A Ghostly Starry Night

Put your ear close to the whispering branch and you may catch what it is saying.
~ Guy Murchie

By all standard conceptual accounts she is a stranger.  We met online after I read her article about the stupid, insensitive things people say and do when you’re grieving.  I wrote about it myself, then reached out to her to express gratitude and consensus how her piece resonated with me.  There was a familiar spark with Aimee in our written exchange, we were like-minded in life matters and like-experienced with premature widowdom.  She was further along than I in the healing process and the assemblance of a new life, and I was hope-filled and inspired connecting with her.   We are by no means besties, though we have stayed in touch.  There is an automatic kinship that occurs among people who have lost someone they love, a relationship that naturally sustains itself when each individual continues in similar ways.

Fast forward to last month, Aimee dropped a private message my way through Facebook.   It’s always an unexpected and welcome surprise for me when a real social media connection escalates to engage personally one-on-one:  “Hey Shannon, Thought of you today while I was at the eye doctor. After taking out my contacts and waiting for the doctor, a magazine rack was in front of me, one with the biggest letters spelling out BOOMER. How cool is that? Think someone wants to say ‘hi’ to you.”   Now if I hadn’t already developed an acquaintanceship with Aimee, I probably would have ignored her, and silently rejected her message as some trolling phish preying on emotions, a premise supported by the number of random male ‘friend requests’ I’ve received from bogus profiles classified as a ‘widower’.  Not in this case.

Recalling the numerous postmortem communications I’d encountered with Boomer since he died — through his wedding ring, those middle of the night wake-up whispers, and other various signals and symbols — letting me know he’s around and watching over me,  this latest run-in, especially now having moved out of our house, was both new, captivating and yes, pretty damn cool.    Contact coming direct from a ‘stranger’, someone Boomer certainly  didn’t know, yet embodied special credibility as a fellow widow, a heart-centered person whom I admire and respect.  I’ve heard supernatural stories of loved ones who from beyond the grave leveraged another living spirit to communicate a message. Aimee explained this has happened more than once for her, the spirit souls of those who have passed use her to send messages to their loved ones.  It was the second time ‘Boomer’ showed up with her;  she was compelled to reach out.  It sounds so bizarre.  Like something right out of the 1990 movie Ghost.  It was.  As if Aimee were a personal Oda Mae Brown.  Still, I was intrigued, curious and simultaneously comforted as I followed up with her offer to continue a deeper exploration sending her a picture of Boomer to meditate on.  “Let’s see what comes up,” she said.

The next day, Aimee had more to share.  She was clear in her suggestion to take what resonates with me and leave the rest.    Much of what she initially messaged me were short, incomplete abstract statements that didn’t make any direct sense, it was like trying to translate jibberish.  As she said,  “Some starry night was another phrase that came through,” I froze.  Reading the words again — some starry night —  it seemed Hitchcockian in nature as I slowly took my eyes off my tablet screen to gaze at the framed print hanging on the upper right corner of the wall in front of the desk in my study… Van Gogh’s Starry Night.20170316_165431

Boomer hated this print.  It hung on my side of our shared office when we lived it Evanston.  He often remarked how much he disliked it –without cause or reason, he just did.  I laughed as I cried at how much this new experience was hitting me.  Each remark Aimee shared following starry night was spot-on; nothing she would have known or had read from me and I was rattled by it. He’s baaaaack.

The timing was serendipitous itself; on the cusp of upcoming calendar dates, Boomer’s birthday and St. Patrick’s Day, what would have been the 10th anniversary of our engagement. Again, nothing Aimee herself would have any first-hand awareness of.  You explain it.  I can’t.  I naively thought that when my address changed and the pictures and memorabilia trinkets were safely tucked away in storage Boomer would cease to continue within my life.  Not so.  A deeper lesson emerged; spirit does not die, nor does end. It is the human form, its temporary occupant, that goes away.  Teilhard de Chardin gave explanation to such a phenomena, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  Even my all-time favorite music group, The Police, understood, “We are spirits in the material world.”  In my humanness I clumsily operate as though Boomer no longer is.  Through Aimee, he taught me otherwise.  He is and forever will be a spirit within my life, I am tasked to expand how I see him, where I see him, when I see him.  My human heart is acclimating to the news, of which Aimee was already aware, referring to him in both present and past tense, “He has a beautiful spirit and it feels like you picked each other before this lifetime,” she concluded, “He was one of your great teachers.”    Yes, he was.   All evidence points that he still is and always will be.   I love knowing this.

The world needs your strength right now.
Go get ’em.

~ Boomer to SMO, through Aimee DuFresne*, February 23, 2017

*Feel free to contact Aimee DuFresne through the link, if you’re interested to connect with your spirited loved one.  It’s quite cool. 

Impermanence

Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence,
they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height,
there is only one possible place to land: on the ground-the ground of truth.
And if you have the understanding that comes from spiritual practice,
then falling is in no way a disaster, but the discovery of an inner refuge.
~ Sogyal Rinpoche

‘Twas Christmas night, and the 2nd night of Hanukkah when my phone started blowing up with multiple ping-a-rings of incoming text messages.   Resisting temptation, I left the phone alone – until 5 a.m. the next morning.   Nooooo!!  Musical artist, George Michael died.   People I knew well, who knew I was a career-long admirer reached out; sharing the news, expressing their own shock, perhaps seeking solace among a fellow fan.  I spent the day mourning the loss through continual play of his music, watching videos and interviews.  I fully immersed; reminiscing with many songs:  where I was, what happened, who I was with, etc.   Keenly aware another life — there have been stunningly many lives this year, 2016 — has transitioned and something has ended — again. impermanence-2

“All humans must cope with the death of their loved ones…”
Unknown, From Survival to Recovery

George Michael is a stranger, yet also a loved one.   I did not know him personally, I only knew his musical talent – – and I love it —  the gift he was given that he gave to me and others like me who enjoyed his music, who grew-up with his music:   Hypnotic, seductive, rebellious, soulful, elegant, sophisticated, kitchy.  George Michael is one year older than me.   Perhaps we grew-up together and how as his career evolved and his life unfolded, I remained loyal.    As he was changing, so was I and it still fit.

A day later, barely catching my breath, another loss…Carrie Fisher.  Sure, she’s Princess Leia for thousands, that’s how I met her too, in 1977, but that’s not who I loved.  I loved the broad who came from a dysfunctional family, struggled with addiction, mental illness and rose from the ashes of her own privileged chaos of a life to become a writer, author, and comically outspoken empress of story telling.

And now the very next day, her mother, the great Debbie Reynolds died too.  I can’t keep up, though it’s not about me, it’s about acceptance of the time-limiting fragility of life.  Journalist Dan Rather, following the announcement of Ms. Reynolds’ passing poignantly wrote, “Life is fickle and death all of our eventual destination.  We must to do our part to take the moments given to us and cherish the love of those we hold close.”

While the news of all these life passings are both a shock and emotionally draining, I’m in a better place of acceptance than I was… 8 months ago, last April,  when I learned Prince died.

The surprise announcement of The Artist, Prince Rogers Nelson’s, death, hit me in a way I didn’t understand.  I didn’t know Prince either.  Yet, when I learned the devastating news, while standing in a Bed, Bath and Beyond store, I began to sob as though I’d just lost a dear friend.  I wept for days every time I heard his music, watched the movie Purple Rain, and reminisced.  I couldn’t put my head around it, let alone my heart.  All I knew (and didn’t) of Prince nothing made sense.  Prince was an icon, an innovator, a creative force that penetrated more than his own individual performances.  Charismatic, tough, private, mysterious, sexy, flamboyant, generous and most of all –his own person, on his own terms.    For this, I always admired him, I wanted to be like him, fearless and devout to his own individuality, his ideals and beliefs.

These talented humans are my generation.  I’m confronted with the reality of mortality, also known as impermanence.  It’s part of my pain in their passing.  I’ve felt sadness of the news of many people who have passed this year, yet, those closest to my age or who’s talents I love and chose to infuse into aspects of my life hit me the hardest.   I resist admission of impermanence, believing somehow I am immune, exempt from the experience.  Quite greedy of me, isn’t it?

In Buddhism, the term “impermanence” is part of doctrine describing the three marks of existence. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is:  transient, evanescent, inconstant.

Death is inevitable.  Truth.  For many, denial of that reality, acceptance of truth, an end of life,  is where pain and suffering exists.  For others, myself included, we aren’t afraid of death;  what we’re afraid of is when and/or how the death will come.  How often we hear someone say, “Gone too soon.” Really?  Says who?  You?  Greedy you. You don’t get a say.  Neither do I.  Deal with it, because life is indeed fickle and death is all our eventual destination.  This is impermanence.

What I welcome is how death forces me into gratitude.  I look at the legacy that I was impacted by, affected by, embraced by, loved by and loved.  How it will always be with me, even if the human no longer is, there is a permanent impermanent force.

“Death is a natural part of life.
Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.
 Mourn them do not.
Miss them do not.
Attachment leads to jealously.
The shadow of greed, that is.”
~ Yoda

Healing Paradigms Through Politics

I learned long ago that in order to heal my wounds
I must have the courage to face up to them.
~ Paulo Coelho

The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.
~ Pascal

Step back.  Step away.  Breathe.  Reflect.  Feel.  Release.  Rejoice.  Let go.  Carry on.

I’d never seen the photo before — an image of me, laying in bed on my back with the vintage orange, yellow, and brown chevron stripped afgan covering me from neck to toe like a mummy.  My eyes were closed.   Boomer had taken the picture in 2012.  Whether or not I was actually sleeping is speculative.  I stared at the digital image for while then hit the delete key and emptied the recycle bin of the old computer.  Gone.

That photo I’d found was taken on Election Day, November 6, 2012 and Boomer died eight days later.   Are you f***ing kidding me?   A presidential election is another grief trigger?   Apparently it is, has been, for me.   Naive me.  Here I thought I’d long since gone through the heavy lifting of “firsts” in my grief recovery experience only to confront a first presidential election, post Boomer.     But wait, there’s more.

You see, I didn’t vote in 2012.  Sadly, I remember it vividly, because I’ve felt guilty about it for the last 4 years.  I was too sick to get out of bed that day.  The crisis and chaos of living with an active alcoholic had taken such an emotional and physical toll on me personally, I literally could not pull myself out of bed.  Mostly I was curled up in a ball overwhelmed with despair, struggling with ulcer-level stomach cramps, tendinitis, chronic migraines and lower back problems.  Desperate for my life to be different than it was, the man I love so lost himself, and we as a couple were no where near where we were four years earlier, in 2008, when we voted together, watched the returns together and welcomed our first black President in that history-making election.  We were now distant, lost, lonesome and sad, and one of us was dying, drinking himself to death.

That isn’t all I’ve had to confront and revisit — thanks in-part to the last few months of this 2016 Presidential Campaign; history-making in its own right.  This political cycle of our country’s democracy has surfaced some very specific incidents and episodes in the life of SMO, spanning 4 decades, that required paradigm shifts of healing:

  • In my teens, it was the wall-pressed choke-hold I experienced by the hands of a boyfriend at a party who didn’t approve of my behavior.  Though he was no longer my boyfriend, having dumped me several weeks earlier after learning I was pregnant and knowing he was the father, he believed he had some influential power over me.
  • In my twenties, it was a first-date, only-date, with the guy who attempted to force himself on me in his car at the end of night.
  • Then in my thirties, it was the co-worker of a higher corporate authority position who inappropriately grabbed me at a business function.
  • In my forties, it was my own husband, who told me about the “code” among “men”; how they talk to each other about their sexual exploits unless she’s a woman of “significance” in their lives.  It went as far as even my overhearing parts of those types of conversations when we lived together.

I began having a recurring series of vivid flashbacks, of every single sexual aggression, attempted assault, sexual objectification, and gender nullification I’ve personally and directly encountered, endured and witnessed in my 52 years as a woman.  The political cycle was traumatizing me — again — in ways that forced me to honestly confront and heal from what — unbenounced to me at the time — was wrong, inappropriate and violating.   Doubled-down by my silent guilt of not having had the strength to vote in 2012 — I hadn’t missed voting since I turned 18.

I discovered during this process that though I had long forgiven those you had forced themselves upon me, I still secretly held myself responsible.  That was my pain.   Was there something I might have done or could have done differently to prevent what happened?  Something, anything that would have deterred such arrogant, abuse-of-power attitudes or behaviors.   Questioning myself was at the root of what surfaced for me to work through and the feelings within them.  I felt:  shame, guilt, embarrassment, belittlement, disgust, disappointment — all with myself.

I am not responsible for the behaviors, attitudes, or actions of someone else.  I did not invite, entice, instruct, or condone what was done or said.  Yet my feminineness has been conditioned to take on that emotional responsibility.   The 2016 Presidential Campaign was my personal healing platform to release and let go of those self-defeating, limiting beliefs  — once and for all.

At the same time, I have been emotionally conflicted to openly admit, acknowledge and rejoice, that my life is indeed better than it was four years ago, eight year ago, thus debunking the flood of loud, obnoxious political rhetoric that mercilessly wanted me to believe otherwise.  I chose to withdraw from social media activity to get and sustain my bearings as I worked through my healing process.   You see, I am not a victim in this life.  Yes, stuff has happened, but I can’t afford to relentlessly point blame outward, and forever wear a cloak of fear and martyred victim.  I can’t do it.  I won’t do it.   There’s alot in life I don’t like, but I always do my best, and keep my focus on what’s ahead.  Part of that natural process of living is to let go and free myself from the past.

In all this mumbo jumbo, I saw light coming through the tunnel of all I was working through — early voting.   This was my gateway, the right of passage to my healing paradigm brought on by politics and my civic duty as a US citizen.  October 24th was the start of early voting in Florida.   I had it on my calendar, I set my alarm to be sure I was mentally prepared and ready to go. That same day I was also honoring the 1st anniversary of my Grandmother’s passing, so I chose to walk to the election center — just over a mile.  Gram never drove, so we would walk, just about everywhere.  As I walked I could hear her encouraging me to walk faster like she use to when I was a little girl learning how to keep up.  The walk to vote was also an homage to the last election Boomer and I voted in together, we walked to the voting site.  The air was brisk, the sun was shining and I could feel the momentum of personal freedom and the lifting of regression paradigms building inside me.  On the other side rapture awaited.  Spiritual freedom.  Emotional healing.  History making.

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Thank you, candidates.  You certainly put me through my spiritual, healing paces.  Life is messy, politics is really messy and whatever is going to happen at the end of tonight, one way or another we as a nation will regroup, rebound and continue to progress forward.   That’s the only option.  That is democracy.    What this grief trigger reinforced for me is that I can do nothing about the misgivings of the past, but I can lay the foundation for a better, healthier future. Let it begin with me.   That is what I’ve done for myself out of the many wrong doings, traumas, tragedies and crises that have occurred in my life.  It is exactly what I will continue to do — carry on.  Peace.

  Wisdom is a living stream, not an icon preserved in a museum.
 Only when we find the spring of wisdom in our own life
can it flow to future generations.
~  Thich Nhat Hanh

Three to Five

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
~ Terry Pratchett

What’s happening here? I asked him. He replied, “A key broke loose and I’m gluing it back in place.” Ha, well that’s certainly a creative way, I retorted speculating on the curiously odd way he was going about it. The late model laptop was laying on the living room floor next to his chair with a large brass dolphin figurine resting across the keyboard, it’s nose strategically placed on a function key was the silliest looking thing I’d seen in a while — so much so I had to take a picture.  This will come in handy one day I told him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
~~~

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a gift, that blue model sail boat. A gift from me to Boomer, in 1999, the second summer I spent with him in Saugatuck, Michigan. I’d spotted it in a tourist gift shop. He loved sailing and his favorite color was blue. The purchase was a no-brainer for me and probably the easiest gift I’d given him in all our years together. He loved it. The boat was one of his favorite things and always made its home in a prominent place of stately presence in the three residences that followed. It was all the sentimental history surrounding the boat why I kept it.

I never imagined a time when it wouldn’t be in my home or moreover, the home I shared with Boomer. Yet there I was, taking pictures of it and placing it on Craigs List to sell — three years after he died — as I began clearing out and packing up the house, preparing to move. It was time. He was the sailor, not me. I’d been selectively assessing what I’d take with me into a new home. The new home without him. What items were special to me, my tastes or my likes that also meshed with fond, loving memories of Boomer or our history together. The blue sail boat was no longer such an item.

A woman in a neighboring town called late-morning that Wednesday with interest in the boat for the nautical-themed redecorating of her guest room. She could be there in 30-minutes. I walked into my own guest room to retrieve the boat from the top shelf of an increasingly empty bookcase. I stood there looking at it, remembering its life with us, its life with Boomer and said a private goodbye when I spotted a small piece of dust in a corner of the bow.  As I blew on it, something moved and I leaped out of my skin in startlement.  What on earth is that?  A peculiar, misplaced, square piece of black plastic.  I picked it up, turned it over for examination… BAM!  I am stunned by what I am holding… the function key. 20151014_124916

That boat had been moved, adjusted, repositioned and dusted countless times in the last three years.  The laptop had been discarded and recycled over two years ago.  A deluge of questions dominated my bewilderment: What the?  How the?  Where the?   Then the grief hit; a trouncing blast of paralyzing mourning shock and awe of Boomer’s passing, my love, my sorrow and loss, and a spiritual affirmation of his presence right there with me in the moment; all so intense I could barely breathe or stand, and had instantly usurped the surprising discovery of the laptop key so much that I was now terrified over my inability to contain my emotions — and the woman was arriving in 15 minutes to buy the boat.  Pull it together, pull it together.  I chant to myself over and over, when I recall Amber’s counseling words: It’s a three to five year process. The full emotional healing process of bereavement, mourning, and loss can take three to five years. Welcome to year three, SMO; you’ve arrived.

I desperately wanted to rebuff Amber’s trained, educated insights each time I heard them during the 22-months of my grief recovery therapy with her.  Three to five.   Sounds more like a distorted criminal judicial sentencing.  I thought she was crazy.  Yeah, crazy like a fox.  And so is grief.  As the time passes and you move through life, making the adjustments, while the subtle natural emotional healing of time passages occur, surprises will beset you. Bet on it, and yet you can’t. That’s the irony of grief and also what’s so damn frustrating.  You are blind-sided — every time.

The sound of a car door coming from the driveway, jolted me back into an assemblance of coherent composure.  We did the transaction — taking all of five-minutes — as the blue sail boat was placed in the trunk onward to its new home, new owners, new memory making excursions. I walked back into the house, picking up where I left off, and uncontrollably dropped to the ground, landing in the very spot where the laptop and dolphin gluing project had been staged.  For a few moments, I felt like he had just died — again. I surrendered to the second microburst of tears, pain and anguish and let them run their course as I sat there on the living room floor.  A phone call to a nearby friend, spawned a in-person visit and talking through the experience with her, I regained my strength and felt better within a few hours.  This is grief…the later years.

Grief need not be a life sentence.  But the healing unequivocally does take time.  Expect the unexpected.  Take comfort in knowing that that is what is guaranteed — the absolute unexpectedness of emotional triggers.  Yes, I know…it’s always easier said than done. Do it anyway, for your love of you, your loved one and your healing.  The moments may hit hard,  but they don’t last quite as long, so long as you give yourself permission to unfold with it when they do.

I can’t help but wonder, what will be next?

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. 
~ Haruki Murakami