Grief and Loss

It is with a sad and heavy heart that I share the news of our sweet cat Goncobe passing away this morning. We knew this was coming, and in fact scheduled a house visit to put him down tomorrow morning from the same vet who put down his brother Juba this same time last year, but nature took its course and he passed away on his own accord.

Just the other day, as I was reading through a book of poetry by Mary Oliver, I came across this lovely line, which says it all:

To live in this world,
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
 
Mary Oliver
 

What a blessing that Mike and I and Jaden were all able to be with him in his active dying phase this morning, just as we were all together when we picked him and his brother Juba up from the Humane Society as kittens in 2004, when Jaden was just 4-years-old. The two brother litter-mate kittens looked so much alike that only Jaden could tell them apart. Until we got to know them, Mike and I would constantly ask 4-year-old Jaden which one was which!

Grief has a way of slowing the bones of time. Such is the way today.

I wrote this earlier today while at Goncobe’s side, as his last breaths came in fits and spurts:

I cradle my sorrow like fragile eggs,
 hatching slowly in the nest of my heart.
Transfixed by the soft approach of light 
into an otherwise darkened place, 
through hairline fractures in the veil
 separating two worlds which serve as one, 
I reach out,
 crack myself open,
 and let my grief
 sing its rightful song.

Tender holding
 is what life asks for, 
in the moments before death.
 Tender holding,
 that is all. It is enough.

Please hold us in your heart during this time of mourning.

Nicole, Mike, and Jaden

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One month from turning 40

In one month from today,
I’ll turn forty.
Does that mean something?
I think it might.

I think it might mean
bidding a fond farewell to a decade of time
book-ended by zeros
and ushering in a new one,
as though it were a crisp,
unwrinkled, never worn gown
to slip into and dance on
endlessly into the night.

Everything that meant anything important
I’ve learned so far,
I’ve learned from unlearning something else.

Like how love means letting go
not holding on,
and a life filled with meaning
has little to do with money.
Or how kindness is a superpower
not a weakness,
and angling towards joy
doesn’t mean to ignore the darkness,
it means to not ignore the light.

I have inherited a body of knowledge
not my own –
a body of paper skin and earthen bones, too.
Flawed, perfect,
scarred, broken, perfect.
Did I mention perfect?

There is nothing on this splendid,
spinning, blue-green marble planet,
strung like a pearl on its cosmic necklace,
that wasn’t supposed to happen,
simply for the fact that it did.

If my years so far could be distilled
into one sentiment worth mentioning,
it would be this:
To live a well-contented life,
it’s crucial to stop fighting.

To stop fighting:
Sickness
Aging
Death.

To stop fighting with the truth of how every single thing –
and every single one of us, our self included –
is of the nature to change.

Passing Away

My grandmother Mary, who passed away on October 27th, 2018

 

Yesterday, my paternal grandmother passed away. After a long life spent singing in the church choir, attending mass, and being the hub for tending to her 8 children and 12 grandchildren, she went the way all of us inevitably will, sifting from form to memory.

She was my last surviving grandparent.

Last night, I lit a fire out back in her honor. And it just so happened that a bundle of my maternal grandmother’s ashes sat beside me. They followed me home from a recent trip I took to see my mom. I never said a proper good-bye to her, when she passed away last December – not in a way that acknowledged that the breath of a life had been transferred back to its source. Her ashes then became symbolic of both of my grandmothers departures.

They became that of Mike’s grandmothers, too.

We added a small handful to the fire, and watched as the ashes both settled into the crackling embers and rose up amid the smoke, which caused the drying elm leaves above to rattle and dance.

We then set out in the darkness of 8pm in the autumnal mountains, to scatter the rest of the ashes. We set some adrift on the Bitterroot River and laid the remainder to rest in a grassy field surrounded by ponderosas.

Aho grandmothers.

A blessing to you all.

You gave us life.

You carried us on the same backs of all those who came before us.

We as your grandchildren are your continuation.

Now, we carry you forward,

on the same backs of all those who still remain,

and will soon follow in our footsteps.

My grandmother & grandfather’s continuation of grandchildren

Saying Goodbye

Our one of two cat food bowls sitting empty this morning took on a whole new and sorrow-filled meaning. We put our cat Juba down yesterday.

14-years ago, almost directly after filling out the paperwork to buy the house we still reside in, we went to the Humane Society to fetch ourselves a cat in which to accompany our fresh purchase. Over-run with a new litter of orange kittens – to the point of being out of cages to put them in – they offered us a two-for-one deal. After some minor hesitation, we accepted their offer and left with two brother kittens, one in each hand.

Over the years, we’ve often pondered how terrible it would’ve been had we gotten only one, as we had intended (though we wouldn’t have known it). Our 2 brother cats have been great company and friends to each other. A couple of years ago, I finally got around to something I’d wanted to do for a long while. I sent the Humane Society a card, thanking them for their generosity in giving us a buy-one-get-one-free kitten and providing such a wonderful service to our community.

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Upon Waking

A little something I wrote early this morning, upon waking:

Within five minutes of waking, I had come up with a handful of things to be grateful for.

Within fifteen minutes, I was reminded of how sometimes – lots of times – my husband does not smell good, even when he’s sound asleep.

Within twenty minutes, I had scooped a teaspoon of loose gunpowder green tea peals into my tea strainer and delighted in the noise it made whilst tumbling in, akin to graupel on a windowpane. And I’d been bowled over for a brief moment by the realization that having running water is a great luxury not everyone has (the sound of which reminded me that in my exuberance to put pen to paper, I’d forgotten to pee).

Within thirty minutes, I deflated a bit when remembering that today, my Saturday would include an unscheduled trip to Grimebusters Laundromat, due to the fact that one of our cats peed in our bed last night, all the way through the comforter and both sheets. And I invested brain power in once again trying to come up with a less churlish-sounding substitute word for ‘pee.’

Within an hour, I was surrounded by a collection of papered items, which would relay to someone who didn’t know me that I’m both a writer and a Buddhist.

Within an hour and five minutes, I’d been given goosebumps upon reading a new bit of writing that I myself had crafted – and I didn’t feel silly or shameful about it (which is a newer development).

And within one hour and 48 minutes, I had run the gamut of thought, vacillating from birth to old age to death; from ideas for spoken word pieces to all the people I love and adore (including a whopping 4 friends who all have their birthday today!); and from that which stirs me up to that which serves to knock me down.

Living A Better Life

The Buddha said: If we keep death in front of us, if we are aware of it, we will live better lives.

Last fall, in preparation for a session of walking meditation that our sangha hosted at a local cemetery, I fashioned together a card-sized collage of pictures of friends and family members who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. I continue to use this collage card as a bookmark in my spiral-bound notebook journal, which I write personal account entries in a few times a month. Encountering this bookmark of collaged pictures affords me the ability to practice staying in touch with the preciousness of life, by keeping death in front of me.

At the time of putting the collage together, I also saw fit to include three people who were still alive but nearing the end of their currently held life-cycle: my grandmother Claire, who’s since passed away, and my grandmother Mary and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who are both still very much alive. I included these individuals as a practice of deepening my sense of gratitude and also further developing my ever-growing understanding of impermanence.

It’s easy to think that calling to mind our loved ones that have passed away will be too painful. It’s easy to avoid connecting with the memories of our dearly departed friends and family members and to occupy our minds with a cascade of other matters. But when we develop a way to actively practice staying in relationship with those who’ve passed away – with the nature and reality of death itself – the initial pain that will likely crop up for us will have the opportunity to become transformed into a furthering opening of the heart.

At first, and for a little while, it was uncomfortable for me to look at the collage card I put together. To connect with the images and memories of so many loved ones who’ve passed away was rather startling and unsettling. But, once again, everything takes practice. Truly. Now that I’ve been encountering this card – one side collage and one side a picture of my friends David and Alison from their joint memorial service last summer – on a regular, ongoing basis, I’m finding that the discomfort has largely dissipated.

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On Suicide

Shawn Leonard

December 8, 1980 – February 6, 2018

A long-held acquaintance of mine committed suicide a few days ago. Shawn Leonard. His funeral service was today. Shawn was a friend of my husband’s since the 6th grade who, according to Mike, entered his friend group based on his skills of not being deterred by all the crap they gave him.

Feelings of grief and loss have been coming in waves for me since his death.

The funeral today was packed full of people, filled with sorrow, confusion, and questions – one glaring one in particular: Why?

On the back of the program for today’s service, it stated:

Shawn made everyone’s life a little brighter. He will be so missed by so many. Don’t ask why – ask how you can bring a little Shawn to the lives of those you love.

Each member of his parental team: mom, dad, stepmom, and stepdad, along with four of his six siblings and his oldest nephew, spoke at the service, painting a vivid picture of Shawn’s authentic, lighthearted, and generous spirit. Some of their words that stuck with me and made a lasting impression:

If there’s something you want to do with a loved one, DO IT! (Shawn’s dad)

Shawn loved hard and loved often. (One of his sisters)

Talk more and listen more. I regret that I didn’t talk more and listen more to Shawn. We never know when it will be the last time we’ll see someone. (Shawn’s 19-year-old nephew)

 

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