Monday, September 30, 2013

Suicide Survivors

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I am a suicide survivor as are my son Michael, daughter Mary and my brother Joseph.  Terminal mental illness took my husband Frank in 1975, my son Joe in 1988, and my sister-in-law Kathryn in the early 1990’s, and now my cousin Sally’s son Jake this past week.  There is little else in life that can compare to the dark jarring upon hearing news of this irretrievable loss.  When our loved ones’ pain and anguish ends, ours escalates with astounding intensity.  Our lives are forever changed and we are faced with accepting what is.

My experience of accepting this dark pain has led me to know a mysterious God who can transform us through darkness.  I remember the exact moment when I began my long healing process after the death of my husband and son.  After my husband’s death it felt like someone had cut me in half lengthwise with a meat cleaver and there was this long jagged wound leaving me half of what I was.  Sometime after his death, I was on the phone with a relative who said, “You know the pain will get better.”  I responded, “I don’t care if it ever does.”  With that acceptance I felt a subtle shift within that slowly began healing my wound.  After my son’s death the physical sensation was of a black hole in my chest where my heart had been.  I remember walking down into the basement one night, which seemed to even intensify the feeling of emptiness in my chest, and thinking I embrace this darkness as a sign of my love for Joe.  And again there was that subtle shift that slowly began returning my heart. 

This mysterious God of ours can use the pain of terminal mental illness, or any pain, to make us a more aware, compassionate people.  In my experience, the transformation begins by accepting and honoring our pain and then letting God grow us into a more caring people.  I can’t think of a better tribute to the kind and gentle soul we knew as Jake.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Faithful Gardener

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Clarissa Pinkola Estes: 

Refuse to fall down,
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
Refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled,
and it will be filled, 
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you 
from lifting your heart
toward heaven--
only you.
It is in the middle of misery
that so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good
came of this,
is not yet listening.

I dedicated God Never Hurries, “For my crone friend, Rosemary.”  She too was a faithful gardener and would retreat to the soil and her plants for solace when life got difficult.  Crone friend is what she called me and said we were entering our crone years and needed to share a woman’s wisdom.  Through a mistake of her own she learned to say, “This is what I know and believe today, but ask me tomorrow and I may know it a different way."  Humility graced her.  Besides teaching me I have the freedom to be wrong, she also gave me the freedom to be wherever I am at present (the only place I really can be) after I confessed to her there was a time in my life when I actually felt invincible.  She said to me, “Maybe it was a time in your life when you needed to feel invincible.”  And whenever I shared my troubles with her, she saw the promise of change through my discomfort.

Rosemary died a young, but very wise crone.

What if we shared what becomes clear to us through our misery and mistakes?        

Sunday, September 15, 2013

True Forgiveness

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True forgiveness transforms who we are.  It is a process that comes from the head and the heart and results in emotional control.  Freedom, and a more real view of life, then allows us to give up resentment and come to view the perpetrator with compassion.  I learned those awesome forgiveness benefits in a two-day workshop I attended in the late 1990’s given by Robert Enright and Susan Freedman from the International Forgiveness Institute.  I was searching for real forgiveness for my father, not just the cheap kind because it is something you are supposed to do.

I also learned denial of anger and pride were obstacles to true forgiveness.  It is humbling to admit being wounded. Pride was said to be a formidable foe for we are very unaware of it.  Therefore, it can be healthy to get angry and prideful to deny it.  I learned forgiveness is most needed where you feel the least safe, and you need to be in a safe place to work on forgiveness.  It was also comforting to learn I could forgive without reconciling since reconciliation was dependent on a change in the abuser.  I attended that workshop soon after my mother and I were both in safer places and I had already experienced a wonderful cleansing burst of rage when my father denied me any voice in my mother’s worsening dementia and care.  I was well on my way to true forgiveness.

In my memoir I recorded what I wrote the evening following that workshop:

And the very next night an honest anger rose in my chest when I read a 1987 Archdiocesan Synod recommendation, item 5, “Acknowledge and respond to racism.”  Two words were so obviously missing—and sexism.

The misogyny of my church is outrageous!  It is the woman!  It is why priests still cannot marry!  It is why women are kept in place!  It is embarrassing and infuriating!  Dear God, please help me channel my anger appropriately.

And the very next day a public radio discussion was on a New York City police brutality scandal.  The interviewer asked, “Did statistics show decreases in brutality where there were more women on the police force?  The guest said yes, and added it was also true for minorities. He ended the program saying, “There is no question that any organization needs to be made up of the people it serves.”

I have come to understand my complicity in patriarchal abuse both through my father and my church.  I found my voice, refused the victim role, created a safer infrastructure, and now live with much less resentment.  Perhaps it is good to hold on to a little resentment to spark continuing change.  It’s been twenty-six years since that 1987 halfhearted Archdiocesan Synod recommendation. I continue to be challenged to trust in the slow work of God. 

What if we all came to see our complicity in patriarchal abuse?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Learn, Know, Master

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Attached to the strings of my Yogi tea bags are brief fortunes.  I look forward to reading each one upon opening a bag.  One of my favorite ones says:  To learn, read.  To know, write.  To master, teach.”  Over the years I have grown to understand the implications of each action. 

In my search for truth, when struggling with my father for my mother’s care as she descended into Alzheimer’s disease, I read many books on spirituality, psychology, and self-help.  The most important learning from all that reading was that I was worthy of a voice, good self-care, and I came to understand the importance of true forgiveness.  My writing during that difficult time focused me in the present.  There I came to know that each moment had something to teach me about overcoming my troubles. 

This past week as I was preparing to present my memoir, God Never Hurries, to a large group at Cedar Ridge Apartments for Independent Living, I understood to master challenges me to teach others what my reading and writing did for me.  Working to synthesize 175 pages of learning and knowing into a coherent forty-minute presentation has its challenges, but then all mastery is challenging.

What if we each challenged ourselves to share the different things that difficulty taught us for the good of all?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Deep Gratitude

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Fifty years ago, in 1963, I had just turned twenty years old and had been married for three months.  Though I was sympathetic to black Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality, I will confess my immediate life was my primary focus.  In no way did I comprehend back then how indebted I would feel someday to those who spoke, marched, and even lost their lives advocating non-violently for equal rights. 

This past week’s celebration of Martin Luther King’s legacy has left me in awe and deeply grateful for freedom workers everywhere.  It was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and particularly Title VII of the Act, that later allowed me to participate in upward mobility training programs as the USDA Forest Service worked to advance women and minorities to comply with the Act’s requirements to protect individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and sex.  This past week, I learned that Martha W. Griffiths (D-MI) lead an effort to include women in the law’s requirements by advocating for the word ”sex” in the legislation.  I thank you Martha Griffiths.        

From 1965 to 1974 I had become a stay at home mom and had three children.  I returned to the Forest Service after my husband’s depression became incapacitating and then was the sole breadwinner after his suicide in 1975.  Given the opportunity to work my way up from clerical positions, first to a Human Resource Specialist in 1983 and later a Public Affairs Specialist in 1990 had a direct impact on my children’s and my life.  We were able to stay in our home, have adequate food, clothing, transportation, and education opportunities, and even take a vacation now and then.  And after I retired in 1994 and struggled with my aging parents’ care needs, my economic independence allowed me to keep some distance from my father’s abuse.  I wrote in God Never Hurries—I came to appreciate the sense of paralysis anyone economically dependent must experience in an abusive relationship.  My economic independence grew more precious to me.   

This past week I have also been painfully aware that there are so many who have not yet benefitted equally from the Civil Rights Act. 

What if we all thought about how intricately we are connected in this web of life and see that equal opportunity and adequate resources for everyone would benefit us all?  What if we each asked to be shown ways to contribute toward that end?