8 Years Today

I did not write last year. I still feel conflicted about that. I was busy with the distractions of life, sure. But mostly I just couldn’t bring the words up. I couldn’t write about how the 7 year mark brought little shift around the grief, anger, despair and rave once again about the pain of it all. I also couldn’t find the words to express the new ways I was experiencing life both in an enjoyment of and anguish. Reflecting upon this time last year, I see where I was deeply entrenched in the Patterns around my various traumas and simply had nothing to say that felt acceptable to write the World.

I am unsure that this year’s post will be any easier around the expression piece. Yet I am writing.

I don’t have the acute agony to write about at this point. It feels normal. It is there. This agony. Is it still considered acute? It is more like void that can never filled. I have come to realize that is simply a part of my baseline of being in this world. Many days I enjoy life, I smile, and even laugh on occasion, and the agony is still there. I’ve learned that having one emotion doesn’t ‘cancel out’ or ‘even the field’ on another. If anything, in the last couple of years I’ve learned that in order to truly be present and feel any of the ‘desirable’ emotions like joy, happiness, contentment or peace; I also have to be open to the pain, grief, anger and despair that is often up. This often seems like entirely too much to truly feel in one moment. At times, I sit in complete silence, unable to wrench a single sound from my throat even as every muscle in my body contracts from waves of anguish and rage, somehow shackling all movement but the tremors of tension my individual muscle groups exude. Grief and despair seem to suspend my actual heartbeat, time doesn’t exist here, what gasping breath I can get is gone in a second and the weight on my chest lasts an eternity. It is utter agony. My physical body literally can only experience the various emotions I contain for so long before it tries to tear itself apart. As someone who has been run over, crushed and dragged by horses many times; I feel I can honestly say the expression of ‘I feel like I got run over by X’ and it is exactly how my body feels after such intensity.

In all honesty this ‘dark’ anniversary from an outside perspective looks pretty quiet. I may not sleep much around this time – but I’ll fall asleep for a few hours rather suddenly from what I’ve come to see as simply sheer exhaustion from witnessing the various thoughts and emotions I experience instead of just reacting to them. I’m often too tired to do things I really enjoy – like hunting a spot to view the Northern Lights outside of the city. Years past I’ve often judge myself harshly for this type of weakness. For ‘allowing’ this date to dictate me so, to miss parts of a class or the start of the Iditarod yet again. Instead, I have come to a wary place of peace around the fact that grief has its own timeline – and doesn’t give a rats ass what the world or the people in my life think it should be.

I personally struggle the most with being around people on this day. I really do not care to force a smile because it would make someone else feel better. Or to put a little ’emotion’ in my voice so it doesn’t come off as less than alive. I also have no desire to inflict my frustration at the lack of understanding and space upon those who probably do not know or may not remember why I am extra dark today. Most of all, I simply do not want to feel more than I already do on this day, to be around people and their own stuff. This year I have many things I could do, and few things I want to do. Choices like being around various friends and events, or space and quiet.

A sleepless night has left me with no profound words to share – only that this day is here. 8 years of eternity since I heard my Mother’s laugh.

~ Joannie

 

6 Years Today

The world moves faster than ever, each year fuller and longer, yet somehow short all at the same time. Like many of the previous years, I don’t have much in the way of new things to say. Maybe just a different way to say the same things. Who really knows anymore.

Similar to last year – I am en route to the East Coast for my WildernessFusion class. While the class does not fall on the true date this year, it is close enough that I feel as though I am again going to be sharing this rather Dark & Twisty place that is my mind during this week.

I have even less ‘updates’ to share than I did last year in terms of what my family is up to on this Anniversary. I, like many others, hope they are well.

For me personally, this time of year is incredibly difficult and rather despair-ridden. I often opt to stay busy or ‘distracted’ as my classes would call it, only touching just under the surface tension of the water that is the bottomless well of grief for just a moment, and even then barely feeling the temperature change. I occasionally remark on something, and then let it fade away just as quickly as it came up. At this point in my life I rather feel like I am inflicting my own Dark & Twisty upon those who are in my life. I have little-to-no faith that anyone could actually desire to be in my presence when in such a place.

At the 5-year mark I noted how much more anger and sadness was in my well of grief. This year I am noticing that under the anger, grief and sadness – is despair. Deep. Soul wrenching. Despair. Despair of the reality of the events. Despair that so many people walk around quoting ‘the tragedy’ in my life with no context. No understanding of what that feels like 24/7. What it means to live in such a reality. The fact that people even ask me questions like – do you still wonder “why did He do it?” or my personal favorite – “Do you feel like you’ve moved on yet?”.

Um.

No.

Fuck.

No.

Am I really supposed to? I cannot change the past, and pretending like it never happened just makes me crazy. So yes, I use the word despair versus sadness or grief on purpose.

I rarely go longer than a moment or two without thinking of my Mother in some context. I don’t know that I can, nor do I have the desire to remove her from my thoughts. She is in everything I hold dear. Nature. Dogs. Mountains. Adventure. People important to me. The list goes on. Often people ask me, “where did you learn such [insert praise words that I do not like – i.e courage, loyalty, strength, love, etc]?” and the answer is often in some form ‘My Mother’. She is entirely human – made up of faults and good intentions gone wrong – yet somehow, instead of running away from them or pretending that she wasn’t just as prone to such base, shallow whims as anyone else, she owned them. And that made her larger than life. The integrity of her commitment to living fully and deeply – even in the not-so-pretty places.

Often we would have these intense, complex talks, spanning hours or even days. Life, death, spirituality, love, greed, the human experience and just about anything you could think of. Often she would ask my perspective, my opinions – not just to have something to respond to, but because in her own words, I ‘had more depth than anyone’ she knew – and ‘there were things she needed to learn from me’. So many times she would say to me in full sincerity, “I don’t know why I was given this gift in life, why I was chosen, but I am truly privileged to be your Mother”.

I didn’t always understand, and still don’t fully grasp what she meant by that statement. I wish I could remember if I ever shared a similar sentiment with her. I deeply regret that I don’t know for sure that I did.  Because I am, even with everything that has happened, beyond lucky to have had such a great Mother, teacher and friend. Most of my time is spent in pursuit of the person my Mother insisted I am… One poorly placed step after another.

Much like Cheryl Strayed in the popular memoir – turned movie ‘Wild’, I am on a lifelong journey of living closely to my Mother in the physical reality of which she is no longer apart of, yet still very much alive in spirit.

My Life SHATTERED on this day 6 years ago. For reasons I shall not go into, I was already a struggling survivor of things less than ideal in life when Mom was killed. In an already Dark & Twisty world – Mom was my Sun. She was my champion. She was a humble reminder of what simple joy in the human experience can be. The power of unconditional love and the strength of choice. I wish I could express the depth of her meaning to myself and everyone she touched.

Renée in Alaska

Renée in Alaska

I see the understanding in others who have lost their mothers suddenly. They touch on places I personally struggle to get the words for. These little collections of sentences make me feel the depths of that well of grief where recounting the entire story of loss doesn’t even brush the surface.   Many of you may have read the book by Yann Martel or watched the movie they made recently of ‘Life of Pi’. From his book, he is narrating his story of losing his whole family, and says this:

“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures who people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you. It is like losing–I’m sorry, I would rather not go on.”

I agree Mr. Martel.

Author Kristin Hannah also neatly sums up what it is like to go on living without your Mother figure:

“A daughter without her mother is a woman broken. It is a loss that turns to arthritis and settles deep into her bones. ”

And a more recent author (for me anyway) Cheryl Strayed – Wild:

“I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.

One of the worst things about losing my mother at the age I did was how very much there was to regret.”

All these quotes and more share a little tidbit of my reality. Both the wonder at having such a Mother, and the absolute agony of losing her before her time, in such a sudden and terrifying way. I both want to share these things with you, and never write them down let-alone speak them aloud.

And finally, for my family:

“The amount that she loved us was beyond her reach. It could not be quantified or contained. It was the ten thousand named things in the Tao Te Ching’s universe and then ten thousand more. Her love was full-throated and all-encompassing and unadorned. Every day she blew through her entire reserve.” ~ Cheryl Strayed.

And this is mine:

“What a gift we were given.

To know you.

To be known by you.

To love you.

To be so loved by you.

 

What a curse we bear.

To know your loss.

To feel your magic fade.

To live in agony.

To carry your light on.

 

What a contradiction we live in.

This gift.

This curse.

That love your love connects.”

~ J

November 12th Has Come Again

It is Mom’s Birthday today. As I have already said in years past – it is often a rewrite about how much she meant. How much I (and everyone) misses her. How much she is still loved. I don’t have much in the way of ‘new’ to write about. She would be 56 today. She should be here. Receiving love from her family – close and afar. And like all the other years, she is not. I could rail on and on about the unfairness of it all. I know people older than me that still have ALL their Grandparents, not just their parents. I cannot tell you that it is easier now that more than a few years have past. That any of the grief is less or that the hole in ones’ chest is suddenly smaller. All I can tell you is that the older I get, the more I understand just how amazing my Mother was. How much of who I am is because of her. How growing up with her has given me the expectation that people are so much more than they ever let themselves be and sadly – often are.

I doubt I will ever sit down on November 12th and think ‘It’s okay she isn’t here’. But even the first year and every one after, I have thought every day – not just on her birthday, that I am grateful in the most sincere way of what time I did get. I don’t really know how that can be, when I would give anything, including my own life to have her here to live a full lifetime. But it is. I don’t have much else to say this Birthday other than this short – rather poorly written poem about her.

 

One Moment or a Hundred within everyday

I see something that is you

Hear something that is you

Feel something that is you.

 

The color Red

So passionate and alive

A Cardinal’s call

Warm and protective.

 

A Dragonfly

The guide of your heart

A light in the dark

The joys in change.

 

The Autumn Leaves

Flashing colors that you danced among

Fires of the heart and soul

Nature’s celebration of your birth.

 

Waterfalls on the landscape

The heights which you climbed

The mist on your hair

The simple delights.

 

Music in the air

Flutes whispering

Drums dancing a primal beat

Loons calling to the heart.

 

My Mother had such a way about her, sometimes the memories feel like dreams themselves ~J

 

5 Years Now Without Mom

I read the ‘4 Years Gone’ write up I did a year ago basically to the day, and I am struck by how much things have changed – and how much they haven’t. I could just copy/paste most of the words again for this year. The emotions, the thoughts, the memories; very little is different in those areas, even with another year for perspective. That in itself is a little scary. Makes me want to rage at those who quote that insufferable phrase ‘Time Heals All Wounds’. Dumb fuck who wrote that was clearly in-denial or hadn’t lost very much. I rarely feel angry, except at shallow empty words thrown in my face to ‘console’ me (but only them, in reality). Then the extraordinary pissed-off redhead temper comes out in force.

As you may have guessed, I don’t feel any less grief this year then I did the last 4. I do however feel more sadness than anger (or at least I believe I do) with the world. I also find myself looking back at my experiences with people those first few years, and having much more anger now than I did then, at the level of shit I went through. All it takes is a misguided statement made by a family member or friend and I feel the slow burn of angry pain that they still don’t get it. Maybe my increased sadness is that they and most of the world never will and its unfair of me to want them to be able to grasp the faintest idea of it.

Last year I attended a Tracker class with the 3 women who many know as my ‘Element Sisters’. Though I was around people and not trying to shove everything down, I also didn’t share much – and what I did share was mostly through the girls. Tracy, Linda and Afsoon’s support that year was the beginning of me not trying to hide 24/7. This year, the Healing School I have been apart of ran the 3rd class during the corresponding weekend (the dates are set when we sign up). So not only was I in another class, but this time it was even more hands-on with the emotions of life. Instead of fading into the background and only letting people know the significance of the dates via my Sisters, this year I had to do it myself and beforehand. Instead of standing on the edge of the 130+ group of classmates – many whom I didn’t know – I was in the middle of a very close knit group of 13 that I have worked with before. Not only did I not sit in silence all day, I shared my experience with classmates and friends, many of whom are quickly becoming true family.

I keenly feel the lack of contact from most people in my life, particularly this day. Lorien, best friend, person that Facebook says I am ‘In a relationship with’ and many people do believe that (which is totally okay by us) and the first person who ever sat with me in the long silences always makes contact this day. Even if its just through text. This year I had more people than I honestly know what to do with make contact with me. Interestingly most were not actual family members – or even old friends. I also shared my experience with feeling for the first time since the first weeks of 2009. In class, while words can be important and are often used to jumpstart an event, its the feeling, the emotion that we are most concerned about. I was the ‘group project’ to experience past events – all 12 classmates and the 3 instructors at the same time. Those of you who really know me, will realize that it is close to the last thing I would ever want to do, share ‘feelings’ while actually in contact with a shit-ton of people in person! But I did. Many may think that the ‘talking’ part is hard. Its not really, I’ve had to tell that fucking story over and over again. For family, for friends, for police, for doctors, and lawyers, therapists and teachers. I’m so not in touch with my emotions when I talk about the days leading up and shortly after Mom was killed, that I learned to ‘fake’ some reaction so as to not upset family or alarm the doctors for the first few years. In the past I’ve been accused of not caring, being a cold heartless bitch and having ‘something really really wrong with me’ because I can’t talk and feel at the same time very well. Clearly the world isn’t as ‘aware’ as they think they are about things like PTSD. The worst part was never how I felt talking about it, but how the other people felt. The shock, the disbelief, the looking for the silver lining, the inability to grasp, and of course; the wondering of how I ‘didn’t know’, which eventually leads to questioning of my intelligence, the darkness I must have to attract such people. The ways in which I am broken that I could be a part of such evil – even as a bystander. My grief, anger and pain I sit with everyday. Its the rest of the world and their judgements, their dismissal and lack of awareness that is so fucking impossible to be with.

By year 2 I had stopped calling people. Asking for people to sit with me (Lorien never had to be asked, but then I moved away) or be supportive. Some friends would take it upon themselves to be around in any way they could. Something I am very grateful for and applaud for dealing with my despair. It was a strange feeling to be the one who explained to the new people in my life (Shaun, classmates, etc) what the days leading up to the 4th meant to me. It was even more surreal when even after I explained that there is only ‘dark and twisty’ on that day that I found myself accepting them in my experience of it. – I will write up another post going into more detail for those interested.

I wish there was a positive spin I could put on things from the kids and Dad. But I am not really privy to their experience with this anymore. I texted the ones who have cell phones, reaching out in between the madness of driving through snow, DC traffic and flying to Alaska. To the younger kids it is probably more of ‘another day’ in the time span of not fun days that makeup this time of year. I can’t really say how they are doing other than just getting by. I like to think I have moved from the space of surviving to living, but some days I am not as convinced. Or maybe it is more of perspective, that in my own way I do live; in the moments possible, and when not, I survive.

I do know that the various places the boys and younger kids are, Mom still smiles. I watch my brothers as they mature, and even with their anger and pain and their struggles, at their core they are amazing young men. Every single one of my 8 siblings is unique, with their own talents. I hope for each one that one day they live, fully and lovingly, their own lives.

I see my Mother in every red sunrise and sunset. I spy a cardinal on a branch and think of her. A waterfall. The Mountains. Roadtrips. All these things she loved. All these things she inspired us children to love. Thinking back to one of the many gifts she bestowed upon her loved ones, I don’t think love was the biggest one. Or even hope. But maybe was inspiration. I have countless (literally, I forget the them often) stories of the people out there who were inspired to do and be more in life from knowing Mom.

Even in death my Mother somehow inspires people to live more fully. To laugh more often. To love more fully. To nurture and care for the lost children. Below: Early 90’s in Alaska, with (I believe) a baby Jeremy. She didn’t let things like having 3 young children, 9 dogs and winter keep her tied down. She had fun anywhere she was.

Mom in Alaska with a baby brother

Mom in Alaska with a baby brother

In one breath I can go back to my last day with Mom. The brightest most beautiful light. The hope. The love. The laughter. 5 years ago in the space of a moment. And in the same space, the 5 years is also an eternity of hell. Of pain. Of a deep black hole of grief that never goes away. A breath of love and an eternity of hell in just one moment. I walk in both worlds, as they are both true. It almost feels as though it should be strange, that just a breath of love can inspire someone to live through hell for eternity. But then that is the type of love my Mother inspired. Not strange at all. Beautiful.

~ J

Sleepless Thoughts

Now that I am basically recovered (not quite dancing, but soon) I am back to my routine long nights. Its late. I cannot sleep as usual. I never sleep normally. I lay awake, summer and winter. Hot and cold. Hungry from not eating all day or too full from a heavy dinner. Sometimes completely alone – not even my dog is with me at points in my travels. Other times next to someone I love, I can hear their breathing, I am comforted that I am not physically alone, yet feel guilty that my dreams will likely wake them up. No matter the day or who is with me, I lay quietly, wishing for sleep. Alone in my head, my thoughts often silent, but sometimes whirling.

Some nights I am nothing but apathetic. Others I am filled with emotions that have no name. Often I have no words to share and no tears appear. I simply sit in the dark. Burdened with the knowledge that this is how my brain deals with the reality that is and still functions. Grateful that I still know my name.

Most often I am in silence. At times there is music or crickets and the sounds of the woods. Other times the deafening sounds of the city at night.

I think about Mom.

I think about the past.

I think about the future.

I think about the present.

I think about my family.

I think about some of the worst things that could happen to a person, that have happened to me.

I think about some of the most unlikely and amazing things in life, that have happened to me.

And I think about nothing at all.

I don’t like to complain. I hate the resigned tone of my friends and loved ones when they ask how I am and the answer is usually the same if I choose to give it, ‘tired’. I take the crestfallen look of my people who hold hope for me straight to my heart. I feel like a broken record, ‘can’t sleep, tired’, ‘nightmares’, ‘still can’t sleep, tired’. I’m pathetically predictable like that.

Some people are proud of me, that even broken I am still me. They see that while I do fail, I am as honest as I can be. That even though I am intense, I’m compassionate.  Others are horrified and sad, always worried that I won’t cope because I am broken and therefore no longer me. That I am lost, even though its through wandering that I have found my soul’s home. That I am unforgiving and selfish, even though my hardest lesson is that I have to take care of myself and not everyone else.

I watch the sunrise. I listen to the world wake up. Another day is here, another night has passed. Maybe now I’ll sleep. Either way I’m still here. Surviving. Loving. Living the only way I know how.

Don’t take your sleep for granted ~ J

What time doesn’t change

Time doesn’t change the depth of pain. Time doesn’t change the harsh silence of the despair over losing her. Time doesn’t even begin to alter the wordless feeling at how she died. The only thing time has changed is my ability to hide the pain further away from unknowing eyes. Time has taught me that there is truly very little that we cannot live without – no matter the pain or suffering. There is nothing about thriving, but live we do. I’ve also learned that time actually has no impact on my actual feelings, just others it seems. Hurtful words like ‘you need to move on, ‘let go’ and ‘live your dream’ make it blazingly clear that very few people have the capacity to believe this kind of pain is even possible..let lone understand it. Frankly I have no need for people to understand something they cannot possibly ever come close to without experiencing it. I just wish for some to curb in their stupid tongues or simply for acceptance that this is the way things are in my life; that nothing will ever change it, make it better, less senseless and not completely shattering all life’s’ dreams. There are no ‘great’ lessons to be had. Unless of course it’s how fucking cruel people are and how unbelievably messed up this world is. Don’t get me wrong, many things I’ve learned from this. But one of best statements I’ve ever heard is – just because someone can survive something, does this mean they should have to? Do you really want a loved one to be that strong? I’ve yet to hear a yes. I would give up everything to still have her with us. I know that my whole family would.

The concept seems to be incredibly hard or mayhap even impossible for many to understand that MY life ended that night. The life of this person who just keeps marching no matter what happens started. My dreams were shattered into dust. There is nothing to fix, nothing to pickup, nothing to save. It’s just gone. Not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror and go ‘who is that??? Oh right.. that is me…’ I suspect my brothers feel the same. I have to find something that looks like a life I could not shake my head at when all is said and done. A life that shows the kids that they can have something if they try, though it sure as hell isn’t what any of us wanted.

I wish I could say that ‘everyone is okay’ and that time has helped. But I cannot attest to either of those things. I wish I could sleep at night. But I can’t. I wish the world made an inkling of sense. But it doesn’t. Tomorrow it will have been three years. Time hasn’t helped. I wish I could help my brothers, comfort the kids, but I cannot even do that. I sit here wondering how I’ll get through tomorrow, life just seems too long. But it always goes on. Particularly when time changes nothing.

The tears no one sees & the pain in my heart no one hears.

The dark days are ahead. About this time the memories start to stir, to flicker in and out of sight but never fully leaving. It starts with an uneasiness that won’t go away. I myself become more withdrawn and a cloud of sadness seems to follow me.  I do not like these times. Such much pain comes back.

I just found out that Jackie was involved in a car wreck with some friends on their way to get food. The SUV flipped at least 3 times and is scrap metal. Thank the gods everyone had seat belts on and only minor scrapes is the list of injuries. My mind whirled with how close I had unknowingly almost lost a brother. I’m so SO happy he is just fine and his usual stubborn self is here with us. But the feeling that he was so close to dying lingers. Maybe I just can’t let go and be thankful for what I do have like many have hedged at. But to my way of thinking, we’ve already lost quite a few people and that anyone could be next. So how would I deal with it? With Jackie, my big beautifully handsome little brother I don’t think I could deal and be sane. My Brothers and Sister mean the world to me even when I am so far away. Losing just one would tear apart the pieces of me that are left and big enough to shred.

I’m so so beyond words that Jackie is just fine. But I am crying anyway because of how close he came to not being so okay.  All I can really do I know, is to tell the idiot to drive with safer people, KEEP wearing those seatbelts and try to make the best choices he can. I’m his big Sister though, so I want to make everything okay for him and keep him safe if I could. I have concerns along these lines with all the kinds, and the little ones I feel like I should be there, with them, for them, so that they know I love them. It sometimes feels like staying one more day away from them will kill me. But the idea of going back and facing that area and a few people (not family) and the memories there…is so much that I don’t know if I could survive it let lone be a good sister who the boys and Janna deserve. So I stay in limbo and nights like this I cry. They depth of despair in my heart makes black holes come to mind. The dogs I am house sitting have spread about the floor as I type. Keeping their doggy things quiet sensing that I need to get this out in as much peace as possible.

I don’t talk on the phone enough to the kids. I need to write more to them. I haven’t seen anyone in over a year now – since Dec 2011. I feel such a deep pool of guilt festering in my soul for not doing what needs to be done. I’m a coward for not visiting them. I hate that they suffer because of me. I have been tying so hard to muster the nerve I will need tenfold to make the journey and not just be thing crazy awful person for them. The older one’s say the know it’s not them, but I know that they don’t quite understand how it is for me, and then begin to assume that it has to be them. I hate that everything I do and say doesn’t make it any easier  or clear for them. Times like this, I despise my weakness. I’m not worthy of their love now. Someday I hope I will, soon.