Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Four years & Stephen Colbert

I've liked Stephen Colbert for a long time. Ask my dad - the number of times I asked to watch the Colbert Report instead of reruns of The Daily Show is too high to count (sorry, Jon Stewart, and sorry, Dad). Colbert has always made me giggle, and smile, and laugh/snort/chortle. And when he started saying things like this on the air I knew he was the comedian for me:


Funny, loves Jesus, and has a wicked eyebrow raise. What more can you ask for?

I'm eagerly anticipating the start of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in September, and today I read the cover story about him in GQ. And more than laughs it was filled with heartfelt reflections on grief, and suffering, and joy. 

When Colbert was 10 his dad and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash. He's the youngest of 11 kids, and everyone else was out of the house, so it was just him and his mom after the crash. (His mom sounds seriously amazing. And if you want to see one of the most beautiful moments of television, watch this tribute to her when she passed away in 2013.)

In the story, he says:
“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
I love the thing that I most wish had not happened. 

Today marks four years from my Mom's stroke. I've been weepy and teetering on the edge of the waves of grief for the last week - somehow my body and my subconscious recognizes the date before my mind catches up. I keep thinking to myself, like I'm still three, "I want my mommy."

Reading this, today, was a grace. I'm not there yet - I don't love it, yet. (But it took Colbert 25 years, so I have some time.) But even though I want my mommy more than anything right now I also wouldn't change it for the world. My mom's stroke and cancer and death have made me who I am, have led to my vocation, have brought me to my soon-to-be husband. I wish with all my heart that it had not happened, but at the same time I'm so grateful that it did.

Mom, I miss you, and I love you, and I wish you were still here, but I wouldn't change the time we had together, or the life you led me into.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Happy

I am unbelievably happy.

Seriously. It's almost hard to believe. Especially when I look back on the last four years. Am I the same me who took care of her dying mother, who screamed and cursed at God and the universe, who lived in fear and pain and made a habit of grieving?

Sometimes, nowadays, it's hard to remember that life. That life before things started to get better. That life before the good things outweighed the bad. My life before my then boyfriend, now fiancé.

Because it's so different now. The good far, far outweighs the bad, things are falling into place, good things are happening, and I have so many things to look forward to.

I do know I am the same me. And I know this not just because I can re-read what happened in this blog. I know it because on days like today it completely surprises me that I'm happy.

Let me give you an example: two weekends ago I was in Portland visiting a friend, and I found a wedding dress. I found it at a bridal thrift store called Adorned in Grace, whose mission is to support victims of sex trafficking. It was the first dress I tried on, in the first store I went into. It was perfect.

I had to fly the dress home with me to Oakland, but the plane didn't have any places I could hang it, so I had to stuff it on top of other bags in one of the overhead compartments. I ended up sitting at the complete opposite end of the plane from my dress.

Now, instead of assuming that everything was going to be okay, and trusting the other passengers to be kind to it, and trusting that good things were happening, and were still going to happen, I did the opposite. I sat in my seat and freaked out, afraid that the dress was going to be ruined, and that the passengers were going to stomp all over it, or that it would get stolen off the plane, and I'd have to find another dress, and everything would fall apart. In short, I expected bad things to happen.

I do that a lot - expect bad things to happen. I learned it when my mom was sick, and maybe before. I learned to expect the bad things because maybe then they'd be a little less painful. I learned to expect the bad things because that was all that kept happening, for so long.

Slowly, slowly, and with a lot of help from my fiancé and from God, I'm learning to expect good things instead of bad. I tell myself, over and over again: "expect good things."

That's why, when I realize I'm happy, when I see how things are working out for good, when I feel things falling into place without being tugged or shoved there by me, I'm overwhelmed. I cry tears of joy and of awe and of surprise, and I thank the Lord that good things are happening.

It's still weird. It's just weird to be happy! I still don't know exactly what to do with it, and it still feels a little unreal. But the long and the short of it is that I am happy - really, truly, deeply happy. And I know that makes my mom happy too.

Mom? Guess what?

"I'm engaged!"

This is the conversation I wish I could have with you. I call you to tell you the good news, and before I even say it you can read the news from my tone. We laugh, and cry (because of course we would cry), and we get really ridiculously excited. You tell me how much you like him, and how happy you are for me, and we plan for you to come out to Oakland soon so we can scheme together, go wedding dress shopping, talk about other girly things.

I did get engaged*, and I'm really, really happy. But in the happiness there's this sliver of sadness that seems to balloon when I least expect it. This realization that I can't have this conversation with you, I didn't have this conversation with you, I can never have this conversation with you. You won't be there to help with invitations or work on centerpieces. You won't be there to take in the hem of my dress or tell me how beautiful I look. You won't be there to dance with him on our wedding day, after he dances with his mom. You won't be there for all the firsts, you won't be there for our kids, you won't be there when I'm scared or angry or confused or uncertain and I just need my mommy to make it better.

You'd love the ring, Mom. It's vintage, just like I wanted, and it's simple, just like me. It fits perfectly, and it's just so beautiful. It's a little weird to wear - you know I don't wear rings very much - but I'm getting used to it. I can't keep myself from staring at it - it's so glittery!

I wish you were here, to tell me what it's like. To tell me what marriage, what being a partner is really like. I wish you were here to help me transition from being single to being not single. It's a big transition! Were you ever scared?

I wish you could meet him, Mom. He's a wonderful man. So kind, so loving, so generous, so loyal. And funny. You'd really dig his sense of humor. And he'd really dig your baking skills.

I miss you, Mom. I wish, more than anything right now, that you were here. I never imagined being here without you. I know I'll get through it, but it really hurts right now. I love you, I miss you, I love you, I miss you....

I wish.




*And yes, my fiancé (heehee, fiancé!) knows about this post, and knows about this sadness, and he sits with me in it. He's pretty amazing that way.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

As

(or, in case this gets taken down, go here)

"Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I'll be loving you always
"

I'll be loving you always, Mom. And, somehow, I think you're loving me always too.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Seventeenth

It's April 17th again. The date that always looms, especially as it draws near. I always wonder what the 17th will hold. Last year, one year out, was sweet, and painful. This year, two years out, could be anything.

So I took the day off, and I planned nothing for today. I readied myself to cry and mourn and pull out my hair. I have chocolate and Gilmore Girls on standby, and good friends and a boyfriend who are ready with their comfort and support.

And you know what? Today, so far, has been a good day.

Maybe I did most of my grieving around Easter. Maybe year two is just different than year one. Maybe its actually getting easier as time passes. Maybe I'll be wracked with grief later this afternoon.

Whatever the reason, today I am thankful for life. For the small things - the apple blossoms on the tree outside, the sunshine, yoga. For the big things - my sister's coming baby, a loving boyfriend, my hopes and dreams for the future. There are so many signs of life all around me. Maybe my experience of loss and grief is giving me the eyes to see them anew today.

Thankfully I know that this is what my mom would have wanted. She would want me to grieve, sure, but also to laugh. She would want me to celebrate the beautiful things that have come my way, even the ones she wasn't around for. And her pleasure at my joy makes today so bittersweet that I'm smiling and crying and laughing all at the same time.

There will always be hard moments (or hours, or days, or weeks). Memories will pop up at unexpected times and bring me to my knees in pain and sadness. But joy, and the assurance of good things, is tipping the scale in the direction of life. And that is a good thing.

I love you, Mom. Thank you for guiding me into sweetness instead of bitterness today.




Sunday, April 5, 2015

These women

I can't get over these women. These women who were there at the crucifixion, there outside the tomb just before the Sabbath began, there when the sun rose on Sunday morning. These women who were obedient to the Sabbath, and waited for 24 hours before lovingly returning to the tomb to preserve Jesus' body with spices and perfumes. These women who didn't know how they would get past the heavy stone blocking the entrance but who went to the tomb anyway. These women who, when they saw the angels and saw the risen Christ, didn't hesitate to tell the other disciples. These women - afraid, yet filled with joy. These women - faithful even in the face of disbelief

My mom was one of these women. Her sister died of cancer just before I was born, and she still believed. She had breast cancer when I was 10, and she still believed. She believed when her mom was killed by a drunk driver, and she believed when my dad became disabled. She kept believing to the end - through the stroke, the cancer diagnosis, the rehab, the radiation & chemo, and even through her last weeks and days, as she slowly deteriorated. Her belief, her faithfulness - it doesn't really make sense. It boggles my mind that she could be so sure for so long in the midst of so much. But she, like these women...

My dad likes to tell this story: One afternoon after an MRI and a doctor's visit she and my dad went to get a milkshake at In-N-Out, and they had the Christian radio station playing. The song "Untitled Hymn" came on, and when it got to the last verse my mom said, "that's what happening to me." The last verse says:
And with your final heartbeat
kiss the world goodbye
then go in peace and laugh on glory's side
And fly to Jesus
fly to Jesus
fly to Jesus and live
She, like these women, believed the risen Christ. She, like these women, like Mary Magdalene, knew her Rabboni's voice. She, like these women, remained faithful to the end. May my faith in the risen Savior be like that of her, and these women.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

{ _____ }

Holy Saturday.

The day with no liturgy. The day with almost no reference in scripture. The day of Sabbath, of waiting.

This day is bookended by the presence of the women. Different tellings give us different women - Mary Magdelene, "the other Mary," Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, Joanna. These women were there for his burial, and they were there early in the morning after the Sabbath, while it was still dark. These faithful women were the last to see him buried and the first to see him risen.

But in between, there was nothing. In between there was only death.

We don't like to sit in death. We're a little better about sitting with the dying. Dying - it's active, and it makes us feel like there's still something we can do. Keep vigil. Watch and pray.

We can even handle death when it comes, the moment that life leaves the body. There's something about a person who has just died, something about how they look and feel that doesn't feel foreign to us - it's still our loved one, it's still the same person we were sitting with just moments ago. It is finished.

But after. After, things change. After, the body gets cold. The person who was just there a few a hours ago is gone. And all that is left is the shell - the lifeless, pale, breath-less, circulation-less body. The person, our loved one who was just there isn't there any longer. Instead, it's just death.

I still don't know how to sit in that death. After the hospice nurse came, I went and sat in the living room with my family. We waited for the people from the funeral home to come and get her. And we didn't see her body again after that. We had her cremated, like she wanted - but also like we wanted. I don't think any of us wanted to see her body again, not even if it had been made up to look alive by the mortician. It still wouldn't have been her, it would have just been her body, her dead body, her lifeless body. It would have been too much death.

It took 3 months, 22 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes for her death to be real for me. For me to know that she was gone and she wasn't coming back. For me to be able to sit in her death.

But on Holy Saturday that's what we're called to. On Holy Saturday we're asked to sit in the death of Jesus. Not his dying, not his rising, not his foot washing, praying, betrayal, arrest, crucifixion. His death. His body, lifeless, pale, breath-less, circulation-less, laying in a tomb.

I read this reflection by Barbara Brown Taylor on Holy Saturday of 2014:
I had been to Jerusalem, so I knew how tombs looked in those days: low holes in rock walls, with narrow bunks inside to hold the dead bodies until the flesh on them was gone and the bones could be gathered up for safe-keeping. 
That was where Jesus spent Holy Saturday: in a dark hole in the ground, doing absolutely nothing. It was the Sabbath, after all. His friends had worked hard to make sure he was laid to rest before the sun went down. Then they went home to rest too, because that was what they did on Saturdays. Once it was clear that there was nothing they could do to secure their own lives or the lives of those they loved, they rested in the presence of the Maker of All Life and waited to see what would happen next. 
Though Christians speak of "witnesses to the resurrection," there were no witnesses. Everyone who saw Jesus alive again saw him after. As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. Whatever happened to Jesus between Saturday and Sunday, it happened in the dark, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. It happened where no one but him could talk about it later, and he did not talk about it -- at least not so anyone could explain it to anyone else.
On Holy Saturday we sit in Jesus' death, as his body lies in a dark hole in the ground, doing nothing. It's dank, it's dark, it's morbid and it's not where we like to be. But in that darkness, in that the hole in the ground, in the smell of damp stone and dug earth, life came. We have to sit in the death so we can know the life.

And so I sit and wait this Holy Saturday. I sit in my mom's death, and I sit in the death of Jesus. I look down into the dark hole and hope that I witness that small, still moment, shrouded in darkness, where death is swallowed up by life.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Good Friday.

The Friday that is only good because of what follows on Sunday. The Friday filled with the pain and agony of Jesus' public and humiliating death.

It's also my mom's birthday.

But this year, this arrangement of dates feels appropriate. I started my journey through her last days yesterday, when I sat in her cry that was Jesus' too. Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray. 

Today I remember the pain. No, there was no public humiliation, no torturous instrument of death, no bearing all the sins of the world at once, no torn temple curtain. But the pain, the physical pain - that she and Jesus had in common.

Her breaths that became shallower and shallower, more and more labored. Her mouth that couldn't stay moist, no matter how much water or ice we gave her. Her cries each time we tried to move her, each time we adjusted her position in the bed or changed her diaper. That pain was the worst - there was no way to avoid it, and no medicine that could stop it.

She wasn't in constant agony - we had the morphine, and we used it. We kept her pain at bay as best we could while still keeping her breathing. But she still felt it, she still hurt.

I wish... I wish she hadn't had to feel any pain. I wish we could have given her just the right amount of medicine to keep her breathing and pain free. I wish she didn't have any cause to say "my God, my God..." but I think, in her moments of pain, her spirit cried out like that of her Lord. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

As I sit in and remember her pain, and my pain too, I can't quite look forward yet. I know that Sunday is coming, that Easter is near, that the resurrection of Jesus makes all the difference. But right now I need to sit in the pain, the disappointment, the despair of Friday before I can get to the hope of Sunday. I need to sit in the terrible Friday that the disciples experienced two thousand years ago - the hopeless Friday, the embarrassing Friday, the Friday that was the end. The Friday they experienced without the promise of new life two days later.

Sunday will come. But today, on this terrible/Good Friday, I just feel the pain.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stay with me, remain here with me

Maundy Thursday.

Most years I've spent this Thursday of Holy Week remembering Jesus' last meal with his disciples. We'll have a modified Passover meal, a seder dinner, and maybe have some foot or hand washing in there to remember Jesus' service to his disciples.

In years past, most of my Maundy Thursday reflections have been confined to the Upper Room. This year they've branched out, and ended up in the Garden of Gethsemane. All because of this Taizé chant:


Stay with me
Remain here with me
Watch and pray
Watch and pray


Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and he brings his disciples with him. He calls on three of his closest disciples - Peter, James and John - to stay and keep watch. Stay with me. Watch and pray. 

And then he prays. He prays out his pain and agony to his Father. He prays in such anguish. He even sweats blood. But all the while he knows - he knows he is going to die.

He didn't bring the disciples so they could convince God to spare his life. He didn't bring the disciples so they could protect him from Judas and the soldiers who were going to arrest him. No, it was simpler, more heartwrenching, more human than that. Jesus has asked his disciples to keep vigil for him. To sit vigil as he prepares to die. Stay with me. Watch and pray.

Tonight, when I heard this hymn, this song from the Taizé community, I realized that I know this song - not just the lyrics, not just the melody. I know this song in my bones.

Because this is the song my mom sang as she was dying. Not literally - when she was near the end she couldn't speak at all. This is the song her spirit sang as she lay there in her bed, her breathing slowing, unable to eat or speak anymore. This is what she called us to do. Stay with her. Remain with her. Watch and pray.

I know this song. I know this vigil. I know how to sit with someone who is dying. And today, on Maundy Thursday, it both hurts like hell and brings me closer to Jesus.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The seventeenth

More often than not, when I'm having a bad day, and I can't put my finger on why, I check the date and it's the seventeenth. 

The seventeenth. Today it's been 23 months since she died. I wish, more than anything right now, that she could be here, giving me a hug. 

I want share my little triumphs with her - the eggplant pizzas that were a success, another exam that went well, a consistent yoga practice that makes me feel strong. She'd be so happy, so proud. 

I wish. I wish. I wish the seventeenth didn't have to come so quickly. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Galentine's Day

Every year for Valentine's Day my mom used to give my sister and I gifts. We'd come downstairs for breakfast in the morning before school and there would be a little red basket with chocolates and heart-shaped things in varying shades of pink. When I moved out of my parent's house she'd always send me a card or a trinket to celebrate the day.

It was cheesy, and a little weird (seriously, how many mothers give their daughters Valentine's gifts?), but I loved it. One year, because of what I'd learned from my mother, my roommates and I made breakfast for dinner, and I decorated the dining table with all things pink, red and heart-shaped. We had dollar store Valentine's cups, construction paper flowers with heart-shaped petals, and chocolate hearts.

I learned from my mom to celebrate Galentine's Day, without even knowing it. To celebrate the women in my life, apart from boyfriends or husbands. I learned to make a somewhat silly day special, and to embrace the read and pink and hearts because it's fun! I learned to give little gifts in love, especially if the little gifts were chocolate.

This year I'm really missing her. I wish she was here so I could buy her heart-shaped chocolates, or bake her cupcakes with pink frosting. I wish I could give her the pink tulips (her favorite flower) that I found at the grocery store. I wish I could get just one more silly, cheesy Valentine's gift from her, so I could appreciate it that much more.

I love you, mom. Happy Galentine's Day.








Friday, January 9, 2015

Scrapbook

I made a scrapbook for my boyfriend in November, chronicling our year together. 

The times when I was working on it were sacred. They brought me back to making a scrapbook with my mom for my sister. I listened to Christmas music again, used photo corners and scrapbook tape, figured out the placement of the photos on the page. It was just like being back with her. She was with me as I was making this new book of memories. She shared in memories she wasn't alive for. 

I wanted that experience again the other day, that sacred remembrance. I have some photos from when I was a child that I had been organizing to put in a photo album, so I decided to pull them out. 

I started going through the pictures - of me smiling and playing and getting covered in dirt. Of me jumping around in puddles and petting animals and making concoctions in the kitchen. 

But everything was all wrong. The pictures were out of order and I couldn't remember my system and they wouldn't all fit in the photo album and I didn't have enough time for this to be a big project and I was so happy and lighthearted when I was a kid and... my mom was there - in those pictures, taking those pictures. And now she's not. 

So I threw all the pictures on the floor. And I left them there for a few hours, because I was worried that if I picked one up I would just tear it in half. 

I was angry. My mom used to be there and now she isn't. I was homesick for her. I used to go through photos with her and now I can't. I felt all the pain and anger and sadness in the span of five minutes and I wept. (That's the proper way of saying I bawled my eyes out, right?)

It took me a few hours and a few chapters of Harry Potter (another thing we had in common - she loved Harry Potter and when she first got sick she listened to all the audiobooks) to feel calm again. Calm enough to pick up the pictures without shredding them to pieces. Calm enough to stick them back on top of my bookshelf and out of arms' reach. 

It's been almost a week, and I still feel irrationally angry when I see those pictures sitting on my bookshelf. My first urge is still to take them all and tear them to bits. But the saner part of me knows that I'll want those pictures someday. And even though it hurts so much to think of putting them in an album without my mom, I know I'll eventually want to. 

In the meantime, well, I guess I'll just keep my hands off any childhood photos. And I'll keep trying to figure out how to live each day without her.