It’s been one of those day/weeks/months/years. I thought I knew myself. You know what I mean? That I knew who I was, that my identity was clear, so clear to me that it was clear to everyone else, too. But then life happened. A series of events over a series of years, each one painful and redefining in its own way, and then I’m in that space where people are saying, “who are you anyway?”. And let me just say I really hate it, I mean it pisses me off, when someone tells me that I don’t know who I am. As if they knew!

After seminary and moving to the midwest, I came to the realization and the admission, that there were certain things in life I needed to feel like myself, like I knew where I was and how I was doing, and, perhaps more importantly, I realized that those things were easier to find in the classroom than the office. I was looking to others to tell me who I am, what I am, what I’m worth.

More than 10 years later, I’m learning that I’m getting frustrated with others defining me incorrectly– defining me by terms that don’t ring true to who I believe myself to be or in line with who I strive to be. We all have mirroring needs, and I’m no exception, but the mirroring doesn’t help if I don’t agree with it and it can’t help if it’s nonexistent. Mirroring to me is the idea that people reflect back to me the positive and affirming things I know to be truthful about myself (that I am worthwhile, loved and ok, to start). But if I don’t believe these things (that I’m good enough, smart and doggonit people like me), then their words will fall flat before they reach my heart. Yet, at the same time, I need to hear these things to build that belief. So maybe it is that if I hear those mirroring things often enough and begin to see them myself that I can build that truth and live into it.

I’m learning that one of the reasons I am the way I am is because I didn’t have enough of that mirroring in my childhood. I’m quite certain that my mother didn’t have much mirroring either, which is part of the reason she wasn’t able to provide it for me. I’ve learned also that her unhealthy ways have effected me too.  I’d like to believe that I do a better job of mirroring for my children. I’m learning again how to mirror for myself. And I’m learning about shame and how Dame Shame creeps up and turns the mirror of reality into a fun house mirror that distorts and destroys the true self image, making it harder to see the good things for what they are, and though there might be an auto-correct setting on the mirror, it can take a long time to adjust. (If you’ve had issues with body image or weight, you may know how long it takes to appreciate the new cute clothes you can wear when you get into shape because you still think of yourself as the one who could never look good in something like that. That’s shame controlling the mirror with fear of humiliation and the sense that I’m not all that, even after you become the swan.)

And here’s where I get down in the dumps again. My Dad was the one I could depend on to mirror for me. (Sure there were times when he didn’t, but for the most part, when I needed him, he was there.) Now that he’s gone, I feel like my number one fan is gone too. Now I rely on the memory of how he supported me. And I try to think of what he would say to me, if he were here now. My big regret at the time of his death, was that I didn’t get to hear the words one last time. Oh how I wish he had said them or that I had something written by him. Maybe I do. Maybe I’ll find a note or a card somewhere in the cards and things I’ve kept over the years. Or maybe, just maybe, he’ll visit me in a dream.

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A Blessing

As you go forth from this experience…
May the Love of God surround you,
May the Grace of God astound you,
May the Hope of God ground you,
May the Light of God abound in you,
May the Peace of God be found through you,
now and for ever more. Amen.

(Based on Pearl Rohrer’s blessing given in 2007. Her words are lines 2-4. Prepared for a group of interns completing a unit of CPE.)

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Grieving in Haiku

A group of poems about my Dad’s death.

sitting by the bed
helpless as he breathes his last
his life slips away

words of painful truth
he’s gone but not forgotten
in my heart he’ll stay

my young son asked me
why did grandpa have to die
my family grieves

old voicemail review
i hear dad’s familiar voice
crying grateful tears

cards and letters come
words of love, stories comfort
wide community

remembering dad
longing to feel his presence
my heart is broken

over a month on
and the grief is still so fresh
will it always be

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Forgiveness sometimes means admitting you were wrong

In every relationship there are two players, you and the other person. And much of the time our actions are made in response to the other person’s actions, they are reactions. But we also act proactively, that is, not in response to the other person but from our own initiative.

Our actions can have a positive or a negative impact. Sometimes we intend our actions to be positive but they turn out to have a negative impact. Sometimes we don’t think through our actions and things come out in a way we would not have intended had we thought it through. For example, we may have needed to say something (my feelings are hurt) but said it in a way that was hurtful (you bitch! you did that on purpose to hurt me) when it didn’t have to be; or we may have done something based on an assumption without first getting our assumptions verified or disproved (oh, you acted that way  because your feelings were hurt over _____ not because of you intended to hurt me?).

One lesson that I keep learning, over and over (grimace), is to test out my assumptions before acting on them. Remember that old adage about assumptions? It goes like this: “When I assume, I make an ass out of u and me.” Somedays I think I’ve cornered the market on assumptions! Assuming anything about someone else or any situation is an attempt at mindreading. I’ve learned the hard way that I’m not always as good at reading minds as I think I am.

When you find yourself beginning to assume things are a certain way stop and ask yourself: what do you gain through your assumption? What do you lose? What evidence (real, hard, verified evidence) do you have to back up your assumption? Chances are checking out your assumptions before you act will go a long way in preventing personal damage to yourself and others.

It takes a lot of courage to check out your assumptions….who doesn’t want to be right about something?…but the gains you will make in trust, authenticity, and mental health far outweigh any false sense of gain you might have in trying to be right (and then finding out you were wrong).

By getting another perspective on a situation we can make better decisions on how to act or respond, how to be involved or get out of the way. It can help us see that some things that may seem good at the start really aren’t the best for a variety of reasons. (Note that it is OK to acknowledge there are some people or situations we just aren’t our best with no matter how hard we try.) We also gain perspective on ourselves and how others experience us, and that leads to deeper relationships, trust, personal growth and a stronger sense of who we are.

Forgiving someone else when I’ve made the wrong assumption also leads to the recognition that sometimes I need to be forgiven, too.

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The Things I Hold On To

My Daddy is gone. It’s eleven days now since he sneaked away.

I’d been with him all that morning. Looking at my computer, then him, then out the window. I typed. I held his hand. I listened to him breathe, those strange, autonomic breaths of the dying.

He was in hospice four and half days. It was heartbreaking to stay. It was heartbreaking to go. He was unresponsive. He was aware. He was awake. He was in another world. His was the delicate dance of having one foot in this world and one foot in the next.

We played music. Quiet, soothing, nature music. Instrumental. Some familiar tunes. Flowing water. Singing birds. Oceans waves. Gentle hymns.

He gave us all the energy he could muster. Saturday night. Sunday all day. Monday most of the day.

Each time I left the hospice house I felt like my heart was laying in that bed, waiting to be picked up again when I returned. Sleep came but it wasn’t the restful sleep of being back home and having everything right in the world. It was the sleep of emotional exhaustion, the body-demanded sleep that gives enough to just make it through the next day.

I set aside the computer, grabbed Dad’s hand and pushed my fingers inside his. I needed a drink of water, I told him. I’d be right back. He squeezed my hand. (Did I dream that? No, it was real.) I kissed his head before I went out into the hall lounge area just outside his door. I got a cup from the water cooler and sat on the couch with Mom & an elder from the church.

I finished my drink and felt moved to go back to Dad. He needed suction. I wiped his mouth and ran for the nurse and Mom. Grabbing Mom’s hand I pulled her into the room. The elder followed. Dad was trying to nick off (as he would say), unobserved.

Her hand on his, I held on to his arm. The nurse was on his left: suctioning, taking his pulse, listening for breath and heart sounds. She confirmed what I already knew.

The elder left and went out to the parking lot to cry.

Mom & I cried and started making the necessary phone calls. My brothers arrived within thirty minutes, my uncle within the hour.

Hours later, we agreed it was time to call the funeral home. And my brother made an unexpected suggestion- We had a received a Life Legacy Box, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a lock of Dad’s hair to put in it? With apologies to Dad, and the scissors provided by the nurse, I cut off a couple hunks of Dad’s hair and put them in a ziplock bag.

Back at my parents’ house, I opened a drawer and found my Dad’s scarf.

When I started knitting again in 2007, once of the first things I made was a scarf for my Dad. I knit it from my most favorite wool- Colinette Cadenza in Copperbeach, a hand painted superwash Merino. He helped me design it with his suggestions about proper length and width. He even went to the yarn store with me to get the supplies.

The scarf represented so much affection between me and my Dad, that I even asked him if I could have it when he died (never considering that it would be just about 4 years later). Now, seeing that Mom had placed it in a drawer so quickly, I told her of the agreement with Dad. I don’t know if she cared really. It was something for me to hold on to.

So many things I want to hold on to.
Memories of my Dad.
The stories shared by those who came to the visitation and the memorial service.
The lessons he taught me.
The parts of my personality that come from him.
His brilliance, both in mind and personality.
His passion for learning and teaching and being open.
His embrace of living as a citizen of the world.

I can but scratch the surface of all that he is and was and will be in my life.

And I am so grateful for him.

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What are the words

What are the words I could use to describe my Dad? There are so many!

Kind, generous, brilliant, loving, hero, inspiration, teacher, father, friend, faithful, servant, scout, adventurer, bold, make a good start.

But as I sit here, bedside, with the knowledge that he is dying, I don’t know what to say. I want to ask him questions and hear him tell the old stories again. I want him to tell me how he hopes to be remembered. I want to hear him tell me he loves me and he’s proud of me. I don’t want to let him go, but I don’t want him to suffer.

I want to tell him in every word how much he means to me. How thankful I am for him. What an impact he made in my life and in the lives of others. I want him to know he will be remembered and always loved.

I have told him, over the years, all of these things. I don’t want him ever to forget these things.

What are the words he longs to hear?

What does he need from me in these moments?

How can I make this better for him?

The tender touch.

The hand held.

The brow caressed.

The body turned with gentle care for comfort.

The oxygen line rearranged on the face.

The kiss on the forehead.

The touch on the shoulder.

The actions. The words. They say the same thing.

“I love you.”

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Let the Fresh Winds Blow

Another Thursday evening, in the kitchen, shabby dinner, homework tending. This new life is so different from a year ago when all my days were mine, at least for a few hours. Just this week I passed a year since coming off of steroids, just over a year since the first 6 month follow up. I found myself really stressing last week and feeling all kinds of uneasy and will, so much so that I contacted my doctor and asked for an MRI (preliminary reports are that I’m fine). I’m not due again until July, but there is something about the comfort of the 6 month check points that I needed to keep me going. Talking about my anxiety helped ease it and that helped me remember that I had been told stress, fatigue, dehydration, poor diet, lack of exercise…all these things could lead to me experiencing symptoms again. It’s true. While a year ago I couldn’t go 36 hours without exercise before I started getting weepy and depressed, now I find I can go about 4 days.

I’m working too. Crazy hours and too many of them. While I imagined the smart thing to do when I went back to work would be to find something part time and close to home, I knew it wouldn’t pay the bills. And then there was this calling thing that urged me to do something else, something challenging, something rewarding, something that would help restore my soul-self. That urging led to something bigger than I thought about and yet it was the right thing. Now when I look back on how my life was 2 1/2 years ago I know, with some sense of conviction that I’m moving into a space that is more me-shaped, more fitted and fitting. I’m learning, growing, exploring. At the end of a work day I can feel the tired that comes from doing good work rather than the tired that comes from wallowing in the grief pool, struggling to keep treading the murky waters of pain and disappointment.

It is a new place. Hopefulness in the immediate future is a shift in the program that means I won’t have so many nights with long hours and little sleep, fewer hours away from the boys who miss me so very much that they ask for every detail of my job just to know what it is that mom does now. And a shift that brings me back into my residential community in a new role.

I am learning that time by itself does not forgiveness bring, especially when time occupies a place of hurt. Time, distance and occupation make a difference in healing the hurts. It’s the positive distraction that enables the mind to let go of the pain, piece by peace–the use of the skills, the learning of new things, the growth of new neural pathways. My mentor had told me that I would need something to move on to in order to let go of the past, and I find that is true. If the mind, or the heart, doesn’t have something to go to it will stay stuck in the old place, the place of last memory. I’m seeing it in others who grieve. There must be something to move toward in order to write the new future story, even if the new future story is only the next 24 hours. Holding on to the past does happen for a while in the grief process, but eventually the past does erode and pieces of it begin to slip away, wash away with the tears, and blow away when the fresh wind comes. Open the windows and doors, I say! Step outside and walk into the wind.

Today is Australia Day. The anniversary of the arrival of the first European settlers /colonists on January 26, 1778. Not all who came were prisoners. Many came because the griefs of the old world were too much to keep bearing. They sought the red soil and fresh winds of the Great Southern Land. They sought, with hope, a new life in a new place that fit  their hopes and dreams.

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