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Dispatch From the Front Lines

funeral director

This morning I waited in line to stock up on groceries, feeling thankful that in our home, none of us have lost our jobs.  I stand in the sunshine feeling grateful that I know I can stock up on what we need, and we don’t have to worry about how to pay for it.

As a last responder, my days are filled with assisting the bereaved navigate the uncharted waters of grief in the time of COVID. Other than those who harass us over and over with demands to breach mandated gathering numbers, I feel for each and every family who has to say good bye during such stressful times. The phone rings non-stop on top of the additional work of caring for those who have died from COVID 19. Despite the stress, I feel thankful that we share a strong camaraderie as funeral directors.

My days off are like a lifeline for me.  I need time to recharge and rest. I don’t stand in line to get necessities because I’m bored and need to leave the house. I do it because I have to.  This might be why I became irritated today by the  woman cruising through the store having a video chat with her gal-pal;  a precious face mask flipped down on her neck. A mask that a health care worker needs, and knows how to use.

selfie“Ooooooh! Should I get these?” She says, taking a video of the munchies on display, like her knob of a best friend hasn’t seen a bag of potato chips before.  And then she giggles, puts back the bag she just touched, and grabs another one for the camera.

I know, I know. You’re going to judge me and say that perhaps this woman needs some mental health compassion. To you, I bid a sincere, ‘pull your head out of your ass’.  This is not a time to social-media-up your ridiculous sense of self importance. As a matter of fact, it’s a time to get what you need and get the hell out of everyone’s way.

The mental toll of work has left me exhausted at the end of each day.  I haven’t had energy to talk to my pals or the focus to sit down and write in what feels like too long.

On Friday, changing from my uniform into my jeans and t-shirt before going home, I gave myself a stern talking to. It was a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps chat about getting my head right and devoting time every day to something energizing.  Walk. Read. Write. Call a friend.

People on the front lines are marching in to work every day despite feeling overwhelmed, frightened, and mentally fatigued.  People like me who care for the dead and the bereaved, bear witness to the pain and suffering that this disease leaves in it’s wake. It’s a lonely, hollow, grief that no one should have to go through.

self care

Please don’t be the asshat at the store treating this like a joke.

More importantly, if you are a front-line worker right now, I hope you have the energy to be just a little bit selfish; take time to let your body feel vibrant and alive, get some fresh air, make love, make art, sing in the shower…cry if you need to, and be vulnerable enough to let someone care for you.

 

 

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Ghost Whisperer; Listening to Our Angels

waiting for a signI woke up at 6:23 this morning, assessed the snuggling situation with my big, duvet covered bed, and made the executive decision to roll over and relax just a little bit more.

Four hours later I made my bleary-eyed debut in front of the coffee maker, pressed the magic button, and stumbled around opening blinds and welcoming in the day. I would say I welcomed the sun, but alas, it is overcast. It’s the perfect, grey, fall, day to snuggle in and nest.

These are the fall days I’m most fond of. The ones where you can throw on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a sweater and take a stroll without being scorched by the sun, or blown away by a blizzard.

Grey days though, at the beginning of fall (not the nasty bleakness of late November) are the best for baking and cooking.

As a little girl, I was attached at the hip to my maternal grandmother. She taught me to roll pastry dough, to iron, and best of all, during days like today, she would sneak me to the top of the stairs, and read poetry with me.

My paternal grandmother was a woman who lived her life without apology; strong, independent, and fiercely protective of her family. She could also cook and bake like nobody’s business.

I gave her a journal for Christmas one year, and she faithfully wrote in it every day. She gave me the journal when she got sick, and I read it. Her September 13 entry reads,

Babysitting again. Scott slept until noon. Paula got home about 4 o’clock. Nancy came to watch our show. Jake was here. Patricia called. Called Carol later.

(names have been changed to protect the multiple identities of my wacky relatives)

I read her every-day notes, and know that life is just a series of weaving these days together; good and bad, full and lonely, happy and sad. A life is made up of  a series of seemingly insignificant moments that, when stitched together make a beautiful tapestry.

This morning as I stumbled in my half-awake-stupor, back to my writing desk, I had a sudden grief wash over me. I had a deep desire to pick up the phone and talk with her. I missed her with the same intensity I did when she died 15 years ago. More than anything I wanted to connect, to hear her voice, seek her advice, and most of all, do what we so often did when we were together; laugh. My phone rang….

bake a cakeI do believe this to be her way of answering a question I’ve had in my heart for some time. Yah, it may just be coincidence, but since it was an atypical call, I’m going to go with, “Thanks granny you old wise woman you, I really needed that.

Most of the messages I tend to notice are likely just my conscience calming down my anxious nature. Others are; Stay the course. Be patient, screw this and get the hell outta there.

So this morning, I felt lonely, that hollow pit of grief that always remains regardless of time or space when you lose someone you love, and I was given a conversation with someone I love very much to help soothe the ache.

Life is a continuous season of change; friendship, career, life and death.

Although our loved ones die, they remain with us as part of our conscience, whispering to our selves. They remind us of our dreams, reassure us when we are fearful, and once in a while, if we’re really quiet in our minds, shine a little light in the darkness when we’re unsure of which path to take.

Baking and cooking is one of the ways I quiet my mind enough to hear those whispers from the women who loved me the most. I’m sure that both of my granny’s will be with me today in the kitchen. But first…one more coffee…

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Beach Buddha With a Side of Fry Sauce

Tneversaidthathis weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to the lake to enjoy a fresh fish dinner, drink Mackie’s famous Orangade, and dunk my fries in their special fry sauce.  Instead,  I got caught up in a whirlwind of worries.

In the moment, with the sun shining in a clear blue sky,the lake calmly offering refreshment, and soaring seagulls, my meditation training came back to me in a snap. This moment is it. It’s all we’ve got.

To be present right here, right now, holding all of our fears and worries, all the while appreciating how fortunate we are to have what we do, now that my sweet peaches, is the art of living.

Holding hope and loss at the same time seems paradoxical, but it’s the essence of the human mystery. I don’t preach this from living a blessed life. Loss is not a stranger in my life. Loss is a ruthless teacher and a sneaky sonnuvabitch.

Anxiety is the residue that gets left over when loss finally packs its oversized bag and leaves.

So often we associate  loss with death, and forget about all of the other losses; home, love, jobs, and hope.

Hope. Yah, that’s a tough one. Loss often packs a good one-two punch, with a kick to the groin – it always blesses us more than once in a very short period of time, leaving us feeling vulnerable, fearful, numb and hopeless.

With each loss we lose hope in the story of our lives; what we hope to do with our loved ones, how we hope to grow old and with whom or that old wounds may somehow heal with reconciliation.

As a young adult I suffered major losses. Journeying with someone I love as they experience new losses in the shadow of my own,  I began to wonder whether it was easier as a young woman than it is now.

But it’s not about easier or more difficult. It’s about different. Different as in; as we age we process loss much differently in the lengthening shadow of our own mortality. With each loss, our perception is that time offers us less opportunity to recover. Perception is the key word here. Loss can cause despair, and on the other hand it can be used as an opportunity to start fresh, put new building blocks in place (think Lego – it was my favourite toy when I was a kid), and write a new story.

Within the period of a few months, loss has snuggled up in our home, poured itself a drink, put its stinky feet up on the coffee table, and helped itself to an unfair portion of our sanity. It’s like the dreaded overseas relative come to stay for an unknown period of time. To celebrate the arrival of our special guest, my anxiety dressed itself up, rolled out the red carpet and said,  “Welcome, what can I get you? My sleep? A cozy blanket of  pathetic weeping perhaps, or how about some home-cooked fear”?

Despite my anxiety, I am aware of my blessings; my child, my love, my friendships, my life as I know it.

As the Buddha at the beach reminded me, it’s not impossible to hold hope and fear. It’s best just to let them both gently go and appreciate the moments as they are.

Wishing you the presence to practice letting go, being present, and keeping love and hope alive in your heart.

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Lay Your Body Down;What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

faintingI’m not the kind of gal who runs from trouble. What I mean is, when the going gets tough, I stick in there. Always have, and likely always will.

You see, for the people out there who don’t know what it’s like to be ‘free’, I direct you to a line made famous by Janis Joplin but written by Kris Kristofferson;

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose

In other words, I’ve never had anyone who’s had my back and the only ‘thing’ I have to lose is my sense of self. Even though I come from a long history of a-holes (that’s French for lunatics and weirdos),  I’m the woman who always shows up, smiles and does what needs to be done.

Some days I hate it. I hate that people have so much damn faith in me. Some days I’d like to be the southern-belle who swoons and takes to her bed until the villain knuckles and offers her an icy mint julep and the keys to happily-ever-after.

Anyone who knows me knows that I would never do that. I’d be the southern-belle with mud on her skirts and a villain by the balls short and curlies with a shot of bourbon at the ready, and a poetry salon going on all the while in the parlour.

I live and love in a fiercely loyal way. It can be heartbreaking and it can be beautiful. As my darling cousin reminded me, “When you love, you love BIG, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” In other words, I fall completely head over heels and give 100% of myself. If I’d only invested in a tissue company, I might be able to stop my nine-to-five and open my home to artists and their muses…alas my sweet peaches, I digress…

Coming from a painful upbringing, I value ideals more than I do material things: friendship, honesty, loyalty, and stick-to-it-ness. I fight for what is good and right. I fight for the ideals and people whom I love.

Lately I’ve lost a lot. A lifetime of lost hope, and maybe even a future I was so looking forward to.

A wise grief therapist, in a Southern Baptist drawl reminiscent of an old-time, passionate, protestant preacher once said,

You will need to lay your body down

Walking up the stairs to my office a couple of weeks ago, those words came to me.  I realized that I have not had the opportunity to do this. More importantly, I’m out of practice and I’m not very good at it. But I try.

You see, when you’re ordained with the heavy knowledge of the human soul and its suffering, it’s not a job you can retire from, or hand to anyone else. It is simply yours to hold with all of the suffering and joy that comes along with it.

But you can rest. You can lay your body down; for ten minutes while you try to calm your mind, or two hours while your physical self recovers from being at battle with your anxiety. You can take time to feel the pain that you had no control over coming into your life, and you can release it. You can choose not to carry what is not yours and to replenish your own self in order that you may continue to love those whom have earned a place in such a completely loving heart.

There have been many, many tears lately. Years ago I thought that I didn’t have any left. I was wrong, but as I allow my emotions to wash over me, I remember my Sifu’s story of a woman weeping in meditation. She said nothing, simply rubbed the woman’s back until she stopped sobbing. This kind of emotional release is exhausting, and soon wears us out. Like meditation, we are aware of the rise, the expression, the pain and the release of these things that remind us we are fully human, just as we notice joy and laughter and love. The painful things suck though, and we’d be more than happy to avoid them. But this is life darlings, in all of it’s stunning and frightening mystery.

So, just a little note from an old gal who feels like she’s had her heart and soul ripped out, don’t ever give up on what you believe in. Don’t stop making wishes on old dandelions that are waiting to be blown out into a universe waiting to answer your prayers.  Don’t give up on love, on friendship or on bringing something good to the world every day, even if it’s just having the courage not to quit.

But do lay your body down, and please, remind me it’s ok to do the same.

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You Can’t Go Around It – You Must Go Through It…

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love." ~Washington Irving~
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
~Washington Irving~
There are very few people in this world whom I consider true kindred spirits; the ones who live and die by the Mark McGuinn Lyrics,

I don’t believe you can get too much love, but you can get too much advice.

You can get too much advice. Sometimes any advice is just too much. It’s irritating and hurtful, and painful to hear.

Often it’s not advice that we need. No darling, we already know where the chinks in our personal armor are. We were there when it happened after all. We felt the flesh wound and saw the blood. It’s just that sometimes, as unpleasant as it is,  we must return to the scene of the crime to continue to make sense of it all.

Instead of advice, we need a hug, a snuggle, a hot cup of tea, and a long hot bath by candlelight where we can weep in private and our mascara won’t run. We need to let it all out where no one can see or hear or reach out. Because, the rationale goes, if they know how to comfort, they will know how to wound.

I’m almost a little too aware of what a roller coaster grief is, how it can grab hold, and throw you in the middle of the ring without you even knowing you’re a contender. It’s a fickle bastard with a wry smile and salivating lips. It has the patience of a saint, and the stealth of a lightening bolt. No matter how fast you run, or where you hide, it will find you.

Like most fabulous ladies, I’m a big fan of avoiding emotional discussions until I’m tucked safely away with a stiff drink, some Leonard Cohen, and no place to go until the swelling under my tired eyes goes down. Better yet, I like to avoid emotional discussions in which my emotions are the ones under scrutiny. In other words, I foolishly avoid my own sadness until it overwhelms me, but offer a shoulder when a friend is in need.

It becomes a matter of timing. I hear myself rationalizing, ” I can’t do it now, my kiddo will see me. I can’t do it now, I have to get some sleep. Maybe tomorrow right after work, that way I can pat my eyes in the car. I can’t possibly bother them with this stuff because it’s way too depressing.”

Maybe I’m such a hard ass because I’m not a big lover of well-meaning-platitude-spewing-amateur-therapists. Maybe it’s because when I cry I feel vulnerable and foolish, and the thought of someone minimizing it makes me feel weak. After all, I know what’s happening, so why feel it so deeply?

Maybe it’s because I’m trying to rationalize something that can’t possibly be coaxed into the tidy identity of the woman-who-has-it-all-together, which I’ve worked so hard to create and maintain.

Or maybe, maybe it’s just  hard to talk about things that cause me emotional pain because I’m human too.