Amber: My Sister Through My Eyes

amberAmber’s life began on June 28, 1975.  As soon as she could walk and talk, her enthusiasm for, sweetness to and curiosity about other people were immediately apparent.  She never knew what a stranger was, if you turned your back on her for a moment you were sure to turn back and find her striking up a conversation with whoever happened to be passing by.  I can picture her as that little girl and I can picture her by her mothers side always wanting to help, the true personification of Mothers little helper, always wanting to be of service.

These two qualities that defined her as a child, the interest in others and the genuine desire to help them and make their lives easier, continued to define her, no matter what hardships she endured, throughout her life. 

There was another side to her greatest strengths, as is so often the case with all of us, they were also her greatest obstacles.  Amber’s selflessness and self-sacrifice caused her to perhaps give too much while not asking for enough in return.  The great stores of energy she drew on to work an increasingly demanding and exhausting job, while raising her kids, and caring for her family were eventually drained.  Her body was more frail than she realized and her will alone was not enough to sustain her.  In addition her innocence and her complete lack of guile which allowed her to see and expect the best in others left her vulnerable to hurts, a heart like hers could not make sense of, and she at times blamed herself for the failings of others.  But no matter what the cost she would not abandon that innate loving kindness and sweetness.  

It is no wonder that, as her health began to fail and she could no longer keep up with the demands of her Title Insurance job, she went back to school to work in healthcare.  After graduating first in her class she decided to pursue working with cancer patients and in that she found what she considered to be her true calling.  She choose healthcare because she cared deeply and passionately about all those who crossed her path and because she had suffered she had vast stores of empathy and compassion for others who were suffering.  She became a true friend to her patients and their families and she liked to think that she, in some small way, shared their burden and by doing so made it lighter.  When her health continued to deteriorate to the point where she could no longer do that job she mourned it for the rest of her life.

Even this loss did not take away her sweet spirit and she continued to pour her love and care into her children, her family and her pets.  She became quite active on social media and was a tireless cheerleader for others, always striving to make them feel loved and celebrated.  She was, in the last months of her life, contemplating writing a book in order to share her triumphs and tragedies, letting people know they were not alone and still trying to help as many people as she could.

Amber’s life had its hardships and was far too short, but all those that knew her felt blessed by that knowledge. Her sweetness , her kindness, her innocence, her lack of guile and her generous heart were so special they could not be ignored.  She is gone from this world but her influence remains with us and if we can, through her example, open our hearts to love freely and to treat each other with compassion and forgiveness, she will have achieved her true aim in life, she will have helped forever all those she loved.

Amber’s life ended at home surrounded by people and animals she loved, her parents, her son and her beagles.  She will be so sorely missed.

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Goodbye Pat and Goodbye 2015

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I have never been so relieved to have a year come to an end!  For the most part it was a good year but the end was one of the roughest times of my life.  The whole month of December was kind of awful for a myriad of reasons but the toughest moment came the day after Christmas when our good, family friend Pat passed away.

My family moved in with Pat who was around fifty at the time, when I was a little girl.  We had just moved back from California and had no money, no prospects and no where to live.  Pat was at that moment, and for the rest of his life, our guardian angel.  He was unfailing kind and generous, sweet and playful.  He was the best of friends and the best of people.  He lived with my family for the rest of his life and died in his own bed at my parents house.

He was what some might consider an unremarkable man who lived a remarkable life, filled with tragedy and loss and ultimately redemption and love.

The thing that was so very remarkable about Pat once you got to know him  was how happy he was with so little.  In our modern view, the gifts that life gave him were so pitifully few, he was never in love (the one date he ever went on ended with getting kicked out of his house for dating) he never had children or a high powered career, he wasn’t famous, he didn’t change the world.  And yet in all the time I knew him he never shed a tear (he said he had cried all his tears when his mother died), he never complained about the life he was given, he never forgot to say thank you for even the smallest gesture of thoughtfulness.

I’m not really sure if understanding the life he lived makes his unfailing contentment more or less amazing.  He lost his mother at age seven and was sent to an orphanage with his brother.  A couple of years later he lost his father as well.  He continued in the orphanage until he was adopted by some cousins but even that  was shortlived and he time and again ended up homeless on the streets of Detroit.  He though about becoming a priest but was disillusioned by the hypocrisy he witnessed while working around the order.  He went into the army and was one day away from shipping out to Vietnam when he contracted double pneumonia and was eventually given an honorable disability discharge.  He had a mental breakdown a few years after he left the army and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent some time in an institution.  He moved to Colorado and ended up buying a house for his beloved poodle Blackie.  That was the only reason that he bought the house because he wanted his dog to have a home and a yard and so he provided them.   Some time later he started going to the church my father worked for and that was how we met him.  When we moved back from California, homeless and desperate, we found out that his dog had died and he was terribly lonely and heartsick over his dog’s passing.  The pastor of the church thought it might be a blessing for him to have some companionship and it was undoubtedly a blessing for us as well.  From that day on he was a part of our family.

Time and again life gave him obstacles and problems that he saw for what they really were, gifts.  The pneumonia that wrecked his lungs and was the foundation for a life time of lung problems wasn’t a curse it was the blessing that saved him from the horrors of war.  The death of his beloved pet was the reason our family came to stay and he finally got the love and friendship and the home that he had never had.  It didn’t make him bitter that life had been so hard because he knew the worst that could happen, he’d lived through it, and the qualities of character and personality that caused him again and again to seek a life of service and a purpose in helping others, helped him to remain happy and positive and unfailingly grateful.

There have been so many lessons I’ve learned from Pat in our life together but his last lesson and gift to me (and one that I needed more than ever as I dealt with the loss of him) was that this too shall pass.  Pat lived a life blighted by pain and suffering for the first two thirds of his time on earth but the last third, though it maybe didn’t make up for or remove those lost years, did give him something he’d always wanted, a home, a family and unconditional love.  I imagine it would be all but impossible for me to experience the amount of loss and devastation  in my life that Pat suffered but even if it did, the memory of how he dealt with that loss and the knowledge that it did eventually get better will stay with me through anything.

So goodbye Pat, I loved you and I will always miss you.

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Dissecting Understanding, Part VI–The Abyss

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I decided to write this one today, 1. because I said I would be writing it, and 2. the big reason, I am tired, and being tired really brings the grief close to the surface. Also, I was hanging out with old friends last night–friend’s whom have witnessed several of my hardcore life-changes (me and mom before my mom got sick, before and after my break-up (huge lifestyle change, hahaha!), during the sickness, the death, the immediate reaction, and, after a few years’ absence, me now)–and that splash of guilt that I always carry when it comes to them, was enough to capture the attention of my wretched abyss, and four hours of sleep later, it’s tailing me.

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theabyssthesphereWhat do I mean by “The Abyss”? If you have to ask that question, I envy you, because it probably means that you do not have one. I am not, however, talking about the 1989 movie, The Abyss, with the most handsome Michael Biehn (but that mustache though!)–however the concept of diving down to unknown depths where an unforeseen extraterrestrial monster could very well destroy you, is not that far off from the way that my abyss feels to me. However, I would rather attribute the concept of 1998’s The Sphere–diving to unknown depths where your very worst nightmares can, and do, come true? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Picture a meadow–a vast beautiful flower strewn meadow surrounded by the most phenomenal, colorful, and plushy trees you could imagine. White fluffy puffy clouds drift lazily across a cerulean sky, the sun shining brightly, illuminating all of the amazing flowers in the giant open space. But look behind you, the sky is a virulent greenish-black and swirling purple. There is a storm coming–there is always a storm coming. And suddenly you hear it, the wind, like the impassioned

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whispers of a million fiends, and, still looking behind you, you look down. The abyss is coming. Like the nothing from The Neverending Story, the abyss is searching for you, destroying everything in it’s wake. A vast seething void, a vacuum, a black hole, intent on sucking you down. Fear grips you, because you don’t know what lays inside the abyss–you are sure that there must be a bottom, but the thought of what may be found along the way, paralyzes you. It is getting closer, as is the storm, and the icy cold vise-like grip of the abyss’ searching fingers have seized your ankle–it is going to suck you in! Violently, you tear yourself from it’s grasp. Anger has consumed you now. How dare that abominable, but somehow omniscient, creature, try to pull you under! So you run. Run from the storm, run from the abyss. Ducking and weaving, dodging and zigzagging, you desperately try to get away. But unbeknownst to you, the meadow is not a flat expanse–the flowers hide the pitfalls and the potholes, the cracks and crevices, the eroding artifacts of time. Now you have to attempt to outrun the abyss, avoid the storm, and try not to break your leg in the process. Fabulous!

This is the poetic description of my life. I do, predominately, see it as beautiful–a sun-drenched flower-strewn meadow. Butrosekennedy there is always a storm a’coming. Or, as it is known in my household, “It’s always something.” The storm doesn’t always equal death. It doesn’t always become one with the abyss (but it can, and it does, a lot, in my world). The storm is just something that will eventually come along and, “harsh my mellow.” Often, the storm encompasses several events, that, in their way, make up the storm as a whole. For example, it has always been a general rule, a saying, in our house that if you, “spill your first cup of coffee, you might as well go straight back to bed, because today is going to be a sh*t day!” Spilling the coffee on the freshly mopped floor, leads to hitting your head on a cabinet door, which leads to losing your wallet, which leads to running late, which leads to burning yourself with a cigarette because you’re rushing, which leads to speeding, which leads to a heart-pounding moment of passing a cop, which leads to getting stuck behind the slowest person ever, which leads to being late to work, which leads to nothing at work going right, which leads to….you get the picture. We base a lot of our day on the perilous life of that first cup of coffee.

FbgrievingmothersThe hidden pitfalls of the meadow, represent other people’s problems. I am, unfortunately in my opinion, very empathetic. It started young. I felt the losses of my parents and my family, from the moment I was born. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I was born into a loss (my uncle had just died right before I was born), and I was impacted by living with five people directly affected by that loss. And by the time I was born, both of my parent’s knew extensively about pain, fear, death, agony, loss, grief, and all of the other horrible adjectives that we have given to the human condition. My mother was more upbeat than my father, but even she knew she had more blessings to be counted than he, despite all that she had been through. It is a quite lengthy and torrid story, much too long and extensive for a blog, but simply put: between the two of them, they had seen, heard, lived, or touched pretty much all of the darkness that one can imagine in this world. So yeah, suffice to say I was born into a world already jaded by tragedy–but we were somehow still happy. The abyss was there, it always had been, but the meadow was boundless and alluring and I was ecstatic to be there.

But the hidden debris is there, and there are a lot of people in this world….that is a lot of stuff to avoid…

jkrowlingSo what is the abyss? For me, it is my own loss, the all consuming grief, regrets, guilt, and the loss of the unknown. It is my darkness, my demons. I stuff them away, wrap them up in a thick, durable, blanket of anger–anger at the world, at the powers that be, at the injustice of it all, that we have to endure without knowing why. And I avoid it. I gaily frolic in my meadow, thinking myself clever for always being one step ahead. But sometimes, the abyss gets me.

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I do not care to count out for you, all of the family and friends, even beloved critters, that I have lost in my short lifetime. Already, I can see myself acting like one of those old ladies who is sad every day of the year, because, “I lost so and so on this day in nineteen-ninety–,” or, “two-thousand and—” But January 9, 2010, was by far the worst. My very worst nightmare come true. On that day, I lost my mother. I heard her last breath, I watched my dad perform CPR to no avail, I called 911, and I watched them perform every last trick in their bag to bring her back, and I watched it fail. It seemed like the longest day of my life, but really, I can’t have been aware of more than six hours of the entire day. We woke up late that day, all of us, for whatever reason. Well into the afternoon, start of early evening, the entire household slept–including the three house-guests lurking in the basement (there were eight people in the house that day). And even with the rest of us finally stirring, mom laid there, systematically breathing, until it stopped.strength

See, that is the thing I have learned in my “old age.” The sound of the death rattle. It sounds a lot like the mechanical breathing of a life support machine–each inhale and exhale perfectly timed, like a metronome on which you can perfectly keep the beat of time. You do not need a machine to produce these calculated breaths. I heard it first with my mother, and the lesson was cemented into memory when Grandma passed three years later.

Five years of universal torture preceded that horrendous day. Five years to watch my mother die. What started with surgeries to fix her collapsing arches, ended with a light-lost, a chemo-mush brain confined to a wheelchair. Every single time she tried to fix a problem, it got worse. Fix her feet, she gets neuropathy. Take Chantix to quit smoking, it makes her sleep-walk, and she falls down the stairs and tears her meniscus. Fix her meniscus, she goes septic with pneumonia, a UTI, and E-Coli. a-daughter-without-her-mother-is-a-woman-broken-it-is-a-loss-that-turns-to-arthritis-and-settles-quote-1After she completes her rehab, falls and fractures her hip. Gets diagnosed with breast cancer, she has a horrible reaction to the treatment. Begs the doc not to perform the final day of radiation treatment, he does it anyway, the next day she is waking me up with an exploded wound–the incision site where the tumor was removed had festered from the inside out. These instances are only a taste of what she went through those last five years of her life. It seemed like, “it was always something.” We were never going to break free.

comfortcompany.netI cannot say that I was happy when she died, no. I mean, good for her to be able to escape from the whirlwind of pain the fates had leashed upon her; but I was, am, jealous. Jealous that the next world gets to have her and I don’t. Jealous that she “is in a better place,” and I am not. Jealous that I see that the world can be beautiful–that true love does exist (of course not without it’s faults), that dreams can come true, that there can be happy endings–but I only get to see, hear and touch; never get to live these things. That is my abyss.

life-of-pi-13inspirational quotes for grieving 3And the world just keeps adding to it. I keep adding to it. Berating myself for guilt I have carried for years, adding new guilt, a dash of something new to be angry about….but the ringleader demon in the pit of my abyss, is my mother’s death. She was my best friend. The strongest, most beautiful, most spiritual person I have ever met. A decently non-judgmental active listener (unless you were her kid–she would judge you then, haha!) No one can take her place. Without her, I lost my light. I lost my faith. I lost my safe place. Everything really was going to be all right, as long as she was by my side. And now she is not.

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My abyss centers around my mom. How about yours? If you do not have an abyss, I envy you.lewis

And this is why I run. I would rather fight the darkness’ hold, and frolic gaily in the light. But you can’t run forever. Eventually I will fall, I will break, and I will be forced to confront those demons.

I should probably just confront it. Light that candle and curse the darkness, head on, as it were.

I’m currently working on trying to heal it. I will let you know if that works out…

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she loved Winnie the Pooh….

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**pictures were all found either on Facebook or random google searches. Look for quotes about loss.**

Cliche Day: If You Love Someone, Set Them Free….

001Hello again. Today will be my first cliche day, and I have decided to talk about love, fate, destiny, and this beautiful little gem that the American author, Richard Bach, gave to us: “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” We all know the quote; in fact all one needs to say is, “If you love someone…” and whomever is around will join in the, “…set them free.” We do not even need the rest, because it is already engrained into our noggins. (Hopefully everyone reading this now has heard of the quote, hahaha! If not, where have you been?)

Richard Bach is still alive, meaning that this quote is not that old. Older than me, I think, but seriously not old at all. Yet I hear this quote all of the time–in movies, in books, in popular music–this quote worms its way into your subconscious without you even knowing it. So much so, that it has become cliche. But what does it mean? Why would you let them go? How long are you supposed to wait for them to return? What if they get married? Have children? With the divorce rates as they are today, does marrying someone else even matter? When is it too much and you have to let go just to keep your sanity?

I have run into this problem more than once. I am a Leo, and Leos are notoriously in love with love, so we fall easily and we fall hard. I have heard the words, “I love you. You’re perfect. You’re gorgeous. You’re amazing…” but, unfortunately, I am rather unsure if I have ever really had the emotion be real, really be reciprocated. Even with my ex-fiance…I’m not sure if it was real. Could be the reason why I was engaged for five years!! Should I hold onto those? Was it silly to hold onto them in the first place? If they promised ten years ago that they would marry me, is that too long to wait? What if those words are spoken by a teenager, does it really not count then? In fact, should we hold anything against a 13-17 year old, hahaha?! I have been single for almost a decade, and it still bothers me that I have heard the words mentioned above, over and over again, but they never seem to stick. Yet I find myself still believing that I loved them, let them go, and I am just waiting upon their return. Which written out as it is here, I feel a wee bit idiotic, hahaha!

What about this quote: “I don’t understand why destiny allowed some people to meet…when there’s no way for them to be together.” I got that from SumNanQuotes on Tumbler. 005 In response, maybe this one, from a source unknown: “We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason.” 008Is there a lesson to be learned here?

For one particular person, to which all of these quotes are applicable, there is most definitely a lesson. My beautiful little brain can paint the most fantastic pictures of what the future would have looked like with that person. And I found so many little indicators that proved that he was my destiny, that fate was on my side, and we would be together forever. But fate wasn’t on my side; he wasn’t meant to be mine. For awhile, I forced myself to hate that person. I hated him for saying all of the right things and then taking them back; for never meaning them in the first place. Mostly, however, I hated myself for believing them. For painting such ludicrous pretty pictures of the two of us. I hated myself for the event that caused me to actually look at him and see him as a man, as a potential. And when he found someone “new,” I hated myself for hating her.

In the end, I realized that I had lied to myself…a lot. Yeah, maybe he told quite a few fibs himself, but I believed him. I have the exceptional ability to gloss over negative aspects of those I love–I just don’t see them–until that person makes me angry! Then I can point them out in minute detail! And really, once I did that, I am frankly glad that it wasn’t me. Not that he is a bad person, oh no! He still possesses all of those endearing and attractive qualities that I had originally seen in him, he just also possesses all those negative and unattractive qualities that, in fact, I really don’t want in a potential mate. He is not my one. In the end, it was more of this quote, from smschacha.com: “When people can walk away from you, let them walk. Your destiny is never tied to anybody who left…”

007I am fairly certain that I have ascertained the reason, the destiny, the fate, the role that we played in each others’ lives. I wonder if he will see it as well some day. In the meantime, my lesson having been learned, I am willing to let him go completely. None of this waiting around for him to come back.

I will end this post with this quote, from Mandy Hale: “Once you make the decision to move on, don’t look back. Your destiny will never be found in the rearview mirror.”

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