she passed away on saturday.  we did her memorial service last night.  today we will bury her ashes on top of her husband.

i was just looking over some of my previous posts.  it’s so fresh that reading them brings me back to the mindset of a week or a month ago.  i think the hardest part about fresh death is that my mind hasn’t completely integrated that she’s gone now, so i still switch back and forth.  dying.  dead.  here… when?  gone.

i was running like a maniac before she died.  first it was back and forth to her house.  then it was back and forth to the hospice.  go to work.  go to the gym.  planning the stops i needed to make that day.  when she passed, my cousins and i still had tasks to accomplish.  meet with the funeral home.  meet with the celebrants.  put together a dvd of pictures.  make the posters.  find those mementos my aunt wanted displayed.  write the eulogy.

she talked to us before she died about how if she could visit us after she died, she would do it in little signs.  that was a sweet little comfort.  my mom got what she believed to be her sign right away.  i think of her signs to me more as the legacy of our conversations, of her inspiring words and direction.  so i go about my day with my thoughts wrapped up in things like, is this how she wanted me to do it?  she talked to me about this aspect of myself, yes i’ll make this choice right now.  this opportunity, is this something she sent to me? 

those thoughts and memories and the mad search for meaning i fill my mind with… that’s definitely a positive way for me to carry out a personal legacy with her.  people say your loved ones that pass live on, stay with you, they live in your heart.  i believe that.  i can call her up anytime with sweet memories and imaginary conversations.

but i’m also coming to the sad realization that when i calm my mind and just sit with it… she’s not here.  her spirit is not hanging around to comfort me for the rest of my life, she’s not my personal angel.  she’s free.  i can conjure her memory and feel my experience of her, but she’s gone.

before she died, i was tied up in sadness, pre-mourning.  i think part of me thought that i was getting the hard part out of the way before she died.  i was getting impatient, devastated by the act of saying goodbye again and again.  i was saying to myself, this has to end, God please take her so we can move on into the mourning!  what a ridiculous wish.  what did i want to move on to?  this?

death is really hard to wrap my head around.  i thought she would die and we’d be sad and then we’d move back into familiar routines of life.  and that will happen.  but there’s this big empty space staring at me that i don’t know what to do with.  no more caretaking, no more fear about when and how she’s going to die, no more what am i gonna do?  just this empty space where her life was.  so strange.

Religion -vs- Spirituality

“Religion is the rules, regulations, ceremonies, and rituals developed by man to create conformity and uniformity in the approach to God.  Spirituality is God’s call in your soul.”  – Iyanla Vanzant

More than I ever wanted to or intended, I have been thinking about God and spirituality and what it all means to me right now.  Everything moves so fast, circumstances, my opinions, the clarity of what I believe.  I still don’t know.  To me, God is mysterious and to belive you know all about who God is makes you an arrogant fool.  But walking with someone through the dying process, hearing her beliefs change, being witness to her insights about who God has been throughout her life and in dying… I can’t help but consider what spirituality means to me.

What I know is this:  I feel more spiritually genuine now than I have at any other point in my life.  I haven’t been to church in years and I have no plans in the near future to return.  But I feel like I’m doing the right thing on a daily basis.  I feel my prayers for guidance and direction are answered in gentle, subtle ways.  I feel a lot of universal gratitude.  Synchronicity.  This is God’s hand in my life.

In a recent post for my friends and family, I said that I don’t want any religious catch phrases to smooth over this sad time in my life.  I still don’t.  Stock phrases are a great comfort to some people, but they remind me of my religious baggage.  I grew up forced to go to church.  I learned that I had to go to church at least weekly, have a church family, obey the bible, and accept jesus christ as my lord and savior in order to make sure I get to heaven when I die.  I internalized an unhealthy amount of guilt and judgment and condemnation.  I felt most of the time when I was involved in church that I was leading a double life because it was so easy to lead the life I wanted outside of church, and that made me question the genuineness of my belief in what I was supposed to take as unfailingly true.  I made a conscious decision in my late 20s to leave church and not come back to religion until I absolutely chose it for myself.

Even before this summer, I began to realize that I no longer had that double-life feeling.  I don’t hide parts of my life from other people anymore.  I don’t compartmentalize my existence making sure that I don’t get found out by this person or that one.  I feel free.  And that has to do with not only religion but drinking, shame, identity, being honest with myself, being courageous.  Being myself without judgment, asking for guidance as I live out what I believe to be my purpose, enjoying the small things – this is a spiritual existence and practice for me, everyday.  I don’t remember or acknowledge God every moment for the congruence in my life.  It’s more the tiny moments when I notice rightness and I silently say, thank you.

Yesterday I watched this 2-part interview with Iyanla on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah.  I’ve never been an Oprah fiend, but I have always enjoyed Iyanla.  There are some beautiful little nuggets of truth and inspiration that really lay out how I feel about religion and spirituality, reminders that God is everywhere and that religion makes God so small.   I found it really comforting to see these women talk about their spiritual journeys.  Some parts are incredibly corny, but overall this is a blessing to me.


my chart

when i was in junior high, my aunt did my astrological chart based on the time and place of my birth.  i remember her remarking that she’d never seen so much leo in her life!  she gave me what she found and i looked up meanings in her books.  the one thing i remember reading in part of the interpretation was that i was supposedly afraid of eye contact, avoiding it at all costs.  after that i found myself nervous to make eye contact.  i totally internalized that and have thought of that passage over the years, especially when i’ve tried to confront my own anxiety at different times, dissecting the meaning behind this fear of people that comes and goes for me.

my sister is into astrology now and my aunt is willing her all of her astrology books.  as we gathered them up this weekend, we found my chart again.  as i looked it over this time, i saw all those planets in leo but i noticed that there was a lot of my chart with no planets at all.  my aunt remarked, “you have tons of planets in the houses that relate to self, self-development, but nothing over there in marriage and family.”  that broke my heart a little bit and made me feel that sense of fearful doom creep up over me.  i tried to put it out of my mind.  “that’s not what has to be, you can’t take this too seriously.  there’s much more to the interpretation,” she said.   i tried to cling to that.

throughout the day though, i started to think about it in a different way… more as a susceptibility.  left to my own devices, i don’t know what it is, but i am perfectly content on my own.  i find myself highly entertaining and interesting… i’m comfortable by myself.  combine that with that certain fear i’ve had of other people on and off throughout my life.  it makes sense that my inclination is to be a loner and be kind of obsessive about developing myself.  that’s maybe my nature.

but as i mature, i enjoy people more and more.  over the past couple of years i have come to a new comfort, and a new interest in people.  there’s a concept adler coined called social interest that resonated with me so much.  it’s this idea that belonging to a community comes in 2 steps:  part of it is feeling like you belong, and the other part is actively contributing to that community.  growing up, i had some major belonging problems.  that’s what made me scared of people.  but this idea that the feeling is only part of it – what i’m doing to contribute and participate is equally important… that’s a life changing idea for someone like me.

looking at my chart and mulling over these ideas in the past 24 hours… i just wonder.  my nature is to be a loner, to focus on myself, to find ways to be recognized, special, important.  but it doesn’t mean i can’t nurture myself into connection.  this is what i thought about today, walking out of Target.  how much of this is my childhood confidence being damaged by a feeling of not belonging, and how much of this is finding reasons why people are scary as an excuse to continue to focus on myself?  now there’s a big ass scary question.

can i love myself this much (or be this self-absorbed) and still have a fulfilling relationship?  i don’t say this in a self-depricating way, i don’t say it in an arrogant way.  i just really find fulfillment in using my brain, my creativity, my insight to do work – career, writing, problem-solving, thinking about issues that are important to me, creating a life’s work.

marriage and family is the ultimate compromise, and that’s something i haven’t really deeply considered in a long time.   i do want to get married, have a fulfilling relationship, have children.  lately i’ve been putting a lot of thought and creative dreaming into thinking about the kind of man i’m looking for.  but i do acknowledge that it goes totally off my radar sometimes for long periods of time, as i fall into that comfortable place of focusing on my own development.  i also acknowledge that sometimes i totally put relationships out of my mind with the notion that sometimes you reject what you think you can’t have.

so.  there’s this big empty space in my astrological chart that scared the shit out of me on first glance.  surely i noticed it and drew some conclusions in my 13 year old mind.  but somehow all that stuck with me is that i must be afraid of eye contact.  isn’t that strange (and telling)?  seeing it yesterday, i only panicked for a moment.  now it’s something that makes me smile.

the meaning i’m choosing to take is this:  left to my own devices, i will work on myself obsessively without paying much attention to relationships.  that’s my nature/inclination/lean.  but if i want to have a relationship, and eventually a marriage and a family, that’s something i will have to pay special attention to, nurturing myself toward making an effort.  but i’m not broken.  it’s just a shift in reflection about why i have not been in many relationships… moving from what’s wrong with me??? to realizing that this is an area where i have to make an effort.  just because being alone is effortless and fulfilling for me doesn’t mean i want to walk through life alone.

and that’s the best news i’ve heard all day 🙂

the purpose

“the purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.”

that was my tea fortune today.  in the past month or so, 2 people in my life have said explicitly that they don’t see anything that special about life.  one was my aunt as she was talking to the chaplain, processing death in the context that she’s not afraid to die.  the other one was my client who doesn’t get excited about anything because in her opinion there’s always another problem, another obstacle around the corner, so why bother to celebrate every event, every accomplishment?

may i never get to that point.  may i always see life as these pretty little moments, no matter how much they sometimes break my heart.  may i live for walking in the sun and the wind and admiring the way the leaves shimmer in the trees and the feeling of breeze on my skin.  may i rememer to find the small things my greatest source of joy and wonder.    may i continue to enjoy life, all of it, every little bit, as long as i can.

what you can do for me.

good friends recently made me aware that i haven’t really articulated what i need during this f’d up time in my life.  with two of my most important people (my aunt and grama) in hospice with short prognoses, there’s not much you can do to fix my situation.  but there are a few things i can brainstorm about what you can do to support me, based on who i am and what i need:

  • touch me.  hugs, hand holding, an arm around my shoulder, a hand on my back.  a big giant tight hug, prolonged and firm, so i can feel held and protected and like i have ground underneath me.
  • ask me how i’m holding up.  when i spew off details about caregiving and conditions and routines, ask me again how i’m holding up.
  • encourage me to take care of myself.  the best thing for me right now is to get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and connect.  ask me to a healthy dinner.  offer to walk around the lake or around the block or to coffee.
  • i know you don’t know what to say.  i understand.  i don’t expect you to fix anything.  just let me know you are thinking about me and supporting me.
  • i need to talk and write through these feelings.  i don’t generally like to talk on the phone, you probably already know that.  a text message or an email is great and allows me to get back to you when i’m able.  i love to use my friends as sounding boards to try and get things out and process my thoughts and feelings.
  • invite me but don’t expect much.  right now i’m living with my aunt fri-mon and i’m still working my regular schedule.  so i don’t have a lot of time for socializing.  but being remembered means a lot.  i may or may not be able to accept your offers, but if you feel like doing something for an hour during the week, it may just be a nice distraction.  if i can’t do it, don’t give up.  ask again next week.
  • i don’t know what i’m doing.  if you have been there through the deterioration or death of a person close to you through cancer or dementia, share your story with me.  this is a terrible club but it’s good to know i’m not the only member.
  • i am a spiritual person but have religious baggage.  please don’t try to smooth over the situation with religious slogans, my baggage makes it hard for me to be comforted by your good intentions about how i need to put my faith in God or Jesus.  please offer me words of personal support and general optimism.   thank you.

that’s all i’ve got for now.  i’m doing my best to walk through this, this is a starting point on the best ways to walk with me.