Just ‘BE’.

I now know full-heartedly why I was going through so much emotional pain last week and why I felt such a strong calling to remember God is with me. I believe that my mind, body, heart, and soul was preparing for what was really coming.

This past weekend, my childhood friend (since 4thgrade I may add), lost her father at a very young age. We have been through years of life experiences. We have lived through countless birthdays, school graduations, failures, numerous other friends, silliness, troubles, boys, boyfriends, first kisses, first dates, first loves, make-up, miniskirts, dances and proms, weddings and husbands, children – I can go on and on. We have always maintained great friends throughout all the highs and lows life gives us – but this time, this low, we were not ready for.

When I was informed of the devastating news my heart began to feel a foreign pain. All my woes and worries of the past week dissolved into the air, my focus was my friend and the grand loss the world has just had.

Prior to my husband’s deployment, I had worked on an interdisciplinary palliative medicine team as the therapist to patients and families walking on the journey of a long-term illness – be it the beginning, the middle, when they were lost, and the end. I became accustomed to the cycle of life. I was with patients and their families through life’s departures at least 3 times a week. It was my job to normalize this part of life and the feelings that came attached.

However, with all that professional experience, I find myself on an unfamiliar path. I am now on the other side of the journey, going from passenger to co-pilot. The news of my friend’s fathers’ passing went through me like a jagged sword. That feeling of all your insides dropping came alive within me. I became trapped in a whirlwind of emotions unable to retrieve what, I thought, should be appropriate.

This isn’t just my friend who lost her father – but her children who lost a very ‘awesome Grandpa’, her husband who lost his best friend, and of course the family and friends, including his beloved girlfriend who lost the love of her life, all lost a very special man. I too lost a part of me. This is the person that would drive us to all our extracurricular activities growing up – including dances and parties, took us out to dinners, told us we looked beautiful, yelled at me when I deserved it, attended my graduation(s) – my sweet 16 – my wedding, always treated my daughters with the same heart he did with me, and basically made me feel like family. This part of me is now void but I can’t imagine it even being comparable to what my dear friend and her family is experiencing.

As I drove to the wake, I couldn’t feel anything. I felt numb. I felt empty. I questioned it all being real. I hoped that if I closed my eyes tight and attempted to convince myself that I was in a dream that at any moment I would be waking up and none of this would have happened. Unfortunately it was not successful…

When I entered the funeral home, I found myself searching for my friend like a parent searching for their lost child in a chaotic playground. From a distance we locked eyes. Being so focused on connecting with my lifetime friend I unknowingly passed numerous family members and friends with arms reaching towards her. Upon embracing I could feel her soul melting as her tears burnt through my heart and pierced my shoulder. She crumbled into pieces as she yearned for her father. She sobbed like the little girl I grew up with. Holding her in my arms I could feel all her mixed emotions percolating through her pores. Her tears uncontrollably flooded her eyes and face as she trembled like a leaf caught in the wind. All I could do was helplessly stay with her in the moment. I sat with her in silence. We hugged, we held hands, we cried, we laughed, and reminisced on the great memories her father bestowed upon everyone as we stared into nothing attempting to disregard the reality that we were in.

Knowing it is unattainable – all I wanted was to rip her from the pains she was feeling. It hurt my heart so much to see my friend and her family have to experience such a loss. I told her, ‘out of all the things we always complain to be too young for (ie. wrinkles and grey hair), this supersedes them all – we are too young for this, he was too young for this’. My mind began to ponder at super speed to think of the right things to say and do, but I realized (and remembered what I always told my patient’s families) that this is the time to ‘just be’ and allow her to ‘be’. Be whatever my much-loved friend needs me to ‘be’ and give her a place in me for her to ‘be’ whatever she needs to ‘be’.

All I can promise my friend is what I will be. I will be the friend she has always known. I will be there to listen again and again. I will be respectful. I will do my best to be aware of her feelings and verbal cues. I will be present. I will be with her in silence. I will be genuine. And most of all, I will BE THERE.

It’s hard to accept knowing I am not capable of healing my friend’s broken heart because I want to be super-friend and fix it all. But I know my friend needs to walk the journey of grief and she can definitely count on me being right where she needs me – beside her holding her hand, behind her giving her space, or in front of her telling her to catch up. No matter what it is, I will ‘be’ there for her.

I have no expectations for how she will feel the end of this week, next week, or even next month. All I know is that she a person with real feelings. She may have a smile brighter than the sun or feel like she was hit by an unexpected earthquake at the thought of her father or when her children ask for their ‘grandpa’ – and that’s ok. There is no right or wrong way for her to grieve.

In life we have traditions to prepare for most of our milestones. When our birthdays are close, we plan for a celebration (big or small). When we marry, we have showers and parties and plan for the big day. When we have children, we create registries, have a shower, prepare all the necessary items prior to baby’s arrival.  Even in deployments, we prepare dinners and outings before our loved one leaves and have celebrations when our loved ones return. However, in the departure from life – there is no way to prepare especially for the aftermath. The ‘events’ of my friend’s fathers’ departure may have passed but the moments will always remain. Just as I told my friend, there is no such thing as ‘closure’ because you can never close him out of your life; it’s just life with him in a different form.

Even as I come to the end of this entry, I will admit that it still feels surreal.…May God bless the daughters, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, his beloved girlfriend, and all other friends and family that have been devastated by this loss. My prayer is that you all find comfort and peace in the wonderful memories left to each of us and in the love from one another.

RIP “Boss”

 

A POEM FOR THE GRIEVING…
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die…
– Anonymous

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Family Vacation Minus 1

La Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian - Pais Basco

La Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian - Pais Basco

            

               I have just printed out my almost 400 photos from our recent family vacation – well reality is that it was more like our family vacation minus 1. The girls, my parents, and I went off on our yearly trip to Galicia to see family. Although I have traveled to Galicia with the girls solo before – this year was like no other.

                Every year, I look forward to the month of August. I go visit my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins in the beautiful countryside of Galicia. Also a place where my girls can run free playing with their cousins from sun up to sun down – that being almost 10pm every night there! August is also the month of “Festas” in Galicia. Every little town and every big city celebrates some patriot or saint. Carnivals, fireworks, music, and food surround you at this time of year.

                Usually when we visit Galicia we normally stay in our home and see the same cities and sites as past years. (It has been this way since I was a wee little one year old) But this year, my parents actually decided to do a road trip across to San Sebastian to visit my mother’s cousins. I was excited at the thought of finally doing something out of the norm this year. It was a long dreaded 10 hour drive with two little ones awake the entire time but the end result was spectacular. San Sebastian is a gorgeous city – resembling a mini Paris! And the beach, La Playa de La Concha, is absolutely stunning. We enjoyed ourselves of course, but every step I took and every picture I snapped all I could say in my head was: “I wish he was here with us.”

                Even up to the days before leaving on our flight everything about the trip felt different. To begin with I didn’t even enjoy shopping for things we needed and especially packing for the trip. The day of departure to me felt like it was my last day on earth! No matter what people told me – I could not calm my nerves about flying. I even cried the night before, the morning of, and right before take-off. Well, I obviously survived the flight (and back) but it made me question myself – why am I so nervous this year?  I mean – seriously – I have been flying since I was in diapers! Sheesh!

                Once in Galicia, the unfamiliar feelings continued. I was not able to allow myself to fully enjoy my vacation outside of being with my family at home. I had no true interest in shopping for myself (this is one of my favorite things to do in Galicia!) or enjoying good ‘Albarino’ wine with my cousins. There were times that I just wanted to lay in bed in pajamas all day and stay there – ignoring the fact that I was surrounded by gorgeous mountains, beaches, towns, and greenery that I could be taking advantage of.

                Coming home however, I didn’t find myself that nervous, but instead saddened at the reminder that even though it is another regular vacation I normally take solo with my girls, this year my husband would not be waiting for us at home. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to being back in my routine with my girls. Why? I have no idea – because really there is nothing glamorous about.

                Glancing over all the pictures made want to dig deeper into my emotions about this trip. I wondered and probed my own mind to try and figure out why this year was so different.  I spent some time today reflecting back on my days in Galicia using the photographs as my timeline. As I went through each picture, recalling each moment, I came to realize that it was nothing but the feeling of guilt in enjoying my vacation while my husband is deployed. It troubled my mind, heart, body, and soul. It was the guilt that kept me from having a good time and it came from me and only me.

                My own husband, days before the trip, even reminded me to take pleasure in the vacation and to consider it a break from our routine. But it was the routine I wanted because it came without the guilt. Now thinking of it, I wonder how many other spouses on the homefront feel the same way when taking their children – or even a solo – trip while our husbands are deployed. That feeling of being this horrible selfish wife that wants to have pleasure and (oh gawd) ‘FUN’ – how dare she! The wife of a man deployed enjoying herself??– Oh the shame!

                Now looking back I find it all quite amusing. I couldn’t control my emotions at that instant but there is no reason for me to feel guilty and I know that. My husband never made me feel that way nor the ones around me – it was only that little anxiety-driven-stressed out elf on my shoulder that whispers in my ear every now and then that I apparently only hear and feel. It is surreal to assume that a wife of a deployed service member should be stuck in a web of routine day in and day out. In doing that we would do no good not only for our own emotional and physical health but that of our children’s as well.

                Life will happen around us if we decide to move with it or not. It’s okay to have a little ‘fun’ every so often – guilt free – it’s good for us (everyone actually)! It is a gift I am extremely grateful for just to know that we are given another day of good health and another day we are still together (even if there a thousands of miles between us). I vow to permit myself to have some guilt-free fun with my daughters from this day forth because my daily escapades should be no different than if my husband is home or deployed. The love I have for my husband and family is beyond verbal expression and the respect, admiration, commitment, honor, and devotion will never be absent just because our family is minus 1 for that moment.