Time on the Bleacher

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since living a new normal, I spend plenty of time on the bleachers, my tiered observation booth of life. This is my designated safe space where I breathe slowly and deeply through my nose. Silently and rhythmically, I perch in the designated seat agenda-free. The spectacle of life unfolds right under my eyes. It is. IT is. This is it. This is how it was supposed to be in the dash of my life.

It just is.

When catastrophic things happen, as human beings, we are desperate for answers. We look for signs and interpret dreams. We pray to gods, goddesses and visit psychics. We adhere to human trailblazers in the hopes of providing us with some false sense of rational, predictable, immortal ground. We fabricate faith like the food industry uses GMOs.

“This is how it was suppose to be,” my brother Paul said in those first few hours after it felt like mammoth, blood sucking pythons swallowed our predictable, little lives upon hearing the news of my 26-year-old son’s sudden death by suicide.

His wise words helped make the unbearable bearable. Before that moment, as much as I thought I could control the things around me, I learned the hard way that I COULD NOT. I did not blast out a punishing God for it. Nor did I fly into a loving God’s arms. I was carried not only by my brother’s words, but also by the faith of others who lifted their derrieres off their own bleachers long enough to help me. Real-life contributions to charities in my son’s name, food supplies to our house and attending my son’s wake and funeral are examples of the good deeds. Receiving love and giving love is how I am still able to inch forward in my brokenness.   

In the interim, unless I can help someone in their time of need and do things like cook a lasagna, send a greeting card or lend a listening ear, the fact of the matter is, I stay on my own bleacher. These days in particular, I watch the world spin rapidly. Incessant news rolls in about the latest developments surrounding the global pandemic: the latest death tolls, vaccine updates and what to do or not do next.

When things go out of control in someone’s life, here’s the secret: unless you can truly offer professional services, a listening ear and/or a hand (like a cooked meal, bouquet of flowers, etc.) to those in your life, catch your breath and just allow the process to happen. Otherwise, whirling dervishes not only exhaust themselves, but those in their immediate circle.

Life’s unpredictability is dizzying enough. Fortunately, my bleacher is also my balance beam. It’s reserved solely for me. When my breath becomes shallow, once I remind myself that I am living the life I was suppose to, I can deliciously and deliberately inhale. After all, I have the advantage of a space filled with a generous amount of oxygen.

It just is.

Faith Muscle

Cootie Super Spreader

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Shortly after losing my son, my friend, and confidant, Betsy, who lost a son about ten years ago, chuckled when she said that I would imprint my brain with a list of the people who attended my son’s funeral. “And, reprint a resentment list of those who didn’t!”

Her sarcasm proved to be true. It might sound petty, but small things like showing up for a young man’s, out-of-order death, is a big deal for bereaved moms, at least for this momma. I won’t belabor the number of MIAs on the list, but more than dredging up feelings of resentment, their unavailability leaves me baffled and, of course, hurt.

Take for example a woman I accidentally saw a few weeks ago. She works part-time at one of the churches in my town. Her son went to kindergarten and first grade with my son until our children attended separate schools after we moved to another town.

Before our relocation, my son and her son were best friends. I connected equally with her. In fact, I was there for some of the lowest, most vulnerable points of her life.

Over these last twenty years, she was “blessed” and things did work out for her. To the best of my knowledge, her mortgage is paid off. Her marriage is solid. Most importantly, her children are alive. Some fifteen months ago, when we had the funeral for my son, I expected her, like a number of others to be there. In addition, I expected her son’s attendance. I had faith in them. They were churchgoers. They were educated and well-versed in the golden rule. She worked at the local church and someone even bought a Mass there for my son. So, I’m positive the tragic news didn’t skip her or her family.

I not only expected her to be there, I needed her to be there. I hate to admit it, but there were two reasons I poured my heart out in my son’s obituary, which, now, I regret. Anyway, the first reason was to end the stigma of depression and suicide. The second was that behind the raw reality I painted in the obit, there was a vulnerable cry for help. As a former cub scout leader, long-ago loyal volunteer, I needed my long-ago tribe. I needed the familiarity of the people I once loved unconditionally. The people I staked my faith on.

In the end, there were two surprises I am grateful for. Michael G. One of the former wrestlers on my son’s team. I hadn’t seen him in a good 10 years. He showed up. Many of the teachers from my son’s high school also didn’t forget us.

After the nightmarish time of physically letting go of my son, when I am particularly feeling vulnerable, my mental list reprints inside my head. The list certainly kicked off when I saw the mom, parked and texting in her car with an unmistakably happy, snappy little aura spinning around her tidy little orbit of a world.

For a moment, I wanted to approach her. “Why? Please help me make sense of life and explain why you couldn’t spare thirty minutes of your Sunday afternoon or Monday morning to say good-bye? Or send a ninety-nine cent sympathy card. Why? Tell me how you contribute to global charities, but can’t give of yourself close to home? Why? Do I have cooties? Do you think you can catch someone’s bad luck? Do I symbolize a super spreader to you?”

Instead of cornering her and taking the risk of making her feel embarrassed, I “let it go.” I haven’t earned much in my career these last 36 years, but I’ve learned much from my 12-step recovery community. I do not have to harbor resentments. I can erase them. Start afresh. Let bygones be bygones, and allow her to drive off to her happy-ending home and obsess about the evening’s dinner choices. Me, I’ll take my crappy little bad luck “blessed” life. All of the hardships, abuse and downright cruelties. Like a young cadet, I have endured the boot camp of life. I know how to lift my head up, shine my heels, and look spiffy and coiffed. Cornelia, one of my beloved mentors, who passed away, and others, taught me so long ago. In other words, allow grace to soldier me forward. I may fall, stagger and sometimes think I do not have the strength to get up from the field of weeds, but I guarantee you, I’ll keep up with my manicures.

Faith Muscle


Happy Valentine’s week to my blogging community. There is a space in my heart for every one of you!

Faith Muscle

Landscapes of Wisdom

Photo by Paul IJsendoorn on Pexels.com

During my college art appreciation classes, I learned about the concept of how art creates space with the use of foreground, middleground and background. This idea came into play about a year ago when someone wisely suggested that I needed to find a space in my psyche for my departed son. The idea alleviated the unbearable pain of out-of-order death, because it made me feel that my son was a PART of the landscape and not DEparted.

That said, for almost 15 months, he is, mostly, in the foreground of a custom-sized sacred space on my life canvas, closest to me, looming larger than anything else.

Anyway, last week, I conversed with a young man inside the waiting room of a dental surgeon’s office. He informed me that it was time for him to have his wisdom teeth extracted.

“Really? I had mine out at 19. How old are you?”

“Twenty eight.”

“Twenty eight!” I exclaimed. “That’s too old to get your wisdom teeth out.”

I don’t know what made me the authority of the wisdom tooth extraction timeline. At that given moment, it was my own, very personal, anything but humble, reality. When I spoke with the man, my sole focus was on me and my one-time 19-year-old pain that I recalled.

The dialogue ended after a dental assistant led me into the other room for my procedure. Suddenly, I felt like I was smacked with the herbal packs that the dentist, who extracted my wisdom teeth so long ago, inserted into my mouth to ease the gum pain.

Wisdom teeth, I suddenly remembered. The thought immediately shifted to a seat in the foreground of my mind.

The last time I visited my son alive in his home state, the trip started with the idea of his scheduling a dentist appointment to remove his wisdom teeth. Petrified of dental procedures, I planned to visit and support him through his ordeal. OMG! I remembered: he ended up canceling the procedure. The 2-D image in the foreground that chewed me up in a 3-D way was my son buried, wisdom teeth intact. Death can paint my mindscape with abstract and random images.  

Settling into the dentist chair, it hit me. If I had spoken to the 28-year-old man and my son was still alive, the exchange of dialogue would have been completely different, far removed from the talk of the appropriate age of wisdom teeth extraction.

“My son’s twenty-eight too!” I would have exclaimed, proudly, to the man in a newfound common space, a foreground of connection. From that point, I would have bored him with all kinds of details about my son.

In reality, I was ripped off of my son’s 27th year and now the sunrise of his 28th. So ripped off, in fact, that his twenty-eight-year old image settled into the background of my psyche. How odd, I thought, his one-time existence was relegated to the background, the plane furthest away from view. What, on the other hand, was in full view, was remembering his full set of wisdom teeth. Either way, I am filled with sadness, shuffling around my son’s memory, a re-imagined shell game in which the ball under the cup gets lost in a confusion of turns.   

In faith matters, I wonder if a space has to be permanent in order for it to be sacred. I believe as a young family, this idea of physical space for spiritual matters was one major reason we as a young family rarely, if ever, missed Sunday church services.

Now, living in this new normal, I understand that sacred space doesn’t have to be defined. Nor does it require a reservation. Sacred space can be spontaneous. Sacred space can also be temporary like the “Grief Forest.” It runs fluid and, depending on the inhabitant, both spiritual and secular and, certainly, personal and created by infinite hues and styles. In fact, it is like a juxtaposition of bright yellow color on a dark background that gives faith a three-dimensional aspect and, if the viewer observes closely enough, he or she will uncover the doorknob that turns, leading into a fourth dimension.