October 22, 2014

One Short Note, to K, who is gone

"We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains."  William Wordsworth

I wrote your man a note yesterday inside a card with this sentiment. You would have words to say about that quote, K. I can hear your wry tone even now. 

So here is what I told him:  Despite the sentiment of this card, we do grieve.  And in grieving a bit each day our hearts return to wholeness. We find small joys.

The days pass into weeks and months. They do.  And we stay the course, without you.

In love, your friend, V

October 20, 2014

My First Letter to K's husband

Your beloved's cancer diagnosis
Made me want to serve her passions,
Pour her Spirit into my actions
and keep her forever in my heart.

She loved dogs, but I could not adopt one in time.

Instead, I asked for help in starting a garden.
How quickly my husband and son assembled
the sandbox-sized wood framed bed
and attached the trellis, for vines to climb.

It took them one afternoon.

It took me many tries, and trips to the landfill
To get sufficient compost and weathered leaves
To fill the frame deep enough 
To plant the asparagus, now moldy from waiting.

Your beloved said I might need to cut back the first year's growth, assuming of course that it would grow.

But I was afraid of any mistake
In the end, I let the lacy growth go unchecked
Though well-watered; meanwhile a volunteer 
Sunflower sprouted and developed..

A deceptively strong stem.

Wouldn't her one large, yellow flower inspire us
In August?  I pictured her too, producing seed.
In honor of our beloved, a way to have her 
Remain with us, beyond our wildest dreams. 

Surely she'd outstay her diagnosis, my miracle friend?

But no. Instead, so many people gathered 
To celebrate this beloved life, on Labor Day weekend.
We were invited to tell the good stories we 
Experienced of her.  I did, in my mind, alone.

I can still remember quite a few. Can't you?

October 7, 2014

Trusted Servants Do Not Govern

When I am in a leadership position in program, I take it seriously that I am a servant. 

Today a member of a group I belong to, gave me feedback and advised I take a certain action.  I decided to be responsive, so I brought it up as a group conscience item for the person.  To be fair, the criticism had come up some time ago, by another member, who really would like program sharing to be more delimited in order to be helpful to more people.

It was suggested I set an example and show folks how to share with fewer words.

Because I want to act quickly and show that I am responsive to such feedback, I put this person's concerns into our group conscience. I kept the person's name confidential, shared some of their suggestions about how to abbreviate shares, and opened it up for others to share their perspectives.   This led to a lively discussion, but one that I now see left some folks feeling that they had been criticized, personally and behind their backs.  

This all happened because I went to people-pleasing, before checking in with my Higher Power for a larger perspective. I had the sense that the person offering their feedback was desperate for a limit to the length of shares. I wanted to honor their courage in speaking up. I also wanted a true reality check from the group on whether this was a problem for other people. 

Now I know to ask more questions of the person offering their ideas, before I put something to a group for discussion. Because if not careful, the status quo will become hurt and defensive and in speaking up it will "win out." Too easy in conflict for someone to want to push for fast closure (and their viewpoint) and then there is no true open group discussion. 

If I share a criticism that someone has told me privately, with the whole group, even if the intent is to give the group a chance to look deeply, that may backfire. Trying to please one person, can displease so many others. Now the others are displeased and some of their feelings are hurt. Our forum feels less safe, less cohesive. And all because I took it on myself to share for one person who, it turns out, was not in a place to communicate his concerns to the group. 

This person framed their need for change in terms of their own inability to deal with others wordiness.  Had I listened to my own inner voice, and not been so afraid of this person  leaving, I would have asked him more questions about how he wished to participate in the discussion. Instead, I rejected his directions on group guidelines, and told him it was not my decision to make for the group.  And I shared the concern with the group so we could decide together if we wished to have word and time limitations to shares.

All of this action, and the subsequent emotional reactions, have led me to lose track of who I am, and my own values.

I need to let others be themselves, and speak their hearts and minds and let things BE.   

Damn, when will I ever learn?

Well, tomorrow is another day to blow the blues away...

September 12, 2014

A Moment's Sunlight

Last week, I chanced to hear Edward Hirsch on Morning Edition, sharing about the loss of his son.
Three years ago, his son died unexpectedly at age 22. Grief kept Hirsch from his work. For months, the poet could only write private words, trying to chase down every detail he could about his son's life.  To catch that moment's sunlight before it faded…. so  that Gabriel would not be lost for all time.

 All this past month, I have felt like tearing myself apart,  felt the need to "capture" my friend K's essence.  No she was not a child whose life I was responsible for creating. I only got to meet her once. 

Alive and present, and living life fully despite chronic fatigue syndrome, her voice was always strong and just a phone call away.   
I miss the alto sound of her spirit, the wry humor always always audible. She is just out of reach of memory and description. The trace of our correspondence is all I have of her.  I am glad that Edward Hirsch found his way to share his son, and put grief into words for others like myself who have so much less to work with. 

The NPR interview is poignant, because he shares deeply an experience we typically feel "should" be private, so I must share it: 

Before you heal, you have to mourn 

Yes, I have experienced others quickly wanting me to move on from grief.  I learn and learn again, how I cannot leave grief behind until I've felt my Beloved's whole meaning to me and put it in words.  

Mr. Hirsch, yours is an act of courage to stay the course long enough to publish something so personal. How dare you share this intimacy--a printed elegy--one long poem of your experience? 

Indeed, I must thank you Mr. Hirsch, for sharing Gabriel and the universe of grief, with us.

September 10, 2014

She's Gone and I am Here...

Last year at this time, I was wanting to be an active part of overlapping circles…. in Alanon and in my primary program.  

I talked with K about how much need I saw in each organization, and how small I felt in the face of all that demanded to be done.  

One adventure took me to a town in my state that is a town of meaningful coincidence, being named after my mom.  After I showed up to that state meeting, I spent time trying to understand why I was so unhappy.  It was K who told me that meeting sounded like no fun to her!   And then I realized.. I was needing to be part of something, not force something to happen. Not put on a happy face, when others were trying too hard to make something bigger than themselves--work. 

Talking to K, I realized I did not want to be in service to any organizations that wanted me to keep THEM alive. I knew I would not know how to draw boundaries with organizations that sucked at their grassroots. And shamed them, and gave them endless lists of things to do and manuals with charts in them I could not even understand.

I gave back the service manual for Al-anon. I gave my resignation for the other trustee position. I did it the easiest way possible--in an email. Yes, I felt guilty. I had thought I wanted to serve. I had said a cautious yes to one commitment for a year, and had put in my name for two year service. I thought I had time and love and commitment to spare.

But after I went to the town named after my mother, I realized my vision was not the vision of either of the organizations I had hoped to serve.

And it was K who helped me see clearly.  A year ago and six months before she knew that she was being called home.

In that conversation, she told me about the first new dog that came into her life.  That is the side of the conversation I wish I had paid more attention to…

I guess I can be grateful K witnessed me because today I would be serving the organization she and I were devoted to… and I would likely be one confused girl, grieving and serving at the same time. Confusion would be my first, last and middle name. And I would be preparing for a conference in the midwest, instead of preparing for a retreat a little closer to home. 

Frankly, I am less and less of a conference girl, and more of a program monastic.

August 28, 2014

A Mentor and a Friend

Let go and let God seems to be the message for me, and for our family.  Some joy, much grief, and even the distraction of anger.  In the midst of all this, we have sold the home we lived in for over a decade.  It's all been quite full and quite a blur, really. 

My friend K did pass, during the first days of this month. I learned the news from her husband of 27 years, while I was in my old hometown, preparing our home for sale.  

It still amazes me how I keep encountering the hole she seems to have left in me, despite the fact that we never lived in the same town, and only met one another twice. I am still in awe that she was my friend. 

She is my friend, still.  I am sure having a hard time keeping her spirit close to me. I was not sure if feeling joy at our house sale was "right," but then I realized if I resisted, I was not being present to life and in that way, I was not honoring who she was and still is. 

I am not sure about the anger with which I approached a curriculum problem at my school. Nearly EVERYONE wanted me to let it go, from the very start, except the friend who is a lawyer. She had a peaceable path for me to take, but it involved showing up to meet the superintendent.  So, I chose to do a crab-walk sort of fight.  Even talking to the school district in our old home town.  

It led nowhere and so I gave up and bit the bullet, enrolled my kid in a review course, which all the administrators agreed he did not need. 

So, wait, where does my friend, K, fit in all this? I think she would still love me, even when I am mad and depressed at my inability to make things "right."  

I want them to be right, though, inside me.  And she was just the kind of friend I could have talked about this very problem with. With her I could have been my best self, before I ever went off to tackle the school administrators.   I know that I would have heard my best options, just because she listened, without any kind of fixing. Without any kind of alarm at any mistake I might make.  Because that is who she was. 

She also would have applied the ointment of kindness, and not judgement, when the principal called me last week and I had (I thought) no choice but to fight again.

July 28, 2014

Honoring the Journey of a Friend

"Let Go and Let God?" 

Is that a trite Program mantra right now? The kind I would not advise to someone I love?  

Right now a dear friend, whom I have shared my heart with some  twelve years, is facing the end of her life.   

My family and I just got back from a week camping. 

The time away in North Carolina's mountains gave me a tiny bit of acceptance and lots of reflection time so I can share a bit here, and not fall into tears.  

I've known that losing my friend was a possibility always, I guess.  Dying is a part of life. Yet, day to day, we ignore it for the most part.

 I, for my part, would build the bridge between us even if health limitations kept us from meeting up and spending time laughing in each other's presence.  Her health was full of mysteries that she alone could navigate. One was an emotional health concern, one that brought us together. 

Her wisdom as we talked about that part of our shared lives,  always helped me to soldier on, and never ever give up. (She was my bulwark through many challenges since I was re-diagnosed with a chronic mental illness.) 

The second health issue for K set boundaries for her that no amount of positive thinking could overcome. She tried to push against these boundaries, with her indomitable spirit.   In the end though, chronic fatigue delimited her ability to travel, do the work she loves to do: out-of-doors and on the properties she managed over the years.   CF made K's energy unarguably limited, and she had to pace herself. 

The heat of summer affected her energy, setting her back several months a year. 

I can relate to her need to escape from summer heat.  Our family really values our time in the mountains, when the endless summer of the Southeast sets in. 

But my friend's health concern is more chronic.  She's had to apply program to herself in new and creative ways, as she has learned to accept that her energy dips require her to rest, often for days, and to putter around and take small bites out of larger projects. 

I always thought my K would age very well, once she got the acceptance piece down… 95%.

This past March I was reaching out to K, in a role reversal, to check on some recent stomach pains she had developed. 

In the weeks that followed, my friend faced into her cancer diagnosis with determination. Together we focused on life. Not on statistics, but on her own power as an n of one. 

The end of her road came up to meet her when the chemotherapy zapped her energy to the point where life had no appeal. She chose to end the chemo in late May.  Now, I face into the fact that she is in hospice. 

I hear of people that "graduate" from hospice and surprise everyone with their resilience.  I want that for her. But I do not want her to linger in pain, trying to live for any of us who love her. 

I want her to live if that is God's will. I want her to let go, if that is her will.  

So maybe, just maybe… "let go and let God" is not a worn out slogan but a prayer.. that I can allow God's will do its work… and for her to surrender to the flow of the river, wherever it may lead.

So yes God:  Thy will, not mine, be done…