Am I in the Right Room?

One grieving mom to another:

I just wait.
I know.
So do I.
I wonder what we’re waiting for?
Something.

The excerpt above is from a fellow blogger’s comments on one of my previous posts. It inspires further reflection.

What is this something? What do I wait for?

chairs-is this the right room

Image by ravensong7 from Pixabay

Five months, two days ago, I COULDN’T WAIT to rip into the day, regardless of life’s circumstances. I leaped out of bed like a child who had no patience to discover what was inside the gift box under the Christmas tree. It sounds corny, but everyday was Christmas. Twenty-four hour segments flew by, and I darted behind each day as if I was trying to catch up to an Olympian runner.

Now, five months, two days later, I feel like I’ve been dumped into one of life’s empty waiting rooms without a clock on the wall. So, I wait. What do I wait for? The day I reunite with my son?

My mom used to say, “Day after day after day, ‘til the last day.”

Has that aphorism become my epic battle song that I sing now during the darkest chapter of my life until I arrive at the end of the book? Then what? I close the book, and a trumpet thunders and signals my long aWAITed reunion with my son.

“You’ve arrived!” In my imagination, I hear Alexa’s voice as an angel proclaiming the news.

Or, do I just wait for my son’s toothy white grin to be on the other side of the front door’s window? I expect to catch a glimpse of his eager face ready to enter what was once his home. I grow more impatient than ever since that youthful, solid and towering presence once crowned my world like the North Star and kept me from getting lost.

When my mom lost her oldest son she told me she always thought he was outside sitting on his favorite chair on the front porch. Numerous times, she found herself calling out to him. Of course, the front porch remained quiet and empty.

Admittedly, when no one is home I beckon in a familiar tone, “Marshall! Marshall!”

I wait and wait. In the deafening silence, I catch the familiarity of the maple tree’s drooping branches outside the exterior door’s window. Like the maple, everything has changed, but I remain standing.

As others await the end of this pandemic so they can return to their ordinary lives and do things like reset goals and “arrive” at new careers and new milestones in life, I have arrived in the waiting room of life before and during the pandemic. Going forward, I believe, this is my last stop. Fortunately, the space is not noisy and crowded. It’s not stressful. I am not afraid. I crave nothing.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s profound words frame the room, “This is it.”

So, that’s it. Waiting. The question is, does faith live here?

Is this the right room

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Maybe the answer lies deeper in the same grieving mom’s additional comments on my post:

I am not going to say anything,
about how beautiful your son is,
and his mother.
Love to both of you.

Speechless, there is no response to those words because they are the words of hope, and their beauty cannot be contained under gift wrap. Subsequently, without faith, there can be no hope. Sometimes in the crux of waiting is the crux of our search. This is it.

biceps-2750460_1280

Faith Muscle

 

Tree of Death

Artwork by Hughie Lee-Smith

Driving home last week, I turned onto a road parallel to our road and like a magnet I was pulled into a work area where the town crew had recently cut down trees in close proximity to power lines. My heart plunged. I knew what I would witness BEFORE I encountered yet another raw reality. Of the few trees the crew cut down, MY SON’S tree was among them. The sight of the fresh stumps, chopped down trees and severed branches was like losing him all over again.

I blogged about HIS tree last summer when I wrote about our ailing cat’s disappearance: “Later, I discovered that during Chervony’s disappearance, he had sheltered under a tree on which my son’s name that he carved into it in 2008, remains. I came to the stunning realization that the cat had been undergoing his own fashion of mourning.

Since my son’s passing, I avoided looking too much at HIS tree with its prevalent boxed letters: “Marshall 2008.” The actual sight of it reminded me how he was everywhere, but nowhere at all. Concurrently, knowing HIS tree stood signified my beloved son existed. Once shunned by a kindergarten teacher for lack of “fine motor skills,” he had carved up HIS tree with force, vim and artistic achievement. He mattered.

I could barely stand erect when I witnessed HIS tree cut to the ground and missing, a victim to a wood chipper. It felt like another stab spiked threw my heart, already slashed and beyond repair, a bleeding valve of hurt. It was another typical “Marshall Story.” When you couldn’t imagine him enduring any more blows in life, another targeted him. Brush, cut up bark and sawdust; I felt like I was looking at the irreversible damage through his eyes.

I could hear him under his breath, inwardly despairing, “Figures.”

My eyes were tear stained imagining the unimaginable. If he witnessed HIS tree gone, his eyes would be dry. He learned early how society expected men to soldier on and “be men.” Lift their bone dry-eyes up and look toward the sun no matter how much the rays burn through the irises.

Out of a variety of definitions of faith, one is “believing without seeing or fully comprehending something.”

I lived most of my life in a spiritual realm, believing without seeing, even after witnessing unimaginable, incomprehensible things that no human being  should experience. Now, after recently being diagnosed with PTSD, one thing that helps me is sinking my teeth into REAL things like a hamburger. In other words, maybe some others can champion their lives on magic carpets woven with affirmations, positive thinking and happy thoughts, but fantasy thinking got me into a heap of trouble. Try, for instance, going to the bank and telling the teller you’ll pay your mortgage after your book hits the best seller’s list. I was in those shoes, and they aren’t Cinderella’s.

Finally, retiring my glass slippers fourteen months after my son’s demise, the following is a quote that I’ve also sunk my teeth into. The words help pull me up and put one foot in front of another. “In the 1960s, I began to lose my youthful dream of a better world – free of racism, free of the threat of instantaneous cremation of the bomb – and feed on a slow burning disillusionment. As a consequence, my work turned inward, and I began to seek some sort of essence to it all.”

The quote is from Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999). He was an American artist and teacher who is known for his highly realistic and somewhat surreal paintings of figures in desolate urban landscapes that are fraught with psychological tension.

HIS tree no more

Learning to reprogram myself for “a slow burning disillusionment,” I came face-to-face with MY SON’s cut down tree. Metaphorically, a life cut short; a life short-changed. I endured reliving the trauma AGAIN. Revisiting the unbearable head on. Immediately, I knew there is nowhere for me to turn outward without taking the chance of being plummeted. I can’t go down any farther. I am at ground level, eye-to-eye with a tree stump. At this level, for me finding the “essence to it all” is through creative expression. For Lee-Smith, it was artwork. In my case, reading, writing and ushering myself to make-believe worlds.

With this psyche I examined the damaged landscape. I soldiered away and tried to recall what my reading list entailed. As I dog paddled forward through my ocean of tears, I sailed on faith, believing somewhere in this heap of sawed down dust of nothing there is something of substance, just a kernel of meat for me to sink my teeth into.

Faith Muscle

Need Seed

My New Year’s wish list:

  • Hope for the hopeless
  • Voices for the voiceless
  • A sense of purpose, whether it is cleaning the sink or operating a business, for the bored and lost
  • Disconnection from social media and connection to real-life humans, see below
  • Inclusion for all, see above
  • The experience of one sunrise in the upcoming year that abashes the soul in its chorus of silence
  • Infinite Seeds of Hope packets to plant and create perennial gardens of aster, dahlia, goldenrod, mum, sedum and other vibrant and showy flowers that will illuminate the most pitch black soil

In fact, I think we can all be inspired by “Stars of Hope,” an art installation by Jane Ingram Allen at 620 4th Street, Santa Rosa, California, that was installed on November 25, 2020. The website states:

“In this time of a pandemic and an economic downturn, these stars of colorful handmade paper with seeds for wildflowers in them express hope for a brighter future in 2021. After the installation comes down in early 2021, these stars will be given out to residents to plant in their own yard or keep as a remembrance of this time and our hopes for a better world.”

  • Most of all, on the wish list is my hope for a better world. Always remember, even one positive change, albeit small as a mustard seed, can be the spark that inspires a “flowering” inferno one day.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Welcome to a Balanced Rock

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To me, my faith is strongest when I feel my feet are placed firm and rooted, especially when everything around me is displaced and uprooted.

I consider myself a denizen of a balanced rock. If you haven’t heard of them, they are also called a balancing rock or precarious boulder. They are “a naturally occurring geological formation featuring a large rock or boulder, sometimes of substantial size, resting on other rocks, bedrock, or on glacial till.”

Like so many of these precarious boulders around the world, a lot of factors have worked against me, but I remain standing. As this past year draws to a close, I realize how much my community of friends, including fellow bloggers, have helped me keep my feet firmly planted on bedrock.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sometimes I feel that I am destined to fall, dislodge from grief and emotions, succumb to the earthquake in my head. Then I look down and catch sight of my friends in an “Atlas” pose with their arms above their heads, helping to hold up my rock.

In the interim, a balanced rock is where I tread lightly, talk softly and hope my pain in some esoteric way will heal the world. With all my pain, I am relieved to imagine the possibilities.

Faith Muscle

Christmas Fireflies

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

The excerpt below is from a post by Liza Smith* in Austin, Texas. She is one of the members in my FB group that is a dedicated space for moms of children who committed suicide. She also lost her child about a year ago, and every word of it echoes how I feel during this 2020 holiday season:

“….Since last Christmas, I vowed to try harder. I picked up some new (to me) outdoor decorations at yard sales and clearance sales. Inside our home is still vacant of holiday spirit. This year actually feels harder than the first year. The exterior shows a normal family, and the interior shows our fragile hearts…..”

At the end of 2019, after the tragic blow of losing my son, with the exception of a wreath on the door, our house remained unmarked of holiday spirit. This year, however, along with my sole surviving child, this sweet mom’s post inspired me to make the dreaded trip up to the attic. Trying not to stare too hard at Christmas’s past, I located and pulled out our Christmas village.

Backtracking, for about five Christmases in a row, we made a pilgrimage to the Ronald McDonald house to deliver holiday pies and desserts. Nearly 28 years ago, my then husband and I lodged at the house when my son was born with a heart defect and underwent open heart surgery at the nearby hospital. The staff had a beautiful Christmas village display, and that was the model we used in our home during the holidays.

Although our Christmas village was nowhere near as intricate as Ronald McDonald’s setup, before the tragedy, it took me days to decorate our home for Christmas. In fact, we didn’t just have one tree, we had two lavish artificial trees, one white and one green!

Now, please read another excerpt from the same FB post by Liza. Again, everything she writes mirrors my feelings.

“….So I picked out the biggest most lavish artificial tree at the store. It was ridiculous; but I imagined the laughter of future Christmas around that tree and had to have it. We only put it up twice. Now it mocks me with its size, and cheerful, colorful lighting.

I tried dragging it out this year and only got the base layer done before melting down. My husband tried to comfort me and said “I thought this was the tree you wanted, it should make you happy” and he was half right. It was the tree I wanted, but only because it matched the life I wanted. Without that life, the tree lost its joy. We packed it back up and offered it to my sister who is starting an exciting new chapter in her life. Her and her partner just moved in together. It’s new and fresh and although she misses her nephew, she has joy again in her life. Her life matches the tree….”

Liza also explained in her FB post that she ended up getting a “pencil” style tree this year—and so did I. I couldn’t bare revisiting the old decorations–my young children’s handmade ornaments, ceramic baby shoes imprinted with birth dates, and so on. I ended up buying plain old NEW globe ornaments. The ornaments resemble this new normal: paired down, slim and simple.

My roomie said my son is happy that I decorated and resurrected the Christmas village. I stopped reading minds, especially ones that no longer emit brainwaves. But I can say, the glow of the village’s white lights are warm and invite me to “participate in life’s calendar of events.” This was another idea from Liza’s FB post. Sweet mom wrote, “I’m no where near ready to celebrate again, but participation I can handle.”

Liza’s FB post also inspired me to dedicate my blog post in honor of my fellow bloggers and all those who are not looking forward to Christmas this week. Perhaps this is your first Christmas without a particular loved one, or maybe your tenth or fiftieth year without that someone special. Or, maybe you are far from home in the military. Or, perhaps, you are at home without any family at all. Certainly, during these challenging pandemic times, some of you may be going through things like job loses. financial upsets, health issues and isolation.

The point is, I invite each of you to participate in life’s holiday calendar of events, whether it is connecting on zoom with a friend or family member or listening to a holiday concert on the internet. What about baking butter cookies? Or driving around the neighborhood to enjoy the array of holiday lights?

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

Sometimes you have to force yourself to have faith and plan activities that will help you achieve it. On the up side, this is the time of year, even during a pandemic, where holiday lights are the fireflies of winter’s backyard. Grab an imaginary jar and catch the glow.

*Thank you, Liza for your permission to use your encouraging words. I hope they help others as much as they helped me.

Faith Muscle

Travels with Lucy

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Last year, my brilliant, beautiful 26-year-old son, who could light up a room with his smile, took his own life eight days before Thanksgiving. Subsequently, eight days before Christmas, my then 25-year-old daughter and I boarded a flight to Nashville, Tennessee. He had lived an hour away in Kentucky. Our plan was to fly in and drive his car, along with some of his belongings, back home to Connecticut.

During our stay on December 18th, which happened to be my children’s Nana’s birthday, who basically disappeared from our lives in 2010, we were scheduled to present a commemorative plaque that included his photo “Living Waters” at a memorial luncheon at his workplace.

Pre-pandemic days, a sea of travelers wearing ugly Christmas sweaters surrounded us on the plane. We wore the faces of shock, disguising them the best we could. We wanted to blend in with the crowd and not alter the holiday spirit.

Everything felt surreal and in slow motion. The plane ride ushered in another remembrance, not nearly as unbearable, that occurred about eight years ago, when we took the train to my daughter’s new university campus where she was enrolled to live and study for four years.

On the train, the two of us sat on our rock hard seats like misplaced weeds in a bouquet of happy students and their families, brimming with dads galore. (My daughter’s dad had experienced emotional breakdown and for the most part abandoned the family the day after her sixteenth birthday.)

How we managed to get through those tumultuous university years is nothing short of a miracle, sprinkled with a fairy dusting of faith I am sure.

Speaking of fairies and faith, I don’t know if it was coincidence, pure luck or a miraculous moment, but sitting next to me in the plane was a young woman about my son’s age. She was blonde with a smile that could light up any room and cowboy boots that could stomp rocks into dust. We started to chat, and she ended up showing me her tattoos. She had one of her handsome grandfather, rendered from his younger years, on one arm and one of Lucille Ball on the other.

In high school, one of my nicknames was “Lucy,” because I emulated Ms. Ball. Growing up, she helped me believe that laughter could solve the world’s problems. The comedienne certainly inspired me with enough smiles and delight to help me endure my difficult childhood.

Out of all the idols to select in her day and age and here this young woman loved Lucy in the exact way I had generations ago. Of course, in the 70s, tattoos were mostly reserved for sailors, and certainly taboo for woman, so I missed a Lucy face imprint opportunity.

During the plane ride, the Lucy fan revealed how she had battled depression for years and finally pulled through and was making a fresh start of it, but not alone. She had her beaming mom, dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater, on the plane next to her and her two other most favorite people in the world, one tattooed on each of her arms. I’m not sure about her dad, but like the famous Rolling Stones’ song goes, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you’ll find you get what you need.”

Pained, I thought about how my son could have easily identified with this woman as I watched her hair roll, bounce and loop into fun circles that you had to resist from poking your finger inside. Who couldn’t love her? Except, ironically, she revealed, she had to fight hard to win her own love. Finally, she won the battle to endure life in spite of it all. My son ceased trying. My daughter and I were on route to pick up the pieces.

The “Lucy woman” had no idea about our mission. We had no idea about her mission either. But I did have a sense that maybe in the chapters of life riddled with nemeses, one wasn’t forced to feel like they were delivered the book in error, because somewhere before the ending a hero materialized.

In my daze, confusion, shock and looking from the outside in, I remember when I touched that young woman’s Lucy tattoo, I felt like I had somehow landed while the plane was still flying thousands of miles above ground. In some bizarre way, I perceived that imaginary wings of equilibrium enveloped me, and I had a sense that I would walk tall and fake brave from that moment on. Maybe, by some slim chance, laugh again in the future watching an old Lucy flick.

Faith Muscle

Blue Mascara

About eight years living a new normal life  after my divorce, on a fluke, I tested blue mascara on my eyelashes. It felt wickedly forbidden, because it defied convention of a woman in her late fifties. Being naughty and rebellious sometimes is nice and fun. Needless to say, I defied the norm and ordered blue mascara on a regular mail order subscription basis.  Did I say fun?

What is really amusing is when, over the years, onlookers noticed and asked, “Are you wearing BLUE mascara?”

Behind the question, I could detect tones of scorn and exclusion revealing their ageist mentality.

“Yes.” I looked the inquisitive spectators in the eyes as I fluttered my blue eyelashes. “Blue. Really, really blue.”

Recently, I was cleaning out a cosmetic drawer, and I noticed the last tube of mascara I owned, only to open the tube and find the blue color splintered and flaky.

You see, I canceled my subscription service after my son’s passing. Before then, the cherry-on-the-top part of my life was drawing with attitude outside the lines. Happily, too, I tore linear worlds out of my personal coloring book. Days had their challenges, of course, but a child-like faith rode under my heals.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Now, my only wish is for enough relief to cope with each passing day. One thing that helps is time spent in solitude to focus on household chores like decluttering cosmetic drawers.

I have an incredible tribe, but I keep my womb of grief inward. Why dampen someone else’s child-like faith? Yet, I’m often tempted to shout on the top of my lungs and punch them with a dose of reality: “it’s not your turn yet.”

When you least expect it, someone you love will die. YOU will die. It is the price of life. We may be proficient with our time management and schedule things like annual doctor visits on the calendar, but no way can we plan for our death or anyone else’s.

I feel like my personal healing story is set in the rear mezzanine of life. Isolated from the crowd, I recline comfortably there. Without any unnecessary ballyhoo, I appreciate the sights and watch for cool, soothing, curative colors like sky blue on a particularly indigo day.

Faith Muscle

Damage | Joy

Image by Lolame from Pixabay

I don’t know if I’ve “learned” anything of significance this past year after living through my personal tragedy. I have, however, brushed up on vocabulary words. “Schadenfreude,” for instance, means “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”

Interestingly, while researching “Schadenfreude,” I discovered the following tidbit of information:

According to dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster, “searches for ‘schadenfreude’ spiked 30,500% after President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was announced.”

The word on its “Trend Watch” page, in fact, “was the top lookup for Friday “by a very considerable margin” and the searches began after Trump tweeted that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive.”

The English word was borrowed from German in the middle of the 19th century. In German the word is derived from Schaden (‘damage’) and Freude (‘joy’).

Below are some example sentences that I pulled off the internet:

  • “I can easily believe you don’t approve it,” she said with a gleam of Schadenfreude. THE MESSENGER|ELIZABETH ROBINS
  • The curious and expressive German word Schadenfreude cannot be translated into any other language. GERMAN PROBLEMS AND PERSONALITIES|CHARLES SAROLEA

Meaning aside, I love the word’s sound that is as fierce as a simultaneous trumpet and trombone blaring. That being said, here’s a suggestion if the juxtaposition of emotional turmoil and your faith-o-meter has become a stress factor. Shout “Schadenfreude!” ten times (preferably when you are alone!). I have found it to be an excellent catharsis.

Many people facing dark times find faith in God or another higher power. At the moment, I put my confidence in the dictionary. Learning vocabulary words keeps my head in a safe space, away from treacherous waters of thought.

I may be far from a world champion in any respect, but my word-champion abilities renew my confidence and award me a promise of a tomorrow filled with substantial lexicons.

Faith Muscle

Seat at the Table

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Last Thanksgiving, my childhood friend Anna, along with her family, opened up their doors to welcome us into their home. We enjoyed a dinner that married savory turkey for the carnivorous diners and tofu turkey for my vegetarian daughter. Complementary gastronomic delights helped create an unforgettable experience.

A somber underbelly lined the free-flowing conversation around the dinner table where, nine days prior, a seat was reserved for my son. What turned out to be our worst nightmare come to life, he never boarded the plane to return home.

One appreciated diversion, though, was my daughter’s friend Raj, originally from India, who savored his first American Thanksgiving dinner. My son, who had a profound interest in geography as well as different cultures, would have taken a keen interest in Raj’s background and, surely, liked his quick wit.

Recently, I viewed a painting “Seat at the Table” on display in a corporation. It pictures a part of a table and three prominent chairs. A part of another chair indicates a continuum. There is nothing significant about the artwork except its message. “Seat at the Table” symbolizes “breaking bread” among family, friends, associates and business colleagues. It is meant to portray inclusivity at the home and office where there is “always a seat at the table” for everyone regardless of a person’s “political affiliation, gender, beliefs, values, social class, age, disability, religion, sexuality, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, beauty, occupation, education, criminality, sport team affiliation or other personal characteristics.”

The message ends, “giving all an opportunity to have a seat at the table is vital for existence.”

Unfortunately, I think eventually we all have to face societal dinner tables where seats are limited and few; sometimes non-existent. I know, personally, as a first-generation American, more times than not, growing up, seats were not offered. Fortunately, in my mid-twenties that dilemma turned around completely, and I secured many seats at many tables.

In my son’s case, more times than not, seats never turned up for him at anyone’s dinner table (with the exception of his home where a seat waited 24/7, 365 days a year!). However, when you have mental illness, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge seat availability, never mind navigate to the appropriate room. Obviously, in the end he saw no seat anywhere in his hopeless eyes and faith took a sabbatical.

Paradoxically, this year, my daughter said to me on my son’s one-year death anniversary, “The universe takes care of us.”

Does the universe take care of us because we possess faith? Does the universe take care of us, because we are not imprisoned by mental illness and, thereby, capable of accepting its generosity? Who knows. What I do know is that from the moment Anna offered us seats at her Thanksgiving table, I and my daughter and other grievers took comfort at many other tables throughout this past heartbreaking year. Admittedly, the raw reality was that a few tables were seat-less. For instance, my children’s aunt whom we reached out to, but did not extend a hand to my daughter and me as we sank in the quicksand of vulnerability and sorrow. Sarcastically, I can say now, past the hurt, Auntie probably finds her seat in the pew every Sunday and plays the part of Good Samaritan!

I think a prerequisite for faith is trust. Over and over I’ve been burnt in different ways for trusting, but continue to risk. Throughout my adulthood, I always prided myself at setting a dinner table to include everyone. Compassion aside, I simply like people and find nearly everyone fascinating — with the exception of people like Auntie.

The return to regular blogging was also a big risk for me. I trusted enough to write my heart out to strangers. Thus far, I must say, I’ve found a safety net among my fellow bloggers.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank every single one of you. You’ve played a big part in this faith journey where more times than not my faith odometer is on zero. I have gotten to know many of you this past year reading intimate, informative, refreshing and enlightening posts, reading poems and marveling at photos and artwork.

In addition, your words of encouragement and connections have helped to string me along on this faith journey.

Just today, thinking no one read last week’s post, I received a heartfelt comment from Shira:

Thank you for sharing that faith that helped you to live, even if you didn’t mean to. Thank you for being here with us now.

Sending Safe Air Hugs, if you’d like them,
Shira

In turn, please realize, there is always an empty seat at my table. After all, Thanksgiving, as I used to say to my children, should be celebrated every day, not only one day a year.

Now, with the holiday upon us, I wish you a Thanksgiving overflowing with peace, love, laughter and faith that if a seat at one’s dinner table isn’t available, another one will open up somewhere else.

Faith Muscle

Mountain Top Memories

One of my fellows endured a childhood of physical and emotional abuse from his mother. The abuse included a near-fatal stabbing. When he was in his thirties, his mother died from natural causes. After a great deal of therapy, more than twenty years later, the day arrived when he vividly felt her presence. At that moment, he said, “I did not mean to, but I forgave her.”

Perhaps, one day, I will be at that point. I am not close to forgiving myself, my son as well as a few others. However, what my fellow’s Epiphany triggered for me, reflecting over the worse year of my entire life is: I did not mean to live, but I did.

President-elect Joe Biden poignantly captures the state of grief I refer to. After tragically losing his young wife and daughter in a car accident in 1973, he said, “For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.”

My tragedy happened on November 19, 2019. Later, in March 2020, shortly before the pandemic, standing at the counter of Panera Bread waiting for an order, I suddenly realized that before the tragedy, I stood at that same counter countless times during nondescript, non-significant moments simply picking up food. In those days, I was deliriously happy. Rose-colored glasses were custom-made for my eyes. These days I now know I had been to the mountain. My heart whispers a bitter truth: “You will never get there again.”

I felt tremendously guilty erasing what remained of him, but baby photos and other reminders, not to mention a recent photo displayed inside the front door’s entrance days after the funeral, only deepened the unbearable pain. As it turned out, my dear artist friend Harold Davis gave me an abstract painting, and I switched the photo of my son in the entrance with the artwork.

Unlike my son’s face that brings me deep sorrow, Harold’s work creates energy and spark. No coincidence that it is titled “Fourth of July.” The holiday happens to be one of my son’s favorite holidays. It also happens to be his best friend’s favorite holiday. We lost his best friend in 2011 at 18 years old in an off-road vehicle accident.

After I removed the hallway photo, I packed away his baby pictures and other reminders, including a grammar school photo that greeted me every morning. Many “experts” believe that reliving the memories of a deceased loved one helps alleviate the pain. I, however, cannot bear to remember the elusive mountain top, at least for right now.

Autumn Leaves — Eva Marie Cassidy

On the 19th of this month, I have reserved a hotel room near my daughter who lives about an hour and a half away. We plan to spend a few days together and brave the upcoming first anniversary of the avalanche, and how we were forced to face the trauma and redefine ourselves to the amorphous aftermath.

Looking back, the underlying question remains: How did I live, especially when I didn’t mean to? A large part of the answer I realize is that I live on borrowed oxygen. When my faith meter runs near empty, others fuel me. For instance, at the end of March 2020, nearly a dozen individuals from different regions of the U.S. joined me and my roomie in a virtual “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.” My daughter’s best friend had spearheaded the fundraiser for the University of Southern Mississippi. In my son’s name, we raised $1,000, which was $250 over our goal.

At the beginning of the year, my employer initiated and remained instrumentally involved in creating my son’s commemorative plaque. My daughter and I presented the keepsake at his workplace in Kentucky. The artwork includes a photo of my son as well as “Living Waters,” one of his nature collection photographs. In addition, my employer also arranged for me to write a feature article for a Native American edition of a specialty publication. “Indian Well State Park: Where beauty and legend coexist” is the end result and features his photography of one of his favorite nature jaunts. Ironically, though I did not accompany him on this day trip to the park in the fall of 2017 when he shot these photos, I came full circle on a dreary day in early spring and followed his invisible footsteps on the route to the best of my ability.

Over this past year, looking back on so many experiences like these, there is no doubt I am miraculously alive on top tier faith fuel. At every turn, a reserve aplenty, with or without the asking. Pure faith is like pure oxygen, you have no clue how it works, but do you need to see to believe or do you just need to focus on your footing?

Faith Muscle

Summer Days of Fall

Years ago before our family disintegrated, every time we experienced warm, sunny autumn days, my ex-husband would exclaim, “We won’t have many days like this left.”

Photo by YAO KAILUN on Pexels.com

Our family comprehended the sense of urgency in his statement and tried to capture the favorable weather by partaking in as much outdoor activity as we could squeeze into the burning daylight hours. How easily I can still picture my son and daughter’s grins from ear to ear, with my daughter’s long strawberry blonde hair flying like dandelion stalks as the two siblings rode their bicycles aimlessly on every empty stretch of the neighborhood.

I hadn’t remembered my ex-husband’s long-ago statement until this season, this year. Now, suddenly, with a record number of unseasonably warm days, his voice fills my mind and has become a permanent deposit in my memory bank.

Though loud and unsubtle, the ping of its urgency is now gone. I shake my head in unbelief, never before to have recognized the ominous connotations of his statement. In fact, I would have never in a billion years taken his remark literally. However, now I realize that he was saying something that implied a much deeper, in essence darker meaning–a direct warning, if you will.

This fall marks 10 years of his emotional and mental breakdown and, subsequently, his total abandonment of our family. Additionally, this November marks 12 months that I am saddened with a womb of grief to know my son will not experience the flirty breezes and warm dancing sunlight of the season. My son, who, among other things, suffered from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), has missed these mild days, the type that rarely failed to enhance his sulky moods. Soon these pleasant days will by erased by the forceful hand of winter.

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“We won’t have many days like this left.”

Seasons aside, in the scheme of life, I realize something else. Regardless of the weather, the truth in my ex-husband’s statement can be applied to every passing day. Each day, if I work hard at it, I can draw on my faith and use my stream of consciousness to aim a bittersweet dart at the rationed hours stored in my private reserve.

Most importantly, I can hold off on the urgent things and go outdoors to experience a momentary pause and allow the golden ball of warmth to sponge up the dripping wounds and bathe me clean.

Faith Muscle