This, too, shall pass

Waves of grief wash over me after a simple thought enters my mind. I’m sitting in church, the safest of places, the warmest of warm, the haven for hope when suddenly a single thought snares my mind and slips through my facade. Now I’m crying. To the people close by, I am crying because the hymn we are singing strikes a chord with me. Not the case today though. I’m crying because a memory of my friend and co-worker Milyse entered my mind and I unravelled. I smiled carefully to myself as I felt the thought blossom and I thought I may be able to just think the thought and let it go. But that song, that song was my undoing. And then the pastor’s message. The pastor’s message was about death and the coming of the Lord. The message started last weekend when we started reading John, chapter 11 and we finished it today. I let the tears flow. I didn’t stop them. I bowed my head and stopping singing to let the words and love of God’s hymn wash over and through me. I stayed in that moment for the remainder of the song just to be in the present. I just needed to accept my grief and be right where I was in order to feel like I could move on. I stopped crying for brief moments until I felt Milyse’ spirit with me. Then the waves came crashing through me again. It was a good cry; the therapeutic kind that just comes from the center of your soul. I’m glad I can cry. I’m glad I listen to my heart. I’m grateful I have a church home where people will hug me and console me without trying to stymie the tears. I’m thankful for the connections I make with them as I cry and they hug me because they have a great way of following up with me in future weeks to see that I am well. I am so grateful.

We use so many sayings in society that are meant to ease the pain of one’s grief; “This too shall pass”, “I’m so sorry for your loss”, “Don’t dwell on it, just be grateful it was a peaceful death”, “They lived a good long, happy life”, “They aren’t in pain anymore”, “They’ve ascended to glory”, etc. In reality, those sayings are just said because we don’t know what else to say. We don’t talk about death at all, we just try to pacify the pain. But damn it, I want to talk about it! I want to talk about all the aspects of death that transcend my consciousness. I want to talk about how pissed off I am that the strong woman Milyse was is now relegated to a pile of sad, lonely ashes in a box tucked away inside a stone monument at a cemetery. I want to talk about the fact that Milyse was only 52 and died far too soon for my liking and that I am angry she won’t see another sunrise or coach another basketball game. I want to holler, scream, and yell about how angry I am at myself for not telling her how I felt about her while she was alive and that all I have is hope that she hears my cries in heaven. I want to talk about these aspects with people who can handle listening to the tough stuff. I am not a sissy about these things. I face them head on and get messy with it! I want to talk about the human side of death and not so much about the spiritual. Some may argue that this is where I go wrong and why I can’t heal faster from the number of people who have died in the last two years, but I feel like I need to just grab hold of this death concept and shake it until all the plinko chips fall into place for me. I absolutely despise death. I hate it. I fear it. I tremble at it. I know it’s a fact of life, but not one I am quick to accept. My spiritual self knows where I will go once I’m called home, but I am so far from ready for that. I have so much left that I want to do. So much life I want to live. So many dreams I want to see come to fruition. A son who I want to see graduate high school, go to college, fulfill his dreams, and become the man God intends him to be. I want to get married again one day and feel the warmth of love in my heart. I want so much. Yet I feel so fragile. All these great people who lived so wonderfully and loved the Lord have left the earth and left their dreams behind. They left their hopes, dreams, and loved ones behind. Not like it was their choice or anything…surely they wouldn’t have chosen to leave so soon if they’d had their way, but nonetheless, one moment here, the next moment ascended to glory. What saves me from this same fate? Absolutely nothing. I am not in control of this part of life and maybe that is what scares the shit out of me. As our pastor said today, “each breath you take, every heartbeat is only by permission of the Lord your God.” Life is so fragile. Too fragile. Yet, we are asked to live life fully. We can find inspirational quotes and wall hangings in any department store that speak to this, “Live the life you have imagined”, “Live, Love, Laugh”, and more. I want to live fully and I intend to do just that but in the meantime (ironically enough) I need to get over this being sad part of my life. Those who know me would likely say that I am the eternal optimist. I see the silver lining in all situations and I am a beacon of hope in the darkest of storms. But in my storms, in my dark times, who is my beacon? Who is my rock, upon whom shall I rest? Where shall I find hope when my hope is tattered and torn to itty bits? I don’t know. I don’t have this answer. If I did I would likely feel a lot better. But, in my current state, I have my God. And only my God. Now, in theory, this is fantastic. I have a strong, wise, omnipotent God who loves me and has died for me and my sins so that I can find my place in heaven alongside God. My spiritual self is comforted in this knowledge. My human side, the side which could use a strong hug and warm laugh shared with people who love and adore me, doesn’t feel so much comfort quite yet. I need. And I’m not a needer. I am a giver. The people in my life probably don’t understand how much I need right now. They don’t understand because this isn’t my usual modus operandi. I am the giver. I am the healer. I am the therapist. I am not the needer. Please know something, my lovelies, please know I need too. I am just as human as you when pain gets the best of me. I need phone calls and hugs and love even though I seem strong. Don’t placate me and don’t dismiss me. My sadness, when I feel it, is heavy and burdensome. I am not an easy person to have a conversation with because I go places people don’t like to go. But be brave for me. Let’s go deep and get to the root of all things so I can heal. Let’s dig right down to the heart of the matter and suss out all the messy details together. And I promise, if you go there with me, I will bring you back safe and sound. I just need to travel with a person to the edges of my understanding. I need to contemplate all the many wonders of a subject and explore the unturned stones usually more than once. Sometimes I don’t trust my travels alone. I need company and another brain to go with me as a compass for the navigation. Traveling at night is scary if you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ll end up. It’s called the buddy system for a reason.

I’m just not good at this part of life — accepting death. It’s so contrary to all that I am and all that I believe in. Hysterical in some ways, right? Sounds foolish to me as I sit here and type it while I shake my head and grin sheepishly. I know better, yet here I am, in an existential dilemma because people I care about have died and I didn’t give them permission to do so. God, I’m shaking my head at you, but I’m praying for your patience with me while I get right about this. Loved ones, be present for me. Be with me as I travel this road of uncertainty and too many questions. Let me be the needer during this time and you take your turn in giving. I don’t ever ask for it, but just this once, will you try to give back to me? I need strength to be restored to me. If all you have to give is prayer, I will be grateful. If you have more, I will be indebted.

This, too, shall pass.

Mournfully,

The Repressed Peach

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Grief

I decided long ago that death and dying was a concept I was not ok with. I hated to think about death much less talk about it. I would cry every time I would think of someone I loved being mortal and the inevitable truth that I would have to face their death at some point in my lifetime. Yet, grief is very real and very raw. Grief is hard and it’s a struggle in so many ways. I know a lot about grief now and I’m none too happy about it.

My bachelor’s degree is in Social Psychology and my master’s is in Community Counseling. In my undergrad program I didn’t have to face the concept of death too often and if I did, I managed to hold it together behind the screen of a computer as I was taking many of my classes online. Then I started my masters program. I faced death and dying in my first weeks of school. It was unsettling and I questioned God about why people needed to die. Why do you take us home so soon? Why is our time on earth so brief? What about all the work people have left to do God, they aren’t done yet! I didn’t have to wait too long before I came face to face with death and dying. I wasn’t ready though.

The rug was pulled out from under my feet as I laid face first in a pile of tears in front of my professor and classmates while I watched a heart wrenching counseling service video of a little boy whose mother had died of an aneurysm in the garage while he played inside the house. He went to check on mom and in the video he says he tried to open the door but her head was blocking it. She was dead in the garage. He was alive and alone in the house. He was nine years old. I was a complete mess. The video ended and I excused myself from the classroom while I tried to get myself together. Well, naturally, and as it should be in a counseling program, my professor urged me to discuss my tears and my emotions and, more importantly, why they were so out of control. I didn’t have a great explanation, but I attempted something along the lines of “I just don’t understand why little people have to deal with such sadness so soon in their life. Doesn’t God understand that little boys and girls need their mommies and daddies here on earth and not in heaven?” It seems so childlike now as I look back on the experience, but I was just about 30 years old and my son was four at the time. I didn’t like death. I didn’t like the concept of losing people who were close to me and I wasn’t ready to concede to God that I know He has a plan. All I could think is that there just isn’t enough time…time goes so fast and I never know when it will be the last time I see someone I love and adore. I was challenged in the classroom by my professor to reach past my fear and dive into my issues.

My program, like so many others, requires internship. I was counseling with supervision for over a year in various settings one of which came to include The Children’s Bereavement Center in San Antonio, Texas. I decided to put my big girl panties on and face my fears and try to see the bright side of such sadness. I wasn’t prepared for the lessons I would learn there. I didn’t know then that my experience and training would help me in my personal life more than it ever would in my professional life. I didn’t know so much, but I learned quickly.

The first lesson was that, in grief, there is hope and happiness. I never knew so much genuine happiness could come from some of the most brokenhearted. It was amazing to work with such incredible families and counselors, to be in a home that captured love, light, and peace as though it were a butterfly net, to be at the center of sadness but in the warmest of places ever created on earth. The Bereavement Center is one of the happiest places on earth. What irony. Irony catapulted me into facing my fears and forced me to see what grief really was and, more importantly, what it wasn’t. Grief has a mask of its own that each person wears so differently. Some hide behind grief, some wear it on their sleeve, others create magic from their hearts in various forms. I worked at the Bereavement Center for about ten months and then my time was done. I was to graduate in December 2010 and move on to new ventures.

Grief will strike home in less than two years. November 2012, a sweet boy I knew, named Jaxon, dies of brain cancer at the tender age of five. November 2012, a grad school classmate’s husband, Cody, dies at the age of 28 of brain cancer. December 2012, a grad school classmate whom I sat next to for many semesters dies suddenly and tragically from a brain aneurysm. Melissa was only 28. December 2012, an Army veteran, professional counselor, professional bodybuilder, funny man of the funny men, and a co-facilitator at the Bereavement Center with me, Dominic, commits suicide after a tragic bout of PTSD and relationship issues. I lost four people in the span of a month. I was devastated and angry. Confused and shocked. I couldn’t imagine how the people closest to them felt, because I was a wreck.

As if that weren’t enough, I faced yet another loss in March 2013. One of my students at the time, Raynord, died in a car accident after writing his epitaph in my English class the day he died. The writing prompt was, “If today were the last day of your life, what legacy would you leave behind? How would you want to be remembered?” He died in that car accident less than 10 hours later.

I couldn’t have imagined this amount of grief and loss in such a short time in my life. I couldn’t imagine being happy when it was so sad to lose too many young people with such great lives yet to live. I kept questioning why. I kept thinking, if them, then why not me? What protects me from the same fate? What would my son do if I were to die? How would his life change without me in it everyday? And what about him…what protects him from being free of terminal illness and dying too young? How would I even be able to wake up in the morning if I were to lose him. I shook off the uglies and I prayed. I prayed for faith. I prayed for answers. I prayed for comfort.

Another round of grief struck as my grandfather died in December 2013. He was so sick in so many ways. He had everything wrong with him except cancer and he had lived a good long life. He was 82 and died peacefully in his sleep at home with my grandmother holding his hand.

I thought our 2013-2014 school year would be the best one yet as we hadn’t lost any students, but then in May 2014, right at the end of our school year, we lost Kiana. She was a former student, 16 years old, and just three months pregnant when she was shot and killed in a driveby shooting. The retaliation was from a rival gang which caught her in the midst of the shooting. She wasn’t the intended victim. I recently learned that the young man claiming responsibility for the shooting committed suicide about three weeks ago. So many lives lost so soon. Too young. Too much potential for greatness. But, their names were called by God and he brought them home. The community was angered and afraid. I was, again, a sorrow-filled woman questioning my God.

I haven’t healed from those losses yet to deal with another, but today, I am faced with it. Today, my friend and co-worker, Milyse Lamkin, was sent to God on wings of doves. She died August 28th after battling cancer like the warrior she was. She was such an amazing woman. A woman whose tenacious spirit infected those around her. She was young too, only 52, and healthy other than the stupid cancer that invaded her body without invitation. She was an athlete and a coach. She was a mentor and a friend. She radiated common sense and understanding while holding strong to her values and opinions. She was fearless like no other woman I have ever known. She was a legend in the community and, quite honestly, everywhere she went. She was an alumna of the high school where we worked together for the last three years. She was our Lady’s Head Basketball Coach and a special education teacher. She supported me in my classroom last school year and helped me see some areas for improvement. She helped me with students who were difficult to raise. She helped me recognize faults within myself as a woman and a human being. She wasn’t my closest friend, but oh, how I wish she would’ve and could’ve  been. I was afraid she would see right through me. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be good enough. I was afraid I would be swallowed whole by the woman whom I wanted so badly to be my mentor. She wasn’t a jerk or anything, I was just a coward.

My tears today are mostly for her. But many more of them are for me. I have chapped and sad, swollen eyes because I was such a coward. I lost someone who I admired for all the right reasons but I didn’t get enough time with. She was the iconic woman. Always dressed the best. Always calm when the heat was on and a fighter when it was time to fight. I will miss her so much. I am grateful for the time we did share though. The many long conversations in my classroom after my students moved to their next class. Grateful for the moments when she would share her struggle with cancer and pray for me to excuse her memory with words while she dealt with radiation for the brain cancer. Little did she know, she needed no permission from me to be fallible because she just wasn’t. Never.

I will forever remember her beautiful face and warm smile. I will work hard to carry on and work for the students she devoted her life to. I will continue to live a life that will be a legacy once I die, but will pale in comparison. I will move forward with her in my heart. She and everyone else who has been near and dear to me will stay in the warm comfortable places of my heart.

Death hasn’t been easier, I have only learned to understand it better and have deeper faith in my creator. I struggle with each new loss as though it were the first. I cry. I fuss. I fight. I lose sleep while I toss and turn. The only comfort I find is in knowing that God has these souls on His right hand. The have been called to glory and are free from the mortal bonds. Free and free at last.

Rest in sweet peace my loves. I miss you all. I will see you one day, but until then, watch out for me, have my back in this life and teach me how to be a better person. I will seek guidance from each of you in my daily goings.

With love,

The Repressed Peach

A work of progress

I have long thought that perfectionism was a virtue and that I was going to master it. Recently, I have learned otherwise. I am not going to perfect perfectionism, not even close. I am a constant work of progress. Indulge me a few moments to fill you in.

What I once used as survival techniques to get through a challenging childhood I held on to through the early years of adulthood. I didn’t realize I didn’t need to use those sharp tools anymore. I didn’t need to wield my mighty sword and slay dragons because dragons were no more. I was free of those burdens but in the meantime, I hadn’t learned how to deal with a whole new world and a whole new me that didn’t need to fight for life, for a future, for hope. The battle was won and I was free to live fully. I just didn’t know it.

At age 21, the Air Force had beckoned my name and I enlisted. I still didn’t know how to live a good life but what I was doing up to the point I signed the dotted line definitely wasn’t working well. So I changed. I did something different. One thing I’ve always been good at is realizing when I’m not getting the results I expected.

As an Airman Basic, a smidgen older than the majority of the young adults who had joined alongside me, yet I was not much better off in knowing how to speak to people and represent myself without sounding like a jerk. I was a diamond in the rough. A huge chunk of proverbial coal that needed to go a couple rounds in the rock tumbler to knock some sharp edges off. And my work of progress was catapulted into full speed ahead. I’ve had many mentors along the way. Some people took the liberty to love me and help me grow while others couldn’t care less for me and they too helped me grow. I was determined to realize my full potential in life as well as in the military. I needed perfection. I needed acceptance. I needed to be ok. As a result, I learned my job very quickly and became a well-recognized ophthalmic technician across the globe. I was an expert in my field by all accounts. I was not perfect yet though. I had a lot more to learn and more I wanted to accomplish.

And then I became a wife and a mom. My ideals of how life would go changed. The picture of perfection became a more skewed, adulterated concept and I started to abandon the idea altogether. I was just going to do what was good and necessary and life would be ok. I was wrong. Perfectionism is wrong too, let me be clear about that, but just doing enough isn’t enough either.

As I’ve aged I’ve become more aware of myself and my place in the world. I long for feedback which helps me grow, but my source of feedback has changed. I seek wisdom and guidance from my Lord. I don’t seek approval from my peers or supervisors as much as I once did. And I am humbled by the constant ebb and flow of my energy and drive to be a better version of myself. I realize more clearly now than ever before, perfectionism is for wimps and the weak of heart. As a relatively new teacher, I have not perfected my craft. I have a lot of work to do to become a fantastic teacher. As a single mom, I don’t play with my son enough and I forget things that he wishes I would remember. I don’t forget on purpose, I just don’t know all the things that are important to him yet. As a Christian woman, I don’t have all the answers and certainly don’t have my scriptures memorized. I can’t even tell you what chapter of the bible certain stories are in! I criticize, I judge, I break rules and I am still a bit too sharp-tongued at the most inopportune times. While I do many things well, I am nowhere near perfect.

Perfectionism says I am good enough right now and forevermore so hold your peace. Perfectionism declares change is not necessary, and more importantly, irrelevant, because one will be devolving rather than evolving meaning that being perfect doesn’t lend itself to growth. I am definitely no longer a perfectionist. I am most definitely a person in search of new versions of myself and am eager to write new chapters in my life. I am just a constant work of progress.

Progressively yours,
The Repressed Peach