Aimed Toward the Light

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I am rapidly brushing up on a year since several people in my life have passed. I’ve spent that time trying to make sure I’m aimed toward the light the best that I can.

I lost my mother in October and within a short three-day span went on to lose a child. The child was not mine but beloved to me anyway.

I first encountered her fierce little spirit in a hospital room when she was mere hours old. I’m the tough kid on the block. I am not one who just has to hold babies; I tend to be content to admire them from afar. I’ll never forget plucking this baby up in the hospital room and becoming overwhelmed by an indefinable emotion as I stumbled back and plunked myself into a chair and cried while I held her.

Aimed-Toward-the-LightMy sensible brain tells me that I cried because I had just permanently closed the door on that part of my life forever, but many friends had babies at that time, and I had not cried over any of them. It was something about her.

The beautiful little girl became nearly a daily part of my life for the five short years that she graced this planet. She became as comfortably familiar it was as if she was an extension of my own children. She touched my life immediately.

Three days after my mom died, she was lost in a terrible accident in the driveway of my home. The impact of this tragedy is impossible to articulate. It has left a legacy of pain on everyone it touched, and none of us will ever be the same.

Sadly, the losses did not slow down even then; two more people I cared deeply about took their leave of this planet between those mid-October losses and just shortly after Christmas. Poof! Like lights gone suddenly dark upon the water.

When I think back on the things that have unfolded I feel like I’ve moved through like a child’s spinning top or, one of those silly thick, bright plastic, Weeble Wobble figures. It’s like fate or, God has set me into motion on the other side. I’m tucking. I’m rolling! I’m rising again. I recognize the enormous ways I’ve been gifted through it all, but I am only now becoming aware of how much I’ve missed of the fine details in the middle.

The truth is I’ve operated in a certain amount of shock, and it’s only become obvious by my lack of ability to place memories to my footpaths or conversations over the last year. Many times, I’ve found myself talking to someone and they’ll suddenly halt me and say something like “I know we met and had coffee in Oregon, don’t you remember?” The answer is often no; I don’t remember. I’ve begun asking people “Why was I there? Whose funeral? Or was it one of my short retreats in between? Why was I there? I don’t remember…”

Equally distressing have been the times I’ve been moving along and fine. Like the time in the Subway sandwich shop on Vashon Island in Washington when I was speaking with a friend (even now I cannot tell you why I was even there…on Vashon at that time) and she said a few short words about the text messages I had sent to her the day after the child died. She mentioned that it had felt unreal to her to read from where she was at Disneyland about how we were at home grappling with the chores of erasing the aftermath. I had very carefully not allowed myself ever to revisit those grisly details again. But, sitting there in that restaurant suddenly they returned in Technicolor. I had been fine and then like a light switch flipped; I was not.

I felt sitting in that very public restaurant my eyes fly wide, and my breath escape me in a sudden rushing gut punched sob. I also felt my face crumble into the ugliest re-arrangement of its natural lines. Every cell in my body tried to curl inward. Everything froze as I sat on the edge of a sudden breakdown. Then I just shattered for a few moments.

I was powerless as sudden and acute grief howled through me. I sat in that restaurant for less than a minute, and I cried harshly, barking out a few ragged sobs. I was, for a moment, completely unable to stop myself. I watched more than a little horrified at myself as a father and his two young children at a nearby table froze and began watching me warily. I recovered very quickly but had been blown away by the swiftness of the way it had overtaken me.

That’s pretty much been me all year. Bouncing up, saying, “I’m fine!”, And moving on. I’ve stayed busy. Sometimes my “busy” has been with physical exercise or spirituality and were of service to others. Sometimes I find myself stuck in that comfortable, well-worn groove of my default mode. I’ll return to the exact opposite lands that I’ve worked so hard to come away from over these last several years, and I’ll find I’ve become, quite easily again what I like to call a huddled up lump of donut huffing couch buffalo!

Sometimes I have slept with the energy of the dead. I have thought “Thank God!” at bedtime and “Oh crap, it’s time again?!” upon rising from a twelve-hour slumber. At other times, I’ve re-grouted tile at 3:00 in the morning with the intent, focus, purpose, and energy of a hummingbird.

Sometimes I have been social and other times I have not had the energy to leave the house or pick up the phone. Sometimes to have someone even ask, “How are you?” sends me spinning off into the gawping confusion and a thick brained grappling with how I should even begin to answer that. Sometimes I have felt physically unable to find even the breath to start to speak. At other times, I have not been able to remain at home. I’ve flung together quick trips and getaways and been unable to be quiet as I’ve buried myself in the middle of a social herd. I’ve fled to hotel rooms and kept myself busy in a million distracted ways.

In the beginning, there was no middle ground. It was often as if these two opposite poles were my landscapes. I have swung like Jane of the jungle on a vine wildly in between.

In the end, I’ve become protective and much more solitary. I’ve relied on a few trusted friends who seem to understand that I will look away if I do speak about tender things. These select few travel with me easily through my blunt, blue-gutter humor in between wide swings. They do not struggle to understand that I am tough enough to make it but soft-hearted enough to feel every snag and tear along the journey. They bring me coffee and tell me dirty jokes and tell me that I’m all right.

As to some friendships, I’ve pulled myself back from the pain. I’ve become a sore spot and a living reminder of pain. So with sadness I’ve taken my red ball and pulled myself out of the sandbox, for now. The pain in that has been a bit of a tailspin. The mourning I’ve felt over those losses too has been at times been breathtaking. I am slowly coming out of that, too. I’ve left a wide-open, well-lighted bridge behind me, but I’ve begun to move on. Cynthia, heal thyself!

My spiritual approach has also flagged. For, while there is no single face for it, there is anger within me. It’s not at God or fate, but more directed at a world full of depressingly human folk who want to wrap ribbons around struggle and loss and tie it up neat with meaning. I reject finding a lesson or assigning purpose out of these things. I’ve separated myself from my spiritual walk a little bit because I can’t engage in the honesty it requires. If I were honest and said some of the things I think, I’d be very unpopular.

Because the truth is that I do not want to hear anybody’s interpretation of what they think God is, or is not, doing in my simple little life. I am not interested in instructions about how to turn over, or let it go. I’m not comforted by platitudes. Nor am I interested in any form of quasi Eastern Zen tea drinking, soft panda-eyed, leaf-munching bullshit! And, trust me–I’ve sucked up more than you know, buttercup! I recoil at being tisk tisked to find my gratitude.

When did our society decide that pain is a denial of those things, anyway? I’ve never healed anything through that. I’ve only learned to retreat to silence. I am in no way divine. I’m human, and I think that it is okay to be human. I think that some things are entirely human, and there are no lessons or purpose; just lives that are fragile and finite.

I’ve taken up instead listening to my own internal dialog and heart rate and breathing and begun focusing on calming thoughts along with my prayer. I’ve also developed quite a fondness for reminding myself to inhabit the moments that I am in. Recognizing soft miracles and the many gifts, and there have been so many! Spirituality seems manageable in that amount.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to return to Tacoma and provide another three weeks of intensive speech and AAC therapy for my autistic son Nicholas this July. On the heels of another blow, the breast cancer diagnosis of a beloved and very close family member, I took the opportunity that came just after diagnosis and before double mastectomy. I returned home a month later stronger and able to help my family member better, so I have no regrets for leaving at all.

It was just Nicholas and I who went. I stayed in a lovely cottage with a dear friend down the road, but there was a lot of time for soul reflection. I embraced the gift of the solitary beauty and the meaningful time I got to spend healing the relationship that had also slipped a little with my autistic son, who also struggles too, you see.

His anxiety about separation has bubbled up to the point that he asked me recently if his grandpa had died, too. Anybody who leaves in his mind may have died too. And, since his verbal abilities are so limited, I am in the dark as to the extent of the monsters that might plague his dreams, or the hurt he surely must have internalized. But, I can see the new shadows in his eyes and the way his anxieties have blown up that he too has been changed.

During my three weeks away from everything familiar, I nestled in, and we picked up our relationship again. We focused on fun and celebration of his strengths. I became present for him again. Fully. He bloomed under the sunlight of my total focus and care. It was the single best gift I could give him. I heard so much laughter and saw so much ease and joy in moments there, for both of us! I am so thankful to the angels on this earth who lined up the stars for that.

Shortly after returning home, my father drove down to visit us, dragging his boat behind him. We as a family took our leave and spent three beautiful days rambling around Santa Catalina Island. I’ve noticed a change in him. I’ve noticed a change in myself. The really tender, acute pain of mom’s passing has burned itself off somewhat, and we were free to enjoy talking about her a little easier.

While we were away, we were even able to make our way back to a little hidden beach where we had once camped that held some of my last memories of my mom in health and enjoying herself completely. We recalled how she’d sat contentedly on that beach and how we had all listened to the unique melodic scrubbing of the rocks being nudged to and from shore with the grand raking sweep, on the whim of the tide. Dad and I sat and listened to that very sound again, and it was as if every cell in my body aligned itself to the rhythm viscerally. It was not painful to think of; it was just good. I could not help but think of mom watching us all there and feeling good.

I spent the time reinvesting in my relationship with dad and learned the suddenly new landscape of who he is without mom. When he left, we expressed our love, which is unusual. We have often settled for formal handshakes. He even blew me a kiss.

After years of caring for mom who was quadriplegic in the last few years of her life, going so far as to live in his camper in the parking lot of a nursing home for a year and a half, I watched him drive away to meet up with fishing buddies in the San Francisco area. I am at peace with his willingness to find happiness again.

And that is that. I’m not always the person I meant to be. The truth is it is too hard to be that just now anyway. The pain is too exquisite and much too fresh, for today. It’s not aimed toward the light, so it is best to leave it for now. It is yet another human stumbling. But, to a few selected people I am enough. I am returning to being a mother, wife, friend to some, and the daughter I meant to be—for those who will let me. I am learning a lot about becoming enough for myself, too. That is enough, for now.

It’s been a mess; I guess. But, I also feel that the simple awareness of it alone is the threshold and a target upon which I am finally becoming able to cross over into healing. I see the distance I’ve traveled, and I mark it as a victory. There is lightness to my being again. And, I find that in this pause that I am aimed toward light, after all. My feet are pointed in the right direction. Eventually, I’ll get there if I remain willing.

I feel a burgeoning sense of something good this way coming. I feel as if I am in chrysalis and I will emerge as something altogether new. Stronger than ever for having been broken. As strange as that may sound…

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  1. Cynthia Emily Griggs - Niswonger says

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