Eulogy Podcast

One year ago this morning, I lost my fiancĂ©, Ted Welles​. The past year has been the most tumultuous and lonely journey I never knew imaginable. I truly feel that through the love and the loss of Ted, I’ve experienced every emotion and its opposite: extreme highs clashed with harrowing lows. I’ve felt depression, rage, guilt, disparity, jealousy, hatred, and plummeting darkness – yet I’ve also felt empathy, love, gratitude, connection, gentleness, patience, and even a very few and far-between moments of bliss. At times, I’ve been brutally open and at others, fearfully introverted. On some days, I feel his spirit – and on others, I don’t. But no matter where Ted is or where he is not, he continues to teach me lessons about this blessed thing we call life, every single day.

I no longer believe that time is linear. I no longer believe that the past is any less of a fantasy than the future. I no longer believe that we are constrained by the vessel we call a body that we are given for this lifetime. I believe in a deeper, interconnected nexus – a web that links space, time, life, and emotion. And mostly, I believe in love. My love for Ted continues to grow drastically each day that I live without him physically by my side.

As a step in the process of my own healing, an offering to you, and a tribute to Ted – I’ve created a podcast based on the writing I have done over the past year. Recording these episodes lately has taken me back to those first moments after traumatic loss and viscerally reminded me of what’s important in life… and what’s not. Eulogy memorializes our story together, my vulnerable path through grief, and the sage of a man with whom I share such deep love.

Hug your loved ones today – with two arms, extra tight.

For Jennifer

I went to sleep late on Monday night. I lay awake in bed at 1:45 a.m. with the reading light on overhead. I still think of it as Ted's reading light... on his side of the bed. As I readied myself for sleep, I noticed the light was acting up. It was dimming lighter and darker, lighter and darker. When I would stop and look, the light seemed to stop. And when I looked away, it would dim again. Freaked out, I called Kevin to come look at it. While we both thought it was strange, we passed it off as a electrical glitch and turned off the light. I went to sleep.

Late in the Summer of 2014, I was making coffee in the kitchen when I got a call from my mother. I sensed heaviness in her voice immediately, or maybe she had sent me a cryptic text so I expected bad news before even answering the phone, I can't remember the details but I knew it was bad. She informed me that our dear friend, essentially family, Jennifer Rockwood had been terminally diagnosed with cancer with maybe just months to live. This news was sudden and shocking. I had been blessed with living a mostly grief-free life up until that year. First my grandmother in the Spring of 2014, and now this news. I was devastated.

Jennifer was without a doubt the most "alive" woman I knew. How could she be dying? I cried. Ted held me. And then, just a couple months later, Ted died. I went home to Toledo for the holidays, cloaked in grief and confusion. And Jennifer held me.

Jennifer and her husband John have been two of my parents closest friends since sometime in the 1970s. My mom, Jenny, and Rayna were all pregnant at the same time, two or three times in a row. Decades of family potlucks, vacations, swim meets, school plays, and summer camps ensued. Between the three families, there were 7 boys... and me. Long before Jennys' sons Ian and Julian married beautiful women and Jenny finally had daughter-in-laws, she claimed that I was her 'adoptive' daughter. I remember her telling me that when I was very young. Jenny was the coolest, so obviously I was beyond honored that she wanted ME as the 'daughter' she'd never had. Ever since then, I felt a kindred spirit with Jenny – like we had a secret. I continued to always admire her unabashed glamour, her robust personality, her dramatic presence, her rockstar edginess, and her automatic role as the life-of-the-party. I sought to be like her as I grew up.

When I went home to Toledo last winter after Teddy passed, much of me resisted going, yet a huge pull towards home was that I needed to see Jenny. On my first night back, despite my own spirals, I met Jenny for dinner. You could hardly tell she was sick, her thinness was the only sign. As usual, she was vivacious and full of spirit (and spirits)! During dinner that night, while watching her throw back vodkas and hearing her belly-laughs echoing through the dark room, I remember feeling an ounce of nostaligic happiness. You see, I didn't feel happiness back then; so when I felt the emotion creep up, it was painfully hard to ignore.

Also that night, Jenny told me me that she did not believe in life after death. She did not believe in energy continuing on. She believed that death was the end of it all. So, she would live big until her end. Jenny's perspective was hard for me. My whole life had just been crumbled and I was rebuilding it on the faith in something bigger. I needed that faith. And, in my opinion, so did she. I bought Jenny a book to change her mind. I don't know if she ever read it. But in truth, as I look back, it was my own fear that felt the need to make her believe. I didn't want to hear her doubting, because what if I doubted?

Despite the difference of opinions, I asked Jenny a huge favor.

I asked that if she was wrong, and that when she passed she learned that indeed there was something after this realm, to let me know. I asked her to find Ted over there, wherever 'there' was, and to send me a sign. She agreed; although I knew it was just to be nice, because she didn't believe.

I woke up Tuesday morning with the news that around 1:45 a.m., the same time that my lights had been flickering, Jenny had passed away. I called my mom. Our conversation was brief because a call came in. My phone acted weird and I missed the call. I set my phone on the counter and before I could turn away the screen started to move. Buttons were pressed as if someone was operating the screen, but nobody was. The search page pulled up and letters were typed in as I stared, "W. A. L..." Then, the imaginary hand scrolled the cursor down, clicked on something and iTunes popped up. I don't use iTunes, and have almost no music synced to it, but somehow a song appeared that I didn't own, "Walking Far From Home" by Iron & Wine started to play. I stood and listened. I felt tears on my cheeks. I felt a knowingness. I felt a shiver of energy. I felt like I was getting a hug.

In the early days, weeks, and months after Ted passed many strange things happened – lights flickering, TVs turning on, electronics acting up, songs playing, animals appearing at opportune moments, weird things showing up in photos... the amount of occurrences was so large that I simply could not overlook them as coincidence or happenstance. Also, I didn't want to. It is often discovered that after a loved one passes on, they hang around for a while. They show their presence in different ways. I remember being scared by the way the energy appeared sometimes, like when I would feel it while lying alone in bed. I remember deciding that Ted didn't really know how to control his new state and that his ways of communicating were awkward or creepy. But I was still thankful that he was communicating.

As time has apparently continued (though my perception of 'time' is a whole other subject in itself) I have become less aware of these energetic happenings. Maybe Ted's place in the realm he is in now is more settled. He no longer has as much of a pull towards tinkering with where I am. Also, perhaps I am less open to noticing his paranormal tickles. I'm hardened. And my sadness has progressed to a constant numbness, versus a frantic hysteria. I now live with sorrow, instead of for sorrow.

Time creeps towards the anniversary of Ted's death, now just a few weeks away. I don't care what calendars and clocks and scientists say, this year was without-a-doubt shorter than all of my thirty other years. On Monday night, when the lights began to dim, and the next morning, when my phone played that song, I again felt that familiar bittersweet nostalgia. I again felt that rush of lively, effervescent, unseen energy. I was reconnected to my own faith in the deeper web between us and the others. Jenny, in her playful exit from this place and her stubborn realization that perhaps she was wrong and there was more, reopened a door that I had turned my back to. She sent me the sign I had asked her for, and she reminded me of the beautiful magic that coincides with devastating loss.

The house feels particularly energized now. It's as though if I touch something, I'm more likely to get a static shock. A year ago, it felt eerie. But now, it feels comforting.

While I am heartbroken by Jenny's passing and particularly for those who now feel consuming loneliness without her, I also find comfort in knowing that the cosmic web just got a whole lot more charged. When a big life leaves here, that energy is consumed by what see as 'empty space' – but what is actually a plenum of the exact opposite.

So now, as I continue my countdown towards the sad anniversary that I am trying so hard not to anticipate, I will be more open to the magic. Jenny has unblocked a channel that allows me to feel closer to Ted. Her death and continuing life has helped cleared of the filter of judgement and doubt that I contend with in my ego-mind and my humanness. I find a sense of solace as she wraps her energetic, mother-like arms around me, her 'daughter,' allowing me to see into the eyes of my soulmate, and my truth.


Walking Far From Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg5403yj4II

In loving memory of Jennifer Rockwood (1951-infinity)

Bittersweet

A child has become silent as heaven birthed a new angel. Just hours after I wrote about little Bennett's courageous fight for life – he passed on. While his spirit displayed relentless courage, his kidneys lost their power. It's a fresh reminder that in this life our survival is fused with the body. In the end, we do not own our body – it is merely on lease. From the earth our body will rise and back to the earth it will descend. It is the cycle. Yet part of the cycle is continuance: from the soil that our body returns to, life begins again. Whether we fuel the blossom of a flower or tiny particles that once again return to the womb – new life is fertilized by old. And that is just the physical body. I believe that souls traveling without bodies fill the space around us. The air that appears empty to our naked eye, science shows is actually a plenum. It's when I lost touch with you as a physical soul that I was able to see your spirit glitz and shimmer in the space around me – magic, love, and memory filling what I previously thought was a void. In the immediate days and weeks following your death, I often saw strange lights, unearthly movements, and fractal shapes in places where I had always seen solidity. Because I was raw, I was open. With rawness, comes an ability to see things that our trained minds stopped seeing long ago – connection with other layers and realms beyond human comprehension. It was faith flirting with me. "Believe in more," she said. And because I was seeing the unbelievable and because I had no energy not to, I chose to believe.

Every evening before you and I went to sleep, we offered our nightly gratitudes as we closed the blinds overlooking the city-lights of Boulder and the acres of majestic mountains over which we reigned. The first night I was back in our bed after you died, Kevin came into the room and sat with me as I continued that ritual of thanks, even in a moment when thankfulness seemed impossible. There have been days (and weeks) when I simply don't open the blinds so that I can avoid my gratitude prayer, but mostly – I still keep this ritual. Yesterday morning, my first day back in my bed after ten days in Oklahoma, I opened the blinds. The beauty that unfolded as the blinds lifted took my breath away. I had to remind myself it was not a postcard, it was as real as is humanly possible.

Last night, after I'd received the news of Bennett's death, I sat on the phone with Kevin for a long time. He shared the experience of his day with me. His voice was heartbroken and his sobs were real, but he knew that Bennett's death was both bitter and sweet. This sweet child spent two-and-a-half of his three-years fighting a battle with a terminal condition. He had fought his battle and won it with graceful surrender. Kevin shared the story of what, through his words and my lens, was a truly peaceful passing. A crossing over where the whole family was there, where there was time for good-byes, and during which Kevin played guitar and sang Bennett's favorite song as he took his last struggled breaths in his body and his first in freedom. Earlier in the evening, when I knew the respirator had been removed and Bennett's last moments were near, I imagined you – an angel – kneeling, beaming smile, and arms wide open... ready to catch Bennett in a huge, loving hug. At the end of our phone conversation, as I closed the blinds in my bedroom, we said what we were grateful for. "A peaceful passing," Kevin said. "Yes. And I'm grateful Teddy has a new friend up there now," I said, guiltily noticing envy's pinprick.

Death is not peaceful to living. What we don't understand, we choose to reject. In some ways, I've come to accept death. With the passing of this poor child, I see that death can be a untroubled destination. Death can be a gentle surrender. It can catch those who struggle with peaceful and loving wings. With you, death plucked you suddenly and unfairly – you were not ready for it. None of us were ready. But sometimes, death can be more gracious. Death can offer relief. That doesn't mean the loss is any less painful, horrifying, or confusing. I don't undermine the suffering, trauma, or grief that will ensue. I don't compare. I simply offer a death an apology for my hatred of him, a loosening up of the reigns. I see that he can be both bitter and sweet.

My deepest condolences go out to Bennett's parents and family. I admire his mother Aimee's dedication and undying love for her son. A mother that could love so deeply that she held her child as he died naturally, instead of coerce him to live a little bit longer, in unconscious torture. Her selfless acceptance of his fate warmed my empty womb. I'm thankful for the heartfelt conversations we shared over the past couple weeks as we sat by Bennett's bedside. We talked about grief and suffering through the lenses of both the struggling and the departed. We talked about how strength doesn't apply during tragedy, it's surrendering to instinct. Healing wishes and tremendously big hugs go to my dear friend, Kevin. I will be here as his ally and his support as he boards a train of grief while he is still congruently riding on another. My prayers of peace travel to little Bennett as he relinquishes the grip on his spent body, takes his place as an angel, and lets his spirit twinkle in the air we breathe.

Living, not dying

After a particularly dark April, in early May I gave myself a tiny bit of permission to feel better. I was over the guilt, self-harm, hangovers, anxiety, and tunnel-vision of dark clouds. It is easier said than done, this permission to heal – especially when gloominess had become my warm blanket, darkness had allowed me to not look at myself, and self-harm had given me the ability to hide my anger in sloppy camouflage.

In order to make this shift, I had to make a commitment to the hardest person for me to commit to – myself.

I knew that this work would have a benefit outside of simply my own well-being (when you’re in pain, sometimes your own well-being just isn’t enough). When I feel clear and in-touch with my truth, I also feel closer to you – your memory and your spirit. I have less isolation and more connection. I have less doubt and more faith. When I believe in me, I believe in you. We were like that in life, and in death, that remains.

So I did the things that make me feel healthy. I went to yoga every day; sometimes two or three times a day. I did a cleanse. I stopped drinking alcohol and started drinking vegetables. I abstained from settling into my well-marked dent on the couch and avoided media overkill. I woke up and went to sleep at decent times. I allowed the sun to shine on my body. I looked into the eyes of animals and happy people and let them in rather than hating their joy. I carefully avoided situations and relationships that would plummet me into the wrong direction. I gave myself a mantra, “Let your light shine.” I repeated it all the time.

These practices may sound simple: health, exercise, nature, surroundings, affirmations, rainbows, unicorns, blah, blah, blah... But when one is coming from intense grief, it’s not easy to do the right thing.

The day I chose to get better, I told my roommate Kevin about my decision.

Kevin, the one person who was there that night. The one who has seen me in the darkest ruts of this grief. The one who has held me day after day, night after night, week after week, month after month while I scream and wail. The one who has taken emotional beatings from my misdirected anger and confusion (and still claims to like me). The one who shares the same space as me. He is a constant reminder that I am not the only one missing you. He walks the same halls of ghostly memories. Like me, he still can’t move your shoes from beside the door or box up a single one of your items. He too turns the doorknobs that weren’t supposed to open to the emptiness that is now cast on the other side. He too suffers unexpected triggers, tears, and panic attacks from what we witnessed that night. Kevin, bound together by trauma, walls, and deep love for someone who's no longer there. He's often the only person I can stand to be around and the only one I'm willing to let see me in this state.

When I told Kevin about how I was going to allow myself to heal, I could see the relief on his face. But because he’s smart and forgiving, he looked at me and said, “I am so proud of you. And know that if you sidestep or slip backwards, it is OK. It's a process.” His words were like a dare to the perfectionist within me. Don’t screw up. Prove that you can heal. So I tried my damnedest.

I had a trip to Hawaii planned at the end of May. Throughout my ‘healing process’ I set my eyes on the approaching trip as a pending deadline. I wanted to be in the best possible head-space when I got there. I had several days planned to spend with family in Honolulu – which I knew would be both lovely and exhausting. After, I had several days planned to travel on Kauai – alone – which was absolutely, fucking, horrifying.

I arrived to Honolulu feeling strong. I felt connected to myself, to nature, to family. I saw my big brother, who I admire more than I have ever expressed – and who reminds me more of you than anyone else I know. I spent time with my nieces, who I unfortunately never truly have taken the initiative to build deep relationships with. I took hours each day to spend alone, preparing myself for the upcoming solo travel. I went to yoga everyday and opened myself up to new teachers, albeit the short stay. I lived in each moment, truly. I ate enough raw Ahi for the both of us. I watched as my niece graduated from high school. I allowed nostalgia to creep into my veins. I allowed bittersweet tears to flow as my mind drifted to the festivities that we would never get to celebrate, and the family we will no longer create together. I let the anxiety attacks wash over me and drag me as though I was a surfer caught in the undertow. But I knew that I would rise up and take another breath. I told people (and myself) what I needed. Moreover, I was actually able to see and define what I needed. I was proud of myself.

The moment I arrived in Kauai, I knew I’d made the right choice in going there. I had feared the trip. Why would I choose to visit one of the most romantic honeymoon destinations in the world on my own, buried in grief? I hate being alone – especially when I hate myself. But, by the time I got there, I didn’t hate myself. I loved myself.

On my drive from the airport to my hotel in my rental car, multiple serendipitous things happened. A song I was thinking about played. A funny metaphor I was daydreaming about spelled itself out in front of me. Time felt like it stood still. I drove too many miles in too short of time, without speeding. As I drove, I admired the lushness of the island around me. The islands of Hawaii are young in comparison to so much of our Earth. Luscious verdure blossomed from black volcanic ash. The island is a phoenix. As I studied the beautiful landscape, I could see the plants breathing – inhales and exhales through the murmur of the wind. It was nearly a psychedelic experience. The whole island whispered, ‘Life!’

I woke up with the sun and spent my days basking in her light. I breathed heat into my body and let it warm my bones; they had become brittle through the bleak winter. I swam in the ocean without the fear I had always carried while submersed in her. I surrendered to her power and vastness. As I swam, I asked you to be with me. “Show me a sign that you’re here too,” I hoped. Amidst the waves and current, I relinquished a need to control myself. I watched schools of colorful fish careen in perfect formation, cautious of the food chain and allowing the undertow to guide their path. I swam amidst a group of three sea turtles, each weighing more than I and probably double my age. I yielded and I witnessed. I tried to learn what they had to teach me, “Slow down. Lie low. You have time.” I dove down deep and swam far out. Deeper and farther than any other snorkelers I saw. It was not an attempt to be perilous, but an acceptance that I was a part of something bigger. I gave the ocean a proposal of my curiosity and need for wonder. I let the pressure build in my ears, clearing repeatedly so I could dive further down. I explored dark caves and cold crevices far under the surface. I thought about you as a man. You had sensitive sinuses and chronic ear infections. I knew you wouldn’t be down that far with me if you were still alive and swimming along my side. I felt grateful that you could be there with me in spirit instead.

At one point I realized I’d been in the water for a very long time and was more tired then I'd realized. I made my way towards the shore, but the best route was hidden from my perspective. As it often it. A shallow reef was quite close and waves were breaking upon it. I had to use powerful strokes to swim through a narrow channel and avoid getting slammed onto the coral. I’m a strong swimmer and had already made peace with the ocean, but it was a rush. I arrived on the shore, somewhat beached. I was winded. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something large on the sand. I rubbed the salt out of my eyes and blinked a few times. A very still, very large seal had also washed up on the shore, just feet away.

My heart sank. Lifelessness is too familiar for me these days. Unfortunately, my loss has caused me to assume the worst. Tears welled. How could this dazzling experience, so fueled in the reminders of plentiful life, end in me lying on the sand with this giant, perished creature? Moments later, the endangered monk seal lazily flapped his flipper onto his belly and rolled onto his back. He was sunning himself on the sand. He was warming his chilled bones, just like I had been. And he too, had let life take him for a ride.

I chose to believe in all the signs. The wave I shared with the seal, the lesson from the turtles, the shocking bright color of fish set against what seemed to be such a deep and dark canvas, the wispy seaweed, the growing coral… it was all so abundant. Each element, pulsing to the beat of the great ocean’s heartbeat. By slipping into the mystery of what is below I became more connected to what’s above.

I noticed a new-found comfort in solitude while embraced by the island. But it was because I wasn’t really alone. More like, alone, but with training wheels. The island was throbbing with life. From a buzzing mosquito to a couple of chatty tourists on their third mai-tai, it was a constant reminder how how very not alone I was. And yet, when the bugs buzzed and travelers talked, I found myself needing more space away from them, and into me.

I read a book about a twisted love story in the midst of a magical circus. It set the scene for my own spellbinding narrative. I rode on a helicopter to get the birds-eye view of this fantasy island I was having a love-affair with. I visited secret enclaves and deserted beaches. I hiked eight menacing miles to a three-hundred foot waterfall. When I got to it, I stripped down and jumped in the cold pool it poured into. I swam directly under the pounding chutes of water and let the pure island water cleanse my soul. I swam with your ashes cupped in my palm to that spot under the falls and I sprinkled them around me. They sparkled in the water as it baptized me and carried you.

After several days, I boarded my plane back to the mainland. Albeit many shades tanner, I came back a lighter version of myself. I felt radiant. And for the first time in seven months, I felt joyful. My joy didn't arrive as a result of my solitude. It arrived because I felt you were there with me. I knew it. I saw life and it reconnected me to the big picture.

I came home on a Friday. I hugged Kevin tightly when he picked me up from the bus. Despite the joy of my solo adventure, I had missed my best friend. That night, I danced with friends at Red Rocks to two of your favorite funk bands. You were there too. I heard you in the music. I felt you in the raindrops that fell on my skin. They had evaporated from the waterfall in Kauai and traveled east to land on me, a glittering reminder of the cycles.

---

I thought my story would stop there: A recap of my therapeutic journey. An advertisement for the healing values of Hawaii. A happy ending. But it doesn't.

Once you are reminded that you are indeed alive, life takes you for a ride.

---

Early Saturday morning, after the night of dancing at Red Rocks, Kevin opens my bedroom door. He starts speaking in sobs. I register the panic in his tone before my eyes even opened. There had been an emergency with his 3-year old nephew. He was near death. Kevin needed to fly home immediately.

There has been a pattern for Kev and I through this traumatic saga. Often, when I'm up, he's down. When he's feeling strong, I'm falling apart. We know that we can count on the other to be a shoulder to cry on, a set of ears to listen without judgement, and a hand to hold when we need comfort.

As I was off frolicking through palm trees and coral reefs, Kevin had been struggling through a dark place in Boulder. By the time I got home from Hawaii, he was ready to have his ally back. So when the call came in that morning and Kev arrived at my doorway in tears, the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm coming with you." "Thank you," his voice broke with a hint of relief. We've been through death together once and it has nearly killed us. I wasn't about to let him go through it again – much less alone.

And so life grabbed by the shoulders and dropped me off five-hours later in the Oklahoma University Pediatric ICU at the bed of a child – intubated and in a coma.

I hadn't been to a hospital since the night you died. The sound of an ambulance or the flash of a siren can throw me into panic. And yet here I was.

Kevin's nephew, Bennett, struggles from a rare mitochondrial disease called Pearson's Syndrome. Among other things, it makes his kidneys and immune system struggle severely, leaving him extremely susceptible to infection and illness. Over the last year, little Bennett has had his left foot amputated after a small scratch grew to massive infection on his big toe, chemo and a bone marrow transplant after a leukemia diagnosis, and more. The week before, while I was still in Hawaii, Bennett had been admitted to the PICU after a cold had turned to pneumonia. That Friday night, as Kevin and I had been dancing with our friends in Denver, Bennett had thrown up and aspirated (inhaled) it into his weakened lungs. He was hanging on by a thread. Kevin's family had simply hoped he would make it in time to say goodbye. We did, and so far have had no need for goodbyes.

Over the next ten days, Bennett made improvements like a game of chess – for every step forward, it seemed like a step back. But, while he remains intubated and heavily sedated, it seems the child will make it. Even though during my time with him I only got to know him through his vital signs, his PICC lines, and his medications, I can see that he is a fighter.

Much to my surprise, being at the hospital, at the whim of others and as a stronghold for those who needed one continued to help me in my own healing. I felt necessary and helpful – which is comforting to me. And also, I continued to see life. With every heartbeat on the screen and every squeeze of his blood pressure, I watched Bennett pull towards living versus dying. I watched family, community, and faith join hands in support and prayer for LIFE. I spent time with Bennett's six-year old sister, full of sass and questions. She whizzed through the ICU like it was her playground. She had a sick brother for a long time; this is what she knows. This is the norm. And yet, amidst the life-support machines, the blur of nurses changing shifts, the schedules of doctors making rounds, the adjustments of medicines – blood pressure this, heart rate that, glucose up, calcium down, oxygen here, sedative there, IV in, fluids out – amidst it all, I saw the strength of life. Life sustained.

---

We all have our shit. My struggle is mine, and mine alone. Each person has their own version. They are all hard. They are all incomparable. There is no measurement system for how we can define challenge. We never know where life will take us and how it will prove its points. I experienced it in the sacred paradise of Hawaii and also in an Oklahoma ICU, life can teach the same lesson both in heaven and hell. We are impermanent – but we are given the opportunity to fight. Yet too much fight will confront us with where we can fall short. So then, we must open to the wings of grace. We can never guess where we will end up – and sometimes an unexpected path will turn out to be exactly where we need to be. Connect – to people, to the self, to belief. Connection is the foundation of mankind. Don't underestimate the complexity of life's weaves, its entanglements, its relationships, its journeys, its battles, its beginnings, its endings, and its sustainability.

---

After a week in Oklahoma, my flame began to flicker as I burnt my candle from both ends. I wore myself out of being supportive and strong. I tricked myself into thinking I could spent days on end in a hospital, suppressing my own grief, and not reliving my own trauma. I heard a woman sob a terminal diagnosis to a family member as I used the bathroom stall next to her. I stood in the stall quivering, wearing her sadness as my own. Wanting to be a comfort to her, when I was out of comfort for myself. At one point, I found myself in the hospital chapel, crying to the book of Genesis as I looked for answers in places that I'd not looked. But like anyone, I can only give so much until I need to turn back to me and refuel. I see life around me – blossoming, growing, sustaining. But the reality of the loss of your life doesn't fade: it remains a constant. Just like the oxygen in the air I breathe, your absence is within everything.

I'm back in Boulder at our home now. It seems like so long since I've been here. I was scared of what it would be like to be back home, as my very concept of what home is has been challenged. And yet, thankfully, our house feels comfortable. It always does. It's filled up with your stale, but loving breaths, trapped.

It's raining. I'm going to stand outside and let the rain spill over me, charging me back up with its immortal cycle of glittery drops.

Going Home

I visited my hometown, Toledo, this weekend for a 48 hour whirlwind celebration of my dear Nannie's 90th birthday. Visits home have always seeped in nostalgia for me. I tend to remember the 'old days', when in retrospect, I seemed carefree; problems were scant and life plans were allowed to just be pipe-dreams. I left Toledo (for the second time) after ending a long relationship and being laid off six years ago. The city was in a depression: doors were closing, businesses were shrinking, and citizens' attitudes reflected the decline. Since I've left, I've often referred to Toledo as 'Detroit's runoff' with a sardonic 'I'm so glad I got out of there' attitude. It was cast as a place of 'endings' in my book.

I've been buried in a gloomy hole bleeding death and loss for the past seven months. Seeing light is desperately hard. But the past few days, I was confronted with life and growth from the most unexpected place. Toledo taught me a lesson.

I saw a city that is healing her wounds. Doors of closed businesses downtown are opening up as juice bars and trendy condos. Conscious options are popping up next to the Del Tacos and McDonald's. I visited three yoga studios and was delighted by the powerful teachers, thoughtful sequences, and jam-packed classes. Waistlines are shrinking, consciousness is expanding, and smokers are quitting.

Beyond the city herself blossoming after a long, cold winter – I saw life in her people. While death may mysteriously and unabashedly take too soon... sometimes he is patient. He holds off – allowing many to think sharply, move healthily, and breathe longer. My grandmother was surrounded by more members of our family then ever. So much growth has taken place: a new era of young life has sprung from my generation (the ones I still think of as 'the kids'). Babies are growing, crawling, and discovering. Children are playfully coming into their own. Young boys are becoming men who look like their fathers. I was reminded of long-time friendships that continue to sparkle and swell. I was touched by new connections and possibility. I was grateful for bittersweet conversation, laughter, tears of remembrance, and support.

Toledo's forecast is often grey and cloudy. But this past weekend, her sun shined warm and her sky was blue. She dazzled as a reminder of the 'little engine that could'. When one is thrashed into the pit of suffering, she is often blinded from hope. The cycles of life/death, beginning/endings, and growth/decline are infinite and as old as time. But without darkness there is no way to see light. The light crept in from under the crack of the door of the most unforeseen place. Thank you, Toledo.



Glacier

The path I walk these days is not only dark, but it’s also foggy. I can’t see much, and when I can make something out – it’s usually covered in a looming haze. Maybe a candle is lit along the way or a window opens and the sun shines into my tunnel. Sometimes I can make out the lightness: a gloomy warmth. Sometimes I shield my eyes from the lightness; it’s become comfortable to stay buried in the dark. And occasionally, I see the light – and I allow myself to bask in its warmth.

I am a vastly different woman than I was seven months ago... My head cocks to the side inquisitively as I typed that sentence. ‘Am i? Or am I the same woman?’

It’s more like I am a new version of the same woman I was seven months ago.

Imagine the Self like a glacier: a huge floating chunk of frozen, yet transformable solid. Sometimes, our glacier floats high in the water and other times, very much submerged in darkness. It’s always changing. Our mass floats high, low, or somewhere between, depending on circumstance. But at the center of the glacier, is our source. I truly believe that the core of each human is intrinsically good. Our source is the innocence that we possessed in the womb, and at the same time all the wisdom in our universe and the divine. It is the subtle body's access to Ananda (bliss).

But our glacier is huge and our source is buried deep, deep within. When we are aware, we can sense our source – it feels like a moment of enlightenment. When we start to remove the layers of ourselves, there is a knowing. Our source is far beneath the superficial layers of our day-to-day lives – the schedules, the stressors, the static rush of our society. It’s beneath our core values – our human desire to love and connect. It is even beneath the deeper, challenging components of our being – our fears, our shame, our judgements – the ailments that cloud our core values. Beneath all of our layers, all of our shadow, all of our questions, all of our ignorance, all of our anger, all of our trauma... that is where our source lives: like a shining sun inside of a dark cave.

We spend many lives chipping away at our glacier. Sometimes the chipping feels good – we hit a vein and out bubbles a glittering glimmer of our inner radiance, a hint of what’s beneath. Sometimes the chipping is incredibly painful – we remove a rock and uncover something we have been hiding for a very long time. We are given a choice: put the rock back on and run away, ignore what we see, or study it. Eventually, after going backwards, sideways, or being still – we keep digging. At times, along our individual journeys, we take each choice. Some of us are more comfortable with running, some of us with ignoring, some of us with sitting, and some of us with digging. And we learn the lessons we are supposed to be learning through every one of those choices. They are all right. They might not be the fastest, or the safest, or the healthiest, or the easiest – but they are all right.

We learn lessons when we run away, when then find ourselves further from our goal – alone and lost. We have to begin a trek back along a new path – which uncovers new rocks. We learn lessons when we ignore and numb ourselves – maybe it’s here where we learn about disconnection and loneliness. We learn lessons when we sit – maybe it's here where we learn about self-love and acceptance. And we learn lessons when we keep digging.

When you died, a monstrous chunk of my glacier was fractured and ripped out. I was left on my knees: the wind knocked out of me and heart cracked open, wallowing in a crater of raw wounds.

It has forced me to study all that was upturned and revealed. I have run away. I have hidden. I have numbed. I have sat. And I have dug. All while being encased in darkness and fog. In the deep depression of my glacier lies ugliness – parts of my being that are hard and humbling to face; there lies trauma – which is alarming and unfamiliar; there lies grief – which is unpredictable and harrowing; but there also lies beauty – which is often disguised. But from within the dark fog, I see bits of bliss bleed from my source. The knowing is there.

So yes, I am a new version of the same woman you loved.

And while I have been sitting in darkness and fog for over six months, I have had more moments lately when I see the haze lifting and showing me the landscape – sometimes barren, sometimes lush, often somewhere in between. My wound is beginning to heal in some places. In other places, it’s gaping more than ever. But as I’ve sat in this cavity of my untethered self, I’ve been forced to really look around. In a courageous (because fuck yes, it is!), vulnerable, and confusing way – I’ve questioned many parts of my being. I’ve realized things that I thought were important to me, maybe are not at all. I’ve begun to understand what shapes my reactions and why. I’ve started to be OK with stillness and solitude. I have addressed the darker side of my spirit. I've begun forgive myself. I've noticed the presence of anger and allowed it to vent (even though it's through ways I can't yet control and don't think are pretty). I have felt inspired and not let myself feel guilty or run back into my comfortable cave of gloom. I have recognized ways in which I cause harm to myself and gently decided they aren't serving me for now. I’ve understood a need to actually love myself, rather than offering my love to others and hoping it reflects back to myself. With self-love comes opening up to the possibility of healing – through my own digging and also from teachers I meet along my path.

I know I have come closer to my source; maybe just centimeters in a journey of thousands of miles, but closer still. And I am bound to a knowing that within me is truth and light.

The path is rocky. But I will forge.

Mask off

Since I was a child, I've feared that if I wasn't being seen, I was being forgotten.

I would push myself to shave two seconds off my 50 yard backstroke so that I could get a high five and a 'you got it, girl!' from my Dad. I would position myself in the front row of my ballet class so I could be seen, no matter how sloppy I was when I danced the routine. I would raise my hand first, or even call out the answer in class during grade school, so everyone knew I was right... and I was first. In middle school, I would sign onto AOL instant messanger and IM the boy I had a crush on immediately without waiting for him to message me. And if I did choose to wait... I would stare at my buddy list with sweaty palms and impatience seeping through my veins while I came up with ten stories to explain to myself why I was being ignored for those five minutes. I sang the loudest in choir. I wanted the best solo. And I wanted compliments for how good I sounded. In high school, I wore the tightest black pants and the shortest cheerleading skirt, so it was my ass that stood out in the crowd. I'd come to school wearing a tube top made of pink Seran-wrap to be different, but really, to get attention. I auditioned for the lead role of the school play and didn't get it; then hated on the girl who was Cinderella when I was the ugly step-sister. In college, after choosing to attend the biggest school in the country, being in the spotlight became difficult. I claimed wanting to go there so I could be more anonymous. Maybe it was an attempt at learning the art of privacy and humility – or maybe it was just a harder challenge in a game I couldn't win. There was always a better designer in my class. There was always a funnier, prettier, and smarter girl. A roommate always had a nicer purse (mine was a fake...) and everyone had a fancier car. I had to start really looking inside myself for ways to please. I discovered things I was good at and tackled them full on – art history, yoga, beer pong, blowjobs. And so it continued through my life: do something you're good at, do it in the front row, win, and then tell all your friends about it.

In relationships, while I always despised 'games' (because I wasn't good at them...) in reality, that's exactly what it all was: find nice guy, get his approval, keep pleasing him, and when he is kind and thankful, get bored and dump him. Or, find asshole guy, seek for approval, disrespect self in the process of seeking, obsess over seeking, then five-years-later still be searching for the approval I never received and looking like a real idiot for all the trying.

In jobs, even though I didn't realize it at the time, I thrived on competitive environments. I wanted the win, but being a perfectionist, I never got it. Positive re-enforcement was nice and all, but it was the negative that really pushed me to try harder. I became drawn to narcissistic bosses and role models: people who would encourage me 25% of the time but then shit on me for the rest.

If you're not giving 110% and getting a high five, you're not really trying. Oh, and you suck.

Technology didn't help my illness. There's always a way to get in front of thousands of people on social media and show off how happy you are. I began to rate my own self-worth in likes or comments. I wouldn't buy a new shirt until five of my closest friends gave me the thumbs-up after I texted them a dressing room selfie.

No one cares about you unless they tell you so. If they're not telling you it's because they've abandoned you. You've been abandoned, you failure.

Then you came along.

I don't know what it was about you that broke the mold. Maybe I was in a place where I was ready to break my destructive patterns. I had been doing a lot of soul searching, a lot of self-inquiry, and a lot of learning. Maybe I was so exhausted by shrouding myself in pessimism and trying to be a positive, strong, light-beam breaking through the crust. Or maybe... probably, it was because you were fucking awesome. It was because you gave me the affirmation I sought, but still challenged me in the process. You helped shine light onto my patterns. You did it in a way that was gentle, loving, and encouraging. When you told me 'no', you knew how to do it in a way that was cushioned – so I didn't feel discouraged, disapproved, or like a failure.

You made me feel loved in a way that I had never felt before: a love that wasn't built on my successes, a love that didn't require approval. Your love allowed me to take off my mask. And wow, was that freeing. Someone who loved me for me!?

You died six months ago tonight. Last night, I cried myself to sleep, wrapped up in my own arms like a twelve-year-old pretending to slow dance with herself. I was trying to remember what it felt like to be held by you. I was trying to remember that night, six months ago exactly: the last night I slept next to you, the last night there were two people in our king-size bed instead of just one, the last night I wasn't suffocating in loneliness, the last night I wasn't wearing a mask.

I remember in the weeks after you passed, I begged time to fast forward. I thought, 'If I could just jump forward six months from now, this will be so much easier.' I was wrong. Things are not easier.

Grief has brought me to uncharted territory.

My old patterns of seeking approval, appearing strong, being in the spotlight, and putting on a mask worked for a while. But then depression happened.

I used to be a real asshole to depressed people. I thought I was being encouraging and helpful when I suggested, 'Try yoga in the sunshine,' 'Go take a bubble bath!' or 'Get off the fucking couch!' But really, I was trying to get them out of their funk because I was scared of their sadness. I was scared of the fact that they were so low that they didn't care about pleasing themselves...or others! That would be my worst nightmare, my subconscious reminded me, don't be a witness to this disaster! When I'm in depression, I'm already being hard on myself, the last thing I need is someone telling me to climb Mount Everest, open the blinds, or take a god-damned shower. My body feels so heavy I can't even pick up the phone to tell them to fuck off. And I don't even care to anyway. All I care about is wallowing in darkness and self-pity. And maybe I don't even care about that.

Grief is a lonely process. No one can experience it with me no matter how empathic they are. At first, I found it helpful to share my journey. As I've said, being in the spotlight is part of my innate nature. It's part of an old pattern for how I recognize love. But my pain has become so encompassing that opening up about it is like ripping off a scab. I have to be really careful about who I choose to disclose my truth to. Naturally, I am an open book, so often, I open up thinking it will be comforting. But then I am raw and vulnerable to a person that maybe isn't worthy of my honesty, can't handle the truth, or doesn't want to hold my pain. And then I feel shame.

Grief is a process of unlearning everything that made me me and rebuilding myself with protective armor and boundaries. It's a process of learning that right now, approval is not what I need. It's a process of learning that it's OK to be weak and ask for help. It's a process of learning that 110% is simply not possible and the people who matter will be ok with thatIt's a process of learning that the only love that will feel authentic is from inside my own heart. All other love feels like fraud. Because the only external love I truly seek, is yours, and nothing feels like the love you gave me. It's very hard to love myself when I'm so unfamiliar with who I've become. Every day is like hanging out with a sad, confused stranger. It's like looking at myself and saying, 'Where the fuck did the person I know go?' And then Kira stands there smiling at me, panting softly, licking my leg like it's a bloody wound, and reminding me that she loves me unconditionally – and I look and her and say, 'I'm too sad to get up and let you outside until two in the afternoon. How the hell can you still love me, liar?' I don't even believe my own dog.

Six months does not make it easier. Six months means that I have to learn how to function in society like a 'normal person' when I'm not 'normal'. I begin to question if it's strange that I still haven't moved a single belonging of yours or taken down any of your clothes from our closet. I have to work. I have to pay my bills. I have to respond to my emails. I have to do my laundry. I have to appear in public without sobbing uncontrollably. I have to have a plan. There is no longer an excuse not to do the tasks that usually seem so simple to our society. In order to do them, I've had to medicate myself. Because otherwise, I'd be sitting in a pile of my own dirty clothes and sleeping through meetings. And sometimes, I do that anyway.

For the first time in my life, I am learning to be ok with my own imperfection and my own darkness. I am learning to take off my mask because I don't have the energy to wear it. I am learning that in sadness, you're alone, no matter how crowded the physical space. I am learning that life is not just about the fear of being forgotten.

It's not easy. And goddamn, it's lonely here without you.