie, that it wasn’t bad at all, that it was fun and there was no sin in watching it. I am so grateful to my parents for that moment, for their attitudes, for introducing me to a rich and life-changing world.

I am so grateful to them for not forcing religion and rules upon me, for only taking me to church when I asked them to do so. (I remember one kid in my Sunday school class was there as a punishment for something he did the day before). I am so grateful to my parents for showing me that God existed outside of church buildings and that he wasn’t mad at me for “sinning.” I’m grateful to them for challenging the rules I came home from Sunday school spouting — like when they told me love was what really mattered in a relationship, not gender. I love my mom and dad so much.

I was too young to really grasp it then, and I wish (not for the first time) that they were here now to talk to me about my questions, to tell me about their own experiences with faith now that I’m old enough to listen.

I want to watch movies with them. I want them to see their granddaughter’s excitement over reading Harry Potter. I want them to know the incredible man in my life who, coincidentally, is also currently reading Harry Potter for the first time. I want them to glimpse Grey Havens YA, a group that I know they would love. I know it would make them proud.

More than that, I just want to know them. I feel like I hardly knew my mother. Twelve years was too short a time. But then again, twenty-three years was too short a time with my dad, and I want to know him more too. I am thankful for that time, I’m thankful for what I do know, I just wish it could’ve been longer, I wish their could’ve been more.

I miss you, Mom. I miss you, Dad.
I’m thankful that I’m here with my brother and his wife who became my sister, with my two little nieces… but we all miss you.

Advertisements

Two.

IMG_1193A lot has happened over the past two years

I caught myself saying it had been “three” years the other day, I suppose that’s how much time blurs after grief burrows inside your heart and settles down for the long haul. I used to meticulously count the months, now I imagined I’ve been living without my dad a whole year longer than was really true. I guess that means I’ve resigned myself to this fate, that this life has to keep going now, without him.

And yet, I can still clearly remember the details of that day:

It was overcast, rainy, much it like it was on June 10, 2015 when I started this post. In 2013, I was at work when I got the call that my dad was in the ER…. I couldn’t focus and I asked to go home. I wandered around the house, I cuddled my cat, I watched episodes of Total Drama Action to distract myself from the wait. I told friends and they prayed with me. The friends I lived with made dinner. I was just about to attempt to sit down and eat –it was a sausage biscuit, breakfast for dinner– when the call came. I remember kneeling on the wood floor of my bedroom. I remember our pastor coming over. I remember sitting with a pillow clenched to my chest, trying and failing to sip a smoothie so that at least I could take in some nutrients.

That day was awful, but it was the days that followed that were worse. I fell asleep hugging my cat and I remember waking up early for my plane ride and wishing that it had all been a bad dream. I remember sobbing on the plane. I remember a panic attack in Colorado when the high mountain air fled from my lungs and the stress of making funeral plans became too much. I remember beer and sandwiches. I remember stepping outside DIA as I waited to fly back to Maryland and wanting to collapse on the sidewalk and never get up again.

I remember music. Manic Depression is touching my soul… So keep your head up, love. And the landslide’ll bring it down.

But still, a lot has happened in these past two years…

wpid-20150602_165350.jpgI’ve gotten to live alongside my family, the brother who went off to college when I was only nine years old. I get to live with him and his wife now, I get to watch them be parents to my nieces, I get to sit with them and be, and feel at home with them. I get to stop my writing, dry my tears, and go watch a documentary about music with them… which is exactly what happened in the middle of this post.

Not only that, but I’ve started chasing a new dream, a community of nerds, a friend and partner to tend this garden with, something that fits.

I’ve stumbled upon a job with consistent hours and a service I feel good about. I’ve been adopted into a work family who truly cares about me.

I’ve found another friend, one who reached out to me, one who grabbed my hand as the darkness closed in– and he steadily became more, so much more…

But yes, there was still plenty of darkness… In these past two years, I had to decide to say goodbye to my cat, because I couldn’t take her with me. She was a gift from my mom, and she’d been with me through both losses, it really sucked having to lose her too. I also reached the point in my life when I’ve been alive longer on this earth without my mother than I’ve been alive with her. She died when I was twelve, and I’ve been living with her absence for thirteen years, and the years will keep adding and adding now. I miss her. I don’t really like this math, but I’m compelled to focus on it. Grief does strange things to you.

Grief messes with your faith. I don’t know where I am anymore, and I don’t know how much of it was sparked by grief or if this was just something I was bound to encounter eventually. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that when I lost my dad, I also lost my church community.) As I look back on the posts I’ve written since June 10, 2013, I see small glimpses of hope and light– not too much, but just enough to have kept me afloat. I read them now and I sink. I feel bitter and doubtful and cynical about the words I once clung to to keep from becoming bitter and doubtful and cynical. O Lord, help my unbelief. Actually, I don’t know if it really is unbelief or if it’s just pain. I can’t hold to faith anymore because I can’t trust God anymore, because I’m hurt; I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the blow. I had to fill out a questionnaire recently that asked me to rate how much I agreed with the following statement: “I have beliefs that sustain me.” Two years ago, I would’ve given that statement top marks, but I didn’t know how to score it this year. I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do about that.

Deep breath. Okay, back to the good things:

In these past two years, I’ve traveled a little, visited the Great Sand Dunes, attended two concerts by my favorite musicians, spoken at an academic conference, won an award for working with youth in my community, taken up yoga, read widely, and fallen in love.

I truly wish that my dad could’ve been a part of it all. I know that would probably mean that most of these good events wouldn’t have happened, and I suppose knowing that his death has at least brought about a glimpse of beauty helps a little… but I miss him. I just miss him. Two years, Dad. I hope you and mom have been watching.

Using a dead man’s library card

Sometimes, I still use a dead man’s library card… The card belonged to my dad, and I still have it on my key ring even though I have my own card in my wallet. Sometimes, I accidentally swipe his when I check out books, and I don’t realize it until I select an email receipt and the machine tells me my receipt has been sent to my dad’s email.

Well, that’s a receipt I’ll never see again. I still can’t access my dad’s email. I don’t know the password, and his security question is so vague that I don’t want to risk being locked out entirely by guessing wrong too many times. Unfortunately, Yahoo refuses to release passwords for the deceased. Apparently there’s some clause you agree to in their terms of service, which renders it pretty much impossible for your surviving loved ones to gain access to your correspondence without your exact password at time of death. They say it’s to protect your privacy, I say it’s ridiculous.

I wish I could read his emails. I wish I knew him well enough to be able to guess his password. I just want a little insight into his mind… I want to read his words again. I want to see who he spoke to… Not to mention that, in the midst of death, I needed to access emails from his various accounts.

And now I need to access my library receipt so I know when my books are due.

What a waste, a whole inbox is sitting there, locked.

I wish I had asked him more questions. I wish he had told me more stories.

The other day, my friend was telling me about the funny details of the day of his birth, and he wanted to know about mine. I told him there was no one left for me to ask for that information.

No one left.

There’s no one left for me to ask about the firsthand account of my birth. No one left to ask about the moment my mom knew my dad was the one. No one left to ask about what kind of daughter I was, or who they hoped I’d become.

I didn’t intend for this post to be sad. I mean, of course it’s going to be sad, but I thought at least it could be quirky, a clever/bitter-sweet comment on the sudden cut-off moment that is death, on the jarring experiences of surviving life, and on how we may continue for years to use the same dead person’s library card without realizing it.

I can’t believe that I’m finally referring to my dad in the past tense– not only that, but I’m even referring to him as “a dead person” and “the deceased.” For a while I couldn’t even write the word “dead,” I had to say, “gone” or “left.” I don’t like that I can say it now. I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m sorry if it’s wrong.

I sit on little thoughts like this one. I sit, and I’ve stopped writing about them, so I’m writing it now. I’m typing about death on my lunch break. Maybe it’ll become part of the book I finish one day, the book I told myself I would write about this orphan experience. To do that, though, I have to re-immerse myself in the grief fog that at times seems lighter, and I don’t always want to stay in that shadow. It won’t leave me, I know that, but I don’t always want to stay immersed in it…

Either way, I wrote this post today, about death and library cards and email accounts and lost information… I wrote what I could, and I’m publishing it now. I’m sure it’ll come back to me later, I have to return that book in two weeks… I think.

Easter won’t let me go…

It’s hard for me to go to church anymore. It’s hard for me to follow the church calendar, to find meaning in days like Palm Sunday or contemplate seasons like Lent. It just doesn’t reach me anymore, not now. Some of it never reached me… I never could quite accept a calendar when I wanted to celebrate all holidays all the time…I wasn’t good at following the guidelines, though I tried.

I’m currently reading Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar, and it’s been helpful to me as I process this unraveling period… she is helping me to understand that there is still something left after the house of cards comes tumbling down. (Though I know my shifting is intricately tied to the sudden loss I experienced two years ago and the abrupt upheaval of my life to the point where I didn’t really have a church community to “lose” anymore, the book and her stories are still helpful.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is… a lot of “religious” things have fallen away recently, but Easter keeps tugging at my heart strings. Easter won’t let me go. I’m going to go to church on Easter Sunday, or at least I’m going to attempt to do so. It’s still going to be difficult for me. But it’s a sunrise service, and there’s just something about sunrise church services that I can’t let go of.

I was trying to describe it to my friend, who graciously said he would go with me: “Well, the service doesn’t start at sunrise, it starts before. We start in darkness and we end in light.”

And that very concept is what I can’t shake from my mind. That, the whole darkness turning into light thing, is what won’t let go of me.

I wrote about Easter last year, about how I don’t know how to sing, “He is risen,” when death still feels so close and so painful, and yet I still want to hear that Christ is, in fact, risen. I still need to hear that death is not the final end, even as it feels so final and so consuming.

I wrote of eucatastrophe, a word I think of often but still can’t quite describe adequately. I don’t know fully what it is, but I find hope in its meaning, a meaning I can’t articulate. The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn. Like Easter, a eucatastrophe involves light reversing the darkness, but as Tolkien wrote, we can’t see it yet. It doesn’t always seem like a happy ending, “…at least, not what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end,” says Sam. We can’t see the glory on the other side yet.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to the sunrise and the symbol of a resurrection that I don’t understand, but I am… And I think it is only a light like this that will bring me back to a building that I don’t know how to or even want to be in anymore… just for one day. For one day, I can join in the singing. For one day, I can awaken the dawn. I can believe.

Light is coming. Let it reflect backwards through time, through space, through the “chinks of the universe.” Let it pierce this shadow, and let it kiss my face. Let me sing.

IMG_1120

on death, prayer, and phoneixes

I’m trying hard to write. I’m trying hard not to write. When the grieving thoughts strike me during my lunch break, I ache for the cathartic process of creating beauty from ashes. Then break’s over, a happy face returns, and by the time I get home, I decide I’d rather escape into Harry Potter‘s world of ashes and phoenix songs than focus on my own.

Where’s my phoenix?

I’m currently reading three books at the moment:

1) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I just finished Goblet of Fire) by J.K. Rowling
2) Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
3) American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney

You wouldn’t think those three fit together very well, but they mingle beautifully in my head.

For example, Rohr writes, “Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness — where we are not in control. Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”

Sweeney writes of Victorian mourning customs, “However, while strides were taking place in the name of modernity and expedience in other realms … mourning was designed to be hard. You had buried your brother; you would stay up nights over a candle sweating over the thinnest pins wrapped in his hair. You would wear scratchy clothes and mourning veils for months. It would not be convenient or subtle, and you would not be comfortable.”

Rowling writes many of her great quotes in the voice of Professor Dumbledore. When I stumbled over this passage in Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore speaks to Harry about witnessing a tragic death, I cried. She writes, “‘If I thought I could help you,’ Dumbledore said gently, ‘by the putting you in an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened.'”

I remember that. I remember wanting nothing more than to sleep… to sleep and wake up and find that it had all been only a nightmare. Even though I know now that no amount of sleep will reverse what happened, I welcome a deep, enchanted sleep to escape for a bit.

Have I been sleeping too long now? Have I avoided telling my story? Have I been avoiding the darkness, or have I just been letting myself stay comfortably numb in the twilight?

Rowling goes on to say that the sweet song of Dumbledore’s phoenix “warms” Harry’s insides, giving him hope. I ache for a phoenix. Am I really going to be transformed, as Rohr claims… or have I already passed the incubation period? Sometimes I wish we still honored a Victorian mindset about death, where mourning was public, prolonged, accepted, where our outside appearance reflected the turmoil of our hearts. But what happens after the designated “mourning period” has ended? What happens to widow after her year of wearing nothing but black ends abruptly and she is expected to wear color again? Does that mean she no longer grieves? Does that mean she’s “over” it?

I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been.

I returned wpid-20150114_161158.jpgto my walking lake today. I didn’t walk it, because it was chilly and I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but I just felt the urge to see it. I hadn’t been to the water in months because of the bitter cold. I’ve been hearing the geese, though, the cacophony of life that inhabits this frozen wasteland. It’s as though they’ve been calling to me, beckoning me. So I went back today, just to look. I found light again, a beauty reminiscent of the one that saved me during those toughest months of my life… Is it wrong that I haven’t been walking there? Is it bad that I haven’t journaled?

I still just want to read Harry Potter and forget — No, forget is not the right word. I do escape, that much is true, but I also find a part of myself in those books, my grief, my childhood, my fear, my hope…

Sometimes all I want to do is fall inside those pages and never come out, so I’m breaking up the wizarding world with a book about death and a book about prayer… It’s a strange little collection, I know, but I hope it will awaken me slowly, allow me to breath a bit deeper, and lead me even closer to resurrection…

thoughts on enduring.

wpid-20140829_152842.jpgI don’t want to write this.

I don’t want to write about how I left work today because I felt too wrapped in semi-conscious grief to function.

I don’t want to write about how it’s been sixteen months, and I suddenly now feel as raw and broken as I did sixteen months ago.

I think Fall is triggering something. Last Fall was pretty bad, and even though circumstances have changed and I have happier things in my life, I still have this one overarching sorrowful thing that screams inside my head.

This can’t be happening. I have to be able to function. I have a good job. I have love in my life. I get to spend time with my family. How can I still get lost in the darkness?

I don’t want to write about it because I’m afraid it will suck me back into the vortex.

If I write about how much I miss them, about all the other losses that come with it, I’m afraid I’ll go down a spiral that I can’t climb back up. But I’ve been told I need to focus on it, allow the grief to wash over me, and it will—it’ll wash over me and pass. That’s what they say anyway, but it doesn’t feel like it’s passing.

Today, I had tears stuck in my eyes. They were literally stuck at the edge of my vision, making it unable to focus on anything else, blurring my sight and fracturing it with rainbow colors. And they wouldn’t go away.

They’ve gone now. If I write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back. If I don’t write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back tomorrow at the most inconvenient moment.

Even in tears you can see a rainbow…. Is that supposed to mean something? Even the dying leaves are beautiful…

I know, I know, I wrote a lot about Autumn last year. I can’t help it, it’s a bit of an obsession. It’s the one time of year where the Earth joins us in our dying, where we find joy in the dying.

I can’t escape this poetry. Maybe that’s what’s triggering the “relapse” of grief, I don’t know.
Maybe it also has to do with the upcoming holidays. The first round was terrible, and I know the second won’t be much easier.

Recently I saw a play based on The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir which I’ve quoted here before. In the play, the actor playing Didion talked about geology… about the lessons of science. The earth is in a state of constant change, but it always continues.

Today I wrote on my arm: “Endures.”  I do that sometimes when I need a reminder to get me through the day. Endures. His love endures forever. God endures forever. I endure, here, in this moment. Despite it all, I have endured. I will endure. He holds me close. A dying star leaves behind the perfect conditions for new ones to glow. Life finds a way.

Mingled.

As I approach June 10 2014, I don’t know how to feel. Once again, I let the words of Josh Garrels speak for me:

We wait for downpours
A drenching joy
A carnival sky

But what I don’t say,
What I can’t say,
Is that with this joy
Comes a mourning…

Something left behind
Blue lined, teary
Mingled, I move on…

wpid-wp-1402279449901.jpeg

Mingled, I move on. I really don’t like the term, “move on.” It sounds so final, so simple. It’s something you only do once, and once you’ve done it, it’s over. You’ve moved on, life is normal again. Also, the word “move,” implies a moving away from something, leaving something behind. I don’t want to “move on.” I like better the phrase my grandmother used to say to me for a while after my mother died: “Keep on keeping on.”

Mingled, I keep on. This year has been one of survival. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I plan on doing with my future, and I cannot answer them. I cannot answer them because all I’ve been able to do is focus on surviving, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.

I do know one thing I want from this life, though. I want not only to survive, but to thrive.

Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, I want it. And I know for certain that my mom and dad would want that for me too.

Mingled. The year is over, but the grief and the mourning and pain are not. There will still be times when I am not anywhere near “okay.” I will keep writing about it, because I have to, because I want to share with others, I want to cultivate roses in this wasteland, as I walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Let there be light. Let there be beauty. Let there be joy. (And let there be recognition of sorrow, too.)

Let. There. Be. Life.

All things will change
We wait for the rain
And the promise remains.

Substance.

It has been almost a year now since my dad died.

It sucks. It is painful. I miss him, and I am trying not to think about it too much. Strangely enough, though, I feel similar now to how I felt last year, just before it happened: hopeful. This tragedy has led me to a place I never thought I’d be, and I think I am finally starting to settle into that place, to find the hope in it. God has blessed me with a joy I never thought I’d find. …And I am terrified of losing it all again (just as I had lost my hope last year).

One day, one breath at a time. Manna today, what is it? I cannot comprehend it, but I can choose to accept it, this mystery, and I can trust that God will provide this inexplicably satisfying mystery daily. Today the manna brings delight to my soul. Tomorrow it may not be so joyful, but it will still fill me, as my God promises never to leave me nor forsake me.

wpid-img_20140525_103830.jpg

Eleven. (Months).

IMG_9631

Not long after this time last year, I welcomed the rain, the thunder, the wind, the lightning. It echoed the storm, the chaos in my own soul. It reminded me that God was big and powerful and outside my control — and yet His storms could be breathtakingly beautiful.

This year, however, I fear the storm. I fear the return of the rains because they signal the passage of time. (I’ve noticed that sudden death tends to make one obsessed with time.)

This world is moving on, and June will come again with her storms, same as last year, same as all the years before. Last June was no different than this June; for the rain it was just like any other summer.

The world is moving on, am I moving with it? I cannot decide whether that is good or bad. But I know the storms scare me. They shake me.

They wrest me, and steal my joy… when I used to run and dance in their rain, I used to marvel at their power, I used to want to be consumed by the storms, taken into the clouds, carried away on the winds.

But today I dread the encroaching darkness. I dread the thought of a year without him.

And yet the storm calls to me; the winds beckon me on…

when He is risen, but death still hurts.

Last year on Easter, I went to a sunrise service, had breakfast with friends, and then went to pick up my dad from the airport. We shared Easter dinner together with my aunt’s side of the family, and then I got to spend about a week with my dad before he flew back to Colorado. That was the last time I got to see him.

Last year, I had Easter dinner with my dad. This year, he is not here. How do I celebrate that death has no power, no sting, when its power overwhelms me and its sting still hurts?

IMG_0860

Christ’s tomb is empty, but my dad’s urn is still full. What does it mean?
“Today you will be with me in paradise,” Christ said to the thief who hung dying beside him. Not, “In the last days,” but “Today.” What does it mean?

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” 1 Corinthians 15:36. NIV. Or, “Every time you plant seed, you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up, growing] unless it dies first.” -AMP.

On the night before He hung on the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Where is that joy? Why does it feel like death has swallowed it up — when in reality, death is the one that is swallowed up, destroyed, rendered powerless?

IMG_0882

The very day before my dad died, before I even knew it was coming, I went to church and listened to a sermon on Nehemiah 8. I wrote verse 10 in my journal: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” I continued writing, “What does that mean, God? Teach us, lead us. The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I am looking for the joy of the LORD today. I found Him in the stillness of the early morning hours, in the dark sky, in the foggy mists, in the creeping dawn. I found joy at first light, as the world turned golden orange and the water sang.

IMG_0923

Then the day came on, the sun rose rapidly in the sky, the stillness turned to busyness, and the cool mists burned away in the stifling heat… And now it is dusk. The sun has gone down again, and I am still not any closer to understanding Christ, His death, His sacrifice; His resurrection, His victory. I am drawn to Him, to the dawn. I need His hope, but I don’t understand it.

What does Resurrection mean today? For me? For the orphan? For the widow?

It is easy to sing of Christ’s victory, “He rose and conquered the grave, He conquered the grave.” It’s easy, when death seems far away, when you haven’t yet felt its sting, or when that sting has faded to a dull memory. Today, though, it hurts. Today, I sing, “He conquered the grave” not with a shout of triumph, but with a cry of desperation. It has to be true. He has to be risen. Death is defeated, it has to be, or what else can I do?

This sorrow will not pass, but perhaps joy can mingle with it… perhaps “pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” I am looking for the eucastastrophe.

IMG_0899