Category Archives: grief

State Senator Clementa Pinckney Funeral Service

Those who are interested can watch the funeral service by clicking here. I encourage you to watch the whole service and not just President Obama’s eulogy. 

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Filed under death, different faiths, grief, racism, worship

Love’s Fullest Potential

As you may have guessed from my lack of updates, this year has been very challenging. It has felt like a whirlwind. I’m still not sure I’ve had time yet to properly absorb Min’s loss, and the year has just marched right on. I don’t know where the time has gone.

In February, I had my right CMC thumb joint replaced, in a procedure called CMC arthoplasty. As joint surgeries go, this one was relatively simple and the recovery period was relatively painless and easy.

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

In March, I adopted Emily from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, who had been there for nearly 5 years… with reason. That reason: she was (and still is) very, very shy and scared of most people. I chose to work with her 3 years ago and gained her trust, but even after living with us for 8 months, she’s still wary of my husband. And she came with unexpected health issues: she ended up needing most of her teeth pulled due to severe gum inflammation that was autoimmune in origin and was just diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease last week. By the summer, another joint of mine was dying; my right ankle was no longer functional, and I became unable to drive and was only able to walk by seriously limping and leaning on walls/furniture whenever possible.
Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Also in the summer, Kosette, our 17 year old cat with multiple health issues, suddenly changed. Come August, she no longer was acting like “our” Kosette. Uneven pupils prompted a vet appointment where the worst was confirmed: a brain tumor. On August 6th, we put her down, to prevent her from suffering from the increasing anxiety and confusion that were surely to come. My ankle replacement and bonus toe/metatarsal surgery scheduled for August 27th, we decided to adopt Ethel (again from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs) earlier than we would have otherwise.
Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Only 10 days or so after losing Kosette, we brought Ethel home. And just over a week later, I had ankle replacement (and bonus toe/metatarsal) surgery… which was by far the hardest joint surgery I’ve had, in terms of pain after and the recovery period. One month non-weight-bearing on my right foot when my left hip was due to be replaced in 2011 and is not capable of bearing any extra weight and my left wrist had been replaced in 2008 and couldn’t bear more than 10 pounds. I’m still not sure how I got through that month, but I did. And now the end is in sight with this surgery. I’m doing Physical Therapy; I can walk almost normally; I can drive. I’ve yet to start seriously belly dancing again, but I’m hoping to get back to that sometime this week. In addition, I’m a member of the board of directors at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, and we’ve had a lot of struggles this year.

And that’s the summary of my life since losing Min this January.

Is it any wonder I feel adrift sometimes? That sometimes I still see Min or Kosette out of the corner of my eye? That I still feel like my mornings and days are too empty because I’m not spending ten minutes or more of every waking hour at home feeding (or attempting to feed) Kosette? That I wonder if I even had time to process losing my right ankle, to properly grieve the loss of a joint the way I’ve needed to in the past prior to joint surgeries?

To wonder where this year has gone. It feels like I just took a breath, and suddenly it’s almost Thanksgiving.

I have no regrets about anything that has happened this year. I just wish this year had happened over the course of 2 or 3 instead of just one. This has been one of the hardest years of my life thus far. But has it been a bad year?

No. Losing Min and losing Kosette were part of loving them. When I love a cat, I know that one day, that cat will die. And I make a choice every time that I will love this cat as much as I can for as long as I can and I will not hold back any love or affection out of fear of future pain. In a way, those final weeks approaching the end of a cat’s life have a sacred beauty all their own. The love fulfills its potential in those weeks. Do I love this cat enough to truly put their needs before my own? Is my love strong enough to let the cat go? I learn what my love is truly capable of in that moment, when my vet asks, “Are you sure? Are you ready?”, and I nod or say yes even as my whole being is screaming NO.

And then, I choose to love again. Because how could I not?

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Filed under cats, compassion, daily life, death, grief, health, impermanence, love, pain, physical pain

“Nothing is what we thought”: A reflection on grief

Today’s slogan is, “Nothing is what we thought”. I love this quote by Pema Chodron because it has so many different meanings. First, it can mean that things are not the way we thought they were, that our perception of things is wrong. Second, it can mean that we are thinking nothing, that our mind is empty. And third, it can mean that our thoughts are nothing, that they are insubstantial and fleeting.

When this quote comes up in her book, it is the first meaning that she is referring to, and it is that meaning that I want to ponder in this post. A few months ago, I was feeling awfully smug about my ability to handle whatever life could throw at me. I felt that I was comfortable with the way grief affects me and I had a set idea of the losses that I expected to occur in the next couple years. Kosette, our 17-year-old cat with kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure, would die within the next year or two. Then, five or so years later, our 12-year-old cat Min would die. That was how it was supposed to be. But life makes a mockery of our expectations, and nothing is as I thought.

220709_originalWhen we came home after being away for Christmas, Min had stopped eating. Over the next two weeks, we took her to the vet many times, searching for the cause of her anorexia, expecting it would be something fixable. It wasn’t. It was intestinal lymphoma, meaning that even if she were force-fed, the food had nowhere to go. She stopped purring, was barely drinking, stopped urinating and defecating, and spent a lot of time each day hiding.

On January 13, my husband and I made the decision to put Min to sleep. There was nothing else we could do to end her suffering. There were things we could do to prolong her life, but nothing we could do to actually make her better.

It was a shock. And I learned that grief is not predictable, that life is not predictable. Life doesn’t care about your expectations. All you can do—all I can do—is love as much as you can, because, as cliché as this is, you just never know. And so I start 2014 not feeling smug at all, but feeling vulnerable. And raw. And uncertain.

Because nothing is what we thought, and that’s just the way things are.

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Filed under belief, buddhism, cats, daily life, death, ego, grief, impermanence, slogans

Suffering… End of Suffering

I’ve read a lot of Dharma books and have felt time and time again that I Get It, I know what to say and what to think, I Am A Good Buddhist ™.

But I haven’t been “getting it”. When JB was dying and I was angry and sad, I felt like a bad Buddhist. “The Buddha wouldn’t have gotten so attached,” I thought. “The Buddha would have realized that JB is impermanent and wouldn’t be so upset at the news of JB’s impending death.” “The Buddha wouldn’t be sad like this.” “I’m not a good Buddhist because I’m sad, angry, irritable.”

And then a couple of weeks later, I accepted that my emotions were what they were and let go of the idea that they should be something else. Yet still, deep inside, I felt disappointed that I “wasn’t as far along the path to enlightenment as I thought I was”. Yet this disappointment was easily overshadowed by the grief that followed, especially the day of JB’s death.

Tonight I attended a dharma talk at my local sangha, which was given by a lay teacher in the Insight Meditation tradition who leads the local sangha. (The sangha itself is unaffiliated with any particular tradition, but the leader happens to be trained in Insight Meditation.) Tonight’s dharma talk was about the Noble Eightfold Path. During the talk, the teacher spoke about the benefit of having an intention, such as the intention to end suffering.

I made the intention to end suffering in myself and all others when I took my Refuge and Bodhisattva vows almost a year ago. But it suddenly struck me tonight that ending suffering doesn’t mean what I’ve always thought it meant.

I’ve always thought that ending suffering meant ending those emotional states that we find unpleasant and painful: anger, agitation, irritability, jealousy, rage, sorrow, despair, sadness, boredom, loneliness, etc. That when I feel any of those unpleasant emotions, it’s because I’m not enlightened yet.

But what is suffering, really? The day that JB died and I cried for almost an hour, was I suffering? No. I was full of sorrow, but I was not suffering.

Why not? Because I had given up the judgment. I wasn’t adding something to my emotion that wasn’t there. I was just experiencing that emotion–grief–completely.

I read a book a few months ago titled “How to Be Sick”, written by a Buddhist who is disabled. In this book, she makes a powerful argument that physical pain doesn’t always lead to suffering, that the suffering comes in when we judge our pain as good or bad, i.e., when we add something extra to the pain. This made a lot of sense to me at the time, since I’ve certainly experienced being in pain and being happy at the same time.

Tonight I realized that emotions are like physical pain and discomfort. They come and go. They’re not good or bad. Suffering doesn’t come from having emotions; it comes from feeling that the emotion you’re having isn’t right, from judging that emotion and labeling it. Just as one can be in physical pain and not be suffering, so one can be in the throng of despair and also not be suffering.

As Pema Chodron wrote, “Nothing is what we thought.”

And that is perfect.

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Filed under buddhism, daily life, death, discernment, emptiness, emptying, grief, impermanence, love, mindfulness, pain, physical pain, simplicity

Quaker Burn-out?

I have mixed feelings about posting about this on here, as I like to present myself to you all as firm and happy in my Quaker faith. But the truth is that I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out for the last few months. Part of it is real life: I have surgery coming up in 10 days, lost my cat 2 months ago, my health issues are acting up in a really bad way… Life hasn’t been leaving me much energy recently.

But I used to not think of attending Meeting for Worship as requiring energy. Yes, it involved getting up two hours earlier than normal, but the fatigue was always worth it. Now I’ve only been to Meeting for Worship something like three times in the last two months, and, honestly, I haven’t been missing it much.

It’s not because I don’t still believe that Quakerism is my religious home. It’s not because I think another kind of worship other than silent, expectant waiting would be better for me. It’s because, quite simply, I am tired of being put on the defensive at my Meeting.

I am tired of the assumptions being made that when I speak about our “same gender issue” problem, I’m doing it to “stir up trouble” and not because I’m following a leading. I’m tired of the assumption being made that because I wasn’t born a Quaker, or raised a Quaker, or haven’t been a Quaker for 40+ years, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m tired of having to prove that I’m actually following a leading and not just allowing my ego to “stir up trouble”. I am tired of offering myself to my Meeting, and being told, “Gee, thanks, but we don’t see the problem”, which implies that, once again, I’m just trying to “stir up trouble”.

I’m just tired, ultimately. And, sure, my current health issues (such as neck and jaw inflammation) would make attending Meeting for Worship very painful… but in the past, it would have been worth it. Now? I’m not so sure.

The fact is that my Monthly Meeting has become, overall, a source of stress in my life. I’m still being nurtured most of the time by my committee work, which gives me hope. But it wasn’t committee work that drew me to Third Haven, but the worship. And my experiences in Meeting for Worship recently have been less and less spiritually nourishing, because they’ve been tainted with the “stir up trouble” claim.

I am considering taking some time off from my Meeting, maybe even the whole summer. I am concerned I’m not in the right state of mind to be helpful to my Meeting, that I am too angry, hurt, and frustrated. But I am also concerned that taking time off is a cop-out because I just don’t want to deal with my Meeting anymore. (And it’s so sad to me that I can even talk about my Meeting as something to “deal with”.)

A F/friend from Meeting, who no longer regularly attends, suggested I try another Meeting. This isn’t really an option until the fall, but I am considering it.

I’m just feeling very distanced from my Meeting right now; unfortunately, this has the effect of making me feel distanced from Quakerism, because most of my experience with Quakerism has happened through my Meeting. I am still hoping to come back to this blog and start writing again more regularly after I recover from my surgery, but I’m not sure about where I fit within Quakerism anymore. I feel like I’ve been labeled a troublemaker and this has me worry that maybe I am one.

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Filed under discernment, GLBT rights, grief, leadings, lgbt issues, meeting for worship, pain, quakerism, struggling with faith, third haven

Groundless

During Meeting for Worship, I offered up to God the following prayer:

Lord, I feel like I’m a fish out of water, flopping around on the shore. Please help me flop back towards your Living Waters instead of further inland.

That is pretty much how I feel right now. I feel very groundless and very uncomfortable. The Pema Chodron books I’ve read over the past couple of months encourage this feeling, encourage getting comfortable with groundlessness and uncertainty instead of fleeing from it with distractions or by making a storyline out of life. I’ve tried hard to keep that in mind these last couple of days.

But this also seems contrary to my Christian instincts of reaching towards God as my center, and I worry that theism and Buddhism cannot coexist. I’ve found such inspiration to be a kinder, more compassionate person from the Buddhist books I’ve been reading; but what if those practices contradict my belief in God?

Bodhichitta is a Buddhist term for “the awakened heart of loving-kindness and compassion… openness, ultimate truth, our true nature…” It’s beginning to remind me a lot of what Quakers call “that of God”. The goal of Mahayana Buddhism, or one of them at least, is for every person to become united with their inner bodhichitta. This reminds me a lot of one of the goals of praying and/or worshipping in the manner of Friends: for each person to be able to connect to God. But I worry that I am imposing my Christian and Quaker beliefs onto something that should stand on its own. Perhaps by trying to merge the two (three?) faiths, I am doing a disservice to both.

This worries me, and I don’t have clarity yet about it. What I do know is that reading books about Buddhism, especially those written by Pema Chodron and her guru Choygam Trungpa, have inspired me to be a more compassionate, more friendly person in ways that reading Christian or Quaker books haven’t. Jesus showed me the way, but it feels like the stones on the path of my life are Buddhist more than Christian. Maybe the ground underneath is Christian and the borders are Quaker? Maybe I’m taking that metaphor too seriously.

Sugar, my 16 year old Siamese cat who I’ve known since she was a day old, is dying. She might not die in the next month, or even the next year, but she is dying. And it sounds almost silly to say that, because really we’re all dying… but she is acutely dying in a way that everyone else that I know and love aren’t. The hardest part for me isn’t giving her biweekly subcutaneous fluid IVs. The hardest part is trying to get her to eat. Every hour or so, I offer her food. And I watch her lick it a few times. Then, she turns around, and I put the food in front of her again. And she licks it a couple more times. We repeat this process until she starts cleaning herself. All this takes about 15-20 minutes, and she eats maybe a tablespoon worth. (She has kidney disease and will be progressively getting worse for the remainder of her life, however long or short that may be.)

I am trying to focus on the fact that she’s still alive. I am trying to enjoy her company and shower her with as much love as she’s shown me. But when I am truly honest with myself, what scares me the most isn’t her impending death. What scares me the most is that I’m not sure I’m strong enough to watch her go through this. (I’m starting to think that adults stop having pets and start having kids because they’re tired of watching the ones they love die.) I’m not sure I’m strong enough to do what I’ve been doing for the last 10 days every day for the rest of her life. But I love her, and failing her like that isn’t an option.

She reminded me last Thursday, when I was shoving food in her face repeatedly, that what she needs most now isn’t food, but love. She nuzzled up against me and started purring. She is teaching me patience and reminding me of the importance of love.

There’s no easy way out of this.

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Filed under buddhism, cats, compassion, daily life, different faiths, God, grief, help, Jesus, love, quakerism, struggling with faith, Sugar

Shadow

I’m struggling with Prednisone-induced melodrama. I feel like I’m tied to a yoyo string and just watching my inner emotions go up and down, but on the outside I seem fine. And, to be fair, it’s not just the Prednisone. I’m still struggling with the death of my Grandpa. I haven’t been to Meeting regularly for a while and feel like my connection to the place and the people is starting to slip away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have Jesus as a savior and whether it’s important or not to think about him in that capacity. If Jesus has shown me the way to God, does that make him my savior? If he’s the one whose life most inspires mine, is he my savior? If he’s the face I give God when I feel the need to give him a face, does that means I’ve accepted him as Son, however subconsciously?

I feel pulled at the seams, I guess, and very distant from God right now. There’s a t-shirt popular with evangelicals that says “Feeling far from God? Guess who moved.” (Or something like that.) That makes sense logically, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. I am trying to get God back in my life, to feel that connection I felt so recently… but it just seems like all I’m able to grasp is darkness and shadow.

I miss Him. And I miss my Meeting. It feels like life’s conspired to pull me away from my Meeting, and I’m really not happy about this. In particular, it feels like my health is robbing me of my spiritual home… It’s hard not to feel anger at this.

In a little over one week, I will be having surgery to remove the titanium rod and screws leftover from the surgical fusion of my right wrist done almost 7 years ago. It is difficult to explain the significance of this surgery to me. The metal has always been uncomfortable. It’s been causing pain for well over a year. It feels like a black hole in my hand. It makes touches uncomfortable. I can’t wear a watch, or gloves. Bracelets have to be loose, when I can tolerate them at all. It’s kind of like the metal’s been holding my hand hostage for these 7 years.

Ozzy just popped on my playlist, with “I Just Want You”. Ironic that this really sums things up for me right now:

“Each night when the day is through, I don’t ask much: I just want you.”

Right now, God, I just want You. I need You. Just pick up the yoyo that’s become my life and hold it in Your hands until the string that is my emotions stops occillating. Without You, I have nothing.

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Filed under faith, God, grief, health, help, Jesus, struggling with faith

My Walls Are Crumbling

Walls crumbling means that you lose your defenses. What allows you to feel safe and secure in your own world falls away. You, like your wall, crumble to rubble.

But the wall falling means you can see things you couldn’t before. You’re a part of this world, all the sadness, the sorrow, the intolerable pain. But also all its joy.

And you let God in.

My walls are crumbling. I am being broken open.

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Baptized by Tears

I finally made it to Meeting for Worship this morning, after not being able to make it for a couple of weeks in a row and only sporadically over the last few months. I’m so glad I was able to go. Third Haven Meeting has two meetinghouses: one built in the 1800s, and one built in the 1600s. The latter doesn’t have electricity and is only used during the summer and late spring, if it’s warm enough. Today was the first day this year that Meeting for Worship was held in the “old” meetinghouse.

The first time I attended Meeting for Worship, it was in that meetinghouse. Part of the reason I felt so at home right away was that the old meetinghouse reminded me of the big old barn from Arthritis Camp, which also had no electricity and big slabs of wood. It almost feels like being inside a tree: like we’re at once part of and separated from the natural environment. So I was filled with joy to be back in that sacred space, surrounded by Friends and the smell of centuries-old wood.

I’d been feeling pretty good about how I was dealing with Grandpa’s death. I thought the tears were over. But within 10 minutes of sitting in that warm silence, I felt my eyes begin to water. When the first person stood up to give her message about what a joy it was to be back in this meetinghouse and how it filled her with hope, even during a difficult time for her and her family, I was broken open. The second message was about how the waiting is an active waiting and how the true Shepherd will give us what we need. That broke me open even more.

The tears were sliding down my face, but I did not raise my hands to wipe them. I let them cleanse me and felt like I was being baptized by them. I thought a lot about Jesus and his crucifixion (I’ve been wondering something for a couple of days now, but I’m going to reread the Gospels before I post anything about it, if at all). I thought about Grandpa and how odd it is that I can remember his voice so well, but can’t hear him saying anything.

I felt the Meeting begin to come to a close. Then, my heart started pounding. “Are you kidding?” I thought. “I’m crying here and I haven’t received a message!” The pounding continued. Finally, I stood up, not knowing what the message would be. I remembered a song we used to sing at Arthritis Camp. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes, and told God that he can’t be serious. I can’t possibly sing when I’m crying like this!

But he was. So, I opened my mouth and started to sing:

It’s a pleasure to know you,” I croaked out. “It’s a comfort to see you smile.” I stopped and tried to catch my breath, and started again.

“It’s a pleasure to know you. It’s a comfort to see you smile.
It’s a pleasure to know we’ll share the road awhile.
But the pleasure is fleeting, and the comforts are far between.
It’s a pleasure to know you, and the comforts you bring.”

I sat down and the pounding stopped.

I cannot express my gratitude for my Meeting community, that it’s filled with the most wonderful people and that the buildings themselves connect with me the way they do.

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Filed under arthritis camp, grief, Jesus, meeting for worship, quakerism, sacraments, third haven

Gratitude

Friday morning around 10 AM, my Grandpa passed away. I was notified of his death (and woken up from sleep) by a phone call from my mom at 10:07. I was remarkably calm on the phone and I wondered how that was possible. Within 5 minutes of hanging up the phone, my body shook with spasms as tear after tear fell from my eyes. I’ve never cried like that before. I didn’t have any restraint in my grief: loud noises slipped from my lips, my hands beat at my chest, my legs curved upward into the fetal position, I even had to remind myself to breathe. Whenever I thought it was over, a new wave of pain would smother me. I worried about the neighbors hearing my cries and realized there was nothing I could do to stop them. I worried about my neck spasming, but knew I couldn’t stop crying no matter how much I wanted to. After about 20 minutes of unrestrained, uncontrolled grief, I calmed down enough to call Rob to tell him the news.

The tears continued on and off all day. I didn’t even know why I was crying sometimes; I’d feel calm but tears would be spilling from my eyes as if I was rubbing raw onion juice on them. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to go through a day without crying ever again. I didn’t know what life would be like without my Grandpa. None of the things I’d heard about losing a loved one seemed appropriate. My friends gave me what support they could, but I was in no position to accept any of it. I went to sleep not knowing how I would feel on Saturday.

But I woke up Saturday feeling better and more rested than I had since Grandpa’s heart attack on Easter. I realized that I must not have really slept since then, in spite of the pharmaceuticals I consumed to help me sleep. I got dressed and Rob and I left home to spend the day at St. John College’s annual Croquet match against the Naval Academy, where I would see many friends who I only see at that event. By the time Rob and I got back from Croquet, I was feeling more than alright. It wasn’t the alcohol, the cheese, or the socializing, though I’m sure all of those didn’t hurt.

At some point during the day, I came to know in the depths of my being a truth that until then I’d only been able to accept rationally. Instead of being overwhelmed with the grief of loss, I became flooded with the happiness of gratitude.

I am immensely lucky that I had DWY as my Grandpa. My Grandpa could have been someone else, but he was DWY. He could have died before I was born, as my grandpère did, or years ago. He could have been anyone else, anywhere else, and anytime else. Instead, he was my Grandpa, and he was in my life for 24 years.

Each night before I go to sleep, I pray to God. And the first thing I say every night is “Thank you for this day, Lord,” no matter how good or bad the day actually was. I thank Him for the opportunity to have another day in my life and to experience whatever it was I experienced that day. Friday night, I thanked God for Grandpa: for both his life and the final culmination of his death, which had been hovering over him ever since his stroke 2 years ago.

I did not lose my Grandpa. He was never really mine to begin with, just lent to me from God. Having him in my life for 24 years was a gift for which I’ll always be grateful.

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Filed under family, God, gratitude, grief