More on Surrender…

seraphina lady painting

Painting by Seraphina Gordon

Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts on what surrender means to them. It reminds me that we share more in common than not. In this world, we can all benefit from finding our commonality to help us understand the world that moves around us.

I had the gift and grace of sitting with a beloved teacher a few weekend’s ago. It was a Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training class focused on Lifestyles and Lifecycles. Guru Singh referred to surrender during our morning discussion related to the topic of death as a lifecycles. Coincidence? I think not!

He said, ‘surrender to you, all that is left is you.’ Over and over we can let go and come back to ourselves. During our discussion on death as a beautiful gift of transition, I witnessed a room full of people invited to surrender into themselves. To take in these beautiful teachings which guide us to see that death is simply another transition of our true self, our soul, our essence. Guru Singh went on to remind us to never speak of the dead ‘to this life place’ in past tense. They are not gone, they have simply moved into another form. This statement brought me peace because it has never felt right to refer to Mikaela in past tense. She is not gone, she is simply in a different form.

Below I have highlighted some of the wisdom that was lovingly shared on the Facebook post…

It take strength to surrender…

…surrender is simply allowing myself to be with what is without judgment. It can be hard as hell or easy as can be. Depending.

…it is a point of exhaustion when I have no fight left within me and I am completely drained. There is no anger. No tears. I am empty and acknowledge there are no other options. There are no “fixes” – it is, what it is. It is the point where I try to take a breath, and ask for the good in the universe to help me move forward. To help me take the next step.

Surrender is not fighting the reality of what IS in this moment. It is neither clinging too or resisting what IS but allowing the moment to be what it IS. Nothing else is possible. However, surrender isn’t capitulation or abdication. We still have an obligation to show up as an advocate for ourselves and the world we want to live in.

…it is a daily choice, to move toward something more at peace with the circumstances around me.

Surrender is courage to stand, sit, scream
bleed, cry
in this roiling storm
with my heart open.

To surrender
To give into to something
To feel weightless and taken over
And to let it lead
This can be scary
And also exhilarating
Most of all though, it’s vulnerable and brave

Surrender. It’s a word we all should ponder and accept, though likely not easy to do so.

Surrender for me is giving up on getting my way and fully accepting what it is that is before me. Life is not as I had planned but it is as it is and that is good, though not always wanted. Gradually accepting the reality shifts the suffering for me.

…surrender feels like the exhalation of the breath

…allowing what must be, to be. Knowing I must let go of whatever power, control, or protection that I believe I have to something or someone greater than myself. Understanding that it might be painful, even crushing, and frightening, but ultimately spiritual. The calm after a storm.

That surrender means to literally “melt into a higher state of consciousness or being that is beyond ourselves”. That it is a choice to surrender and takes great strength to fall into it with full force and trust.

Surrender for me us when the grief comes up I feel it, acknowledge it and try really hard to move forward. Some days I am successful and some days are s struggle.

The wisdom in the words above is our teacher. It is the light that guides us. It is the gift we bring forward from our unique souls to share with others. To cross pollinate and share this knowledge is how we help lift each other up and heal in these difficult times.

As so many of us watched the heart wrenching pictures of Notre Dam burning, I was struck at how it evoked deep sadness in me. Another death waiting to be re-born. Remembering my time at this amazing place with Mikaela 4 years ago.

We are confronted with tragedy and hardship daily. As individuals, as communities and on a global scale. How do we show up in these situations? How do we show up for ourselves and each other? How do we experience our most expansive selves in this life walk?

I wonder if the answer lies within surrender. Surrendering to you, so that all that is left is you. So your cup can be full and grace can flow forward from that space.

As we walk daily towards Mikaela’s 24th birthday, I feel my sadness grow and I am reminded once again to be. To surrender into me.

May grace meet you daily and bring light in the darkness, beauty in the ugly, kindness in the harshness of life. May we all know the beauty of our souls in this life walk.

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IMG_3108Life will have its way with each of us. Our experiences and challenges will be as unique as we are. Even if we are in relationship or walk this life arm in arm with others, our experience of our life walk will still be an individual experience seen through our eyes alone.

At this time (almost 6 am) one year ago my daughter had just died. A day earlier around 8:30am her doctor pronounced her brain dead. In 1.5 days, the entire world as we knew it, was no more. She wouldn’t come back to us as the spunky, sassy, outspoken, passionate, stubborn, determined, snuggly girl we knew. There was nothing we could do but surrender to this new reality.

As I sat in her room this morning and moved through the mantras of morning sadhana my mind wandered through a myriad of thoughts. I churned on a conversation from late yesterday that made me sad and hurt and frustrated. I saw myself sitting in her hospital room a year ago going through the same sadhana. Then I felt annoyed by my inability to breath easily due to a sudden onset of allergy hell. From there I began wondering how I would write about this topic of surrender. Then, how were we going to arrange the space for tonight’s gathering? My mind is not a quiet place to hang out. Since I have yet to find a steady and consistent meditation practice (I have the tools and lack the discipline), whenever I’m in meditation of any sort, my monkey mind screeches incessantly. Today, I remembered this single word, amazingly powerful in its teaching. Surrender.

What does it mean to surrender? I’m not 100% sure I know the answer but, on this day, the 1 year anniversary of Mikaela’s death, I invite you to ponder this question with me. I’ll share what it means to me and I’d be grateful to understand what it means to you. The first light of day and the sunrise is hidden by the clouds as I sit here wearing Mikaela’s warm and cozy snuggy for the first time since she left us. She loved this darn snuggy and I’m understanding why this morning. Wrapped in softness and warmth by something she loved. Maybe that is one of the pieces of surrender. When we are loved and safe it allows us the space to lay down those harder things in life. Relaxing and releasing into the flow of life.

To me, surrender looks like a person laying prostrate on the ground. It is the posture of bowing down, with humility and gratitude, making surrender a beautiful picture in my mind’s eye. In Arabic the word is sijda (sp?), this is where the word Saajeda comes from. To prostrate in prayer. Invoking the sacred and letting go of that which no longer serves you. Blessing those thoughts, the interactions, the choices, all of it.

Sometimes letting go is required to survive. It is the difference between living and dying. In the most literal sense, it is the image of a white flag being raised on the battlefield, marking that moment where one side “ceases resistance to an enemy” as noted from the dictionary. The imagery is rich in my mind around this word. Yet, the words I can use to describe what surrender feels like seem to lack the richness I’m seeing to convey.

In my sadhana, I kept ‘surrendering’ over and over again as the thoughts grabbed hold and started to thrash me around. All I wanted was to be present with the candlelight, the darkness, the moonlight and my child’s spirit. I didn’t want to think about all the things that were not her. My wish was to sink into the space and feelings of honoring and grace, remembering where I was a year ago. I kept asking to let go and allow those pieces to float through me and release. It sort of worked, reminding me that this is a practice in life. Like a muscle, we have to use it and keep making it stronger. Creating a habit of sorts. This morning alone has been a tremendous teacher. In the past hour or so, the dogs have insisted on going out, then barking. Stuff is falling off of tables on the ground. I’ve been distracted by multiple things in the short time since I sat down to write this. Ugh! I keep hearing the mantra in my head…surrender. It may rain this afternoon which would put a kink in my plans for an honoring ceremony tonight. Surrender. How will we all fit in the house? Surrender. There are still many odds and ends to complete. Surrender. I feel bad that I wasn’t able to invite everyone I wanted to. Surrender. I feel frustrated that my capacity for large groups has been greatly diminished and I want to apologize to everyone. SURRENDER.

Last year, when she died and we buried her, there was a plan put into place for the day. It required scheduling and timing to get us to the cemetery in time for sunset. As they say, the best laid plans. I won’t get into those details again, you can go back and read the blog post I wrote on a few months ago. As that day went on, I got more and more stressed. Every part of me ached right down to my soul. My patience was shot and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by being late. As I write that last sentence, I realize how ridiculous that sounds considering the situation. It is my nature to be a people pleaser and when I think I might be inconveniencing people or inadvertently upsetting them, it sends me spinning. I vividly remember standing in the ghusl room in the Islamic center as the women washed Mikaela’s body not sure if I should cry or scream from grief with the added anxiety over the plan going down the tubes. It was almost 4pm and we had planned to leave no later than 2. Once we got her body in the car and I started to drive I became very present to how little control I had, which was none. So, I drove and remember thinking, ‘let it go, you must let go. This isn’t how you want to remember this last bit of time with her.’ Surrender grieving momma. Bow down deeply to the greater powers in the universe and allow their flow to move you…and they did. She wasn’t meant to be buried at sunset. She was meant to do it in her own unique way and that she did. It was the first night burial the cemetery ever had. It was sacred and humbling and beautiful. The brightest night sky I had ever witnessed. It all turned out better than we could have planned thanks to the gifts of a small and diligently amazing group of close friends.

In this past year I have carried that lesson with me. That practice of how little we can influence, let alone control. That if we show up for life, with trust in our soul and a willingness to surrender, there can be tremendous gifts that present themselves. It also feels like we must be mindful to the times that call for what we think is surrender. It goes back to that place of safety and trust. We can’t always surrender to a situation because it may not be safe. It may not serve your highest good. There may be some other action called for…so be mindful of when and how you choose to surrender.

For me, surrender is always within myself and provides an ‘allowing’ I wouldn’t always give myself. To allow things to float through me and move with the greater flow. Cease resistance. That which I resist becomes stronger or another great phrase is ‘that which I resist, persists.’ I’m learning to surrender to my fears, to my expectations, to my grief, to my plans and frustrations. Seeking to see and understand why I resist so many things. Seeking the ability to allow things to wash over and through me vs. stay stuck in the recesses of my psyche and soul. Perhaps my motivation is around needing to be a better person. I’m human and have a lot of regrets and parts of my parenting I wish I had done better. I don’t beat myself up about it but I do regularly ask for forgiveness from my daughter and try to own those parts I dislike with my son. Surrendering to my imperfection and owning it. Knowing that with awareness I can always work to improve.

Surrender is a teacher, you only have to use your mind/heart connection to listen for the lessons. Today I’ll continue to chant my mantra of surrender, moving through the day as authentically as I can. Honoring that the plans might not come together as hoped and that is okay. I’m adaptable and I know Mikaela is hanging out close by waiting for her party. Grandpa’s spaghetti sauce is finished, scones and pizza will be cooked today and her loved Chantilly berry cake will be brought with love by Farah and Tahan. We will have a huge spread of desserts to begin our dinner in reverse, one of her favorite things to do. It will all be perfect because there is nothing else it can be when we move with the flow of the river of life. We all stumble, fall and get hurt. If we remember to take a few deep breaths and then stand up and keep walking with awareness, life can guide us via the sight of our hearts. Surrendering to the cosmic flow of the universe. Where we are all connected, even to our loved ones who no longer walk this earth.

Join us in your own way of honoring Mikaela’s life today. Eat dessert first or tell a silly joke to unsuspecting friends or simply light a candle and send her a heart full of love. She touched so many lives and left her indelible mark. Thank you to everyone who has shared your stories and memories of her, with us. We are humbled by every sharing and connection.

I’ll end with another heartfelt thank you for your time, your witnessing, your loving words of support and for caring. When I started writing this month, I had no idea what would come forward through these words or how it would help me. Let alone what it might bring for others. This started as a way for me to carry myself through this 1 year anniversary. Allowing me to honor the journey that all of us who love her so deeply have walked. Supporting my own soul and continuing to try and learn from her. I think the writing has accomplished all of this and perhaps more. It isn’t over yet, it will likely never be over. The heartbreak and the writing. Maybe this is my daughter’s gift to me. I do know that she was the biggest gift of my life (her brother too and in a different way). I’m here, writing this, surrounded by a beautiful life thanks to what she called forward in me by choosing me as her mother.  

Always, Home is wherever I’m with you.  (enjoy the song – and Thank you Sean, for this song and for thinking of me when you hear it. For making a home with me, for us.)

Our daughter found a new form but her home will always be within our heart and souls.

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Cultivating a grateful heart…

In class with Soaring Eagle Woman (aka momma Blue) many years ago this question was posed. Do you know what the secret to happiness is? We shook our heads no. She went on to explain, happiness is finding gratitude in the worst things that have ever happened to you. Think about that for a short bit. Hmmm?

I’ve shared this teaching with many people over the years. It has helped and it requires A LOT of practice. I have pondered whether ‘happiness’ is created or if it is simply a peace and freedom that allows space for joy and happiness to grow. Regardless, don’t we all want more happiness and less of the negative stuff?

There are many personal examples of how this lesson has served me. For instance, 1.5 months after my mother died, my step father took everything I owned, everything my mother left and kicked me out of the house. He gave me a bag of dirty clothes in an old yellow bag, took my car (the one my mother and I were paying for), called my employer and quit my job ‘for me’ and told me I was a horrible shit and he wanted nothing to do with me. I was 17 and in less than 2 months I had lost my entire life.

Revenge was my primary thought for a very long time. How could I get back at this man? My mother trusted him to take care of me and ensure the money she left would get me through college and setup in my own life. I thought about digging up all my mothers rose bushes and stealing them. Stalking him and finding ways to make his life miserable, so many fantasies of how to get back at him. She left a quarter of a million dollars in insurance money, a paid off house and cars. Now I was homeless, no job, no car, had to quit college and to stay in Arizona, my home, I had to rely on the kindness of my boyfriend’s parents for help. It took years of therapy and even more years of continued pondering of how I could ‘get back at him’ before I didn’t feel the seething pain of the situation and a deep hatred for the man. I knew carrying it around with me only hurt me. How do you not hurt and be angry about something like this? Then I was gifted with this wisdom, 20 years later. Here is what I learned when I reflected on that time…

Less than a month after my mother died, my stepfather had started to leave porn videos out around the house (back in the VHS tape days) and was talking to me about him and my mother’s sex life. He wanted me to quit college and stay home because he felt girls needed to take care of the house, not get an education. As this started, I got that sinking feeling in my gut again, this man wanted something from me that was not okay. He wanted me to step into my mother’s place, wait on him, cook food, do laundry and likely other things. I started to lock my room door at night and when he came to my room and found it locked, he got angry. I was scared and started spending less and less time at the house. It was hard to be there anyway since my mother died in my room. I share this perspective to get to the simple point that being kicked out of that house saved me from a far worse fate. It was a blessing and grace that I couldn’t be there anymore. I found gratitude in the worst thing that had happened to me and now when I look back at that time, I feel truly grateful. Is there annoyance or anger at the person my stepfather was/is. Sure, and I observe that feeling and then let it go. It was a lesson for me in more ways than I can explain here.

Why am I blathering on about gratitude?

Last night I made a sacred fire and settled into some soul work, listening for the wisdom and guidance to move me through these days and beyond. Leveraging the special energy of the cosmos on the Spring Equinox and full super moon. Before this occurred, my amazing friend and neighbor, asked if I wanted to go sit by the water and have a beverage and catch up. We are both walking through loss and grief, so it is a grace to have a friend to chill and chat with. We sat by the water and watched the sky changes colors while the moon rose over the horizon. It was magical and sacred, beyond perfect for the first day of spring. We found ourselves speaking of our appreciation and gratitude for the beauty around us. Sharing the reality that we truly need so little in life if we simply take time to be still, listen and look at the beauty that surrounds us. This was the prayer of gratitude in my heart that I held as I entered ceremony.

During this quiet time, the fire reminded me over and over again of the grace gifted to me. A weaving of memories, the calling in of our ancestors and feeling their presence, watching the dancing spirits in the flames, listening to the frogs, feeling the breeze and my sweet Zola standing close. To be loved and to love is a grace and gift all by itself. In my opinion the greatest gift of this life and beyond. It is the cord that connects us. When we care about something, hold a passion for it that feeds the depths of our being, that is a gift of grace. These are the awareness’s that lift me up and help me find gratitude in the hardest things.

Last night when I heard the owl hoot, she gifted me with the vision to see the gifts. In these hardest of times, the worst thing that has ever happened to me (and I pray this one thing is the worst for the rest of my living days), I find my gratitude.

Grateful that the souls of both my children that chose me to be their mother.

Grateful for the almost 23 years I had with Mikaela.

Grateful for my kind heart, sweet young man of a son.

Grateful to have a partner that loves me.

Grateful to have Bob in our lives and close. His beautiful spirit always humbles me and I’m grateful he is part of my family.

Grateful for Tahan and Farah and their unwavering love and support in addition to their authentically beautiful way of being in this world.

Grateful for our Sunday meals.

Grateful to my community of friends and family who have been here for me and my family in all the varying ways they could during this past year.

Grateful to have a steady paycheck which allows me to live comfortably in a beautiful place that I love.

Grateful for my teachers and my soul sisters and brother who walk this spirit path with me, next to me, sometimes holding me, encouraging me, honoring and reflecting our hearts to each other as we journey and learn together.

…and grateful for so much more it is impossible to write it all here.

I’ll leave you with this last story about appreciating the gifts that are laid before us. This morning I had to drop Keenaan at school and needed to get a few more groceries. At first, I was going to head straight home after buying cream from a small bakery. I was feeling very sad and the idea of seeing people or trying to shop seemed overwhelming. Then decided to suck it up and just get it all done at once while I was in town, as quickly as possible. I didn’t need people to see me with puffy red eyes and wasn’t up to answering the question of ‘how are you?’ Knowing all this, I can tell you Spirit works in beautifully mysterious ways.

I walk into the grocery store, there is my chef buddy. As I’m talking to him, the beautifully splendid and amazing Raquel walks over with a big and beautiful smile on her face. She gives me a hug, a great big soul and love filled hug, she knows and understands. Nothing else needs to be said. We get to the beverage aisle and I run into another momma I know. One I can be real with. We chat for a few minutes, she shares that they have a new German Shepherd puppy. (Anyone who knows me will guess that at this juncture I’m no longer focused on my sadness…because PUPPY) We now have a tentative plan to get Zola together with Pasha the puppy. Oh, and she sent me pictures, which OMG, to adorable for words. I continue my journey…I run into one of Keenaan’s wonderful and lovely teachers from Hyla. She is always a bright light in a day, and this is no exception. More hugs and a little chat. Realizing I need something else from the produce area, I walk back. There is my beloved Teri from Sacred Groves. Hands down the BEST HUGGER in the entire universe. It is like mother earth has wrapped herself around you and given you pure love. We sink into a brief yet wonderful soul conversation and then continue on our way. Finally as I headed to check out, I ran into another wonderful woman from my gym class. We don’t know each other well but her daughter tutored Keenaan in Spanish and whenever I see her face it simply glows with love, kindness and joy. She can always make me smile. I felt bad as I was rushing to get out of the store, but this departing gift of her smile was like icing on the cake of hugs. In the span of less than an hour I received 5 hugs. I’m pretty sure that was no coincidence and feeling blessed that my girl had her hand in the mix.

Since Mikaela died, I knew that this new life journey would be filled with teachings and gifts. I don’t always feel like that, but I know the words are true despite not feeling it. Sometimes I must relax and look at things from a slightly different vantage point to see more clearly. I refuse to believe my daughter died for no reason. It feels empty and cruel so I tell myself this story (true or not) so that I may survive the thing that seems impossible to survive. For my son, the other half of my heart, because I know what it is like to lose a mother and my hope is, he doesn’t have to know until he is far into the depths of his life long from now. As it is, he should have never had to know what it was like to live without his sister and best friend, especially not this young.

I sit in gratitude, as much as I can, with a constant prayer to be shown and taught all that this new life is meant to teach me. I sit and look out the window at Phillip, her beloved boy. Knowing she is close, taking in the gift of spring in the ways she can in her new place.

We will do this together my girl. You will keep showing me all the things to be grateful for. I will keep watching and listening. As we walk this path, perhaps what we learn will be of service to others. Also, keep those hugs coming. They rock!

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Illuminating intentions & questions…

The sun illuminates all that it touches, warming the earth with her glowing presence. On this day of the Spring Equinox and the full super moon it is not lost on me, that 1 year ago today, I listened to the doctor tell me my Mikaela wasn’t going to return to me. For me there is no coincidence that everything is aligning on this day a year later. I’m reminded of the splendid synchronicity that exists in this world when we take the time to still our body and mind and simply pay attention. There are treasures to be witnessed and gifts to receive.

We walk with tender hearts through these days. Candles lit. Moments remembered. Memories played over and over again in our heads. At night, sleep is fleeting, and my daytime avoidance of all things is like an impatient child knocking incessantly at the door of my soul. I see the light outside with my eyes and feel the suns warmth with my body. Yet, my heart has the last say. My heart whispers endlessly, without taking a single breath, she is gone from here and you must go on. My head responds like a stubborn child stating, I don’t really have to go on if I don’t want to. My body aches with a weariness that is unparalleled by anything else I have ever experienced. My soul beckons me to know the truth, she is only gone from this place but isn’t far. My soul, with her soothing voice of love, gently reminds me to trust and know that when ‘I’ get out of the way, the truth can be felt, heard and seen.

When those moments arrive, there is a flash of peace and reprieve from the weight of sadness I always carry. This is how I know it is real and true. In those hours long after most are asleep, I lay in bed unable to escape the pictures in my head and the weight in my chest. Then somewhere in this dark space, she is there. Her essence is close reminding me she is okay and encouraging me to keep moving forward. Her humor is still fully intact and her need to use silliness to shift the heaviness is a welcome reprieve in the stillness of night.

Each of us must find our unique way through the darkness of loss and grief. We can learn from others and it is also vital to listen to our own soul. To set down the insane pace of this earthly life and give ourselves some space to ‘be.’ I’ve been blessed to have amazing resources that have brought her voice to my ears after she left her body. Once again, it was synchronicity which could not be explained away. There was also no denying it was my daughter’s voice because the uniqueness of her soul…well a mother simply knows. Many may read this and think I am crazy. I’m cool with that. This is my journey with my daughter, and we don’t do boxes. Apparently not in this life or in any other realm.

Today I am reminded of an epiphany and promise I made to her last year when I sat next to her grave. This way of existing is all new for both of us and neither of us knows how to navigate this shit show we found ourselves in. Her there (wherever there is) and me still here. Like all things between us, we worked and figured it out hand in hand. Why would this be any different? So I promised her, we would figure this thing out together. I’ve failed on that promise to her a lot this year. Retreating and hiding from the pain that is a companion to this new life walk. Not quite able to get beyond MY grief and need to have her here. Thankfully she is patient and I’m still learning.

I think the reminder is coming today because it is the intention I must hold. I have to ask the energy of the sacred fire to carry my prayers to realms beyond this place. Where Mikaela and I figure out how to keep walking in our respective places, connected and honoring what life and death has given us.

In this pivotal time of letting go of the things that no longer serve and setting intention for what we wish to create…I ask another question. Similar to what I wrote yesterday. What purpose does this writing serve? I pose the question to all of you reading this? You have taken precious time out of your lives to read and share your humbling reflections and words of love. It has been an invaluable support. I ask instead of trying to answer the question myself. Gaining perspective on something so personal feels impossible. As vulnerable as I can be and completely petrified as I am of the potential answers…What purpose does this writing serve? I’m seeking honesty and perspective. Can it help others? Would you share the writing with others who might benefit? Is it a seed to create something larger? Is it simply a tool to help me get through these 22 days? I don’t know the answer. Perhaps my daughter, you and the powers far beyond my grasp may hold insights. Today, can I be still enough to listen? Can I quiet my world enough to simply ‘be’ in this space and place at this time? If I do, can I hear the words that are shared with me? Will it make me run? Will it help me to grow? Will it set me in a whole new direction in life?

As humans I think we naturally seek meaning in life. Everyday I seek meaning in the reason why my daughter is dead. Why my mother was taken from me after 17 years and then my daughter after 22. The two women that I loved the most in the world. Isn’t there some reason? What has this loss and so many other losses in my life propelled me towards? How do I take all of this and turn it into something beautiful that can be of service to others? I know that is part of what I am meant for in this world, to be of service to others. I’m not sure I’m very good at it but I’m working on it.

Deep sigh and deep breath. Candles burn holding spirit close. The sun continues to climb in the sky as I sit here tapping away at my keyboard. Asking for help. Setting intentions. Making good on promises. Reminding myself to not move at my usual pace and instead just take it all in. Slowly and with gratitude. As I put this out to the universe and all of you, I must surrender to what comes next. I am simply a soul, come to this earth in human form to have a human experience. It is a privilege and a gift to know that I am held by my ancestors, the beloved souls who have continued their journey before me and all of you who continually help me up every time I fall. It is my sincerest wish that I honor it all by how I walk through this life.

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Why, What & Who?

IMG_3134Why this writing? What purpose does it serve? What is the reason for sharing this publicly? Who does it serve?

I’ve shared that this writing came out of a self-serving need, seeking a way to help me journey through the days, 1 year later, that led to my daughter dying. Knowing that it was impossible to not re-live those days in an obsessive manner, questioning and wondering what could have been different. I already know the reality of the matter, nothing could have been different because this has come to pass, and we cannot change what is in our rearview mirror. I believe in something bigger than myself and I honor the connection to the divine, which I believe resides in all things. Perhaps because in life there are so many questions asking why, and so few answers to the question.

I’ve been asking the question ‘why’ repeatedly, my entire life. Why all the hardships, strife and unhappiness? Why did the adults make the decisions they made? Why is all of this happening? For those who know my story growing up, you can fill in the details of those questions. For those of you who don’t, suffice it to say, a lot of hard, life changing, world altering crap went down in almost every decade of my life (especially the first 20 years).

Sitting with a friend last night I found myself trying to explain why I was writing. Not because she asked, more because I was processing a lot of stuff out loud and thankfully she was willing to listen. Then I felt all my self-consciousness rise up in that discussion. It had nothing to do with my friend and everything to do with my awareness that this ‘thing’ I have chosen to do could be ego. Talking about myself, this journey of loss and learning. Then I had to remind myself that ego doesn’t place your most vulnerable self out for the world to witness. It tends to protect and mask the things that society wants to turn away from. Death and dealing with the loss of a loved one is not something most people want to know about or see for more than the first days/weeks after someone dies. Usually we all just want to get back to some type of normalcy and remember life vs. the fact that one day we will also take our last breath and our heart will become still and the blood that flows with such grace though our veins will stagnate and cease it’s constant motion.

This writing is to remind me that death is inevitable for all living things. In my sharing perhaps it will also provide some insights or at least something to think about. We don’t talk about it, we have sanitized it from our modern society and most of us fear it, despite its inevitable motion towards us. We will all experience death while we are alive and feel the pit in our stomachs and the inexplicable loss that marks that transition point. In our society we have a deficit of ritual and ceremony to support our journey through these experiences. If you are religious or carry indigenous teachings with you, some rituals remain and it still feels like too little for something so big. We lack language and tools to talk to those who have experienced loss. How do we support those we love who are walking this path of grief? If we are in the middle of the loss, being pummeled by the incessantly crashing waves, what tools can we use to help us come up for the occasional breath of air?

There are great books and information out there and it seems that most people don’t touch these until they are in the depths of the experience. Why would we want to look at this topic otherwise? I’m grateful to have found many beautiful resources to support my journey. It also comes at a time where reading can be a challenge in addition to so many other simple tasks. What do we do? How do we do this? These questions roll around in my head constantly. What happens if we don’t have the money to attend the workshops or retreats? What if we don’t feel comfortable sharing our deepest and most tender selves in a group setting? Or with a stranger that we pay for help? Trust me, I’m a big believer in therapy and gathering a large set of tools to help provide support. I also honor it isn’t for everyone. Everyone needs different things during their journey. There is no rushing the process.

To add to the fun of this adventure, grief is not a linear process. You don’t always go through discreet ‘stages’ per se and those non-discreet, non-stages are not linear. There isn’t some magic moment…when all ‘stages’ (or non-stages) are completed and then you are grief free! Ha I wish this were true but sadly it is not. Avoidance doesn’t really help either. It may in the short term but long term, if you stuff away those feelings, there is a high probability those emotions will resurface in less than positive ways. I ask the question again…Why this writing? What purpose does it serve? Is it ego or is simply asking a question out loud to the universe and the reader?

How do we do death in our culture? How do we journey through grief and loss in ways that allow us to fully express the depth of our sadness that reflects the height of our love? Where do we gather the tools, share the wisdom and honor the soul’s journey through this cycle of life?

This is another commonality that we all share. We love and we lose. It is universal.

On this day (date is tomorrow) last year, Tuesday afternoon around 4-5pm, Sean, Keenaan and I were just pulling out some food to try and sit and have dinner in Mikaela’s hospital room. What happened next, with a suddenness that caught us all off guard, is where my family’s journey of loss and grief began. We didn’t know it when it began but we all felt it immediately. My precious and less than perfect little family didn’t know that what came next was a shattering we could have never imagined. One of our own, the one who lived deeply in our heart and soul, would no longer hold a physical presence on this earth. The doctors came in, the reality set in and our lives gone as we knew it.

My blessing was I had experience and tools around death, and I can say nothing ever prepares you for losing someone you love so dearly, especially not your child. What it helped me do was move into creating ceremony and ritual which honored the depth of our hearts and what Mikaela would have wanted. She and I didn’t want to contribute to the big corporate funeral engine and I knew I didn’t want her body separated from me for any amount of time. I knew how to move to action and do what was needed. This couldn’t have happened without the love, support and giant efforts of our dearest and closest people.

The reality of death has been my constant companion since 17 years old, I talked to my children about it. Especially Mikaela. I was preparing them to take care of things when I died. Reminding them that it would be hard to lose us, but it was the natural order of life and inevitable. (I guess I was really fricking wrong about that) I did what I could with the tools I gained through my first major loss in life. I tried to give these to my daughter and will do the same with my son. The difference for him is that he has experienced loss firsthand, at such a tender young age with someone he should have had with him into his golden years. My prayer for him, as we keep walking this path, is that I can teach him by example. Helping him to find those places deep within and honor them in his own unique ways.

This writing is another tool in my toolbox, but it is more than that. It is the need to raise my voice and invite you to become curious about your own inevitable death and the passing of those around you. To have the harder discussions with your family, your partner, your children (age appropriate of course). Do you have the worldly stuff handled…the wills, the medical directives, etc. Have you left someone in charge of these things who can be clear under pressure, fear, stress and has your best interest and wishes as the primary decision driver? When death happens, grief can turn the sane on its head and the most unexpected behavior may occur. These are all things to think about. Families have been ruined because of a death of a loved one. Where there was once harmony, discord has grown. Other families are brought closer together and to these families I bow in gratitude. Sadly, I have witnessed more discord and less harmony.

Then there is the stuff of heart and soul. Heartbreak is inevitable when a loved one dies, and the emotions run high. The brain is on sabbatical. Everyone is feeling and deeply seated in their heart. Sometimes in their fear too. This is all normal and also challenging. Preparing ahead, talking, sharing, discussing the topic can help to take the sharpest edges off the topic. It goes beyond writing down your wishes, it bleeds into providing regular reminders of your expectations and supporting the people you love with the positive reinforcement that you know the love and heart that sits within each of them. Even with all this, it is still hard and emotions run fast and hard.

I’m not sure I’ve completely answered the question of why this writing? Maybe I’ve started to touch the surface of something so many amazing and brilliant people before me have worked to shift. Perhaps my voice is just one more to add to a slow and quiet movement in our culture towards a #gooddeath. From the start I have diligently tried to remember the good, the things to be grateful for out of the deepest pain and hurt I have ever experienced. In sharing this with others, my hope is that slowly and gently the seeds will be planted. Over time we will find ways to water those seeds and grow this part of our lives and culture to help create a better balance and relationship with this inevitable part of life.

To you all, with deep gratitude for your time in reading.

To my sweet angel girl, for continuing to be my greatest teacher in this life and beyond.

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Moving from Dependence to Independence

As I’ve written these past 18 days, there has been a mix of memories from her various years punctuated by the teachings from her life and death. If I keep with the theme of talking about her by age, there would be a special emphasis on this age and time in her life. 18 is when a young person becomes a legal adult in the U.S. which translates to being able to vote, buy cigarettes and big person consequences if you break the law. In Washington state your probationary driver’s license window has ended. As most teenagers do, my daughter liked to remind me that she was now ‘an adult’ and she had rights and freedoms afforded to her by this magic (and arbitrary) age. I’m slowly marching toward the same experience with her brother (16.5 going on 55) and am flooded with memories of the ‘fun’ these days can hold. NOT.

This is the age where independence is treasured but is not 100% within the control and management of the self professed independence holder. As a parent it looks like this…

The teenager claims adulthood regarding all things they WANT to do. When anything is needed to support this ‘adult’ behavior, they still require your services which can include (but is not limited to)…room and board, food, car, insurance, phone, gas money, etc. It is this jockeying between independence and dependence that can make the observer feel like they are watching a tennis match. The ball will travel back and forth on the whim of your newly minted adult and their latest want/need. These times can be filled with turmoil as your child is sorting out their ‘next’ steps and there is a lot of pressure in this society to figure out college and life work. Poor souls, that is a ton of pressure.

Mikaela chose not to participate in the senior year crunch of college applications and visitations. It wasn’t for her and in that choice, she taught me a lot. She kept telling her father and I that in Europe most kids take a gap year to experience life and contemplate their future. At first, I was stressed that she wasn’t on the SAT/college route. Then I realized how much pressure was off her and us to race against a clock. At 18/19 how do you know what you want to be the rest of your life? Do you really need to go straight to college? I think the answer is ‘it depends.’ Every person is different. In this country, we expect our children to take an SAT prep exam in 10th grade, SATs in 11th grade and apply for college in 12th grade. By the time you graduate from high school, you should know where you want to go to college and what you want to be for the rest of your life. This process works great for some kids. Like a certain approach in curriculum works for some learners. It doesn’t apply to everyone.

Mikaela took her SATs one time. She did not apply to any colleges and decided on a gap year. We supported her 100% and thanks to a very generous and kind friend in the UK, she had a place to call her ‘home base’ for 6 months while overseas. It was a mixed experience for her and overall, I think it was where she got to spread her ‘adult’ wings and fly. There were still the panicked calls home for money due to poor planning. Reminding us, that she still needed us, if only for our monetary support. LOL Her trip was an adventure filled with beautiful places, filling her heart and soul with the beauty of this world. She went to Iceland, Germany, France and Italy (thank you Alison for taking her to the one place she always wanted to visit). She finally experienced her beloved Royal Shakespeare Company (thank you again Alison) and her and I watched the lights twinkle at the Eiffel Tower after a day of touring Paris. Together we also experienced the beauty and gifts of the French countryside thanks to my friend Karen. (Her and her husband were amazing in hosting us and showing us around their new home.) When I look back at this time, I’m so happy she chose this path. It brought her experiences and time to learn and mature. Even though she was ‘separating’ from us into her own life, there was still a love and need for us in her world. My reminder was when I first saw her in King’s station, after 5 months apart, she saw me and ran full speed, jumped into my arms, wrapping her whole body around me. That was one of the best hugs of my life. Her inner wisdom knew what she needed, or her brain just desperately wanted to get as far from home as possible. Either way it was how she chose to travel between these two positions at this passage in her life, moving from dependence to independence. She fluctuated back and forth between the two slowly moving more and more towards the independence.

How we move through grief and loss of a beloved isn’t dissimilar to the 18 year old seeking independence. We are ready to be finished with our ‘dependence’ on the mourning and sadness, we want to be emancipated from these emotions and experience. Yet, there is a part of us that requires going through the process, to experience and honor it. We need both. My dear Helen was explaining one of the grief models to me yesterday as I yammered on about my challenges. I will try to explain it here without butchering what she taught me. As we move through grief, we tend to vacillate between sitting in the sadness/heaviness of it and then we move into the space of regeneration and hope. The desire is to move back and forth between these two places throughout our healing journey. Thank you, Helen, for being an amazing teacher to me.

Here is what it looks like in my world after reflecting on this teaching. If we stay in one of those places for a long time, either the weight of sadness or the space of hope we can miss the opportunity to process our grief and find ways through the loss. In other words, avoidance or sinking into the darkness can create its own additional challenges. Putting the sadness, heaviness and weight behind a vault of locked doors doesn’t help to slowly disperse the emotions. If buried indefinitely, those emotions can come back in other forms and manifest new and unique sets of challenges. If we can go in and out of those emotions, finding a bit of reprieve and relief on occasion, it can help us to gain a little perspective and allow us the room to catch our breath. This is where I have to repeat the words I often say to myself. There is no right or wrong way to move through grief. There is your way.

If I allow myself to sink into the darkness too far, I’m always petrified I won’t come back up for air. The darkness will permeate my being and I will become one with the devastating pain that runs through my cells. This would serve no one, especially me, despite the enchanting siren song which steadily attempts  to bring me in closer. Like the pendulum swings, so do I. Back and forth between these two ways of being. At the same time, I’m trying to hold my arms steady and strong around the ones I love the most. As we all continue to walk this path of loss together. Always reminded, as a mother, my nature is not to relinquish myself to the darkness but instead to stand, firmly grounded on this earth and keep holding and loving my people. Some days that is much harder than others. This past week, I’m finding it harder than I anticipated to hold myself in check while also holding space for them.

Once again, I’m brought to my knees. With humility and surrender asking for something larger than me to hold this container for us all. At a time when I don’t have the strength to do it. When I’m struggling between my own 40 something year old version of independence and dependence. At the crossroads of life, asking to hear the heart centered words, to be shown the ceremonies, and be given more tools to help my beloveds and myself to keep walking. Honoring the pendulum swings and seeking to walk through the hardest things we have been shown.

Life seems to keep presenting varying permutations of similar patterns to guide our learning, refining and growing. It is a gift to learn from our closest and most loved, even when that can also bring the hardest lessons. When we love deeply, we are more exposed to the potential grief and pain that can come from those connections. We also can learn in the most profound ways that are inaccessible by other means.

Welcome to life! Try, even when you are petrified and have no energy to take another step. It may be the best thing you ever did.

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Wishes, Hopes & Dreams…we are more alike than not

On April 19th, 2011 Mikaela became a licensed driver. On March 11th, 2019 Keenaan followed in her footsteps. Following in my footsteps, she got her license the day she turned 16. I’m sure Keenaan would have been on the same trajectory had our lives not blown up last March. This got me thinking about the hopes and dreams we hold for our offspring. It is impossible not to be filled with these feelings when your child is placed in your arms for the first time. You wonder who they will become as they grow. Praying for their safety and their happiness. Working to ensure they grow to be positive contributing members to their community and our society overall. That they are kind and well natured, polite and respectful. We look forward to the milestones while simultaneously jockeying with the emotions that come with them reaching these moments. It means they are growing up. It is like being in an emotional pin ball machine. Never quite sure of what you will hit and what will be triggered. We all wish the very best for our children.

When Keenaan drove ahead of me on Tuesday morning, as the light turned and he made it, but I didn’t, a feeling returned. A familiar emotion that was only felt at one other point in my life. It was a mix of sadness with a touch of fear and disbelief as I watched my child drive away. This child, once held in my arms, now driving a heavy piece of machinery down a road, into the crazy world where I could no longer protect him. The whole time this is occurring, I’m speaking to some unseen power and asking to please keep this child safe. Hoping that we provided all of the tools needed to remain intact and successful in this one activity. In Keenaan’s case he was driving into the sunrise and I simply sat at the light, dumbstruck by the emotions that decided to return without any warning. When I experienced this with Mikaela, I promise I didn’t give it as much thought and I also remember the emotions like it was yesterday.

This moment reminded me to be grateful for all the milestones I have seen and experienced with both of my children. Life is hard at best some days and we need reasons to celebrate and rejoice in the good things that happen. We aren’t guaranteed the next memorable moment and it is easy to take for granted that we will. The world is filled with sadness and the deep wounding. This heaviness is cutting away at the fabric that holds us together. It goes beyond my child dying. It is about the future of our children, all of them. Even if you don’t have children, my guess is you have young people in your life that you care about. Ones that you want to see safe, growing up happy, in a world that will nourish them like it has for previous generations. We want the people, who are our future, to get a chance to experience those precious milestones and moments of growth and independence.

When a younger life is lost, part of what goes with them are all of those hopes and wishes that were carried by those who love them. It is another layer of the loss that brings a heaviness to a thought or memory. As I watched Keenaan drive away in the car, I missed being able to talk to Mikaela and share those feelings and that moment. Reminding her of when she did the same thing and how shocked I was to have those waves of feelings engulf me. Her brother hit a milestone and she wasn’t here to celebrate it with us. This is a small example of a tiny but important moment in our lives. Now multiply that moment millions of times.

There are families who are in deep traumatic grief over being gunned down in what should have been their sanctuary of safety. So many hopes, dreams and milestones gone in the seconds it took to pull a trigger. The trauma of their safety being shattered in ways few of us can imagine. This all happened for no other reason than hate. The rhetoric and propaganda that touches every corner of the globe trying to manage and subdue communities by pitting them against each other. It allows for a few to rule because the masses can be managed through fear mongering.

In our homes, we hold love and a preciousness for life, it is our sanctuary. It is the place where we are nurtured, and we care for each other. If we start at home and then allow those ripples to go out into the world, we will see that we have far more in common than not. That we all love our people, we have hopes and dreams for them and we wish to walk through life getting to rejoice and enjoy those special moments together. We are more similar than we are different. The person on the other side, that you are mad at, because the voice through the speaker told you to fear them, they love their families too. Where did we stray and forget about the most important things?

The world won’t be helped or shifted by continuing to see the bad and negative in each other. It will only be healed by us seeing the commonality and the good. This also goes for how we look at the earth that sustains us. Our love for our people can also be turned towards the love of the vessel that allows us to have water, food and shelter. The earth has her own milestones and transitions. The spring equinox is this Wednesday on the full moon. If we take the time to see, watch and listen there is a gift and beauty in these moments aligning. There is a power in the elements that move the tides and shift how all animals behave (even humans). Can we slow down and take those moments to watch, listen and learn?

It is not my intention to preach or make anyone do something. As these words flow forth, they take on their own life and form. This is also something to be grateful for. Even if I’m the only one to heed the teaching. If others gain some little gift from this, then that is a bonus! As I started to write, I remembered the wishes and hopes I have for my children. It began in my heart as part of my grief and loss around all the moments we won’t get to see in Mikaela’s life. Her graduation from UW, then law school, then passing the bar. The possibilities of a marriage and the far-fetched hope for a grandchild (this is where she would roll her eyes and remind me that she wasn’t bought into bringing more children into a crazy, messed up world). By turning inward to see these times and honor them, it also led me down a larger path I hadn’t quite noticed (and many times still don’t see right away). The fact that I’m not alone in my loss of this one precious and splendid soul. There are so many other parents and families that grieve the loss of a loved one. It is hard when anyone we love dies. That hurt is exacerbated by the hopes and dreams that might disappear with the life. The younger the person, the more pronounced this part of loss becomes.

We do not need to grieve alone, we can reach out to each other and hold each other in this space. We can sit as witness to those who are in the depths of the trauma and shock. Holding space for them as they walk an excruciating path that none of us wish upon another. When deaths are preventable, shouldn’t we be moved to action? Shouldn’t we want to stop these things from happening to more people, if we can?  Can we take the time to see our commonality and our shared loves vs. our differences? Taking time to realize that we all start with our families, in our homes, with our wishes, hopes and dreams. Looking forward to those milestones that mark growth, aging and change. There are too many who won’t experience that gift. Perhaps we can help make a difference for the future. For our children, for the earth, for each other.

Keeping sanctuaries safe and our communities turning toward each other in love and kindness vs. hate and fear.

Helping our children and others achieve those dreams and breath life into those wishes.

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