Life

Showing up

Over the weekend I was honored to partake in two celebrations: one of a new life and one of a death. Our nephew and his girlfriend (who I hadn’t met yet) are having a baby and this past weekend was a perfect time for everyone to get together to celebrate the new baby girl to come. I used to have all sorts of anxiety over attending showers (too long, too boring, too many crazy games!) but several years ago I had a mind shift about them and saw them for what they were: an important moment in a person’s life as we honor a transition to a beautiful new life stage. Whenever I am invited now, I think of it as an honor bestowed.

It’s also an opportunity to reconnect with people we haven’t seen in a while. To put away our phones and our Facebook timelines to make new (in real life) memories. There are always new people to meet too and the nephew’s girlfriend (and her parents) are wonderful and a balm to the family they are joining with. My nephew lost his twin brother in 2016, to addiction, and it has been a heartbreaking journey for them. To witness this happiness in their lives is a joy. And yes, there were games, and I came away with a prize or two.

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Life

Condolences

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If you knew that my first experience with a close loved one’s death was a traumatic experience in that I was one of the people to find my brother after his suicide (when I was nineteen), it may not surprise you that I haven’t always dealt with the loss of other people’s loved ones in the best of manners. Quite honestly, I would do anything to avoid a funeral home and a casket (open or closed) for many, many years. In fact, it was (and sometimes still is) hard to talk to others about their loss but I have always thought the best route was to send a condolence card. And now Facebook seems to be the place others go to express their thoughts and prayers.

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Life

A Yellow Notepad

This morning as I was doing my own kind of meditation where I lie in bed and send prayers and good thoughts for the day, I asked God to help me see what I should be in the world. On Sunday night we went to mass at a local Catholic college and it was amazing. For me, amazing doesn’t happen at mass all the time, but that night I felt so in tune with what the priest was enthusiastically asserting in his homily and it was all about being who and what we are supposed to be.

It didn’t come to me in a thunderbolt as I mulled this over in bed today but my thoughts drifted to a letter I need to write to a family member to set my side of the relationship right. It’s something I let go too long but it’s never too late, right? The letter needs to be hand written, something I haven’t done in many, many years.

Into my mind popped a vision of a yellow notepad, a notepad I used abundantly during the summer of 1988 to write letters to my brother, Jeff, who had taken his life 17 months prior. I was in the anger stage of my grieving process. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and I was unable to find employment where my parents lived and so my uncle generously found me a well paying flag person job and I went to live with him, my aunt and young cousins 100 miles from home.

Standing in a u-turn on a major highway, alone for 12 hours a day gives a person quite a bit of time to think. I did a lot of that, headphones in my ears as I listened to the soundtrack of that summer: Walking in Memphis, Simply Irresistible, Hands to Heaven and everything by Phil Collins. When I hear these songs I can be transported back to that summer like it was last week.

Back to the yellow notepad. I would be exhausted at the end of the day and even though I had a boyfriend living nearby, I mostly spent the evenings in my room, scrawling out these lengthy messages to my dead brother. I was trying to come to grips with the why, a nearly fruitless endeavor for suicide survivors. This was long before I heard of the concept of a suicide survivors group. I also eschewed therapy, preferring to go it alone (a common theme in my life).

I wrote on those notepad pages until my hand hurt and then would carefully pull the pages from the pad, fold it in thirds as though I were about to tuck it into a number 10 envelope and then deposit it in the top drawer of the dresser. By the end of the summer the drawer was full but I was no closer to the answers I sought. If I packed them up as I left for my dorm that fall, I don’t remember.

Writing on that yellow pad was an integral part of my very long recovery process. Like the songs of the summer of 1988, I can’t see a yellow pad without remembering the angst of my nocturnal writing during those summer months. If I could write a letter to my 20 year old self, I’d tell her it was going to get better. Time heals all wounds is a trope no grieving person ever wants to hear even if it is true.

Somehow, over time (lots and lots of time), my heart patched over and I was able to work through my grieving process. I was able to go on and work with other survivors, listen on a hotline as people called in with the things that weighed heavily on their mind. Is remembering the notepad part of God’s mission for me? I think it is, at least for today because it was the first image I saw when I looked at Twitter this morning. I will keep seeking the clues He sends me.

MC

Life

Thoughts and Prayers are Failing Us

The latest school shooting is heavy on my mind. I started a full post about it this morning, but words failed me. How to adequately convey what many of us are feeling today, after seeing video and hearing first-hand accounts of the gunfire? Anger. Hopelessness. Disbelief. Grief. Horror. Helplessness. A former student sets off a fire alarm so he could get as many students in the hallway as possible so he could shoot them. That this is not an isolated incident is beyond awful.

Our politicians have become adept at sending thoughts and prayers and have shown themselves unwilling to work to take action on legislation for mental health and gun control, both of which are needed in spades.  The Dalai Lama says prayers are not enough. They are not enough.

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Let’s not make school shooting become a normalized aspect of our lives now. When we send our kids to school each day, let’s not wonder where and when the next one will be.

MC