Almost

•January 31, 2014 • 1 Comment

I’m almost ready to post again here at mysteryoriley.  I guess by my posting tonight, I’m saying it’s time to say something, so almost is actually “now”.  Huh.

So much has happened in these last few months.  Thank you to everyone who has posted comments on various pages and posts over these last 6+ years.  I hope to reply to each of you when able.  Many of your comments have been posted when I’ve been at work or studying for school, and I see them in my email, but can’t quite cope with replying at the time.  Please know that I’ve read your comments, your stories about your lost children, and your distress in grief.  I get it.  This is my work – complicated grief – the kind that demands our attention because we have no answers, or because the answers are simply too tragic to acknowledge as our lot in life.  Oh, exhale.  There are so many of us, and we have so few avenues for positive outcomes.

Yet, there are ways to become attuned with our losses.  It doesn’t seem so in the early days, weeks, months, and years.  If we keep looking at the world around us, and become engaged with the circle of life that surely surrounds us, ultimately, we do find purpose and meaning again.  In the mystery, there is a strangely logical acceptance.  At least, for me.  I hope the same is, or will become, true for you.

I think Owen would have loved Philip Glass’ music.  When I listen to Glass, I see Owen.  I see the instant, the distance, and the unknown.  I hear Owen’s voice in the music.  I hear…well, I hear.  And, I listen to the bliss that is this life and the next.  In child loss, or in any tragic loss of a significant loved one, there is no “mad rush” to resolution.  There is only being in the grief and allowing it to develop into transformation.

Song for the night: Philip Glass, “Mad Rush”  

Tubular Night

•October 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

It’s Halloween, 2013.  HallOWEeN, Owen’s favorite holiday.

This day was loaded before I awoke.  I slept in our guest room last night.  I do this when I feel a need to be alone.  It’s rare, but when I sleep in this quiet space with a great bed and comfy sheets, I usually wake up more rested, and am grateful.  Today was different, slightly odd.  I woke up wondering where I was, out of a sleep so deep I wondered if I could function when placing my feet on the floor.  An old friend, now a distant memory, had visited me in my just-before-waking dream.  She was kind and calm in the dream.  I got her a glass of wine, as she asked.  She was relaxed, not like I know her in the waking world.  I felt sad that our relationship has gone so far south.  And, I felt certain that her path is her path, and mine is mine, once I shook off the stardust.  All good.  All different from what I would have hoped.  To what end, I wondered.

I did function today.  And, fairly well.  I had a great day at work.  I wore black  with an orange shirt and a skull scarf.  I felt like I could do anything.  And, I did plenty.  It turned out to be a good day for contemplating how far we’ve all come, and how far yet we have to go.  I said funny things.  People laughed.  A good day, indeed.

I talked with a friend tonight, one who reminded me why I do my work in dying, death, and grief.  The trick-or-treaters were not at the door yet, so I went to the store to find something quick for dinner.  When I got home, I had to back my car up a few inches to open the garage door.  When I got out of my car, a man yelled at me from the middle of the street that I had almost run over his kid, and that I should be more careful about backing up in my driveway on Halloween.  I yelled back, that I had looked in my rear view mirror and hadn’t seen anyone.  He yelled something awful, and I walked into the garage with tears already flowing.  I remembered what my friend had said on the phone, “You know what you have to do.  Just do it.  Write the papers, do your work.”

I did my best to put my groceries in the kitchen and make ready for the ghosts and goblins soon to show up.  The doorbell rang and I raced to the door with candy in hand.  “Trick or treat” came the salutation.  Before me stood a Spider Man, a Batman, and a fairy.  Candy dolled out, door closed, and I cried again.  I was remembering the years upon years of Halloweens with Nat and Owen in tow – me, the parent worried about driveways and cars, my kids knocking on doors and collecting the treats to be consumed in the days to come.  Suddenly, the years were not the years, they were now.

It’s always now when one of  your kids is dead.  It’s always now when you hear his or her voice saying, “Hey, Mom, can I take a piece of candy in my lunch tomorrow?”  It’s always now when you remember the last time you saw the smile that made you melt and know that love survives all life experiences.  It’s always now when you drive by the place where his or her body was found.  It’s always now when you open the closet in the third bedroom and see his or her clothes, his or her guitars, his or her boxes of books.  Everything that happened then, is everything happening now…because memories are not something that happens in the past.  They are something that happens every time you remember.  And, you remember constantly.  This is the complicated grief that does not go away.  It lives with you every day.  Note: it lives with me every day.  I don’t know how it happens for you.

Later tonight, Nat, Anna, and Ruby came by the house.  They always do on Halloween.  They know how much I want to connect with them on this anniversary of Owen’s special day.  Nat hugged me in the way he always does when he knows I’m hurting.  He’s hurting, too.  He is my touchstone on the significant days.  He’s my touchstone on any old day when he visits, and when he doesn’t.  He knows, like no one else.  We share this profound loss of Owen, like no others.  I can’t describe what it feels like to hug Nat when he and I know we’re thinking the same thing.  We just know.  We hug like it’s the last day.  Because, we never know if it might be.  This is the gift and the deficit of losing a son and a sibling.

I remembered “Tubular Bells” tonight when the kids were here.  I looked it up on YouTube tonight after they left, but none of the posts seemed to say what I want to share.  It’s Halloween, so I am sharing a song of Owen’s choosing.  He loved the movie “Donnie Darko”. I posted something about this movie a long time ago, can’t remember now.  But, as I said, all of it is now.  So, here’s to you, Owen.  It’s a tubular night, no matter what song I post.

You’re such a girl!

•September 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s true.  I am such a girl.  For years, when I was younger and more able to compete with my peers, I tried to blend with the guys.  I employed my physical prowess like them (as much as possible), I communicated like them (as much as possible), I partied like them (as much as possible), well…you catch my drift.  I was an early post-modern male/female amalgam.  Not exactly a crossover, or androgynous, but, more…someone who sees life from both gender aspects without having to adopt either or an adrogynous affect.

What happens to us if we see life from both the male and female perspectives?  Huh.  I see it like this.  No gender.  Just human.  Perhaps this is just too simplistic for most of us.  And, for many, even thinking like this is an abomination.

Is there a generous and thoughtful simplicity to a sentient being that allows us to avoid gender orientation and definition through a discriminating lens?  Not likely, in my experience.  But, maybe, if we see ourselves as animals (as we call them).  I was reminded of how humans discern the human v. the other-than-human world today.  I guess that’s why and how I found this old draft of a post (from March 7, 2012), and revived it just now.

A friend asked me today why he makes a differentiation between feeling “loss” of roadkill when the dead animal seems to be a well-groomed pet versus a sense of “no loss” when he sees what looks to be a stray or a wild animal.  He asked why he has pangs of loss for the perceived pets, but none when the dead is wild or stray.  He was also wondering why it’s so easy to kill cockroaches, but not an animal of a “higher” order.  In response, I went on and on about my spiritual orientation to insects, mammals, humans, how humans tend to adore beauty (pets v. strays), and the All and the Everything.  Yada yada.  I went ON.  Of all the work I did today for school (I’m in a PhD program with an inquiry in thanatology – the study of dying, death, and grief), this was my most fun response because it came from my heart through all of my senses and my spiritual orientation.

I have often been accused of being “such a girl” by my family and friends.  Is that a condemnation of some kind?  Is there something about valuing gender or species that I’m just not getting?  I don’t think so.  I would propose that those who value one gender over another, one species over another, or one philosophy or religion over another are missing the point.

We’re all in this life thing together.  Equally valuable and precious.  Plants, animals, humans, dirt, rocks…mysterious and connected.  At the moment, I’m liking my “girl” designation.  It gives me a way to see difference as something that highlights other ways of seeing the world.  Though I feel I can address many perspectives from a perceived knowing, I can’t really.  I am such a girl.

Song for the night:  Grand Canyon Sunset, Paul Winter.  Question:  what would be the sound of the wilderness, the desert, the mountaintops, the beaches, and the rivers if there were no insects, mammals, birds, fish, the blowing winds, the shifting sands, and the rustling leaves?  What if there were no conversations from the different perspectives of men and women?  Dull.  Still.  Vacuous.

West County Drive

•September 5, 2013 • 1 Comment

I don’t post here much anymore.  I do check in.  Your comments come to my email address, so I read your thoughts and hold you in the highest esteem (you have no idea) – because you took the time to share your losses and hope someone was reading.  I am still reading.

This afternoon, I took a drive to Freestone, CA, less than 10 miles from my home.  I had a massage scheduled at Osmosis Day Spa.

Osmosis is a beautiful place away from the noise and confusion of my everyday world.  I am only an occasional client, one who seeks out an oasis in this amazing valley on the west side of Sebastopol, CA, when I need to escape the mundane and reorient myself.  I found a restful and healing afternoon and wondered why I don’t commit more of my time to this type of self-care.  These afternoons at Osmosis are expensive, beyond what I would normally consider prudent.  Yet, after a massage here, with the bountiful gardens and the setting sun, I get in my car to drive back home, and the physical, emotional, and spiritual relief I feel is worth more than I can adequately convey.

Earlier, on the drive west toward Freestone, however, I was confronted with memories that took me back in time.  I remembered Nat and Owen driving in the car with me when they were young, laughing at something absurd or silly, and holding their hands outside the car windows, catching the air’s currents that caused their hands to wave up and down, unpredictable and full of joy in the unknown coming of a physical manifestation that they couldn’t actually see.  Hands wave up.  Hands wave down.

Tears fell down my cheeks unexpectedly, and washed away my thoughts of this too-busy day through my recollections of times long gone.  As much as I wanted to hold on to the past, I also wanted to open more doors to the future.  Nat, my older son, is 31 now.  He is strong, funny, generous, and smarter than the average bear.  I wished he was with me on this short day trip.  But, alas, he was at work, as is to be expected of a grown man with a family.

How is it that I can so easily see and feel the old days through the files and folders of my mind?  This is the beauty of the human brain, the human senses, and the lived experience.  This is the stuff of which dreams are made.  I get to visit every single aspect of my life whenever the landscape and the car windows open my heart again.  The wind is warm on my face on this September evening.  I’ve opened the windows, and I know love.  This is the mystery of life.  I will never leave my loved ones behind.  They ride with me every day.  I…am…so…lucky.

Song for the night:  Through the Window of My Mind, Beth Hart  (Dave chose this song – he’s such a great companion, the kind of husband and father so many hope to find.)

Memorial turned misdemeanor

•May 4, 2013 • 2 Comments

Nat, Owen’s older brother, has memorialized Owen’s death by throwing flowers into the Petaluma River on his own birthday (Nat’s), every year since Owen died.  His body was found in the River on June 2, 2007, a few weeks after the two of them had celebrated Nat’s birthday together, and less than two weeks before Owen’s 21st birthday on June 13.  The police department was unable to resolve the case and closed it on October 31, 2007, Halloween, Owen’s favorite holiday.

This annual celebration of my son’s life is a sacred practice that helps Nat navigate an unmanageable grief.  If you haven’t lost a sibling or a child or any other close family member or friend in an unresolved circumstance, you might not be able to imagine how important these rituals can become.  Our larger family has thrown flowers into the River on June 2 for years now.  This is part of our healing and a way of remembering Owen’s life and honoring his death.

A few weeks ago, when Nat dedicated his flowers to the River, he was approached by a California Fish and Game Officer who announced that he was writing him a ticket for littering.  Nat explained his actions as a sacred practice in memory of his brother.  The officer called his dispatcher who elevated the issue to management, and the ticket was considered appropriate.

As Nat explained it to me today, the officer was visibly disturbed by the direction from Fish and Game management.  He said the officer’s hands were shaking as he wrote the ticket and he apologized for what he could not change.  Littering is a misdemeanor in our state, and Nat will have to appear in court soon.

While we are acutely aware of the effects of pollution in our waterways, and would not knowingly do anything to pollute our environment, we are also devastated that the Petaluma River is a dumping ground for shopping carts, car parts, dead pets, beer bottles, household garbage, soiled diapers, recyclable cans, and more.  We know because we spent plenty of time at high and low tides (the river is actually a tidal slough) searching for evidence associated with Owen’s demise. We used to look for his bicycle, his backpack, his journals, or any of the other missing items that might lead us to answers.  We never found them.  The Petaluma River is so polluted, it might make you sick to see the river bed.  We’ve seen it plenty of times, and can’t imagine…well…

There are no posted signs on the river’s banks stating the Fish and Game regulations about littering.  We don’t consider throwing flowers (plant life) in the river, in memory of our brother and son littering.  Perhaps, we are naive.  Perhaps, we are unaware of the detrimental effects of flowers on marine life.  But, we certainly can imagine that the garbage in the River has a tragic impact on the environment.

Are flowers more damaging than car tires, grocery carts, household garbage, beer bottles, or other debris?  I don’t know.  But, I know that Nat was only interested in creating a memory with an earth-based element.  California Fish and Game took that away from him by adding this new memory.  He now has a court date to determine his fine.

Who got the ticket for throwing Owen’s body into the River?  Our family still wants to know.  Was his body considered litter?  Who pays that fine?

Song for the night: InThisRiver, Zakk Wylde:

Because it just makes sense

•April 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Synchronicity is a phenomenon – an amazing convergence of time and space.  Often, we imagine how it might be.  And, then, our imagination is played out in real time (or what we think of as real time).  We consider what’s next, and we hope it turns out well for all concerned.  It always does in the end, but, do we recognize it when it happens?  Do we reframe the outcomes and create new experiences, new memories?  I hope that when synchronicity visits you, you find your new you.  People and circumstances might get in the way, but you are in charge of your future.  YOU ARE.

I have found the new me.  And, it’s a fabulous meeting of mind, heart, body, and soul.  My family found their new ways of being in the world after Owen died.  Owen found his new Owen when he died.  I trust that this is true.  I knew him.  He knew me.  We knew stuff that no one else could imagine.  We talked about the synchronicities in our lives, and said, “ah, right, I know that one”.

Song for the night: Synchronicity, The Police

The ‘Bohemian” article

•April 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

No one who hasn’t lost a child can imagine how many times each day I think of Owen, and why I’m so proud to be doing work that honors his life and that of his brother, my older son, Nat.  Yes, certainly, every parent lives and breathes with her or his children – each time they learn a new word, fall down and stand back up, graduate from some educational endeavor, get a great job, quit a bad job, stand up for themselves in difficult situations, and reflect on the all-important moments we remember…and forget because time passes…no matter what.  We all die.  It just happens that sometimes, it’s unexpected, tragic, and/or complex.  Think Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.  And, remember.

I didn’t plan on working in thanatology – the study of dying, death, and bereavement.  But, after losing my dad when I was 10, and losing so many family members and friends over the years (more dead than alive now) – my mom, and Owen – well, really, how could I not think this study is a fit?  My day job is still in human resources, and you might not believe how often death is a part of the conversation with employees.  It is, because it happens as often as birth.  I love the photos of new babies that our employees send to my department.  I also spend lots of time with employees whose family and friends are dying or have recently passed.  The memorials, well, yes, I go to lots of them, too.  It’s an honor to be considered a part of our employees’ lives and their life events.  Ultimately, I’ve worked in thanatology since I was a kid.  I was one of the few of my circle who talked of death openly.  Thanks, Mom and Emmitt.

It’s a fit, thanatology, that is, because I couldn’t let my losses limit my ability to live fully.  I think of it this way.  If I’m afraid of death, my own and those of my loved ones, I’ll be afraid to live.  That just doesn’t make sense.  I want to live my life with a strong attraction to what makes us tick, how we get through what we get through, what’s after this life, what is consciousness, and what’s significant about our various paths toward that day that started at the moment of our own births.

As part of my PhD program last semester, I was tasked with choosing a “transformational project” that answered to a doctoral-level study in transformation.  Transformation is one of those words that often silences us out of an inability to accurately define what it is.  What is transformation to you?

My transformational project became Death Cafe Sonoma, and I’m pleased to add the link to today’s article in the “Bohemian” about our gatherings.

Do you believe in magic?  I do. I always have, even right after my dad died, when this song was released:

 
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