Because it just makes sense

•April 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Synchronicity is a phenomenon – an amazing convergence of time and space.  Often, we imagine how it might be.  And, then, our imagination is played out in real time (or what we think of as real time).  We consider what’s next, and we hope it turns out well for all concerned.  It always does in the end, but, do we recognize it when it happens?  Do we reframe the outcomes and create new experiences, new memories?  I hope that when synchronicity visits you, you find your new you.  People and circumstances might get in the way, but you are in charge of your future.  YOU ARE.

I have found the new me.  And, it’s a fabulous meeting of mind, heart, body, and soul.  My family found their new ways of being in the world after Owen died.  Owen found his new Owen when he died.  I trust that this is true.  I knew him.  He knew me.  We knew stuff that no one else could imagine.  We talked about the synchronicities in our lives, and said, “ah, right, I know that one”.

Song for the night: Synchronicity, The Police

The ‘Bohemian” article

•April 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

No one who hasn’t lost a child can imagine how many times each day I think of Owen, and why I’m so proud to be doing work that honors his life and that of his brother, my older son, Nat.  Yes, certainly, every parent lives and breathes with her or his children – each time they learn a new word, fall down and stand back up, graduate from some educational endeavor, get a great job, quit a bad job, stand up for themselves in difficult situations, and reflect on the all-important moments we remember…and forget because time passes…no matter what.  We all die.  It just happens that sometimes, it’s unexpected, tragic, and/or complex.  Think Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.  And, remember.

I didn’t plan on working in thanatology – the study of dying, death, and bereavement.  But, after losing my dad when I was 10, and losing so many family members and friends over the years (more dead than alive now) – my mom, and Owen – well, really, how could I not think this study is a fit?  My day job is still in human resources, and you might not believe how often death is a part of the conversation with employees.  It is, because it happens as often as birth.  I love the photos of new babies that our employees send to my department.  I also spend lots of time with employees whose family and friends are dying or have recently passed.  The memorials, well, yes, I go to lots of them, too.  It’s an honor to be considered a part of our employees’ lives and their life events.  Ultimately, I’ve worked in thanatology since I was a kid.  I was one of the few of my circle who talked of death openly.  Thanks, Mom and Emmitt.

It’s a fit, thanatology, that is, because I couldn’t let my losses limit my ability to live fully.  I think of it this way.  If I’m afraid of death, my own and those of my loved ones, I’ll be afraid to live.  That just doesn’t make sense.  I want to live my life with a strong attraction to what makes us tick, how we get through what we get through, what’s after this life, what is consciousness, and what’s significant about our various paths toward that day that started at the moment of our own births.

As part of my PhD program last semester, I was tasked with choosing a “transformational project” that answered to a doctoral-level study in transformation.  Transformation is one of those words that often silences us out of an inability to accurately define what it is.  What is transformation to you?

My transformational project became Death Cafe Sonoma, and I’m pleased to add the link to today’s article in the “Bohemian” about our gatherings.

Do you believe in magic?  I do. I always have, even right after my dad died, when this song was released:

Starry, starry night

•March 5, 2013 • 2 Comments

Sometime long ago, I may have posted this song to this site.  It takes on new meaning tonight, with my friend’s stories of unresolved memories and pain of love and loss.  I remember what that’s like.  I have plenty of my own.  It wasn’t that long ago.

Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theodore, left me with lots of stories of their lives that might relate to my own. They couldn’t have possibly known at the time, that their stories could benefit me and others like me.  We are all artists and observers, storytellers and listeners, touching and the touched.  We don’t always know in the moment.  I am thankful I observe, listen, and touch.

Song for the night:  Vincent – Don McLean: “..but, I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

Death Cafe Sonoma – In Your Honor, Owen

•February 28, 2013 • Leave a Comment

If Owen was still here on the Planet, he might be glad to know that I’m facilitating a conversation about dying, death, and bereavement in an open forum.  We talked of these subjects often.  We knew that others were afraid to talk about death, so it seems appropriate now.

I recently started facilitating Death Cafe Sonoma.  I found the parent organization by accident one night while searching for something for school.  Jon Underwood started this global movement in the U.K. after reading about Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist having done the same in Paris.  I’ve been working on it for a few short months and we’ve had three gatherings so far.

Not everyone will want to attend such an event.  That’s exactly the point – to bring the subjects of dying, death, and bereavement out into the open, into a commonplace conversation.

Song for the night:  This morning, I woke up with this song playing and replaying in my memory, and even though Owen wasn’t a fan of Sting’s, he did know his music well, including the lyrics.

This photo is of Owen and Lea Kelley playing guitars on our patio in San Diego, circa 2001.  He was about 16.  This day was not shot!

Owen Lea guitars SD patio

Spooky

•October 31, 2012 • 3 Comments

It’s raining tonight in Northern California.  It’s Halloween, and the trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood were low in numbers.  Only the strong came out.  They were not afraid of getting wet.  Rain is just water, and I guess they got that.  Gimme some candy!

Dave and I waited with candy bowl in hand, and doled out the few miniatures to the children whose parents banked on the experience, rather than the weather.  I don’t know for sure, but if memory serves, my brother and I never failed to go trick-or-treating due to weather.  We were hearty kids, more focused on the night’s “take” than on weather.  Tonight, we have more candy in our house than we want to consume, so I’ll take it to work tomorrow.  Someone will surely eat it.  I will.  I love Butterfingers and Milky Ways.  Yum.

On my drive in to work today, before all my responsibilities kicked into gear, I heard this song on the radio.  I remembered my teenage years, when the song was released, and I remembered sharing this song with Nat and Owen when they were just kids.  On some levels, all of life is Spooky.  Don’t you think?

Classics IV: 

A pain too deep…no one gets in

•September 11, 2012 • 3 Comments

Ah.  Whether this was a wordpress glitch or an oversight on my part, the mother of Jordan’s email showed up just now and allowed me to approve her comment. Earlier tonight, I wrote the post below.

***************

I received an email referencing a comment made here yesterday.  The mother who wrote did not leave an email or website, so I can’t approve the comment.  I am posting it here (below) as evidence that Jordan (age 18) died, that she wrote, and that many of us who’ve lost children simply cannot imagine in the early days, a life after losing our kids.

I remember the early days.  I remember not wanting to get out of bed, to dress, to eat, to laugh, to remember how great it was to be a part of the family I once knew and loved.  I remember doubling over in an agony so deep that I didn’t know if I would ever be able to look on the sun or the moon again without wanting them to disappear, and thus, my life to dissolve into the void.

I was and am one of the lucky ones.  I awaken each day to greet new mysteries, to greet new memories out there for the making, and to greet new adventures in the hopes of reframing old ones as newjust in the living of them.  None of that was conceivable in the early days of losing Owen.  Five+ years later, I can say, yes, I’m here and doing my work on the planet and in the interest of moving forward and becoming part of others’ histories.  Owen’s stories are everyone’s stories, and I am here to tell them.  Yet, forward is not where I wanted to go in the early days.  Forward is where I am.

I don’t know what it’s like to lose my only child.  I have my older son, Nat, who sustains me along with my husband, Dave, my best friend, Lea, and my brother, Emmitt, and an extended family who support me in those times when I can’t imagine how we all got here.  I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to feel like no one is in this loss with me.  In the end, all of humanity is with me (past, present, and future), for all of humanity is made up of births, deaths, and everything in between.

To Jordan’s mom: I hear you.  I remember.  You have a community that’s larger than you currently imagine.  Stay the course.  We’re here, reading your words.

“My 18 year old son died after a very long illness. 30 days ago today. I rarely left the house for five years and honored his request of no help except pain meds. I am dying. I’ve lost27 lbs. 5ft5 and I weigh 95 lbs. My heart aches so deep sometimes I cant breath. the last 19 hours of his life I laid next to him and held his hand and talked to him. He would occasionally squeeze my finger when I said I love you. I will never forget the horrible sounds, the drowning in his own fluid. I was there as he took his last breath and I don’t think I will ever get over this. I am and have been alone through all this. No one came, no one could take hearing that death ratttle. I’m alone now and I don’t want people around. They don’t understant and they didn’t know Jordan. Although I believe he’s in heaven and free, I am here and the pain is so consuming. I’m sorry for your loss. Right now I can’t find anything to make it better. I haven’t even left the house or my bed for that mattter. How can anyone ever let go of their child. I can’t find any peace.. I am so lost without him.”

This song became my mantra after Owen died.  I send it out now to Jordan’s mom, whoever she is, in the hopes that she can find a new hope in the “light of the dark, black night”:

Untold Stories #2… some of us die young

•July 11, 2012 • 4 Comments

Five years after losing Owen, I sit on my deck and wonder.  What could have been different?  What of his accomplishments might have been admired/recognized?  What tiny things remembered, that are now forgotten?  What catastrophes imagined, that are now averted?  What relationships broadened, which ones left by the roadside?  What would all of us be like if he were still walking with us?  What, what, what?

Owen died within a timeframe he predicted – sometime between the ages of 17 and 27.  He made it to almost 21 years of age.  When he was 15, he told me that he wouldn’t live long.  I argued with him, pleaded with him, contemplated our existential realities together and apart…for five years…but, in the end, his predictions prevailed.  He always knew more than I did in the realm of consciousness.  And, I can no longer argue with what he knew and what he perceived.  I can only sit in contemplation.  So, that’s what I do.  And, I go to work, help most who ask – if able, commune with family and friends, and live in the moment.

“I don’t know why or how, Mom.  I just know that I won’t be here long.  I have to live life fast.”  He did.  He lived life fast and crammed so much into almost 21 years.  I remember telling him in my late 40s, “If I died today, I would be satisfied.  I’ve done the very best things this life has to offer.  I gave birth to two beautiful sons, raised them to adulthood, loved many, honored more.”  On at least two occasions, he asked me, “Mom, what’s the easiest way to die?”  I told him I didn’t know, but that I had read somewhere that death by drowning was a fairly painless physical death.  It never occurred to me that those discussions would pan out in real time.  No one ever does.

We don’t know if Owen ended his own life.  We don’t know if he was murdered.  We don’t know if he slipped and fell into the river.  The things we don’t know keep his death alive and painful.  They also keep his life up front and personal.  And, we carry on as people do – what’s next? how do we move forward? what would he have wanted? how glad would he be not to be burdened by the things we encounter?  what eventuality could have been more awful (and thank you, universe, that no one else went with him that night).  And more…always more.

I often think that if Owen were watching us, he would simply say, “Mom, let it go.  It was what it was, it was all good.  You don’t have to worry about me anymore, I’m okay.”  In so many ways, these words feel like a monstrosity, and, on the other hand, they are exactly the words I know in my heart, he would share with me.  Whew.

My family is still fielding their emotions on the subject of Owen, on losing Owen.  All we have to do is look into one another’s eyes, and we see the pain.  Fortunately, we also see the joy.  We hear his laughter, his low, shy laugh, the one that visits us in the night.  I hear him now.  Mom, really, go to bed.  I’m gonna stay up for a while.  I’ll see you in the morning.

I always see Owen in the morning.  Thankfully, I also see Nat most mornings.  We work at the same company and our paths cross regularly.  Thank you, Nat, for dropping by my office just to say hi.  I love you bigger than the sky.  I always did.  I always will.

A friend reminded me today that grief lives in many experiences, not just death.  I know this, as I’ve lost some relationships that were not caused by the end of a physical existence.  Each loss is a kind of death.  Just try to deny that losing your spouse to divorce, a job to a layoff, your country to a political takeover, your surroundings to an environmental disaster, or your house to foreclosure is not grief-provoking.

Some of us die young, and we leave a legacy that lives in timelessness.  Our words carry us.  Our spirits transcend our words, gratefully.  Music often comes our way to remind us.  Here’s a song that came my way last year and took me to my knees – particularly these words…”the sharp knife of a short life…I’ve had just enough time…lay me down on a bed of roses, sink me in the river at dawn…funny when you’re dead, how people start listening”.  Yep.  It’s a sharp knife, and over time, if you are very, very lucky, and do your homework, it becomes a dull blade that cuts less deeply, less precisely.  And, then, if you truly want to heal, you will find gifts in the loss…weirdly…amazingly.  But, we never, ever forget.

Healing Happens

•June 2, 2012 • 2 Comments

Healing happens when you’re not looking.

We didn’t go the river today for our annual memorial of Owen.  The time finally came when we could all agree that it’s time to stop scratching the scar.  Instead, Nat and Michael came over to our house and the four of us spent some time just being together on the patio.

When Dave left a few minutes ago to run an errand, I talked with Owen a bit.  As happens frequently, a crow flew overhead.  The week before he died he told me that ravens were following him home from work every day.  He asked if I had noticed them in the neighborhood lately.  I had.  I still notice them whenever I think about him – his birth, his life, his path, his lessons, his death, the all of it.

Lea is right, it is possible to internalize our altars and live through them by our words and actions.  I may have never guessed, but I often hoped.  This…is healing.

Untold Stories #1

•June 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Online content never goes away, or so we are told.  If that’s true, then a blog containing deep personal thoughts can be a dangerous platform, given its longevity.  Never is a long time.  Never doesn’t really exist, yet in our limited human ability to truly understand time (if anyone can), the idea of never can be daunting.  Never is an absolute, a superlative, so not to be taken lightly.

For the past (almost) five years, I’ve shared my personal stories of our family’s lives with and without Owen.  I’ve shared from my mother-heart.  I’ve shared from my ongoing mothering nature as it regards Nat.  And, I’ve shared with an open eye to how my posts might affect the rest of my family and friends.  All of my posts have been true; and all of my posts have been colored with finely drawn outlines, so that some are highlighted with poignancy, and some more carefully sculpted in order to keep safe the players, the loved ones.

Truth is, with tomorrow being the 5th anniversary of Owen’s body being found in the Petaluma River, I know what I need to share.  I don’t know what I think I want to know – how he died and under what circumstances.  Yet, I wonder at how much more awful it could be if I did know.  Conversely, could it have been easier?  What colors, what tones, what hues might appear in a different light if I knew that Owen’s death was caused by accident, murder, or suicide?  I can’t know, given the tangible and circumstantial evidence, so I live in the mystery.  I live with the knowledge that Owen loved mysteries and this might be exactly the path that he prescribed for his life, and therefore, part of mine.  Every time I write “I” in this post, I could write “we”, but I don’t honestly know what my family, my friends might write on the same subjects.  So, I write from “I”.

This post is the first of those that I wouldn’t have shared in the early days.  I wouldn’t have been able to navigate grief if I hadn’t deified Owen after first learning that he was truly gone from this plane.  My path is my path.  Part of my journey has been to imprint every single thing that was precious and dear in his memory.  This blog has served me well in that intent.  So have my conversations with my friends and family over the years.  Only a few of us have ever talked openly about the difficult side of his life, and the dark side of his death…if there is one.

So many more stories than you have ever read here have made Nat, Lea, Michael, Dave, and I laugh with love.  I remember these times in the late night or early morning hours, or sometimes, when I’m driving to work or the grocery store.  Often, they are initiated by music – makes sense.  Music lives on and aids us in living in the moment, whether with memories of the past or our imagined futures – or, the pasts and futures that might have been.  What we get, what we understand, what we accept, in the distant aftermath, is what actually happened…to the best of our ability.  And, that’s where this storyteller finds roadblocks, and, acceptance.  What did happen?

On finding myself here, five years later, I am often amazed that my family has survived Owen’s loss as well as we have.  If you haven’t lost a child or someone with the same depth of relationship, you might not understand the protective nature of sharing the lost person’s history.  They, the lost loved ones, never imagined that you might tell their stories for them.  They, after all, were immersed in telling their own stories – no editors, no critics required, none welcomed.

If you hope to find some revelatory stories in my future posts, titled “Untold Stories #x” you may be disappointed.  I am not the detective who will reveal the answer to the puzzle.  Would that it were.  It’s possible that there is no grand climax, no setting full of clues, no protagonists or antagonists that will point your way to a mystery solved.  I’m writing these memories for myself, and, therefore, and by way of this seemingly unnatural tool of communication, for the other people who hold mysterious or untold stories of their loved ones.  No one gets a “pass” in life.  We all have our strengths and deficits, and upon reflection of those of us left behind, our stories will unfold in unique, although not our own, ways.  Owen was not guarded from life’s infallibilities.  He lived in them.  He told me on numerous occasions, “This is my life, Mom.  I have to live it fast.  I won’t be around long”.

What did Owen know?  You can’t unknow what you know.  He couldn’t.  What did he last see?  What did he last think and feel?

5

•May 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I talked with my brother, Emmitt, tonight.  I asked him why anniversaries in years of increments of 5 seem to be more important.  The 5 years…5, 10, 15, 20, 25, etc.  Why?  Why do anniversaries of 1 through 4 not seem the same?  He said this…

Because, no one can handle the early years.  Somewhere along the way, we devised a system of measurement that honors 100 years as a term of importance.  Everything can be seen over the long term in a hundred years, but not so much in a single year.  When you feel a need to divide a hundred years into smaller slices, you get things divisible by 10, because we live in a world that has accepted the decimal system.  This is simple, Linda.   We need measuring sticks.

And, when you divide the 10s by half, you get the 5s, because you probably won’t live to be a hundred years old, so you get half.  You get the 5th  year of a momentous occasion.  You get the 10th, the 15th, the 20th, and the 25th, and on, and on.  In this way, it’s somehow easier to not notice the years in between.  You have to actually live in between.  So, you designate the 5 years as “okay” to celebrate and commiserate.  You can’t live in the moment every year.  You certainly can’t live in it every day.  You do, because you lost someone that is unlike the rest of us.  You lost a child.  No one who hasn’t been there really understands that.  No one, but one who has lived in it, that is.

He continued with…”and, generations are often thought of in terms of 20 years.”  I corrected him with “generations are currently often thought of in terms of 10 years, culturally, because things change faster now than in the past”.  He couldn’t argue.

We talked of how everything changes in periods of 10 years – music, economies, education, pop culture, technology, industry, and more.  Ask your financial adviser –s/he will tell you, “don’t make any changes until you’ve seen a trend”.  We don’t see trends in the instant.  We see them in a longer timeframe, often 10 years.  Well, grief has little to do with finances, but I get it, from that extended and limited perspective.

And, I asked, what of daily routines?  What happens when you wake up and you don’t hear your kid calling out to you for breakfast or clean clothes?  He could only relate to the larger picture – makes sense.  He didn’t feel the gap in the same way, he didn’t lose a child.  He’s not lesser for the loss, not less of a feeling person.  He’s simply protected from it, to an immeasurable degree.  He feels it as an uncle, a secondary stress/loss.  How he feels loss is not for me to judge.  We all feel it as individuals, in our own rights.

What of grief and loss then in terms of anniversaries?  I can tell you from personal experience, I feel it every day.  Yes, it changes over time.  The colors change, the intensity softens.  But, in the middle of the night, when there is no time, loss is NOW, even if for a moment, or in the aftermath of a dream where Owen, or my mom, or my dad has visited.  I love my dreams that bring my loved ones into this moment.  Why?  Because, then, they are not missing or gone forever.  They are here and telling me things that are important in the in-between years of 5, 10, and a hundred.

Who will remember any of us a hundred years from now?  The measuring stick will have moved ahead, but not become shorter for the instant period, so who knows?

If you are able, make an impact that will outlive you, for at least a hundred or more years.  When you die, someone will think of the past 5 years, and wonder.

Whew.  This hundred years was long, and I remember my grandparents.  This is a “smell the roses” moment, even in the desert.  Ah.

R. Carlos Nakai, Echoes of Time…