Missing Tooth Fairy

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My mind raced. I accelerated my car, a pair of Suicide Awareness ribbon magnets on the rear. My son bought the car and owned it for only a month before he passed away. I sped like a champion racehorse determined to arrive at the dental surgeon’s office on time. I was scheduled for dental work on one side of my mouth. Now, suddenly, another tooth on the opposite side of my mouth flared up. I reasoned, after the dentist examined it, he would prescribe an antibiotic before any further work could be done. The visit would amount to a thirty-minute span, maybe less.

On my usual route, I whipped past a strip mall, then Armory Road and St. John’s Cemetery, one of the preferred burying grounds of many deceased parishioners at the Ukrainian church where I grew up, and which I still occasionally attend.

From the roster of people who were buried there, without fail since my grief journey, I pictured dear, sweet Anne Marie. About fifteen years younger than I, she died very suddenly about ten years ago from a heart ailment. I saw her over-sized body, weightless and free, float like dandelion fluff carried by the wind as she drifted above St. John’s knoll that shoots to the sky like an ethereal rocket eager to launch.

“You’re free, Ann Marie. Free!” I sang in my mind, at the same time imagined her airy body breaking into somersaults as I zipped past.

Two blocks away from the cemetery is a tidy brick schoolhouse that you’d see pictured in a 1950s children’s book, a good book to curl up with. The first time I encountered it was a year into my grief journey on the way to the same oral surgeon’s office. Tears streamed down my face like dozens of icicles melted in a flash when I recalled how we gathered sometime in 2008 for a high school wrestling tournament there. My then 14-year-old son resembled a mustard-covered pretzel on the mat, competing against his opponent. The sheen of my son’s white teeth still apparent behind his mouth guard in sharp contrast to his moist, crimson, overly ripe tomato-toned face. He vocalized his final groan of defeat, a pulverized pancake pinned to the mat.

Over the last year, when I pass by now, I typically save my tears for other hours in the day but cannot escape hearing his groan that pierces me like one meat hook caught between my two ears. No reprieve in sight, this is my grief journey long after I came upon the stark realization that I had mistaken the elementary school for the high school where I thought the match had once been held.

My arrival at the oral surgeon’s office was marked with my mind’s general grief and trauma-related brouhaha, so much so that this time I nearly fell back when the woman at the receptionist’s desk took my temperature to ensure I did not carry any virus. Fortunately, she was multitasking, and she would not have noticed if I had collapsed, deep in conversation on the phone, apparently reassuring a patient while scheduling his or her wisdom tooth extraction.

Overhearing the conversation, I visualized the buried body of my 26-year-old son, his skeleton, his teeth, wisdom teeth intact. My final trip I made to see him in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when he was alive, was to accompany him to an oral surgeon to extract his wisdom teeth. He bailed out the last minute. It was my last trip with him in that state. We planned to visit some kangaroo sanctuary the next time. Before I left, I had to force him to accept the clothes I purchased for him at Target, because he did not want me to spend my money and also prided himself on his minimalist lifestyle.

At this point, the dentist’s assistant greeted me.

“I am pleased to meet you. My name is Kerwina.”

I tried to shake the dandelion dust out of my head, acting as if it were just a normal day in a normal life. “How’s your day so far?”

“It’s a grateful day,” she exclaimed, her eyes twinkled above her mask.

In my former life, my tone of voice would have spooled noisily, magnified her optimism. Chattered and affirmed life’s joys without restraint, back in the day when I worked a program for a straight 35 years, a program that helped pioneer the topic of gratitude into universal conversation. Now, I mirrored my son and fell silent. I was desperate to obtain my prescription and call it a day.

“Which tooth?” my dentist asked after he was brought up to speed on my latest dental dilemma. “Left or right?”

There was a fat pause. I pointed to the right. I pointed to the left. My mind contorted beyond pretzel proportions.

“I think someone has to go back to second grade,” he rudely blurted out.

Fortunate for him how, unlike my internalized son, he could slap out his feelings at will on non-threatening bystanders, so his insides didn’t boil up inside him, expand in him like a decaying cavity in a tooth. Without rebuttal, I managed to get my left and right sides straight. After he examined my left side, I was nearly shocked to discover I would lose my tooth then and there. After discussing the matter, I knew there was no other way to escape it, and his assistant prepped me for the inevitable.

Kerwina’s compassionate nature reminded me of Ann Marie, who had spent an honorable run working as a registered nurse prior to her death. When the dentist injected me with Novocain, Kerwina held my hand tightly, her face above her mask soft and fluffy like a dandelion. Once the dentist started working on my anesthetized mouth, I felt the pliers around the culprit tooth. This would be the third tooth I would lose in a six-year span. Suddenly when he pulled, I wanted to swipe the instruments out from his powder-blue gloved hands. Stop! My mind shouted in horror. I don’t want to lose my tooth. I have to hold onto what I have. Don’t you understand? So much has been pried from me. I’m barely holding onto faith. I have to keep everything around me.  My son needed his wisdom teeth pulled out, but I need the rest of the teeth I have to stay in. Please stop. I closed my eyes tightly until they hurt. I pictured myself wrestling with the dentist, engaging in a tug of war over my tooth, holding back tears in the process.  

After it was done, I yearned for Kerwina to hurry and clean me up, so I could request to take my tooth home. Where did they put it? Did it go into a designated disposal along with other fallen teeth? I thought of my son’s umbilical cord, the one I swiped out of the hospital shortly after I delivered him, and how I let it go after 26 years, allowed it to return to its rightful owner in his coffin, along with a collection of other forked-over mementos. Then I visualized the tooth, flushed down an imaginary toilet.

A few minutes later, that gentle-natured dental assistant helped me rise until I achieved my balance. I felt my swollen mouth along with my swollen heart. I could not utter a word. Kerwina hugged me in an uncannily knowing way. Her compassion almost forced the words out of me: “It was a grateful day for me too.”

Instead, I murmured a good-bye, afraid to face the mirror and the vast space in my bloody gum and empty heart and drifted slowly to my car in the parking lot.

Quite coincidentally, that night, reckoning with the powerlessness of lost teeth, as well as a lost grip on life, I read a book review on the NPR Public Radio website written by Kristen Martin about Kathryn Schulz’s recently published memoir “Lost & Found.”

Suddenly, after I finished reading, I understood that I was angry at existence, at her tricky kleptomaniac, sticky fingers. Taking what she felt was rightfully hers, as I bowed down to her, my how-dare-you phrases spitting in retaliation to no avail. I share the gutting loss that Ms. Martin explains in the review:

…. Schulz unravels universal truths about why loss guts us, and how it forces us to grapple with our place in the world and its workings. When we cannot locate what we have lost — whether it be a sweater in a small apartment, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean, or a dead loved one on this plane of existence — we often react with “a powerful feeling of disbelief” because it seems that “the world is not obeying its customary rules.” Surely it cannot be possible that these losses are irretrievable. In fact, Schulz reminds us, the rules of our world dictate that we will lose our belongings and lose our lives:

“To lose something…forces us to confront the limits of existence: the fact that, sooner or later, it is in the nature of almost everything to vanish or perish. Over and over, loss calls us to reckon with this universal impermanence — with the baffling, maddening, heartbreaking fact that something that was just here can be, all of a sudden, gone.”

In the same manner, too, like my tooth, my grief journey has plunged me into an abysmal burrow. In this place, there is nothing sacred, because I am too afraid to hold onto anything, seeing it for what it is: passing vapor. Ms. Martin writes:

Here, Schulz forces us to sit with that which we ignore in our quotidian lives, so that we may go on living them — the impermanence of everything we love. The death of someone you’ve shared your life with is paralyzing, because it plunges you into stark awareness of that impermanence. And yet if we want to keep living, we must make peace with the knowledge that nothing in this world is forever.

After rereading Ms. Martin’s review, I hankered down under my bedcovers to protect myself from the sudden chill. My gum aching, medicine worn off, pain awakened. For years, I did not relinquish faith and tried to save the tooth that amounted to a failed root canal. Despite all my efforts, it was gone, pulled, discarded, gone.

The wind howled as I pictured all the dead matter, cells, atoms, tooth chips purged out of the earth and landfills of brokenness, making room for the new, whole flower buds in the spring about 90 days away. I could see Ann Marie swaying around, wearing a crown of dandelions, whispering as smoothly as a silky velvet ribbon: “It was a grateful day. Now, a grateful night. There is nothing to cement it with, only stuff it into the cavity of memory, there will you find permanence, a level floor on which to dance peacefully.”

Faith Muscle

This is my life now

My dear friend Camille surprised me with this card on what would have been my son’s 29th birthday

“That’s for happy people.”

My mother sullenly responded anytime I invited her to join me in a fun activity or special event. As I’ve previously mentioned, she was not only a World War II survivor, but trauma and pain shadowed her for most of her life.

A flat out “No” from her was unnecessary since the sharp tone of refusal was unmistakable. However, I discerned the truth. Her baby-like face, twinkling, daring eyes and partially upturned pink lips forcing down what would be a natural upturned smile, revealed the opposite of her initial response: “Sure, I’d love to go to … “

In fact, until she grew much older and frail, in spite of her protests, she willingly accompanied me on outings, whether they were to the local library, a tag sale, diner lunches or most of the extracurricular activities my kids were involved with when they were young.

After she died in 2015, I missed her company, but forgot about her fussing that preempted our outings. That is, until after our family tragedy and the aftermath of trauma in 2019. Suddenly, whenever I received an invitation or gift of any kind, my mom’s familiar words entered into my mind, “That’s for happy people.” 

Survivor’s guilt can do a number on you. To say it feels like you’re “carrying a heavy burden” is pushing it. It feels more like you are stuck in a life that has become a hunk of hardened glue.

This brings me to the generosity of my dear friend Michelle who, at the end of last year, gave me a gift card for a massage. What do you think my response was? Thank you! Thank you! On the other hand, my contradictory mind, though, lamented: “That’s for happy people.”

Sadly, my last massage experience took place about one month before I lost my beloved son. I laid on the table incredibly relaxed and melting to pieces, but my mind battered me. I felt tremendously guilty, pampering myself while my son led a miserable dark, depressed life. Flashbacks of this dreadful time, of course, made me even more reluctant to schedule another massage.

Before Marshall’s birthday rolled around, I knew to “sit around” like a magnet attracting more darkness to the severity of the painful situation would not be wise. I found, however, to sequester and seek solace helps my pain management the most. So why not, I reasoned, take advantage of a massage — in a quiet space under a pair of healing hands?

The day before his birthday, I made an agreement with myself. “If I am able to schedule a last-minute appointment at the place then, so be it. It is meant to be.”

It was meant to be because wouldn’t you know it, there was an opening. The massage therapist’s name was Dawn. I also interpreted the double meaning in her name, the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise, as a sign.

I put my full faith into Dawn, a random woman I never set my eyes on, but who could either break the rest of my broken pieces or help me try and not shatter any more of the messy debris.

Needless to say, I was a wreck when I arrived on a brisk early afternoon, January 18, 2022. It boiled down to, I really, really needed a good massage.

When the woman who greeted me asked, “So, what brings you in?”

I swear I was so close to replying, “My dead son.”

Instead, I said, “A gift card.”

Ironically, Dawn turned out to be a nondescript woman who wore a mask that covered more of her face than necessary in a facility that requires everyone to wear face protection during these pandemic times.

Later, undressed and comfortable on the massage table, every time my mind started to scatter and squirm like an army of ants without my consent, I did my darnest to focus on what was. Be in the now. Humorously, her freezing cold hands won most of my focus. Then suddenly out of the blue, I recognized: “This is my life now.”

I was inspired from the publisher’s description of Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story: A Memoir; a quote I could easily apply to myself now. “There is a frank acknowledgment of the widow’s desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that ‘this is my life now. ‘”

A few moments later, I heard my son’s voice in my mind shout, “Don’t touch me!”

Perhaps because of his shaky early years in the hospital, but my son, in the way some people don’t like to be around cats or dogs, was uncomfortable with physical touch and didn’t like a lot of human interaction.

Interior of my dear friend Camille’s card

The realization flew at me like a boat’s paddle: That was his life then and this is my life now.

My faith in Dawn paid off. At the end, I felt fluid. And it felt good physically. Mentally, my gift of peace was still intact.

On what would have been my son’s 29th birthday, after allowing Dawn’s icy hands to kneed and stroke me, I signed up for a year’s worth of massages.

This is my life now — if all goes per plan, I am now booked for a year of massages to take me through to his thirtieth in 2023.

This is my life now. Some, like Michelle and Camille, have stayed with me. Others have disappeared — to many of them I represent the fragility of our existence. In contrast, I honor my grief and the voices, oh, the unmistakable, unbelievable magnitude of voices that spin inside me and are part of all that I am and all that I will ever be, planted forever in the soul of now and every tomorrow, rising above the physical plane of temporary to the dawn of permanence and eternity.

Faith Muscle

In the Heights of Father’s Day

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Eleven years ago, my ex-husband suffered a mental breakdown and abandoned his family. Last Father’s Day, my then 25-year-old daughter, Alexandra, had weathered the holiday storm well, especially considering that she was in isolation as a result of the worldwide pandemic, and it was the first Father’s Day she was grieving the loss of her 21-month older, only sibling.

A few people over the years have offered unsolicited advice, saying that my role was to be a father as well as a mother. I told them that’s pure nonsense. I can only be a mother, because that’s my role. My role is not a father role. My role as a mother has changed, but during those times when a situation baffled me, my 12-Step foundation kicked in and the answer never failed: unconditional love.

I knew it was a sad holiday for her and on the wings of faith (and Mama Sandra) this past Sunday, I did what I really was scared to death to do, but did anyway, and that was to drive into New York City from our little green town about an hour and a half away for a visit with Alexandra. After 30 minutes, I regretted my decision since it seemed everyone on the road was vying to size up for the Indy 500. In comparison, I felt as if I were Grandma Moses hitting the highway, taking a folk art painting break for the day.

When I finally arrived, Alexandra and I went to a nearby movie theater to see In the Heights. My daughter, a former Washington Heights resident, had been raving about the movie since its premiere. I suppose most people attend movies in the same manner they brush their teeth – without overthinking it. For me now, I live in the screenshot of life, but, in actuality, I am also knee deep in a subplot that changes, but what doesn’t change is the reoccurring theme of pain.

This was the first movie I saw since the passing of my best bud, brilliant 26-year-old son, Marshall. As we walked inside, down the movie theater’s hallway, my PTSD from losing a child kicked off. Here’s a little snapshot of the subplot that played in my mind:

What was the last movie he ever saw? Oh, that’s right. It was about two years before he died alone in the bedroom closet of a house he rented in Kentucky, a death later sealed with a clean toxicology report, the site of two previous suicides. I have no clue what movie he saw, but it was shortly before the landlord wouldn’t allow him to break the lease of the house he despised. He went with a woman he had recently met online. I was overjoyed at the idea that he met her and did not have to be alone on the weekends. As it turned out, for about a month in Kentucky, she finagled every dime she could from my son to provide complimentary entertainment and dumped him after Marshall started realizing that she was taking advantage of his resources.

What was the last movie I saw with my son? I believe it was Avatar in 2009. When we were still a family unit, the four of us sat engrossed as we watched the movie. Silly me, I lavished in those moments, not because of the movie, but because I was sitting next to the three most important people in my life. During that time my gratitude could fill the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and that was just to start with, because it overflowed. Silly me.

In essence, since the 2019 tragedy, I have trained myself to black out my mind’s screen. Inhale. Exhale. Real world.

I chanted my mantra: Keep the faith. You will make it through.

However, ten minutes into the movie’s preview section, I took a nosedive into the dark abyss. I felt like a flea that was swallowed up by a bad, bloody case of hemorrhoids as overblown as the theater. This time faith was futile. No mantra would work.

You see, two separate movie trailers involved two young men who died of suicide. Both of the clips hit deathly close to home. I braced, tried not to fall too far into the bloody swamp. I heard my daughter ask, “Do you need to go into the lobby?”

No lobby. Just a lobotomy I need. That was what I wanted to say but froze and somehow my sick humor helped to pull me up, and I returned into my skin as the hemorrhoidal monster shrunk.

Keep the faith. You will make it through.

By some miracle, I was able to focus on the movie. You do not have to be Hispanic or a first-generation American or immigrant to relate to the musical that is filled with a sense of hopefulness in the eye of the hopeless and voices in a climate of the voiceless.

“We are all one.”

That’s what I thought as I saw Alexandra’s tears flow. It was then that I realized living life in America is not always about achieving the so-called American Dream: Life, Liberty and Justice for All. It is also about lifting each other up as a community when we fall into the subplots of life that do not appear as if they were written for us in mind. Those times when we feel forced to wear costumes in which there is barely room to move, because they are not suited for us, yet we manage to stuff ourselves down to our “soles” and walk the line of courage with fake faith and hope.

Examining the movie closer, my daughter saw her grandmother, my mother, who died in 2015, in the character of Abuela Claudia, matriarch and surrogate grandmother of the barrio. She keeps her culture alive and never loses the true definition of value. Abuela is the perfect example of how we, as a society, should not measure people by their titles, but on the ground they stand on because, in the final analysis, it is how they make it sacred – turn it into a better place than it was before they stepped on it, even if that means undertaking a tiny action like making their bed in the morning.

Abuela’s ground is sacred because she views everything as sacred, even a bread crumb. Powerless to her meager circumstances, she finds willpower to forge on in life by stringing herself along on the small details that skip others by, details like hand embroidered towels. Likewise, even though the world beat my mom to the ground, she survived by seeking leverage from little things like robins and sparrows. No matter how insignificant to others, she reveled in the details, a perspective the movie brings to light.

I, in fact, remember my mom making the sign of the cross three times and kissing a piece of bread before reverently putting it in her hand to eat. I can also recall my mom flattening wrapping paper in her soft hands and putting it in a drawer that smelled like a lilac garden. The drawer was full of crumbled wrapping paper from gifts she or our family had received over the years. To her, it was not just her appreciation, but the value of the giver who put the effort behind presenting the gift. It was as if she took the love that was given and continued its acknowledgment into infinity.

Thankful for every little crumb of substance, like Abuela, my mom, as limited as she was, did not limit her generosity and was truly delighted to bestow gifts of her own. For years, when I was growing up, she knitted poodle dogs around whiskey bottles for many of the neighbors. Sometimes I was saddened because she wrapped things that were already in the house and gave them to me on my birthday or Christmas as presents. Today, I realize it wasn’t that we didn’t have the money or she was being vicious, it was that everything to her was a gift. Like Christians who spread the word of the gospel, she spread love through re-gifting, because nothing in her eyes lost its value even if it loitered around for years and years.

In fact, when my mom gave my daughter or son something of hers like a butterfly pin, it wasn’t just a piece of jewelry. It was a part of her and she gave it with her heart and soul. That was why Alexandra wept, because each and every little token her beloved baba presented, no strings attached, to both her grandchildren, is the spirit that weaves through her and brightens my daughter’s sad and cloudy life. Hopefully, one day the good memories shared with her brother and maybe, by some miracle, her father, will also lighten the load she carries.

My soul, too, is a tapestry of unconditional love, gifts I have received over the years. It patches me up when I am down lower than dirt so I can stand my ground and maybe be strong enough to give pieces of it away. This is the faith I walk. Giving others unconditional love is my duty to carry on the legacy.

Alexandra summed up the movie as we hit the hot air outside the theater: “It’s all about community!”

I remembered when she was younger and said DNA did not make a family. Love did. If this is the case, my daughter and I have a huge family bulging at the sides! It is our little barrio full of people like the children’s godmother and my partner and his family and my friends Michelle, Camille, Anna and Anne and the handful of people who walked March 2020 on Marshall’s behalf to raise awareness that we are all vulnerable, regardless of how we act, what we do or what we say; and so many others, who drive the extra mile to visit. It is the people who do not understand our pain, but will ask us about it because they are ready to listen without judgment. It is the people who are brave enough to mention my MARSHALL’s name and share a beautiful memory about him.

In the movie, the community of Washington Heights experiences a blackout, but at their lowest point they prevail because of the one lone voice that tickles the imagination to believe in Santa Claus proportions. Eventually, the electrical power comes back and lights up the Heights. In the end (spoiler alert) Abuela dies, but the director successfully presents the process of dying as walking into a bright light.

That’s our non-DNA family: a bright light that if we can’t find it, it will find us, and we have a steel-like faith that we will travel through those Indy 500 days even if it knocks the wind out of us because in the end, the only thing of lasting value is love.   

Faith Muscle

Those People, Go I *

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Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

“God, help them get through the day!”

I always prayed for “those” people. Sometimes those were the people making headline news. Other times they were acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors or friends struck by tragedies, such as out-of-order death, sudden, unexpected death and other hardships.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my share of my own personal hardships and sorrows. But I must say, everything pales to my 26-year-old son’s untimely death. That was the moment when I became a full-fledged group member of one of “those” people. In fact, I know the exact moment I realized that I had crossed over to the “those” people group. It was about a week after losing my son. I was driving down our road with my daughter in the car, and I waved at my neighbor. She’s the one with healthy young sons, husband, who has a permanent grin on his face, and two sets of geraniums on the porch that never wilt from under or over-watering. Anyway, for nearly two decades, I’ve waved to her countless times and this time she scared the bejesus out of me. Body shuddering, her eyes bulged out at me and her mouth gaped opened with fear she could not voice.

My first thought was, “Is she alright?”

Both my daughter and I turned to each other, asking, “Is she alright?”

Suddenly, I experienced the light bulb moment. My neighbor’s life has remained Copasetic. On the other hand, I had now become the mother whom every mother feared to become. I was one of “those” mothers who had experienced the unimaginable, which IS imaginable, but too painful to deal with so it’s wise to avoid pain and conveniently file the experience into the unimaginable category and, thereby, deny its existence.

So, I’m one of those people in the other group. This is my new place now. I’m learning to sit back and let it all in, because what choice do I have? Wasted fix-it prayers poured on un-fixable things? It’s like when you survive a house fire, no amount of prayer will salvage your belongings from ash.

My goal now is to be fully present without intent to preach, teach, judge or fix myself or any of the “others” with prayer or in any other way. It’s a tall order, but all it takes is a smidgen of faith.

* This post was inspired by my dear friend Michelle Falcone. I am forever grateful for her friendship, compassion and her angel wings that have lifted me up for many years.

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Faith Muscle

Simple Path

 I feel acceptance is love and love is God’s will for us.

From the book Daily Reflections
Copyright © 1990 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

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John C. was a burly curmudgeon of a man, a retired plumber, who raised five sons. On the calmest of days, he was an exploding firecracker with the power of a bomb. Hours after he discovered that his wife of over 30 years was having an affair with someone half her age, John’s hands were twisting the guys’ neck at the younger man’s place of work. Fortunately, the warring sides did not suffer permanent or significant injuries, and John’s friends bailed him out of jail the next day.

Beyond his bigger-than-life explosive personality was the purr behind the roar.

It’s all about love.

That was one of John’s favorite sayings. And, sure enough, beneath John’s crusty exterior was his willingness to help others, whether providing rides or lending a few bucks, that was his way. In the 20-plus years that I grew to know and love him, on numerous occasions, he provided a non-judgmental listening ear and never broke a confidence.

Though John is gone, his legacy of words also imprints my mind. Sometimes I hear them when I least expect them, at times and with people that really do a 180 degree turn on any sort of compassion.

Like when:

I found out about the venom-tongued woman who spat her unkind words at my son and helped pave the way to his final chapter.

It’s all about love, and I know HURT PEOPLE HURT

I heard that Landlord Joey wouldn’t budge and return my son’s security deposit money when my son desperately need to break the house’s least because he was despairing, isolated and lonely.

It’s all about love, and I remember the grit and courage of my 25-year-old daughter, a sister with a dead brother, interceding on her grieving mother’s behalf in an attempt to get the security deposit returned to us. No, the landlord denied the request, but she was a testimony of when one steps up to the plate.

Coroner Mary called me with the news that no mother should ever hear and, also, implied that I was responsible for my son’s death.

It’s all about love, and my dearest friend, spiritual sister Pat never left my side from the time of that horrific call to this very day as she travels alongside me and puts up with my tears, fears, anguish, anger, secular notions and sometimes plain nonsense.

The sheriff dropped the ball on helping me find the whereabouts of my son’s missing fave jacket and laptop computer.

I’s all about love, and the two young adults whom I had never met before in my life never dropped the ball helping us pack and sort through my son’s belongings.

Last, and probably most painful, his father showing up to see my son’s dead body after a nine-year absence in his life.

It’s all about love, and like I said earlier, HURT PEOPLE HURT

Now, in the national news the senseless death of George Floyd in which my heart goes out to Mr. Floyd’s family and friends.

It’s all about love, and I can reasonably assume that none of the police officers involved in the hideous crime sought to do God’s will anytime earlier that day.

In fact, I’d wager to say that the venom-tongued woman, Landlord Joey, Coroner Mary, the Sheriff and my son’s father didn’t ask for God’s will before they willfully said and/or did what they did and or/said.

And, I accept everything just for today because “acceptance is love and love is God’s will for us.”

And for today I select to walk the simple path as described so poignantly below by Saint Teresa of Calcutta. When I venture on this path, there is no stress, because there are no constrains or requirements.

The simple path: silence is prayer, prayer is faith, faith is love, love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

~ Mother Teresa, Founder of the Missionaries of Charity

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Faith Muscle

Unbearable Beautiful World

Today marks six months since my 26-year-old passed away. I am learning to break down each 24-hour interval into manageable milliseconds. There is no turnoff switch for me to prevent explosive emotions from erupting. However, when I feel I will fizzle into smithereens, I have discovered that people’s kind words and gestures become like a pressure relief safety valve.

Most recently, my safety valve was a friend and mentor. Betsy choked up as she spoke about her 28-year-old son, who took his own life 11 years ago. She shared about how more than usual she felt his presence that day. Listening to her, I not only felt great empathy, but my degree of sorrow for her matched my sorrow, if, perhaps, was greater than my own sorrow. And for that turn-of-the-pressure-relief-safety-valve moment, I exhaled, gifted with pain relief.

But wait, there’s more. As Betsy, generally a proud and really, really humorous fortress of a woman, continued to share, she spoke about how her son’s death only magnifies the beauty around her and gives her faith. That’s a tough order for me right now. Every beautiful pink-blushed apple blossom, magnolia flower and springtime landscape framed in natural beauty reminds me of my son, and I long in anguish for him even more. I cannot fathom the beauty through Betsy’s personal window. That is until I realize deep grief stems from deep love, and what is more beautiful than love? Now, I’m in the process of flexing my faith muscle so I can open up my window just a tad wider and let the sun spread it healing rays.

 

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Faith Muscle

Good Grief in Covid-19 Times 

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

When I lost my 26-year-old son, I wondered how I could ever don my leopard shoes again and live in full-color. My father in his older years, about the age I am now, used to say to me,

“My life is ending. Yours is just beginning.”

As I grow older, I appreciate the saying. It meant he (and now it pertains to me) was at the point in his life to carry a dwindling bucket list. Young people, like my son, typically amass pretty impressive bucket lists.  A few examples on my son’s list include visiting the desert and touring the country on Amtrak (he loved trains!). For me: been there, done that.

Never in a million years did I dream I would be left holding his to-do list. Dumbfounded, shocked and weighed down with PTSD that coincides with survivor’s guilt; luckily, most people spare me their assurances of things like he won a first-class ticket to heaven where leopard pales next to angel sparkle. For me, being an earthling is all I can handle right now. Overthinking, and analyzing leads to stress.

From the beginning, my daughter and I kept it low key. In those early days, during the holidays, we anesthetized our senses with caramel popcorn washed down with swigs of diet coke and a marathon run of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. After I stored the Christmas wreath, our sole holiday decoration, and my daughter went back to her city living, in the days Corona was only associated with a brand name on the beer market, I tumbled aplenty, but managed to find some footing on swamp-of-the-soul terrain.

Once Covid-19 days slammed the brakes on the world, moment-to-moment breaking headlines fuel my days. Sickness. Death. Upheaval. I am grateful for the diversion.  I take solace in the fact that if I pull my mask high up, no one can see the mark of age that tears leave behind.

In essence, honestly, sadness of the shockingly horrific state of affairs is coupled with relief. I am not the only one whose house has experienced an abdominal invasion that has overthrown a simple, relevant life plan. In addition, as much heartbreak as I have over burying my own child, I am able to stop my sorrow and introspection and think of others: people who don’t have the opportunity for proper good-byes, burials, funerals and closure.

After each sheltering in place day passes, I grow more grateful. I don’t have to suit up, paste on a happy face and greet the world. I exchange my boots for house slippers. I ride grief’s ride. I cry. I ache. I eat caramel popcorn mindlessly. Some days, like living through my first Mother’s Day without hearing his voice, the shark jaws of memory and regret are sword sharp. My distress is private and mercifully unnoticed inside this very unnoticeable, but safe cocoon home.

Was I blessed with this pandemic? It feels like it when I am able to snap on my big girl underwear and lick my wounds and heal best I can and fully somehow wrap my mind around what chronic pain feels like and understand chronic pain doesn’t disappear like a season, and it doesn’t shed like a winter coat.

It’s been a pull-my-skin-off-slowly time. Good grief, does it hurt. On the other hand, as bad as it feels, it’s been good grief, because it’s real. I haven’t fully made a decision to live life quite yet. I have fully made a decision to get through this hour, because right now I can only manage faith in small doses. I can slice a sliver of hope. And if I can’t cut it, I reach out to my tribe. I find strength. They send me photos, cartoons and chicken soup. I lean in and know they have faith in me, and that’s a lot of obligation on my part.

Ironically, I pass my leopard shoes every day and feel great relief to watch them gather dust. In the old days, I’d say, “What a blessing.”

Now, I shelter in place and feel a lot of room to move around in my comfortable house slippers. A few lines from Albert Huffstickler’s The Cure are apropos.

The way to “get over” a life is to die.

Short of that, you move with it,

let the pain be pain,

not in the hope that it will vanish

But in the faith that it will fit in,

find its place in the shape of things

and be then not any less pain but true to form.

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Faith Muscle

Faith Fotos

Living in a new normal, I am still alive on this journey by flying on the wings of a small, select tribe. They hold me up when my legs turn to rubber. They stand firmly beside me despite the days when my words are thunderous and moods storm. When I am surrounded by dark, they are my light switch.

They infuse me with oxygen and hope. Faith has been called “the substance of hope,” and that is what my tribe extends to me the most.

In those first futile days, days after my world turned pitch black, my friend sister Anne, an amazing photographer, sent me the most glorious photographs that looked so polar opposite to the despair I was experiencing. As it turned out, they were part of my faith-fabric that sewed my unraveling world together.

 

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Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

Faith Foto1

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

 

“The sun always rises no matter how dark the night.” This is what my friend sister wrote along with her photos.

So far, the sun has risen. Ironically, the brightest, reddish, orangey sunrise (and the only one I was up early enough to witness) was the morning we buried my son. I still picture its splendor and wonder if underneath its robust spirited color, one could unearth a stairway to heaven.

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Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

 

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Faith Muscle

WTF Tuesday

The following post contains images that may be disturbing to some readers.

In 2019, I recommitted myself to WW and sliced an itty-bitty time sliver out of every Tuesday to dedicate to weigh-ins and meetings. My new schedule coincided with a new season in my life. After nearly nine years of healing from messy divorce consequences, I finally exhaled: gray days ahead, but a glimmer of hope. Or so I thought.

“Everything that seemed so important days ago is now as worthless as a pebble.” ~ Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian

Busy beaver, I rushed through every Tuesday with purposeful work and at day’s end a resolve to weigh, record and jubilate over shredded ounces or, optimally, pounds. I kicked up my heels, tap danced on a golden wellness stage even when the scale tipped in the opposite direction, because achieving goals require a certain degree of disappointment.

It was a dull, lifeless, cloudy Tuesday like today. It was November 19, 2019 in the early afternoon. Ironically, I spent the week prior researching ligature frames for a client’s artwork for a psychiatric hospital. Now, I was working remotely, feeling particularly charged and satisfied, and then….The call. The words, the seething mass of flames that inflict every pain center in your * brain, body and crevice of your being without sense or mercy.

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“Everything that seemed so important days ago is now as worthless as a pebble.” ~ Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian

There is no smooth transition in writing or in life that can bridge a reader and/or life traveler to the sudden, traumatic moment of raw reality that sparks when you* receive a call from a coroner, named Mary, with a Southern twang in a state some 600 miles away who asks you if you are the mother of a 26-year-old son named Marshall. Once you reply, she asks you if you are driving and, if you are, instructs you to pull over to the side of the road.

“As such…” “In following…” “Furthermore…” “Shockingly…”

There is no transition, even if choppy, to prepare you for Mary’s flamed words that leap through the phone’s gas chamber, crackle and hiss and spare no part of your heart, soul or any body part.

“Your son’s co-workers found him dead hanging in a closet. They tried to resuscitate him, but couldn’t.”

Sounding so matter-of-fact and cold like a refrigerated morgue, the woman, you surmise, lies. Your socks, printed with colored pictures of Michael the Archangel, reassure you that moms wearing angel socks are spared fires-of-hell words from coroners that shock you, only to later interrogate you.

“Why didn’t you call 911?” “Did you know your son was sleeping on a bare floor without a mattress?”

After the demon hangs up, you wail and roll on the hard wooden floor where your only son had once walked, trotted and ran as a boy, adolescent and young man. All you desire is to open the floor up like a gas chamber and willingly take the plunge, but there is no escape.

It has been four months, 12 days since I found out the news that my beloved son, my best bud, my past, present and future, took his own life. In those early days, I wondered about so many things, including how I could ever return to writing blog posts about faith.

My close writer friend, Laurie, advised me a couple months after we buried my son, to write about how I have NO faith. How I question faith. How each and every moment is the dark night of the soul.

In fact, when people ask how I feel facing the pandemic and turbulent state of the nation, I honestly reply, “Fine.”

Not to minimize the toll that the pandemic has taken on numerous lives in so many different ways, but I do believe most people will survive and there will be solutions that include new coping strategies and breakthrough medicines. For me, it’s final. I will never see my son’s fluffy eyelashes bat wildly when he’s talking and excited. The same eyelashes I loved to brush against on my face when he was an infant. I will never feel safe and protected and, oh, so proud, standing next to him as he towered over me like a straight arrow. I will never relish hearing his deep voice or his silly laugh that mimicked mine. Or marvel in how much he looked like his younger sister. At every turn of my life, he is there in a Marshall memory. I will spend the rest of my life feeling as helpless as I did once when I ran down every aisle in a department store searching for him when he was a toddler. This time, I will not find him seconds later. This time is permanent.

My fate, right now, is final. I can’t feel nor can I comprehend the afterlife at this given moment, so please spare me.

Frankly, I just carry grief and feel numb, and I wait. What do I wait for? I don’t particularly know. I just wait. Someone said when you lose a loved one; imagine him or her as being in the next room. So, maybe my life right now is securing the most comfortable seat in a waiting room, because I have to be gentle on my body of hurt.

“Everything that seemed so important days ago is now as worthless as a pebble.” ~ Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian

So what became of WW? Let’s just say that the paperwork from the last meeting I attended is deposited inside a basket where I left it four months, 12 days ago. The WW literature is tucked out of sight just like my angel socks. I will wait until I revisit these things, and so many, hidden grenade pain points of my life. None of it, like rolls of toilet paper, is really that important in the scheme of a life.

*Switches to third person to shield me from further unnecessary pain