Tag Archives: Kelly

On the Origins of Things

Today would have been my friend Kelly’s birthday. Would have been, because nine years ago, at only 37 years old, she died. I’ve written quite a bit about her here, including but not limited to:

  • Kelly Jo, in which I shared a short essay I’d written for a CSU publication in her memory, remembering her as a person who was strong, smart, creative, cheerful and compassionate. In the blog post, I said “If you don’t already have a Kelly in your life, it is my greatest wish for you that you will.”
  • Dance Party, in which I showed my “woo-woo” side. “I had told Kelly, when the cancer came back and she started chemo and she asked us to visualize events we’d share in the future, that one thing we’d do, when she felt better, would be to have a dance party. It started as an aspiration, but then I thought, ‘why not?’ and started to plan the music.”
  • The world is never the same after she is there, in which I shared, “I can’t think about how much I’ve changed in the last few years, how much happier and more focused I am, the drive I feel to do good, to save lives besides just my own without thinking about Kelly, without feeling a deep determination that I need to do what Kelly is no longer able to, to reflect all the love and kindness and good she manifested.”
  • Don’t give up, in which I said, “And yet, that’s one good thing that came from losing Kelly, (and Obi, and then Dexter) — I set the intention to heal myself, to be myself, and in that way to start to help make the world better. I vowed to keep my heart open, no matter how bad things got, no matter how hard it might be.”
  • Day of Rest: Remembering Kelly, which I ended by saying, “I am still here in large part because of Kelly. That and a huge dose of survivor’s guilt. I live with the somewhat twisted notion that if a person as amazing as her doesn’t get to be here, I need to earn the right to be here. I have to try harder, be better, not waste my time, stop messing around, ‘suck it up and get tough’ like my high school football couch and social studies teacher used to say. And yet, today as I remember her, on this day of rest, I know that she wouldn’t want me to feel like that. She would tell me ‘it’s okay, cheer up, you’re perfect.’”
  • Three Truths and One Wish, where I wished, “That after loss, we can find something to hold on to, something that keeps us from giving up. At the very moment I wrote the line above about our love going wild, a tiny fat hummingbird hovered outside my window just to the right of my computer screen. That feels like love to me, like both magic and medicine, and for now that’s enough.”

Every time this anniversary comes around, I sink into contemplation, about the meaning of life and more particularly the meaning of my life, and this year that dive is so much deeper. The best word to describe my current state is “confused.” Almost five months have passed since I quit my CSU job after 19 years. At first, I blamed the exhaustion, the stuck I felt on burnout, which isn’t entirely wrong. And yet, as time has passed and the summer turns to fall, I’ve started to suspect that it isn’t just burnout.

I’m confused. I was so sure that I’d take the summer off, like I have for the past nine years, and when fall came, I’d start my new work as a contemplative practice guide. My intention — beyond easing suffering, in myself and in the world — was to specialize in yoga asana, meditation, and writing as practice, and to spend more of my time writing. I wanted to hold space for people cultivating a foundation of a stable mind and embodied compassion. I wanted to serve my community, working towards social justice and liberation for all people.

At first the awfulness that was happening in the world seemed to support my intention, to make it clear that what I was hoping to do was necessary, needed, and therefore “right.” But the more I educate myself about things like racism and climate change and diet culture and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia and xenophobia and white feminism and cultural appropriation and spiritual bypassing and gaslighting and white priveledge and white fragility and capitalism and police brutality and private prisons and ICE and, and, and… I start to feel more like part of the problem then a force of change.

Last week, I did some wild writing with my friends Chloe’ and Mikalina. This is a practice we learned from our teacher Laurie Wagner. We were using On the Origins of Things by Troy Jollimore as our prompt. This is what I wrote:

They say “everything happens for a reason” and Pema Chödrön says that the lessons you need to learn will keep coming back until you finally learn and the first noble truth of Buddhism is life is suffering which simply means life is uncomfortable and you’ll never get exactly what you want. I agree with some of those things some days, but some of the time I refuse to accept it or it doesn’t make any sense. Things happen for no reason, life is chaos, and yes, you never get what you want. I keep trying to go back, travel to some origin that can explain what I’m supposed to be doing, what to feel and think. I want to do the best thing, but the list of possibilities is endless. I think if I can catalog or organize or interpret what has happened to me, fully study and process my experience, I’ll gain some clarity, know what to do. But it’s just like how I think if I just go to bed earlier or take a nap or skip the gym or eat more vegetables, I won’t be so tired all the time, but it’s not a physical tired, it’s tired of trying to make sense of it or hold space for all of it and now that I have all the time in the world what do I do with it when the possibilities are so endless and the list of things I care about is so long I will never stop writing it. Every morning has been cloudy, wet, cold, gray. I picked more tomatoes last night to eat with dinner knowing the cold would soon dip low enough that there’d be no more tomatoes and why is it like that, the fullness of summer lasting so long and late so that we completely skip right past the middle-ness of fall to the edge of winter. Start to finish up, but what exactly am I finishing? What did I even mean to say? That there’s all this space, that things have shifted and I’m not quite sure where I am.

So yes, kind and gentle reader, I’m feeling confused, and maybe a bit discouraged. I’m trying to make sense of things that just don’t make sense. I’m trying to find solid ground even as I know that doesn’t exist. And yet, please know: I’m not giving up. Things are taking longer than I imagined they would. I remind myself this is always the case, that it’s okay to go slow, so slow it might look to someone watching like I’m not moving at all.

Don’t Give Up

This was the view this morning from my front porch, just as Eric and I were leaving to walk the dogs. It makes sense that the sky was extra beautiful this morning. Four years ago on May 14th, Kelly died, and while that remains one of the worst things, she was one of the best.

Eric said to me once, after she was gone, “I don’t understand why you are so upset about it, it’s not like you were best friends.” He’s right. Since Kelly had moved to Kentucky with her husband Matt, I hadn’t even heard her voice. We kept in touch through email, regular mail, her blog, and Facebook. Even that contact was spotty, until she was diagnosed with cancer. Things like that — accidents, illness, even death — have a way of shaking you up, waking you up. You suddenly realize how much people mean to you and you start to act like it.

In some ways, I realized how much I adored Kelly too late. There wasn’t much time to act like it, for her to know it (although, I made sure she did). I trusted in the hope she had that she’d get better (how could she not?!), and planned to go visit her then, to celebrate. I never got the chance to see her again, would travel to her memorial service instead. It was better than I’d done for Heather, but still not enough.

And yet, that’s one good thing that came from losing Kelly, (and Obi, and then Dexter) —  I set the intention to heal myself, to be myself, and in that way to start to help make the world better. I vowed to keep my heart open, no matter how bad things got, no matter how hard it might be. I started this blog, I took my work and what I had to offer seriously, I started to love myself, to ease suffering, to see my life as practice and an offering. What I wanted most was to be clear that their lives mattered, that they’d made a difference, and the only way I knew how to do that was through my own experience, by showing up with an open heart.

Kelly was kind, funny, and smart, devoted to making the world a better place. Her last words on this earth were said to her mom — “I’m happy.” That’s so exactly and essentially Kelly. She never gave up loving every minute of her life.

That’s the thing I carry with me, both from her life and her loss: don’t give up. That might sound like a small thing, but it has the power to save us. Me, you, all of us, all of it. Don’t give up. And even when we lose each other in this way, when our love is unbound by form, the love remains. It’s confusing and hard because we no longer have the physical form to attach our attention and affection too, but that connection is never broken. It’s okay. Cheer up. You’re perfect.

Don’t give up.

Sick Day

darntoughI have so much I want to tell you, kind and gentle reader, but I’ve been fighting with the crud for the past week and today it’s winning. I cancelled working out with my trainer and slept in, emailed work and apologized about the meeting I’m missing. My to-do list looks like this: a dose of Emergen-C with grapefruit juice, hot bath, clean pjs, soup, and back to bed. It’s also Kelly’s birthday, she would have been 41 today, and the sunrise was so amazing I just stood at the window saying “whoa” over and over again, so I’m really sad too. My socks might say “darn tough,” but I’m feeling awful tender.

Everything Changes

Another Wednesday without a wishcast prompt. And yet, I’m feeling a powerful need to make wishes — big wishes, important wishes, wishes for healing and peace.

I wish good health and healing for Jamie’s mom. I wish for strength, peace, and comfort for Jamie and anyone else loving and supporting her mom right now.

I wish for Dexter not to suffer, (he was at the emergency vet three weeks ago, his nose has been bleeding more that usual — whatever “usual” even means when cancer is involved — and on Saturday, he sprained his leg — a different one, not the one he’s already in physical therapy for). I also continue to wish that he have an easy death, whenever that might come.

I wish good luck, a safe trip and a workable outcome for my friend Ann. Today she’s making another visit to a doctor in Boston who might have a new treatment option for her cancer. No matter what happens, I wish her and her partner ease, comfort, and clarity.

I wish comfort for my friend Susan, my dear friend Kelly‘s mom. This past week had to have been so rough for her, with Mother’s Day and the three year anniversary of Kelly’s passing just days apart — but I also know that the arrival of a new granddaughter is offering so much joy. I wish for comfort for all of us who love Kelly and still feel so sad, miss her so much, who will forever carry that ache.

So many are suffering. It can feel overwhelming sometimes. But just when I start to feel like it’s all too much, someone does or says or makes or shares something so beautiful, that I remember: life is tender and terrible, beautiful and brutal — keep your heart open.

Today, it was a post on Hopeful World. It included beautiful words from Jen Lemen, who has been the healing balm for my own suffering so many times I’ve stopped counting. The video in the post is one she’d shared with me back in September, at a moment when it was just what I needed, and my response to it was just what she needed, but I was sworn to secrecy. I’ve been waiting patiently for her to share it with the world, so I could share it with you, and today is the day.

Everything changes. And when we can remember that during the low times, our hearts can fill with hope. And when we can tell each other this in the good times, our hearts can fill with gratitude. No matter what, we can be gentle, we can be kind. And we can remember, that even in this, we are never, ever alone. ~Jen Lemen

August Break: Day Two

the sky over our house last night

I’m not sure why, but the sky here has really been showing off lately, the clouds and light making these amazing patterns and color, stopping me in my tracks, making me bend my head back and stare, whisper “holy wow” and take deep breaths, exhale long sighs.

I was reading this post on Judy Clement Wall’s Zebra Sounds yesterday and clicked on the link to Dirty Footprints Studio and read this post about the art project Connie put together to honor her friend who’d recently passed away. She’d taken a photo of the sky right after she learned he’d died, and couldn’t stop looking at it, taking more pictures of it, thinking about the connection between the sky and those we’ve lost, and she asked her readers to help her create a memorial for her friend–326 people sent her pictures of the sky with a name of one they’d lost, and she made a video.

The response so overwhelmed her, the “stories were so touching and it really proved to me how very connected by love we all truly are,” that she’s extended the project:

So everyone can share the way they were touched and lives were changed by loved ones lost…please, take the time to share a photo of the sky on your blog–and tell us who it is for and how they touched your life–how you remember them.

I’ve been taking so many pictures of the sky lately, and my life has been so changed by loss, that I decided to dedicate this second day of August Break to taking part in this project.

the view from our porch this morning

Connie suggested sharing about one person, but as you know, my most recent loss came as a pair, two separate griefs that are so closely linked in my heart and my memory that I can’t think of one without touching the other.

Obi was our first dog. I learned with him that when you rescue a dog, they actually rescue you, like little Bodhisattvas in fur suits. Obi taught me about fear, both by being fearful so I could see how unfounded and harmful most of our fear is, and by making me feel protected and safe so my own fear softened and relaxed. Obi gifted me a confidence about being loved and capable, about things being okay even when they were terrible, and it fundamentally changed the way I move through the world. I’m still traumatized by how we lost him, (diagnosed with incurable cancer after a check of a tiny lump that we weren’t even worried about when he was only seven years old), but understand that’s the deal with dogs–you will outlive most of the ones you have.

The same week Obi was diagnosed, so was my friend Kelly. We’d met in graduate school and I immediately loved her. She was the kind of person you couldn’t help but adore–funny, smart, creative, strong, and kind. She married another friend from graduate school, Matt, and they moved to Kentucky, which is where they were living with their six month old little boy when she found the cancer. Even though the doctors told her it was a rare form that hardly ever came back, it did, and Kelly passed away six months after my Obi did. She was only 37 years old.

the sky over us in kentucky the day of kelly’s memorial service

Both of these losses were so sad, so shocking, traumatic–both of them were so healthy, so loving and loved, so young, so vibrant and alive when diagnosed. It changed everything for me. I was compelled to begin living my life with my whole, open heart, the beauty and the terror of it, all of it. The grief and the anger that came with having to let them go was the energy behind the birth of this blog, (as well as many other positive changes in my life). I was inspired to rehab my life, and this blog is a way to contemplate, process, record, and share that experience.

Even though it is brutal, loss and grief can be a catalyst for health, sanity, wholeness. It reminds us that we aren’t guaranteed a set amount of time or health, that anything can happen to anyone of us at any time, so we have to squeeze the life out of every second, fully live each moment and be so grateful for every breath, every heartbeat, every sunrise.


Postscript: I had already written this post, scratching it out longhand in my journal, when I turned on my computer this morning to check Facebook to find a status update from Patti Digh that her husband has been diagnosed with cancer. She asked, “Please pray for him, for us.” Only hours before they got the call, Patti had had shared the most amazing picture of the sunset, the view of the sky from where they were on vacation.

While I had entirely other intentions for this post, (to fulfill my August Break commitment, to take part in Connie’s art project), what I really want to do is offer my pictures, my writing, my experience of grief and loss, all my love and my openhearted, precious and messy efforts to live life with my whole heart as an embodied prayer. May John be healthy and well, may their whole family and all those that love them have their worry and sadness softened, may all others who are receiving bad news today be comforted, and may suffering in the world be eased. I also humbly request that if you have any good energy, love or prayers to spare, kind and gentle reader, that you send them John and Patti’s way.

The world is never the same after she is there

Daily Truth from the Brave Girls Club: “there is nothing on this earth so beautiful, so comforting, so warm and inviting and loving as a girl who knows who she is…A girl who knows who she is shows up with so much light, confidence and love for everyone and everything around her that the room, the world is never the same after she is there.”

this is that girl

This quote describes my friend Kelly perfectly–so much light, confidence and love for everyone and everything around her—her life, her presence on this earth meant the world would never be the same, and two years ago today, the world was forever changed in another way when she passed.  This anniversary is such a strange day, filled with “sad wonder,” a raw and broken tenderhearted sadness, profound love, the brutality and beauty at the heart of life’s preciousness. But also on this sad anniversary, I feel a lingering rage, an anger that is both fierce and impotent because there is nothing to attach it to—who am I going to blame? God? Cancer? Western medicine? Certainly not Kelly, who did everything she could to stay.

Grief is a strange and sneaky beast. You can be moving through the most normal, boring part of your day, and something will catch you, trigger a memory. A flash of color, a smell, a song—it catapults you right back to that moment, the moment it happened or the moment you knew, when your love was unbound from form, screaming through the wilderness like a wild, rabid animal, suffering and murderous. It’s just like those mornings after it first happened, when you woke and there was that moment of innocent, sweet forgetting. Then you remembered, and it’s like you just found out, like the loss is happening for the first time, and again the grief is just beginning. The gift of dull, blank detachment you’ve cultivated, the veil of disassociation, the illusion of healing is torn away, ripped off and replaced by surprise, shock, tearing and smashing, pain followed by anger.

Thich Nhat Hanh said “what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive.  This is the best that we can do for those who have died: we can live in such a way that they continue beautifully, in us.”  I was stuck for a long time, but Kelly’s loss, preceded by Obi’s—both of them diagnosed the same week, with Obi’s cancer terminal from the beginning—changed…everything. The loss of their lives gave me back my own, shook me, shattered me, woke me up, and while I am grateful, I am also angry, and I know how utterly naïve it is, but I want to throw myself on the floor like a three year old, screaming and kicking about how it’s not fair.

The essence of grief is love unbound by form, nothing physical to attach it to. When the form that we love is no longer with us, we don’t know what to do with all the love we feel. There’s a collection of stuff left behind that provides no way of connecting with what’s gone. It is tangible, reminds us, but gives us no comfort, no real relief–a paw print preserved in plaster, a picture, a letter in that familiar handwriting but only the memory of the voice. With no forehead to kiss, no ear to whisper into, no hand to grasp, nothing to hold, we are adrift, lost, angry and afraid.

And yet, while form leaves us, love doesn’t. We may find ourselves with nothing physical to direct our love to, but it’s still there. I can no longer have a bodily experience of those I’ve lost in the past few years. I will never again smell the musky stink of Obi’s neck or touch the soft hair of his belly. I will never hear Kelly laugh or be able to hug her. And that is devastating, heartbreaking each and every time I think of it–but the love remains, whole and unbroken, constant and enduring.

In yoga this morning, I cried during shavasana (corpse pose, an asana done at the end of a session, meant to relax the body, allow it to integrate the practice). This happens a lot. It’s a vulnerable position, physically and emotionally, and after a good (or bad) class, a hard class, an intense class, I am left raw and wrecked, tender and open. I can’t think about how much I’ve changed in the last few years, how much happier and more focused I am, the drive I feel to do good, to save lives besides just my own without thinking about Kelly, without feeling a deep determination that I need to do what Kelly is no longer able to, to reflect all the love and kindness and good she manifested. I feel an obligation to so, to do better, and then do more, to wring every last drop out of life, to show up “with so much light, confidence and love for everyone and everything“ that the world is changed.

Kelly, I wish with my whole, broken heart that you were here, that we were having a dance party to celebrate. I’m going to have a little one today anyway, because no matter where you are, the love is still there, unbroken and whole, and you, your brilliant, precious self will always be something to celebrate. You will forever make me feel like dancing. And although I know I can’t do anything about the empty spot you left, I can fill the Jill shaped hole, to “live in such a way that…[you] continue beautifully, in…[me].” I love you and I miss you.

P.S. If you are together, please kiss Obi for me.

I remember

It’s been a rough, emotional week. I love many people who are actively suffering, confused, hurt, angry, and who can’t see their way out, can’t seem to get unstuck.

As someone who wants to help, to serve, it is incredibly painful to not be able to do anything, to not be able to fix it, to know that I can’t save them.

Even worse is that I can’t simply stand by and watch, untouched. Their pain, their poison seeps into me, into my porous heart, and I suffer too. I try to care for myself, but my chest and stomach cramp and ache, my heart and head hurt, I can’t sleep, and my right eye twitches for an entire day.

And within the past 24 hours, we’ve had difficulties with our boys. We discovered that Sam has Discoid Lupus Erythematosus, (a benign form of systemic lupus, a form of autoimmune disease, which manifests as loss of pigment on his nose, and dry, irritated, raw spots), and Dexter sprained his tail, (Limber tail syndrome, or acute caudal myopathy, a disorder of the muscles in the tail, usually affecting working dogs, also known as Cold Water Tail, Broken Tail, Dead Tail or Broken Wag).

It makes me so sad to see either of them hurt, but the real issue is that recognition of their pain leads to the realization, the remembering that they are mortal–some day they will die, and I will lose them. Our direct relationship, our time together is limited, we are impermanent.

And then there is another remembering, of those already gone and of the loss of them. Two years ago, Kelly was sent home from the hospital and those of us who loved her knew that the end was coming. We entered an awful season of waiting. It only lasted a few days, but it was also eternal, and in so many ways, it’s still happening.

Then and now, there is something so bizarre about the new life of Spring, the return to green, the flowering, the soft earth, the clear blue sky, the bird songs and baby animals, the soft warm new body of the whole thing in contrast with the blackness, the blindness of loss, the grief, the wailing and crying and disbelief, the emptiness, the suffering, the wreck and the broken, the raw of the rest.

That is life though, isn’t it? The horrific brutality and the precious brilliance. A cat smashed on the road, twisted, broken, someone’s lost soft love, and a butterfly resting on a flower, its wings folding and unfolding as it feeds, as it floats from bloom to bloom, drawn by their scent and their sweetness. There is bad in the world, life is brutal, and there is good in the world, life is beautiful–Life is precious, because it is both beautiful and brutal.

I remember…