On Grieving: Pieces on Anticipatory Grief

On Friday, August 7th my twin sister and I were both in different places, camping and exploring the mountains.  When reaching cell service in our separate place, we received a text from our older sister, Amanda (36), that we needed to call her together.  We both knew what this meant, she has been battling cancer for the past 2.5 years. I was able to largely distract myself until we managed to meet  in the middle at the Mineral Belt Trailhead in Leadville, CO.  We called, and Amanda told us in a raspy voice due to the cancer affecting her vocal cords, that it was “time for her to be with Aunt Barb and Uncle Ronny” (relatives that both passed away from cancer, who have always held very deep places in our hearts.). All 3 of us were weeping, so we hung up, and Sandi and I slid down from the bumper of the car to the ground, where we sat, crumbled, and wept at the feet of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert.

These pieces were written in the aftermath of the news and (currently) while taking care of Amanda.  At this moment, I sit next to her as she uses her nebulizer to help her breathing.  Otherwise, she is doing “well” right now…still able to eat (requesting blizzards from DQ), still able to smile.  If you’re reading this, I ask that you send energy, prayers, etc to the Universe, Mother Earth, God or Whatever/Whomever, first if a miracle is possible, and if not, that she has a smooth transition from this life and into the arms and paws of family and friends who have already made the journey to Somewhere Else.

If A Girl Cries Alone

You know the quote “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well I wonder if a girl cries alone in the trees, does she make a sound? Is anyone listening?

I’d like to think so. The earth soaking up her tears. The trees offering their strength. Chipmunks offering their comfort. The flowers offering their beauty. Mother Earth softy saying “You are not alone.”

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Smoke

The smoke from the wildfires are a perfect metaphor for how I’m feeling.  I’m in a haze.  I’m not sure if I don’t know what’s real…or if I’m just lost.  Meanwhile, the trees keep burning.  And while the trees turn to ashes, no hole will be left deeper than the one left in me.

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Sad Girl

It’s like I wear a giant “S” on my chest

No, not like Hester.

My “S” stands for SAD.

I imagine everyone staring at me, saying

“That’s the SAD girl over there

Don’t get too close

She’ll infect you with her sadness”

But I don’t want to pass it on

I just want a shoulder to lean on

A hand to help me up

Just a bit of light

To enter in the deep hole in my heart.

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The Holy Fucks

I’m not a big user of curse words, although I’m not against them.  Mainly, I use “fuck” for emphasis when I’m really upset about something.  It wasn’t until I found out that my 36 years young sister was dying that I started putting “holy” before the word.  During the times I couldn’t stand because the pain was too great*, when she asked my mom “did hospice say when I was going to die?”, and especially when she gave my cousin’s little girls Winnie the Pooh blankets and said she’ll always watch over them.  This is when the “fucks” became “holy”.

*A professor of my defined sacred as “that which brings us to our knees.”  I’ve been to some beautiful places, waterfalls, mountaintops, deep inside canyons, and never have I ever been brought to my knees so much as during this time.  Which, perhaps mean the most sacred thing in the world is our love for others.

These are the holy fucks.

“Holy fuck, why is this allowed to happen?”

“Holy fuck, if there’s a God or something greater out there, you better be with us right now.”

“Holy fuck, how can one person hold this much love and this much pain?”

“Holy fuck, this is too much.”

“Holy fuck, how am I going go on after she leaves?”

“Holy fuck.”

 

My Daily Gratitudes

  1. The she is still alive
  2. That she’s not suffering too much
  3. That she has been my big sister for 32 years

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Growing Up (in the) Church

Preface:  These thoughts come to me in the midst of a new, budding relationship.  Yes, there is a “new Boy” who’s been nothing but kind and thoughtful.  Still, it’s been a hesitation of mine from the start that he “identifies” as Catholic.  I know identifies is a funny thing to say in defining someone’s religious choice, but for me he’s not the Catholic I grew up with—he’s more of the John Pavlovitz type—to the point where there are times that I want to say to him, “You’re not really Catholic then.”  In my mind, to at least help me make sense of it all for now, I’ve divided it up to the Catholic Church as a business, and Catholic the religious practice.  But to back track a bit, he’s seems (and has stated) that he genuinely does not care that I identify as spiritual.  Which makes me question if I am hypocritical in my own spirituality that I do question the sustainability of our relationship because of our beliefs.  I won’t let myself completely off the hook with that thought, as I do want to make sure that I don’t deny others of the religious and spiritual freedom that I was denied growing up.  However, I do want to acknowledge the weight and heaviness of the religion classes and lectures I sat through as a kid.  I thought I had processed it all before this relationship, but it seems that the Universe is offering me a new challenge.  As a brief example (with the rest being in metaphor below)…I’ve felt the need to bring up things that I normally would not want to do so early in a relationship so the new Boy has a clear idea of what he is getting himself into.   After much stumbling on my words, I told him I had no plans to ever get married (leaving out that if I ever change my mind, I want to get married outside the confines of four walls and by a woman).  I can’t blame all of that on the Catholic Church…part of it has to do with my parents’ divorce, my young and married uncle dying before turning 30, and the narrative I created in childhood around that.  But there is the religion class where we were told that the obligation in marriage was to procreate…and while I love kids I’ve never wanted them for myself (plus, Pacer is the best little girl I could ask for!).  And the whole “two become one” thing always seemed skewed in the man’s favor.  Finally, there’s the whole patriarchal and oppression thing that surrounds most religions…but that’s been written about more eloquently by others, so I’ll end this very long preface now.

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I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

I try to cry

But I am drowning

Cleansed, I hear them say

But from a made up sin I did not commit

My clothes are white

But then my body grows, and its back to black

I run down the street on wobbly legs

I’m screaming:

Hear me

See me

Acknowledge me

All heads turn the other way.

I am but a ghost.  A Ghost?

No, for I am a woman.

I trip and fall.

I am but a ghost with bloody knees

Is this my cross to bear?

I choose to wear only bones

To be more like a Man or further hidden,

I no longer know.

Still, without this chest

Without my life-giving blood flow

There’s less force to do the things that I am told

Like my body is only for him

And the children to come after

For that is what is required for me to become seen

If I am good

Am I good?

It is only years later that I inhabit my body again

That I realize it wants to sing, to dance

To come forth as only the feminine spirit can

So I choose to run

And run

And run

Miles, valley, rivers, and mountains later

I break free of the chains, my cross

Finally, I have found my Heaven within.

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The evening after writing this, I cam across this amazing video: Be a Lady They Said

 

 

Love Letters to the CVNP

Dear Cuyahoga Valley National Park,

You were my first true Love.

The one that never left.

The one that I still carry with me wherever I go.

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In childhood, there were the 20 mile bike rides my sister and my dad. 20 miles along your towpath, following the once burning river, now home to turtles and river otters.

Providing me with the adventure my young heart yearned for and the  memories my wizened heart now cherishes.

As an adult, I discovered your winding trails, like veins pumping bloods to the heart state.

You were the escape from what others told me was the “real word” and taught me that actually, I got create my own trails, shape my own journey, and decide what my “real world” would be.

I had forgotten what it was it was like to be held.

You reminded me.

You reminded me what it was like to be lost…and then found.

To feel alive.

In your valleys, I found home.

You were a reminder that there was always sun behind those seemingly encompassing grey clouds.

I still visit you at least once a year for Christmas, and more many more times in my dreams.  I picture myself entering the Portal Tree, blue jays perched on Her branches, to a place of safety, wonder, and answers.

Truly, I know you are always here with me.

While I now live in the land of high summits and alpine lakes, you’re here too.

Different, but the same.

And in me, you’ve created both a valley and a mountain girl.

Dear CVNP, I love you.

 

 

 

 

Finding My Way: My Trail through Society

This blog started with a Facebook post, written shortly after returning from a (1-day) trip the mountains (Leadville/Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert):

Every time I come back from the mountains, I ask myself “Why the F did I come back?” (In reality, I know the answer. Society asks that I have a job and a physical place to live). I’m tied between wanting to contribute to society, to make a difference, and the want to escape the complicated and busy structure of our world (of course, it isn’t all bad). Does anyone else face this dilemma?

I have my own further thoughts on this topic (perhaps a future blog post), but I’d love to hear the insight, questions, and wisdom (not necessarily advice) of others who also question this dichotomy.

*I added in the not necessarily advice part later.

I got quite a few replies, some advice, some various perspectives, and mainly a “I feel that way too”.  Which upon reflection, was really what I was looking for.  A sense of universality, that others both felt and questioned (society/life) the way I do.  When I realized the post had gathered some heat/interest and that I personally had more exploring to do as well, I decided to write a bit more.

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8/17

Living in the world, being part of the world, making a difference in the world does not mean, at least for me, living in the confines of society.  That, for myself, is the answer that I have come to, but my conclusion is not so easy to put in words, though I can not say it is complicated either.  It’s just what is.

The dilemma I mention in my Facebook post is not so black and white as it seems.  It is not between being a hermit in the mountains and praying for a better world or living in the city and working in an office for 9 hours.

And, while I do believe energy, prayer, and intention does have an impact on the world, I am not so ethereal to believe that is all that is needed…that I could just live in a cabin and meditate and play outside all day.  I am a big believer in action too.

My work as a (wilderness) therapist will involve both, the energetic and the physical manifesting.

So if I choose to live in the mountains, can I be a giver of both as strongly as if I lived in the city (or in a small city like Boulder)?  Really, that is the heart of my question.

While I believe that the answer is very individual to anyone who asks the question, I’m starting to figure out my own truth.  Admittedly, part of my answer might go against the simplicity I crave (I’m reminded of a particularly sarcastic blog by Dakota Jones on car camping), but modern technology and transportation might help solve some of my conflict, or help me find harmony in the dichotomy.

Then there’s the bigger question.  Despite the fact that humans are living closer than ever before, that wifi and cell phones let us connect to hundreds of people, even across the world, are we becoming more lost, more disconnected? (For more on the topic, read Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections) And not just from other humans, but from the land that bore us too, to our Mother Earth?  Are we supposed to live in apartments, or with the land?  I could go on and on…and on with questions like this.  But I’ll save you my words and ask that you have this conversation with yourself.  And if you don’t find an answer, that is okay.  Just keep questioning, stay curious.  Because while it is the mountains that make my soul sing, and often the cities that make me cringe, I’ve also found profound beauty in the mass humanity of the city street as well.

 

[The Boy just got done finishing the Kodiak 100, a 100 miles race in the San Bernardino mountains, and we were reflecting on his journey on the drive back to the airport.  He said is favorite part was nearly 80 miles in, when he was running down Sugarloaf Mountain and the 50k runners, who had just started, were coming up.  People were smiling, hi-fiving, and struggling, all together.  That, I thought, might be the best of both worlds, the crowds and mountains.  People connecting and encouraging each other while journeying through the wilderness.]

And maybe all this girl really needs is her dog.

 

Tips for returning from the mountains/wilderness:

  • Before you depart from your adventure, ask yourself “What am I bringing back with me?”  Are there any reminders from being in the wilderness that you can bring back with you into everyday life?
  • Create extra awareness on the drive back.  Don’t speed out as fast as you can.  Choose your pace/speed wisely.
  • Use your phone with awareness.  If possible, give yourself sometime before checking your inbox and text messages.
  • Practice self-care.  Take extra time (space) to do things.  Get enough sleep.  In other words, don’t just jump back into the hustle and bustle of life.
  • For long trips, and trying to communicate your experience with family and friends, consciously choose what you share and who you share with.   It is often difficult to communicate the sacred.  (It also often helps to ask what others have been up to first, before diving into your experience.)
  • Remember, continuing change takes time and practice.  If there is something you want to bring back with you, like journaling or slowing down before dinner, create action steps to make them a habit.
  • Be kind to yourself.  Your going to forget.  It will seem like the mountains have left you.  But they never leave you.  They are in you.

The Wander Years

5/29/2018

This is another throw-back post from my old blog, several years old.  While my writing has changed (and hopefully gotten a bit better), the message is still powerful and I’m amazed at the wisdom I had in my early 20s.  Looking back at this now, one of the great part is that I have had the chance to study what I call “the wander years”.  Common terminology calls this the liminal phase, or the phase between who a person once was and who they are becoming.  In case you want more, I did add my academic response to a discussion forum on this topic below. 

The Wander Years
I am in the middle of a forest. The trees are thick with a vibrant shade of green, but peaks of sunshine still manage to seep through. Purple, pink, and orange flowers line the either side of the trail. To the east I can hear the gentle babble of the sparkling blue river I just crossed. To the west, large purple mountains clash with the clouds, dotting an azure sky. When people talk about things being beautiful, a day being perfect, this is surely what they mean.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to fully appreciate all the natural wonders around me. I’ve gone mile without picking my head up.The constant chatter in my head blocks out the chirping birds, the light wind brushing the leaves, and even the crunch of my footsteps on the soft dirt trail scattered with twigs. My vision is skewed, not because of a lost contact, but because I am too busy searching for another trail.
I passed another trail a few miles back heading towards the south, and another a few miles before that heading toward the east. Neither felt quite right, so I kept going. Now I am second guessing that decision. I know there are a few more side trails coming up ahead, but will they lead me in the right direction? Where am I going anyway? I think I am…
Lost.
Well, maybe no quite lost.
I am….Wandering.

 

The term “wander” probably best explains the past 2 years of my life. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means to:
1a : to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal
b : to go idly about
2: to follow a winding course
3a : to go astray (as from a course) : stray <wandered away from the group>
b : to go astray morally : err
c : to lose normal mental contact : stray in thought <his mind wandered>

Aside from 3b, I’d say, yes, that is about right.
After college, I thought I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. How quickly that all became blurry. For starters, things happened that I couldn’t have predicted. Then I began to learn more, read more, and do different things. My thinking began to change. This took effect on the ideas I had for myself and my future.
Many times, I became frustrated. I knew I was on this Earth for a purpose, but what the heck was it!? Too many times, I let my frustration turn into disappointment, bringing me to tears. Running was not the answer, nor were the two jobs I tried out. Life satisfaction was a far off concept for me.
So, I wandered. And I’m still wandering. But I think I’m getting closer to that one path, that one trail that was meant for me and me alone.
Funny thing is, I’m getting there because of all the things I’ve learned along the way in these past two years. I’ve learned I hate driving an hour to work, in a busy and crowded city. I also hate dressing up and wearing heals. On the other hand, working with kids in an unstructured environment isn’t for me either.
I’ve learned people can’t read my mind. Sometimes, I just need to say how I feel, even if that’s not that natural thing for me to do. Communication is key.
I’ve learned to be me, and I’ve learned what I value. I like to be warm, happy, and well fed…but I don’t need a whole lot. I don’t really like BIG things, just small, simple things…and things that are as eco-friendly as possible.
I’ve learned I love running…but not when it becomes my forefront. Then it becomes work, and with that comes unnecessary pressure. I like running for its serenity, and how it enhances who I am.
I’ve re-learned what my values and my morals are.
The list goes on and on.
All these things have helped shape who I am, and expanded my horizons.
If only I would have slowed down, picked my head up, and enjoyed the views along the way…
Yes, I was wandering. But, as it turns out, wandering is what I needed to do. I may have gotten a few bumps and bruises along the way, but my wandering wasn’t really such a bad thing after all.
I haven’t done too much research on the subject, but I don’t think I’m alone in my experience of these “wander years”. Actually, I think the majority of the population goes through the same thing. Usually though, it’s given a negative connotation.
For adults, it’s most often known as a mid-life crisis. For teens and young adults, they’re either lazy or “dreamers” who need to come back to “real world”.
There are the exceptions of course…
There are the child prodigies and young entrepreneurs, some millionaires before they reach adulthood, who know exactly what they are born to do. Then there are those who have a calling so strong that they know, even when still playing in a sandbox, that they were meant to lead, preach, or heal.
It’s hard not to be jealous.
But truth be told, we are all meant to be on this earth for some reason, and most of us have to do quite a bit of digging to get there. And that’s okay! Because it is when we wander that we make mistakes, fall, and learn. It’s a time of exploration, self-discovery, and beauty…if only we take the time to pick our heads up and enjoy it.
[Again, it’s unfortunate that our society looks down on wanderers, instead forcing many people to take on jobs that they really don’t enjoy (yes, you can find meaning in those jobs too, you can find mean in your life in anything you do, but that’s another blog!). Recently, I listened to an audio CD, “Thrive” that listed Copenhagen, Germany as one of the world’s happiest places. A huge reason for this is because people have the freedom to try different job without fear of debt or others opinions – the sacrifice is that the majority of a person’s income goes to taxes, but hey, who cares if your happy!]
My hope in writing this blog is to encourage others to embrace their “wander years” because they are important parts of our lives. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, and maybe a Higher Calling, but there is no point in worrying or getting down on yourself in these years. Our wander years having meaning and purpose, whether they are spent exploring the mountains or working at a restaurant just to get by. As long as we don’t give up and believe in ourselves, we will all find the direction we are supposed to be traveling in and reach our destinations…or destinies.

So wander on my friends, and enjoy the adventure.

Image may contain: Ray Nypaver, smiling, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
We wandered A LOT during our 2017 trip to Montana.

From February 2018:

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

“Not all who wander are lost” is a line from one of my favorite poems by J.R.R. Tolkien* from his Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  It’s become a common bumper sticker (or in my case, a car air freshener that lost its smell long, long ago), but it has always held great meaning for me.  I was able to put words to that meaning as I read the assigned readings for the week.  Bridges (2004) calls the gap between one life phase and the next the neutral zone, while Stein (1987) describes the phase of a person’s internal structures from a former identity being dissolved and new structures constellated as the liminal phase.  Personally, I can going to call this “the wandering phase”, a phase that seems aimless at first, as if one is lost in the woods at night, grasping for direction by the light of the moon, and finally begins to find purpose at the approach of sunrise.

Further building upon the work of Bridges (2004) when he describes surrender as a time when “one must give into the emptiness and stop struggling to escape it” (p.140), I liken it to the hiker who must give into the darkness, make camp, and wait until morning to find help, also acknowledging that help may come in many different ways.  Four pages later, Bridges speaks of the “wilderness”, which he reveals in Hebrew also means “sanctuary”. To extend this analogy (or truth?) one more step and call upon the work of Brene Brown when she says “there are times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty…this is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself “I am the wilderness””. In that sense, we are both our own wilderness and our own sanctuary.  The gap between phase of one’s life is not an abstract place, but a place when one needs to go inside oneself and seek one’s own truth.

The Hine (1987) reading reminded me of my own ceremony during a transitional phase in my life a year ago, though at the time I did not call it such.  It was just something that I felt called to do, which, when reading, alleviated my anxiety in being creative enough to create a ritual.  During this time, I was doing my best to surrender my identity as an competitive athlete.  In the year and a half previous to my ceremony, lots of tears, frustration, and anger ensued. Finally, after a lot of praying, journalist, and soul searching, I was able to begin to let go. I wrote a letter to my “old legs” and then, on Christmas Eve at dusk, I buried the letter into one of my favorite trees in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  This ceremony, like the ones described by Hines (1987) helped me to begin to find gratitude for my past self and embrace who I was, and still am, becoming.

 

References

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hine, V. (1987). Self-created ceremonies of passage. In Mahdi, L. M., Foster, S., & Little, M., Betwixt & Between: Patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (pp. 304-326). La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.

Stein, J. O., & Stein, M. (1987). Psychotherapy, initiation and the midlife transition. In Mahdi, L. M., Foster, S., & Little, M., Betwixt & Between: Patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (pp. 287-301). La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.

https://themarblejar.com/products/i-am-the-wilderness-print

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All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring