waiting for dawn

The Dark night of the Soul :: Week 6

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the time is now.
darkness is deep and dark, endless and thick

st john of the cross
st teresa of avila
the cloud of unknowing
eckart tolle
i read the wisdom of the ages, others exploring the dark night of the soul and their words scatter like sand across the pages, never taking root in my unsettled soul.

for now, i live my own wordless night,
express my own
explore my own
own my own
the dark, beating hours of the soul.
oh, lord.
how long, how long?

today the darkness sounds like charlie brown’s parents
hollow, vacant, unknown tongues, trilling emptiness

this darkness has no color, no form
yet it wraps itself around me like a heavy, damp woolen blanket,
luring me to sink into depths of consent.

i drop down into a tub of hot water and soak in the darkness.
maybe a return to the womb
maybe to cleanse myself
maybe just to feel buoyant
maybe to make myself feel something
warm
held
it doesn’t work

and then the call,
in the midst of a call
always enmeshed
always overlapping

she, on one end of the line, in her own self absorbed confusion, not so different than pre-stroke, unable to be present to anyone but her own discontent and the lifelong relationship of pain and demands and unmet expectations.

the other end of the line brings the known, expected and tender words.

“he’s gone.”

and, he has always been gone.

i sat in the darkened sunroom, alone. i cannot sleep.

slow.
detached.
muffled.
free-fall in slow motion
no emotion
no fear
dulled to the core

i wander room to room, inside to outside, moving from one bed to another, staring out blackened windows, listening for sounds of life.

i turn on the television and am met with the carnage and death, streets filled with fallen bodies.

have I felt too much?
am I on overload?
is it possible that i am devoid of emotion or caring or compassion?

or, is this just where I am
sitting in the dark
detached
alone
unknowing
waiting for dawn

will his death finally set me free?

breathe in, breathe out

Names and Faces :: week 5
In. Out. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe with, follow those thoughts, meandering and moving with each breath.
It was only one week ago. I woke in the early, early hours of Sunday morning. I lay in bed, listening to the darkness, searching for the neon red numbers to mark the time. Waiting for the light to shift, for dawn to break, for the day to begin and the night to end. Hours passed. Thoughts muddled through my mind. No answers, no purpose, no reason. Just wakefulness and uneasiness. So I breathe, waiting. I breathe and let go.
At first light, I left a note on the counter, packed a bag, and began the drive over the mountain, headed to my father. The father who told me not to come. The father that had disowned me. To the father that abandoned and coerced, that manipulated and taught me that girls don’t matter, girls are good for only one thing, girls never amount to much. The father that never acknowledged birthdays or Christmas or graduations. My body is imprinted and remembers the thump of his forefinger on my chest, my being knows the submissive crumple to the floor, my heart has no tears, no longing, no hope. And yet, with each breath I take, I follow. I go. 
I remember years of teaching and preaching, endless words, thoughts and theology that centered around the concept that a personal view of God was reflective of your relationship with your father and this all hinges on an assumption that God is male. For some reason, with a measure of grace and a bit of luck, I have not struggled with the image of God. If I had based my understanding of a higher power on my father, I would not have held any faith of any kind in any God other than a tyrant.
Those three early morning hours took me over the mountain and into the desert, an appropriate metaphor for the journey I was on. No music, no words, no anxiety, no fear. Only the gentle wind, the intense beauty of brilliant blue sky, and the awareness of my breath, leading me, inviting me to follow. Inviting me to be alive, inviting me to be intentionally present and aware.
I sat at his bedside, barely recognizing this man, the one called father. His breath was shallow, he felt hollow and empty. I began to breathe with him. His eyes opened and he looked past me, towards the ceiling, off into the distance. When he focused on me he let out a small moan and said, “Oh, you look so pretty.” I pulled the chair closer.
  
The image of God was in that moment. No accusations, no need to be right, no need for forgiveness or absolution or justification. The image of God, the face of God, was in the pain, in the reality of death and dying. That moment can only be grace. Nothing forced or held onto, nothing demanded or required, simply present.
Today I am at the coast, breathing salt air, walking the edge of the Pacific Ocean. He was discharged home with hospice. He is no longer responsive. No food. No water. He is preparing to let go for maybe the first time in his life. He just might be closer to knowing the true face of God than I have ever have imagined.
Last night I woke in the darkness again, to the sound of the river and the blackness. I thought of my father, also alone in a different kind of darkness and offered a prayer of gratitude. I will continue to intentionally breathe with him, over the miles, even at a distance, as he slowly leaves this life.
In. Out. Breathe in. Breathe out. His last breath is yet to come.

 

i wish him well

where do i go when it’s all just too much on my own?

finally, a frank conversation

he has been dying for years

lung cancer, colon cancer, ileostomy, colostomy, chemotherapy

blood clot or tumor or maybe a mass on his bladder

his wife cried throughout conversation

he has a DNR

this is the good news

he is in the hospital

in my faith tradition, angels are messengers.

they protect and provide, punish and proclaim.

they are warriors who worship God.

in my being, i cannot find Raphael’s putti cherub nor the winged, great company of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

i struggle to believe or even hold the notion that angels protected some but not all at the pulse nightclub or at the twin towers or on egypt flight 804.

so, yesterday, where were the angels when I called?

“it’s too late

where were you when i needed you?

i won’t let you in.

even if you come, i won’t let you in.

i loved you when you were a little girl. i loved you at your wedding.

i have always loved you.”

in january, he called to sing “Happy Birthday” for the first time in my memory.

i am sure he sang it when i was younger, but then again, i am just as sure he never did.

“i’m not afraid to die. i just don’t want to be there when it happens.

i’m on the home stretch. i know i am dying.

three things can ruin your life. fire. flood. divorce. i’ve had them all.

say hi to your brother (not my son).

i refuse to be down in the dumps.

my mom would call me “chick.” she always asked me to take care of my father and i promised her i would. my own dad had a difficult time saying I love you.

you don’t remember moments, you remember memories. i believe i am getting through because people are praying.

i’m sorry.

i didn’t know how to be a good father. from the bottom of my heart now I apologize.

now, just go and have an asthma attack.

your mother and i divorced at the wrong time in your life. i wasn’t, i didn’t know how to be a good father.

you treat salesmen like you treat a dog. treat them right and they’ll love you. if you kick um, they will bite you or run away.”

where do i go when it’s all just too much on my own?

i dissolve in tears. for the father i never had, for the years of rejection, for the manipulation, for the irrational, senseless meaning of his words and intent, even now as he faces death.

i allow myself to enter into the deep loss of daddy grief, emptied of expectations, exhausted by the years of pain, and fall to the floor in release.

as i am emptied, tired and swollen, thirsty and sad, i wonder again, where do i go?

i go within. i do what i know how to do. i breathe. i look for the message. not the why.

i look for what this means. i tell the truth. i find my center. i pray.

“it’s too late”

it is never too late.

“where were you when I needed you?”

it was your responsibility to be there for me, your daughter.

“i won’t let you in.”

i don’t need to be bedside to be let in. i can be there by being here.

“even if you come, i won’t let you in.”

i am already in.

“i loved you when you were a little girl. i loved you at at your wedding.

i have always loved you.”

you did the best you could. i am sure you did when i was younger, but then again, i am just as sure you never did.

and today, if there are angels, i pray they minister peace, even now to his tortured soul, that his passing would be gentle and he would have no fear. i wish him well.

“All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.” Julian of Norwich

god is in the details

God is in the details.

as a child i did not day dream of being married or having children. oh, there were times i played with a plastic, hard-headed betsy wetsy, feeding her flour and water paste, pretending she was crying, wrapping her up tightly in towels and tucking her into a shoe box for naps. but i was easily distracted by the apple tree that needed climbing, out in the empty field across the street. a pad of newsprint and a chunk of charcoal could captivate me for hours. by age 14 and without my consent, i was  “junior mother” to six younger brothers and could change a diaper with a kid hanging on my leg. i could cook dinner for nine, make my own clothes and get to my job at the mall by 5:30pm.

my dreams back then were about survival and escape, freedom and travel and adventures, going to far away lands, living a wild life of mystery, or even a life in the middle of nowhere, a solitary, quiet life. maybe a life in a stone house with several long haired cats, a sturdy easel and a garden with rambling roses and changing cloudscapes.

but then. In a moment, something began to shift as an unknown, unexpected sense deep within me recognized something new and different, something sacred was about to unfold. my daughter was going to be a mother. over time, friends said there was nothing to compare with the experience of being a grandparent. i thought it would be just like having my own children but i could send them home when i was done.

i watched as her body changed, as her moods swung, as she decorated, nested and packed an overnight bag. for months i watched my own woman-child, that soccer loving, creative force, expressive, extroverted, people magnet as she waited to deliver life.  i was filled with expectation and excitement. more for this than the births of my own three children, because what i didn’t know then, i know now.  anticipation built for this new little life, for the miraculous process of birth, for the new relationship that would unfold.

i met them at the hospital for the long labor, overwhelmed with gratitude. i slept in the nook of her room, held her hand, rubbed her back, caught the eye of her husband too many times to count as we drew breath together and waited.

newbirth

in that moment of first inhale, of new life, birthed from tears and work and sweat and breath and ache, of crying out from love, from connection, from fear it may never end, to the realization that she had wailed her first cry, she was swaddled in warm flannel and held to her mother’s breast to have each finger counted, each hair smoothed.

i tenderly watched from my window seat as mother and father welcomed new life within their own world of love and awe, with tears on my cheeks and a full heart aware of sacred space and time.

godindetails

a tiny bundle, my only daughter’s newborn daughter, little Dot was nestled in my arms and my body began that gentle rock, forgotten over the years. at that exact moment, the very instant she opened her eyes and looked at me, time stopped. i was alone with all who had gone before me.

i whispered and cooed and told her the secrets of this new love, this unexpected tender love, my love. how from this day and until the day that i died, i would always and in every way possible, love her. i committed to her in that private, sacramental moment, my promise to hold her in my heart, to release her into her own journey with  the assurance of acceptance. it wouldn’t matter how or where she lived, how far she travelled, what she did, the choices she made. i gave her my vow. i would always find her, always search for her, always love her.

grand-baby-girl eyes, newly born, revealed my grandmother’s eyes and her grandmother’s eyes, the experiences, the wisdom, the strength, the creativity, the tenacity of generational wisdom, the lineage of the ages.

at that sacred moment a tiny baby full of potential, unknowingly prepared just by being born, changed my life forever as i saw myself reflected.

 

surrender

surrender

she is young, maybe 23. but then, everyone is young these days. her standard “schpeal” is a bit bewildering. i see her mouth move, i hear words directed at me, but I don’t know if she is really there.  “you can take your clothes off from the waist up. put on this gown (and you know it’s ugly) and tie the two blue ties over your right hip, then tie the two tan ties over your left hip. open the curtain when you are ready. (she doesn’t realize I could out wait her.)   Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. she is flicking the top of my right hand and telling me i have really great veins and that she does this all the time. my palms are wet. i show her the pooled sweat in my left hand as she makes her second attempt at the “great vein.” after her third attempt she declares my veins flat. i could have told her that. nothing to drink in 16 hours, so flat veins seemed reasonable to me. by now I am crying.

“you might have some pain or cramping. because your abdomen will be inflated, you might notice some gas. if you see any blood in your stool, get medical attention,” she says in her best, disengaged nurse voice.

an IV is finally hooked up. she wonders if i have any questions as she cleans up her mess. “are you aware that i am having an endoscopy today?  do they inflate my abdomen for that?” she giggles as she leaves my curtained cubicle, saying, “oh, I do this all day long and i forget who is getting what done.”

i willed my eyes to stay open for the ten seconds before the propofol took me away. i wanted to be present, i wanted to feel. i surrendered easily into a lovely place of nothingness. the next thing i remember is the nurse in the next cubicle saying, “you can take all of your clothes off but your socks. put on this gown and tie the two blue ties over your right hip, then tie the two tan ties over your left hip. open the curtain when you are ready.”

tears flowed at the absurdity of it all.

 

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standing on the edge of case inlet, on the puget sound, the sky is sparkling, there is a gentle breeze coming off the water, bringing with it a slight, salty smell of freshness. i can hear the silence. my bare feet are planted on the ground and i feel connected with the earth. something begins to rise up within me.  fear? excitement? maybe this is it ~ maybe I will be able to breathe again.

led in meditation, i willed my eyes to stay open to take in the beauty surrounding me. i wanted to be present, i wanted to feel. i wanted it all, yet i was afraid, so alone, so uncertain about my own ability to go forward.

breathe in. breathe out. allow the process to do its work. make the decision to go forward, into the unknown. enter the struggle, yield to this. just this. trust yourself.

exposed throat, arms extended, heartspace lifted, wide open body leaning back. easy, deep inhales, like the tide I stand before, followed by sighs, deep exhales from my belly, i begin to sink. in opening, i list, not knowing she is there. she’s got my back. she does not touch me, hands in her sweatshirt pocket, but I sense her presence. i begin slowly to lean into her like an embrace, my head drops back onto her shoulder and i take in the words she whispers gently.

tears flowed with the ache of connection.

 

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never wanted to go there. not one single thought about it. never, ever imagined in my wildest dreams that one day i would be in paris.

my senses, every single one of them is heightened as i travel alone, not understanding the language, the city, the sights, the sounds. i connect with a group of six women, in our own apartment, with my own bed, my own bathroom, my own space to process this adventure. i began to learn a new rhythm. an early morning walk down the street to pick up my fresh warm croissant to savor with vanilla bourbon yogurt and hot tea and milk. i learn to ride the metro with the group ~ more importantly by myself. i ride a bicycle through the countryside and spend a half day alone, wandering the dead in pere lachaise cemetery. i eat luscious food in fine restaurants and mouth-watering quiche at a sidewalk cafe and carry my own baguette and fromage to the foot of the tour eiffel.

i didn’t know then, that the reason paris beckoned me was wrapped up in an unexpected, unplanned visit to philharmonie de paris and a newly opened exhibit by marc chagall. in answering the call, a single moment transported and transformed me.

parisoperahouse

one step over the threshold, into space i can only describe as sacred, a place set apart. a small room held dozens of people, yet i was alone.  there. the ceiling of the paris opera house. i look up, lean back, open my heart and will my eyes to stay open. wagner and debussy and tchaikovsky, stravinsky, bizet and verdi. each note plays out, is drawn out in invitation to surrender. surrender to the music. surrender to the art. allow the beauty, the movement, the sound, the emotion to take me into the explosive expression of color and creativity.

the real summons is to surrender. to be present to myself, fully and wholly and holy unto myself.

i slowly back up against the wall in awe, almost unable to breathe and slip slowly to the floor.

the tears flow.

the gift

Day 12 :: The Gift
 
The unexpected, unimagined phone call came when I was out of state helping facilitate a workshop. The emergency number was called and I was taken out of the group to call home. My brother, gently told me that my mother had had a stroke. He said it was not life threatening, that the troops had circled and that I did not need to come home. My mama, the strength, the organizer, the motivator, the matriarch of the huge, dysfunctional, “look good-be good” family, was in the hospital, unable to speak, unable to engage.
 
I went into shock and did what I was told. I stayed and continued to help with the workshop. But, OH ! how I acted out! I cried. I screamed. I thew props across the room. I yelled. I was scattered and afraid. It was the best place that I could be – a place where I could fall apart, be held and known and taken care of. If I had gone home, it would have been expected and much too easy to slip into my designated family role as caregiver and surrogate mother.
 
Days later, I saw her, her tiny self in an oversized, previously worn, light blue cotton gown on the Neurology Unit.
hands
 
In a room full of noise and activity. Her husband, her kids, spouses, grandchildren. Medical staff came and went. Doctors and physical therapists and nurses and aides, all professional and kind. I wanted to scream, “Do you know who this is? This is my m.o.t.h.e.r. Do you understand how important she is?”
 
But there she lay, with unkempt hair, jewelry removed, no lipstick, a vacant look to her. She couldn’t speak in full sentences, this, the woman who had talked to everyone, all the time. She ate salad with her fingers, this, the woman who ate everything with a sterling (why save it for a special occasion?) knife and fork, always with a linen napkin. She brushed her hair with a toothbrush, once with a fork. She was confused and frightened and not sure where she was. She tried to talk. The words that came out of her mouth made no sense. She didn’t know her name. In an instant, she lost the ability to drive, to paint, to read, to knit, to cook, to talk. She couldn’t be left alone. She didn’t understand money or time, her medications or how to relate to others. And no one knew what to do. Or what to say.
 
In her 80’s, before the stroke, she hosted family gatherings of 50 people every holiday. She managed three homes. She created the flower arrangements for her grandchildren’s weddings. She knit blankets and sweaters and washcloths. She remembered every birthday, of every person, every year. She could organize the symphony, the community, and everyone else’s life. She could design and build a house, at the same time travel the world.
 
The gift is being with her and having conversations that mean something. The gift is time. The gift of seeing her, really seeing her because she no longer has a filter to hide behind. I see her as I always wanted to, had always hoped to, always dreamt of. Her defenses are down, her pretense is gone.
 
The gift shows up to be unwrapped each day as one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I am with her at her worst. Those days when she is confused and defensive, cryptic, unkind and unable to let something go. I am with her at her best. Those days when she is childlike, reading one word at a time, trying to remember, trying to find the words, trying to understand, trying to create. I am with her as she sings only the notes and knits one stitch at a time.
I am with her when we laugh until our bellies hurt and I am with her as she asks the questions that are most important to her:
 
“Where am I going when I die? Where will I lie down? I think of all the people and family. I’ll be a spirit, maybe mama and I will be joined at the hip. I think I’m really going to be with others …with my mama. I look at her all the time when I am at the beach. Is that me? My whole life has been a big vacancy. It is the unknown….gigantic. like a …it’s not a movie. I don’t hear with my ears. I don’t remember my dreams. What is it going to be like? My children need to tell me.”