Surviving Death

SurvivingDeath

(Photo Credit: Uploaded by ZaNuDa)

What does it feel like to suddenly lose someone you love?

Like when my friend, in her first pregnancy, asked me what childbirth felt like, I have no words to accurately depict what one goes through in such an event.  But unlike childbirth, experiencing the death of someone close to you can be predictably said, across the board, to be some degree of excruciation.

Over the past 25 years, I have been on the other side of grief: I have seen people lose their loved ones, and I’ve remarked on how they displayed such a  civilized mourning.  They silently suffered, or gracefully grieved, and then they picked up the pieces, careful not to cut themselves in the process.  I would stand back and witness such functionality with awe.

When my brother died, there was no grace in my family’s grieving, we did not send him gently into that goodnight, and the casualty was 5 out of 1.  I’m sure there were people around trying to support us – I remember the mountain of flowers and wreaths piled upon his mound after the funeral.  And cards.  So many cards from people we didn’t even know.  In retrospect, we had a lot of kind people in our community that reached out to us, although we were a close-knit family that kept to ourselves.

But what I remember most was death (I had developed a heightened awareness of death and its potential triggers), fear (everywhere I turned, the ambush of sudden death threatened to strike again), pain (more pain than all the Catholic lectures about hell had me imagine), confusion (there is nothing as disorienting as having to replace every pore of your existence where your beloved once occupied, with nothing; this is absolutely outrageous to the psyche).

How much fear, pain, and confusion one experiences following a loss may vary, but for us, there was just such a dastardly amount that:

my father’s successful construction business folded;
my parents’ once-happy marriage dissolved;
my parents lost their house;
my solid father lost his way;
my fractured mother started losing her mind;
my young, surviving brother got into gangs;
I attempted suicide numerous times, and ended up in an abusive relationship that would take a decade to escape, and nearly another one to completely be free from.

It took us 20 years, each in his/her own hell, to finally start healing.  20 years.  I know this is not normal.  Nothing has been normal for my family since my brother died, and we were knocked so out of orbit that we did not know how to regain footing.  We were spinning, and everyone saw our spinning.  Some tried to help, but many moved away because they didn’t know what to do with a spinning person.

Then we stopped spinning on the outside, but inside, we had still not found equilibrium.  We walked around, each going our separate ways, in feigned normalcy.  If people got close enough, they could hear the whirring of fear, death, pain, confusion.   It scared some, disdained some, and made us easy targets for yet others.

But our season in grief, though long and relentless, has finally passed.  We have survived, albeit in pieces as a family, but individually, fortified.

In retrospect, clearly, we went about it all wrong.  I cannot, however, beat down that broken-spirited family further by blaming them for dying.  We loved so deeply and thoroughly, and grieved accordingly.  Grief, after all, is a story about love.

Yes, I can find the meaning and purpose for my brother’s death, or rather, the role it played in who and where I am today.  But would I go through it again to learn the lessons?  Unless it is part of my story to save the world, no.

It is not even worth having gone through it once unless it could be turned into something positive, healing, to help others, and to restore grace to our own lives.

And so, here I am.

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“Midlife” (Grace Revisited)

MidlifeGrace

(Photo Credit: Uploaded by Kalaskai)

(I wrote the piece below in June of 2009, at the earliest rays of a new dawn for me.  It was one of my very few scattered attempts to write, before I established this blog at the end of last summer.  It is significant to me because I remember sitting down to write it, very calm and resolved for the first time in decades.  It was as if I blew a whistle in a storm, and the swirling moved away from me, and with utter respectful tranquility, allowed me to speak from a place both deep inside and beyond the horizon.

It was originally written in paragraph form, but I’ve rearranged its movement down the page.)

“MIDLIFE”

So this is what it is like.

One day, you wake up
and you assess your position in life because
the dust storm has died down
and the demons have tired away
and you have a breath in time to stop.

Then, without warning, you realize that
you didn’t accomplish what you wanted,
you didn’t get what you deserved,
and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow on.

You look around and you didn’t get to
have the house you dreamed
you would give to your darling children,
who have been there in the dark with you
and saved
all your lives
with the kind of light that the world desperately needs,

who deserved beautiful, bright rooms,
and a generous yard with lush grass
and strong trees
to move their memories through.

You find yourself exhausted and aching from a back
cracked in two from over-bending in ways
unseen and resulting in symptoms
misunderstood.

You remember the minds you’ve read
of individuals living in the twilight zone
of prosperity
and ignorance
and certain meanness.

You can’t help but wonder,
Did I do the right thing?
Did I teach my children to be kind and polite, thoughtful and giving,
so that they can be devoured
by the new generation of wolves?

In a panic, you turn to
your best friend from when you were untouched,
your soldier friends from when you were being touched,
and angel friends from when you could no longer feel.

These are the ones who have never judged you
for being surrounded by darkness—
conflict, trauma, dismay–
when you had nothing to give them
but tears, lament,
for their friendship.

You start to realize that w/out this shaking and tossing,
these gems in your life would not have surfaced through the sift!

They are the ones who see you and care for you
truly,
who get you
and are worth getting from you
the kinds of things that an earnest heart yearns:
links of Humanity–kindness, friendship, love–
to result in the main thing for which people strive
in so many different ways
in hopes to achieve:
Joy.

In this realization,
your fears also dissipate,
because you know you will be alright,
come what may,
and that despite the betrayals, the cruel things
that your kindness has allowed into your life,
it was not all in vain.”

Grace be with you.  ~Yazminh

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Why I Divorced My Best Friend of 25 Years

BabyHands

(Photo Credit: Uploaded by Haiinee)

No, I’m not talking about my husband.

I’m talking about my best friend from high school,

the one I stayed up into the wee hours of the night talking to, across states, while she was in medical school and I was a young college student and mother of two little ones;

the one whose wedding I read at, and whose wedding she was matron of honor at;

the one whose eldest child I filmed being born as I hid behind the curtain by the doorway of her delivery room, and whose second child’s delivery, I had to leave because of an emergency cesarean;

the one with whom I commiserated on my heartbreak over my brother who was drawn to toxic relationships, and a mother who was a broken woman after her favorite child’s death many, many years ago;

the one who commiserated with me on things she went through, and did, that I can never repeat.

It was the kind of friendship that inspired me to always introduce her as, “my best friend from high school.”  I always wanted to honor her, our friendship, by this somewhat childish, romanticized way.

It was the kind that had me teach my children that she was their aunt, and that her family was our family.

It was the kind that inspired me to give her the Precious Moments figurine of one girl comforting another as a symbol of our friendship; I had little money back then, and this was expensive to me, and it meant a lot for me to give it to her.

It was the kind that had me dropping everything on my end of the world to be there for her whenever she needed me, even when I had kids and she didn’t, even when I didn’t have any support of family or a mate and she did.

We could not be more different, my once-bestie and I.  We both made mistakes in life that the other wouldn’t dream of.  We both had skills and strengths that the other hadn’t developed.  These differences, we marveled and laughed about often over the years.  Yet we always said that inside, we were the same.

But time started ticking our differences more loudly.  We always had the thread of our shared adolescence and life trials before, but the thread wore too thin to hold anything together anymore.  There is no escaping the curling tendrils of one’s values; like a creeping vine, it eventually takes over the person.

She followed all societal expectations, from mannerisms to presentation, career-choice to family life, dress to social engagements; she sought “perfection,” praise, approval, status quo, and proudly accomplished all these things.  I sought authenticity, transparency, simplicity, a less constricted, less socially fabricated lifestyle, and a more intuitive way of thinking, with which her only-science-allowed mindset disagreed.  We both grew up and grew firmer in what we stood for, and therefore could no longer occupy the same space in the same way.

It did not happen overnight, the dissolution of our relationship.  It was not over one thing, or event, or issue.  Our needs and core values were just not the same, and neither of us could bend towards the other to move alongside her anymore.  And trust was lost in the process.

I know, a lot of people may say, “Twenty five years!  What a waste to throw it all away!”  But I don’t see it that way.  Like a marriage or job that you’ve given so much of your life to, when you’ve squeezed out your efforts and intentions and yet do not feel true to your best self, walking away is honoring the world through honoring your code.

Yesterday was what it was: beautiful or not beautiful, and it is done.

Today, you still need to be nourished, to feel alive, to spend your time in work and company that is aligned with your values and vision to bring you true peace, joy, and harmony.

I still love her very much, and if she called me and needed me for anything, I would be there.  But just as in a marriage that has burned out, from its ashes can be born a life of greater wisdom and truth, and thus can begin a path of authenticity, from where light blooms. Continue Reading →

14

The House That Jane Will Build (Not Everything Green is Dirty and Mean)

ColorfulHouse

(Photcredit: Uploaded by Phostezel)

In our society, money is either demonized or glorified, demonizing it in the end.  But I think it is a necessary means for many good and important ends, and I’m all for its pursuit as a means.

My parents came here as sponsored immigrants from Vietnam toward the end of the Vietnam war.  I grew up with everything I needed, and my wants were humble.  My father worked very hard, no shortcuts and no complaints, and we spent the first decade in roachy apartments and fixer-uppers.  We definitely did not roll in the dough, but I felt filled up because my parents were very loving and present, and we were a close-knit family.

The next decade, my father’s steady-does-it did it, and we could finally search for a house to purchase.  This was before the internet era (and even before computers were a staple in every home), so every week, my father and I would grab the “Homes for Sale” magazines to peruse over.  I was in 7th grade about that time, and that was when I caught the bug.

I remember the first time my father handed me a magazine and told me look in it and see if there were any houses that I liked.  I looked forward to the newsprint-grade, grayish pages, the black-and-white, slightly blurry photos of the houses and their real-estatey descriptions—“Lovely, 3 BR, 2 BA, w/fenced-in yard!”—magical!  I devoured it all, walking through each one of them in my mind, claiming my room to decorate as I pleased, whooping it up with my little brothers in our yard as the proper tomboy that I was would, and just coming home from school, walking up the steps to our house.  It was one of the most exciting times of my life.

My parents ended up deciding on a simple rambler on a corner lot, but it was all brick, roach-free, and had enough land for my father to build the equivalent of a 2-story, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house as an extension.  Back then, for us, it was huge.

Around this time, my father’s construction business started growing, and life was very good.  My little brothers had fairly healthy appetites for wants, although mine stayed harnessed (being the oldest child, I witnessed and understood more how hard my father had to work to get us all that we had).  But everything we wanted, we got.

When I had my own kids, the memory of being poor-yet-happy stuck with me, and so as I struggled in certain areas of my life, being young and a college student with two small children and no real support system, I thought it was fine to not have money as long as I had love to give.  It would be years before I realized the flaw in this way of thinking.

You see, unless you don’t mind living in the middle of nowhere and/or have no one to support or answer to, no money is no funny.

At 30, I found myself realizing that I needed money first of all to do the things that really mattered to me, namely, having the abilities to:

  1. Give my children instruction and experiences to enrich their personal development and nurture their creative and intellectual inclinations;
  2. Provide for my parents’ retirements.

And there’s more.  The truth is, I like many material things and many of my aspirations require acquisition of things that money can buy.  I can live without, but I enjoy the feeling that I learned in that space of time with my family where we could live comfortably and fantasize and hope to have.  It was a pure and honest delight, very much like Christmas morning to a child.

Today, I live in a small townhouse in the heart of one of the richest counties in the country.  It is not a fancy townhouse, not in the most expensive area, and is far from my “wishlist” home (my “dream home,” unlikely to happen, as it includes a luxury bomb shelter, tree suites, and very techie details throughout), but it is what we can afford if we want to stay here (and for now, we do).

Yet, the dream of a nice house that I can carve into the image of my eye’s apple lives on.  When I drive by beautiful, well-crafted, happy-looking houses, or see them in “Architectural Digest,” or find them online, my heart still beats ridiculously like a school girl seeing her crush.  Some people may have this feeling for cars or clothes or accessories, but the home is the ultimate expression of self – the design, the use of space, the details, the lighting – it is where I can intimately share everything that delights me with those I care about, like a kid sharing their “bestest” toys.

I wanted this wishlist home for my kids, but 2 of them are already grown up and don’t need the large yard and Ewok village I was hoping to have for them, and I don’t need as much space for my youngest one alone.  But I still want a home that I can express and create in, with an art and dance studio, and I cannot go minimalist, because I learned something about love through luxury from my sponsor parents, the beautiful people who helped my family escape the Vietnam war and get acclimated to this country.

Whenever I go visit them in Virginia Beach, I am treated with utmost hospitality, with attention to every detail, including the luxurious layers upon layers of bedding, the down pillows, richly cozy furniture and draperies, beautiful soaps and plush towels.  I feel very loved and honored in this luxuriated way.  I want to have a home where I can give this back to them one day.  I want a home with rooms that my grown children and future grandchildren can look forward to staying in.  I want a house that I can make bright and beautiful to delight my international friends who come so far to see me, and make them feel like they’re staying in a luxurious retreat.

So, I like things. Things I don’t need. Things that cost money.  Things that can pin me down.  But they also make warm my heart, brighten my lens, make me soar.  And whatever delights me, I love to share.

Mi placer (joy) de casa, es tu placer de casa.

Welcome.

4

Life is a Box of Sparkles

GlitterCrop

When I was about 4, I remember a friend of my parents, Mr. Johnson, asking me what I wanted for Christmas one year, and I immediately knew what it was: glitter.  A box full of it.  Except I didn’t know what it was called, so I told him I wanted a box of sparkles.

Throughout my life, this theme recurs, this love of “sparkles”: peering up from under the Christmas tree, imagining I was a fairy in a magical world of twinkling lights; getting lost in the dancing facets of crystals or diamonds, or club lights, or starry skies.

When I go to Costco with just my little one, we usually go straight to the jewelry case to ooh-ahh at the diamonds. She will point out her favorites, while I would target in on the most sparkly one and just stare at it, imagining what a world within the circumference of the sparklosion would be like.  Sometimes, my daughter has to snap me out of it by calling out to me loudly while pulling at my arm, my eyes “blingering” as the rest of me moves to her command.

I have wrestled with this shameless wonderment that has me cutting away from my clan whenever we’re out in public and I see something particularly Swarovski-like, like a child running across the street after her laughing, beckoning, bouncy-bouncy ball.  Why do I love sparkly things so much?  Am I immature?  Am I tacky and don’t even know it?  

I have to clarify that I don’t care about jewelry – I don’t wear it much.  When my husband proposed to me, he chose a ring much too expensive for my comfort.  I had told him that it could be a fake stone, but that I would love it if it were just sparkly.  (I have little care for monetary value – only happiness value.)  He ended up buying me the most expensive and meaningful (to him) ring he could find, and I love him for his efforts….but I would have been just as happy with a cheap, small, bright CZ or Aussie crystal.

So, after many years of being the only one in my circle to love such things to the point that I had considered starting a business creating large canvases of art made purely of Swarovski crystals (which I later talked myself out of, recognizing my lack of patience to do any such work requiring the placement of countless dots of anything), I realized why:  It may not make practical sense, but it made magic, and that’s the fundamental point to anything we enjoy.

Having grown up Catholic, I can only speak for my own experience with Christmas and its many joys, one being that of the feeling of magic.   Yes, there’s the opportunistic commercialism diluting the fundamental reasons for this season’s celebrations.  But the fact remains: We are all moving along with the notion, however committed we may be to engaging in it, of wishing each other well; of creating joyful memories for our children; of being a little more patient, kind, forgiving, open; of giving and sharing and celebrating and laughing much more than we may in our everyday.

And we are doing these things simultaneously, and in magnificent numbers, every yearThis is magicThis is lifeThis is a box of sparkles.

May you have a great holiday season, and allow yourself to get lost in the arresting beauty of its magic throughout the coming year.

~Yazminh

4

“Peace is Unity”

(Click quote block to watch the TED Talk by Boyd, honoring Nelson Mandela.)

This philosophy creates balance to the world, to society, and to the individual. In all that you do, ask if it is part of an effort promoting harmony, care, and connection. This is also the potential power and beauty of blogging. ~Yazminh

0

Beyond the Grain: Lessons From Board-Breaking

BeyondTheGrainMcCroskeyR

(Photo Credit: McCroskeyR)

When I was about 15, I had a boyfriend-ish (a guy who liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend, and who had to see me by having his whole family come over when he visited, but with whom I couldn’t go out or do anything).  James was two years older, probably been around the block a few good rounds, but was much more immature than I was in other ways, usually in the thinking arena.

On one of his few visits, I remember us going outside with his sister, Gwen, and him seeing some lumber pieces laying around (my father was a contractor).  James was explaining something to me about breaking boards, and told either me or his sister (I forget which) to hold one of the wooden board pieces while he punched it to break it.  He revved up, and hit the piece of wood, but his hand bounced back, with the wood, unflinching.

I think he did this one or two more times, when I offered to try.  He held it for me, and I punched through it.  James was 5’11, about 160 lbs.; I was 5’3, about 100 lbs.  He picked up another piece of wood, just to be sure he didn’t weaken the first one for me, and again, my little fist punched through.  I explained that he had to aim behind the wood.

This memory clip came to me as I was thinking about how short-sighted we can get when it comes to achieving our goals.  We know what we want to see happen, but we focus on the wrong thing, so our projected destination may short us of the desired outcome.

For example, it is almost New Year’s Resolution time, and, for those who like a proverbial starting point, many will use the 1st of the year as their declaration to lose weight.  It is a very short-sighted, yet understandable target, but the problem is that focusing on the size or scale—the obvious, superficial issues—is often a goal with a reach too short to be truly successful.  It is like James’ focusing on aiming at the board to break it – it’s solid, easy to see, and so seems the right focal point.  But this effort actually focuses on the obstacle, not the solution.

Often times, weight issues (as are many health issues) are symptomatic of imbalances elsewhere, whether it be physical, hormonal, biological, psychological, etc., and focusing on restoring balance as needed is the best solution.

Instead of doing this, however, many start punching at the board (“Crap. I’ve gained weight again. I need to start dieting.”),  instead of punching through the board (“Hmm, what’s causing this weight gain?  How have I been feeling?  How is my lifestyle?  What have I been doing differently, or need to do differently? What should I get checked out?”).

This simple lesson can be applied across the board – relationships, work, finances – any area where an obstacle must be overcome.  Every circumstance is different, of course, and sometimes the issue isn’t so simply solved by merely identifying the problem and end point accurately, but it is necessary for the most concise route.

In short: Aim beyond the superficial plane to get the breakthrough you want.

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