Originally written in January 2015
Last Friday, I was sitting in a random noodle shop with the owner of an adventure tour company. We had both left a networking event way too early because they only had alcohol and we needed GRUB. 30 minutes later and we were cocooned in the back of the restaurant on what seemed to be the coldest day of the year. (I just checked. It was 19 degrees at the time.)
After getting all the necessary business discussions out of the way, we started talking life, men, dating, sex, travel, dreams, fears and more. Its quite interesting how with the right energetic connection, you start telling strangers all kinds of things you never planned to admit and share. At some point, we both had talked about the courtesy of putting your phone away when in someone’s presence. Therefore, I hadn’t checked mine in hours. However, when she went to the bathroom, I used the time alone to see why my phone had been vibrating like crazy.
“She’s hysterical. There’s been an accident.” one text read.
What?, I wrote back.
My new friend, the owner of this adventure tour company, returned from the bathroom and I put my phone away. She watched me as I did it, noting the look on my face.
“I got a text that something happened but I’m not sure what. I’ll just find out more later,” I said as we continued our discussion.
About an hour later while riding the train home, the texts kept coming. Some bad shit had happened. I was sent a link to an article mentioning a vehicle veering off a cliff. There had been two deaths. Others were in surgery. Some major shit had gone down and the names being listed as dead were people I knew.
I was on the 4 train heading home and my world changed. Just like that. My world changed with a fucking text message. But nothing seemed to have changed for anyone else on that train car. I got off the train immediately and hailed a cab. I had to meet up with my other friends and find out just what the fuck was going on.
Within seconds of getting into the taxi, my entire voice went away. My vocal chords closed in on themselves and wrapped around tightly. Its amazing what stress will do to your body. Five days later, and my voice is still gone. Its where ever my heart is. If you see either, let me know.
As mentioned in my Nomadness post, I spent the next 3 days holding requiem for my friends, standing by for information on the others and supporting my friends who were here in New York grieving. We all lost someone we knew.
What I noted, aside from my lost voice, was the difference between this experience of death versus James, Tinu, Maura, and Grandma. You should know that ever since I was 14 I’ve gone to a funeral of someone I know. In “Hoping for a Year of Magical Living,” I wrote, “I’m going to need 2011 to be death proof for me. I really need ONE YEAR where no one close to me dies. Seriously, I just need one year. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I’d more so like a Year of Magical Living instead. The truth is that EVERY YEAR I have gone to a funeral or mourned the loss of a friend or family member since I was about 14 years old. That’s a lot of deaths. It started with my Aunt Minnie. Actually, to be quite honest, it started with the murder of my grandmother Barbara when I was three years old.Then there was just a ripple effect of deaths. Uncle John Henry. Uncle Robert Lee. Uncle Jack. My Aunt’s finance, James. So many of my Wheaton friends. And I get it!!! Trust me. I’m not afraid of death. I know I will die. It happens every day but there are some of you out there who have never been to a funeral. Some of you have never had a close family member pass away. Some of you have NEVER had to help plan the funeral of a fifteen year old. Some of you have never lost your mind for a second time because the person who helped you find it in the first place died suddenly.
Some of you know nothing about death but, I’m a fucking expert on it. I could write ten books on mourning, loss, grief and death.
So, I’m just asking for one year. Just a reprise for one year, where I don’t have to process the death of someone I know. I am pleading, for my own sanity and peace of mind…let me have one year where it doesn’t happen. I don’t think that is a lot to ask for. And although I don’t like people having a sense of “entitlement”, I think I am ENTITLED to a year of living. Let me lose my mind, let me lose my way but please don’t let me lose another love.
I feel like I’m the woman who never leaves the beach in “Trojan Women”. I don’t know that I have any cloak left to cover another dead body in my life.”
Suffice to say, 2011 – 2014 worked itself out in that I did not attend any funerals. I was able to use those years to gain better ground on my own sanity, to process my “My Full Expression of Grief” and to learn to heal. Other major life issues arose but not death. I was given a personal reprieve on death. But fast forward to January 2015 and I was back on the beaches like the Trojan Women with cloak covering the dead.
I write all this because even though my heart is utterly broken, even though I have lost my voice, even though this is all so surreal and devastating…. this time, I’m present. In this tenderness and aching. I am here and I am present and I am feeling it without falling into myself.
Once, in a post called SUFFOCATION, I wrote, James, I have found that I am overwhelmed with your absence. The grief is suffocating me. I am finding that it’s hard to breathe. I thought I was passed this James. I thought that I had made my peace with the new form of you. I am overwhelmed that there is no tangible evidence of our written words. My memories fade and I’m panicking.
And what I noticed this time with the loss of my friends is that even though I couldn’t speak, I could still breathe. I wasn’t suffocating and for me, this is growth and I’m grateful.
In the 3 days that I held requiem with my close group of friends, when I could see through my tears, I could spend time reading The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron. She’s one of my favorites and I devour her every word. A few things in this book stood out to me.
Quote One: “When we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us, there are the times that we connect with bodhichitta. Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage, of course, and it definitely feels counter-intuitive.”
Quote Two: “We need to be told that fear and trembling accompany growing up and that letting go takes courage. Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego. So we ask ourselves, “What do I do when I feel I can’t handle what’s going on.” Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well. We begin a process of acknowledging our aversions and our cravings. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build the walls: What are the stories I tell myself? What repels me and what attracts me?”
And finally, a larger passage, the three lords of materialism. This spoke so deeply to me.
“A teaching that supports us in the process of unblocking bodhichitta is that of the three lords of materialism. These are the the three ways that we shield ourselves from this fluid, un-pin-downable world, three strategies we use to provide ourselves with the illusion of security.
The Lord of Form – It represents how we look to externals to give us solid ground. We can begin to pay attention to our methods of escape. What do I do when I feel anxious and depressed, bored or lonely? Is shopping therapy my way of coping? Or do I turn to alcohol or food? Do I prefer retreating into the beauty of nature? The point is that we can misuse any substance or activity to run away from insecurity. When we become addicted to the Lord of Form, we are creating the causes and conditions for suffering to escalate. No matter how we get, our usual reaction is to not become curious about what’s happening. We do not naturally investigate the strategies of ego. The radical approach to bodhichitta practice is to pay attention to what we do.
The Lord of Speech – This Lord represents how we use beliefs of all kinds to give us the illusion of certainty about the nature of reality. Any of the “isms” – political , ecological, philosophical, or spiritual – can be misused in this way. How do I react when my beliefs are challenged? What do I do when my convictions are not shared? The problem isn’t with the beliefs themselves but with how we use them to get ground under our feet, how we use them to feel right and to make someone else wrong, how we use them to avoid feeling the uneasiness of not knowing what is going on. If we find ourselves becoming righteously indignant, ….beliefs and ideals have become just another way to put up walls.
The Lord of Mind – This Lord uses the most subtle and seductive strategy of all. The lord of mind comes into play when we attempt to avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind. There are many ways to obtain altered states of mind. These special states are addictive. Even though peak experiences might show us the truth and inform us about why we are…., they are essentially no big deal. If we can’t integrate them into the ups and downs of our lives, if we cling to them, they will hinder us.
I used to spiral into depression when tragedies like this occurred. Sometimes I’d try bargaining with god or satan. I’d try to use logic to explain it. I would withdraw deep into myself. Pull away from others. Hold tight to my pain and let it numb be and debilitate me. I have nothing eloquent to say. All I know is that this time I stayed present with my pain and grief and I am going to keep letting it break me open instead of breaking me apart.
James Franklyn Pyles | December 13, 1982 – June 24, 2004
Maura Cassiana Desouza | June 23 1986 to May 19 2009
Grandma Veola Parker | September 22, 1925 to August 9, 2009
Tinu Olateju | February 15, 1995 – May 29, 2010
Image Credit: Hillary Rain