The Good Things of the World

There are drills, as there now are in every school. We call them “lockdown” but they might also be known as “active shooter” drills. I wonder about the missing pieces in the plan, such as how we cannot put full grown students in wheelchairs into cupboards to hide them. We can not silence students who make involuntary noises throughout the day because of their disabilities. And, can you really follow procedures that save you from assault rifles anyway? More often, I think of how I do not want to survive any more traumatic events. I am not sure I can do it anymore, begin again to heal the PTSD once I wake to it. Sometimes, I feel one hundred years old and beyond ready to leave.

It is coming on four years now since Susanna died. Without a doubt healing has happened. To try to explain it, there is peace existing alongside the immense gap where I thought she would always be. I had never imagined a world without her, but this new reality is less terrifying and fretful lately. Bushels of worries and concerns have been lifted, aspirations and appearances I used to care so much about have almost disappeared. I have always been pretty good at tolerating others, and more than ever I am able to let people be. I observe people becoming stressed over situations that are quite real to them, but I feel out of place because I do not share the same feelings. I am grateful for this reduction of anxiety, and grateful for the courage I have mustered to go to therapy, refrain from anything harmful and let in the love that can help. I cannot survive any other way.

I still do many of the same things to soothe my heart every day. I still painfully miss her. Walking, music, fresh air and trees. The truth remains that, for five short years, Susanna’s life was happy and well-lived. I remember the details and the details make me cry, but I have not lost them. Still, I am here to make my son feel loved, listened to and cared for. Still, I live with my children’s father, who often looks at me the same way he did when we met twelve years ago. I am even creating things, I even see a future which includes things I want to do.

Reflecting, this world has severely disappointed me these last four years. Horrendous news events, an unthinkable government situation and disappointing behaviors of large segments of society. I have already lost my daughter. My mother has reached almost ninety years old and has lost her ability to make sense of the world for more than a sentence or two, and her ability to take care of herself after so many decades of independence and people relying on her. I find this unfair. There is so much I do not understand.

The wounds of what I saw happen to my little girl, on that night when I knew her heart had stopped, along with all the others I have accumulated from living for more than half a century, these are real and these are sacred parts of my life. Susanna’s death has made me mortal, all day long. I do not need to be reminded that anyone can leave at any time, because they have the flu or because they are shot in a school or shopping mall, because they have a heart attack or one of the cancers we try to screen so often. I know this. What I know less about is what comes after we leave here. I am convinced, though, that it all will mean something. I am convinced that listening to the ways the earth and sea and ethers communicate, the song of the birds, the inspired or mysterious words that pass through the lips of our friends, the art in the museums, the stories, the good things in the world. I believe these things can save us while we are here, and these are things we cannot really lose.

Losing My Religion

My year of graduate school is almost over, the end in sight and the glorious weeks of steamy weather and solitude coming into view. I have rediscovered television again, already. Except for I Love Lucy or Roseanne when I am drinking my coffee in the morning, I have not had the time or patience to watch anything. I have settled into The Handmaid’s Tale on this long weekend and sucked the last drops out of the six episodes available so far, getting lost inside and looking up details about the cast, production and soundtrack on my phone during the commercials. No wonder I do not watch TV like I used to, this is how involved I get.

I read Margaret Atwood’s novel during a television- free time in my life, when I read books and went places and spent more time with people in cafes (pre-internet). I checked it out of the Brooklyn Public Library in Grand Army Plaza, where I used to hang around when I had no money but time to spare. This was before I met my S.O. and had a family, and before I knew firsthand about life ending in death. I did know about the dark side of human nature but I had a narrower perspective on it.

So much to become irate and disgusted about in the story. But this is a story of the world. Fiction, but with real correlations. I do not watch this and feel grateful to be free as much as I feel revolted about how humans full of greed and evil damage each other. Freedom from this is not a privilege, abusing and exploiting others is crime. The world is a hotbed of corruption and unspeakable abuse, and this seems to have always been true. Sometimes I feel done.

When the scenes turn, in the first few episodes, to times “before” and “after”, I follow the emotional shift. I too have had my little girl taken from me, and console myself in reverie of carnivals and making pancakes. I want to hate the government, or someone, for this, but my enemy is none other than death and destiny. They are here and now and not dystopian. Death and loss are everyone’s fate. But eventually I do feel grateful that I have experienced this loss in the world I live in, where I have a job and home and a good deal of personal power.

I live with my beautiful, healthy surviving child and a partner who loves me from across cultures. He has seen things which I cannot understand, and never will, about human nature and injustice. These are his stories to tell, and sometimes he tells them to me. None, though, are as heartbreaking as what we have survived together. The cruelest part of the universe is the part which gives you a child to love and then that child is taken away. We found each other and had a son and a daughter. Susanna’s life was very short, and we remain.

Is life worth fighting for? I know it is. Whatever falls in my path I do believe I have a purpose, and I am equipped to follow it through until the last day. During these last years of my life, during which I have been bruised and broken, I have lived the most real days. Life is temporary and difficult and painful, and no one here gets out alive. Still, there are things to be done and justices to be served. And, in the bigger picture, there is a plan which cannot be seen from this plane.

Last night I was involved in my Hulu marathon, and S.O. uncharacteristically came upstairs and offered me one earbud attached to his phone. “Listen to this. This is beautiful. Maybe you know it”. It was REM’s Losing my Religion, and that is beautiful. My man has discovered the same band I discovered I high school, on this night so many years later, in a language and country which are not his first. I can only say to him that they are from Georgia and do not play together anymore. I want to explain how Michael Stipe’s voice makes me feel when I hear it, but words escape me.  He does not need words, he hears it himself. Because of these moments I am hopeful. Sometimes I know we will survive.

Dolorous (A Thanksgiving Story)

Yesterday, I looked up antonyms for “grateful”. I thought I must be feeling the exact opposite. “Ungrateful” was the first entry, somehow not fitting. I went down the list and found “dolorous”. Marked by excessive grief and distress. A word which sounds like the traditional name “Dolores” from the Latin, a name meaning “sorrow” which is given to girls in honor of the Virgin Mary. This is perhaps the opposite of being given the name “Joy” or “Felicity”.

I woke up having just dreamt about Susanna. She was with her father, on a bench, sitting up on a hill where I could see her as I approached. I called them on my phone, to let them know I was almost there. I eagerly said hello to her, knowing I had not seen her for a while because she had been sleeping. She heard me and then I had to wake up.

I survive days full of pain by knowing they will pass. There are actions which may help, but some pains need to hang around to be exposed before they dissipate. I found myself in a deep- seated hatred, beyond anger. I hated and resented every person alive in the world for not being Susanna. This was not viable and made no sense, but I wanted to be with her so badly that l felt this. I wanted to speak to a human being in a body who was my daughter. There is no solution for this. I had to do my best to forgive the world, for this transgression of not being able to bring Susanna back, along with all of its other shortcomings. Not easy lately given current events, but necessary as far as making it through the day.

Eventually I found solace in an unexpected place. A book. Books saved many days for me in the past, days which were too murky to be infiltrated by other humans. I am not ready to mention which book and why but it is related to the world of spirit, and the reasons I have to fight for wholeness as I remain here and fulfill my mission. When the world here marks itself unlivable, there is more. There is even a barrage of angelic assistance, especially on the days when all hope seems lost. We do not need to do anything alone.

I went to sleep last night relieved that the day was over. Perhaps next year I might better enjoy Thanksgiving, a complicated feast laced with national grief at its essence anyway. Celebrating the harvest with loved ones is one framework. The annihilation of indigenous people and their culture (ongoing at Standing Rock) is another. A “pilgrim” is a word meaning “traveler”, in a spiritual as well as geographical sense. It reminds me of the Yeats poem, “When You are Old”. One man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face. (This is even more beautiful now that I am becoming old). Yet I am baffled at what the Puritans considered “freedom”, and what became a way to obtain it.

When the grief of not having Susanna here overcomes me, the only outlet will always be to look beyond earth existence. I have been busy lately, studying Braille for my coursework, and less frequently able to go out and walk. The holiday schedule has given me a little more time and space. As I look to the sidewalks and footpaths, littered with random Brooklyn confetti and the natural spoils of late autumn, I see many more “S” formations even than usual. This last time, I first saw a braille symbol arranged in dried gum dots. Dots 234. This is the letter “S”. There was even a dot 6 ahead of it, the capital indicator. Susanna is an energetic arm’s length away. I am not even alone while doing my homework.

Somewhere around the hours where the veil is thinner, three-ish (I did not look at the clock), I woke from a dream with a spirit voice in my ear. A voice asking me, emphatically, for “peace”. It was a boisterous male voice, I could feel the warmth of its breath in my ear. I did not remember the details about what was going on, and am not sure who it was, but I knew it was a call for me. I asked Archangel Michael and all of the benevolent universal forces to send peace throughout my home and life and self. I think that those who love and care for me, both in this realm and in the others, do not want me to hang on to so much pain. Grief and pain appear as they need to and are real, but there is more. I need to see past the pain because there is work to be done here. I went back to sleep and woke up with a clean slate for this day. Peace.

Herbs

Maybe in heaven there are fragrances. If I have a choice, I want to be able to smell the cilantro my Significant Other chops while I am falling asleep sometimes. A lover of toppings and condiments, he likes to eat late at night and meticulously cleans and separates the leaves, then gently taps the knife against the bamboo board as he chops before ladling the chicken soup I have left on the stove for him. I turn back to sleep consoled by his presence. I would miss that about earth.

This summer I planted my first herb garden (in containers, my tiny yard is cramped and paved with cement). I bought some plants and set them on Susanna’s bench. The bench was decrepit like driftwood last summer when I spray painted it pink and white. It sits beneath the window where I hang some of her angels on suction hooks. Bees have perhaps nested beneath the ground beside it. Since we have set up the Angel Tree each Christmas, the same corner of the house seems to attract flying creatures. I believe they feel the angels, the other winged beings.

The cilantro died. Firstly, we ate it down to the stems and roots. There was a driving rain one night, right after I did the initial planting, which flooded the boxes. I tipped the long window box backward to drain it and the plants tumbled out. I repaired the damage, but after that the cilantro never came back.

My prior gardening exploits were limited to mostly houseplants. I mastered the knowledge that plants will sometimes wither and sometimes thrive. This summer I experienced watching my herbs live in the elements. I started each day by looking at them and touching them. This grounded me a bit throughout a long, strange trip of a season. The chives and parsley stayed rooted as if made of bronze. The basil proliferated and made me proud. The oregano, which seemed to be going the way of the cilantro, remained green in tiny spots long enough to grow back again. I absorbed this concept of nature: things will heal and root when given time. We live and die, like they do, and given time we can grow back.

Two years ago, last April or May. Susanna has just left us and we are, all three, sleeping on the sectional sofa in the living room. We are afraid to sleep upstairs. We have little trust in this world which has robbed us. I fall asleep briefly, and I wake up choking and coughing. I change positions. I know that I am choking with fear and grief.

This feeling comes back in gradient forms.A year or so ago, I went through weeks of feeling faint and breathless which resulted in ruling out heart problems. My heart is broken, but functional. Now, as I begin to drift off at night or for a nap, there is an initial gasp for air. I never truly relax.

I believe I will always miss my daughter, all day long. Just as having children changes you forever, losing a child changes you forever again. But rather than changing you into someone who further understands life, loss changes you into someone who further understands death. My head is whirling, I experienced both in a short span of years.

Summer is over, and I will miss the solitude. I will walk further steps into the things I must attend to, and I will tend to things which help me to heal. I am healing. I believe that the loving powers of the universe want better for me than choking breathlessness. I take in enough air, enough love to know I am alive. There is more.

 

War?

It is the biggest battle, the battle with the self. I see it everywhere. People fighting, obsessing, causing strife. People working hard to create a pretense. I see it, on a clear day, as the fight we come here to witness and attempt to resolve. I especially include myself. I want to be finished, emerging as an airy wisp of completion. I have little interest in being a warrior anymore. Yet here I am, sitting on my horse for another day, holding a sword. I have come here with things to do until the last day, and then I will do what comes next, eternally.

I say this because no one has told me not to be sad anymore. No one has told me they are tired of hearing about my little girl, or the pain which does not follow me like a shadow, but more accurately lives within all of my cells as a part of me. Maybe, people might think this, which is not of my concern. Maybe, some people have long ago moved on and remember Susanna as an occasional passing thought. I think about her every minute. When I do not know I think about her, my heart thinks for me during the seconds in between. This is my job because I am her mother. This does not change with death. She is outside of the line of vision for most people, but never for me.

Last night I dreamt that Susanna was here with me, in our place of strength in the kitchen. I consider this part of my kitchen a power vortex. Here, we used to bake and cook together as she stood on a chair. We opened the jars of herbs and spices just to inhale. The magic surpasses the recipes. Supernatural events have occurred there which I will save for another day. Instead, dwell on the picture of Susanna sticking her hands into flour and savoring what that felt like on her fingers.

During the dream, I knew she had died but I had never lost sight of her. I was explaining this to various people, this fact that I could see her all of the time. I was greeted with some perplexed faces but I was heard and believed. The question I had was: “Can’t I send her to school? I can see her. I can touch her. I have not lost a thing.”. When I woke up, only for a second, I saw a shape by my bed. I do not know in which dimension it was, but it was Susanna. She was there to show me that she did not go away, and I believe her.

There have been many times in my life when I have felt like it was my purpose to shine pure hope and optimism over others, exuberantly. I love that. I am proud of that. But I no longer wait to be restored to something I used to be. While we are all still hanging around in linear time we go forward, we cannot unsee what we have seen. We cannot return to an earlier state without carrying all the wrinkles and the history. I will rise to the challenge of whatever battles present themselves today, and my biggest hope will be to battle with grace. Like a sage. Like a crone. Like the person who has grown streaks of silver hair and has cracks in her heart, like me.

Love, Not War

I am still waiting on joy. There is a type of peace coming intermittently, rolling like waves together with grief. The crests sometimes peak higher than they used to. My tendency toward hope and optimism has survived and proven itself. The sun comes up every day still greeted by me. But I miss Susanna always.

Memorial Day seems like it should be a smaller holiday in the scheme of the calendar year, but a holiday still and difficult. In my dream universe I have a rambling farmhouse full of kids and extended family. A combination of The Waltons, Eight is Enough, a hippie commune and the seaside home of Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp. Memorial Day there includes marching band parades, watermelon, strawberry shortcakes and a patriotism which allows for pacifism and feminism. The inhabitants have free hearts and souls and are not crippled with sadness or ill will. I have mimicked this fantasy to the best of my ability in my real world home. Yet I do much better on an average day without the perceived societal pressures.

Summer is coming soon. I look forward to the promise of peace as I have more time for reflection and solitude (and more Susanna time). The truth be told, my school year life in special education is rife with commotion, long days heavy with human interaction and unfortunately violence committed by children. I come home to a partner and son who love me and need me to show up for them. I look forward to some more time to ponder and be.

When I was a child, my family’s many holiday traditions included a huge party, a parade during which kids strung streamers through spokes of bicycle wheels, the intentional shaking of grape and orange cans of soda and planting flowers for relatives at neighboring cemeteries. The cemetery was not sad for me, as I did not yet know anyone who had died. Forgive me, but I do not want to remember death today. I do not want to remember that my little girl was buried somewhere in Brooklyn. I do not want to go to ceremonies to hear guns fired and I do not wish to dwell on fighting and war.

I do want to remember things though. On Memorial Day and every day. Remember that we are here to learn peace and love via arduous pathways. That we are all ultimately part of a whole. That my daughter and all of the spirits and ancestors are a thought away, loving us and helping us. War and pain are real but so is love. And love lasts forever.

Magnolias

The Japanese Magnolias, soon to be followed by the Cherry Blossoms, are here. Fleeting, time meaning nothing. When my son was younger he called the white Cherry Blossoms “Popcorn Trees”. Not because they looked like popcorn but because, he ascertained, they were popcorn. He also was certain the Dalmatian we saw at the playground was in fact a zebra. He trusts his own observations.

Susanna is here too. I have come to understand that disincarnate spirits have no age, not the way we know age. They are still the people we knew but they grow with us. Susanna’s shoes are lined up next to her brother’s. They have not been replaced with larger new ones. Still they are hers, waiting for her because she is arm’s length away to us as always. The way she grows with us is something I cannot explain but know just the same.

Spring has started and Easter is tomorrow again. I feel like all of my arteries and veins are full of cement. I picked up imagery at some point from yoga of my whole body as a breathing mechanism. You can send your breath to places which hurt and need attention. I hurt everywhere. Even though the breath I send is not deep and joyful, I still breathe.

Among the days which passed in March was my significant other’s birthday. I remember, two years ago, the last time we celebrated when everyone was still here in body. Susanna, of course, insisted I put on my party dress and shoes to dance with her as a performance for her Dad. I squeezed my expanding waistline into a gold taffeta formal in my closet. She donned the usual princess attire. We both wore new gem studded black flats we had purchased for spring. I believe the songs were “On the Floor” and “Feel this Moment”, probably also her favorite, “Poker Face”. Later my kids set up a special party room with pillows on the floor in the cluttered “office” where we keep too much stuff. We sat in a circle a little while and looked at each other. I saw that look on S.O.’s face, the one where he is filled to his eyelids with love.

This year on his birthday I had the cement feeling, but hope to remember a realization I had in my kitchen as I made dinner. There will be a day when time will slip away and I will look back on everything. I will see the dance parties and I will see the leaden days of tears. I will see them all as days well lived, beyond judgement. The grief comes with the love. The tears will clean up every pathway within me. My family has been cheated out of so much, we will not be cheated out of our tears. I might cry for some more years but still the flowers will come in season and still they will leave again. They will leave a fluffy pink trail.