Dialing up some courage

Cowardly_Lion

Among my favorite movies of all time is the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.  Of all the characters in the story I’ve always understood the Cowardly Lion the best. Despite being told that I was courageous for going into architecture without knowing how to draft, completing college as a single parent or not losing my mind after Gus’ passing, in my heart I’ve always felt like a coward.  It never occurred to me that any of these accomplishments required any courage on my part; I was sure I could figure out how to draw lines; being in a bad marriage seemed a waste of my time and I had no choice but to accept Gus’ loss.  To me courage meant only one thing – facing my greatest fear – insecurity.

For most of my life I tended to shy away from anything that made me feel vulnerable. While I can be perceived as a loud mouth, I don’t like speaking in public.  Expressing my opinions makes me anxious because I am afraid of being disliked.  I refrain from asking for help because I don’t like to feel indebted and above all I hate to be dependent on anyone for anything including my husband.

I always balked at the idea that losing one’s child is somehow different from losing one’s parent, spouse, sibling or friend. I maintained that a loss was a loss.  It occurs to me now that I was likely saying this to remove attention from myself and the implied sense of awe that I was surviving our loss.  Losing one’s child is different however, not just because it defies a sense of the natural order of life but because it exposes the limits of our ability to perform the most basic duty of parenting – protecting our children.  We work so hard to nurture and provide for them that it feels like the universe’s greatest betrayal to snatch them away from us in ways that seem unconscionable.  The only blessing in this kind of grief is that it makes all other fears appear small and insignificant.

In the last five years, I’ve been chipping away at my insecurities one by one.  I’ve spoken in public on a few occasions; expressed my thoughts on politics and church law, and allowed myself to be helped by my family and friends.  This year it was time to tackle my biggest fear yet – allowing myself to become dependent on my wonderful husband.

For the last twenty-two years I have been a full-time employee at the same place.  While I’ve enjoyed the work, there were many times I considered quitting to be a full-time mom but did not because I was terrified of being fully dependent on my husband.  What if the economy turned? What if despite all evidence to the contrary he suddenly decided not to work? What if we didn’t work out?  What if we didn’t save enough for college?  The “what ifs” were interminable not to mention that it was empowering to contribute to our household finances. It must seem counter intuitive to change my working conditions now that I have no children to look after but this is no longer about being an at home mom – that ship sailed long ago.  This is another step (if not the final one) in learning to let go – to trust that my husband and by extension the universe will always take care of me.  So as of this week I am no longer a full time employee….. I am part-time.  WHAT? I said I was a coward…..but I am starting to get better.  LIVE – LAUGH – LOVE!

 

My Favorite Day

img_42891In spite of the persistent ache of another Christmas & New Year without Gus, I eased into this past holiday season intent on being “present” instead of rushing through it and skipping town as soon as Christmas Day was over.   I sprinkled the house with all of the holiday decor I had not given away and even resolved to watch some of my favorite Christmas movies as I’d always done.  I watched two from my holiday collection, It’s a Wonderful Life – my best-loved “be grateful’ flick and The Polar Express, a bittersweet reminder of my absolute favorite day.

When we set out that sunny and crisp Saturday in early December, (December 4, 2004 to be exact) I had no idea the day would come to overshadow our wedding, giving birth to my children or any of the other days I previously thought to be among my best moments.  It was one of the first “free” Saturdays after a very long physically and emotionally exhausting year of intense rounds of chemotherapy, operations, a stem cell transplant, radiation and seemingly interminable hours at the hospital and cancer center. If I were a reasonable person I would have stayed home, let everyone take a nap, especially our baby who had just been through hell but I am not and was therefore itching to make a good memory; to do something “normal”.  After brunch, the five of us headed to Griffith Park so that Gus could ride a pony like his brothers had done when they were small. I am sure that being only three, Gus had never expressed an interest in seeing much less riding a pony but I had the sense it was something he just had to do.  After he’d ridden the ponies we turned our attention to the mini-train a short distance away.  We did not mind that it was almost too small for the rest of us or that it went in a giant circle to nowhere as we climbed aboard. When I was sufficiently satisfied that maximum fun had been reached at the park we took a leisurely drive to the movie theater to watch The Polar Express.  It was one of Gus’ first times at the movies and he was transfixed by the music and larger than life characters on the giant screen. We ended our day with a belly full of pizza and smiles on our faces.

There is no question that I packed so much into a single day to somehow make up for the year of torture his little body had endured and although we’d go to the movies many more times after and have even greater adventures in the following years, I’ve often wondered what it was that made that day so unforgettable to me.  As I watched the movie this year allowing myself to be fully immersed in the memory, I finally realized what it was – freedom.  On that day so soon after finishing treatment but still too early to know if his remission would hold I had no choice but to exist somewhere between fear and hope.  It was obvious that if I gave in to fear I’d be paralyzed but could just as easily be crippled if I gave in to hope.  It was liberating to recognize that there was no one to blame for Gus’ illness; it had not been caused by a poor lifestyle choice nor was it a consequence of neglect, accident or evil intention; and since I was unwilling to believe it was some kind of divine test of faith, I easily relieved myself of the responsibility of trying to figure out what demonstrations of faith were necessary to cure him. I was struck by the idea that I’d been witnessing a miracle my whole life without knowing it. What an amazing feat that cells knew when to become a nose, a mouth, a finger or a tree! The miracle was that everything didn’t go wrong more often than it did.  I suppose I adopted the “life is too short” philosophy that day. The guiding principle that has challenged me everyday since to say yes to every opportunity and to find the happiness in each moment knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed.  While I must admit that at times it has been difficult to sustain this new-found perspective,  I’ve been most surprised to discover that it is then that my faith takes over. It turns out that I never needed to find much less prove my faith in the universe (God) as it has always been there just below the surface like an electric current waiting for me to plug-in and keep witnessing the magic.  Gus, I miss you terribly, know that I can’t wait to see you again because I got your hot chocolate!

hot-chocolate

Hot! Hot!
Ooh, we got it!
Hot! Hot!
Hey, we got it!
Hot! Hot!
Say, we got it!
Hot chocolate!

(From Gus’ favorite scene in The Polar Express)

What do you do on the 4th anniversary of your son’s passing? You get a tattoo.

smiling but not happyDo not be fooled by my cheery disposition or attempts at connecting with the universe through positive talk and action, at the core I am damaged beyond repair.  I run out of the room silently cursing under my breath during childhood cancer awareness commercials in May – yes thank you I am very aware;  I blink back tears when asked if I want to donate to St. Jude’s research hospital anywhere I shop during the month of November – of course yes just add it to my bill; and I turn on the radio and pretend to sing along when my brain wants to replay Gus’ last twenty-four hours on the anniversary of his passing in June. Every single day I am at odds with myself, one side going about her business in a state of peaceful acceptance the other saying over and over again that the happiness is false, a tenuous coping mechanism at best that will eventually crumble – just you wait and see.  I loathe this persistent emotional conflict, it has turned me into what I never wanted to be – sentimental.

I had a single fictional hero growing up – Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. I wished more than anything to be like him – calm, rational, logical.  Unfortunately, I was born with a heightened sense of justice that was easily offended not just for myself but for everyone else making me quick to rant and rave about unfairness and inequality.  The only way I thought I could make myself more “Spock Like” was to avoid becoming overly emotional about certain aspects of my life.  I promised myself that no one would ever break my heart, that I would never regret a single thing I did and that I would always barrel forward much like a bull in a china shop – heartache, remorse and nostalgia were all illogical. If a romance dissolved, even when that was my first marriage, it was my pride that suffered not my heart.  I acknowledged my actions impassively and barreled forward without looking back, my mind always on the next goal. Even when my first two sons were infants I was already preparing for them to leave me and then when I married my best friend and saint of a man, I kept some distance in case it was for “now” and not “happily ever after”. Gus changed everything, he wrapped himself around my heart so tightly that his passing broke it, my helplessness during his illness filled me with regret and I can’t help but long for days past.

Terrifying illnesses and injuries alter our bodies, leaving scars that announce to the world that we’re survivors, that we’ve gone to the brink of the abyss and come back to tell the story.  The most poignant struggle of my life however, would leave no visible trace, nothing to show that I have kept moving even though my feet are encased in concrete.  I knew I needed to get a tattoo, it would be my mark of survival, but of what and where? Earlier this year my husband was doodling on a pad when it came to him, he drew a heart with Gus’ name within it like lightning bolts, it was perfect.

Gus TattooOn June 24th, after that day’s yearly routine of early morning mass, visiting Gus’ niche and breakfast we drove to Broken Art Tattoo in Silverlake, a place my sister suggested if only because it sounded like “broken heart”.  I was nervous, unsure if it would hurt too much or just turn out badly. After sizing it on the inside of my left wrist and selecting the colors, the inking began.  I could feel the tiny little stabs as my tattoo artist (I now had one) traced around the heart and Gus’ name but it did not hurt and when it was done I realized it was better than I could have ever imagined.  There is a comic book quality to the colors and shading that remind me of the emblem of a superhero (Gus), the bottom tip of the heart points to the main artery that goes to my heart and having placed it on the inside of wrist gives me the ability to either conceal it or flash it – like Spider-Man throwing his web or Wonder Woman blocking bullets. It is at once irrational and overly emotional, much more like Jim Kirk’s approach to a crisis than Mr. Spock’s. I suspect this was part of Gus’ mission, to force me to narrow the distance between myself and those I love. Is there space for me to still channel Mr. Spock?  I certainly hope so, until I find out may you – LIVE LONG & PROSPER….

Ghosts of Christmas Past & Future

Another Christmas without you.

Another Christmas without you.

Christmas is especially difficult after losing Gus. Whereas I once relished the season, sprinkling cinnamon scented cones throughout the house, cramming every nook and cranny with a Santa or some other kitschy decoration, and draping the house in garlands and lights, for the last three years I’ve approached  it as if I was ripping off a bandage from an open wound, quickly while holding my breath.

This year more than ever I felt like a Christmas spectator than a participant; as though I was out on a cold, damp, dim street looking through a window at a warm, happy party I could not join. Everything hurt me this year; the mention of the birth of Christ at church, the long lines of kids waiting for Santa at the mall, the request for two front teeth on the radio, and even the Facebook news feed that peppered me incessantly with pictures of kids I used to see regularly, older now, swathed in the colors of the season. Just setting up for Christmas was torture as each of the few Christmas decorations I had retained through The Great Purge held special meaning. The glittery cone precariously glued on its end gingerly placed on the coffee table had been carefully constructed by our oldest son in first grade, the beautifully framed splattering of green paint right next to it, a Christmas gift from our middle son in second grade, and on the mantle, a red, white and green construction paper garland that Gus made in kindergarten. But it was the Christmas tree that finally drew blood, each ornament we unwrapped and hung; the giant red, white and blue Mickey ears from our last family trip to Disneyworld, the ones that commemorated the kids births, the unbreakable ones purchased when Gus was a baby, the ones we picked up on epic trips around the country and the one we had made in his memory stabbed at our hearts until we were emotionally wrecked.  For the first time in my life, I was Scrooge, face to face with the Ghost of Christmas past.

I thought December 26th would be better, if I could just power through the days leading up to and including the 25th, I could stop pretending to smile and smile for real, perhaps even take a breath. I nearly did or thought I had until the Ghost Christmas Future showed up growling at me pacing back and forth around the house between Christmas and New Year’s until I matched its steps and took on its persona.  I used to race towards the future, I had a zeal for leaving things behind.  I liked running away from mistakes, worries, circumstances, even people.  I was the kind of person that tore up ex-boyfriend’s letters and pictures, that dropped the baggage at the door of the last year and stepped into the new year without hesitation.  Since Gus’ passing however, I’ve had no interest in the future. The future no longer held any promise for me other than further loss.

I began wondering if I was a fraud.  If I had ever believed there could be “upsides” to grief or if all of it, the working, traveling, reading, writing, “positive” mental attitude were things I was saying but did not really believe.  The peace I thought I had gained was not real if it could evaporate by the changing of a single digit.

Sunday the 18th of January will be my husband’s birthday and while I hadn’t come up with a great gift idea yet, it seems that Gus had.  Yesterday, I was heading home after getting a body wrap to squeeze the unwanted water from my pores when my sweaty hand hit the wrong button landing me on a radio station I rarely listen to. It was playing The Pretender (hmm) by the Foo Fighters so I left it there.  All of my boys (husband and Gus included) are huge fans of the band and have been aching to see them in concert but the show this coming September sold out in seconds and now the tickets were ridiculously priced. Although I wasn’t really paying much attention to the DJ, I thought I heard him say that the band had just announced a “secret” or “surprise” show at the Forum on Saturday with tickets going on sale within a few hours. I scrambled home to tell my son who coordinated with his dad and by the time the evening was over they had secured a bunch of tickets for us and a few friends.  Saturday is the 10th, a number of great significance to us as Gus’ birthday was the 10th of August and he was ten when he passed away.  I choose to believe that Gus meant for me to get us to that concert as a present to his dad.

Without an ability to hold onto the past and with a fear as much as a reluctance of the future, I realize now I have been grabbing onto the present for dear life.  While it is important to make the most of the present, to be “in the moment” precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead, it is a little like staring at your feet while walking. You are bound to walk into a pole. Life must also be lived with intention and intention is all about the future.  While the ghosts of Christmas past may go by many names and hurt me each year they are released from their translucent graves, the ghost of Christmas future has a single name, peace.  I can follow Gus to that future if I listen closely enough because in the end it will lead me straight to him.  May you find peace in 2015.

Grateful for happiness?

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving was at our house this year and in a sense it was the most relaxing one yet.  This is the first year I wasn’t stressed about making the turkey since taking over that duty from my mom, more than a decade ago.  My sister and I have tried to make it a bunch of different ways but slathering a mixture of butter and herbs de Provence between the skin and the meat makes the juiciest most delicious turkey so we stick with that recipe.  My broccoli gratin was made in advance and the rest was potluck so while twenty-eight of us would gather around the table this year, I spent the day taking a walk, watching football and generally just waiting for the turkey to be done.

Thanksgiving day was warm, sunny and stunningly beautiful.  My California sycamore seemed to glisten in the sun even as the leaves dropped gently to the ground.  It was the kind of day Gus would have been running around the yard, kicking at leaves, agonizing over how long much longer he’d have to wait to dive into the turkey.  I imagined his legs, which would have been by longer now, draped over the end of the couch as we watched the football games or episodes of Twilight Zone. I imagined I would have been trying to capture the family Christmas card picture while none of the boys cooperated. I willed myself not to cry.

Each year, before sitting for dinner, we go around the room taking turns expressing something for which we are most grateful for that year.  Over the years, this tradition has taken on a life of its own as I imagine all traditions do and going around the room has been taking longer and longer because everyone seems to want to make a speech.  I decided I would limit everyone to a single word this year.  To make sure we were all listening to each other, I would ask that each person first say the word just said by the person next to them before adding their own and that we try not to repeat any sentiment or object of our gratitude already expressed.  It would be a wonderful exercise in listening and being concise.

As the time neared for me to start off our expressions of gratitude I wondered what feeling or thing I would choose and if I could mean it. Grief can be unpredictable and devious and so while I thought I had somehow learned to co-exist with it, it has turned around and poked at me with much more ferocity than I expected this year.  I have been missing Gus terribly this holiday season. I feel constantly sad and on the verge of tears most days. Another holiday without him, another year gone by. I reminded myself that Gus would not want me to be sad or make others sad and so when it was time, I slapped a smile across my face and gathered everyone around the table.  After thanking everyone for joining us again, I said I was grateful for happiness and I began to mean it.

Allowing happiness to enter into our midst has been as difficult as the loss itself.  Being happy seems wrong somehow as though it is an act of betrayal or a sign that we are “over it”.  There is no getting over your losses, I still miss my grandmother now deceased thirty years, I miss my grandfather, my mother-in-law and I can’t imagine ever not missing Gus but I have to make a choice. I can either to wallow in the sadness or bask in the sunlight of happiness.  I choose happiness because that is the best way to honor my baby boy who was always happy even when he was sick.  The truth is there is much to be happy about, lots of “upsides”.  I have great friends, an awesome family, a wonderful husband and two amazing, talented, funny older boys.  I have lost weight and feel great about myself.  I have extraordinary parking karma, finding a spot near where I need to go even when the lot is full. I have a job a like and I am taking a shot at doing what I always wanted to do – write. I am finally in a book club through which I was introduced to incredible books and authors. We have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel this year.  We skied in Utah, visited my sister in New York, cruised through the Panama Canal, partied in Vegas a couple of times and next week we will head to Seattle to watch the Seahawks take on the 49niners.  We must be happy because everywhere we go, Gus is with us. Our most recent and obvious encounter with him was when we stopped in Cabo San Lucas at end of our family cruise.  Of all the places we could have chosen to stop for breakfast we just happen to pick the one restaurant that is permeated by the image of a figure with outstretched hands in a sign of victory much like Gus’ memorial picture.  Thank you Gus for giving us happiness by your life on earth and from above in heaven.

Gus' memorial picture

Gus’ memorial picture

Gus image on chairs

Gus image on chairs

Gus image on base of sinks

Gus image on base of sinks

Gus image on the window outside.  Gus with his brothers again.

Gus image on the window outside. Gus with his brothers again.

Dia De Los Muertos

Dia de los muertos 2I have long thought that it is a miracle that the vast majority of us are born perfectly fine and live well into old age.  Somehow billions of cells (I have no clue how many cells are actually in the body but it seems like a lot) combine to form perfect human beings with the correct amount of toes, fingers, eyes, ears and limbs that usually function pretty well for an amount of time that defies explanation.  How does a nose not wind up in the middle of your body or an ear on your elbow?  Why can one person who smokes like a chimney live and die of old age while another person who never smoked die of lung cancer? I am grateful for the eight additional years we got with Gus by the efforts of those who fight to cure cancer but I often wonder if we don’t struggle too much to hold on to our youthful lives as though continued medical intervention and making our faces and bodies appear young will somehow fool death into passing us by. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t welcome death, it is tragic and painful but only for those of us left behind, the souls of our departed are in the spirit world without pain or worry.

The Dia de Los Muertos is not intended to be a somber reminder of loss but an affirmation of the cycle of life so we can live it with more meaning and awareness. Elaborate altars are built for our departed in their memory and to lure them back to us with offerings of their favorite food and drink in deference to a belief that the soul lives on after death. Since Gus’ passing I have adopted this tradition in earnest, building an elaborate altar which is up from the beginning of October to November 2nd and hosting an ever growing party at which our family and friends add pictures of their loved ones to our altar.  The result is that although Gus is still the main star, he is now surrounded by many angels. I am profoundly grateful for this tradition as it has become a wonderful way to give thanks to our friends and family for their support and share the joy of life as we remember all of our loved ones together.

My grandfather loved the following poem by Amado Nervo. He would recite it at the top of his lungs at family parties when I was young.

“At Peace” 

Very near my sunset, I bless you, Life because you never gave me neither unfilled hope nor unfair work, nor undeserved sorrow. Because I see at the end of my rough way that I was the architect of my own destiny and if I extracted the sweetness or the bitterness of things it was because I put the sweetness or the bitterness in them when I planted rose bushes I always harvested roses Certainly, winter is going to follow my youth But you didn’t tell me that May was eternal I found without a doubt long my nights of pain But you didn’t promise me only good nights And in exchange I had some peaceful ones I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face Life, you owe me nothing, Life, we are at peace!

May we all find peace in and with our lives…

2012

2012

DSC_0038_3847

2013

2014

2014

DSCN0880

Gus you are forever the source of my joy!

Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Part Four

Always smiling

Always smiling

I have no doubt that many readers will find a million ways our meeting with AJ Barrera was a complete farce.  We are after all grieving parents eager for evidence that our son is not really lost to us. Even I can point to the many times we offered up unsolicited information.  However, there is no way AJ could have known about the collie, the location of Gus’ memorial shelves in our house, the memorial plaque at his school (see below), that Gus would poke fun at his relationship with his oldest brother (see below) or that he would take credit for the music that fills his other brother’s life now (see below), not to mention accurately describing the personalities of all the other relatives that made an “appearance”.  But the reading was even more than that, hitting nearly every aspect of the difficulties and questions we had not even had the heart to talk to each other about. For example, until the reading, my husband had been incapable of venturing into the backyard, especially where the wagon was hiding directly across from the swing set.  It was there, at the bottom of the slide, that he and Gus had last spoken, having a heart to heart about life as Gus enjoyed the sun warming his bald head.  For my part, I was wondering if he’d woken up on the other side disappointed that he was no longer with us.  I could almost hear him say, “Aw Man, I’m dead…”.  I worried that it was my fault for not giving him the stem cells sooner, that I had missed something that would have kept him alive. It gave me great peace to know there was nothing I could do to prevent it and that he had been in control of his leaving and was ready for his transition. We left the reading with the knowledge that Gus is not just in our hearts and memories but that his spirit is actually still with us – we only have to be open to the signs.  Like our walk in Spain, our reading with AJ was trans-formative.  Since then, Gus is as present in our lives as ever and we are practicing living each moment with more presence and openness.  Life can be truly magic.


Final reading segment:

AJ:          I might misinterpret this….is there….I actually want to drop it down younger.  So I want to drop it down to your younger energy and I rather be wrong on it, but is there actually like a mural or either some sort of engraving or some sort of writing that you had done in honor of your son that I have to bring up here?

Us:         Yeah..

AJ:          Where is this if you don’t mind me asking?

Us:         It’s a memorial plaque at his school.

Memorial Plaque at Gus' school.

Memorial Plaque at Gus’ school.

AJ:          He wants to let you know…” thank you for honoring him and thank you for doing this” because there is a part of it that is written and it’s engraved and there is a part of it that he wants to let you know, it’s his way of waking up and being a legend because he is a legend on the other side because he is known on this side, there is like a superhero type of energy, that he is still strong and not fighting this but still the main guy on this side.  Is there a reference to him like just being like honestly a character?

Us:         Yeah..

AJ:          Because part of it like he is making me feel like “I am not sick, look, I’m not sick”, part of it like I’m alive, I’m happy, I’m having a good time and his energy for me is about kind of making you guys happy and making you guys laugh because I feel like his energy, when it was here physically was kind of to make you guys happy and make sure mom and dad were ok, it wasn’t for you guys to make him up, you know what I mean? I feel like his duty was to assist you and help you guys out as well, he’s also bringing up for me, do you actually…and this will sound very unique,  you don’t have his jacket with you do you?

Us:         Not with us for today, no.

AJ:          Do you carry his jacket around?  Why would he bring up his jacket?

Us:         His sweatshirt is hanging inside his room and I grab onto it every day.

AJ:          He wants to let you know that “I’m there with you when you do that”, “I’m there with you”, because he is making me feel like I need to acknowledge the jacket or the sweatshirt he is identifying with you and he wants to let you know I am still there for that event, I am still part of your life, because his energy, again, he is alive, like spiritually, he’s like right here, my hair is just rising, he’s a vibrant energy for you guys again, it’s not about the medium it is truly about you guys of understanding of why he wants to come across to you guys, it’s about making sure that mom and dad are ok.  They are also bringing up for me like when this energy….. did you say your mom passed on the fourteenth?

Us:         Uh –hugh.

AJ:          Then there must be another reference to this, because flag day is like June 15th, so is there another significance to a governmental holiday, that I need to bring up for you guys?

DSC_0038-1Us:         This morning, the cub scouts go put flags on all the graves for Memorial day.

AJ:          Are you guys doing an event?

Us:         I haven’t done it the last two years, today and last year but we did every year since he was born with him as a guy in a stroller, or as a cub scout.

AJ:          Have a party for him, he is going to be at those events so if you are placing the flags, he wants to acknowledge that I will be there with you guys, so enjoy the moment, enjoy the time with him and even though spiritually he is around you guys even though physically he is not, there is part that he wants to let you know I am still a part of your life today as well,  because when I look into you guy’s energy, he is making me feel like, you guys are a team, you are a whole, you guys are a backbone, so I don’t feel like one is weaker than the other I definitely feel like you guys balance each other where you guys are at, but his energy is like I just want to step forward and be this true energy for you guys as well.  Why? Is there a weird reference…..do you guys have ties to Orlando? Like Florida?

Us:         We took him to Disneyworld.  I have some relatives there.  We went there twice with him.

AJ:          It’s something one step further.  I don’t think it’s just Disney.  Or two I need to call him by a different name. So would he go by like Dopey, Sleepy, Goofy or something like that?  Is there a name that I am actually supposed to bring up here? To acknowledge him, or to acknowledge one of you guys? I feel like it’s a funny, haha, reference that he wants to acknowledge because I don’t think it’s just making the trip to Disneyland because I’d actually see like Anaheim but I feel like if you have ties to Orlando, then I feel like in some sense I need to acknowledge Disneyworld or maybe the name of something.  There is something they want to bring up here, like it’s a name.

Us:         We used to call his brother Grumpy.

AJ:          That makes sense, his brother?

Us:         Yeah.

AJ:          Your brother?

Us:         No, his older brother.

AJ:          Still call him Grumpy. Let him know he is still Grumpy from the other side, because I feel like I need to acknowledge him, and need to acknowledge like the name the character, and was he close to his brother if you don’t mind my asking?

Us:         Yes.

AJ:          Because I need to acknowledge him in a joking way, like bust his chops and let him know that I still want to feel like the brother energy.  But he is making me feel like he’s the better half though. So kind of like tease him with that, so he makes like he was known for that and even though parents don’t have like a favorite child, there is a part of him like he is the better one. So I feel like it’s his way of teasing him in a unique way because he’s making me feel like “I still have all the attention” regardless.   So I feel like it’s that type of energy of how he wants to step forward for both of you guys, you know what I mean? And I feel like the energy of him is just to be funny.  It is truly just to be funny and remember him how he was like today as well.  Now is there a separate energy, like on you guy’s level that is like a male that is passed over?  When I say your level I mean, brother, cousin, friend.

Us:         No – we don’t think so.

AJ:          If not then I might be switching over…….  AJ does switch over after all this time to another person in the group but Gus was not done.   After speaking to another woman for about twenty minutes, AJ turns back over and says…. Why is your son bringing up music? Was he a musician or why is he bringing up music?

Us:         No.  Our middle son is really into music all of a sudden.

AJ:          Your son is bringing up music.  Like he wants to let you know… like I am seeing musical notes.  Like when I am talking to her, he just threw music at me.  So I feel like it’s almost like he is not done, you know what I mean?  So I feel like he wants to jump in so I feel like of how they want to jump in just to acknowledge the energy.  They often do that just to get like the little messages across but I feel when your dad steps forward I need to acknowledge the signs and signals, so I feel like he is going to be inspired, like your son is inspiring your son now as sending the music across to him.


 

 

Our Camino – Final Thoughts – April 12, 2013

Buen Camino

Buen Camino

We took a bus from Finisterre back to Santiago de Compostela.  What had taken us four days to walk was covered in less than three hours. The landscape looked different from the confines of a bus and as we rode along we thought about how the Camino had affected us.

When we planned the trip, we doubted that we could make it from Sarria to Finisterre, we wondered if the pain in our hearts would amplify the inevitable pain in our legs, leaving us stranded in the middle of Spain. We were angry, secretly demanding that God explain himself via burning bush or a hand written apology, however we’d settle for a glimpse of Gus, walking along with us, maybe just slightly ahead.  It was crazy of course but this particular “Camino” was a religious pilgrimage so why not?  There were no notes of course and the ground was too wet for bushes to burn, even miraculous ones, and all we were ever saw were cows but as we walked, we marveled at how much the journey mirrored life.

There were ups and downs and whole areas of mud and sludge that threatened to bog us down.  Forward progress went smoothly when “all water was under the bridge”, keeping us stagnant when it was not.  We’d proceeded carefully trying to avoid all the “crap”, while others simply stepped in it, but more often than not the “crap” found us anyway.

We thought about how easily we had faith in odd things, like Ewan of MacAdventures (not MacTours) to whom we entrusted our money and personal belongings, not once worrying that our hotels would not be booked or our things would not be safely kept ahead of us; and that the Camino markers were official, always taking us where we needed to go even when they were spray painted on the road; along the side of a house, or a tree.  Our struggle with faith therefore was not that we did not have it to throw around but that we had to keep it, even now, when things had gone horribly wrong.

The road to the end of the world was by far the most difficult part of our journey, but just when we wrestled with the idea that leaving Gus rocks, crosses and pictures was pointless and only adding to our misery, we’d met Andrew and Chris who lifted our spirits and were surprised to discover it was us who’d left the amazing rock they’d seen on their way out of Santiago after their own happenstance meeting.

We do not return ready to empty Gus’ room (if ever) or with any more clarity than when we left, but we proved to ourselves that we are stronger than we imagined having walked an average of 20km per day for ten days much like we’ve gotten up everyday since 6-24-12.  The Camino has given us some peace knowing that while we will always love Gus and will miss him more with every passing day, we can walk in this new world.  Buen Camino.

For Gus

Until we meet again Gus. 

Rock On Baby!

Rock On Baby!

We are on our way.

We are on our way.

Our Camino – Finisterre – April 11, 2013

Onward Pilgrim

Onward Pilgrim

We woke up this morning to dark menacing clouds threatening a downpour at any second.  Yesterday’s sun had been abducted by the force that insisted our walk be difficult to the end. It brought out our innate dispositions, with me tending toward optimism, insisting it would get sunny therefore going without my rain jacket and my husband tending towards pessimism going for the full rain armor.  We set out early after our final “pilgrim’s breakfast” of toast and Iberian ham and cheese.  Our legs and feet felt fresh for this final leg, we were sure we’d cover the next fifteen kilometers in record time.

The Camino continued to be a challenge, taking us through more mud, over bigger boulders, across swollen rivers and along partially washed out roads.  We thought that after the beautiful Cathedral in Santiago, the ocean-side finishing village of Finisterre would be a disappointment but we were wrong.  The sight of waves crashing against the beach as we made our way out of the mountains to walk along the shore was moving in ways we had not anticipated. Further ahead we caught a glimpse of our friends, Andrew and Chris, but they were walking too briskly and we could not catch up. That final ascent to the edge world was for us to walk alone.

As we neared town, we looked up towards the light house at the very edge of the peninsula, but it was barely visible. Like our journey without Gus, it was fitting that our final destination would be encased in fog. Mid-way up the final hill, just as we walked past the statue of a pilgrim appearing to lunge head first into the wind, a ferocious windstorm blew down the hill, pushing us back, but we persisted by taking on the statue’s stance to continue up the road.

The lighthouse was virtually deserted when we arrived, winds swirled and howled all around us, furious, as though we’d done something wrong.  To get to the very edge of the cliff where a bronze boot commemorated the pilgrim’s journey, we had to become more than penitent, we had to become beggars, crawling out on all fours just to take a look.  We had intended to leave our final offering there but were forced to double back to a sheltered ledge we’d seen near the 0 kilometer marker.  There protected from the wind, we pulled out a pair of Gus’ beloved basketball shoes from our packs, each of us having carried one shoe for 215 kilometers.  Through a mess of tears we scribbled our final messages to him, leaving one shoe on the ledge with his prayer card and a cross and keeping the other shoe to bring home as a reminder that we will always carry him with us.  We walked back to the 0 kilometer marker and left our final rocks – one for Gus’ Wito Juan, his Nana Robyn and one for Gus.  We’d just finished taking our final picture, when the heavens opened up, pelting us into seeking shelter at the souvenir kiosk.  For a second we thought we could walk back, but as the sheets of rain came down much heavier than any we’d experienced, it was clear to us that our Camino had ended.  God and Gus were saying it was time to stop walking and call a cab.

Final Destination encased in fog.

Final Destination encased in fog.

Bronze Pilgrim's boot.

Bronze Pilgrim’s boot.

Gus' shoes - he will always fill up the space between us.

Gus’ shoes – he will always fill the space between us.

Leaving one shoe behind

Leaving one shoe behind

We did it!

We did it!

Final Rocks.

Final Rocks.

Our Camino – Oliveiroa to Cee – April 10, 2013

 

To Finisterre

To Finisterre

We went to bed early yesterday, exhausted from our journey, with wind and rain continuing to pound against our hotel’s shutters as it had pounded on us all day.  We ached all over and dreaded the day to come.  We awoke preparing to battle nature once again.  We’d even had the line we’d use as we walked head first into a turbulent wind that kept us from advancing.  “Is that all you’ve got?” we’d cry like Lt. Dan in Forest Gump.  We put on all the layers of clothing we could and got on the road.  We’d been walking only a few feet when we heard some calling out to us from behind.  It was the Irishman Andrew and his new companion Chris. We gained new troops in our lonely battle, we ready for the next 20km.

The clouds that had been threatening us all morning, soon dissipated as though nature had never had any intention of engaging with us.  The sun warming our bodies as our new friends warmed out hearts.  Soon we were pealing off clothing, pausing for a brief time to have a nice lunch and marvel at the glorious landscape.  We emerged from the trail to a remarkable view of the ocean.  As we neared the end of the day’s journey, we realized that our legs were not cramped and our feet did not ache.  They felt as fresh and light as though they had not been used and abused for the last 10 days.  A miracle?

The sun is out.

The sun is out.

The view from our lunch spot just off the road

The view from our lunch spot just off the road

 A church along the Way.

A church along the Way.

A picture of Gus at a shrine.

A picture of Gus at a shrine.

The ocean is in sight!

The ocean is in sight!