12 Do’s (and Don’ts!) Supporting a Friend Through Surgery

or… What I Learned Last Week Through Trial and Error

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I spent a chunk of last week caring for my dear friend Barbara after she had surgery.  I have never had surgery and really had no idea what to expect.  I just knew that this is one of my best friends and I wanted to be there for her and so I volunteered to be her main person for the first few days.  What I know in hindsight is that this is no small task nor should it be taken lightly.  And…it’s not for everyone.  So I’ve compiled a list of what I learned in the hope that it will help others – both caregivers and people about to have surgery – so that they can make the best decisions about who is in their space at this tender time.

DO’s

1-Play to Your Strengths

For example if you don’t have the best bedside manner but you make a really mean chicken soup, volunteer to make meals, but don’t sign up to be the hand holder for your friend or family member when she’s getting prepped for surgery.  If you decide to take on the “job” of caregiver, go for it wholeheartedly and no holds barred. Be on board. If rubbing somebody’s feet makes you squeamish, find someone who is great at giving massage to come sit with the patient while you have a little break.

2 – Take Your Job Seriously

Remember that you are the gatekeeper and that your job, to the best of your ability, is to filter all the personalities, energies and information that the patient is being bombarded with. You are an advocate for the patient.  You’re another set of eyes and ears, don’t be afraid to take notes or even record the doctor when they are speaking.  In my experience, nobody minded when I asked for clarification on certain things or had questions about the aftercare instructions. In general, I felt that the hospital preferred that I was there as a go-between for Barbara.

3 – Be Gentle with the Patient!

Even if you’ve never had surgery before, it’s important to note that the days leading up to surgery, immediately after the operation, and the days shortly after the procedure can be a very tender and vulnerable time for the patient and her family. My friend Barbara kept saying that the veils were thin.  I think she was referring to the fact that all of her defenses were stripped away and this can be a time where fear and powerlessness are magnified.  Be especially gentle and kind with your loved one.  This is definitely where a nurturing and gentle caregiver will be preferred over somebody with very little bedside manner.  Let that person run errands for you or help in other ways.

4 – Have Food in the House

Do have lots of yummy and nourishing snacks available in the house for the patient after surgery. Don’t assume that the patient only wants to eat soup or bland foods. In fact, I knew Barbara was feeling better on day two when she started fantasizing about lasagna!

5 – Rest

Encourage the patient to have many breaks and to rest quietly. It can get a little overwhelming with friends and family calling, texting, and stopping by. No matter how wonderful it is to be reminded how loved she is, my little Energizer Bunny needed quiet time so that she could recharge. One of my best memories was playing my Dragon Drum for Barbara while she napped.  Also in this category, do encourage the patient to take her 3 AM pain pill and go right back to sleep.  You do not want her to get chatty, nip that right in the bud.  You need your sleep too!

6 – Show Some Emotion

Let yourself have feelings. Your friend will appreciate someone else expressing themselves; it’s not just the patient who is feeling an overwhelming amount of emotion. Once all the forms were signed and Barbara came out of the bathroom in her cloth gown and paper cap, s*** got real and I couldn’t help myself, the tears just flowed.  Barbara held my hand and it was a very loving moment.   Also, don’t be afraid to share a laugh – always good medicine (where appropriate, see below.)

DON’Ts

A lot of these will seem like a giant “Duh!” to most of you but I assure you these were either learned the hard way or witnessed.

1 – Don’t Forget to Eat

Don’t eat the patient’s yummy nourishing snacks!  And don’t underestimate how hungry you as the caregiver might get.  It’s important to think ahead if you can and if you have that luxury, stock the refrigerator for you as well.  When well-meaning friends text and ask what they can bring you can also say that the patient is very hungry and wants chocolate and almonds (even if they’re really for you!)

2 – Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive to Surgery

Do not, repeat do not, let the patient drive herself to the hospital on surgery day with you in the passenger seat. The patient has a lot on her mind and will be distracted. When she tries to back up into a very tiny space it will not go well.  Avoid this scenario by insisting upon driving.

3.  Laughter is Good Medicine Except When Patient is Nervous/Crabby

Don’t make too many jokes right before surgery. Usually the patient will not appreciate you making references to your giant pimple on your face and asking the surgeon if they have any medical recommendations for you.   Once again, the patient will not think this is funny.  Neither will the doctor.

4.  Let It Roll

Don’t take anything the patient says prior, during, or after surgery personally.  A lot of emotions can come up.  It’s best to encourage the patient not to make any long-lasting, life-changing decisions in this general window of time.  The patient’s mood could be perceived as erratic – something seemingly harmless like a little elderly man pushing a motorcycle up a hill could drive the patient into a murderous rant.  Best to just soothingly reassure the patient that you hate that motorcyclist too…there, there.  The patient will have almost zero recollection of what they said or asked for. For example when your friend/patient asks you to mince garlic in her lemon water she might actually mean ginger and will look at you like you have sprouted a second head when you ask her if she really wants you to put garlic in her tea.  (Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that this section could be written for perimenopause too…aaack.)

5.  Don’t Be A Jerk

In her tender time post-surgery, do not give the patient any books regarding her medical condition or tell her stories about people who have died from the same medical condition.  Right?  Also in this category, do not judge any type of procedure or follow-up care the patient decides upon afterwards.  This may take an attitude of trust on your part, but I assure you most people think long and hard and confer with their doctors and their loved ones before they decide on any follow-up treatments and it is OUR job as a supportive community to love our friends and family members through all of their decisions without judgment or opinion unless asked.  And even then, people, use your heads.  Remember…this is a tender time.  Tread lightly!  No bombarding the patient with statistics and medical data.

6.  Don’t Forget What a Sacred Window of Time you are Sharing Together

Take as much opportunity as you possibly can in the surprisingly busy days post surgery to reassure your loved one what an absolute gift it is, and continues to be, to spend time with them.  To hold their hand, to do their laundry, to steam there garlic tea, to warm up their soup, to stroke their hair, to give them a kiss, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to drive them around, and to just be in their presence.  It is a rare gift to share so intimately with another and I am grateful to have had this bonding time with my sweet friend of 26 years.

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Isn’t she cute?

Huge thank you to my family and friends for supporting me in making this trip happen, kids got shuffled, pet/house sitter bent backwards, drum carrier got fedexed so I could bring it with me on the plane, friends held space for me and said healing prayers for Barbara.  I know it’s cliche but it truly takes a village.

Go With The Flow…


Udaipur, November 2015.
Traveling in Udaipur. Early morning breakfast. Nice looking man nods good morning and asks waiter for coffee “now”. Soon he is talking to the two men eating breakfast with their baby. A conversation starts up and the coffee drinking man says he lives in Santa Cruz. The couple say they are from The Bay Area and one of them grew up in Santa Cruz. This gets my attention as I have just spent the last three years splitting my time between Boulder and Santa Cruz. I have to say something right!? Before you know it we are all sharing synchronistic connections and stories. The solo gentleman brings his wife up to join the party (by now we are all clustering around each other excitedly) and we share MORE common threads. “You worked at Levi’s? I did too!” “Your kids were born at Alta Bates? So was my daughter!” The end result is an invitation for all of us to dine together that evening for Thanksgiving dinner. One of the dads is Indian born and takes the initiative to find us the perfect Indian restaurant that serves traditional Indian thali – a platter with tiny metal bowls filled with delicious bites of delectable vegetarian fare. As plans are made and some of us disperse for showers or planned adventures, Kate and I finish our coffee/tea with the couple from Santa Cruz. They are talking about how they love their beach home – having lived there for a year after retiring and moving from the East Bay. They love the flowers, their garden, the Monterey Bay. And just like that, as we speak of dolphins and whales, I feel the tears start to sting my eyelids. Part of me thinks “Oh no, not here!” and part of me just notices the tears – no stopping them. Let them come.

Rishikesh, January 2015.

I began this year in India as a married woman. When friends hear I’m officially divorced, almost all of them say ” Wow that was so fast!” and I think to myself “Maybe for you.” I can see their point. I guess it does seem fast from the outside looking in.

I have never worked harder to keep a relationship going than this one. Ever. And somewhere along the line it started feeling like I was caught in a rip current and the water was going up my nose and pressing me hard but I kept holding on to a tree root and shouting “hang on!” All the while the waves were crashing into my face and I kept clinging. We were both exhausted. And at some point, in April to be exact, I let go.  This ending has been years in the making.

Rishikesh, December. 2015.

11 women are joining us in India. Like individual tributaries, they flow separately and we will all meet in Rishikesh tomorrow; joining together to form one Radiant Tribe. As I type, some of us are in the air, flying over the top of the world in an arctic airstream. This is the first time I have been in India as a single woman. I wonder, as I prepare for our group’s arrival, what lives for each of them – what stories do they have to share? All the individual flavors and colors of them – of all of us – that will soon blend together into a beautiful masala. A lot of our time together will be spent on the banks of the Ganges – in fire ceremony, bathing and making offerings to the river. Mata Ganga – Mother Ganges. The only Hindu goddess that takes the form of water, residing in Shiva’s matted locks, Ganga is fluid in her grace.

India 2015.

Always a land of powerful transformation for me. In my experience, the easiest way for me to traverse India – literally and figuratively – is to cultivate and maintain an attitude of surrender. No agenda. Magical experiences happen for me on days where I have no attachment to plans and I can flow from one experience to the next.

As my tears well up and spill out in Udaipur, grieving the loss of my ocean town, and another layer of grief regarding the end of my marriage, my new friends draw closer. The woman shares that she too mourns the loss of a relationship and even now, 20 years later, she can feel unexpected grief. As she tears up, her husband hands her a tissue. They invite me to visit them in CA. Generous with their compassion.

I can’t think of a better place for me to mark the end of this year than in Rishikesh. I never want to will a relationship into being again. Ever. I am finding that it’s easier to go with the current vs. hang on to the banks. The river that had been pummeling me over the past two years swept me up in its arms and carried me down, out of the froth and I floated. I’m on a rich and beautiful ride. Yes, sometimes it can get bumpy but it keeps moving and I lift up my feet so I can float better.

In the next 10 days I will be sitting in ceremony releasing that which no longer serves, washing away past experiences and baptizing myself anew – creating the next chapter of my life and witnessing and supporting our group to do the same.
I feel safe in the rhythm and flow of ever-changing life.  – Louise Hay

This Story Continues…

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Photo by Anna Yarrow

Our two arms together say everything.  So different and yet similar.  Here she is at 16, tender skin with battle scars.  There I am, with my semi-colon tattoo I got when I didn’t know what else to do, how else to support my girl when she didn’t think she wanted to live. I just couldn’t believe the story was going to end this way!  Spoiler Alert:  The guy doesn’t get the girl in the end.  But I do.  Get the girl.  At least for now.  For a little more time.  And I’ll settle for that.

When I brought Lili home from the hospital at three days old, I knew then that I didn’t have a clue about parenting.  How was I going to keep this tiny human being alive?  I’m embarrassed when I see these photos of her first day home.  The first one is of me crying, looking like a child myself, holding her.  The second photo is me, back in my hospital gown (that’s right, I changed BACK into my hospital gown even though I was at HOME) and got right into bed.  I wished I could have stayed at the hospital, where the nurses knew what to do and I was supervised at all times.

  • From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I loved Lili.  That was the first thing I said when the doctor placed her on my chest: “I love her.”  I look back at the early years of raising her and I ache over the mistakes I made – some big, some smaller.  But there were also shining moments too, where my natural instincts to nurture and protect and supply entertainment were present.  Parenting has been a humbling experience to say the least.  One that has broken my heart open and brought me to my knees many times over.Lili was just three days into her 15th year when her dad and I made the impossible decision to sign custody of her over to strangers.  Before he signed on the dotted line, her dad looked up at me, hand shaking and asked “Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?”  All I could say was “I don’t know.”  But I knew that we couldn’t keep her safe anymore.  Lili was clinically depressed and anxious and her self-harming behavior had become extremely dangerous, and possibly life-threatening.

    The year leading up to this decision to send her away, and the first several months of her being gone, were the hardest time of my adult life.  I fell apart.  I would see friends at the grocery store and turned away to avoid conversation.  I sobbed when friends posted pictures on Facebook of their daughters dressed up for homecoming, celebrating “normal” milestones that we weren’t having.

    I couldn’t make sense of what was happening in my life and I certainly couldn’t control it, so I had to surrender.  I didn’t do it readily or gracefully.  In fact, I was a wee bit rebellious at first.  I was advised to “do my work” by the therapists at the program Lili was in and let her do hers.  I hated when they would say that!  I was sad.  I was grieving.  My daughter was gone.  I was angry.  I didn’t want to do any “work”.  And truth be told, I was fucking exhausted.  I needed a break.

    I spent 3 months in Santa Cruz on the beach.  I went to yoga, I spent time with my other kids, and I started to “do my work.”  Which meant excavating some old territory that I really would rather not have looked at, like my childhood and my marriage(s) and mistakes I made as a parent.  As a mom, I’ve had to sit in the fire of my own guilt and shame around choices I’ve made, even as I understand that I was doing the best I could.  Rough terrain.  Although there were many days of darkness, my mantra became:  “I trust the universe” because even though my life seemed tragic (to me), I wanted to believe, needed to believe, there was a greater reason for what was happening.

    While Lili was learning more about herself and getting honest, I was taking a long look at my life and noticing what was and wasn’t working in it.  She and I are both at turning points in our lives.  After 20 months of hard-ass work, Lili is graduating from her program and coming home and my marriage is ending.  My divorce is final next month.  I’ve done this as consciously and kindly as possible and I’m proud of how Andy and I have both shown up, with a few bumps along the way, but mostly, with open hearts, love and respect.

    When Anna Yarrow said she had some sessions open for her Spirit and Bone project, I was excited to have a photo representation of this potent time.  The words “Spirit” and “Bone” are strong – and sinewy and bloody – kind of like the past couple of years.  Gritty.  And Lion hearted.  The hero’s journey down into the abyss and back up again.  I have grieved what I thought I knew, who I thought I was, what I thought the future held.  I am more open to what actually IS now, and I look forward to welcoming my daughter home – who she has become, what she is showing up as and beginning this new chapter in my life as well.

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    Photo by Anna Yarrow

Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Last year I wrote a post about how I always go within at this time of year – actually I wrote that 2 weeks ago too – hah.  Well, I guess it’s a theme for me.  But something is starting to shift and lest you think that I only write about tough things, I wanted to share a bright, beautiful light that is shining on me right now.  It’s called Embracing Loneliness.

Eleven years ago, I admitted to myself that I might be sensitive.  Don’t laugh!  Sensitive people had always made me feel uncomfortable and I had spent a lot of energy distancing myself from people that seemed “overly” sensitive.  It’s been a process of accepting that indeed, I am a very sensitive person, and finding the gifts in that – it’s my creative spark, my drive to connect from the heart with others, what makes me approachable to people.  I have a gentle nature and I try to honor that and try not to get too stressed out, because under stress, my fierce protector comes in and mows everybody down.  Balance is a good thing.  Praying for that.  And working on it.  Always.

Well, now I’m on to a new one – uncomfortable emotion, that is.  Being in a long distance marriage, having one kid live in another state, and traveling a lot myself, I have a lot of time by myself.  All my life I’ve felt lonely and it’s never been comfortable for me.  Never!  I’ve done so much on my own.  I’m an only child, had a lot of freedom as a kid, saw my dad once or twice a year, moved a lot, felt like a ‘weirdo’ because I was ‘different’ (probably being overly sensitive – hah), I’m fiercely independent, a little bit of a loner – ok, a lot of a loner, march to my own drummer, not a joiner, etc.  You can probably get the picture.  All this time, I’ve thought there was something wrong with me for feeling lonely.  I gave ‘loneliness’ a value judegment of wrong…or worse, unevolved – not spiritual enough.  If I was truly connected to God, I would “never be alone” right?  We’re all connected.  So anytime I felt lonely, I felt bad about myself and tried very hard to NOT feel lonely!  Push it down.  Call a friend.  Judge myself.  Blame somebody else (ok, Andy) for making me feel lonely!

And then…something happened…something so small and every day, but for some reason, it got in and I had an “Aha!” moment.  I was having a therapy session with someone that I respect.  He leads workshops all over the world and lives with his wife and son and they all seem to have a very loving, connected relationship with each other.  He was talking about how loneliness can overcome him during his morning meditation time and he will weep with it – even when his beloved family is in the very next room!  He shared that loneliness is universal and just a feeling – a feeling to be felt and expressed and allowed to pass through.  I really did feel like a bull, drunkenly tilting my head to one side and thinking “huh….?  Wha??”  He also went on to say, that loneliness, when felt, can be an indicator of deep love and yearning – something that I can convey and share with others and further my connectedness.

I thought about how so many people in the hospice groups for the newly bereaved are overcome with grief and afraid of how overwhelming it can feel.  What we teach is that the only way ‘out’ is really ‘through’ – feeling the grief is the only thing that lessens the grief.  I am comfortable with grief, I feel it every day.  I allow it in and really ‘go there’, knowing it will pass and my tears will dry in minutes.  What if I applied this to loneliness?

The past several days, I’ve had a lot of time alone in the house, the weather has been bitterly cold, all the animals are using me as a heating pad.

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I’ve felt alone and have been missing my family, and have even felt some melancholy and existential angst about the passage of time as well as knowing that I am preparing to be away in India for several weeks – which always makes me feel as if I’m in outer space – as far away from familiar as I can get.

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But what’s different these last few days is that I’m sitting in stillness (usually with at least one animal on top of me) and lighting candles, painting, creating beauty and warmth, and saying out loud “I’m lonely” and really feeling it.  Letting myself go there.  I’m sharing it with others without (and this is big, and new) hoping somebody (ok, Andy) will make it better.  And guess what?  Big surprise.  It’s passing!  Not only is it passing, it’s kind of welcome.  In a  poignant way.  Like shedding a tear for a beloved grandparent – so sweet to remember their face, and sad to miss their embrace, but heart-opening to connect to that loving memory.  This moment of loneliness connects me to my heart.  I long for my husband and connect to the love I have for him.  I notice the beauty of the falling snow.  I’m present and aware that this moment is fleeting.  I am grateful to be in my own good company.  I heat soup.  I feed the cats.  I walk the dog.  I feel content.  So simple.  So big.

Early Morning Sunrise
Early Morning Sunrise

There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God.  – Rumi

Square Peg Round Hole

All the freaky people make the beauty of the world.  -Michael Franti

Growing up I was  considered a “weirdo”.  It was the 70’s and most parents were involved in their adult worlds – use your imagination.  I went to bed when I wanted, watched a lot of TV, forgot to shower and had really bad style.  I was unpopular and lived in my own world of books and a few friends.  I was a lonely kid.  I never felt like I fit in.  I hated school.  It wasn’t until I was an adult and moved to the open-minded West Coast that I finally felt Free.  Free in the most anonymous sense of the word.  Nobody raised an eyebrow about what I looked like or acted like.  In the Bay Area I found my soul home and cultivated friends who loved me for the quirky gal I grew up to be.

I’m taking a tele-class called “Relationship as a Path” taught by Jayson Gaddis – that meets weekly by phone.  Seems kind of ironic that my relationship group is virtual – perfect for an oddball extroverted introvert like me.  Last week Jayson brought up a concept that stopped me in my tracks.  I’ve heard it before, but this time, I really sat with it.  He suggested that our children are the disowned parts of ourselves.  Think about that one for a minute.  Even if you would like to debunk that, don’t.  Just for a few minutes.  It’s a trip.

Times have been tender lately at our house.  My sweet, smart, sensitive 6th grader has been struggling socially.  He isn’t seeming to “fit in” at school.  I’ve always prided myself in allowing both of my children to express themselves as individuals.  But I’m realizing that I have my limits.  “Be yourself, but don’t be too weird, ok honey?” is the message I think I’ve really been putting out there.  I see that my EGO has been so proud of both of my children’s accomplishments and their bright beauty.  I’ve marveled at their seeming ease in life to be kind to others, to have people like them, to do well in school.  All things that were murky and elusive to me.  Now, with my son’s struggles, I’ve been in panic mode.  “He needs to be home-schooled!” I delcare to his dad.  “Stop posting those pictures on Instagram” I hiss at my son – “you know the ones…that make you look like a girl.”  Who is this person speaking?  What has happened to my open mind?  Where has my appreciation and celebration of difference gone?  I’ll tell you. It went out the window the day my son came home and said some kid called him “gay” after school and that he was worried about getting beaten up because he has purple streaks in his hair.  I panicked.  I wussed out.  I don’t want him to feel lonely or ostracized (like I did.)  The fact is, if I could prevent either one of my kids from ever feeling pain, I would.  And I can’t.  And that’s probably a good thing because pain can be a catalyst for growth.  I would not be the woman I am today if I hadn’t had the life experiences I had as a child.  That’s right…as I type this, I mean every word.  I am who I am today – somebody I am proud of – because of every experience I had in my life leading up to this moment.  So thank you MOM and DAD and STEP-DAD and LIFE for every teaching that came my way.  Alle-fucking-lujah!

I asked sonny boy if he would like to transfer to a different school – the one for creative types – the one that is more accepting of diversity.  In the meantime, I actually suggested he “tone it down” on being different.  His reply…”I like being different.”  I confess that I wasn’t happy with this answer.  Now he’s testing the waters of his own individuality in a small white town in a traditional middle school.  “What child do you know that likes middle school?” my wise husband asked me.  “Yeah!” my high-schooler chimes in.  “I hated middle school – especially 6th grade.”  She did?  Oh yeah…

So back to Jayson and my virtual class.  The part of me that I have rejected – the painful loner part of my Self that I have disowned – is now surfacing in my kid and making me verrry uncomfortable.  Thank you life.  Thank you for this opportunity to breathe, to love myself and all the sharp edges, to re-integrate the shadow aspects I would rather not be reminded of.  Thank you for letting me love and appreciate the unique and quirky being that is my son.  On Christmas day we went to the movies and he wore his mullet wig and his “sipping specs” (glasses that  are a large crazy straw where one end goes in the drink and the liquid goes around the glasses and into the mouth) and I didn’t even flinch.  Once.  Neither did his sister (who actually gave him props for staying “in character” the whole time) or his step-dad.  I love my family.  The kid has an inner strength, a platform to push off of and I want my butterfly to be FREE.  Teach me my beautiful children.  Break up the calcification of my judgement and release my shackles of fear.  I bow to you.

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When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness.  They wanted her to change back into what she always had been.

But she had wings.

-Dean Jackson

 

 

Bittersweet Summer Time

I’m going to write this without agonizing over every word.  Writing is something I do because it stirs in me and wants to come out – not because it’s easy or even that enjoyable.  I actually do a lot of hand wringing about it.  I’m in Florida right now, just finishing a trade show with my husband, and flying back to Boulder tomorrow.  These are some thoughts I’ve been having about Summer and Boulder and especially my beloved neighborhood of rural North Boulder, where there are no sidewalks, lots of open space, and deer walk around like they own the place.

backyard
backyard

Summer is actually my favorite time of year and these next few weeks, as it reaches its zenith, are the days I savor the most.  I live for the light and celebrate the longest day of sunshine like the wildest of pagan queens – joy pulsing through my veins, all cells dancing an excited jig.  I wish every day could be the day before Summer Solstice – just like Groundhog’s Day, to be repeated over and over, that’d be fine by me.  I feel melancholy the day after solstice, as I know the days are getting “shorter.”  I’ve always loved the highs more than the lows…duh.

I’ve lived in my neighborhood for almost 10 years.  I’ve seen things change.  I’ve sold a house and moved twice since then – my husband and I living apart for 2 years, while staying married.  It was a new beginning and a gamble, and one that paid off in a stronger marriage, but it still had it’s scary moments.  Walking past our old house the other night, I stopped to look at the now very unkempt yard.  It makes me sad to go past the house because the “new” owners don’t water or take care of the plants we lovingly tended.  I saw our peony bushes popping with buds.  They have a short window in early summer where they bloom and emit the most heavenly scent.  I used to fill vases to overflowing and the whole house would be redolent in their perfume.  I stopped and stared at the buds, plotting a midnight raid to take some cuttings.  A wave of sadness washed over me as I realized these are not ‘my’ plants anymore.  That time is over.  I planted a peony of my own last summer in our new yard…it’s got 2 tiny buds…it’s going to take time to get established.

peonies
peonies from Redwood Ave

Old neighbors, a family I love, have decided to end their marriage and they have sold their house and divided up their belongings.  What’s left of their life is on the street, waiting for the garbage man to haul it away.  I see the kiddie toys and broken tools and paper sacks and I see a life that doesn’t exist anymore.  I honor them all in their new beginnings and I feel the sorrow too…in dreams that have ended.  That house will always be their house in my memory, no matter who moves in.  I keep walking.

Down the bike trail and turning left on to my street, I see the empty lot where Joe and Lisa used to live.  Their house razed along with the old cherry trees.  The clump of lilacs stand alone as if to say “what happened?” – nothing has been built there and now a herd of deer seem to be the only residents.

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Joe and Lisa’s cherries

Down my driveway now and I see my neighbor’s house is for sale.  This happened fast.  While I was out of town.  Nobody asked me about this!   My beloved 94 year old neighbor will be moving away.   She lives with her daughter after her house was swept away in Hurricane Katrina, this woman no stranger to endings and beginnings.  Now she speaks cheerily about how I can visit her wherever she may land.  When asked how she has lived so long and stayed so healthy, Miss Kaye replies “I’ve always had a positive attitude.”  Amen.  So she has.  I need to be more like her.

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Miss Kaye’s blood red poppies

There has been a lot of flower appreciation going back and forth over the fence this past week.  My poppies are in full bloom and, like peonies, they too have a short bloom period and need to be appreciated every minute they are in their full glory.  Last summer my gardener mistakenly pulled out all my poppy plants thinking they were dandelions.  I was devastated to think they were gone.  I viscerally felt the loss.  As I read this, it sounds like I am some spoiled, rich gardening lady but what I’m trying to convey is I felt the pain for the plant…being killed.  And I felt a responsibility for allowing this to happen.  I felt like a murderer.  A landscaper friend consoled my by saying that perhaps the poppies had seeded before they were pulled, and if so, they might come back.  Guess what?  They did!  And how!  Better than ever and maybe even more beautiful.

beautiful poppies on Sumac Ave
beautiful poppies on Sumac Ave

The point of all this is…all things begin and all things end.  The days get longer, the days get shorter.  People marry, people divorce, people separate and try again.  Kids grow (darn it!) and move away (not yet!!) and I keep planting flowers wherever I go.  I feel each passing more deeply than I used to.  I cry more often.  I love more.  I give thanks for flowers and for bees and for children and a home with a garden, for good neighbors.  I embrace the mess and chaos  – the perfect imperfection – of being human and judge less (thank god/spirit/grace) and miss the faces I used to see and embrace the new ones.  I love and appreciate my husband for being on this wild ride with me for the past decade.  I’m grateful for seeds that come back from under the ground, even when everything above ground is telling me they’re goners – it’s all a metaphor, get it?

can you see the bee?
can you see the bee?



Grief Spiral

dandy

Grief isn’t linear.  It’s not a straight shot.  You don’t pass through locks in a canal, never to go back, chugging along to what…?  Before?  No.  A land where there is no pain?  No.

I love the metaphor that grief is a spiral, where I circle around, sometimes close to the epicenter (deep pain) and sometimes a bit farther out (awareness of the loss) and sometimes on the outskirts of the spiral (where I can smile at the memories and celebrate the gifts from knowing that person.)  No matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one, I can be anywhere on the spiral – although I can truthfully say once I’ve experienced the acute phase of a loss, I’ve never gone back to that excruciating grief that feels like it could swallow me up and seems unsurvivable when it’s happening.  I hope that gives people some hope to read that.

Sometimes…I can be grieving and not even realize it.  Recently, life has been feeling so tender and almost unbearable to me.  Spring is late here in Boulder and with Spring comes baby animals.  We’ve got a Mama Raccoon in our attic, right over my bedroom, and her babies make scritchy scratchy sounds and chirp all night long.  I am sleeping in another room because they are so loud!  They sound like they are in the room with us!  Andy is calling them his roomates.  I don’t ordinarily like raccoons, but I am very distressed about these babies.  What to do?  I want them to be relocated, and not euthanized.  But I’m worried they are too young to be moved.  I can barely stand the thought that they will be moved outside… and then what?

Yesterday, we noticed a very small, brand new, baby squirrel up in our tree.  The mama was trying to show it how to scramble through the branches.  Then we noticed a very fat, buff tiger cat (ours) up in the tree, getting ready to pounce on the baby squirrel!  Oh no!  Andy ran out and sprayed the hose on our cat.  This barely distracted her.  Note that it was pouring rain yesterday too.  I was paralyzed with fear that Baby (our horrible cat) was going to kill the squirrel baby, the squirrel baby that isn’t even strong enough, or old enough, to scamper away.  The cat finally came in looking like a drowned rat and she has been locked up under protest all day today.  I’m praying that baby squirrel has enough evolutionary smarts to grow – fast!

As I was unloading my animal woes (my fear of impending death to small, helpless creatures, and my participation on some level with their possible impending deaths) on a friend today, she wondered what is going on for me about death.  “Well” I answered innocently, “a year ago is the time I started working with Lance.”  Hmmm.  As I said it, I realized that is what’s been living in me without me being consciously aware of it.  Two days ago was the 11 month anniversary of Lance‘s death.

Last May, I started giving Lance reiki and spending more time with him.  It was a powerful, life changing month.  It was an  intimate experience that touched me.  I will probably write more about this time, but for now the words escape me.  I am just aware that I am more sensitive than usual and it’s a reminder to go back to the basics of self care; something we teach in the Newly Bereaved groups at hospice.  Drink more water.  Rest.  Get out in nature. Share with close friends – people who will listen and let me be right where I’m at.  Most of all, thanks to my wise friend Sally, I want to BE present with all that I am feeling right now.  I want to witness the sorrow and the tenderness and allow any and all emotions to wash over me.  I might feel things this year that I was too in shock to feel last year.  I can notice the gifts that have come to me in the past year, since knowing Lance, and give thanks for them and for his life.  Gratitude.  And, I’m going to try and help these little animal babies stay alive if I can…

Change, Loss and Radical Forgiveness

First day of Spring today and even though I am looking out on a brown landscape and the air is chill, I can feel the pulse within.  My pale dry skin that covers me isn’t matching my steamy, pressure-cooker insides.  I want something (anything) to happen – NOW!  I see my teenagers’ (yes, plural) restless angst, dying for 8th grade to be OVER already, mirroring my own.  I wish it were summer…wish I were in a car driving West…or in a gyspy caravan on my way to Mother India.  Anywhere but here.  Blah.

Because ‘here’ is feeling a little uncomfortable to tell the truth.  We’ve got one girl wanting to spend more time at our house and one wanting to spend more time at her other parent’s house.  Both girls want to be with their mamas.  There’s something that feels natural and right about this but that doens’t mean there aren’t pangs for everyone – especially the dads.  The girls are growing up.  It happens.  Right before our eyes, these babies we have clothed and fed and loved and band-aided have grown into young women whose needs are communicated more through subtle smoke signals and hormonal energy fields than through direct contact.  These days  I keep a wary eye on my porcupine and wait for invitations to come closer – grateful when they happen.  Yes, I’m mourning the loss of my little girl.  But to be truthful, she’s had one hand on the door knob her whole life.  Guess who that reminds me of?  I’m crazy about that kid.  I know that the next 4 years are going to go by in a blur, I miss her already.

Baby Gilrl on the Go
Baby Gilrl on the Go

A random purchase has turned into a profound learning opportunity for me.  On a whim, I bought “Radical Forgiveness” by Colin Tipping.  The title grabbed me and I was curious. Basically the theory is that each interaction we have with others is created on a soul level for our growth.  Situations that we may experience as hurtful or painful are actually gifts and we can have gratitude for the people that stir this up in us beceause, on a soul level, they have agreed to come in and give us that leg up on the evolutionary ladder.  For example, if I have a belief (fear/story) that people abandon me, then I am going to attract relationships in to my life where people leave me, because on a soul level I am wanting (needing) to heal that wound.   If I can forgive the person that “abandons” me and understand that this is an opportunity for me to heal, the theory is that I won’t attract that in my life anymore, because I have healed that wound or story.  And not just forgive the person either, I need to love that person and be grateful that their soul is willing to show up for me.  Radical, right?

There are some people that it’s easy for me to apply this principle to and there are others that are harder for me, but I’m noticing that and playing with it.  I love the concept and I think it only works if I’m willing to apply it to ALL relationships.  It’s juicy material for sure.