Hand in Heart

FiveWe always made a big deal of the kids turning five.  The fact that they could flash a whole hand to state their age instead of struggling to remember which combination of fingers to hold up and down seemed profound.  A whole hand meant that they were no longer infants but real boys, akin to Pinocchio’s transformation from puppet to flesh.  It is remarkable how necessary the whole hand is for so many things – unscrewing a jar, opening a door, shaking a hand, holding onto something securely, giving a reassuring pat on the back, and even celebrating a job well done.  On occasion, that same hand can hurt; it can slap, restrain, and halt our forward progress.

I intended to unleash my soul’s creative force this year through writing, painting or at the very least finishing a number of small decorative projects I’ve been meaning to do. Instead, I’ve been binge watching TV shows after work day after day.  I sit in the family room helplessly watching my hands fiddle with the remote until finding something so compelling that my head has no choice but to allow them to remain idle. My head, while at times enchanted and engrossed by the endless stream of shows, has grown increasingly frustrated. It struggles to remain grateful and find joy in what has otherwise been a great year.  In addition to being tormented with thoughts and ideas that have no place to go, the head is shocked to have lost control of an essential limb. The head was used to having to reason with a heart easily led astray by emotion but it thought it could always rely on the hands even more so than the feet that were known to bark when tired.  It never imagined the hands could muster such blatant disregard for direction.

With the head and hands at odds, the heart was able to think for once and realized the head wasn’t being honest about its problem with the hands. The truth is that the head cannot acknowledge the hands.  If it did, it would see a palm with five fingers and be reminded that five long years have evaporated in an instant. It would realize that when the second palm opens, Gus will have been gone for as long as he was here and the head cannot fathom that future.  The heart then observed that the hands do not wish to be so inactive, but are paralyzed by guilt and loss. The hands miss wrapping themselves around that child’s hands and rubbing his feet.  They long to hold the boy again not realizing that in just a few days he would have been sixteen and unlikely to submit to a mother’s caress. They can’t stop blaming themselves failing to heal or having enough strength to rip him from death’s grip.

I suppose it is up to my heart to bring the hands and head back together again.  The heart must find the will to beat strong and loud enough for the palm to feel it pumping through the chest and the head to hear it pulsing in its ears.  In the meantime, I will sit back and watch one more episode of…..

Dialing up some courage

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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!

 

This Lent let there be steak!

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The Los Angeles Archbishop announced last Friday that in accordance with Canon Law he was granting a dispensation from the obligation to abstain from meat for St. Patrick’s Day because it happens to land on a Friday this year.  It seemed like the Universe was providing me proof that the rules are so arbitrary that I was right in deciding to let myself off the hook once and for all and stop feeling guilty for failing to faithfully observe the many (or any) religious rules and obligations .

While I’ve never questioned the existence of God, the structure and beauty of the world evidence enough of a remarkable creator at work, my faith has been at odds with the tenets of my religion since I can remember.  The internal battle between religion and faith began early. In second grade, I rejected confession as a humiliating and unnecessary experience because the surly overweight priest who clearly did not like children threw me out of the confessional for fumbling through one of the prayers.  In the fifth grade, I rejected some forms of prayer and most of the Baltimore Catechism because I did not think prayer should be physically painful (kneeling during the rosary) and because I thought it was a complete lie that God would send a baby to purgatory simply because it had died without getting baptized.  When I divorced my abusive husband in my early twenties, I refused to get the marriage annulled because it seemed ridiculous to attempt to get my horrible ex-husband to cooperate in a process to determine whose “intention” fell short of the requirements for a “Catholic” marriage. Finally, while I really did try going to mass most Sundays (mostly out of fear of divine retaliation), the time spent in a cold church staring at a crucified man while contemplating how I’d failed as a person, how miserable my life might be, how I should refrain from asking God for anything but obedience and how much I could look forward to in death left me feeling frustrated, sad and uninspired.

When Gus was first diagnosed with cancer, I worried that God had finally judged my lack of religious discipline and was punishing me. Adding to my anxiety was that well-meaning people said things like, “God doesn’t give you things you can’t handle”. Did this mean that God thought I was strong enough to handle a child with cancer and/or that I could have avoided the struggle if had I been weaker?  Or, “Everything happens for a reason” What possible reason could there be for a two-year old to have cancer?  I became resentful and easily irritated when people gushed over how “blessed” they were when things were going well but did not decry that they were “cursed” when things were going poorly. Shouldn’t God get blamed for the bad as easily as we gave Him credit for the good?  The more I questioned, the more I felt guilty. The more guilt I felt the more I tried to cling to my religion finding yet more questions and even fewer answers. Somewhere along the way I discovered Harold Kushner’s book, The Lord is My Shepherd and whether it was the intended message or not, it helped renew my belief in a good God that did not give cancer and therefore did not take it away but rather held your hand during the process.

For the eight years that Gus remained cancer free I was primarily concerned with making the most of each moment for the simple reason that I wanted to be happy knowing that sadness had a way of sneaking up when least expected. In ceasing to concern myself with my religion however, I accidentally stopped listening for God completely. In late August 2011, I was at a retreat for an organization I volunteered for when the presenter began talking about Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd and remarkably Kushner’s book. It was my Mexican mysticism more than my Catholicism that caused me to pay attention.  It seemed clear that it was more than a coincidence that a book I hadn’t thought about since the first time Gus was sick should come up just when we were waiting for results of an MRI to determine why Gus’ legs had been hurting although no one including his oncologist believed the cancer had returned. I knew immediately that God was trying to get my attention because he had news about Gus and it was not good.

I always thought that God’s message to me that day was purely in preparation for Gus’ loss but I have since reached a different conclusion.  God was training me to listen more carefully so that I could find Gus when he was gone. Perhaps it is because I am so intent on looking for Gus, finding him everywhere we go, that I see God (whom I now call the Universe) so easily.  I am more aware than ever that the Universe has always been good to me and that my life is what I intend even as I miss Gus everyday.

In December, I found myself attending mass for the first time in over a year.  It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the mass was being celebrated on a school campus that includes an elementary and a high school.  Being familiar with that priest’s affable nature I allowed myself to listen to the sermon that day.  Surrounded by six to eighteen year-olds he talked of Mary’s courageous choice to accept God’s plan for her and dared the children to be open. I was congratulating him mentally for the positive message when he added “but when you follow Jesus be prepared to be tested and be prepared for pain.” Who in their right mind would say yes to that?

I am aware that Pope Francis is trying to change the church to be more inclusive and forgiving and less rule-centric (perhaps).  I concede that I may have a child’s understanding of the Catholic religion having failed to read the bible and the writings of various saints. I accept that there are some wonderfully positive messages within church teachings and amazing priests that deliver them but my point is that a relationship with God should not require a degree in Theology or hunting across the globe for that one great priest saying that one great mass.  I like tradition and ritual but do we not deprive ourselves enough of good sense to add giving up irrelevant food items during Lent?  This Lent I return all doubt, pain and guilt as it serves no purpose.  No longer will I deprive myself of the simple pleasures in life just because the church says so.  This Lent let there be steak….

 

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….

Ripping off the bandage.

bandaged heart

 

Our deep cut could not be stitched closed so it was gently covered in a heavy-duty bandage. We knew all along that one day the bandage would come off; that the wound would have to continue healing on its own without so much protection.  We didn’t know when that would be but when the moment came we closed our eyes, held our breath and just let it happen…

When the 2015 class graduated last year, while acutely aware that it meant Gus’ class had advanced to the 8th grade and would spend the next year anticipating new firsts as they experienced many lasts, we could not imagine what we’d feel when “it” (graduation) actually happened.  We assumed we’d experience it as just one more occasion that Gus would be absent from and in our ignorance blurted out that we wanted to host the graduation party when asked how we wished to be included that year.

Busy with work and the construction of a new garage for the latter part of 2015, around February we eyed the now fast approaching date as nothing more than a home improvement deadline. The graduation party had been the perfect excuse to finish those nagging projects and repaint and redecorate the interior of the house. It was not until we began to hear about the high school acceptances in late March and April, that the gravity of what was happening set in.   We suddenly realized that the class had been acting as a bandage. Gus was not really gone as long the class was together, their unity keeping him in the present. But as the day got closer, an image formed that threatened to crush our already heavily damaged hearts. We could visualize him standing among his friends in the green graduation cap and gown of his school, but when they turned to walk out into their futures, we saw him left behind at the altar like a jilted groom. Graduation meant Gus was the past, his only hope for a future in memory.

We began to fret that instead of the heartache of loss we’d grown used to feeling we’d be uncharacteristically bitter and angry.  Those emotions surfaced every once in while especially when happening upon pictures of his friends having fun together or engaging in school events Gus would have loved. We acted on those occasions batting the irrational feelings away by imagining that he might have not been there anyway – that he would have been with us someplace else. There could be no ignoring graduation however, and all the events that lead up to it; the graduation portraits, the final field trip, the Baccalaureate Mass and luncheon. Adding to our sense of anxiety was the knowledge that our offer to host that final class party had not been met with unanimous enthusiasm.  It broke our hearts to know that we had been the unwitting merchants of discord, however small and brief when class unity meant so much. We were tempted to pull out of the entire mess.  Why bother with any of it?  We decided to go on an emotional offensive, to thwart the burgeoning sense of grief with love and gratitude. At the insistence of the majority of the class, it was decided that the party would still be held at our house and while we were invited to various events we opted to limit our attendance to the graduation itself.

On June 3, 2016 we arrived at the church with our older sons and took our seats to the left of the altar.  Although it was not our intention to cast a pall over the happy occasion, we had requested a few moments to address the class. At the appointed time, Gus’ best friend spoke about their classmate, presented us with the class yearbook lovingly dedicated to him and yielded the podium.  As our sons distributed our gift to each student,  my husband and I stood before his class praying that we could make it through without tears and delivered our prepared speech. (2 016 Class Speech & gift pictured below )

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While we did make it through with just a pause to collect ourselves, our tears flowed freely during a touching tribute to our son in their class video.  Then, when all the awards had been handed out and all the speeches concluded, the class stood as one for the last time and exited the church.  We sat there for a little longer surprised that we felt nothing but peace. The bandage had been ripped off and while the wound was still red and raw, it no longer needed to be covered. The wound was developing its own protection, it’s own path to healing because we had been wrong, Gus was not being left at the altar that day, little pieces of him were being carried off by his friends.

Two days later, on a clear June night, the class and their parents descended on our house.  Together we danced, laughed and celebrated their futures without tears or sadness. I am sure Gus was there because he was always the life of the party.

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Meditation – An Introduction

meditation

This is not me.  I do not sit crossed legged, hands gently posed in “gyan mudra” listening to myself breathe.  I don’t just struggle to meditate, I writhe, kick – internally judging myself and every thought I have until I forget what I was doing and give up exasperated.

I decided to turn to meditation as a way of quieting the movie that went off most nights as soon as my head hit the pillow.  It was a short film that began with me taking Gus to emergency a day after his last chemo and concluded with us watching him take his last breath and slip away from us.  Sometimes I was watching from up above, looking for alternate paths I might have taken.  Other times I was just reliving the entire day.

A few months after meeting with AJ Barrera (find out about our reading in Knocking on Heaven’s Door – Parts One-Four) I received an email from his office announcing a workshop to “meet your spirit guides” and develop “communication with other side”.  While I did not believe that I had the “gift” of mediumship (if that is a word), I was hoping to meet my “guides” to lead me to what I was supposed to do now that I was no longer required to shepherd my last child through high school.  So, I signed up, paid my fee and showed up on a sunny day in November to a hotel in West Covina.

I arrived early finding a few women already sprinkled around the room. I sat away from them in the center of a long empty table.  I doodled on a small yellow pad that had been left at each seat to avoid eye contact and any mutual judgement. Within a short time, the room filled and as it did I could overhear people swapping tales of communicating with the other side. I scoffed and then felt ill and panicky. All these women couldn’t have “abilities” could they?

At ten on the dot, AJ Barrera introduced himself and urged us to allow the “spirit” to connect with our inner beings.  The spirit he explained is always ready for us to be open to it.   “OK” I thought “I’m ready – communicate with me”.

AJ began the session with a guided meditation.

“You are walking down a staircase….” (Interesting, my staircase looks like the escalator at the Grove.  Wait! I am supposed to be on a stair case.  Well just stop the escalator.  Ok that is better).

“The staircase has lead you to a tunnel at the end of which you see light.” (You are doing good Cec, just keep following the tunnel. I know what kind of tunnel this is, the kind that opens up to a….)

“Beautiful valley” (football stadium! What? Did he say valley?  Great I am in the wrong place. Valley, valley, valley, what does a valley look like – Oh I know like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Ok.  I am back in.)

“You see an animal there. It is your personal animal spirit. What is it?” (Oh this is exciting, what is my animal? Tiger? Lion? Bear? Is that a rabbit?  Are you kidding me? My spirit’s animal is a brown rabbit?  Ugh… that’s disappointing.  No! Don’t judge!  So its a rabbit – follow the rabbit.)

“You follow your animal through the valley, getting calmer and calmer, breathing deeply letting him lead you where?”  (I can’t be calm, the rabbit is hopping along.  It is annoying. Ok Cec just breathe. Let it go!  Go with it!  Am I at the football stadium again?  What is it with me and football stadiums.  Forget it – this is stupid.)  I kept my eyes closed but I was out – meditating was just too hard.

When the meditation was over (5 excruciatingly long minutes later) the exercises to increase our “spirit” communication commenced.

Exercise #1 – Cold reading.  In this exercise we were supposed to sit with another person and tell them whatever came into our minds.  Like the worst athlete on a school playground I was the last to find a mate.  Fortunately for me, my partner also did not believe she had any powers and was only there to accompany her two children who she was sure did.  Still we sat across from each other and while my mind was blank, she asked if the number 10 meant anything to me.  I said no but it did. (Gus was 10 when he died and his birthday was August 10th.) 

Exercise #2 – Reading what was inside a sealed envelope.  We were instructed to gather in a circle with our table mates and pass around an envelope that contained a picture of a person that we were told had passed on.  The women around me wrote furiously on their pads for one minute and then when directed shared the results.  I again had nothing but the women around me had consistently written, “male”, “older”, “curly hair”, “mustache”, “heavy set”.  I initially thought they had all lost their minds until the envelope was opened and not only did their description match but other tables matched the contents of their envelopes with even more specificity.  The table that blew my mind had accurately described an image of Michael Jackson down to his profession.  The “spirit” had even had the presence of mind to cause the envelope to find its way to the one girl who had an image of MJ tattooed on her arm that no one saw until the big reveal.  (Ok – maybe something IS going on here).

Exercise #3 – Blindfolded reading. AJ and his assistant removed a few volunteers from the room and asked the remaining people in the room to switch seats.  Everyone was then blindfolded and his volunteers lead back in the room. We were asked to raise our hands if anything that was said resonated with us.  A woman I could not see mentioned a child who’d passed over recently. I raised my hand and AJ told the woman who was blindfolded to continue.  She had nothing else.  (Getting kind of close).

Exercise #5 – Volunteer readings. What happened to exercise #4 you ask?  Well it was supposed to be a musical chair type of reading where two lines of chairs faced each other and we would move over a space after a two minutes of exchanging quick readings (like speed dating) but that exercise was quickly abandoned when it became obvious that the young lady with a broken ankle and currently sitting a wheel chair would not be able to move in any direction. (A huge relief to me knowing I had nothing to say)  Instead AJ decided to have a few volunteers attempt to communicate with whomever made their presence known.  The first volunteer talked about a farm, a male, passing over from a heart attack.  It seemed to make sense to a woman in the audience although it seemed kind of vague to me.  The second volunteer I seem to remember was better but what she specifically said has now escaped my memory because it was the third volunteer that touched me deeply.

A tall woman with a splash of pink in her hair was the final volunteer of the day.  She had been quiet all day but the pink in her hair or just her manner had caught my eye since early morning.  Whereas the rest of the volunteers had been coaxed and prodded to speak, she strode to the front of the room like a woman on a mission.  She turned before AJ could say anything and asked the room (looking straight at me) if anyone had lost a child to cancer.  It is boy she said, about eight or ten.  I nearly fainted.  Raising my hand, she looked at me and said that he had been with me the entire day. She said she had “seen” him next to me first with a bouquet of balloons during the chair exercise and then with only two balloons one pink and one blue that he was offering to her for me.  He is “fine” she said, using the word that I most closely associate with him as he always told me, “Mom, don’t cry I am fine”.  “He just wants you to know he is always with you” she said as I burst into tears.

I went home shaken but moved,  somewhat less skeptical and more open to finding the “magic”.  It is in life’s “magic” that Gus dwells, making himself known to me (us), through song, by his name or even his image (I will talk about this one next time). I am still not very good at meditating, but I’ve been trying nightly ever since. I recently purchased a guided meditation that promised to introduce me to my guardian angel.  The woman who speaks…in,,,a,,,halting…and…annoying…manner promised that when I was ready my guardian angel would identify him/herself.  The other night I clearly heard “Tommy”.  (Tommy? Really? First a rabbit now a Tommy?) I highly doubt that my guardian angel’s name is Tommy but what was curious is that I have always been told that I do have a male guardian angel – so why not.  I am also not sure that I am closer to finding an answer to “what now” but I can tell you that the movie plays less frequently now. Sometimes it is even replaced with the physical sense that Gus has slipped into my bed and is resting comfortably in my arms.

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.

Silence!

The Scream - Edvard Munch

The Scream – Edvard Munch

Clink…..Clink…..Clink…..Clink…..

No really (hahaha), No really (hahaha), No really (hahaha)

Tap-tap-tap,  Tap-tap-tap

Woohoo,  Woohoo, Woohoo,  Oe-Oe, Oe-Oe

I am being attacked by sound and no matter how much I tell myself that  “I am the one giving the sounds meaning” or to “breathe and just ignore them” I can’t help but feeling like the man in the painting.

I toil away at my computer in a cubicle within a pod of six cubicles on the sixth floor of a mid-rise in the middle of Los Angeles.  My station is at the corner of the southwest side of the building facing the window so that except for when the afternoon sun streaks directly towards me forcing me to close the shade, I enjoy an unobstructed view of the city.  I begin the day by practicing gratitude.  I am thankful to have a job, my view, my health, my family and for the the love I got from my little boy Gus.  For a few hours every morning I am in a place of peace and euphoria and then the rest of the office shows up.

Across the way, separated by a few black file cabinets sits a nice enough man who drinks coffee from a metal cup that he clinks on his desk all day.  In front of him sits a young girl who tap dances away the day; her feet tap, tap, tapping on the plastic mat under her chair.  AND, next to me is a woman who either has friends with extremely scandalous lives or is easily surprised as far as I can tell by how often she says “no really and then laughs”.  I accept that noise is part of the cubicle world and I am not troubled by most conversations or regular noises just these – they grate on me like nails on a chalkboard.

Having survived work, I drive furiously to the gym where I work out my grief trying to leave it and these petty annoyances behind in a pool of sweat.  That is unless “woohoo” girl shows up like she did last night. Then I am subjected to “woohoo” or “oe-oe” every few minutes for the hour spin class. I spent that hour yesterday fighting the urge to just get up and go, telling myself that “she” should not get to disrupt my workout. The question is, why am I so annoyed by these particular noises? Why did woohoo girl sit next to me in a room full of empty spin bikes? Why am I suddenly so bothered by noise?

The house was empty and dark when I got back from the gym last night and with my husband out of town and the older boys getting home much later I knew I had nothing but time to be alone in the silence.  I thought about what it would have been like if Gus was still around.  The two of us would have been together and while I made dinner, he might have been playing x-box in the living room.  From across the house I would have heard him “woohooing” at his kills on Call of Duty. Then, when I called him for dinner, his scooter would have “clinked” along as he rode it from the living room to the kitchen. While we ate, his feet would have been “tapping” under table as they so often had and we would have gotten into “no really” wars as we told each other about our day. I realized suddenly, why of all the noises in the world these in particular got to me – they all reminded me of Gus.  It is then that I understood what A Course in Miracles meant when it said that “you are never upset for the reason you think” , it was not the noise or the people I was upset at but the loss.

As a sit in my cubicle this morning, the noises have subsided or at least I am not as focused on them today now that I know what they mean. At the very least I don’t have the urge to put my hands on my face and yell “silence!”  At least not yet….

Fall-ing

DSCN0700[1]Southern California is not known for its changing seasons but they do. Like anyplace else, even here the Fall makes things fall.  The sun is lower on the horizon, the trees begin shedding their leaves, and even the temperature begins to lower so that we have to pull out a sweater in the evenings, possibly even a jacket (it’s true).  It was always my favorite time of year.

Last Halloween Haunted House 2010

Last Halloween Haunted House 2010

It meant going back to school, soccer, football, haunting the house for Halloween, the smell of spiced pumpkin for Thanksgiving and the coming of Christmas. Our house was transformed each fall into a seasonal wonderland beginning in September. I knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew that eventually all of my boys would grow up and fail to see the charm of my decor. It had already started to happen, the older boys grumbled more when they had to help with the boxes, they walked by without noticing the new skeleton in the corner or the new cornucopia on the table. It didn’t matter to me. I still had Gus, he was only ten and still loved every part of it.  Then Gus died and fall fell from my view.  I’ve purged the house of every seasonal trinket now, the last of the table top displays going out just two weeks ago, but fall keeps coming.  It came the year Gus passed, it came again last year and it is here now. It just keeps Fall-ing.

I hate this Fall more than the last two because I noticed something about myself that I didn’t expect so soon.  I’ve become used to Gus being gone and I hate it.  I still think about him the entire day.  I am reminded he is around me whenever I hear the songs we played for each other, like this One Direction song he used to play over and over. I got dressed up this past weekend for a friend’s 25th wedding anniversary and it was playing in the car as soon as I entered. I knew then he liked the way I looked.

And whenever I hear The Wanted’s – “I am Glad you came” I know he is around me.  I used to sing this song to him on our way to the hospital every day.  Last year we were in Vegas for my brother-in-laws birthday and of all the clubs we could have gone to that weekend we just happen to pick the one club at which The Wanted was appearing. We were arms distance from them when they performed this very song.  AND, for my birthday this year, the song played everywhere I went. Even when I stopped at the supermarket, I found the produce guy singing along to it as it piped in from overhead. He turned to sing it to me as I walked by him.

While Gus still fills my thoughts, I am used to not picking him up after school, not taking him to soccer practice, not helping him with his homework, and not coordinating all of his extra curricular activities.  I am used to his physical absence and the silence that follows.  At times, I look at his pictures on the wall and wonder if his presence was ever real.  It is as if he was only ever a beautiful dream from which I’ve finally woken up from, instead of the nightmare my life is without him.

I get up everyday and go to work, I go to the gym in the afternoons and then I come home to watch to our favorite shows with the older boys who haven’t quite left home. This year I picked up cross-stitching again as I watch the NFL on Sundays. From my chair next to the window I can see that the giant california sycamore in our yard is already dropping its leaves.  Soon they will cover the yard all the way up to Gus’ swings which remain motionless. I appear to have fallen back into a routine, one I would have never thought possible.

I miss you....

I miss you….