Archive for the 'grief' Category

What Would Stacey Think?

amywink May 16th, 2018

The Sunday after my birthday, I told the story of my faith journey with the Creating Spirit to my Sunday school class at First. I was nervous but some people knew I could do it and I felt their support as I talked. It was the first time I’d narrated my experience this way, but I had thought about it for a long time. I closed my talk by saying that I had come to church in March the year after Stacey’s and my mother’s deaths to grieve and I spent a lot of time crying in the balcony until by September I started laughing again.

Though I am still in such deep grief some days, I am laughing so much more than I ever expected to be, just 2 years into this new life, and every time I laugh, I know Stacey is with me. She worked so hard to make me laugh sometimes, and she usually succeeded because she was very funny. And we had laughed a lot together in our last months, when we knew the end was coming. Even when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, we fell back on our sense of humor after our initial shock. She had spent a lot of time worrying about having an old age like her mother, who had several major health issues and had been on the brink of death many times, and also, ironically, outliving her money because her grandmother had lived to be 92. When Stacey was diagnosed, it was clear she wasn’t going to make 92, or even 52, so she could start spending the carefully gathered hoard of money she had meant to use to get to her old age. As we talked about the 3-year-deadline she’d been given, she said, “I guess I’m not going to have to worry about being old either.” I replied “yeah, I guess you should have been more specific when you said you didn’t want to be old like your mother.” And we laughed. All the times we laughed are what I hold dear now, and what I remember most fondly. I can make myself laugh by thinking of those moments, even the ones when we joked about death, because what else is there to do?

When it became clear that the experimental drug (the one that worked for Jimmy Carter) was not working (Why not Stacey, Lord?) and she felt she had been betrayed by her doctor who had not really informed her of rules of the study she’d agreed to enter, she sat in her own darkness but I could not leave her there, just like she never left me. I texted her “your mind is a dangerous neighborhood right now, and you know how I feel about leaving people alone in bad neighborhoods” and we sat together, via our phones, in that dangerous neighborhood until I said the right thing and she laughed. Then she thanked me for making her laugh and we walked out of that bad neighborhood together. I am grateful I was able to do that. Thank you, God, for a sense of humor.

Recently, BFF Caroline asked what I thought Stacey would think about my return to the Methodist church, (and becoming so religious) and I have thought about that for a long time. My answer at that moment was she would be ecstatic about my writing, having walked with me through my long darkness as well as some of my most creative times. But I imagine she’d have been taken aback by the startling depth of my faith, something we never talked about specifically–preferring the “spiritual” not “religious” discussion. She had been similarly surprised when I mentioned a desire for chickens, a hereditary craving that I wrote about for our City Ancestor/Country Ancestor project, and just like she had been floored when I decided to buy a horse, something she never knew because she’d come into my life in the middle, when I had almost put that dream away for good.

But early in our friendship, I had mentioned that I didn’t think I was very good at being Christian (given public perceptions of what is deemed Christian, re: Baptist, and I was a free-range, unchurched person-of-faith), to which she, my Jewish-turned-atheist friend who had read the entire Bible on her own, had replied, “Oh, no, I think you are exactly what a Christian is supposed to be. You do all the right things, you just don’t talk about them.” Once, much later, after a moment in which I ranted against some public idiocy I can’t recall and wrote a rather fiery response in an email about how we are saved by grace, she had carefully asked “so, what is your religion?” (after 20 years, she asked!) and I replied “ecumenical Zen-influenced Christian” and she said “well, I thought so.” I should have just said Methodist.

So, what would Stacey think? I don’t think she’d be surprised for long, having known I had a deep but private faith– though an equally deep lack of faith in myself– and I know she’d be very happy that I am so deeply happy and creative again. And I have made myself laugh by thinking about her arrival in Heaven, because I know that after her surprise wore off, she’d have marched right up to Jesus and threatened to break his arm if he didn’t help me after all I had done for her and everyone else in my life. I imagine He said “It will be all right. Don’t worry. I have my best people working on it.” And He would laugh.

Missing

amywink April 27th, 2018

Missing
for Stacey 1964-2016

At any moment,
or perhaps just not any
but the moment of
happiness or need,
I stumble into the emptiness
where you were,
and falling I am swallowed
by that deep chasm
of our friendship.

What I missing now,
those moments I’d have turned
to you to celebrate
some teaching glory,
or the moment you
carried me through
some aggravation
on your sharp wit,
or when you stood fierce,
unmoving, against my adversaries,
daring those you would so happily,
so eagerly vanquish,
or when you stood
always ready to help me risk
a leap into the unknown.

What I am missing now
is how you knew me,
how you understood
what troubled me,
how you accepted
who I was without question,
and even in those rare moments
when you discovered some included flaw
suspended in the amber of my self,
how you held that relic
up to the light in wonder
and discovery of a glowing treasure
that you would turn as priceless gift instead.

Distance

amywink April 12th, 2018

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” John 13: 12

The first Sunday after Easter, I came face to face with the slow transformational change I have experienced in the last year as I attempted to return a little cushioning distance between myself and the overwhelming energies I experience in large groups of people.

God laughed, and I may have heard, “you’re kidding, right?”

And I had to laugh too because there was no way not to recognize I was not going to get distance, though God did allow me to connect in the way that I am, instead of the ways that others are. And my Lenten practice revealed how deeply true my understanding of what I let go in those forty days as I moved closer to being my whole and complete self.

Last week, for Easter Sunday, I came down from the balcony to sit with the members of my Disciple class, to whom I have grown very close in the last 24 weeks. We have engaged in the challenging questions of our faith and how we live our lives as people of faith, what we understand about how God speaks to each of us and calls us to be who we are has built a loving community as we continue to learn together. I have enjoyed their company and I wanted to enjoy their company on Easter and deliberately chose to move closer to all of them.

It was glorious.

And overpowering.

As Easter should be.

But I was very glad I had done it. This experience of standing in the middle of more than 850 voices singing is not one I will forget and I was deep in the sound because I am about a foot shorter than everyone who stood around me. I could not hear myself and gave up singing just to be filled instead by sound.

This week, I moved forward into this changed life. I said yes to something big I had been asked to do, and stated my boundaries for yes. I was moving into a new stage for the Bolder than the State of Texas project, one which required a lot more public connection with everyone–which I want to do and am able to do. But I looked at my Sunday schedule and thought, “this is too much.” I asked myself what I needed to be able to do these bigger things? I decided to ask for help so I wouldn’t have to usher at the 11:00 service.

It’s a small thing, and some people might not think it’s such a hard thing. And it’s true, it is not at all difficult. Except, for a Sunday when I was doing something that would take some of my most concentrated energy before and after the service, I knew I needed the service. I needed not to be doing something during that service. I needed to be renewed by the experience of it instead. So I asked for a substitute saying I had a lot on my plate and could someone sub for me and someone stepped right up.

I went on about my week, preparing for Sunday, doing my regular life, taking care of my Dad, managing his Medicaid application, teaching my classes, and taking a few risks as I kept moving toward Sunday and an anniversary I had forgotten kept coming closer too. But my body remembered. With the memory, the experience of every risk I had ever taken and been punished for came with it as well as everything I’d ever had to take on alone when I was supposed to be helped.

Grief is a weird and terrible thing, triggered by odd incidents that seem to pass unnoticed and suddenly like water pouring from shattered dam, it is overpowering and I was deep into it before I understood what was happening. C. S. Lewis wrote “no one ever told me grief felt so much like fear” and he was writing truth. By Saturday, I was deeply in the grip of bone-shattering fear. I did not understand why. When I finally recognized the fear, I spoke it. I sat with it. I felt it. It wasn’t great. It was terrible. But one thing I have learned is that anything I refuse to feel doesn’t go away, it just keeps coming, waiting to be felt, gaining strength in my resistance to it. If I am going to have feelings, I must have all the feelings, even the ones we think are uncomfortable and dangerous.

In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, as the character Amy treats the deep wounds on Sethe’s body, she says “It’s gonna hurt, now. . . anything coming back to life hurts.” I have been coming back to life and there is hurt and it has to be felt. But I didn’t understand why exactly. The week had been lovely. So many beautiful things, why such fear? I knew a couple of possible triggers but it wasn’t until I thought of C. S. Lewis that I understood. We had held my mother’s memorial service the Sunday after Easter two years earlier. I had completed a lifetime duty that I had felt I had to do mostly alone. I had carried the weight of that duty until the day of her service, when I finally finished the work, from which I was completely exhausted, but I had not failed to complete and God had been with me.

And God was with me Saturday, as the burden of memory broke me again.

God was with me Sunday in the voice and face of every one who welcomed me into church and celebrated seeing me. Everyone I encountered seemed to light up when they saw me. People had assumed I wasn’t coming to church when I asked for help with ushering. I just needed the service (even more than I thought I would by Sunday). They greeted me with joyous surprise. I stopped to tell my Disciple class downstairs that I’d be retreating to the introvert’s balcony and they begged me to stay, but I explained what I needed and they understood (I think). But when I got to my balcony, someone had offered my presence to someone who knew no one at church. There was no way to refuse. Another new member saw me and I invited her to sit by me as well so we could talk about books. I explained I was trying to be an introvert and she rightly said “I bet that is hard for you” and later she invited me to dinner at her new house. I was greeted so warmly by everyone I knew in the balcony (we people of the balcony) and I could not help but laugh because everyone was close. There was no way I could have any distance.

And God was laughing, “You thought I was kidding. Do you know what I have done to you?”

I am just beginning to find out.

Lent: Holy

amywink March 28th, 2018

In the spring of 2016, Stacey ended treatments for her cancer. After a very difficult and almost deadly drug trial failed to affect her cancer, she had tried another as a last attempt to affect the growing tumors but the consequences were unacceptable and that treatment too had little affect. We both knew, and we talked extensively about her right to choose, accepting what it meant and knowing how little time we likely had left, and we laughed as much as we could together. I found a card to send her that extolled the virtues of friendship and how friends were there to help each other in times of crisis as long as each friend had a crisis at a different time! Since my mother’s death and her cancer spreading had both occurred that spring, I added a note “I think we’re screwed” and we laughed when she received it.

We were so screwed.

We laughed a surprising amount that spring because that seemed to be the only thing left to do as we faced what was coming and something in the joyful connection we made together each time we laughed helped us cope. I threatened her “just don’t die on my birthday” and she said she’d do her best. But the weekend after my birthday, she had what we called a spell, and entered the residential hospice after becoming unresponsive.

Everyone waited.

And she came back to us.

We both knew our time was very short. I suspected the cancer had reached her brain. We had been relieved in December before she entered the drug trial when the scans had showed no cancer in her brain but it was now May, 6 months later. We did not talk of this but I think we both knew what it might mean. She probably didn’t want to tell me.

She determined to finish the afghan she had started for my mother and I still wanted, and she was so relieved to be able to work on it as she recovered in hospice. I joked with her “just don’t leave it where I can tell you wrote “arrrgghhhh” on the cave wall.” And she laughed, and retold the story to everyone.

She returned to emailing and was so grateful to be able to write, to return to our “thinking together in writing” which sustained us during the 20 years of our friendship and sustained both of us in the last months of her life. When she couldn’t write, we texted. It was hard for her to talk on the phone so we kept the conversation going and we said everything that was important to say, everything that was important to understand about our friendship and what we meant to each other, everything we had learned from each other. The end was coming so what would be the point of not saying those things? What would be the point in not telling someone how very important she is? We said all the things. I determined I would always say all the things because what is the point of not saying what people mean, what beautiful gifts we are?

I called that time our Indian Summer and we savored every email conversation, every laugh, every dark moment we made light with laughter, every dark moment when all we could do was be with each other in that darkness. She hated that we all suffered with her illness. I reminded her that she couldn’t make us miss her less no matter how tidy she tried to make the ending. We argued about heaven (our first real religious argument) but agreed she’d be disappointed if it looked the same as what she already knew. While she talked of what she had done, I argued we were saved by grace.

Every conversation was holy.

She finished the afghan and she was so proud. She’d tried a new design, learned to sew the border on. She wanted to show it around before she sent it and I agreed she should. I was leaving to get my new puppy, James, over the July 4th weekend so we didn’t want it to be left outside while I was away. She shipped it to arrive once I was home.

The afghan was lovely, blues and cream, and I pulled it from the box so happy to have received this gift of her, made by her hands. It was so beautiful.

And I saw the mistakes.

It wasn’t an “arggghhh” on the cave wall exactly, but with those mistakes, I knew. She’d never have allowed mistakes in her work, written or otherwise, the uneven border, the missing stitches. Her OCD would not have allowed it. I knew the cancer was in her brain. I knew.

And later that week, she knew. She’d decided to try one last thing and made an appointment at Cancer Centers of America. Her husband told me how hard it was to get there but they’d made it. But her scans showed cancer in her brain. A lot of cancer. There was nothing to be done. She decided what to do and I agreed with her.

It was our last conversation.

I sent photos to her through her husband and listened for him.

She did not die on my birthday, but instead on my parents’ anniversary– which I do not think she knew. I was not alone because Kristi was visiting, which Stacey had known and perhaps she decided to go when I was not alone. I think she left things as tidy as she could, with as few loose ends as she wanted, but like I told her that would make precious little difference in our grief. When her husband called, we could not speak and we still can’t speak but we can write and we do. Our grief has brought us close, as it has brought me close to her other best friend.

But it is not tidy. We are bound together roughly, unevenly, with stitches missing and holes where they shouldn’t be.

But we are bound together and it is Holy.

Lent: Be with Us on Our Journey

amywink February 22nd, 2018

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths.”
Psalm 25

I have passed the second anniversary of my mother’s heart attack. In two weeks, I will pass the second anniversary of her death. I am in the second anniversary of the weeks between, when the body does the work of grief. I have to pay attention to the feelings rising out of memory, to shadow the present and tint my current days. I know this is here. I know this is now but I respect the work of grief, accepting these tattered remnants of that passing time, the ephemera of those days between.

Time slowed down while my mother was in the hospital, as time does in hospitals, where there is so much waiting and nothing can be pinned to a specific minute. There are no appointments, just waiting. Just waiting in the unknown, even as we tried to pin what was known, like mapping our plan for a potential destination and yet having absolutely no idea of where we might be going. And so we sat, waiting, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my dear friend Sally who came for me, without my even asking and we waited.

We were not alone in our waiting, others waited in their own transitional times. One man, looking like he was straight from the ranch, in coveralls and work-boots, arrived to see his friend who had just had open-heart surgery. His nervous chatter like sandpaper against the quiet. My thoughts were not holy. I was grateful when he left to see his friend.

When he met me in the hallway after, he was filled with advice about the horror that he had seen, as if he could help me, prepare me, for what I might encounter next, and he rambled on as I stood there before him, with Sally at my back. I felt my shoulders rising, I felt the electric tension glittering in me as he so helpfully described his terrible encounter. I shouted in my head as I breathed, slow, steady, through the rising tenor of his voice, his panic. Then I moved toward him. I reached and put my hand on his arm, caught his eye and said “I will be okay. It will be okay.” And he stopped, suddenly grounded, tethered before his terror lifted him beyond my reach.

“I do not touch strangers,” I told Sally later, and I have no idea why I reached, except I had and it seemed to help. I think of that man, that moment, whatever came over me to move me toward his fear, out of my own irritation. I think of the people who were with me, friends and strangers. I think of those memories of presence, ephemera fluttering through those slowly passing days.

« Prev - Next »