grief


Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

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Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Friday, 7/27/18

Woke up at 4:52 am to a blazing light shining upon me. It was a huge full moon low on the horizon so that its light reached inside my bedroom. I smiled and said Happy 60th Birthday, Keith! We miss you here on this life’s plane. Hope you’re enjoying all our shenanigans from your view on the other side. ❤️

Keith taking his solo pilot flight test, upstate NY. Instructor decided we should all go to dinner in Keene, NH.

Postscript: When I awoke later in the morning daylight, I looked out the window and saw the trees and wondered how I could have seen the moon so clearly earlier. And yet, there it had been! When he passed, it was a huge blue moon (a second full moon in the month) and I always associate the strong light of the full moon as his embrace from beyond.

Traveling has a way of creating magic and expanding our vision here and beyond.

Threads of energy and connection

On a steamy hot July 4th, we floated in the waters of Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Disembodied heads peeked above the waters – me, Steve, Larry, Jean, John, Patty, Brian plus other old friends. As the waters sparkled in the sunlight, my vision shifted, seeing tendrils, threads connecting each of us, our heads, 7th chakras, energy paths from one to another, and then above. It was surreal and yet very real… I shook my head several times to try and dispel the vision, yet it persisted. The vision began to fade so I sketched it quickly in order to bring it back to further enhance in art.

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My quick sketch of the vision I had looking at my friends bobbing in the waters of Sacandaga Lake, Adirondack Mountains, upstate New York, July 4, 2018. 

Conversations while in the water, heads bobbing, voices laughing, planning, life beyond work, the family by heart and blood, community of friends planning to care for each other in a life of continued adventures, but recognizing the pains of aging… Plans began for those couples without children, then those who did have children who would not be willing/able to care for aging parents… Duties were assigned: John P as our travel planner, Jean our financial/taxes person, Larry our sommelier and meal planner, me and Brian on branding development and space design, Steve our inventor and fixer-upper…should Michael join us he would be our gardener… Patty would pave the way into retirement. We could move between locations to allow time at each place and take advantage of weather… Several months in Michigan, travel to Europe, possibly a month in Fiji in April… where else?

Aging into new adventures means making the most of life with family by blood and family by heart.

Shifting to sooner plans, travel to Newfoundland, Canada, Kelly’s home country. When could we all visit, and how? Have passports, will travel.

The view from here

As we wandered the countryside, our views throughout our week were stunning… New York Adirondacks, Vermont hills, Middlebury, countryside antique shops, farmlands… peaceful, tranquil, even energizing… Saratoga, revisiting old memories.

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A roadside antique shop in the Adirondacks.

We were watching fireworks from the baseball field across from Larry and Jean’s… the same field with the same chain link fence at home base where Keith and I hung out together with Michael, Larry, Brian and others. Standing there… Steven, Larry, Brian, Jean, me… surreal… forward, back…time seemed to cross oceans, decades, and reconnect…creating new connections. It felt powerful.

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Watching fireworks in the park with friends.

Revisiting a new friend in person

I finally caught up with Nan O’Brien-Webb in New Haven, VT. Steve was filled with trepidation; it brought up feelings of a past bad encounter with a marriage counselor. Not what I intended at all. It was exploratory for me just to see what was up with Nan’s workshops. And it was very emotional for her, too, to meet her former best friend’s wife after finding his obituary.

I no longer feel the need to have an intermediary. I see/feel connections to the spirits feeling their messages when it is important, seeing signs and recognizing them for what they are most of the time. I recognize that I have become my own intuit. Still, it was interesting to discover how others with longer experience work with this…this gift.

I sent Nan a photo of Steven with the shadow of another we saw as a hint of Keith hovering over Steve after he’d gotten the great sanding machine running back in May 2013. But then, as I scrolled through the photos, I also came across another photo that I’d taken but had ignored for my aesthetic preference of another. The non-filtered photo, however, had a clear message, one that I’d completely missed before. Taken the same day as the one with the shadow of Keith… this one showed a large “K” made from the shape of the stairs leading up to the loft.

To Nan, I wrote:

… I could feel the emotion in the room, the healing that was being accomplished, even as the doors cracked open a bit to understanding of the different lives we lead in physical and spiritual form. You’ve certainly helped me to better articulate what I always felt to be true.

…Funny thing… as I went to look for [the photo I promised], I discovered a second one – taken the same day – that had a message I’d completely missed.

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Keith oversees a sewer connection we’d been trying to get at Perry Road, only about 5-6 weeks before he passed. So I’m guessing this picture was taken around mid July 2012.

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Large flat-belted gears drive a giant 4-drum oscillating sander that Keith had  fallen in love with in the large  woodworking shop on the property at Perry Road. When he tried to get it started, the belts fell off only a few seconds after it began to run. This photo was taken in May 2013 when Steven came into my life. He too fell in love with this old machine and immediately set about to get it running, which he did!

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Another view of the  old woodworking shop taken the same day Steven got the old sander running. I noticed the sun shining in the far windows, setting off a glowing light. But I used a different camera setting for the above photo. I almost missed the real message.

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This photo was take seconds before the first one just above. In looking for the picture I’d mentioned in VT, I found this one. Notice the giant “K” at the center, formed by the structure of a stairway in front of the glowing windows. SMH! I was dumbfounded when I came across this picture last night. How could I have missed it?!

Finally, this is the image I mentioned to Nan. Intellectually, I know how it was made. But it gave us all goosebumps when we first saw it. I was sitting at an old handmade table saw, working on homework for my doctorate. Steve was literally scurrying around working on making the giant sander operational (it extends from where he’s climbing to the round wheels you see in front of the windows to the right behind the posts).

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I looked up from my studies when I heard it come to life and grabbed my phone to take this photo. The message was clear to me at that moment. Keith was VERY pleased!

As I wrote to Nan, I feel that sometimes places can hold the energy of those who came before us there. Or they at least provide us a place to connect. Sometimes I feel old Maurice Reid here, as well. He was the original owner of this woodworking shop and I feel his occasional approval (or annoyance as the case may be at the time) as we try and make improvements to the old homestead.

These are just some of the most profound memories I have from the week’s travels and the memories those moments inspired me to revisit. 

Bedroom in new home

“Are you done grieving?” It wasn’t a question for me. It was asked of my father by a recent friend. She asked my dad as they shared lunch and talked about the new house we’ve been building and what she’d seen.

Later, Dad shared the question with me and it got me thinking about it. I answered him quickly at first: “Does anyone ever stop grieving?”

He mentioned his reaction to hearing the song: “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel. It had been a favorite of my mother’s. And just a week before she died, the last time we heard her say anything, she sang some of it when a visitor – a complete stranger to my mother – asked her in her slumber if she had ever heard the song. As the visitor began to sing the first few words, my mother began to sing with her.

When it came on the radio, out of the blue, as he got to an intersection he began to cry. Just like that. No warning. It just hit him, now 18 months later. Does anyone ever stop grieving? No, I said to dad. We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

Even now, for me, five and a half years after Keith passed, there are times when that inevitable moment stops my breath. A song, a number, a phrase, a space, a memory… and I have to pause for a moment, take it in, reflect, and consider the possibility – is this a message?Pay attention, I tell myself. He’s still there, just on the other side of the veil. He’s still with you as real as the bearded little man laying beside me now. There are times when I still feel his touch, a gentle one on the shoulder, a soft caress to the cheek as if a kiss made of air.

Sunset over snowy field and woodsThe triggers still come, a song I hadn’t heard in awhile played recently and I had to stop and listen and nod. “I will wait, I will wait for you…” sang Mumford & Sons. The song had just been released the last summer Keith was alive. I had put it on the playlist that became the soundtrack of the summer. “You can’t let me down now” sang Bonnie Raitt in another soulful tune that filled me with guilt and sadness for not having saved Keith from the pain he endured. Then there was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, a song that came out the year Keith and I were able to see them play live in concert.

These tunes and several others cause the air to slip out from my lungs momentarily, my heart to tighten in my chest. The difference now is that they don’t make me cry like they once did. The tightness lets go quicker and a soft smile slowly curves the corners of my mouth and I breath again, lovingly touched by the soul of my deepest connection in the spirit world.

There are times when I may also feel a bit irrational, where anxiety steps up and clenches my nerves tightly. Last fall I had been asked about going to a conference this winter. It was one that I had attended in March 2012 and co-presented with Ferris doctoral students along with the then president of the college where I work. It was in Philadelphia and I’d wanted Keith to join me but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been feeling all that well and felt the pressure of some work he needed to do. I wasn’t happy about his not feeling well, this uncured bronchitis or whatever it was. But he clearly didn’t have the energy to travel so I backed off. The conference, however, has somehow been cast in my mind as the “beginning of the end” for Keith.

So it was with a sudden attack of anxiety that I couldn’t immediately bring myself to register for this event when asked last October. Steven had had a health scare around the same time and I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years. Fortunately for Steven, the potential for liver problems was caught early enough and has led to him cutting way back on his alcohol intake and it has made a noticeable difference.

I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years.

Still, though the moment had passed, the anxiety over the association between this conference and losing a husband remained. Irrational, yes. But real enough that I put it off while still watching the deadline for the early bird registration. So when the moment came this week in a meeting with the VP to discuss conference travel, I was relieved when she supported my attending a different conference, one that would take place in Austin, Texas at the end of May. I would plan to take Steven so he could visit with his son, and I’d lead a contingent of faculty to the conference. It looked like something I could sincerely enjoy doing. The anxiety slipped away and replaced by a sense of giddy relief.

But then Dad mentioned the question asked by his lady friend: “Are you done grieving?” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The answer is: No. But life still moves forward and we must go with it, or risk losing the opportunity to live the life we’ve been blessed with to the fullest.

I’m sickened by today’s events in Charlottesville. I’m sickened by the tableau of nazi and white supremacist history being writ large and live in this day and age. I am sickened that the ideologies of hate and bigotry are so freely, loudly, and angrily shouted on the streets of America where so many years before, and even so recently, we believed this diseased torrid flesh-eating curse had finally been permanently banished. Yet this hate led to someone dying and others seriously hurt.

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Here’s another blogger’s response to the weekend’s events title My Fellow White Americans. And, sadly, I couldn’t agree more.

As I prepared to publish this, I came across a draft of an entry that I’d failed to publish shortly after the election. Yet as I re-read it now, I am deeply saddened that my fears have unfortunately been substantiated. Here it is, my previously unpublished post from last November.

Wrapping my head around a vote

written November 14, 2016

I just left a college-wide meeting where about 120 members of the campus community came together to talk about the election of Donald J. Trump and results of the most divisive election in modern history. Since that outcome of November 8th, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the disconnect and compartmentalization that describes how many people I know and care about – including colleagues, neighbors, and others – could vote for a candidate who spent 16 months spewing ever more vile rhetoric of hate, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Even more so, this same candidate chose not to demonstrate any scorn for those who perpetuated and even advanced this hate speech into action. Rather, he seemed to encourage it.

The kinder people I speak of are not racist. And I believe them. But then I’m left with a question of judgement. Did they hate Hillary so much more that they were willing to look past the comments of a person whose word-vomit and narcissism was decorated with the lacy fabric of… let’s just call it “crap”… the words are there and yet to repeat them gives them legs.

A consummate con, Trump is a showman whose singular goal is to get more views, more news coverage, more attention, regardless of how that happens. And somehow, nearly half the voters were able to swallow their own pride, set aside their own dearly-held values, and select a candidate whose con is only out-sized by his list of vile statements which emboldened a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic underbelly of America to come out of the woodwork. When is the last time a President was openly supported by the KKK or other white nationalist groups?

So I sat among colleagues who I hold great respect for, and even fondness, for we are, after all, a family of people committed to the common goal of changing the world through the success of our students. Yet, as I heard my well-intentioned co-workers from counseling offer ways of coping with anxiety – mostly intended for students in the room – I heard one of them, a kind-hearted white gentleman, finish his list of tips interspersed with the statement “because life will go on.” He had been doing so well… but then he went…there.

Life will go on? I guess. But in that one statement, he succeeded in diminishing the very real fears of many of the people in the room. Another colleague who I have often tapped to talk about cross-cultural dialogue and understanding took note of this statement. As a well-educated African American man, he knew the counseling and psychology phraseology. But he also knew what his own fears felt like. And he feared that life was not going to “go on” the same way for a long time. His pain was palpable and I felt a lump in my throat.

Sitting nearby was another colleague who I know to be gay, but he did not speak up. From his body language in response to an LGBT student’s expression of fear and concern countered with a defiant statement of hope, I could feel his pain, as well.

But then another colleague, an African American woman asked a variation of what I had already expressed via the microphone being passed around. How do I wrap my head around the fact that there are people I know who voted for this man in spite of the banner of hate that he waived? How do I resolve this conflict with people who accepted his hate, but then want to work with me? An unfulfilling answer came from a white male in the room who acknowledged his privilege but missed the point. He said we needed to just move past this and go on.

There it was again. Just move on.

Yep. Accept the fact that someone who has emboldened his most extreme followers to openly spew anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black crude, cruel, hate speech of the most deplorable kind, should be welcomed with open arms into the leadership of not only this country, but the free world? Accept that? Nope. Not at all.

I know that my male white colleague, and many people who voted for “the Don,” didn’t mean to vote for the vile crap that came along with his nonsensical campaign “speeches” and hyperbolic “big” promises. They may have been focused on only a few issues, one of them likely a palpable dislike for Hillary. I get it. She wasn’t my first choice, either. But she is highly experienced and well qualified for the job, regardless of the “email scandal” non-scandal that swirled around her campaign. I know that the people I call my friends, neighbors, and others I care about are caring people, too. And believe me, I hope above hope that I am wrong, that all the terrible things that the Don has unleashed will fizzle without doing permanent damage.

In the meantime, I don’t think “moving on” is quite the right term for what I – and many others – will be doing. Instead, we too, will become more emboldened to reach out to each other for support, for healing, to promote and hang tight to the values we hold dear, for love, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, celebration of differences, and…a brighter future. We will stand up to bullying, stand by our friends, step forward towards a more inclusive community.

 

Perhaps…maybe someday… we’ll even “move on.” Maybe after we have somehow managed to overcome this Pandora’s box of evil hate that I think we can all (mostly) agree is antithetical to the values of this nation, and close that horrid loathsome box shut again.


 

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Charlottesville, Virginia 8/12/17

8/12/17 – Unfortunately, far from “moving on,” it seems that the only way to fight evil is to face it head on, relentlessly, and without deviation. The opposite of evil is love. But today, evil is my enemy, and love for my fellow compassionate humans is my weapon of choice. – mjf

 

 

In the blog entry “My Mother Wasn’t Trash,” writer Joshua Wilkey shares his mother’s important and sensitive story about her life in poverty in Appalachia. It’s worth a read.

When people are eaten up mentally and physically by a lifetime of compounded shitty choices, they reach a point where they can’t even decide what is best anymore, because they realize that no matter what they do – no matter how hard they try – they are cogs in a broken machine and nobody cares about them anyway. Poor Appalachian people are broken, but not nearly as broken as the systems that keep them poor. 

Thank you, Joshua Wilkey, for bringing a voice forward to be heard.


When a terrible disease ravages someone you love, the mourning process begins long before they finally pass on. Kübler-Ross (1969), in her study on death and dying, described five stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But Kübler-Ross was initially focusing on those who were dying, and not so much on those who were dealing with personal loss of any great significance, which she later came to recognize.

These stages are not linear, either, and can occur in any order, if at all. Women tend to experience all five stages more than men. They can be cyclical, too, with two or more occurring in an almost extreme emotional roller coaster. For both the dying and the loved one, getting to the point of acceptance does not always happen at the same time. The dying often reaches the stage of acceptance before their loved ones. But if and when both reach the point of acceptance, where communication and reflection can be experienced, a more dignified death can be found.

I’d add a couple of additional stages, or at least notable elements, to the stages of pre (and post) grieving. That includes fighting to maintain control of the details in their lives. The opposite is the disruptive feeling of vulnerability when control is lost which can lead to related stages of despair and anger.

Another related stage involves trying to make order in one’s life. Especially when the world around you seems to be in chaos, small efforts to create order can take on an outsized importance. Cleaning out cupboards, putting away old records, sorting through old photos, are just a few example of how the person facing loss may attempt to build a sense of order in a life that seems otherwise out of control.

Recently, I heard this statement made by someone who is facing the inevitable loss of his longtime spouse who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve paraphrased it per my own cloudy memory.

I feel like I’m in a carnival outhouse sitting out in a field, and the circus is packing up to leave without me.

While he didn’t elaborate, he was trying to express his feelings regarding the situation he found himself in now. I’ve been thinking about this and cannot help but connect it to my own experiences and ruminations.

First and foremost, there is the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, of literally having your pants down in a crisis, or a formidable change that is going on around you. You’re stuck. It is hard to move forward without first finishing the primary business at hand. Panic sets in and it is hard to make decisions. Yet you’re also worried about being left behind, and by the act of moving to a new location – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and the unknown that comes with that. But even more so, it is a fear of being left behind by the ominously fast progression of a disease that robs you of the one you love, again mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The carnival/circus represents fetes of apparent magic, gravity-defying acts, seemingly impossible, often nonsensical, frightening in their dangerous distortions of human entertainment, and the funhouse mirrors that twist and distort our vision of reality.

The world around you no longer makes sense and you feel vulnerable, scared, afraid of being left behind, fearing for your loved one and a future you cannot envision without them. It literally scares the shit out of you… And yet you know you have to keep moving to survive. Because that’s your role here.

Of course, the circus could also represent your loved one, the person who was the highlight of your life, with which you shared the literal stage of life, it’s bright lights, music, the comedy and drama of a life fully shared. Either way, it all seems so unfair.

Anger rushes forward. Anger at what fate has thrown you, your loved one, the cruelty of the disease. There is no preferred or better way to die of a disease. Cancer kills the body slowly while eating away at the person. Alzheimers eats away the person while leaving the body to deteriorate at a slower rate, until the parts of the brain that operate the body begin to lose their synaptic connections.

Either way, these diseases are cruel – to the loved one who suffers them, and to the lover who must endure the pain of watching, of frustrating efforts to try and overcome the diseases’ manifestations, the cruel teases of normalcy and strength that suddenly appear and then, as a wisp in the winds, they disappear to the mists that hid the light in their eyes.

Whether you want to or not, you are, and will be… the survivor. The one who will carry the stories forward until they can be shared fully with a new generation. You will be needed by others who will benefit from your wisdom, humor, insights borne of long experience. The fates have determined that your place is here…in this world…where you are still needed.

The journey along side the dying of a loved one is dark and painful. But it also has its moments to be cherished. The fleeting glimpse of a smile, a flash of humor, the small gestures that show you are still connected to this loved one. You have been chosen for the honor of being beside them on this journey to the end of this life. You, however, will stay behind, their partner only until the gates of passage open to the other side. Until death do you part.

It sucks. It hurts so badly, the pain is physical, palpable. Breath… breath… You are still alive. And they will always be with you, and waiting on the other side to greet you when your turn comes, naturally, when the fates determine it to be so. In the meantime, treasure each moment with your loved one as a gift. Soon enough, there will be only memories that you will hold onto tightly, then share with others when the right time comes.

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