My new reality, yet to set in.

It’s been a little over 3 weeks since I moved and I’m dealing with a lot of grief.  I would say I’m in the denial stage at the moment, but slowly coming out of it.  The fun and excitement of something new has been interweaved with the realities of getting settled, feeling homeless, carless, jobless…and often feeling alone.  I’ve done this before and I know it will pass, but what seems most challenging is adjusting to a new reality.  My life at the moment does not include daily surf sessions, gorgeous weather every day and a life full with amazing friendships.  I am in the middle of a city, feeling slightly trapped and lost.  How I spend my days will differ for now.  What I value is being outside, nature and friends  – I know that awaits me, perhaps just not at the moment.  I can and will find that again it may just look different.

I try to tell myself this is part of the transition process and to take it day by day.  I am not where I want to be and I’m not sure when I will be but I got to have faith.  I came here to find love and career inspiration – when I remember this it brings me comfort and reminds me of why I made such an abrupt move.  All this takes courage and strength and a willing to take risks.  I trust my desires will be honored and come to fruition.

I know Hawaii waits for me, as I wait for it.  The sacrifices I’ve made seem overwhelming right now but I trust this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, without a doubt.  I take it day by day, trusting in myself and the process of letting go and being open to new experiences.

 

Aloha isn’t just a cliche, it’s the real deal.

I think the idea (and reality) of me leaving has hit.  I had my last day in the office Thursday to distract me, then my going away BBQ yesterday.  Now it’s just me and half-filled boxes spread around the apartment, waiting to be packed and sealed.  I feel overwhelmed which is expected though I was hoping to stay zen until I stepped on the plane (and hopefully after).  I don’t feel ready for this.  So I’ll go through the motions as I need to and slowly get there, though I don’t have much time.  Worst case scenario, I leave it all behind.

I’m getting somewhat exhausted at saying goodbye.  I feel appreciated and loved, but in some ways I just want to leave already and get it over with.  It’s a little bit like a bandaid slowly getting pulled off.  Then I feel awkward about it all: the attention, the sadness, the guilt over leaving, the “nice to know you’s”, “we’ll be in touch”, “let me know how you’re doing”, and so on.  Simultaneously I’m trying to process and navigate through the feelings I’m experiencing, as they fluctuate from moment to moment.  And where is there space for grief?  I am no stranger to grief and the pit in my stomach, heaviness and a deep sense of sadness is all there, waiting to have the attention it needs.

How do I leave behind all the memories here?  So much has happened, so much has changed.  Will I be the same person when I leave?  I am not the same person who came here over 5 years ago.  I’ve learned to slow down and really enjoy life in a way I never knew how. I’ve learned to value quality of life over career and status and to see people for who they are versus what they do.  I have shed some of the seriousness I have carried with me my entire life and learned to laugh unabashedly.  I found and lost love, became motherless, and experienced one of the greater losses in my life.  I’m older and wiser, and have weathered storms I could’ve never imagined to have rained down on me.

Yet I move on, trying to be brave as I start over in a place I call home, even though it’s been 15 years since I’ve lived there.  Will it still feel like home?  I don’t know.   I don’t know what is ahead of me and I’m scared but thrilled about the opportunities that have already arisen.  

So much of me wishes I didn’t have to go, but everything within me knows it’s time.  I will back, even if just as a visitor.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned while here is that “aloha” is not only real, it’s a state of mind.  Hawaii will always have a place in my  heart.  It always has.

 

 

Befriending a tiger

Sitting on the cliffs at Portlock Point never fails to bring inspiration.  It’s difficult not to be inspired; you’re staring at an endless sea in one direction and town and Diamond Head in the other.  The swell was big and unruly today.  Feeling the ocean spray hit my skin cooled me off as I did yoga on the cliffs.  I felt like I was in a yoga DVD.

I sat on the cliffs and took some time to listen.  Not to the waves, but my mind.

Today I heard a buzzing chatter in the back of my head.  It’s a symphony of thoughts, feelings, anxiety,  fear, sadness, anger, anticipation and who knows what else, that has become unconscious background noise.  When I took a moment to notice, is when I finally heard silence.  What then?  Do I listen?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

So why don’t I listen?  Am I afraid of what I might find?  Sometimes I bubble over in joy (I like those days).  But in my experience, more often than not, it can be painful to peer inside.  What we hide are the things we don’t like to feel; the things we don’t like to believe we are capable of feeling.  Often loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, shame.  What some would refer to as their “dark side”.  We all have one.  But not listening does not make these things go away.  It’s like a tiger that lurks inside.  You can befriend it and accept your co-existence or you can pretend it doesn’t exist.  What is scarier is not knowing it exists at all.

The tiger feeds on lack of awareness. When you don’t take time to acknowledge what is going on, it will manifest itself in one way or another; usually unconsciously.    It may strike out when you least expect it; sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle.  Whether it injures others or only yourself, you are trapped in its cage, subject to its whims.  I’ve learned this the hard way and continue to do so, and will for the rest of my life.

It sounds so cliche, but I can’t help but think of the novel, ‘Life of Pi’.  I read it a few years ago and recently saw it on a flight from LA.  As I read the last chapter my heart fell as the real scenario of his 200+ days at sea was revealed. What? I was shocked and felt misled.   Pi wasn’t stranded on a boat with a tiger, he was the tiger.  The dreadful loss of his mother, the murder of the sailor and the eventual death of the cook … was the entire story an elaborate tale he made up?  A better question to ask is, did it matter?  Maybe not.

The truth of Pi’s story is not explicit, but how I’ve personally interpreted it is that he experienced the trauma of losing everything, just a teenager, and had murdered the cook for survival – and he had to come to terms with it.   The murder was completely justified and necessary to survive, but its hard to believe we have it in us to kill someone.  At least physically.  And the grief of loss; the kind that changes you forever. The enthralling story he told is his way of befriending his tiger.  And the line about, “what story do you want to believe?” rings true.  The truth of who we are, what we’ve experienced  and what we’ve done sometimes deserves a new story.  A fantastical, brave story of heroism.  Because befriending your tiger and accepting who you are is just that.

two types

When getting mail or doing laundry, I often peruse through the stacks of magazines neighbors in the condo building leave behind after getting their fill of stick-thin models and foodie recipes.  I once put a huge stack of National Geographic’s in there and it sadly took days for them to disappear but the fitness and fashion magazines are gone within hours.  Welcome to Hawaii.

I flipped through an abandoned magazine and ran across an unexpected article, “The Long Goodbye” by Laura Fraiser.  It’s her story of slowing down and finding time to grieve over the unexpected death of her mother.  A quote resonate with me:

“…there are two types of people in the world–those who have lost their mom, those who haven’t…”

I have to say I agree.  It’s the club no one signs up for but sooner or later joins.

This Tornado loves you*

photo by Darryl Torckler/The Image Bank/Getty Images

I’ve lost sight in these past few days, possibly weeks, of who I am and what I want to be (as a person).  Caught up in my swirling thoughts, I have been running, trying to figure out what is next.  In this confusion, I have created inner and outer turmoil.  I feel like a tornado, lost in the spinning, pulling those in around me and dizzying them into confusion.

There has been a lot of change in the past couple of weeks and I am trying to learn to sit and wait for a new path to emerge.  Instead of chasing after something to fill the empty space and distract me from the anxiety of the unknown, I want to just sit.  It’s unlike me and I fear complacency and sloth.

It hit me today that it will be a year my mother died in just a few weeks.  Will I be okay?  As I sit here and write, I do wonder.  The grief can hit you like a tidal wave and drown all your senses in pain.

Almost a year, hard to believe.  The pain hasn’t gone away, though it has lessened.  I’ve had dreams and memories of her lately, though even more so, longing.  I long for a mother.  Not the one who raised me but the mother I’ve needed and wanted for so, so very long.

* Song by Neko Case

New Year, still me. Thank goodness.

How do I express that everything has changed, yet nothing at all?  Accepting that life will never be what it was.  With the New Year, I wanted to leave the sadness and grief of my mothers’ death behind, embarking on a new year with new expectations on myself and the future.  But that doesn’t change me.  All the intentions and determination in the world cannot change who I am in the moment.  You cannot command the grieving process or feelings to act in a certain way.  If only it were that easy.

I wanted to push the past behind me, move forward.  And in many ways I have.  I have accepted the past several months were difficult and painful: that some areas in my life were put on hold.

In a world where progress is measured in success and “moving on”, it’s difficult to honor the grieving process as work in itself.  I may not have been as productive in certain areas as I could have been, but I was (and am) working my ass off in other ways: grieving (action word).  If only you could put that on your resume.

In some ways I’m surprised that I Continue reading

Merry Christmas?

Hard to believe it’s Christmas already.  I wish it were more merry, but why should I expect that?  It’s our first Christmas without my mother.  I had high expectations on myself, that I could be cheery and upbeat, helping out with Christmas dinner or sprucing up the house.  But when in the house, I can’t seem to do more than lay around, paralyzed and overwhelmed by grief.  Reminders of her are everywhere; who she was fills the rooms and hallways.

It would be too severe to say I am where I left off after she died.  What has occurred is the reality of her death has slammed me in the face.  I feel in shock, stunned by the finality of it all.  The emptiness that remains.  The house is definitely not the same without her here and there is no way I can hide from the stark reality that she will never be back.  I want to run out the door, leaving everything behind and never come back.  But I can’t.

It is easier to forget when you are far away.

Article: How Did Grief Get an Expiration Date? By Lynne Hughes

How Did Grief Get an Expiration Date?

by Lynne HughesFounder of Comfort Zone Camp for Grieving Children

Certain things need an expiration date. Milk, eggs, mayonnaise, meat, fish — there is a time we need to be done with them, and throw them away. I get all that. But does grief have an expiration date? For some reason, there seems to be an acceptable shelf life — 6 to 12 months — and then grief should be off the shelf, out of the home and permanently removed with the weekly trash service. If it was only that simple…

The grief expiration date myth must come from people who have never experienced a close death — otherwise they would know the truth. Everyone fears facing such a loss. They are hopeful that should death touch their world, it will only take 6 to 12 months to recover. No one wants someone they love to die. So, until faced with the reality, it’s easier to think ‘this won’t happen to me, AND if it does it will only be bad for a finite, short  amount of time and then there’s an expiration date and it is magically all gone.’ What a wonderful world that would be.

I’ve heard time and time again there is a societal expectation to “get over” grief in six months, and at the longest, a year. Those who aren’t grieving believe it, and often those who are also believe it — this sets grieving people up for false, and ultimately disappointing Continue reading

My Failed Attempt to Ignore 9/11

I was going to ignore that today was 9/11.  But when I turned on the radio this morning,  it was of course the main topic of discussion, as it should be.  Then I went to a church service and it was the theme of the sermon, again, as it should be.

The incidents on 9/11 in the US were indeed horrible and we were all affected on that day.  I was in Washington, DC at the time and lived just 8 blocks from the Capitol and congressional buildings.  I didn’t have a TV so I walked down to an Irish bar that opened up it’s doors early for others like myself.  It was mostly full of hill staffers in suits.  They were streaming out of the Capitol and into the streets, walking who knows where.

It’s horrible to think of the approximately 3,000 people who died that day from the attacks.  Though what first went through my mind when I heard the preacher say that number was what about the millions who’ve died in Congo over the years of war?  Acts of terrorism in the Congo are being committed every day, particularly against women.  That is just one out of many examples of unrecognized atrocities around the world.  It is of course not a numbers game, I realize this.  It is not the death toll that matters.  Though what does seem to matter is that the voices which cry out are heard.   The US, being a superpower is of course going to have one of the loudest voices on this planet.  And even more importantly, a voice that will  most certainly be heard.

Though honestly, at this moment, I feel detached from both the deaths of 9/11 and such devastation in places like Congo.  In fact, I don’t really care.  There was a time when I would tear up thinking about such losses, but all I can think about now is the loss in my own life.  As it should be.

What I mostly thought about this morning during the sermon was I want to see my mother’s death commemorated every year on newspaper front pages and magazines.  I want NPR to spend the day discussing my mother.  I would like to see two huge beams of light streaming out of New York City in remembrance of my mom.  She had nothing to do with New York, but I want that recognition.

Realistically, I know these things will never happen, but to me, her death deserves just as much time, attention and honor.

I want to scream from the tops of New York City sky scrapers and let everyone know that my loss is greater than theirs.

Other-worldly

Below is a quote from Dr. Leeat Granek in Slate Magazines’, What Grief is Really Like, series. It really stood out to me.  The expression of devastation is how I often feel.  Yes I knew it would be hard, but the grief seems almost other-worldly.  I find it comforting to know I’m not alone in this feeling.

 “When my mom died, I couldn’t ride two subway stops without sobbing. I knew it was going to hurt, but I didn’t know it was going to devastate me. “

A new unanticipated and unwelcome anniversary

Hard to believe it’s been a month.  Four weeks ago to the date she breathed her last conscious breath.  Four days later she died.

My mind feels cloudy, my body, heavy.  Like I’m a candle slowly melting.  It’s not an entirely unpleasant feeling.  There is a sense of relief in letting go.  Not so much a letting go of my mother, I expect that will take a long while if at all, but accepting who I am in this moment.  Accepting that my life has changed, I’ve changed, my family’s changed.  How I exist in the world is no longer the same.  Twenty-nine days ago I was a different person.  Twenty-nine days ago my life changed forever.

I know a sense of normalcy will eventually surface but from what I hear it will be a new “normal”.  And that makes sense to me.  I don’t feel a sense of hopelessness but an anxious anticipation of what is ahead.  The grief journey is new to me.  I don’t know what to expect or how I will “best” get through this. Something tells me that perhaps it would be best to accept that I don’t know.  What I do know is I need to take it day by day, moment by moment.  And be kind to myself; kind to others.  Comfort myself, let myself be comforted by others.  The road ahead seems dark, but I have to believe this too shall pass.

Good article for helping those who grieve

From Slate Magazine:

How To Help Friends in Mourning

Condolence notes? Casseroles? What our grief survey revealed.

By Meghan O’Rourke and Leea

t GranekPosted Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, at 7:30 AM ET

Illustration by Deanna Staffo. Click image to expand.This article is one of a series about grief. Click here to read our original articles on grief and to look at the accompanying survey. Click here to read Meghan O’Rourke’s series on grief, which became the book The Long Goodbye.

What is grief really like? Earlier this spring, we posted a survey on Slate asking this question. Struck by how poorly our culture seems to understand the complexities of grief (each of us had lost our mothers to cancer and had written about the experience), we wanted to hear from readers about the lived reality of loss. As we noted in our first article about Continue reading

Where is she?

For the past month, I feel like left this realm and entered another.  And now I’m back.  It’s amazing how your entire life can change within a matter of seconds.  A senseless misfortune and here we are.  And this happens every day.  Eventually we all will die and someone very close to us will die at some point.

It frightens me because I don’t know where she is.  In yoga class this morning I was pondering if she could see me; feel me.  But I don’t know.  What I do know is she is gone.  I get a sense of peace about it though.  It’s not a feeling of distance, but maybe time.  I’m not sure what that means.  Does that mean I think I’ll see her again?  I really can’t say I know.

Kindred spirits, lounging by the pool, and pollaroid memories

I was at the pool up the street from my parents house yesterday and met with some friends from my childhood.  The early 80’s pool furniture looked the same to me, though I do believe it had been long since replaced.  A man in his 50’s was lying on one of the deck chairs, smoking and drinking a 40-oz. canned Natural Light.  I arrived before my friends, jumped in the water, and swam vigorous laps in what was a very small pool.  He tried to talk to me a few times, but I would say a few words than immediately submerge myself.  I think he got the idea.

It never ceases to surprise me when I go back home and how different the perspective my child self is from my adult self.  Everything is so much smaller.  The large houses in my neighborhood look small, the buildings around town look small, and most definitely, the neighborhood pool looked small.  Numerous memories have been made at that pool.  The neighborhood kids and I would Continue reading