shame

How many of us are there who had stoic, iron-willed fathers who insisted their children keep a stiff upper lip? How much suffering has been caused by our continuing as adults to hold ourselves to impossible standards, to deny weakness? To resist suffering is to run straight into its arms. To become liberated from suffering, it must be embraced, shown kindness and compassion, invited in for tea. Anthony’s death was the crowning lesson in facing suffering squarely and letting it be.

And yet, life continues to teach. We don’t learn important lessons all at once. The process is long and merciless. Life will not allow us to skip a grade. Step by tremulous step, trembling and fearful we continue, day by day, moment by moment. And then, suddenly – there it is! The next lesson, the unexpected arrow, the quivering and wounded soul taken by surprise once again.

The pain of watching a loved one suffer is unique. We can come to a place of acceptance with our own pain. We can learn to invite it in, sit it down, say welcome. Say sit, let me care for you tenderly. But what if the pain is another’s? What if we are forced to watch a loved one suffer? What then? How do we allow this pain to have a place at our table?

With Crohn’s Disease, suffering and stress cause flare, cause illness. Being ill is its own challenge. I always felt I was letting Daddy down when I was ill. Why couldn’t I control my illness? I was a sickly child, bronchial asthma, in and out of hospital. Unfortunately, to make it all the more unbearable, there was a misunderstanding of asthma in those days. There was a suspicion that the ill child was somehow making itself sick. That control of emotions would bring health. So my father was often disgusted with my illness. His disapproval stung me without a word. When there were words, they were like arrows piercing my heart. I was filled with guilt and shame.

I still struggle with guilt and shame when I am ill. On a normal day, when my pain is manageable and I have some energy to care for everyday tasks, I push through. But the days and weeks when I am not able to manage the pain, when I am too bone-weary to do simple tasks, I am filled with shame. I know in my head that this is wrong. One day, my heart will finally understand. Perhaps on that day I will be able to be a better friend to myself when I am ill.

And the guilt and shame arise when a loved one is suffering. I feel deeply my own failure. Why could I not prevent this suffering? Why could I not protect and save them? I know it’s illogical to believe that I can keep those I love from pain. And yet, there it is. The guilt. The shame. The taste of failure, bitter on my tongue.

This rambling has no real purpose. There are no easy answers. All I am able to do, at this point, is to notice. I notice that I am filled with guilt and shame. I listen to the accusations, to the inner voice turned suddenly against me. I try to pause, to take a few breaths, to allow these feelings place. To grant myself compassion and kindness. I try and then I try again. All the while staring into the darkness, thinking how lovely it would be to just stop. For the pain to just stop. For my failures to just stop. For life to just stop.

All day I find myself whispering, “I’m sorry”. Whispering to the grandchildren I have lost. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you. Whispering to my children. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry my love wasn’t enough to prevent you from a life of pain and chaos. Whispering to this precious child who now suffers. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I tried so hard to help, to protect, to be the bridge to wellness. I failed. It feels unforgivable. I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry I’m sick. I’m sorry I’ve failed again and again and again.

I’m sorry.
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Taylor is fifteen

Fifteen years ago today the love of my heart was born to the child of my heart. Rae gave birth to this wonder who has been a shimmering beam of love and hope in my life for all these years. My love for Taylor is a painful thing, cutting me with worries over her, wishing she might never have to know heartache or suffering or illness or death and knowing she will certainly know all of these, as do we all. Oh, but I hope she knows the flip side of these, that she will experience love and joy and fulfillment and passion and serenity in this life. Kids like Taylor are my hope for this world. I love you, Tay, always and forever.

Here are a few of the posts I’ve written about her…

age 6 https://bookfloozy.wordpress.com/2005/09/13/a-little-child-shall-lead-them/

age 9 https://bookfloozy.wordpress.com/2008/03/31/taylor/

age 14 https://bookfloozy.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/riding-the-waves/2013-12-12-13-35-29-1

and this… https://bookfloozy.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/on-my-fridge/

Riding the Waves

tay

This beautiful, haunting picture of my granddaughter Taylor evokes a melancholy remembrance of those roller-coaster transitional years of becoming an adult.  The exhilarating highs:  the dreams of all that could be, the insights, the loves.  And the breath-snatching descents…deep thoughts on life, loss and meaning, with emotions ripping through with a life and power all their own.

I want to tell Taylor that, yes, life is fraught with sorrow, confusion and loss.  But it is also bursting with discovery, beauty and joy.

I want to let her know that there is a learning of how to live skillfully, to ride the waves and not be pummeled by the surf.

That she has the quality of soul to jump into the water gladdens my heart.  So many use up their precious lives,days on end wandering in the sand, never testing the water.  Furiously running after urgent emptiness, numbed and self-medicated, afraid of the water and losing the miracle of a life fully lived.

I want to say: yes, damn, it’s hard.  But it is what it is.  Life is alternately wonderful and glorious and wretched and sad.  This is a truth that we don’t really grasp as a child and it can be startling and crushing to suddenly see it.  But life is a lesson that we never stop learning, unless we run from the water.  I say, swim.  Rest into the rhythm of the waves, knowing that there will be highs to enjoy and lows that have their own lessons.  To live at all, to be alive and engaged and present is a gift.  Fleeting and astonishing and not to be missed.

Thinking of Dad (and those who have lost)

Death is Smaller Than I Thought
My Mother and Father died some years ago
I loved them very much.
When they died my love for them
did not vanish or fade away.
It stayed just about the same,
only a sadder colour.
And I can feel their love for me,
same as it ever was.

Nowadays, in good times or bad,
I sometimes ask my Mother and Father
to walk beside me or to sit with me
so we can talk together
or be silent.

They always come to me.
I talk to them and listen to them
and think I hear them talk to me.
It’s very simple –
nothing to do with spiritualism
or religion or mumbo jumbo.

It is imaginary. It is real. It is love.
– Adrian Mitchell


on my fridge

On my fridge is one of my favorite things – a hand-made card from Tay.  My own personal award of love from one of the coolest little chickies I know.  I love her picture of me on the front.

om grandma

What I love even more is what is inside:

love award

The feeling this card gives me is the best thing ever.

the joy of her work

Prince Wen-hui’s cook, Ting, was cutting up an ox. Every touch of his hand, every ripple of his shoulders, every step of his feet, every thrust of his knees, every cut of his knife, was in perfect harmony, like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the chords of the Lynx Head music.

“Well done!” said the prince. “How did you gain such skill?”

Putting down his knife, Ting said, “I follow the Tao, Your Highness, which goes beyond all skills. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox. After three years, I had learned to look beyond the ox. Nowadays I see with my whole being, not with my eyes. I sense the natural lines, and my knife slides through by itself, never touching a joint, much less a bone.

“A good cook changes knives once a year: he cuts. An ordinary cook changes knives once a month: he hacks. This knife of mine has lasted for nineteen years; it has cut up thousands of oxen, but its blade is as sharp as if it were new. Between the joints there are spaces, and the blade has no thickness. Having no thickness, it slips right through; there’s more than enough room for it. And when I come to a difficult part, I slow down, I focus my attention, I barely move, the knife finds its way, until suddenly the flesh falls apart on its own. I stand there and let the joy of the work fill me. Then I wipe the blade clean and put it away.”

“Bravo!” cried the prince. “From the words of this cook, I have learned how to live my life.”

When I first read this parable, I thought immediately of my Tam.  It describes perfectly what I haven’t been able to put into words about her way of loving me.  I’ve never been cut like she cuts.  I’ve been hacked on, I’ve been stuck through.  I’ve never had someone who danced over me, in perfect harmony with such loving precision.  She loves me with all that she is.  I am so lucky.