Sunday, November 26, 2017

Most at Christmas Time

Dear Joseph,

I put your tree up today for the 10th time since you moved on from this world. It is such a cataclysmic experience every year, the collision of joy in who you were combined with sorrow for all you were not able to become and my selfish wish to have you here, the cascade of memories in what we were all going through at this time of year. It is a form of PTSD I think, these flashback clips of treatments and sorrow and struggle and fear. Yet I do it every year and look forward to it, though it bring me tears and an internal ache. You were real. You were here. We really did go through that. You really are waiting for us on the other side of whatever this world is. In that, I find peace and in my silent memories I find comfort and hope. If we were strong enough to do that, we are more than strong enough to weather this thing called Death.

Your brothers have taught me that even were you here, you would no longer be the boy whose tastes and passions now decorate this tree that I dedicate to you every season. I look at it and wonder if it is fair to you, to memorialize you at 13 years of age....and I know it is not. It isn't fair to anyone who has to find ways to get through times such as these. I wonder what you would say to me, if you saw it and, if you did, who would you be? The boy of 13? The man of 24? Would you laugh at the things I remember about you? Would you be touched? Would you roll your eyes and be embarrassed now at how you loved your Pokemon and would I laugh and wish you could understand how I treasure your innocence at this age? Would you get a soft smile, like your brothers do, remembering what these things meant to you at the stage in time this tree represents?

The tree isn't pretty, but then neither was the hand you were dealt. It is imperfect and cluttered, full of angels and snowflakes and wiener dogs and all the little things that I can find to represent the reality of your personality. The lights are colored (not in style) and flashing (also not in style) because I believe these are things that would have appealed to your youthful soul. There is a box under the tree every year filled with letters we, your family, wrote to you right after you died when attending the Camp Sol Christmas party - a "camp" just for families who have suffered the death of a child. Every year I am tempted to read them. Every year I leave them alone in there. There is a box in the attic filled with your clothing and shoes and a few Christmas presents still wrapped, intended for you from your brothers when you came home from the hospital. You never did. I could not, can not bring myself to unwrap them.

Joe and Mom and Ryan and I are going to see A Christmas Carol tonight and in that performance I will find the familiar, reassuring message that what we do in this life does matter and that the spirit of Christmas is both alive and pure. I choose to believe in this message. I choose to know you are there, waiting for me one day. I imagine smiles and conversations in which we catch up and none of what it took to get to that moment will matter anymore. Today, in this moment I am not there because I just miss you so much. I think much of the world thinks after nearly 11 years, I have "moved on". What they do not know, can not know, SHOULD NOT know is that you never move on. You just learn to carry it. I carry it best I can and I am happy to not have to means I didn't get the privilege of knowing you as I do. Those of us who did...we carry it. We carry you.

I love you Joseph. I wish Christmas were different. There are so many things about the world and my adult life that isn't what I thought it would be and sometimes those things really, really hurt and some of them are unbelievably wonderful. But you? You were one of the very best things I ever got. It is no secret I love getting gifts. I like to tease that Layla, my cat, is the "best present ever"....but the truth is, you are. You, your brothers and Joe and my mom and brothers, my friends and all the people I have gotten to help in my life, all the souls I hope I get to help still more....those are the real gifts. I am lucky to get those. I love getting those.

Someday you will teach me what Christmas is about in the next life. You have already taught me in this one. Merry Christmas season Joe-Gi. I still think of you and I still remember. You are with me.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What is courage?

This week has brought some new territory in it for me, and I am kind of trembling in the corner about it. I don't like writing about this. I feel uncomfortable. Painfully exposed.

There is a group on Facebook that has started up to prepare for my 30th high school reunion. (yeah, 30!) I feel these shaking tendrils of the past pulling me in and I feel resistance and fear and anxiety, remembering who I was then and the experiences I had, which all seem in my memory to wrap around everything I missed and everything I wasn't. I wasn't pretty. I wasn't thin. I wasn't popular or witty or a good student. I didn't have a single saving grace, chubby in my overalls with fingernails bitten to the hub, gigantic Coke bottle glasses and really REALLY bad hair that demonstrated my inability to recognize the difference between men and women's mullet trends. I was afraid of life passing me by. I could feel myself missing out. I watched the other kids get to do things I could not, not for financial reasons but because my dad was...well.....crazy. Not "gosh guys, my dad is such a jerk/dork/pain" kind of crazy, but true to the bones not right in his head. I know this now. I accept this now. I don't know if forgiveness is appropriate, though I try to offer it anyway most of the time..... There was violence. There was hostile and hateful emotional assault on a daily basis, usually very early in the morning before Dad went to work, before the sun came up. Days started and ended in fear. There was loss. Chronic and constant tension and awareness...what was I doing, what had I done, what could he imagine I was going to do....what horror would visit down on me today, or my mother, or my brothers? Living in that kind of stress, on that kind of guard, makes for one weird, weird, jumpy, angry, chaotic person. I was desperate in my relationships outside of home. I wanted friends. I wanted to do things kids games and performances on stage. I wanted to date. I wanted to be liked. I wanted a posse. But I see now I was chaotic in my efforts, socially awkward, weird and chronically overwhelmed with feelings of being jealous, envious, anxious, angry and needy, yanked back and forth between rebellion and compliance. Desperation poured from my bones. Deep down I was a very good girl, very rule following, sweet natured and compliant...but with the way things were, I wanted to be tough. I wanted to be mean and strong and too cool to be hurt and too cool to care about what was happening. What 16-year-old knows how to do that effectively?

Even when I did manage to connect with others, it got derailed by the home situation. I could not bring people around and I certainly could not go do the things they did. On the rare occasions that I was not grounded, it just wasn't worth the hassle of what it would take to get out of the house. I wasn't allowed to drive, I had ridiculously early curfews and the accusations that would then face situations died before they could ever get started. I met my best friend Cami in my senior year and found a bit of peace in her ability to stick with me and see good things in me, her happy and calm demeanor earning me a reprieve somehow from some of the insanity that went on at home. I stopped tying myself to the fringes of the cool kids and gave up on that. I had Stewart as a long-distance boyfriend through my senior year too, which at least gave me a plausible reason why I could not date and handsome pictures to show off of a soldier that said he loved me. But still, looking back, I am sad. Sad for myself, for the things I gave away, for the chances I took....for the ones I should have and didn't.....for the anger I carried around inside me. The relationships I missed. I was a trauma survivor. I see this now. But at that point in time, I was still surviving it. It is past time to forgive myself for that.

That is what I come to I guess. I am not that girl anymore. I am me now and I have got to forgive myself for all I wasn't then. I wasn't mistreated by my peers so much as just...ignored. Invisible. Disconnected. What kid could conceptualized what was going on at my home, and even if they did, what could they possibly do about it? If I had visible bruises maybe.....but most of the time not. He was very careful about that. How could they form a connection with me when I could not spend any time with them? It is part of who I am, part of who I have become now. It is taking courage to visit the trauma of those days...and courage is something I know. So here goes. Class of 1988 30 year reunion. My history, I am figuring out, had very little to do with these people. That is a good thing. That opens a door to rewrite this story.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Finding Happiness

Sometimes I wonder if I am really happy. I mean, often now I think that I am. I live in that state. I cultivate it. I feel grateful.....thankfulness. Thankful that I live where I do. Thankful Joe is my husband. Thankful for the health and robust personalities of Nick and Alex. Thankful for my job. My calling. My friends. Gratitude is a gift I have been given by Joseph and I touch it as often as possible. It is impossible to feel truly grateful and be bitter or angry. Gratitude in its very nature doesn't leave room for those things. Oh sure. There can be preferences. Hope...absolutely. There is hope in gratitude. Hope things can be different. Hope for a better world or life or situation. But despair? No. Anger? Nuh-uh. Bleakness? Nope. Those things cannot live inside true gratitude. And those feelings are so dark and sucking and all encompassing that I just refuse to entertain them often. Any time I do, I lose perspective on life. I start to believe things that aren't true. It feels so much better, so much more honest to be grateful.

Joseph's birthday is coming. He would be turning 24 this year. His brothers are 22 and 19 and are so neat. So interesting. So tall and handsome and full of life and ideas. It makes me wonder who he would be. It comes around every year, like clockwork, these musings. This ache. It feels like the opposite of gratitude, to wonder those things, but I just....I can't help it. I miss him. I could easily feel robbed, if I wished to feed that demon. I could majorly be angry. For a long time I was, and that emotion carried me through nursing school and slightly beyond. It did not take long, though, in doing patient care to learn it was a very thin veneer behind which hovered sorrow and loss and yearning. I've learned that sometimes the most painful of emotions are actually quite beautiful. I try hard not to feed anger.

There is a main thing I have learned, these ten years past since Joseph died. I have learned that it isn't abnormal to lose things. People. Homes. Possessions. Countries. Wars. Ideals. Respect. Security. Finances. Love. Hope. Faith. Jobs. Everyone is in some state of loss, every minute of every hour of every day. Everyone. Every. Single. Person. I am actually just a member of the human race. My loss doesn't make me different or special. I lost my little boy. His name was Joseph. The most painful emotion that has come from that loss is regret. Regret for the little things, like when I didn't read him another story or hug him because I was "touched out" for that day or didn't want to listen to his voice because quiet sounded like Nirvana right then. Regret for big things, like the time I got mad at him for breaking a lamp that I no longer can recall what it looked like and nursed that anger for the better part of a day. Regret for not holding him more. For not being everything he needed at every moment. For not cherishing the time as much as I could have. Should have. Regret is heavy. Regret is dark. However, Joseph's death has come with good emotions too, Sweet emotions, like joy. Sweetness. Poignancy. Awareness. I am awake, fully awake to life. That is a good thing. I know what I am gifted with now. I see the difference plainly, the Sheri before.....and the Sheri after.

We all are reaching for happiness. Sometimes when I reach for it, it feels really forced. It makes me tired. The approach of his birthday can make me feel this way. I have a great new job. I like it. I like the people, I like what I am doing, but sometimes during the day I start to notice these little wars people get in with one another and I wonder about them. I feel detached from them and they seem, without judgement of the people themselves, to be so pointless. It makes me wonder if we channel conflict sometimes just to remind ourselves that we are alive. But sometimes I get tired inside and I question my own happiness. I wonder if it is real or just something I tell myself. I try to put it down, like carrying it is yet another burden I have to bear....and in a way, at times, it is. Happiness can feel wrong when a piece of you is missing and you know it will never come back. Some part of you recognizes that happiness is a little bit of cognitive dissonance and that you just have to live with that, consciously knowing that the happiness created here all will go away. You won't ever understand it and learning not to feel guilty for it is a whole different blog post that I don't really want to tackle right now. It is work, this thing called happiness. You have to let it in for it to exist. You have to invite it. You have to accept it for what it is. It doesn't come in degrees. It just is. It doesn't wait for everything to be perfect to be something that can be claimed. In fact, it rarely happens that way. It actually requires you to LET GO. Let go of what you thought would be or what you wanted to be or how you imagined it "should" be. And then, it can feel like a sneaky trick, to steal it where you find it, when you didn't expect to find it at all. It isn't earned. It isn't something you have to deserve. You just have to let it in. That is what I am learning. So I am grateful. Every day. Not every moment, but certainly some slot of every day. And I am learning too, how to gracefully let it go when it is time. One thing is is cyclical. Everything always comes back around again eventually.

My new job has me driving over a lake to get to work. I go against the main flow of traffic and it feels like I have discovered some well kept secret, this beautiful drive. On the way to work, when the sun is coming up, the effect over the lake is dazzling. It literally fills me up with joy, it is so beautiful. Conversely, we had storms last week and there were white caps on the lake, with spray against the shoreline as waves slammed into the immovable earth. That too is beautiful. Every day I arrive at work refreshed, my bucket of gratitude topped off by something as timeless and inexplicable as the nature of sunlight on the water or wind against the waves. I work with good people and we try hard to do good work, sacred work. I could not ask for more. I work at a hospital, where people go to get better or go there to die. It is a place of upheaval and change. I am happy there. I am the immovable shore and sometimes, every once in a while, I get to be the sunlight. The water itself is just life, slamming into me or playing a dazzling counterpoint to the stronghold I have become. It just is, this dance between the waves and I. The waves will come, gently, harshly...and I, just being who I am, let them touch me as they are. I am neither the first nor the last of the shorelines that they touch. That really, really comforts me. Nothing is heavier than believing you carry the heaviest burden in the world. I gladly put that down.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The end of an Easter Day

Today we spent at my older brother's house. He has three boys and they tiptoe on the precipice of manhood. I wonder sometimes if they, my brother and his wife, even realize what a gift this time is...the in-between, just before independence leashes them to drag them away, when boyhood still beckons. Seeing Jacob, the oldest, who Joseph once shared a Gameboy with, is both blessed and yet painful. It is Easter Day.. Where would my Joseph be now?

The world as we know it is chaotic and unpredictable. I find the inner strains of my peace near to impossible to touch. Donald Trump is the nightmare that is our President. He is unqualified and crooked and I am genuinely fearful, though of what I cannot fully say.

I am praying these days a lot more. I pray for my Mom. My brothers, My husband. My kids. My nephews. My self.

I don't even know what to say here other than Let there be peace on earth. Let it begin with me.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Early Morning Musings on Life, Death and the In-Between

The first death I experienced as a brand new nurse was a young woman (in her 40s) with metastatic cancer. She was on a morphine drip, but did not want it on very high, so we titrated up and down based on her anxiety and her or her husband's request. She was very religious and strong in her faith. She and her spouse obviously had a close and loving relationship. As a brand new nurse, I was fascinated, horrified, frightened and anxious as the dying process took place before my eyes. I wanted so badly to do right by her and her spouse....but I digress.

She had been laboring all night long and somewhere around 4 or 5 in the morning began to pour fluid from her mouth and nose the likes of which I had never seen nor smelled before. She was panting and gurgling, sitting at 90 degrees and leaning forward. Suddenly, her eyes went to the ceiling of the room and her face filled up with wonder and joke. She started to cry out "Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!" over and over, her eyes just....bright and amazed. Her husband's eyes filled with tears and he stroked her head and asked her if she was seeing angels....and she relaxed back against the bed and gave up her soul.

It was a super intense experience and I will never forget it. It was the beginning of me letting go of my anger over Joseph's death. I wanted to know what she saw. I still do.

I had another death-related experience when my dad died, a few years before nursing school. Dad was a volatile man, likely mentally ill and he was chaotic when I was growing up, going from withdrawn silences to violent spasms of temper with the rare moment of gentleness mixed in. We were all pretty damaged from never knowing...a real Dr. Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. He generally was withdrawn unless he was screaming about something and he would toss things around, throw drawers and then make you kneel to clean it up, beat up the dog because he was angry about something one of us did...swore a lot, called a lot of names, asked a lot of open ended, unanswerable questions and then became further enraged when all you could do was sweat and cry and wet yourself from fear. He liked to wake us from deep sleep to lay into us over stuff. Being around him was the very definition of walking on eggshells. We did everything we could not to draw his attention and to this day the sound of a garage door opener causes a momentary internal sense of panic. He bloodied my lip a few times. I feared him and never really felt safe ever....from the time I was as young as I can remember until the day I moved out.

He mellowed some with age and he and I had started making our peace around the time of my divorce, which was ongoing at the time of his death. He was very ill with a Parkinsonian disorder of some kind and was kind of losing his mentation little by little. He was stiff, had flat faces and was having little car accidents until he wasn't allowed to drive anymore. We had a lake house that he loved to go fish at and he wanted to go one weekend. Mom hated it there, so she took him to the lake house and dropped him off with admonitions not to use the boat. Well, Dad was nothing if not stubborn. He took that boat out fishing. It was found a few days later moored in the mud, out of gas, a fishing line still hooked up and dead bait in a bucket, but no Dad. His body was found floating in the lake a fairly long distance away. He must have lost balance on the boat and fell overboard. He had been a strong swimmer, but with his disorder his limbs were pretty stiff and unresponsive. He was not wearing a life jacket. They estimated he had been in the lake a couple of days.

I took some time alone with him at the funeral home. They worked hard to make him viewable but cautioned us not to get too close to the casket, as apparently there was odor and mold they could not really contain.  So I stood back some distance and talked to him. I had rebelled against him hard in my teen years and I told him I was sorry. I told him I forgave him. I told him I loved him and that I hoped he would be waiting for me when my time comes. Probably hard to understand with the portrait I painted of him above, but he was Elvis to untouchable rockstar, a person I strove hard to please but never really could and now all the chances to somehow make him finally proud of me were gone. I felt relief at his death and yet.....destroyed by it. How could someone that powerful die?

I did his eulogy at the funeral. I was strangely numb. I would cry in fits, then feel nothing at all and then feel horribly guilty for feeling nothing. Then one night I had a dream. In it, I was in a white Cape Cod style of house. The interior of the house had one central square room with a hallway all around the outside and inside the room were the type of white folding chairs you see people rent for weddings and such. They were once in rows, but had been disturbed and were kind of askew. I sat on one and a minute later my dad came in. He was wearing a dark suit with a lavender shirt and an amethyst colored tie. He wore suits every work day of his life. A couple of months before his death he had given me a pair of amethyst earrings with a humble apology for being a poor father. The tie was the color of those. He sat down on a chair facing toward me. During his life, when he smiled, one side of his mouth went up further than the other. He gave me a closed lip, somewhat sad, still crooked little smile and we began His mouth did not move at all. I just had....sensations coming from him that communicated things all in one transaction. He told me he had heard me at his casket and that he had heard me give his eulogy. That he was sorry. That he loved me. That he wished he had done better. That he appreciated the things I said, that he was full of regret, wished he had been different...its hard to communicate. Overwhelmingly he wanted me to know he loved me, heard me, forgave me...that he still existed. When I woke up, all I felt was peace. I have not had conflicted grief since then. I know it was him with every fiber of my being. I wish so much he knew I became a nurse. That I got a Bachelors degree and now a Masters degree...the first woman in my family to go to graduate school. Sometimes I miss him. Sometimes I still have nightmares about him. But my inner conflict over his passing went away after that dream. I would give anything to know he is proud of me.

As an odd aside, when I was a teen and really really hated him, I often dreamed I was killing him or beating him up. It troubled me and I prayed a lot for deliverance from my hopelessness over the situation. One night I had a dream that Dad was drooling in a wheelchair, slumped and helpless and that there was nobody to care for him because of how he had been through his life. I felt intense pity...and my rage simmered much lower after that. Had he not died how he did, that very likely was going to be his fate. I wonder sometimes if his ability to see his failures and try to rectify them as much as he could after so many damaging years was what gave him the death he had, doing something he loved rather than dying of aspiration pneumonia and loneliness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light

I have been distracted lately. The political turnings of our country have so dismayed and frightened me. I am afraid I have been guilty of a great many things of late that I profess to be against...ramblings in my brain that I try not to feed and the written and spoken word true to an attitude in myself that I fight hard to keep caged up. I feel like I have been giving in to a true example of how even the best of ideals and intentions can get turned into something ugly and destructive, and for that, I have regret. I am left with a sense that outrage is not a productive emotion, at least not for me. I have known for a long time now that my calling is not one to be played out on a public stage or in a big and hairy way. I am drawn to quieter, more personal service and that is perfect to my soul, which has had enough violence, anger and fear to last a lifetime. However, I have not been acting according to that ideal and I have, as a result, tilted my own sense of inner peace off the rails. I see it now. It will be an internal battle, but I am not going to give free reign to my outrage anymore, or at least not in that way. I apologize for stoking the fires against productivity and peace. I let myself get distracted and in doing so lost my personal ability to really have any impact at all.

The song above was one of many prayers sung at Joseph's funeral. This one is personal for me. I hear it in my head and heart on a regular basis. Finding this version of it is isn't popular, though I think it is the most beautiful of choral arrangements for the Prayer of St. Francis I have ever heard. It at once comforts and motivates. It draws my focus to who I want to be and how I can survive in this world without losing my sacredness. Lest I sound self inflated, I think everyone is sacred inside. Every single one of us. Even Donald Trump. ;)  I love that this arrangement is being sung by youth. It has an energy that is appropriate for where they are in life and it reminds me of where Joseph was when he died. There is a lot to be gained from young people and their idealism and energy is a big part of that.

I am really excited these days, as I have a new job that I will start in about a month doing Professional Development for Baylor. Basically that means I get to be part of the lives of nurses and nursing assistants, helping equip them in scope, instrumentation and information to do what they do every day. I get to help students turn into nurses and new nurses expand into competent and experienced practitioners. I get to interact with competent and experienced practitioners to learn what they need and don't have and what they have that ought to be shared. I can't imagine it gets any cooler than that, at least not in this place in time. Who knows what lies ahead, but for perhaps the first time since Joseph died, I am stepping away from this massive internal drive to become, to achieve, to prove myself. I am ready to settle into a position for many years to come and get as competent and valuable in that position as I can. I feel the kiss of idealism again and that is a really good feeling. In working for Nicholson Clinic for the past year and a half I was brought back into a safe place, where I knew the players and where I knew my skill and passion to be a given. It was a position where I have been valued and trusted, a place of contentment and emotional rest. Now I am called to get up and back on the path, and I am so excited and so ready to go back into acute care, to impact the lives of patients by impacting the lives of their caregivers. I am smiling so much, inside and out.

Lately Joe and I have been watching a program called The Sixties on Netflix. It is a wonderful multiple episode documentary outline of things that happened in that decade before I was born. There are episodes for the Seventies and Eighties coming up after the Sixties. I wept last night listening to Martin Luther King, Jr giving his I Have A Dream speech. I wept over the names of activists who died for their cause and felt the barrier that we are continuing to push against to give the marginalized a voice and a fair chance of freedom and happiness. I smiled seeing how the Beatles came to impact the world of music and the interesting ways their influence impacted musical artistry. I have been struck again and again in watching this that the world continues to grow, that change comes slow and that we are just the next generation of warriors placed to make the world a kinder, more unified place. It makes me fear the battle less.

I am comforted, oddly enough, that the upheaval of things lately is neither new nor futile. My place in this is private and small and I am returning now to that directive. It is where my peace is, where my impact is. I will be marching and protesting. I will also, however, be praying for our governmental leaders and for those who elected them. We won't get anywhere until hearts soften, so I start with my own. I will no longer utilize social media to put out messages regarding politics. I am a decent person and everyone I am friends with are decent people, each with their own fears, dreams and goals. I feel strongly we will do more to bring hearts together through prayer and service than through harsh words, rash judgments and faithless accusations. I won't feed that fire anymore.

I feel good about this. I hope you will feel good FOR me for recognizing this in myself. I am unchanged in my views, but looking at history has underlined for me that I don't have to spend my days in a cloud of righteous indignation and angry, borderline despair in order to make my ideals known or to impact our political world. That is a slippery slope to the mouth of evil and I will not be a pawn to darkness. I will strive to do it through kindness, love, a sense of hope and awareness of how blessed I am by the diversity in my world and my call to service of others. That is the person I want to be. It isn't easy to stay calm when sacred things are threatened but it is possible. It's possible and it is necessary.

I am a nurse. I serve as a way of life. I serve the marginalized and the trampled, the downtrodden and the privileged. I serve the mentally ill, the murderers, the rapists, the child molesters, the haters, the lovers, the prostitutes, the elderly, the newborn, the helpless, the husband, the housewife, the abusers, the victims. I serve neighbors and strangers. I serve Republicans and Democrats. I don't have to worry about whether someone deserves medical treatment, whether they deserve comfort or compassion. What a weight is lifted in my mind, to not have to shoulder the burden of judgement. Nursing isn't what I do. It is who I am, and I am thankful.