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markers

Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways.

~Rachel Naomi Remen

Tonight the three of us sat down to talk about how to tell our twin boys about the death of their uncle, our brother. It has been five months, and we have not spoken the words to them that he is no longer living. Simon is a real presence. We see him in photos, we talk about him in conversation. We tell stories about his childhood at the dinner table. My sister and I are also still stumbling through this boggy terrain of grief, completely new in our life experience. Our shock at his death is renewed every time a photo of his countenance pops up on Facebook or our photo steam, unexpected, true to life.

In just a few days, t and I will fly the 3,000 miles to my parents’ house. We haven’t been there since the summer. How has it changed by their son’s death? Are there new pictures of him? Will their grief be palpable to more than just me?

The question tonight was: do we need to tell the boys about their uncle before going back east?

We talked about this in some depth, the pros, the risks, what the boys might say to my parents or grandparents, what questions they might ask with the direct, tactless innocence that three-year olds summon so easily. But what was most interesting, most beautiful and unexpected, was that our conversation turned to remembrance. How will we guide these precious, tender children to connection and remembrance, to a gentle experience of the truths of this life (which includes death) where Simon’s passing is not a traumatic memory of something they couldn’t grasp as children, but a knowledge of him and of our perspective on life that was deepened over the years.

This led us to talking about ceremony, developing frameworks for rituals to hold us when we pass through traumatic and confusing times, practices that allow for growth and depth and creativity. It occurred to me as we spoke that this is one of Williams we will put down strong and enduring roots: developing practices that we all love and nurture and turn to for meaning, comfort, and identity.

We have bedtime rituals now, and they will change as our sons grow and mature. We have a little seedling of a ritual of saying a mealtime blessing that came out of the boys memorization of the blessing their teacher recites before lunch at school. This ritual sprang to mind, and I was quickly inspired to think of new variations on blessing our meal, our unity, our shared lives. What about putting a photo of someone we love as the centerpiece, focusing our stories and love on that special person during our meal? Or beginning with a love note for each family member? What about blessing our meal by showing photos or another artistic representation the leaves, blossoms, and fruit of one of the plants that added to our meal, and sharing in the beauty of that plant? So many ideas for the simple opening of our daily family meal.

My sister and I were raised in a home in transition away from their Christian roots, and we find ourselves without many customs or rituals from childhood to turn to in remembrance of our brother. We experience our love for him under the sky, amongst trees, in the wind and the air of nature. Remembering him with the boys in a practiced form will give us scaffolding, though, that we will be able to turn to when others we love depart from this life. Learning how to honor his spirit together will teach the boys reverence, depth of love, the sacredness of family and sibling relationships. More personally still, it will give me a safe way to express in front of my children a little of the sadness this loss evokes in me.

What rituals do you observe, religious or otherwise? Which ones have you carried from your childhood into adulthood, which have evolved, and which have you created to fit your life experience? I would love to learn about this idea from a larger pool as we contemplate this new structure for our children and ourselves.

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strain

Three years old. So emotional for the children and the parents. I’m sitting outside the bedroom while T does bedtime, listening to one tearful reaction after another. His voice is tense, wanting to guide the child through, showing him the straightest path, offering the solution he perceives to be best… The boy, though, just wants to work with things as he sees them, to try it his way. The adult who doesn’t want to spill medicine or clean up a mess is beside the little one who is making sense out of the whole thing, his instincts pushing him to do it himself.

All day long we have these encounters: parent to parent, parent with children, children with each other. The screaming anger from M, the tears from S. Slamming doors, walking away in anger, pushing, grabbing, shouting… the parents struggle to slow down, to let go, to allow them space to work out their frustration, satisfy curiosity. Our voices strain, our hands grab things away from them when we tire of guiding. We end up acting in ways we discourage sternly in the children. It’s a constant paradox of wanting a certain kind of home culture and experience of peace for the children, but churning in our own dissatisfaction, impatience, exhaustion, and really, sometimes boredom.

Each adult (there are three, with me, my sister, and my fianc√©) has their own experience. Right now, I sit outside the door, my child cries for me, wails that he wants time with his mama. The door won’t be opened, though… We have all agreed that he needs to learn to be comforted by each of us. Except that I am not comforted, the child isn’t appeased, and the other parent is stressed. We feel the pull, my child and I. I feel his longing, and even though I know that he might be just as tearful and whiny with me in the room, I want to answer. I sit, I wait, my stomach in knots, my shoulders tight, my breath shallow and fast. I am resisting the urge to protect my child from the frustration that may or may not be bubbling in my partner. Then the parent begins to read, the tears somehow subside. The child is quiet, leaning his stressed, tired body on the solid body of his new father… a chord emerges from the dissonance between them, without me.

This is our path, to push, to question, to wait through our discomfort, to go through the thorny underbrush and persist in our determination to serve our children for where they are. We give each other space to grow, both through their childhoods and through our parenting. Sometimes the way is clear, and other times we all come through bruised and hurting. The gift is, that either way, we seem to find our way back to each other, embracing and finding delight through fault and perfection, through chaos and ease.

 

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sublimation

you don’t know what you really think until you write it.

~karen karbo

silence. i’m a back-and-forth blog-keep; i know this of myself. my proclivity for generating hardship seems boring and impossible to continuously frame in a positive light, and who wants to read that there’s yet another problem surfacing in my life? you’d worry, you’d call – and then i would have to explain that really, everything is ok. i can handle it. nevertheless, you’d be concerned, and the weight of that would in turn cause me to think harshly of myself and my inability to create for myself a “successful” life. better, then, to simply keep quiet about the whole thing and let it blow over.

and so i stop writing, waiting for something to come to mind that seems less complicated – more interesting.

i’ve heard some thought-provoking radio in the past week. in fact, i think i’ve only listened to npr three or four times, but at least half of those times have led to significant thoughts. first there was talk of the nation a week ago – the lead topic was Meeting Child Victims’ Needs After Sexual Abuse.

if you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know that my own childhood was tainted by years of abuse, and that my quest – especially from about 1991-2005 – was to heal from that trauma. i haven’t even touched on the issue for probably four years: i felt freed.

so it came as a surprise to listen to these professionals, armed with new research about healing from abuse, that there would be something in there that would cause a shift in my own thinking…. but it happened. it was quick. my hands were on the steering wheel – i was heading north on nw 14th to get on 405 and head home. the sky was cloudy, gray. ¬†something was said, i don’t even remember what, and suddenly my whole perspective on myself-in-the-world shifted, and i knew something different – something that everyone who knows me intimately probably knows about me, that i didn’t know about myself: my trust mechanism is broken. i’d always thought that i got off easy – that i was lucky because the trauma i suffered didn’t cause me to withdraw and look at the world through a lens of distrust — but instead it went the other way. maybe the intimacy of being a victim of a family member instead made it so that i just automatically let people in – too quickly, and too far. it explains a lot. it has shaken me, this new insight. put me back to a place of injury and disempowerment.

then came this morning. again in the car. alone. on the radio, one of my least favorite shows: think out loud. but i was instantly captured by karen karbo, talking about her new book “how georgia became o’keefe”. in talking about being a writer, she spoke the line i quoted at the top of this post. i pulled over to record it: “you don’t know what you really think until you write it down.”

in the next five minutes of listening, i changed course to the nearest bookstore.

as has happened so often in the past year, i was linked to an earlier time in my adulthood – this time to my first marriage to meng luding. i spent my years with him immersed in the art world, and this new taste of o’keefe propelled me back. the way karbo framed o’keefe’s life gave me kinship with her… words like “failure to launch,” and her discussion of how o’keefe channeled her discontent into her work – i believe she used the words “the lost art of sublimation” – was so thought-provoking.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in loss

 

saturday

wall of tattoo designs

today was about a lot of things, but mostly about family. about the family we are, the family we celebrate. it was about being here and now – having two small children leaves little choice but to allow life to flow over and around me, even when i feel like a stone, sunken to the bottom of a swiftly-moving river. it was moments of pause. moments of remembering.

two of three

touching down for a second with my sister, and feeling the cellular changes happening to us without our brother. tears, and pain, and honor, and love.

thinking about my children, and how very tiny and fragile they were, and how amazing, and shining, and wonderful they are now. and how lucky i am to be their mama. every day. every breath.

today

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in family, loss, relationship, spirit, twins

 

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mishmash

20111104-212919.jpg
Friday. The boys and Ted and I, all home. Tired in the morning. M, still in his very sensitive place of refusal to comply with any suggestion, guidance, or pleading from parents or brother. Readjusting to being all home together, as we do every weekend. Mama’s brain not yet tuned in enough to make any real plans for the day.
As it turns out, we did pretty well. Managed to get a good mix of being out (breakfast at diner, pm haircut for m), active (neighborhood walk, hot tub time, raking and playing in leaves), and creative (fingerpaint, imaginative play involving pretending sleeping bags were whales eating them, and making collage pictures). We are tired, especially after pushing bedtime late in anticipation of time change, but it was a pretty good day. I even managed to sit and do some enso with the leftover tempera from fingerprinting. Photo forthcoming.
Tomorrow – family portraits in the morn, and I’m getting a tattoo in the afternoon in my brother’s memory.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in balance, loss, parenting

 

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ennui

how i really feel

It was a pretty crappy day. I was alone, which I’d been anticipating, but then quickly became lost in this sea of sadness. When I feel low even normally, my thoughts turn on me, and those horrid inner voices paralyse. I have a list that would take me a year to complete circulating in my brain – thank you’s and heart communications to friends and strangers alike who wrote to us during the time Simon was in the hospital, things to do to support his girlfriend, ideas about what my parents and grandparents must need from me… not to mention all the multitude of things around the house that need attention and the ways I’d like to be better meeting the needs of my kids. When I am alone, every one of these things calls to me, insistently and unrelentingly. I ended up spending most of the day staring at photos on the computer, trying to sew a gift for my parents’ anniversary (then abandoning sewing and putting all the fabric away), then lying in bed. My dad used the word today to describe his own state, and it feels pretty on par.

It was a beautiful afternoon outside – the sun, my boys, my Ted – when I was finally pulled out of these surrounding walls and away from the merciless voices within, it actually felt good. We had dinner with friends, had a funny ride home with the kids, and a nice bedtime with my sister… but inside, that well is still there… cold, dark, and still.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in loss

 

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unravelled

last day

It’s still a shock that my brother isn’t alive anymore. I speak about him with the present verb tense even as I talk about his death. We had made a reservation for him and his girlfriend to stay here at the co-housing community guest room this past weekend… when one of our neighbors asked if our guests had arrived, I had to really think about who we’d saved the room for… and then of course there it was…. it was for my brother, who is gone.

Two nights ago, his girlfriend posted this photo, taken on their last day out in the big world together. It came up in my news feed on facebook, and the natural color, his uncensored smile, the beauty of it was just so there, so alive, that it took my breath away. I had a moment of simple reaction, of thinking it was him, alive, real. Then the tears, the heavy reality.

Since coming home from Seattle where he died, I have consumed myself with knitting. The simple repetition, the feel of the yarn and needles, the attention to tension in my hands as they pass the yarn, these all combine to numb my thoughts. I’ve finished three hats in two weeks, and last night started a sweet little button-down vest for Shoghi.

The last time I knit so much was in 2007, during the end of my marriage to D. The day after we separated, I went with my best friend and bought some beautiful yarn — consolation yarn, I think we called it — and casted on for a sweater for myself, which actually I never finished. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, making things when you’re processing such sadness. But now that I’m in it again, I can see it for what it is for me: a buffer, a means for containing my emotions while they sort themselves out from within.

Maybe when I’m done this vest, I’ll actually finish up that sweater I started in ’07. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. I’m just keeping my hands busy while my mind reforms itself around this new and very sad part of my own life – without my little brother.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2011 in family, loss

 

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