My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Reflections for the Living


Respite

Our garden of peaceful reflection

June 29, 2016

“I know you are anxious to get on with the business of living, but she’s just not ready yet.  I’ve taken care of her, led her and loved her for over 57 years.  Yet, I never had the heart to prepare her for something like this.”

Dear Readers,

This is the dialogue I imagine I am having with Mr. Uruguay; or rather, the conversation he is having with me.  I have taken up my post on a plastic couch directly across from my dying friend. Should he open his eyes, I would be directly in his line of sight. However, that is not likely to happen.

Mrs. Uruguay is generally seated to her husband’s right, in a recliner of the hospital’s finest plastic.  Now however, she is bustling about on the other side of the room as the nurses are fussing about their patient, “Trying to keep him comfortable.”

The Uruguay’s son is pacing anxiously at the foot of his father’s bed. He was in the middle of shaving Mr. Uruguay’s three-day stubble, as per his mother, when the Nurse Angels flew into the room. By his nervous gait, it is obvious that Mrs. Uruguay’s son is not used to not following his mother’s directions, thus the nervous stutter-steps.

Mr. Uruguay’s daughter-in-law is curled up, crossed legged on the other available recliner, pecking away on her iPad, sending and receiving messages to and from parts unknown. Daughter-in-law is a registered nurse.  So, this appears to be old hat for her.

The Nurse Angels flit out of the room as quickly as they flitted in, and the process of death falls like a hush over the room’s occupants.  And here is where I imagine mine and Mr. Uruguay’s conversation picks back up.

“She needs a little more time to get used to me dying.  I mean, it’s only been three days since we made the decision to stop my nutrition and hydration.  And although she knows I’m dying – thank her for the priest and my last rites, by the way – my lovely bride needs just a little longer to accept that she is going to be alone.  I owe her at least that much.”

And so it goes.  Slipping towards death, just as he was in life, .Mr. Uruguay is still in control.  Mrs. Uruguay is a quick study, however.  And although there is a vast emptiness in her soul, she is beginning to take control of her life and her husband’s death.  It is hauntingly beautiful to watch. And so it goes, and so it goes.

Peace, ~v.

 


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29 and Holding


June 28, 2016

Dear Readers,

My daughter Jessica died 29 years ago, June 26; she was three years old. Actually, she was 2 years, 8 months, and 10 days old, but I round up; so she was 3. It just so happens that I almost missed the ‘milestone’ day altogether. 

Six years after Jessica’s death, my youngest daughter was born. Actually, Mimi was born June 25, 1993, the day before Jessica’s sixth anniversary. For the next 19 years I attempted to let the joyful remembrance of one daughter’s birth, overshadow the sorrowful remembrance of another daughter’s death. I don’t think I succeeded. 

For the past 3 years, I found the elusive acceptance stage. Still, all my focus was on, well, me. And I didn’t want to wait another 28 years for the peace to finally seep into my soul.  

“Please Lord, let me have peace!” I would beg.  “Denial, I did it. Anger, I was it. Bargaining, depression, I’d done my penance. And now, acceptance, I get it, I accept! Now, peace, please?” I would end weakly. 

Perhaps the toughest lesson I’ve had to learn over the past five decades is that I will receive that which I crave the most, when I crave it the least. 

I woke up on Sunday, June 26 sadly empathetic. A friend, Mr. Uruguay, suffered a massive stroke and it was on this day that his wife of 57 years, Mrs. Uruguay, began trying to process the immensity of it all: life, death, change. 

I sat with Mrs. Uruguay as she watched her husband. I cannot stop her pain. However, I can empathize with her pain. And for the past two days, that is what I have done: sit and empathy. My  hope is that Mrs. Uruguay find peace. 

“Please Lord, let her find peace! Please, let her have peace.” 

Two days, sit and empathy. And prayers for peace. And I am peaceful, oddly peacefu. But my peace is secondary to what Mrs. Uruguay is going through. 

I’m on my way back to sit with my friend. It’s sure to get tougher, soon. And I’ll be here, not feeling sorry for myself, not feeling alone, and not feeling anything but the peace I so desperately searched for, for 29 years. 

“It’s in giving that we receive.”

Peace, ~v.


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Lucky


The fog has lifted.  Sunrise from my front porch.

The fog has lifted. Sunrise from my front porch.

July 26, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today I was reminded, once again, that when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  For years, I had been looking at my misfortune as a negative.  It took the innocent perspective of a child to make me see it differently.

I have had 5 children, and without exception, each of them came perilously close to death when they were very young.  My first pregnancy, I carried twins, a boy and a girl.  I delivered at 26 weeks, a full 3 months before full term.  My daughter Miss J, weighed 1 pound 14 ounces and my son Pookie,  weighed in at 1 pound 10 ounces.  Both were severely underdeveloped, obviously, and both were on respirators for approximately 2 months.

At 20 years old, I was too naive to realize that the doctors may not be able to save them.  However, they survived.  In fact, they thrived.  I was able to bring them home when they were 3 months old and weighing a whopping 4 pounds apiece.  One, two brushes with death.

My second pregnancy was just as difficult, I was 22.  For some reason, my body was rejecting my pregnancy.  I had frequent kidney infections prior to and throughout my pregnancy.  My doctors surmised that the infections were triggering pre-term labor.  I was only 3 months along when labor began.

Throughout the next 6 months, it was touch and go.  I was put on bed rest, fetal monitors and all sorts of medication to stop the labor.  When I finally delivered, thankfully at 9 months, my son was in distress and had a traumatic delivery.  He had difficulty breathing once he was born but soon pulled through.

At 22 years old, I knew babies could die, but not mine.  My son Puff, was home from the hospital in just a couple of days, happy and healthy.  Third brush with death.

When I was 23, my oldest, my daughter Miss J, my fighter, my survivor, passed away from something unrelated to her premature birth.  There it was.  A child dies before her parents, it really happens.  Three children, three brushes with death, one death.  I did not like those numbers.

I subsequently went on to have two more pregnancies, both daughters.  I was 27 when I delivered my next daughter, Muffin.  Smooth sailing all the way.  Whew!  Then I became pregnant one last time.  This pregnancy was by far the worst.  Not only did I experience pre-term labor, I was on complete bed rest, I had to monitor my contractions twice a day.  I was averaging 12 to 15 contractions in a 45 minute period on a daily basis.

At 27 years old, I was far from naive and I knew babies died, often.  I was a nervous wreck, to say the least.  Fortunately, my daughter Mimi, was born right on time, strong, happy and healthy.  Fourth brush with death.

Finally, Muffin, my daughter who had never given me a minute’s worth of trouble in my womb, decided to become adventurous.  When she was about 3 years old, her and Mimi pulled quite a stunt.

Late one night, I heard a noise in the kitchen.  I got up to investigate.  This is what I found:  a dining room chair pulled up to the counter, a cup with a red ring of Kool-Aid and something gritty at the bottom, and several empty packets of Alka Seltzer.  Earlier in the day, I had taken Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu, and put the opened box up in the medicine cabinet in the kitchen, far away from little fingers, or so I thought.

By the time I rushed Muffin and Mimi to the hospital, the aspirin level in Mimi’s bloodstream was negligible.  However, the aspirin level in Muffin’s bloodstream was at lethal levels.  She was strapped onto a board, a tube shoved down her throat, and liquid charcoal poured into her stomach to neutralize the effects of the aspirin.  The three of us spent the better part of that night and the next day trying to recover.  Muffin survived.  Fifth brush with death.

All of my children are now grown.  However, as they were growing up, I had become somewhat bitter.  I would tell them stories of their brushes with death and bemoan my loss.  I was a bit of a downer, to say the least.  My daughters, God bless them, were always so patient with me.  They would listen intently and nod with little somber faces at all the appropriate places in the stories.  Until one day, Muffin said something so profound, it literally changed my life forever.

I was telling my children, yet again, my tale of woe when Muffin, age 8 or 9, stopped me and said, “Mom, you know, you are so lucky!”

“What?  Lucky?  How do you figure, Muffin?” I countered.

“All five of your children were close to death, and you only lost one.”

Wow.  Just let that sink in.  Out of the mouth of babes…

That was 12, 13 years ago and it remains one of the most pivotal moments in my life.  I began to see things a little differently.  No longer did I see one death and four almost deaths.  Rather, I began to see how very lucky I was.  I began to see things differently, and these things, they began to change.

I would like to believe that I became a little less bitter that day, a little less sad.  I was 36 years old and far removed from my 20 year-old, naive self.  I had been living my life in a fog.  Now, I began to see the rays of sunlight peeking through.  I was lucky.  I am lucky.  And all it took was for me to look at life through the eyes of a child.  When you change the way you look at things…Peace, ~v.


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I’m Still Feeling My Way Around


July 23, 2014

Dear Readers,

When you lose a loved one, you expect to feel sad and lost and out of sorts.  When you lose a loved one, you expect the grief.  What you don’t expect, is to ever feel better.  I lost someone I love just over a year ago and silly me, I thought I was beginning to feel better.  The awful truth is, I’m still feeling my way around.

Today started out very pleasant, my classes were full and my students were receptive.  I was teaching a writing lesson today and I enjoy teaching students how to write.  The first essay of the year is always a personal narrative.  Students get to tell a story from their life and I get to know them a little better.  It also gives the students a chance to know me little bit better because I write a story from my life, as well.

“The best personal narratives are filled with emotion,” I explain to my students.  “Think about a time when you experienced great emotion.  Think about a time you were very happy, or very sad, or very excited.”

I had given those directions four times before the end of the day.  And after I gave the directions, I began to give examples from my own life.  For the something that made me very happy, I told the students how I felt when I graduated from college.  It even now makes me smile with pride and happiness.  For the something sad I told them how sad I was when my daughter died.  It took 27 years, but talking about Jessica’s death does not bring the sadness and grief that it once did.

Finally, for the very excited, I chose to tell my students about when I taught in the Middle East.  It was one of the most exciting times of my life and it was still fresh in my mind, having just gotten back one year ago last month.  I told my story with all of the excitement I could remember.  And I could remember a lot, because it was so fresh in my memory.

However, what was also still fresh in my memory, was the loss of my love, ESS.  I won’t go into defining our relationship, just suffice it to say that I loved him (still do), and he loved me.  It has been a year since I lost him and I was just getting to the point where I could speak his name without tearing up.  I was just getting to the point where I could talk about him with joy instead of sorrow.  I was just getting to the point…and then it all came flooding back.

My first three classes went rather smoothly.  By the time my last period students settled in their seats, I had no sad thoughts in my head at all.  Then my students began asking questions about the who, the what, the where, the when, the why, and the how of my stay in Abu Dhabi.  And I was only too happy to answer them.  And then it happened.

His face flashed into my mind; a quick glance, and then gone.  I kept talking.  Then his face came into my mind and stayed a little bit longer.  I kept talking.  Then his face came into my mind and wouldn’t go away.  I was forced to confront my memories.  They overwhelmed me and it all came flooding back.  The bell rang, I dismissed my last class and I fell apart at my desk.  I was right back where I had started.

Here is an excerpt from my post on October 13, 2013, “Be Still…Listen”

“Every time I inhale, there is a whirlpool of hurt swirling around in the core of my being.  Simultaneously, my eyes bleed tears that don’t stop until they drop into my lap.  My body aches from the convulsive sobs that fall from my lips.  My throat is scratchy and red from the lack of moisture my crying seems to have taken away from me.  My lips are parched as well.

My arms have gone numb from my wrapping them around myself in a vain attempt to soothe and comfort this sad woman who is me.

My sickness is sorrow and it unnerves people.  Even as the tears run silently down my face, everyone averts their eyes, as if somehow, if they ignore me, my pain will go away.

And there is no relief.  There is no relief and there is no comfort.

When the tears finally subside, I am out of breath.  My breathing is ragged and shallow.  My eyes are swollen and now dry.  Soon, my eyes will softly shut, my breathing will slow and become even.  My shoulders will only sometimes, shudder involuntarily and I will sleep, not restfully, not peacefully, but thankfully, sleep.  And still, there will be no relief.”

This is me all over again, dear Readers.  I am right back where I never wanted to be.  I am right back in the middle of my grief, and it sucks!  But I have faith, dear Readers.  I have faith and I have hope that I will feel better, eventually.  For now, I find the smallest relief in knowing that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Rev 21:4.

I truly hope so, dear Readers, I truly do.  Because right now, I’m still feeling my way around.  Peace, ~v.


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The Way(s) We Grieve


July 1, 2014

Dear Readers,

The ways in which we grieve, outnumber the stars.  Thing is, most people seem to believe that everyone should grieve the same way.  Or, maybe it’s just that grief creates such a vacuum inside our souls that we can only concentrate on how to best deal when the next wave of loss hits us; and make no mistake, it’s gonna hit us.  If this post does nothing else, dear readers, I hope that it serves to enlighten my loved ones that there is not only one way to grieve.

I lost my daughter 27 years ago, and I lost my dad 13 years ago.  My grief was palpable each time.  My grief was a living breathing thing that attached itself to me and dug into every available space within my being.  My five senses were so heightened; I felt every thunder of my heartbeat, I could hear a pin drop across the span of an empty home, I could smell the hospital that clung to my clothes and remained for years, I could see the steam of grief rising from my body, and I tasted the grief that lingered on my tongue and swept, at times, down my throat.  Every breathe became a chore, a reminder that I was alive and my daughter, my father, were not.

Those were the similarities, as for the differences, like night and day…like night and day.  For starters, I was more angry when I was grieving for my daughter.  I wanted nothing around to remind me of her.  I did have enough sense to put away a few pictures, a memento or two, but hardly anything of Jessica’s survived my wrath.  And years later, when the anger subsided, there was the numbing.  My anger had burned so long and so hot, that it had deadened me from the inside out.  It took a very personal, very long, very grueling time for me to come to terms with Jessica’s death.  It was my own path to travel and not one other person can say they traveled the same, because the ways in which we grieve, far exceed our ability to grasp grief, itself.

When my daughter passed away, I knew no one I could talk to that had experienced the same.  And the pain was too raw to share in a grief counseling session.  Subsequently, I shared and compared my grief with no one.  However, when my dad passed away, I had my seven siblings with which to grieve, or not.  Again, we all grieve in our own way.

My grief upon my father’s passing was just as hard and just as lonely, but there was definitely less anger, more acceptance.  I did not throw pictures away, I kept every memento.  I needed to see my dad, even if just a glimpse in a still photograph.  Unlike my daughter’s image, whose face I had, and still have, etched on my heart forever, I am afraid my mind’s eye will forget the dad I grew up with and only remember the dad I lived with during his last days.  That is not the dad I want to remember.  In fact, I graduated from college a mere four months before  my father passed away.  It fills my heart with pride to know that my dad was able to see me graduate from ASU.  However, he was in the throes of his disease by then, and he was slowly losing his battle with death.  I cannot look at pictures of my graduation, it is too bittersweet, too difficult to bear.  However, I realize that there are those who see things differently.  After all, the ways in which we grieve, “…are more in number than the sand.” Psalms 139:18

For those of us who have felt grief, are still grieving, or are facing grief in the future (yeah, I know, this includes almost everybody), do not compare your grief one to another.  Do not pass judgement on those who do not grieve the way you think they should grieve, or would like to see them grieve.  If it helps my loved ones to talk about their grief, I will certainly listen.  But please understand if I do not do the same, talk about it, that is.  Because ultimately, when you think about it, the ways in which we grieve, truly outnumber the stars.  Peace, ~v.