Blessed 🎂Birthday

Hurricane warnings canceled my birthday “celebration” plans this past Sunday. Honestly, I was happy as a clam, relieved that I didn’t have to venture too far. Although I didn’t hide under a clam shell as I wrote about in my last blog post, I did hide under a rain hat and enjoyed a light, enjoyable brunch at a restaurant in close proximity to our house.

The morning kicked off with flower deliveries, as well as thoughtful wishes from my blogging community, and I want to thank those who remembered, Alec, Prema, Judy and Kathy specifically! In fact, shortly before I turned on my computer that day, I thought of my “Karmic Sister” Prema. She not only provides assistance to me through this grief journey, but is instrumental in helping me keep the faith and not lose my footing. And wouldn’t you know it, as part of her birthday greeting, Prema wrote: “Let us show our faith in the divine by being cheerful, surrendering to Cosmic will. We are blessed as pain has a purifying effect on us.”

Blessed? What?

After surviving some harsh realities over three decades ago, in comparison to my old life, it was easy to count my blessings. Every moment was an abundance of gratitude. After our family tragedy 21 months ago, I certainly did not feel blessed and removed the word from my vocabulary since I no longer had a clue to its meaning. Now, thanks to Prema, I am beginning to comprehend that “blessings” are not necessarily people, places and/or things to tick off my personal agenda list.

One example that puts the word “blessed” back into my vocabulary is calling to mind the people like Prema who have been brought into my life. They are the brave ones who do not shy away from mortality and pain, but are less self-centered and, thus, confident and courageous enough to accept their own human vulnerabilities. Call them the chosen ones, or the lucky ones who walk into the dressing room of life with ease and without a desperate need to cram themselves into too-tight, ill-fitting “attire.” Instead, they accept what is appropriated to them and walk with their heads held high.

These are the people I am blessed to be around. They are the people who value me instead of judging me, because they manage to accept “what is” and not “what isn’t” and this peaceful state enables a channel of love to radiate and multiply. These are the people who are the ones that blaze a path for me to follow.

Transparency is natural above normal with them. As a matter of fact, I found myself this past week sharing secrets of the harrowing, graphic details involving my tragedy with another grief-stricken friend. After I took the risk of baring my soul, I looked into my friend’s eyes and knew I had reached a plateau of holiness; a sacred space where I no longer had to suffer in silence, but where I was heard and appreciated and allowed to cry out and feel that I really matter in the big world where it is so easy to get lost and flushed away. I mean, how many people are blessed to experience this type of intimacy that goes beyond reason?

Another blessing I thought of, thanks to Prema, is how the pain and suffering I have endured have washed away murky and meaningless priorities and people in my life. I now understand that phoniness carries no meaning. With meaning comes courage to speak personal truth.

I am finally heeding to 12-step advice I learned so long ago. “Say what you mean, but don’t be mean.”

As far as I am concerned, the art of true living is honesty. l am working hard on telling people how I really feel and, in turn, I hope they are comfortable enough with me to reciprocate. One recent test that I scored an “A” in was for confronting a neighbor about a charity pledge she promised, but did not deliver. Unfortunately, after our conversation, she skirted the entire issue. I did not get the intended result, but I did gain a new confidence in myself. In essence, I feel purer because I did not compromise myself by putting her needs above mine. In addition, I did not enable her to make a promise to me she did not intend to keep. No, we cannot control someone’s behavior, but we can control our words and behavior. Ultimately, if I am in the full spin cycle of purification in my life, one of the things that doesn’t serve me any longer is being nice for the sake of being nice and not hurting someone’s feelings, especially when he or she has wronged me.

I looked up the word “purification.” Among other things, it means, “the removal of contaminants from something.”

At this point of my life, I do not want to carry the burden and weight of heavy contaminants. I am overweight enough. So I’m purging. I’m uncluttering. I’m simplifying. I’m seeing truth for what it is and sharing my feelings. Feelings, after all, are not right or wrong, they are simply a part of what makes us who we are. If, however, they fester, build up inside me, they will eat me or explode in an inappropriate way and cause an unnecessary pain, a false representation of who I am.

What I am finding in the process is that most things like the political or religious affiliations that we carry really don’t matter. For the most part, our words and how they are carried out by our actions define us.

Carrying the grief, finding a sacred space for it, is among my many accumulated treasures in my long journey. It weaves a silver lining ribbon through this final chapter of my life in which the working title is “Blessed.”

Faith Muscle

Winning the🏆Real Prize🏆

Connecticut Press Club Award Banquet, July, 27, 2021

In all my days, I’ve arrived late, on time, but never early for a function. When my daughter, her godmother, who is my best friend, and I arrived for the Connecticut Press Club (CPC) awards banquet, we had 20 minutes to burn before the banquet started.

Last week, I wrote about my surprise when I realized I won the 2020 CPC second place for my blog post. After some arm-twisting from my daughter, I agreed to attend the awards banquet. What sealed the deal, as I also previously mentioned, was when I auspiciously discovered an inexpensive but beautiful turquoise necklace at a local store that seemed custom made for my black pantsuit that I planned to wear for the event.

Turquoise Necklace

“Turquoise, focus on turquoise.”

I know this is a nontraditional mantra, but repeating these four words helped me release most of my anxiety and PTSD symptoms on the day of the event. In my mind, all the negative, black thoughts were switched out. In their place rolled out a mellow turquoise the color of a New Mexico sky, moments after sunrise, very much akin to many of the photos that my friend sister Anne shoots.

What I am now aware of, that I was unaware of before, is that individuals suffering from mental health challenges cannot employ a mantra to slay their demon minds. Their demon minds slay them. For my son, this meant, outside of his workweek, total isolation.

I remember shortly before our family tragedy, I tried to help a close friend who was undergoing a tremendous amount of anxiety. I advised her to incorporate self-talk into her daily routine. Frustrated, she replied, yelling, “Self-talk doesn’t work for me.”

It was the first time that I started to comprehend the extent of individual variations of mental illness. Still, slaying my private demons decades ago, I fell into the group of positive psychology proponents. I believed that if you incorporate strategies like self-talk, mantras, positive affirmations and the like, it can help turn on a fluorescent light inside a darkened mindset. “Attitude adjustment” was the core belief. Now I know, you have to deal with mental illness before dealing with the attitude. In other words, if your mind is programmed differently as my son’s was, void of windows that allow the healing light to flow, there is no magic mantra to pull from a magician’s hat.

So, lucky me, last Tuesday evening, I possessed the mental clearance to leave the safe confines of my home. Upon arrival, wearing my turquoise necklace and saying my turquoise mantra, I can’t get enough of the turquoise sky crowning the Greenwich Water Club in Cos Cob, CT, a neighborhood in the town of Greenwich. The establishment is a private dinner/recreational club with an emphasis on water-related sports and boating activities for members, I gather, who never have and never will have to poke their rubber gloved hand into the cool water of a ceramic goddess and wash her majesty, a toilet.

Greenwich Water Club, Cos Cob, CT

As we make our way through the nearly full parking lot, the dust and sand from the spew of pebbles seems to undermine the club’s reputation. The clubhouse building ahead is impressive, but not imposing, perched on the Mianus River. The grounds are overrun by children and adolescents rather than adults. Members eat, swim at the built-in pool and, most obvious, relax, wane with the waning summer’s day that has turned into early evening. It is a Tuesday, my least favorite day of the week, but the sound of the children’s light laughter feels like a massage targeting just the right pressure points on my brain.

Inside a reserved space upstairs from the main restaurant, we are greeted with friendly CPC members who dispense name tags and apparently have no qualms about our early arrival. I scan the other name tags on the table, spotting one familiar one, Amy Oestreicher. It is a young woman and, although I haven’t been on Facebook for a number of months, a Facebook friend and fellow writer, not to mention artist and actress.  If given an opportunity, I make a mental note to approach her after she arrives.

Our trio nests in three leather, oversized chairs. I am stationed like a cut-down tree stump. I am there, but not really. My daughter prods me, “Go network.” Fortunately, it is the crowd I’ve grown up with: writers, journalist, PR professionals and all creative types that evenly pump my blood flow. I can do this. I rise and converse with a man who turns out to be the contest director. He informs me that the blogging category was fiercely competitive. Boo-yah! Ego found after being lost through 20 months of grief, isolation and sheer trepidation.

Later, in my seat, CPC officials, along with the evening’s emcee, award-winning journalist and TV personality, Mercedes Velgot, graciously greet us.

Before the presentation, though, I catch the eye of a woman directly across the way, who is with a dapper-looking gentleman. I smile and quietly admire the bright colors she wears.

“Do you know her?”

“No,” I reply to my daughter.

The presentation begins as Mercedes takes her place behind the podium, svelte and towering in a little black dress that elevates the word “perfect” to a higher level.

I’ve attended a vast array of awards presentations through the years and, overall, they are boring, not due to monotone speeches, but because the ego inflation makes my gut heavy, like it’s a soda can depository.

In total contrast, Mercedes’ opening remarks are succinct but packed with the kind of compassion, empathy, and honesty that makes you feel like you are listening to a dear friend’s counsel in your living room. The theme, of all things, is how every cloud has a silver lining, and how we need to learn to discover it.

She goes on to elucidate the many COVID-19 challenges of the prior year and how our world suffered in the eye of death, illness and separation. She also explains how her nine-year, award-winning travel show was canceled. Amazingly, too, she speaks about her voluntarism in different capacities during the height of COVID-19 as a front line worker, including training as vaccination assistant.

“This year has really taught us to be resilient. It’s taught us how to pivot. It’s taught us how to be grateful for each and every day. “

In addition, she credits prayer and “spiritual strength to persevere through all of life’s challenges.”

And adds, “Here’s to all of you … your talents in finding beauty in the human spirit through your pens. Keep writing and keep looking for your silver linings.”

I am blown over by her loving kindness and if the mind demons kidnapped me, instead of sitting in this lovely room with an extraordinary group of people, I would be alone in my bedroom faced with a three-D movie screen in the maniac projection room of my mind in morbid reflection of things best forgotten.

As if listening to the awesome speaker and watching other award recipients claim prizes wasn’t enough, when the award is announced for Amy Oestreicher, Mercedes informs the crowd that the recipient’s parents are present to accept the posthumous award for their daughter.

Posthumous award? How can Amy be dead? She was so young, talented – intent on living.

Question your thinking. I remember one of Mercedes suggestions during her opening remarks. Question your thinking. Self-centered was I to think I would be the one and only griever among the group. The one and only pain-ridden person.
Immediately, after the ceremony, I offer my condolences to Amy’s parents whose daughter died at the age of 34 from medical complications only four months prior. The grieving dad, it is obvious, is the mom’s anchor. Mom is a ball of fire. In spite of living through out-of-order death, the mom is an optimist. Her mission is to spend her life honoring Amy’s memory. The mom’s positivity is contagious and my faith-o-meter brims over.

My brilliant daughter advises me that I should mirror the grieving mom’s optimism. She winks her eye when she asks, confidently, “What are the odds of you meeting her and her husband on the same night you win an award?”

I nod my head. Is it coincidence or fate?

Looking back, the entire evening is lifted high in my memory by a faith muscle, fueled by the encouragement and support of my blogging community (thank you all!) and my close friends and, of course, propelled by my spitfire daughter.

ME
Connecticut Press Club Award Banquet, July, 27, 2021

To sum it up, I recall a well-known mantra that is intended to help anxiety: “Soham,” meaning “I am that” or “I am the universe.”

The idea reinforces the knowledge that I am one tiny brush stroke in a massive piece of artwork, a mixed-media, collage of life. The awards banquet last Tuesday is significant in my life because it reminds me of my insignificance. It reminds me how I can comfortably take a seat in the arena of life because whether we are in Cos Cob, Connecticut, or Canton, Ohio, or south of the Congo River, there is a designated space for everyone of us if we are wired properly to see it.

I am reminded, too, that no matter how stationary I am at any given moment, time is fleeting. Nothing remains the same. Everything is temporary. One day we are there, sitting. The next day “Poof!” we disappear. Paradoxically, as if on a magnificent piece of artwork, all parts, seen and unseen, make a whole, a never-ending composition of triumph.

It is all there is and ever will be. Right now as my own life fleets by, I can’t stop time, but I don’t have to wait until it is too late to say and claim it: I am that.

Faith Muscle

In the Heights of Father’s Day

Photo by Ibrahim Boran on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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?

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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.

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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.

 

Faith Foto2

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.

Faith Foto3

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

 

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Faith Muscle

Brick and Mortar 2019

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.                                                           Angel4 Psalm 34:1

Brick Wall

During this past season’s midnight Mass, I found Christmas, but it wasn’t solely in the Mass. I found Christmas in a young father who sat in the pew in front of us. His eyes glowed in adoration of his special needs toddler. Despite the fact that the child squirmed, gurgled and occasionally jolted, for over two hours, the father cradled her with undivided attention and devotion. In the face of challenge, his face exuded peace, contentment and joy. His one-word response to his child: Christmas!

This upcoming New Year, when I am faced with challenges, I hope to respond in the same spirit of Christmas, no matter if it is in the dead of winter or heat of summer. In other words, no matter how my faith is tested, I have memorized my response that is so apparent in the father’s life that I encountered at church. “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

Brick Wall2

Funny, how my relationship with God is sometimes one-sided, and I think He should ONLY bless me. Blessing the Lord at all times and praising him always is like laying a foundation of brick-like faith while the Lord spreads his love in the form of mortar.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle

 

Memorial Day …. Remembering those who spare themselves from remembering.

“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope.” –Psalm 34:18

hardships

My brother Mike was a highly decorated Vietnam Vet. Among his medals, his highest honor was the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with “V” for acts of valor and heroism.

From the start, God had generously gifted my brother with brilliance and qualities that made bystanders stop and stare. Unfortunately, he had experienced a rough home life. In his teenage years, solace arrived in form of alcohol that turned its thieving head, stole his free will and enslaved him for the rest of his life.

After graduating high school, he signed up for the military, hoping to escape. Little did he realize that he left the home of hell only to saunter into a corridor of despair that lead to a door of destruction and death. Serving two tours of combat, with a six-month stint at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., in between.

When he left home to Vietnam, Mike was broken in half. Upon his return home, he was a shattered man. My brother, who bore the soul of a gentle giant, with nine fingers on two hands–one lost in battle–lived a life of soul sickness and hurt, a walking PTSD statistic. Faith alluded him as if it was someone else’s shadow.

“What is the meaning of life?” I asked my older brother on numerous occasions.

His answer, short and sweet. “Survival.”

His answer flat, his macabre (Is that all there is?) slant on life apparent.

I know he believed in God, but did Mike have faith in a greater good? I do not have the answer to that question. I do know, however, between the war in Vietnam and the war he lived through in civilian life, his wounds ran deep.

Fortunately, in his later years Mike found peace in nature. In a tiny cabin alone in the woods, he found predictability in his sunflowers and vegetable gardens.

Shorty after Mike experienced a stroke, I looked into his eyes, and saw what felt like the opposite of infinite. Through my prayers and tears, that was all there was.  A few days later, at 55 years old, he finally met the peace that alluded him his entire life.

On memorial Day I especially feel his presence. I visualize him again the last time I saw him 15 years ago. Standing with his dog tall and proud like the tree behind him. I picture myself waving good-bye to him as I had on that last day, saying how I loved him, wanting so desperately to twist the emptiness out of him like a sponge and in its place sop up abundance. Goodness. Joy. Peace. Instead, I met his empty but forgiving eyes and accepted him as his own man with his own faith; knowing you cannot present faith to someone like a medal. Fortunately, if you love with faith, you will discover endurance even in the bone dry pieces of the heart.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

I met a vet

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4poppy-field

I met a vet. I met Frank two days ago at a business function, 18 days before Memorial Day. We were two strangers dressed in business suits. Business topics connected us until the divine spark in our hearts led us to a more personal level. I learned Frank had a 10-year army career; three combat tours. After his discharge from the military, he then entered the corporate ranks until he decided to live his true passion and work as a counselor assisting small businesses procure new contracts. In his spare time, he is founder of a non-profit that helps black-owned business enterprises grow.

Frank’s career background, including a master’s degree under his belt, is impressive but it is not what I carried home with me after day’s end. What inspired me and imprinted my heart most was a photograph he showed me. The year: 1991. Two 19-year-old army soldiers happily nested in a jeep. I couldn’t see the photo on his phone clearly, but I espied a pair of military dog tags on the white guy, Frank’s best bud in the army. In fact, they were so apparent to me, a proud sister of two army veterans, I could hear their ting in my mind.

“It’s my birthday today. That’s the day he was killed. Every year on my birthday, I send this picture of us to everybody I know,” Frank explained.

For over two decades, Frank celebrates his birthday by celebrating his friend’s memory. Not his friend’s death, mind you, but his life.

In-Flanders-Fields

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

Season after season, Frank’s ritual has ensured that his friend is not forgotten and accents his short life with meaning

Even though I only spoke to Frank for less than a half hour on his birthday, what impressed me most was his loyalty. His courage. Most of all his faith. Despite experiencing trial and anguish in his young life, Frank’s pilgrimage is gallant and glorified. I am certain, he has felt shattered a million times over, stumbled and fell, but always managed to pick up and re-bandage the pieces of his heart if only to bring promise and hope of a new day to others.Poppy-1jzy3h8

And what of his friend? His friend is alive, always young, brimming, too, with a promise and hope that tings from heaven. He is relishing in every glorious breath Frank has taken in all the years that have passed since the early 90s; all along whispering to Frank: “Soldier on.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel