My dad’s death seven years ago was my first significant loss, but I can barely remember that grief anymore!
One morning, as I was entering the silence of a mediation group, my phone rang. I didn’t answer, but when I checked the voice mail later, I heard the words “Leukemic Blasts” for the first time.
My 51-year-old sister had Leukemia. She didn’t think she would die and she convinced me as well. But ten months later, she was gone. I was her main caretaker and sat through all the gruesome (and joyful) events of those ten months. A month after my sister died, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. A year after that, my 56 year-old brother died suddenly. Ten months after my brother died, my mother died.
Up until this time, I was on a run of good years. I actually had a pretty horrific young life and a dangerous adolescence, but in my mid-twenties, I started “living right.” I got in with a group of folks who were also “living right,” and this was when the charmed life began. I married my soul-mate, had two lovely children, lived with my mom to help her avoid financial difficulties — she helped parent my kids. We had gardens, we had a wealth of friends, good health, and consistent employment.
Unfortunately I began believing that as long as I am living right, bad things do not and will not happen. Delusional? Defense mechanisms? Human-beingism? When I began suffering with all this loss and grief, I was living a life that didn’t allow for much “numbing.” So I was feeling everything. I was absolutely not in control. Paradigms were shifting all around me. I was full of fear and I was feeling everything.
I thought if I just prayed enough or tended to others enough or was honest enough or was good enough or surrendered enough or let go enough that it wouldn’t hurt so bad. I didn’t know that many human beings approaching 50, raising teens, and losing loved ones felt hurt too. Everyone else just looked like they were reading (or writing) the rule book on life and to me it was all Greek, something I don’t understand.
My head knows all the right sayings…
Feelings are not facts.
Don’t be attached to the feelings.
Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
Let go and let God.
I knew all of this stuff intellectually, but none of it stopped the hurting. In fact, it was really enough to drive me mad because I KNEW IT and yet it didn’t work! At least not in the magic wand sort of way.
Somewhere along the journey, I got the message that it was easy to suffer. That deep meaningful writing and art came from suffering. That suffering builds character and makes us interesting characters. In fact, it does…eventually.
Suffering can really only be treated by going through it. I can’t pray it away and I can’t work it away. I can’t gamble it away or drink it away or sex it away or buy it away. Well, I could, but in the end all of these things would ultimately create more suffering. What I can do?
Say yes to life. And learn how to say no more often!
Suffering finally helped me to tear away the formalities in life, saying yes to obligatory parties and commitments. Suffering taught me to preserve my energy, and to choose carefully where I expended that energy. Suffering taught me not to feel guilty about not writing a thank you card or forgetting a birthday. Suffering taught me how to say shocking things for the pure sake of shocking people. Suffering also taught me to laugh. And laugh. And laugh, mostly at really irreverent things. Suffering taught me not to be afraid to say irreverent things, especially if it makes people laugh.
Someone will say, “my sister and I went to the movies yesterday.” And I will say, “That’s nice…my only sister is dead.” Someone will mention their family coming in for the holidays and I will say, “most of my family died over the last 2-1/2 years.” No one quite knows how to act when I say these things. I’m just saying them.
Saying things like this doesn’t make them any more or less true. Saying them just puts the notions out there. One could argue that I say these things because misery loves company, but I will argue that I am not really miserable. In fact, most often when I answer the phone or run into someone, the thing that happens is we laugh.
I think I say these things because I want people to know that I have suffered, but I am still standing. I am still here saying difficult things, saying ridiculously stupid things, saying poignant things, saying important things, saying useless things.
I’m still here.