28 February 2013

A Garden Always Has A Point

A few days ago I heard a rendition of my grandfathers most favorite song. I remember him singing it to me when I was a child and remember the sound of his voice being such beautiful music to my ears. Hearing 'his' song reminded me of a memory I had safely tucked away many years ago.

Throughout my childhood, I visited with my grandparents almost daily. My grandmother would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut the crusts off and then slice it in to two pieces. After my grandfather and I settled into the same rocker, I would choose my half of the sandwich and he would be the recipient of the other. As I sat on his lap eating the PB&J, he would rock the old chair back and forth while the sound of the rhythmic squeak from the aged wood filled the air. After we were done he'd say, "C'mon ma belle fille," while waving his hand for me to follow. I'd always chase after him with precious excitement, all the while knowing exactly where we were going.

He'd lead the way off the porch, out the door, and down the sloping lawn to his most amazing and beautiful garden. It was a very large garden that occupied most of the space in the backyard. It contained mainly vegetables but did have a few scattered black eyed susans and johnny jump ups. My grandfather would take my hand and carefully guide me around the mounds of beets and cabbage, through the tangled web of tomatoes to the line of beanpoles that were firmly anchored at the back of the garden. I loved the green beans. They were my favorite. I was fascinated with seeing how high they grew on the pole and the sound they made when I'd bite into them. My grandfather would show me how to carefully pick them and allowed me to fill the garden pot with my favorite vegetable. Even now I am smiling as I remember plucking the beans off the vine.

My grandfather showed me how to care for his garden. He taught me which greens were acceptable and which were weeds. He also taught me how to cut the swiss chard, how to pull up the beets, and what parsley looked like when it was mature. After the maintenance was completed, he would uncoil the garden hose and sprinkle water over his labor of love. While he watered his crop, my grandfather and I would sit together on the old wooden bench he assembled as a young man. Without fail, he would put his arm around my waist and sing me his song. He told me it reminded him of a day during World War II when the ship he was assigned to was bombed and how he narrowly escaped the attack with his life. He spoke of the friends he lost that day and of the prayers he directed to his God for a safe return home. He would always end his story by saying this was his favorite song because it reminded him he was alive and of how blessed he was to have been given another day. He used to say "After that day, every new morning and every sunset was a bonus."

Hearing this song again reminded me of the beautiful and priceless memory of my grandfather and I and his garden. It also reminded me that even though he is gone from this life, he, his stories, and his lessons still live on within my heart.

22 February 2013

Going There to Get Here

I spent almost two months searching my heart for answers, facing past hurts that were never mended, and questioning my place on this earth. I cried for the losses I had experienced and for the gaping wounds they left behind. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and uncharacteristically relied upon those closest to me for support. I looked to them for strength during a time in which I could barely hold myself up against the resistance of gravity. It was almost sixty days that I felt completely lost and so insignificant under the huge weight bearing down upon me that I had no idea how I was ever going to find my way out of the abyss. With nothing left to give and nowhere else to hide, I surrendered. I let go. 

I stopped running from my past and instead sat with my memories and the emotions they carried. I remembered the death of my closest cousin at age fifteen and felt the overwhelming sense of guilt because I was unable to save him. I relived a traumatic experience involving an ex-boyfriend that left my heart so deeply wounded, I unconsciously closed my once, very open arms, to the possibility of 'real' love.  I thought about a friend who passed away and of the resentment I felt over his death. I reflected upon the lessons received from my grandfather and missed him so intensely that my breath could not calm my sobs. I cried for my brother and absolutely resisted the idea of this planet ever being without him.

I surrendered to what my soul needed to help it heal. I stopped trying to make the past and the memories it contained 'easier' to remember. I chose to listen, to feel, and to learn from those experiences because my heart, more than anything, needed to be pieced back together. I allowed myself to get angry, feel sadness, guilt, and regret. I cried for myself and for the pain I had carried. I cried for feeling so helpless, for not wanting to be a victim, and for the absence of emotion I had known for fifteen years. In nearly two months, I mourned the pain and loss I did not allow myself to acknowledge for more than a decade.

I often heard, "I am so sorry you are going through this," "this all must be so hard for you" and, "I would take away your pain if I could." While all these things, I truly believe, were said with good and heartfelt intentions, and I completely appreciated all the kindness and loving concern, I disagreed with all of them. I could feel it in my soul that the darkness and pain I was almost completely consumed by was absolutely necessary for me to experience. I, without question, had to go through it all. I had to let myself feel the pain and sadness and process out the emotions so I could learn from the opportunities I was given. 

I woke up one morning and before I even left my bed, I sensed how my body felt lighter. The heaviness that plagued me was gone. I put my feet on the floor, walked to the window, opened the curtain and basked in the sunlight that poured through the glass. I turned my face toward the sky, closed my eyes and cherished the warmth of the sun on my skin as I breathed in deep. In my modest little apartment the realization came....I had endured. I lived through the pain, the loss, and the fear, found my way out of the darkness and, quite literally, discovered the light. 

“How many times do we lose an occasion for soul work by leaping ahead to final solutions without pausing to savor the undertones? We are a radically bottom-line society, eager to act and to end tension, and thus we lose opportunities to know ourselves for our motives and our secrets.” - Thomas Moore

12 February 2013

A Special Kind of Birthday

Today is my brothers thirty-eighth birthday. The day he was born onto this earth, the day we celebrate his life, and the day he is fighting for it. You see, my once strong, healthy, and vibrant brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow, in May of 2012. There was no song sung today, no gifts opened or candles blown out on a birthday cake. Instead, my now very ill and frail sibling endured a bone marrow biopsy, a blood transfusion, and an MRI.

He was always the quintessential big brother. He protected me when I was a small child from the monsters that I was convinced were living under my bed. He taught me how to ride a bicycle without training wheels and how to use my feet as breaks if I ever got into trouble. He frequently made my school lunches, complete with a heart shaped stamp on the sandwich bread and a note that always read, "Have a great day!" Of course, for every nice and sweet act, there seemed to be three 'mean big brother-isms' that followed. By the time I was ten years old, the worst thing he ever did was hang my favorite teddy bear from the clothesline....I was such a drama queen back then!

Growing up, my brother was almost always my protector. He watched over me and tried to shield me from avoidable pain. He made me laugh when I was sad and gave me hugs when I cried. When he was first diagnosed with leukemia, I was terrified. I searched my brain for an answer or a reason....why was this happening? Why him? Why now? Why, why, why? These questions were floating in and out of my consciousness while my knees were buckling under the weight of his news. Before I completely fell to the floor, my still 'healthy' and strong big brother swooped me up into his ever protective arms, pulled me in and held me close. I sobbed into his chest, all the while listening to him reassure me with, "It's going to be okay Danie. It's going to be okay."

When I spoke to him this afternoon he talked to me about his day. He told me he had a good day because he was gifted a chocolate chip cookie by the nurse caring for him. He also informed me of a hand written note that was attached to the IV bag which read "Happy birthday big guy. Thanks for the smiles!" While I listened to his story and sensed his appreciation, I couldn't help but be thankful and appreciative as well. I was just so thankful I was speaking with him today and able to wish him a very happy birthday.

Since his diagnosis nine months ago, I have given up on finding the answers. I have let go of the fear and sadness that almost completely consumed me not all that long ago. Instead, I have become present in the moment and have begun to fully appreciate the time we share together. I am thankful for his presence now and for his enormous will to live.

Singing a song, unwrapping gifts, and blowing out candles were not what his birthday was about this year. This year, his birthday was about being alive and being so completely thankful for a hand written note and a cookie.

Happy birthday, my brother. I love you.

11 February 2013

In Search For Something More

Almost a year ago, I found myself at a crossroad. I had a choice. I could have stayed firmly planted where I found myself, where I thought I was sure of my footing, or I could choose the very tempting, new and unexplored territory. I chose the latter. 

At the time, I realized that I had been running from my true self for most of my life. I was conforming to what 'everyone else' wanted me to be. I defined myself by the labels I very willingly and unconsciously fell victim to. I was the wife, sister, daughter, granddaughter, nurse, green eyed brunette, overly sensitive, emotional woman. I had completely forgotten who I was...who I innately was. Yes, part of my duties on this earth are to fulfill the expectations that come along with all those labels but I didn't want to be defined as those labels. Through all the expectations and masks that came along with those labels, I had forgotten that I am a soul. A living, breathing, emotion filled, unconditionally loving soul. 

This realization hit me hard and fast and most certainly took me by surprise. I found that I was having difficulty managing this life and its duties, restrictions, and expectations. I had this overwhelming urge to break free from the chains I had placed myself in but knew my labels were, after all, a part of the life I was living. I in no way wanted to give up any of those choices or experiences, memories, and people they contained, I just needed to find a way to balance the two. To live in harmony with my soul and my 'self,' to be happy with being here and to fully accept my journey and all that came with it.

I read a book called Skinny White Woman that opened my eyes and most definitely changed my perspective about this life, our life's purpose and how each of our unique journeys are infinitely crucial. As Stasia explains it, "This is a self-reflective memoir about what it means to follow a modern-day spiritual path, Skinny White Woman is a raw and unrefined look at the human journey to find the spirit within." Please check it out. I promise, you won't be disappointed!

The Gift Was In the Silence

He held my hand as we walked and I remember thinking how deeply I loved him. Even as a tiny child I understood the preciousness of this kind of love. A love so deep and so strong it seemed as though it was all I needed to survive. As we strolled down the path, the very same one he had taken so many times as a boy, he gifted me with stories from his younger years, the memories he held safe and close to his heart for almost half a century. He talked about his parents, his love of the ocean, and the day he very reluctantly left the comfort of his mothers embrace to serve his country in World War II.

My grandfather was one of the most important people in my life. He was a strong and constant presence. He was a teacher, a storyteller, a playmate, and a friend. He was generous and kind, loving and humble. Because of my grandfather, I have many wonderful memories and lessons that will forever be cherished within my heart but there is one lesson in particular I will be eternally grateful for. He taught me how to listen. How to really listen to not only the spoken story but to the silent one as well. He always said that sometimes its in the silence where you can learn the most.

My grandfather passed away five days before Christmas. During the few days prior, I found myself unable to say goodbye. My brain had accepted the truth that his time on this earth was coming to an end but my heart resisted the thought. My heart wanted nothing more than to hold on to the man whom had, from the beginning, become one of the most important people in my life. When it became clear that it was time to say goodbye, ready or not, I found myself sitting alone beside my beloved grandfather. I held his hand and in doing so the memories of he and I walking 'our' path flooded my mind. I leaned into him, gently placed my face into his neck and started to cry. I cried over the memory and because of the pain but most of all I cried because it was over. I had to say "so long for now" through the tears, through the pain, through the love.

At his final moment, it was he and I, together still. I thanked him for being in this life and for being such a gift. For showing me what life and love was really about and for allowing me to realize that letting go didn't mean forgetting. I had so many beautiful, wonderful memories because of him, all of which I could relive at any moment. While feeling so blessed and so alone I noticed the silence and remembered his lesson......listen. Listen to the unspoken story because sometimes its in that silence where you learn the most.