Monday, December 8, 2014

Why I cried today

Today I ran into a beautiful person I haven't seen in two decades at least. Her name is Carol. I don't know if I've ever known her last name. She was one of the moms at the playground in Washington Square Park when my kids were little. We recognized each other over the vegetable bins at the Whole Foods store in mutual disbelief. We both blurted out how we'd thought of each other recently, then shared the explanatory anecdote. Then she asked me about Jesse.
There is a thing you do, when you know about loss, to help each other not cry in public, while still communicating the depth of sorrow and sympathy you share. It's the secret face of womanhood.

The reason I love her is that I was nursing my son in the playground one day, and an extremely well dressed man came over to me and started verbally abusing me for doing so. I didn't know Carol, but she walked over to defend me just as I held up my hands, one arm cradling my son's head against my breast, middle fingers extended and told him, "Like fruit? Have a pair!"

Monday, October 27, 2014

Working things out in dreamland

Last night I dreamed I had been told I have 4 days to live. So the very first day, I made a list of all my assets, from bank accounts and 401k right down to items of clothing, and who should get each one. I wanted to be sure no one would be stuck with the burden of sorting it all out. The next day, I had my family all around me, and began to tell them I had 3 days left. I wasn't sad, or angry, just wanted to be sure they knew I loved them, and that they would be okay. Then a doctor walked in and told me that I actually only had one day left. Still I felt no fear, no sorrow, no senes of loss.  I was glad they were there to hear it, and to understand what was happening. I went around the room hugging everyone and saying goodbye. The first person who came to say goodbye was Jesse.

Monday, August 4, 2014

An evaluation of options for the drowning.

Therapy patient: help! I’m drowning!
 Family: Why can’t you stop drowning! Nobody else is drowning!
Western Religion: Stop drowning!
Eastern Religion: There is no drowning; there is only drowning
Psychoanalysis: How long have you felt you were drowning?
Gestalt psychology: Maybe drowning is where you need to be right now.
Short term behavioral therapy: What strategies have you used in the past to avoid drowning?
Psychiatry: here are some pills that will help you forget you’re drowning.
Recovery movement: you can save yourself from drowning!

Cognitive behavioral therapy: try feeling for the bottom with your feet. Too deep? Try floating on your back. Did that work? Good. Now try floating on your back and kicking your legs. Good.  The shore is about 20 feet away. Point yourself that way and keep kicking.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Religion vs morality

I took the Catholic religion *very* seriously when I was a kid. My parents and grandparents on both sides were deeply religious, without any religious hypocrisy to point to in their lives. They didn't leave it in church in the least. But for me, by the time I hit high school/college, the "truths" of religion meant less and less to me, so that by 21 I believed that religion was a crutch for people who had trouble having a relationship with God. So I raised my kids without a religion. We made sure they knew and respected the history and beliefs of the major religions, but in the process of teaching them how to make good moral choices in life, I began to see that what everyone was calling God was kind of a false idea.

It seemed false to me to pray for anything except acceptance of God's will. Praying to God for your life on earth, when heaven was supposed to be so much better, seemed wrong. I tried to believe in an intercessory God that you could petition to avert disaster, but when my sister in law died and another in law declared it was because she didn't pray right, I began to see the contradiction: either you are a servant of God's will, or you are trying to manipulate God. Either you in your pride think you are better than those who suffer in this world, or you humbly accept what God sends your way, and devote your life to helping others who are less fortunate.

I could go on about this, but the point was: who did I want to be, and what moral tools did I want my children to have? They both, as they hit their teens, told me they were atheists. At first it scared me, but it didn't change who they were. They were making mistakes like any teen, but they were good people, making themselves better as they grew up. The other atheists in my life were also the most moral, least hypocritical people I knew. They suffered less, spiritually, than those trying to force their religion to fit what they knew was right and wrong.

When Jesse got leukemia the first time, I really believed in the power of prayer and faith. By the time he died, I realized that it's an illusion. Nowadays I see atheism being used as a political definition, or even as a kind of religion. So maybe I should call myself something else. Non-theist, maybe.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February 9th- the day between death and the funeral.

I have a message for the world untouched by grief: back the hell off. Grief is not a disease. It isn't a crime. It should not be forced into dark rooms and discussed in whispers. It shouldn't be eradicated or drugged out of existence. It's the province of the grieving, a place you may be invited to, but you have no business barging in. Much less pretending to rule.

Modern psychology is full of shit: grief is not something you need to "get out" right away, it's not a tumor made of words that you must immediately pry out of someone who has been through a tragedy. It's not your job to make a grieving person "talk about it." You have no right to tell another person to "get over it" or that there's a time limit to "normal" grief. You can do more damage forcing a grieving person to "relive" the events in order to "fix" them, than by ignoring them altogether.

Grief is not a thing you get rid of in six months like a bad hair cut. Do not tell grieving people they should be "get over it" just because your magical timeline says so.

There's no need to pretend nothing happened, but do not assume you have the right to pry into another person's grief just because you know about it. If they're not talking about it, do not, especially in public, bring up their grief and try to make them "talk it out." You are not the special grief whisperer. Yes you can make me cry in the middle of an otherwise good day, but that doesn't take much talent. And it doesn't mean we have a special connection. It means you used my weakness to create a false intimacy.

If you ask me how many children I have and I say two, but then explain that I lost one, be respectful. Don't just ignore it; say something, however awkward, to acknowledge me. I will be grateful no matter what it is or how stupid you think it will sound. To me it will sound like a gift of common humanity. It will feel like a hug. I will appreciate that you, a total stranger, made the effort and paid respect to my pain.

If a grieving person chooses to share their feelings with you, realize how much trust and love is in that sharing and be honored, and accepting, and unjudgmental. Listen to what they have to say, ask questions if you need more in order to understand. But most of all listen, every word they pass on to you is a gift. One day, unless you die very young, grief will visit you, and wreck everything in its path; and every emotional gift that grieving friend once gave you will become the power tools you'll need to rebuild your life.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The vigil, day 1, year 7.

On this day every year since 2007, I thank the people who came to me on what, up till that moment anyway, was the worst day of my life. Particularly the friend. who was there when no one else was,  and Jesse's high schoolf friend Alex, whose last name I can never quite remember-- and all of Jesse's friends, and my family, who turned that grim corner of the neuro ICU into a loving vigil of Jesse's gypsies-- you all kept me whole in those horrible days. You will always have a home.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tentative steps.

I had to take a cab in the snowstorm to get to work, and my cab driver was from Mali, in West Africa. We talked about his life and mine, and our families, and he told me that his father had two wives, as way of explaining his family over there. I said, well the Koran says you can have more than one if you can treat them fairly and equally. He seemed surprised that I knew this, but, he said, you can have up to four! And I had to laugh because of course, I can't.

I can understand though, if I lived in a culture where life was so dangerous and meager that a woman by herself couldn't protect and feed herself, it might make sense to join the large family of a man who could feed me and my kids, and protect me from the dangers outside the walls. As an atheist and a feminist, I find it morally appalling, but when I walk a little ways in their shoes, the culture makes sense. It wouldn't help them or me for me to start telling him what I see as wrong in his family system. I wouldn't learn anything, and I wouldn't have climbed out of his cab feeling a little more connected to the world. That was a gift.

I don't know how much of my truth is only cultural truth; I'm not sure I'm able to see all that well.

Monday, January 20, 2014

It doesn't get better, you just get better at dealing with it.

Seven years.  There's a deadened layer of forgetfulness: was it MLK day when he went into the hospital? The day after? I go into the room where I saw him the last time before the hospital call. In my mind he will always be there leaning back against the table, looking tired, thin, pale. Why didn't I see it? Why didn't he? If he'd gone to the hospital that day, he might be alive now. He was tired he said, from finals. He had lost Lisa already. He wa trying to move on. In my mind I reach to him and hug him and beg him to see a doctor. In reality we just chatted-- he still kept me at arms length. Even at the hospital, he complained to friends on AIM that I was there all the time. He didn't understand why I couldn't leave him there. He would have had to live 30 more years to understand. So many decades stolen from him. A large part of my future taken from me. If he'd gone to the hospital a week earlier, it would not have been the last time.

I think, by the end we both realized that his life would be in and out of hospitals. I think, in the end, he didn't want that life.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dream life.

I can remember dreams as far back as age 3 (scary little-girl-eating Sinclair dinosaur chasing me through my neighborhood). That one was in black and white, but they're almost always in color, sometimes even with physical sensation (once Captain Crunch punched me in the ribs to prove I was awake and woke me up), and even taste (particularly chocolate and bacon). My dreams often have entire story lines, sometimes an entire life (not mine) involved. I see people's faces, hear their voices, have relationships with them (not necessarily anyone I know in reality). Sometimes I can read from pages, sometimes I speak French or play musical instruments, fly, breathe underwater... but the only thing that I find really strange is that I can travel around in the dream and come back to the same place, and everything is still the same in the room, or on the street, wherever I return to. How do I do that???

I've read that dreams like these are considered a sign of mental illness. In which case I'd rather be crazy, it's more fun.