This Is Our Unmasking

In those moments I permitted myself to feel the discomfort of all that has changed around me, all that has changed within me, and to grieve all that will never or cannot ever… be returned to me.

I approached the doors to the funeral home to find a young staff waiting with a thermal scan aimed in my direction. I leaned in slightly and on gaining her nod of approval of my afebrile status, was ushered forward to share my personal info with the woman behind the plexiglass window. This was my first celebration of life during these unusual and confusing times.

And it changed me.

Moving to the left I found myself staring into a space where seating was paired, two side to side with six feet to the next set, on both sides and behind. The stagger of the chairs bewildered me for just a moment, due in part I suppose to my expectation of how this should be. I stood there glancing about the room, not certain what to do in the absence of a grieving family standing to greet those who were there to pay respects to their loved one. I will admit to a pang of panic in not quite knowing what was expected of me in that moment. My husband indicated the familiar face of the Reverend officiating and I found myself steered in her direction with some relief that I could comfortably stand close without fear that I was encroaching on a bubble I didn’t belong to. The presence of another known friend found me taking the seats that sat six feet behind his own. The arrival of the widower permitted me my need to reach out, to return the requested hug and to share my sorrow at the loss of his beautiful spouse. I will admit that I have never been a fan of the family greeting line; to me they force the grieving into a position of accepting touch and comfort in a time when they are most fragile and at risk of shattering. It was a surreal realization for me to suddenly recognize that despite my distaste of the typical practice, I still stood there seeking its tradition.

Taking my seat once again, I glanced about the room finding only eyes to greet me, the masks dutifully drawn to the bridge of the nose, glasses perched and clouded or raised to sit on the head to clear the vision of the breath that steamed it. I felt that I had landed in a different place, a different time with a brand new set of rules of both behavior and engagement. I peered into the eyes of the older lady seated six feet to my right and smiled quickly realizing she wasn’t aware that I had done so at all. I felt sad in that moment that we had missed the opportunity to meet on that smile. Perhaps she had smiled my way also, and I missed it too.

My dear friend the Reverend stood to take her place at the podium, and I fell silent to listen to her words. As she moved through her eulogy, and the children stood to speak, I was quite stunned to find myself reaching up to wipe away tears that have never come easily to me. I am not that person. I am not that crier; I share in painful expressions of loss and pain on a daily basis, making this a highly unusual occurrence. I sniffed deeply back to pull it together and immediately found myself right back to tears dampening the cloth that covered whatever facial expression existed beneath it. I could feel the familiarity of the trembling lips, the attempt to then pull the lip between my teeth, as if that motion could stop the flow of fluid now freely escaping my lower lids. But this time the attempt ended in failure.

And then it hit me.

My mask had afforded me the vulnerability to be honest. Yes, I was pulled into the stirrings of emotions listening to a family share stories about a wife, mom and grandmother whom I respected deeply for her love of life despite her egregious health battles, yet a woman I hadn’t been blessed to know well at all. Her story and her fight to live shared over social media by her loving husband whom I knew well enough to be honored to be asked to share in the celebration of her well lived story.

In the short time that followed, I allowed myself to both partake in the words I was hearing, and in the thoughts of the losses I had encountered myself over the year(s) that just passed. With eyes dampened in tears, and the stain of eyeliner marking the trail, I glanced again around the room and found a comforting reality that I was not at all alone. Without the expressions to guard the tears, the tears were more truthful than I have ever witnessed. I felt each one, and became part of a whole in a way I could have never imagined possible. In those moments I permitted myself to feel the discomfort of all that has changed around me, all that has changed within me, and to grieve all that will never or cannot ever… be returned to me.

During a 45 minute celebration of life, I cried for the year(s) that I lost. The year(s) that we lost. Seated hidden beneath my mask, I bade farewell to the experience of what once felt real and felt a stir of hope that something better will fill the holes that these losses have left behind.

Behind my mask I found my pain, and I gave it permission to leave me. My wish for you is that you find your own, that you allow yourself to let it free to absorb into a piece of fabric that protects the vulnerability beneath. My wish for us all is that on the day that this ends, that we can turn new and beautiful faces to the sunshine.

My hope is that you find yourself immersed in the opportunity to understand and know yourself entirely before these strange times come to an end. My hope is that you find solace enough beneath the mask to give truth to what you grieve.

There is no joy to be found in the heavy loss of precious life during these present times.

But there is joy ahead for those that will understand why we have shared this together.

No one can see your lips trembling. Go ahead and grieve.

With love and light

Tania

Gently Bruised

`I can clearly recall thinking that if I had tried harder that she may have remembered my kindness `

Today’s blog is part cathartic and part an attempt to ease the gentle hearts that I encounter every day. In a world that can be tragically uncomfortable I wanted to take a moment to recognize those that try to soothe it. Bless your soft and tender souls for trying to light the many dark corners.

`I can clearly recall thinking that if I had tried harder that she may have remembered my kindness `  Tania

She’d always be the last one to get to her desk; the impatient students would shove past her, the condescending would glance at her as if she were an inconvenience; an obstacle in their path.  She wore thick glasses and carried an odor of stale urine as firmly attached to her body as the steel crutches that were attached like bracelets to her wrists. I think it may have been polio perhaps, but will never know for certain I suppose.  I found her one day, not so long ago now and upon reaching out in my excitement of seeing her grown and a seemingly happy adult; felt slightly wounded as she brushed me off like a piece of lint on her sweater.  I can clearly recall thinking that if I had tried harder that she may have remembered my kindness.

I would run ahead of her as she tried to reach the bathroom before her bladder released into the telltale darkened stain on the back of her jeans.  Her best efforts at speed were only slowed by the non compliance of two feet that would be dragged behind the frantic clicking of the crutches that hung from both forearms. She rarely to never would make it and the remaining hours of the school day would be spent sitting in the dampness that shared its pungency with a room full of student nostrils.  They would pick on her while I did my best to make her feel that she was not unusual.  And I remember wondering if I could have done better back then… that perhaps she may have recalled that I tried to be gentle.

Or perhaps the insults and the cruelty of others overshadowed the softness.  And if that is true, then my heart still wants to fix it despite the passage of decades.

It’s my natural way to be gentle. I struggle to understand anything less than a desire to be kind.  I cannot comprehend cruelty, or intentions that may be less than loving.  I will never find comfort in stepping on other humans to get to my destination. I would much rather join those on the ground to help ease the burden of the weight of those that do so.

Certainly I am no saint and have followed selfish paths in the moments that I feel unsupported. We are human of course, and not one of us balanced perfectly. I can dive into bursts of anger as quickly as I can dissolve into tears.  I can hide the bag of Oreo’s just as well as the next person simply because I believe I deserve the sweetness. We have all shared of the discomforts that can manifest into human nature.

However…when all is said and done…my defining nature is to be gentle. To not step on others to gain my rewards.

It is this characteristic that will find me continuing to want to soothe the way forward despite having felt the weight of such feet press into my spine time and time again.  I say this without complaint but a simple yet new understanding that in this gentleness is my greatest strength.  Empathy is an unforgiving journey and not for the faint of heart. Empathy requires an ability to unbend a spine that is bruised, sometimes broken and unfurl it to standing without sharing the pain.

I wondered for a moment if I was practicing true empathy in questioning why this woman did not remember my kindness.  It burned ever so slightly for a minute or two to feel that I hadn’t done something good enough to be remembered.  And I had to stop and wonder if I was battling the EGO or punishing my heart for not being enough when she needed it.

Or if, perhaps, I was understanding her from the value of being different than most. And in doing so I could feel how the discomforts might overshadow the kindness; and better understand my overwhelming desire to make it go away for her.

Which leads me to question something very obvious.

Are the gentle trying to heal the world because in doing so they heal themselves?

Life offers no easy answers. But it does offer us the opportunity to ask the questions.

And I love questions.

And softness.

Don’t stop that. Your gentleness. One day it will be remembered first.

Love love and more love.

Be soft to you first. And then share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving Promise

Grief is hemorrhagic.

It shares no umbrella of the same color or shape. You can’t expect someone to stay dry using yours because it worked for you.

I promise you will grieve.  And there is nothing I can do to prepare you.

I can share literature and lead by my example but there is nothing I can do to help you understand.  Like birth and like death, the journey to your  certain discomfort will only be known by yourself.  There will be nothing to catch you, nothing that can console you and nothing to fill the shatters in your soul.  A deeply painful and personal unraveling of all the words you could have said and all the moments you had the opportunity to say them.  Of all the chances you missed and the chances you took.  You will find discomfort in every choice you created and every choice you allowed.

I promise you will grieve. And there is nothing I can do to prepare you.

What I can prepare you for  is that no one will understand the depth of your pain. They will try to understand, attempt to console, try to catch you when your knees burst and you fall to the depths. But I can promise you they will not know how deeply you will drop because you are falling through your own waters and bringing your own beliefs, thoughts and regrets as your swimming companions.

I promise no one will understand your pain.

Your pain is as individual as your fingertips, your DNA and your thoughts. While many will commiserate and understand the experience of loss, they can never truly seek to understand your ownership to the individuality of your story.

If we are to help one another through grief, we must be aware that not one process is like another.  We cannot seek to know the physical and emotional results of a heart that is punctured; whether once or a thousand times over.  The choice of injurious results lies with each individual story.  Over time hearts will heal, some more quickly; while others will leave nothing more than sinew to toughen the holes and to make them impenetrable to the possibility of further bleeding.  In both there is strength. And in both we have no right in our opinion of the process.

I’ve heard it enough now in my lifetime and my career. The judgements on how the grieving can grieve.

“He’s already moved onward to a new spouse. Her body is barely cold”

We have no right.

“She’s pregnant again, so soon. She hasn’t grieved the child she lost”

We have no right.

“You are angry and not what I knew. I cannot work with what I don’t recognize”

We have no right.

“Get up from the couch. Uncurl your hands from the teddy bear. You have to keep going”

We have no right.

Until the moment that the sharp pins explode  into our own hearts, our own souls and our own understanding of what that looks like…

We have no right.

And even after that moment…

The only right we are afforded…

Is the right to finally understand that we can offer nothing to change the experience.

Nothing that is…

Except to love them through it.  Whether we disagree, we wouldn’t have done it the same way, or we think our way is better.

Their way is the only way.

Love them through it.

Love them through what they need to do in order to survive.

Surviving might be angry, risk taking or silence. Surviving might be running forward to something new. Surviving may be terror in allowing anything or anyone to come close again. Surviving might be bottled or prescribed. Surviving may be tolerable only in introversion or in dancing through the streets.  Surviving may be in dying and breathing concurrently.

Love them through it anyway.

Grief is hemorrhagic.

It shares no umbrella of the same color or shape. You can’t expect someone to stay dry using yours because it worked for you.

Love them through it.

Let them bleed.

Only they can stop the flow because only they know where the punctures exist.

Love them through it.

Love you through it.

 

Be kinder. Be more compassionate. Don’t push. Don’t force.  Be gentle. Be tolerable because understanding will be obscure.

Just love them through it.

 

Loving you through it

Tania