Archive for ‘Loss’

September 30, 2014

Dance On

Oh very young,
What will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while — Cat Stevens.

She just turned 17, not even two weeks ago. I knew her because her name was Emma, like my daughter’s. She was on the Bradley Farm neighborhood swim team in Herdon, VA, with my daughters. She attended Fox Mill Elementary School with my daughters. She was “tan,” like my daughters. Some people thought she and my daughters were sisters because of their likeness in complexion.

It has been 24 hours since I learned that Emma’s young life was suddenly lost last week. And even though I am not familiar with her family, it has been all I can do to keep breathing. I share from afar her family’s unimaginable heartache that her beautiful smile will no longer grace our earth.

It was with firsthand and heartfelt knowledge of losing a son that my Dad shared a letter with me yesterday that he had written years ago. It was addressed to my sister who was a college student at the time and had just learned her good friend had died from spinal meningitis.

I cling to the repeating words: Dance On. 

I write you this not only for you but also for the mother and father and family of the young woman. For all of us, there is and will be no answer to the question why.

Sometimes I say to God “What are you thinking? Old people and bad people are supposed to die (not that we won’t).  But not infants; not those just ready to take life by the hand and the heart and dance.

Haven’t You thought of all the friends, loved ones, schoolmates, and family members crushed by Your too-soon gathering of these beauties, these darlings? Don’t You know what it does to those who are left when it is done too soon?

He answers me every time and says: 


“Dance on. Your job and your duty is to dance on. 

Even when it hurts and even when you have no legs, the answer is dance on.

You have no idea of what is next and to whom you must be a blessing.

You are left; you dance. 

These whom I have gathered are Mine now and you can’t begin to know the depth of my embrace for them or the tenderness with which I kiss them. 

Your job is to hold on and dance on so that you can bring the sparkle of My love to all you touch. 

And remember this above all: you alone are responsible for your dance and must dance as if you alone were responsible for all.”

I swear, every time I feel the unbearable loss, I hear this. And it feels stupid to say, but carry on. What is left after it all is your lovely part in the dance of life. And death isn’t a final curtain call; just a different rhythm to dance to.

Class of 2015 South Lakes High School

Class of 2015
South Lakes High School

May 2, 2014

Beautiful Minds

 

Many of us do daily battle with addictions, disorders or diseases invisible to the eye.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

In October of 1984, my pediatrician referred me to Strong Memorial Hospital. I was 17 and was to begin treatment for anorexia nervosa. My  first appointment was scheduled on Columbus Day. 

Years before I had an eating disorder, I knew something was wrong. My parents didn’t. It wasn’t until I literally began disappearing that I flagged their concern and protection. 

On the same day of my appointment, in the same hospital, my older brother died from a motorcycle accident. As loving and strong as my parents were, despite their overwhelming grief, they couldn’t save me from what was coming. Any more than my brother could be saved. As much as they tried. 

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” — Robert Frost

Fast forward through an 11-week inpatient program for eating disorders/major depression, college, career, marriage, children and divorce. Breast cancer. It wasn’t until I was I treated for breast cancer in 2012 that I understood that not only was my depression biological, it was the bigger threat. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer and scheduled for treatment, I found myself at the center of my family’s love, among friends, neighbors and medical professionals. Others worried; I didn’t

 

 I never worried that I wouldn’t survive breast cancer; with the support around me, I never felt more alive. 

 

After my final surgery last June, my circle of support dispersed. I crashed in a way I hadn’t since the initial months following my brother’s death. Somehow I knew that if something were to destroy me, it would be depression, not cancer.  It would be slow. It would be isolating. It would be humiliating. 

My parents who had been so relieved that I dodged the breast cancer bullet, were devastated when they recognized I was in trouble. I knew I needed help and I was transparent with them. In the weeks and months that followed we engaged in an ongoing discussion about my experience of depression.

Be You Bravely

Depression creeps, then blindsides.  

I binge, my emotional equivalent of hitting Life’s eject button. 

Shame strikes.

I retreat into isolation.

 It takes a leap of faith to emerge from self-loathing. Reentry begins with a phone call. I express myself. I find my breath. I brighten.

 

The hardest part of emotional pain is seeing it through when every instinct cries: DUCK!

 

My parents shared with me that at times they felt like they lost two children. Over the years, they lost me intermittently. They celebrated my ups, felt helpless during my downs. They grieved when I withdrew. They have been unflinchingly present, unwavering in their support, eventually accepting that they couldn’t fix it for me.

 

It has taken me a lifetime to realize that I need not be ashamed. 

 

Learning to be in full acceptance of myself is the only way through. I’m resilient. I’m creative. Every day I am grateful to be alive. I have people to turn to, a faith that catches and redirects me. I have daughters to adore.

 

Yoga is so much more than the best antidepressant available. It is my practice for life. 

 

The brain is a vital and powerful organ. The more I learn about mind-body connection, the more I understand and accept that all illness, physical or mental,  is a call for medical intervention and ongoing wellness strategies. It is a call for self-care, not self-blame. It is a call for community.

 

 

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Hope lives in communities with open minds and open arms. 

Connection is the ultimate healing. 

 

Please support the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation
March 14, 2011

The Art of Losing Things

New carpeting was installed the day before. Much of my downstairs living space has just been painted. Everywhere I look, chaos reigns. Loads of furniture, framed pictures, mirrors, curtain rods are piled up in my kitchen and family room.  

My wheels are spinning.

I can’t find a thing.

I can’t find what I’m supposed to do next.

I often lose things: my cell phone, garage door opener,  keys,  my yoga mat, credit card, my daughters’ registration forms. But this is worse. I feel lost. And with apologies to Elizabeth Bishop, it feels a disaster.

I close my eyes and I think about my Grandma, Antionette Rivers. Her husband walked out when my Mom was two, leaving her alone to raise three children. Tony didn’t have parents to help her. She was barely given alimony (and never on time).

Bearing the stigma of divorce and being handicapped, my Grandmother went to work full-time for a bank. No matter how difficult it must have been, she kept a sparkling clean house, cooked every meal and never missed Mass on Sunday. Before bed, she ironed each outfit my Aunt, Uncle and Mom would wear the next day.

Living in a less forgiving time, she did this without the support that I have as a single Mom. Aside from periodic longing for that other adult to walk in the door at the end of a long day, I live a charmed life. I work from home; teach and take yoga and Zumba classes; have frequent help on hand from parents, friends and my daughters’ Dad.

Yet I’m backed up on laundry, bills and taxes. Dinner time rolls around and I’m tempted to order out. 

Why do I struggle to do the things that my Grandmother did so beautifully with so little?

I look deeper. My Grandma prayed.

I had this cherished ritual with my Gram. Whenever I lost something, whether it was a makeup bag, my Sony Walkman or a twenty-dollar bill, I would call her, asking which Saint I should pray to (I could never remember). It was Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things. She would offer a prayer and tell me to let it be. I did.

Without fail or fluster, the lost item would turn up. Then I’d call her back to share the good news.

Tony, Tony, turn around

Something’s lost and can’t be found.

Never mind the messy house, the unopened mail, the litany of unfinished tasks.

I sit in stillness for five minutes.

I let it be.

And in the quiet, it comes.

I find a little faith . . .  

That I may I be like her.

Everywhere I look, chaos reigns.
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