Tag Archives: miracles

he gave me a backpack, he showed me the way

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His last gift to me was a backpack.  A royal blue, 60 liter, Gregory backpacking pack. Rugged, heavy, built for the wilderness and paid for with drug money, or maybe it was stolen. He smiled while he extended the pack and I felt his glassy, bloodshot eyes trying to read my face. I hesitated, as this gift-giving stank of another tactic to delay me in throwing his ass out of the house we bought three years earlier with the blind optimism of newlyweds. A new build, as young as our marriage. I can recall the smell of the fresh plywood as we wandered through the partially framed-out structure the day we signed the purchase agreement. We were two children playing house in a half-built skeleton, wondering where the ceiling fan would hang in the living room.  If I had known what demons lurked in the shadows of the not-so-distant future I would have fallen to my knees in the construction dust and screamed.  Instead, I innocently grasped his sweaty hand with mine and contemplated ceiling fans. It was better that way, better not to know of the impending storm. It wasn’t long, after all, before the demons stepped into the light; we saw their faces and whispered their names, and began the long slog of suffering which brought us, too-thin and broken, to that moment under the whirring ceiling fan when he handed me a backpack. A bulky manufacturer’s tag swung back and forth in the circulating air and the body of the pack was slightly slumped, begging to be filled with camping gear. My toes curled on the standard-issue, builders-grey carpeting while I steadied my face, trying to suppress delight at the pack so as not to confuse the giver, for I had no delight left for him. But I smiled, I couldn’t help myself, and I took the backpack from his shaky grip. Sliding it on my thin shoulders it felt foreign, but somehow right.

How did he know I needed that backpack? He was nearly as shattered as a person can be, consumed by addiction and rocked with grief. Was he informed by whatever love for me that remained lodged in his big, broken heart? Was some higher force working through this tortured man, transforming selfishness into charity? I may never know, but this gift, this final act of generosity in our doomed marriage, was the answer to the question I had yet to articulate.  In giving me a backpack he showed me the door to my salvation , although I didn’t walk through it in earnest for many more years.  I had more suffering to do.  I had to fall further before I was ready to rise.

Oh, and I have risen!  Nature has soothed me.  Freedom has saved me. And this pack has been with me through it all, my trusted companion while I strolled through forest meadows, gazed at the sea, smelled temple incense and gulped thin mountain air. We shared the adventures he and I only dreamed of. It has traveled in trucks, planes, trains, but mostly on my sweaty back. We have been rained on, hailed on, snowed on, and baked in the desert sun. I have kicked dust on it, I have thread wildflowers through its numerous straps. I have dropped it, propped it, hung it, slugged it. It is starting to show its age, but I still adventure with it proudly.  From misery to ecstasy, we have been through a lot together.

the encounter with the bighorn

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They grazed near a crystalline stream, in the prolific fields of wild grape which covered the reddish deser rock in thick layers of green, snaking tendrils. A group of six female Desert Bighorn Sheep, accompanied by a rambunctious lamb, thrilled with bouncing off his elders’ rumps and frolicking through the leafy vines. With their appearance the canyon went quiet- as though the hikers and the birds and the insects knew we were in the presence of holy beasts, animal sages here with a message, or a blessing, or maybe for a delicious sunset meal. We caught the words, the buzzing, the song in our throats and quietly watched in suspended awe. I crouched on the cool sand, unobtrusive as I could be, and snapped photos. The sheep appraised me with yellow eyes and a cool stare but kept chewing on grape leaves, bottom jaws rotating in an exaggerated swing.
 

 
 
I had longed for an encounter with these rare creatures, and my day finally arrived. I gazed, transfixed, while my eyes welled inexplicably with tears. Maybe from appreciation for their gentle reminder to enjoy the tenderest leaves of life.  Maybe from the overwhelming joy at being in a beautiful place, in the presence of beautiful creatures. Or more likely, I cried from the gratitude that, even in the soup of heartbreak, dreams can still come true. They may not be the dreams I had before, the dreams that built the walls of my former life. But new beginnings give birth to new dreams, and they are coming to fruition
 
 
 

sorrows weave a web of joy

I spend my days caring for people who are living with loss. Sometimes its the loss of an identity as a healthy person.  Sometimes its the loss of a long life expectancy.  Sometimes its the loss of a breast.  The loss of estrogen. The loss of energy, vitality. The loss of long, sexy hair that trails to the small of a back. The loss of trust, the loss of a belief that everything will be okay.

I don’t know what it feels like to have breast cancer, and I didn’t know how it feels to be a mother to a dying child when I worked in pediatric bone marrow transplant, and I didn’t know how it feels to be a homeless, chemically dependent and mentally ill AIDS patient when I was a med-surg nurse in a county hospital. But life has a funny way making us let go, and let go, and let go some more, and after all this letting go we turn to other humans, who murmur yes, I understand what its like to see the most precious dreams fly away, I have felt the texture of the walls and the weight of the thick black air of a world of darkness, and I have come out on the other side. I have always enjoyed my patients, but I’m a different kind of nurse now.  Its subtle, probably not noticeable. But there is a slight shift in the air, a longer gaze in which I say without words I can better understand you. 

Sadly, loss breaks a few of us and there are casualties along the way, but more often than not, it simply destroys that which no longer fits. We need the heartbreak in order to open up more fully. And with this miracle of the human spirit we can then weave together the threads of our sorrows with those of others. We bond. We make a web of connection, and it captures the joy and blessings of this bizarre, difficult, beautiful world.  The details of our individual suffering is always unique, but in the collective experience of loss, we turn to each other with a soft and courageous stare and say I may not know, but I understand. 

the loosening and the rebirth

This brilliant blogger wrote today:

“Resolve” originates in the Latin resolvere: “to loosen, undo, settle,” a seemingly paradoxical combination of the intensive prefix re and solvere (to loosen)… I wonder how the same word can mean both becoming settled and becoming undone.. Isn’t that also what the process of grief is?  I have become undone by it, but it also has settled into me, not necessarily always for the worse.   It has given me the resolve to do what I feel I must to honor Jim in this new life without him.

Yes. Grief has loosened me, settled me, created me into something new. I gaze with wonder at what grew in the wake of that fiery blaze, the green tendrils of life that appear among the smoldering ashes, reaching towards the sun.

I’m only human; I flinch away from pain and seek out pleasure. But if I look beyond simplistic judgement of suffering=bad and pleasure=good, I can embrace the new beginnings, the wisdom, the joy that sprung forth from the losses in my life.  I still want my mother with me, but the pain of losing has birthed (and is still birthing) something totally new into existence in my heart. This new way of being is still developing and I’m only beginning to understand how I have changed. I probably don’t seem that much different on the outside, but there is a shift in my core.  I linger longer when admiring a soaring bird or blooming rose, I laugh deeper, I am happier being me. Her death taught me how to live, and today I can it better- with more gratitude, more hope, more joy.

Like our mother’s suffered in bringing us forward into the world, our grief can unravel that which no longer serves us, burn the barriers we have built around our hearts down to a grey, crumbling ash, and allow us to be born into a new life. I have resolve- to both let go and to settle, to be rooted in my self and trust that on the wings of my suffering I can fly, in the charred remains of what was I can bloom again.

the gift of the new year

Its a new year. 2013. In light of my recent loss I thought this holiday would be more bitter than sweet, full of remorse, grief, the sensation of happiness slipping through my fingers and sliding away.

But here’s the miracle in all of this: I felt joy. My heart was full with hope and gratitude.  I’m ready for a new beginning, for what this year and beyond has tucked beneath her wings. I know that I am stronger, my relationship is stronger. I am ready to reap rewards after the long slog of 2012, to let the old fall to the floor like a chiffon dress and step into the light.  And you know what? Because of my experiences over the last few years, I can find the beauty in anything.  Even sadness.  Even heartbreak.  So no matter what is in store for me in 2013, I have the confidence that I will be okay.  I can soar through any storm and come out on the other side with flapping wings shining gossamer in the sunshine.

Thanks to all the kind souls who have given me support on the written (typed?) page this year, who have reached out in a spirit of compassion and understanding.  From connecting me with my mother’s high school boyfriend to discovering kindred spirits with similar life experiences scattered across the globe, I appreciate the power of this little blog to bring me joy, wisdom, and the sense of being part of a greater web of understanding.  I’ve learned and am learning from all of you. Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for broadening my world.  I couldn’t do this without you.

For those of you perusing blogs on your holiday from work, here are my most popular blog posts from 2012. Enjoy, and thanks to the statisticians at WordPress.

1. appreciate the present moment

2. a mother’s love

3.blessings

4. the return

5. my mother’s autopsy

So, Happy New Year! Stay safe, stay grateful, and (if you will) keep reading. 🙂

 

the magical compost pile

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two of our compost piles, hard at work.

The most magical place in our home is the compost pile. With open arms, it takes the dead, the rotten, the leftovers.  Add in sun and water and the hard work of slithery creatures and dutiful microbes, the compost is transformed into rich, black dirt.  It feeds our plants and flowers.  The micronutrients are reborn into something beautiful and often delicious.

I can see why people several hundred years ago thought life was formed from invisible particles that float in the air.  It seems as if God breathes onto our muck and turns it into something of inherent good.Things transform quickly. One day an apple core, the next day something new.  The building up from the breaking down, it seems divine.  But its just life, the everyday miracle of existence here on earth.

I wouldn’t say that God is decomposing the waste products from my thorough cleanout of the chicken coop this weekend, but this humble pile has taught me a spiritual lesson or two.

I will let the losses in my life transform me.  I will become stronger and healthier as I absorb the good from all whom I have left me, and all I have left behind.  That which I have lost is still with me, in the same way that the molecules in the flowers my mom sent me for my birthday last year will be reborn into this winter’s lettuce crop.

I want my mother back.  I want to sit next to her, drink coffee and feel her hand in mine.  But that is not possible. I have choices, though.  I can cultivate the gaping holes in my heart so something new can flourish.  I can grow.

say yes

I have a friend who survived a serious illness when she was 19.  The kind of illness that kills more often than it is cured. The odds may not have been in her favor, but she fought her way through. Through some combination of fate, medical technology and will to survive, she made it.

She is now in her 30’s, and her life is so full it nearly bursts at the seams. She is an oncology nurse.  She is a dancer.  She makes music with her cello and her drums.  She travels.  She teaches. She recently finished her masters degree. Her life is exciting and dynamic, and she is a far cry from the depressed, sick teenager confined to a hospital bed that she once was.

Her story could have ended 15 years ago in upstate New York, but instead she was given a second chance.  What she has done with that second chance was say yes.  Yes yes yes!  She follows her dreams.  She adventures.  She could be angry about what she lost (her fertility, her sense of immortality, etc.) but she turned her life into a creature of greater meaning and purpose.  I don’t know if it was a conscious choice or a subconscious desire to make her life into something wonderful, but that’s what she did. This is one beautiful and inspiring individual.

She and I are a bit alike in that we have many interests and get excited about a rainbow of things on this earth.  But unlike her, I limit myself.  I say no out of fear, or out of habit.  So I’m very grateful to know her, and to have her teach me to say yes a little more often.  Just this week, she encouraged me to say yes to going to a concert on a worknight.  Even though I was tired the next day at work.  Even though the tickets were a little expensive.  It was so worth it.

If I’ve learned anything in adulthood, its that you have many choices, and you can’t take every path.  Even my friend must say no sometimes.  But she helps me see the places that I can say yes, to help me rethink what I believe is impractical or impossible.

There is a dark side to everything.  Taking every opportunity will only leave you depleted and exhausted.  Sometimes saying no is the best choice. But on the other hand, sometimes you just have to say yes.

 

image courtesy of http://tucsoncitizen.com

my work

Here I go, breaking my rules again… (the one about not writing about work)

Its been a hard few weeks at the office.  Even though I feel I’m divinely suited for this job (nurse practitioner in oncology), sometimes its overwhelming, and I think maybe life working in urgent care or a weight loss clinic wouldn’t be so bad.  This last month has been full of disease progression, hospice discharges, and death.  People I have grown to love, struggling with pain, dying too young.

My years of working in bone marrow transplant taught me a certain brand of detachment–  how to stay rooted in the present and not be attached to a future for the human beings in front of me.  It was a powerful lesson in letting go; I couldn’t look into the eyes of children with high risk leukemia day after day and worry about what was awaiting them next month or next year– it was unlikely to be a healthy, normal childhood. I had to care for and advocate for my patients, do the very best job possible every day, but turn over the outcomes and what would happen tomorrow to the universe, God, Buddha, Mother Mary, physicians, someone or something else other than myself. Because there are patients that will die despite a favorable prognosis and everyone doing the right thing, and there are patients that will somehow fight their way out of the grip of death and against all odds, survive. You never quite know in this business.

My patients these days are healthier and many of them are cured.  Even the women with aggressive, metastatic disease usually live years rather than months. I see them week after week, month after month, and I grow very fond of them.  We laugh together, we hug, we share photos and stories, I meet their best friends and relatives.  Its hard to say goodbye after such a long relationship.  I thought I was getting better at this but now I’m not so sure.  My loss of my mother has made me more sensitive to what the families are going through. As I work through my own grief I can feel what the surviving loved ones are experiencing.  It hurts.  I also see my mother in some of these patients and feel as helpless as I did to fix things during her illness.  I sit in the exam rooms with my dying patients and look down at my empty, searching hands.

And yet perspective is everything.  I am greeted with success stories every day.  These women plunged down the rabbit hole of cancer treatment and emerged on the other side, bathed in sunlight. As elusive as those rogue cells can be, resorting to every dirty trick in the book, sometimes cancer is completely slaughtered with the arsenal of treatment.  It happens.  An everyday miracle.  A billion cells, a million microscopic explosions in the battlefield of the body.  Victory down to the smallest unit of life.

Even when the war cannot be won, the enemy is usually held at bay for a while.  Mom’s cancer was very drug resistant, but I still think chemo bought her time.  Important time.  If she were here, I think she’d say that the nausea and the hair loss and the fatigue was worth it for her.

So, what I do weighs on me sometimes.  But it matters.  I can’t forget that.

butterfly birthday

let flowers bloom. my birthday Adenium

Today is my birthday.  I’m 32.

In general, the years are speeding up as I age, yet this one has felt long.  I can’t remember my birthday from last year very well, other than I spent it away from my mother who was in Houston, and was feeling the special flavor of unease you feel when separated from a sick loved-one. So very much has changed since then.

I have struggled with grief and despair this week, but this birthday seems particularly blessed.  I have been touched by unusually thoughtful gifts and expressions of love.

  • my coworkers pulled together money to purchase a piece of art that was for sale at the Cancer Center, simply because they noticed I would look at it every day and smile
  • a woman I deeply enjoy but have never had the opportunity to know well gave me an exotic plant crowned with beautiful pink flowers. Her husband nurtured this plant from seed for years in his greenhouse.
  • a woman I discharged to hospice months ago, fully expecting her to pass away soon, walked into the Cancer Center and gave me a huge hug, some small gifts, and a card covered with butterflies.
  • and more…

I have often felt awkward on my birthday- uncomfortable with the attention and the unilateral gift-giving.  This year I feel profound loss, yet an even greater gratitude for what I do have. Every card, gift, text message and embrace has been meaningful and beautiful.  I am part of a huge network of love, with lacy fingers that envelop the globe.  No, I don’t deserve it, but in life we get both less and more than we deserve. I’m 32, and way overdue to learn to accept a love that makes me shudder with its magnitude.

My friend told me “Its your butterfly birthday!” And she is right.  Grief is transformative. Our losses can bring us to the brink of madness, and at the same time blast apart our shell, open our hearts, let the light in.  Grief rolls in like a 10 armed Hindu goddess that can destroy the universe with a flick of a wrist and maniacal smile, yet if you don’t go down in the fiery blaze she’ll also take away that which limits you.

I wish we could keep our loved ones by our side forever, but the universe is built on death and destruction.  Still, flowers bloom in the ashes, babies are birthed in pain and blood, the worm is torn apart to become a winged thing of beauty.  This is the mysterious, wonderful, terrible, and awesome way of the world.

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She always complained bitterly that this plant never bloomed. She tended it, neglected it… no matter what, it was always green.

In this first spring since her death, it is now loaded with blossoms. The branches are heavy in an explosion of fuchsia. It is beautiful, and also sends a shiver down my spine. I wonder…