Thursday, April 10, 2014

widow, orphan, and what comes after

So three months after Mike, the day after Christmas, daddy left. It's a blessing to know he's no longer suffering, yet so hard to accept a world without Eugene in it.

As a child, I lived in stark terror of death, courtesy of First Lutheran Elementary and the filter in my brain that pulls every frightening thing out of religion that's there (and possibly not there).

Also the not-good-enough, that was definitely a gift of First Lutheran. Not good enough to survive the judgment that comes after death, because who is? And once dead, they "put you in the ground in a really pretty box" and the worms come (thank you Stanton Hoffmeier, 1st grade Sunday school teacher).

Lying awake at night, petrified by that prayer ~ "if I should die before I wake" ~ I'd listen to my heart beat. The thud, thud, thudding in my ear, cushioned as it was by my little pink lamb pillow, was so alarming I couldn't sleep. All I could think of was what happens when it stops. And I'd imaging lying in the cold and the dark, below ground, in that pretty (I imagined paisley in 1964) box. Dead.

As terrified as I was of it most of my life, I'd never have dreamed that death could be so welcome. As my sister and I sat by my father's bed that final morning, alone with him for a brief period, we both prayed mightily for whatever Power exists in the Universe to let him go, to free him from the horror of dementia that he'd lived with for years.

From the first morning he called me over a decade ago, deeply shaken because he'd gotten lost in Ponca City, to the last few years when daily living was hell, the deterioration had been slow and unrelenting. Because he had a great, big, shiny, amazing brain, I suspect he lasted longer than some, but dementia gets everyone in the end. A killing heart attack, a massive stroke, so much more merciful than the slow dissolution of a life, a personality.

When I couldn't get enough of my father as an adult, enough alone time, because he was always surrounded by those who adored him, I could never have envisioned a day when I'd pray him dead. We sang songs for him, prayed so he could hear us, our old Lutheran indoctrination serving us well in those final moments. We whispered in his ear that was okay to go, that all of his loved ones were waiting for him. And that was no lie, no banal palliative whispered to encourage him to release this life. In the week before he died, I sat with him while he held extended lucid conversations with long dead relatives, though he'd been incapable of conversation for six weeks. Believe or don't, I know absolutely that they had come to urge him to get going. It was time, past time, for him to move on.

I've admitted to being woo-woo before, my catch-all term for a believer in the Energy of the Universe that inhabits us all, in the One Spirit that enlivens every living breathing creature from plant to whale, humans included. I meditate, talk to my dead loved ones (yes, out loud), and have heard from them all in the last eighteen months: daddy, Mike, my long lost mother.

So again, believe what you like. I don't actually believe this, that we continue. I know it. There is a difference in believing and knowing: you can believe that I'm wearing a ladylike white blouse and elegant skirt, sitting here at my desk in my tidy office, clattering away, because I tell you so. And why not believe it? But in fact, I'm clothed in black sweats and a black, dog-hair bedecked t-shirt, the only ladylike aspect of my appearance being my pink fingernails and red lipstick. If you could see me, experience my cluttered office, you would know the truth.

So I believe, but I also know, because I've experienced it, that my sweethearts continue. And knowing that has set me free. When I first heard from Mike about nine months after he died, the relief was immense. I walked into a Spirit Fair, something I'd never have done before my men left me, and the crowd parted. At the end of the obvious path was a table and a smiling woman. She said "my, you have a crowd with you, come sit down."

I sat. And the first of my "crowd," to come through was Mike. "I have a man here, he's telling me that his brain exploded." That's a pretty good way to describe a brain stem stroke, so okay. Then "he is telling me that he knows you sold the Mexico house, that it was hard, and he's sad too, but it's okay." I won't go into all of the details ~ to your relief, I'm sure ~ but that put me on a path unexpected.

Since that day almost a year ago, I've gone to multiple spirit fairs. I've heard from my dad, my mother, from Mike. When I spent a month in Morocco, Greece, and Turkey, I heard that daddy and Mike were ecstatic about "a big trip coming up, going to need a big suitcase, be sure to take plenty of aspirin for your arthritis, lots of walking, we are so, so proud of you for doing this." My mother, bless her, told me that she felt the forgiveness my sisters and I sent to her and that the process we went through set her free of her guilt and suffering.

Mike came to me directly once in meditation, a tap-tap-tap on my chest, and then the clearest full color image of him smiling, this in a brain that only vaguely imagines in pale, misty color, mostly black and white. My oldest sister's been visited by our parents in her silence. It's the most miraculous thing, and the most divinely freeing and healing. So what comes after, after loss, after grief, after losing love, is healing. It's finding a life, making new plans, accepting that irrevocable changes have occurred, but it's all survivable.

As for me, I'm busier than I've been in  years. Living in near poverty on a tiny state pension and some savings, committed to staying this way as long as I can, because ... freedom. That's what I think of every day, that freedom is a gift, and it sometimes comes out of great tragedy. I am better. I am actually really happy. And I don't worry about my people, though I think of them often and miss them. It's not with that aching, agonizing sense of having my heart yanked from my chest, my very breath stolen by the pain of loss. They're still with me. I am blessed. Life is lovely. I hope so for you too.