Your Love for Me

September 22, 2011

On this last day of summer,
one month before your yahrtzeit,
I grieve you as if the
accident was yesterday.
I am astonished (again, and yet again)
by the power of grief.
I had almost forgotten.

Maybe it’s because
this morning the cloth
slipped off the file box
where I keep your papers
and I squatted down,
opened the lid
and read.
I had not had the courage
or the strength
to open this box till today.

They were all love poems.
Love poems to me.
From you.

I did not cry.
I made myself comfortable
and read all your little messages:
the Valentine’s cards
with glittery hearts,
the requests that I not
kiss my boyfriend in front of you,
the notes you wrote
about how desperately you missed me
when I was a single mother,
working nights,
and you were exiled at home
with this babysitter
or that one.

There was a fire of longing
in your little-girl voice
that made it impossible to imagine
we could ever be separated,
that made me nearly grateful
that you died instead of me
so that you would not have to endure
this anguish of loss.
I carry it instead.
I am the mommy.

It was only later this morning
when I turned on my computer
and read about the senseless execution
of Troy Davis
that I wept.
The tears burned hot in my throat,
streamed from my eyes,
a storm of sorrow
I was powerless to resist.
It rose again during
exercise class at the gym.
I had to leave,
flee to my car,
where I could freely sob.

I mourn the death
of every mother’s child now
as if it were my own.
The protective layer
has been stripped from my heart
and I am totally permeable.
A father’s wailing
at the grave site of his baby
penetrates every cell of my body.
And so does the sweetness of
a chickadee landing
on the stone of our garden fountain,
dipping to drink.

Soon it will be ten years
since you died.
I feel something shifting
inside my life now,
expanding my focus
beyond death,
beyond grief and loss,
beyond the fire of tragedy.
I make small moves in response,
refer mourners to bereavement groups,
minimize references to grief counseling
in my public profile.
I square my shoulders
and begin to look up and outward
toward the next step on my journey,
a journey that’s more about joy.

And yet,
my sweet little girl,
though the raging fire of loss
has subsided, mostly,
and glows now like a warm ember,
soothing, rather than punishing,
there are still days
like this one
when a sudden wind
blows in from the desert
igniting the flame all over again,
and I am consumed
with loving you,
with missing you,
with gratitude for how
completely you loved me.

Four deaths in as many weeks. First a dear family friend recently diagnosed with late-stage cancer embraced her dying, reluctantly at first, then with astounding grace, surrounded by a tribe of remarkable women singing, soothing, feeding, and finally praying her across the threshold. Then my best friend (in the midst of tending our mutual friend dying of cancer) found the body of her beloved ex-boyfriend who drowned in his cistern which he had been sealing and, overcome by fumes, fainted and fell in. Then the son of dear old friends was beaten up on a dark street, sustaining fatal brain damage, impelling his parents to make the hardest decision a family can make: to remove life support. Then a beautiful baby girl died at eight months of injuries sustained at birth in a botched delivery, and we buried her in the cemetery where my own child is buried, two days after my Jenny’s birthday, chanting the kaddish and sitting shiva with her parents and three-year-old brother on the adobe floor of an earthship high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In between, I facilitated a circle of beautiful broken hearts at Omega Institute for my annual Beautiful Wound retreat, bearing witness with the fullness of my body, heart and soul. Meanwhile, our grown children grapple with ongoing life challenges, requiring our continuous intervention.

I am empty. Not in the positive sense of having managed to step out of my own way and rest in the space between the thoughts. This is not a mystical encounter with sunyata. This is exhaustion. I have been sick for two weeks and cannot seem to shake of this flu bug. I think I know why. I have lost the balance between responding to the needs of my community and the necessity to tend my own vessel. So I am trying to pull back a little now, draw my focus inward for a while, returning my attention to my writing. I feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein though: I have created this monster, and now it has a life of its own, and will not be so easy to subdue. My intentions were good, but the price seems to be higher than I can afford.

I know I am not alone in this syndrome. Many of us who have experienced shattering loss feel compelled to show up and sit in the fire with other members of our human family as they endeavor to bear their own versions of unbearable sorrow. It’s the only thing that makes sense. We clearly recall how comforting it felt when a friend sat quietly on the couch and held our hand while we sobbed, how lovely it was when a neighbor dropped off a pot of homemade stew, how strongly we needed to tell every detail of our loved one’s final twenty-four hours of life and how someone dropped everything to listen. We want to be that person who throws a lifeline when a grieving person is drowning. Yet after a while we fatigue, and risk going under ourselves.

I wish I had good advice for you, but I’m afraid this is a case of the blind leading the blind. What am I going to do? I’m going to make an effort to eat and sleep a little more. I am going to walk in the woods no matter how tired I feel, because my connection with the earth is a guaranteed infusion of life-force. I am going to decline requests for grief counseling for a while. I am going to write and edit my new book, teach my college philosophy classes, go on dates with my handsome husband, and forgive myself for not being able to heal all the wounds of the world.