Category Archives: life

This is Grief

Fog on Table RockGrief is not about the person we lost. It is not an exercise in doing what they would have wanted. Grief is for the person who is grieving. It is self care; a process of integrating the loss into our life. Just as her presence in my life changed the person I am, the loss of my daughter’s presence is changing me.This integration of loss is different from the integration of presence.

The integration of presence is like this… Her influence in my life was gradual. Like all my precious daughters, her presence influenced me constantly. It was not a forceful impact, but a natural change agent. Natural as in the things that happen day in and day out that cause us to love, tolerate, forgive, lead, guide, follow, forgive, empathize with, listen to, share thoughts & feelings with, laugh with, cry with, forgive… Without even trying or being aware of it, each of us is changed by the people in our lives. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This is what I mean by the integration of presence.

Unlike the gradual integration of her presence, the loss of her presence was sudden. A shock. Yes, we knew she was ill. We even knew at the end that she was at death’s door, but it was still an abrupt ending to a precious life and to all of the relationships associated with that life. All of us who loved her felt the shock. We all felt the pain. This is difficult to integrate. I don’t want to admit she is gone, much less surrender to it, and yet here I am.

Grief is not at all what I expected. I expected something unfamiliar. What I found was the same old me. I expected a deep sadness that would eventually go away. Of course I am sad at times, but grief is much more than sadness. Grief is a confusing mess of conflicting emotions connected with my loss. It is personal. Pleasant memories that sometimes make me laugh out loud, not so pleasant memories that I would rather forget, pain, emptiness (sometimes shared, sometimes held close) . It’s all part of the package. Each of us experiences it differently. No one has the right to say, “I know just how you feel.” Grief is personal! Even her mom and I are traveling very different versions of the same road. “Get over it and move on with life,” you say? I don’t know what that means. I have no doubt that it will soften as time passes, but when do you stop grieving? To be sure, we do not want to be debilitated by sadness and depression, although there may be periods where that is just what we experience. Grief, whatever it is, is a process that continues while we live.

Grief, whatever it is, is a process that continues while we live.

How is her loss changing me?

  • Since she left us, I understand better how fragile and tenuous life is, which makes it easier to let others off the hook for the odd things they (and I) do. It also makes it harder to say goodbye to those I love.
  • Sure, I still get upset about things, but I find that I get over them more quickly. Her illness and death have helped me understand better that the things I cannot change vastly outnumber the things I can change.
  • I know about things that I never wanted to know about. When I hear that someone has cancer, I can’t help projecting my experience onto them and feeling the weight of what is coming for them.
  • I still know the discomfort of not knowing what to say to someone, but now I also know how much it means to hear simple words of empathy. “I am so sorry.” or “I am thinking of you.”

One year has passed now and it still hurts. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I realize anew that my youngest daughter is not coming home. It still shocks me. It is still abrupt. It doesn’t happen as often, but the similarities with the initial shock of her death are striking. As much as we knew she was dying, her departure was still unexpected. Similarly, as much as missing her has become part of everyday life, that sharp pain of sadness still overtakes me when I least expect it. Just as there is truly no slow, steady movement towards death, there is no getting used to this, no getting over it.

This is grief

Living Presence

1-violets-001

Each of us lives in the lives of others. Sometimes we are fortunate to witness a glimpse of our influence in the life of another person. It could be a word, a quote, a gesture, a choice of restaurants… and we smile to ourselves, “I know where that came from.” But the real treasure, the the beauty of recognizing the influence of another in ourselves, is available anytime anywhere, at the bargain basement cost of a mere moment of reflection.

I know that we live in the lives of those we touch. I have felt in me the living presence of many I have loved and who have loved me. I experience my daughter’s presence with me daily. And I know that this is not limited to those we know in the flesh, for many guests of my life shared neither time nor space with me.

~Elizabeth Watson (quoted in Healing After Loss-Sept 8th)

Reading this quote of Elizabeth Watson this morning, my thoughts went immediately to Kat and her influence in my life. She influenced me greatly both in her life and her death (that word is still so raw and painful). But how do I pin it down and definitively say, “This is how Kat influenced my life”?  In answer to that question, in my imagination a picture appeared of Kat opening a door to a vast beautiful landscape. A garden with full, shady trees, wild grasses and beautifully colorful wildflowers. I step into this landscape which is now part of my world, always there for me to enjoy. Now that I live in this new world, I could try to name every aspect of this landscape to give her credit or I can simply say, “Kat opened the door for me to see life in a new and amazingly beautiful way. My life will never be the same.”

Pink Squares

fb redUpdate: When I first posted this, I understood the meaning behind the image, but I didn’t understand some pretty basic things about it… First, it is an equal sign (=). Seems silly now, but I didn’t see that in the beginning. Also, it is a red version of the Human Rights Campaign logo. The name of this blog entry is a testament to my ignorance 🙂

My version of the image here is a morph of the HRC logo with a photo of my daughter, Kat.

Polarizing topics like same sex marriage stir us and rarely lead to respectful dialog.  We tend to go to our respective poles and shout whatever our side tells us to shout. Yesterday on Facebook, I joined with many who changed their profile photos to a red square with two pink squared contained within. This was to show my support for equal civil rights for same sex couples as I enjoy with my wife. I have written before about how my views about homosexuality were influenced by my daughter, Kat. I stand by those words. If you have not read them, you can find them in this post, Loving Kat, Changing Me.

I am aware that because of the polarization of same sex relationships in general and gay marriage in particular, my recent posts in support of gay marriage probably imply things that I do not mean. So please allow me to explain what I believe today (it will likely change).

  • I do not automatically believe that everyone who disagrees with me about these matters is homophobic or hateful.
  • I believe that marriage should be a religious joining that fits the beliefs of the couple being married.
  • No church or other religious order should be required to perform or sanction marriage that violates their teachings. A church organization should retain the right to hold that homosexuality is a sin and should never be forced to perform same sex marriages.
  • I believe that the government should get out of the business of regulating marriages.  Period.
  • I believe that appropriate legal benefits and consequences should only be administered through legal contracts of domestic partnership agreements.
  • There should be no legal recognition of marriage at all. This is not a state matter.
  • Any two consenting adults… (It should go without saying, but since this is about clarification… I do not advocate any kind of sanction for child sex relationships)… again, Two consenting adults should be able to make a binding legal contract in which they commit to one another no matter whether they are different sexes or the same sex.

I strongly suspect that 50 years from now (or less), our descendants will look back at this debate much as we look back at issues like racial segregation and women’s right to vote today.  They will wonder why we had such a hard time accepting people who were different than the majority.

I am one of a quiet but growing group that is stepping carefully and fearfully into the unknown, asking hard questions of the leaders they have followed unquestioningly all of their lives. I have been on both sides of this “issue”. Kat helped me see it not as an issue, but as a human rights situation involving real humans; humans who deserve the same civil rights as I do, not because of my sexual orientation, but because I am a living breathing human being that deserves respect.

I welcome conversation around this topic from people who disagree with me. I only ask for an agreement up front that we will listen to one another honorably and respectfully and that it is okay to end the conversation with disagreement on the topic.

Tick Tock

Life goes on one moment following another. The predictable rhythm of the second hand, the rising & setting sun, the seasons… Tick, Tock, tick, tock… lulls us to sleep. When asked how we are doing, we automatically answer, “Same old thing. New day.” Then something happens that shakes our world to the core.

Last Friday evening, dear friends of ours lost their grandchild, a four year old girl who died in a tragic accident. Shocking! Frightening! A deep sadness has taken over. So many feelings & wonderings floating around in my head. Most of my questions begin with the word, “Why”.

I am awake, alive, feeling again! Reminded once again how wonderfully precious is life.

And how terribly fragile.

Tick, Tock, tick, tock…

Mother Earth and Father Time

This morning, I was privileged to witness a holy moment.  It all started when Danae learned that a dear friend had passed away last night.  Molly was eating her breakfast and Danae began to cry. I told her that mama was sad.  She went to her mama, hugged her and said in her sweet little voice, “It’s ok to be sad, Mama.”

They hugged for a while and Molly asked if she could sing her mama a lullaby. Of course mama said she could. I wondered which of her many special lullabies she would sing. When she started, I was floored by the poignancy of her choice, Mother Earth and Father Time from Charlotte’s Web…

How very special are we
For just a moment to be
Part of life’s eternal rhyme

How very special are we
To have on our family tree
Mother Earth and Father Time

He turns the seasons around
And so she changes her gown
But they always look in their prime

They go on dancing their dance
Of every lasting romance
Mother Earth and Father Time

The summer larks return to sing
Oh what a gift they give
Then autumn days grow short and cold
Oh what a joy to live

How very special are we
For just a moment to be
Part of life’s eternal rhyme

How very special are we
To have on our family tree
Mother Earth and Father Time

Marrow Sucking

I am sitting in the lobby at Duke Hospital writing this on my droid. Upstairs the best medical staff on the planet are pumping poison into my daughter to kill this awful cancer. I was planning to work remotely today, but forgot to bring my laptop power cord. So it has become a vacation day. Not really my choice for a vacation, but it is good to just stop all the activity for a while.

It was almost a year ago that I wrote this blog post describing the terror of our situation, http://jimazing.com/blog/2011/04/falling/. I am so thankful that I do not feel that way still. Today it feels surreal. As if this cannot possibly be happening to me and my family. It’s sort of like a dream. Surely I’ll wake up soon.

When I was a youngster, I wondered if I was living in a dream. I thought maybe I had fallen asleep when I was 7 years old and even though I was 10, I expected that I might wake up and really be only 7. Sometimes I still wonder if that 7 year old is going to wake up soon, rub his little eyes and say, “Man oh man! What a dream!”

Yet, here we are… Here I am. Sitting in a hospital lobby.

I don’t ask why. I know that many people do. It is just not a question on my mind. This Bible passage means a lot to me. Jesus said, ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” My personal translation of that verse is, “shit happens”. We do not get to choose everything that comes our way. Who among us would choose cancer!? And yet it happens… A lot! I don’t know why.   Although I would never have chosen this path… (ironically autocorrect changed path to pathology)… this is the path we have walked for the past year.

Because of this journey we have received such love and support that I feel completely overwhelmed. It was there all the time, but it took this horrible situation for it to be revealed. That is a blessing we experienced as a direct result of Kat’s illness.

I find myself asking if it was worth it. And immediately I recognize that question is closely akin to, “Why?” It is a question that does not need any of my attention. Of course I would never choose this course… I am not thankful for the cancer! I am thankful for family and friends in spite of the cancer. Does that make any sense at all?

Because of this journey, I am aware of the healthcare system in so much more intimate way. I don’t know if I shared this tidbit before, but just 3 or 4 weeks prior to getting sick, Kat was promoted to full time. Because of that, she has had excellent insurance. Her benefits ended with her job on March 1, 2012 (yesterday). That is an amazingly wonderful blessing on the one hand and also, I believe it is a tragedy of our healthcare system. Why is health insurance tied to our jobs? (rhetorical question) Is my life & health more valuable when I have work than when I do not? (I truly do not mean to open the can of worms that is our healthcare system.) My point is that because of what Kat is going through, I see some of these “issues” up close and personal… and that is a blessing.

There have been many times throughout this that I wondered if I would ever have another rational conversation with Kat. When she was in such pain that nothing else mattered to her, and we wondered if we would ever find out what was causing that pain. Now it is happening. She is beginning to talk about the journey so far and her dreams for the future. I find myself treasuring those times like the treasure they truly are. That is a blessing.

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

–Henry David Thoreau

Like Thoreau, I believe there is life to be lived… deeply through good times and bad. Unlike Thoreau, I did not choose to go into the woods. My “woods” just happened. Somehow the the hard times have a way of waking me up. I am becoming more aware of the richness that is always there, but so easily missed.

New Guy

takemyadviceOn Sunday mornings, I meet with a group of friends at Amelies French Bakery. We talk about life together and encourage one another. Meeting at a public location can sometimes make things interesting, like this morning… a fellow came in and invited himself (politely) to be part of our group.

When he joined us, I was in the middle of telling them about how things were going with my daughter, Kat. I was aware that New Guy was unaware of what I was talking about, so I looked at him and explained briefly that we just learned she has cancer, just enough of the story so he would not be completely in the dark. I continued bringing my friends up to date. When I was done, the new guy asked if we had looked into “natural healing”. I gently said, “No, I am not interested.” He backed off and I thought that was the end.

When our little gathering ended, and I was leaving, New Guy approached and said, “I just wanted to tell you one thing…” which I abruptly interrupted and said curtly, “If you want to encourage me, I will welcome it, but I am not interested in listening to solutions right now.”

He was bewildered, “You don’t want to hear about something that could potentially help your daughter?”

I said, “No, I don’t want to hear it. I know you mean well, but I cannot listen to this.”

“Why not?”

Normally, I would have just pretended to listen to the guy, and then walked away, but after months of caring for Kat, I am tired. I have very little margin for worrying about the feelings of others. At this point in the conversation, I have asked him twice to back off and instead he’s pushing back and questioning my concern for my daughter!?!

I replied as calmly as I could, “You have got to walk in my shoes to understand that,” and turned to walk away.

New guy just wouldn’t stop. As I walked away, he was questioning why I would not consider every option available. How could I be so unloving as to…

I do know that he meant well, but I was so angry. How can this guy whom I have just met, who does not know me, does not know my situation, has never known Kat, has only just heard that she has cancer… How can he possibly have any valuable input into our situation? I wanted to tell him to come sit with Kat and me for a couple of hours while I massage her back in silence and then help us make the three day journey to Duke (which is only 2½ hours away). Sit with me and be my friend. Cry with me and listen to me vent… then decide if you really have anything to add.

I feel much better now. New guy helped me realize how much I value the friends who have walked through this with us. Who have laughed and cried with us and who will be with us to the end (and beyond). You know who you are. I love you.

If you want to follow Kat’s progress, please check out our site on Caringbridge.org

Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

coalminersAt one time not so very long ago in mining communities, the company owned everything and loaned the miners enough to just get by. But they never paid the workers enough to repay the debt. This way they kept the miners in something very close to slavery. As the song, “Sixteen Tons” said, “I owe my soul to the company store.” These miners never had a chance to break out of the cycle. As soon as they made a dollar, they had to pay it to the company, which forced them to borrow to meet their own needs and the cycle continued…

I have an awareness creeping in tonight that I am hopelessly in debt! Not to the company store, but in so many other ways. With our recent challenges, there are so many projects that have not been completed or even worked on, so many messages from friends and family who love me and my family asking how things are going. So many prayers and well wishes. So many who have leaned in to one degree or another. There is no way I could ever pay all of you back or even hope to catch up with all that I “should have” gotten done and what I’ll need to get done in the meantime…

Jesus once admonished a Pharisee that when he put on a party, he should not invite his rich friends, but instead invite people who could never repay him (Luke 14). I am the recipient of such generosity, but it is hard to accept such gifts no matter how freely they are given. That, of course, leaves me feeling that I am completely covered up… drowning in debt, so to speak. In a sense, we are actually covered up and drowning in gifts of  grace, love, compassion, concern.

Thank you

Hurt People Hurt People

Hurt people hurt people.  People hurt others because they themselves are hurt.  The people who they hurt, hurt others.  It is an endless cycle… unless it is not.  What can stop the cycle?

flockPeople like you and I point fingers at one another saying, “You hurt me!”  The truth is, I did hurt you, whether I meant to or not.  You hurt me, whether you meant to or not.  I am hurt.  You are hurt.  I cannot see your hurt because of my own hurt.  You can’t see mine because of yours.  We are each stuck in our own pain, pointing fingers of blame.  Again, the endless cycle.  What can stop the cycle.

The only choice other than feeling the pain and looking for blame seems to be to just sweep it all under the rug.  Just pretend as if nothing happened.  But it did.  The hurt is real.  The pain is intense.  To ignore it is to direct the rage inward.  Inward where it will eat us alive.  What else can we do?  Am I supposed to just “forgive and forget”?  I can’t forget.  It hurts too bad.   The two choices to a) live in the pain and feel the hurt or b) bury the pain and pretend it is not there both feed the cycle.  But it is all most of us have ever seen… ever!  There must be another way.

Enter Grace stage left…

No, I’m not getting religious.  As much as I have heard grace talked about at church, rarely if ever have I seen it practiced.  I’m not talking about some cosmic thing that you can’t quite put your brain around.  I mean the kind of demonstrated grace we can experience in this life.  It understands we are both in pain and that much of that pain is born from misunderstanding.  The grace I am talking about allows me to listen to you without defense when you are accusing me.  (Ever experienced that?)  In this kind of grace I recognize that I am a pain giver as well as a pain receiver. (Ouch!)   This grace creates a space where you and I can listen to one another for understanding, not to fix the problem and not even to agree!  The kind of grace space I mean is one where you and I can feel both listened to and understood.  Where we are not so concerned with who got the most points or who won.

The world is full of hurt people.  Some of them were hurt by me.  Some by you. I know some of the wounds I have inflicted, but not all of them.  I want to live in a place of grace where I can confess my faults and feel understood.  If there is to be any hope of having a space like that, someone has to start.  Someone must break the cycle.  In that spirit, I want to be one who helps create those kinds of spaces for others.  It has to start somewhere.  Why not here?  Why not now?  It is not an easier way to live, but it is a better way to live.

A Perspective on Hierarchies

Two seemingly unrelated stories stirred something deep in me… Warning: movie spoiler ahead.

puzzle-piecesStory 1: I was talking to a friend this morning.  Incidentally this friend is a few years younger than I.  In the near future, we will be spending more time together, and we were discussing how we were each looking forward to that time.  He said he was looking forward to all the things he would learn from me in our time together. I replied that I predicted there would be a lot of mutual learning.  He responded that he wasn’t sure what he could teach me.  Hmmm…

Story 2: Last night, I watched the movie Instinct about a man who lived among apes and then became a murderer.  It is a classic storyline of an old guy teaching a somewhat arrogant, self-assured, young guy stuff about life.  The teacher has the reigns of power.  He is always in control, in charge and invincible.  In the end, they young guy learns lessons about himself that the teacher somehow knew how to pull out of him.  It is only at the very end that we learn (almost as an afterthough) that the teacher has also learned from the student.  In the movies, the older guys always teach the younger guys things and the younger guys either have (or learn to have) total respect and reverence for their teachers.  The teachers always have the upper hand.

When I was a youngster, I learned those rules well.  In the heirarchy of relationships, my teachers are above me.  They are all-knowing and unquestionable.  It is my job to learn what the teacher knows.  Period.  The teachers have already been through what I have been through, so there is nothing I can teach them. One day, I will be the teacher. Until then, I am the student. I looked forward to the day when I could be the older guy teaching the younger ones about life.  Then, I would get the respect that comes from being the sagacious teacher and leader.

I find myself at that point of transition.  Although I don’t see myself as an “old guy” yet, I find that there are more younger people in my life than older people.  I am beginning to see things from the other perspective.  I see that the old guy in the movies is hiding behind the hierarchical relationship.  The old guy still has a lot of stuff to work through and learn.  In fact, the whole hierarchy thing is bullshit (sorry mom, it was the right word this time).  Maybe there is a good purpose behind hierarchies, but they do not promote the honoring of individuals and do not contribute to building strong relationships.

Now that I have “paid my dues” and “earned the right” to be the “sagacious teacher”, rather than enjoying the role, I find myself wanting to destroy the hierarchical nature of the whole shebang. The society that we live in produces and encourages these kinds of hierarchies.  Most are unaware of them, but feel a “need” to have them to be able to function. I think they are dishonoring and that we mostly hide behind them.

In areas where I wield the power, I want to use it to empower others.  Rather than spouting my own “wisdom” all the time, I want to learn from the perspectives of others.  I want to be an encourager and a builder of people… and I want to help normalize those kinds of relationships… relationships that honor and respect others.  Not because we have earned it somehow, but because we are breathing the same air.  I want to listen to stories and dreams; stories that tell how we got here and dreams of where we want to go.

I keep thinking about the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Each person brings a new perspective and each perspective has value. To my friend, I say, “I hope you will learn from me.  I hope that some of the things I have learned through the years will help you in your journey.  I look forward to sharing my stories and dreams with you.  I also look forward to the stories and dreams you will share with me… and what I will learn from you.