Tag Archives: #52essays2107

Valley of Death

Once again the valley of death and grief are a yoke on my corazón. My brother Miguel Angel chose to leave this earth four days before my scheduled visit. My plan was to check out the extent of his cancer, report back to familia in the US, and consider when I would return again. My plan was to sit next to his thin body and read him my memoir, which begins the day I met him and ends the last day I saw him eight years ago before he returned to México.

I receive an urgent email four days before my trip from my niece to call and a FB message soon after of his death during a work gathering. I step outside, needing to be outside, near mama pacha, under the great eastern sun, where I can dissolve in tears, text a good friend, and call all my Mexican family numbers to no avail. My phone carrier figures out there is a block on International calls. They unblock my phone to no avail because by then my family is not at home and the cells phones still won’t connect. By then they are at the funeral home. By then Miguel’s body is being prepared for a viewing and cremation. By then I am on the phone with my friend, wailing that I had known his time was close and should have gone down sooner. My pain sears me with damnation for being too caught up in a logically timed trip.

Miguel was – and I am – of the heart — foolish and giddy with hope even when smoke clouds our vision and all around us is smoldering resentment and bridges burning. I sit in the sun and sob, full of terror that I have become too distracted by issues less important than the great matters of life and death. A co-worker finds me and my body shakes with grief in her arms, because loss require many tears for many years. It is a stream that ebbs and flows as life continues its majestic journey from dawn to dark, crushing loss to unimaginable joy. A flow that revisits other losses and creates a wave to knock us into an undertow of unresolved yearning.

Arriving home, I change my flight to the next day, packing casually as the flight isn’t until 12:30. I sleep little and wake groggy. I finally reach my sister Rosita who confirms the mass is at 7 PM, just when my flight would arrive. I go into action, canceling my current flight and buying a new ticket with the tentative assurance I can be refunded due to the circumstances. Calling a Lyft, I hurriedly finish packing and endure a longer than usual drive due to the heavy morning traffic.

My heart is in full motion now, willing me forward while accepting I will arrive twenty minutes before my departure time instead of the requested three hours for an International flight. Logically speaking, no chance in hell to make that flight. I pull up a map of the airport so I know to turn right when I enter the terminal, racing with my carry-on to security. No line. Two men in front of me are going slowly through their paces so I ask to go ahead of them and they agree. I keep running toward gate 10, passing 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I hear my name over the loud speaker. I race past 6, 7, 8 and down the escalator. By then my lungs are bursting and I am panting, willing my legs forward past 9 to the very last gate. Screw logic I think as I settle into the emergency row, alone and ready to burst with relief and gratitude.

I attend the 7 PM mass, remembering the prayers in Spanish as I sit between my sisters Rosita and Tere and look at the photo of Miguel and his querida hija Aranza. We are all a bit befuddled when the priest asks us at the end of the service to clap for Miguel, but we do so. We then become a procession that sidles into the narrow hallway behind the main seating area. Passing walls lined with small vaults, we stop at the open one that already contains the ashes of Miguel’s mother and nephew. A song by Pepe Aguilar that my niece Aranza has picked plays on her mother’s phone as she sobs quietly, mounting a small ladder to place the wooden box of her father’s ashes inside.

I sleep in a bed the first night on Rosita’s bedroom floor near where Aranza sleeps in Rosita’s bed. Rodrigo, her 20-year-old grandson, sleeps in the room I am in now, on the first bed, by then moved to the room where Miguel spent four months dying. Aranza now sleeps on a foam mattress in the same room with me. This is all to say there is alot going on and the chess pieces of familia move sideways, diagonally, and backwards more than forward.

Thus, sleep is difficult even though I spend a good nine to ten hours in bed, keeping to the Mexican CST time zone at night and to my PST in the morning. Grief is a greedy lover. My dreams are intense and fractious. Amid the time change, a lack of exercise, much caretaking, and my family’s different eating patterns, I practice compassion. I tell Rosita I am here to be the ‘gray’ in the black and white of death. Grief eats at our perspective and demands answers that insist on a winner and loser.

It is about the same temperature here as where I live in Marin, but Rosita’s house, like most houses in Mexico City, only has portable heaters. Aranza and I set up the oscillating one wherever we go in the chilly house, as we play cards, practice jacks, and eat meals at odd hours. It warms our room each night and comforts our broken corazones.

“Soy muy dispersa.” We repeat this phrase over the next eight days when we lose our train of thought or forget what we are doing. We chuckle and feel our way back to the present moment with each other’s help. “You were talking about this and then you said that and then you started saying A so you were probably going to talk about B.

On Monday I accompany Aranza and Rosita to the therapist, bringing my laptop as I imagined sitting in the waiting room while they met. Pues no. He meets with clients in his living room, so I sit on the smaller couch and tenderly witness the session, listening to both of their expressions of grief and loss. Finally, Rosita tells him to ask me something. I feel my  sadness expand through my body and my voice quaver as I speak. Cannot remember what I said, but I know my wish was to add some shading and texture to what they had said. We end up eating at a place called Sushi Miguel, which I love for bearing my brother’s name. You can’t make this shit up.

Later that night in Rosita’s home, I go to my room to ground myself, to allow others to be away from my aura that pulses strongly. It can be sharp and forceful apart from my wishes to protect me. I had excused myself from watching a movie together. My niece comes in to say the DVD (old school) isn’t working and to spin in pirouettes around the room. Then el gato Sebastian pads in and climbs over my keyboard. My sister Rosita follows a few minutes later to say the DVD is still not working and to kiss me goodnight. She easily slides into telling stories in her masterful way, building tension slowly and tortuously, delivering perfectly timed punchlines with wonderful voice inflections. I keep writing amid the creatures surrounding me because I must. Because it is what writers do with angst and pain. Rosita notices she is wearing a slipper on one foot and a clog on the other. Sebastian climbs on my, uh, that space between the laptop and my chest.

“Doesn’t he bother you?” asks Rosita.

“Pues sí,” I answer.

“Do you want me to take him away?”

“No.” I pause. “If I removed everything that bothered me I would always be alone in a beautiful garden.” Rosita laughs and leaves with Aranza to go downstairs. Sebastian then settles on my neck, purring and occasionally gouging my neck with his claws. He was buena compania for Miguel as he lay in the same bed I have snuggled in for five nights now.

I spend Tuesday,  el día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, with Tere and her familia, eating at Johnny Rocket’s, something I have never done in the US. Afterwards we wander the mall, enjoying the lights and a break from underlying grief. My family here is BIG into Christmas decorations. I even try on some shoes, but I cannot find a style and color I like, which is a shame as the prices are so much more reasonable than in the US. Life does go on amid loss.

I spend several hours the next day sitting in the sun on a bench with Rosita and my laptop, translating my memoir with much more ease than I thought I would. At times Rosita makes the ‘time out’ signal and adds a story, asks a question, or gives her analysis of family dynamics. Aranza is picked up by her mother and abuela later that evening and I search my belongings for something to give her to seal our new connection. I decide on a small bottle of oil full of healing yerbas I had received at a training. I had used it once and she liked the smell. Many abrazos later, nos despedimos. Rosita and I continue wading through the memoir past midnight, avid readers caught up in observing ourselves and other family members as characters full of flaws and courage.

Fretting the next evening we will not finish the memoir, I tell her we can finish via phone or WhatsApp video. We end the storytelling near midnight again, snuggling in my bed with Sebastian. I sleep poorly this last night for a number of reasons and wake with a mild headache and tears brimming. Now that I am leaving, all the cortisol I have been releasing from my adrenal glands to supplement my natural energy is ebbing and grief is breaking open my heart again. I miss having one of my dad’s pañuelos instead of grabbing nearby toilet paper and napkins to mop up my tears.

I am grateful my last meal is with both Tere and Rosita, bringing us together to forge a plan for supporting Aranza. As I sit in the restaurant booth, I diagnose my headache, lack of appetite, and urge to vomit as an incoming migraine. They occur rarely for me, but this one is not surprising given my week. I love it that Tere asks and the waitress gives me some aspirin. This would never happen in the US. That and my electrolytes packet dissolved in water ease the surge of disequilibrium, but I still sadly leave my chilaquiles uneaten on my plate.

Tere drives me to the airport with Rosita and the braid of joy, sadness, and fullhearted longing that accompanies me on every visit to México surrounds my corazón as I hug them each in turn. I am once again alone in the emergency row, grateful I avoided a full-blown migraine with aggressive allopathic medication and the EFT tapping I was  taught by my naturopath when my first one occurred a few months after my mom’s death. I sooth my puffy eyes with the amazing vistas after take-off and then a romantic comedy that is predictable and sweet — much better for my soul than the fake ‘churro’ I leave for the cleaning crew.

Life and death hold hands all the time. They do not fear each other. This year and every year they welcome me to the valleys and mountaintops to sit and gather the unpredictable lessons each holds. I often say a day without tears is a day my heart is not doing its job. It is a day I have succumbed to the limitations of my logical mind and forgotten to listen to the wisdom of my corazón. The dominant US cultural norm of thinking over feeling breeds denial. I received a tough lesson on its impact last week. I can only go forward with a renewed commitment to listen and honor the beat of my heart despite the clamor of logic.

Que descanses en paz Miguel. I look forward to our new connection across the realms of vida y muerte.

Living with Grief

“I don’t when, or where, or how, but I see a tattoo in your near future. Perhaps it will be the date of Javi’s death, or his birth, but you will sear his pain into your skin to keep his heart beating in yours. An acknowledgement that his life and his death are part of who you are. It is a full moon and he calls out to all of us across space and time. He reminds us of what is not yet done, what arms we must now take up, what sorrows we must now bear and what joys only we can express.”

I spoke that into my Notas de voz app in the middle of the night on August 7, 2017, a week and a day after my son’s best friend died of an accidental overdose of Xanax and alcohol at age 22. Three days after the full moon my son celebrated his 22nd birthday with many friends he had met through Javi, who had planned to be there in body, but only hovered in spirit.

Another question woke me a few nights later: How to stay present in the grief of the moment and not get tangled in the grief of the world or the grief of the past. Not an easy task ever. In Charlottesville, Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer said: “Remember in your heart: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. And I want you to pay attention, find what’s wrong. Don’t ignore it. Don’t look the other way. You make it a point to look at it, and say to yourself, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’And that’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child, but, by golly, if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

With my mother’s birthday on August 18th, the grief from the past entered the tattered muscles of my heart. Grief is always present if I pay attention, coming like a wave and triggering all the losses in my life, no matter how much I honored and felt them at the moment. There is no end, only a settling in with grief. That is why I mark dates on my calendar, why I keep reaching out to people who have suffered loss. Like tiny petals from a flower, grief falls into the moist soil of our corazones and slowly becomes one with our lives. Someone has the same accent or we use the same gesture of one who has left this earth and we wince with remembrance. My practice is to welcome the moments with a deep breath of love and gratitude for my life, for the opportunity to feel deeply, love deeply, and offer compassion to others living with grief.

I sat with my son for several days after Javi died, along with his twin sister, and witnessed his shattered heart. I set up an altar with a vela and some flowers. My son added an art piece painted by Javi and a bottle of his favorite alcohol. We said very little, offering him a wide meadow to empty tissue boxes, eat in little spurts, fall asleep with the lights and TV on, drink and sob and drink and sleep.

His wings dragged behind him, his breath stuck in his throat. He could only see a few feet ahead, his wish to fly unfettered with so much space he could close his eyes seemed impossible. He was so weary, so wanting to rest.

But ahora he can’t with his heart ripped to shreds, his guilt a noose around his neck, time too slow and too fast at the same time. How could it be a week already, how could the minutes pass so slowly. He dreads ahora, dreads going to sleep, dreads waking up and facing the same horrible reality. I can’t ease the pain that is a knee to his gut, a kick to his thigh, a punch breaking his jaw.

Al final, he is still alive and Javi is still dead. Al final, life will bear a gap where Javi would have been, as on his birthday. Al final, there is death. Al final, there are tears dripping off his nose. Al final, he will not sit in Javi’s room again with the fan he never turned off, will not talk tats with him or be stupid drunk with him.

Al final, I cannot make this go away. Al final, al final, al final there is nothing to soothe Javi’s mom, nothing to say or do that changes death. Nothing to take away the knives of sorrow that pierce my son’s heart. Heavy already with David’s death last year and Javi’s now, fear grips him about who will be next. He might even wish sometimes it would be him so he doesn’t have to ever look inside a casket again at a friend’s still body. As for me, I wish these young men of color would egg on each other’s brilliance as much as they do their risk-taking with drugs and alcohol. But then I remember they were not meant to survive and they do their best in a world that does not honor their gifts except to appropriate them for profit. When I looked for news the day after his death, I saw that he was not the only young man of color that died that night in Oakland. RIP Javi. Que descanses. Que todos descansamos until the next wave washes over and reminds us we are never alone in our grief. #52essays2017

Self-Love: The Crux* of it All

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
Buddha

Yes, none other than the Buddha says we have to love ourselves. Not just love, but be affectionate. We must feel endearing to that person we so often ‘other’ because that is what is done to us daily. That mountain called self-love is one most people seem to think is bigger and farther away than Mt. Everest. What creates such a disconnect from something so basic to our health and well-being?

The other day a friend wrote me a despairing email about meeting someone for whom she felt a romantic attraction — how it brought up all of her insecurities and feelings of not being worthy. We then moved to WhatsApp and continued the conversation. She, like most people, wants to feel loved. She, like most people, still look outside of themselves for that validation. Too risky and too often a panacea, an addiction so we can dull the pain. I wanted to nail her ass to a tree and shove love and affection down her throat. Not really, but my own despair bubbles up inside when so many beloveds cannot see their way through the forest of self-hate. As a woman of color and an immigrant, messages about her lack of importance in the dominant culture tumble her fragile self-love down a rocky hill again and again.

I will share what I told her and what I do to practice love and affection toward myself. I told her love had to come from herself, that she had to love herself. And she said she couldn’t. Una mentira, I said, the crap you have been fed and you then chewed and swallowed, thinking it was nourishment when it was toxic.

Today, I said, note down everything you do to love yourself. Reaching out to me, drinking water, taking care of yourself. This was the way to swim against the current of hate. Swim towards love. Otherwise, I told her, we live in the past. We go back and keep opening our mouths out of habit, hoping this time we will get from someone else what we already have inside, the power to see our magnificence.

I consider almost every act of every day an act of love and affection for myself. Getting enough sleep, meditating, being grateful for life. That is even before I get out of bed. Then rolling over on my side so I don’t stress my back when I sit up. Putting on slippers so my feet are comfortable. Getting on my roller and relaxing my sacrum, then rolling up and down my spine to make sure any tightness is released. That is before I even climb down from my loft.

I think you get the picture of what I am saying here. Love and affection are right there, every day, every action, and more than anything, every thought. I play tennis and all too often I hear two kinds of chatter from other women. The first consists of apologies for, basically, not being perfect. Sorry I hit the ball out, sorry I walked by you a little too closely, sorry my ball toss was offline so I had to toss it again. The other chatter is talking negatively about other players or coaches. When we throw our negativity on others to see if it will stick, we are too often trying to convince ourselves we are good because they are bad. You would think lives hung in the balance. The biggest loss in these conversations happening beside tennis courts and in workplaces, cafes, and homes is that it is time lost. Time and energy that could be used to give and receive love and affection.

It is no surprise the Buddha created an 8-fold path to end suffering that included right thought, right speech, and right action. Not as in oops, sorry, I did that wrong. More as in detached, loving and non-violent thoughts, honest and useful speech, and authentic, honorable actions. To ourselves first—you, yourself, said the Buddha. That then seeds our approach to others. It does not mean we cannot be angry or disappointed. It does means blame, shame, and attacking ourselves can only result in doing so to others unnecessarily. I was training with a lovely, vibrant woman and we agreed that life was too short to sweat the small stuff. It does not mean ignoring micro-aggressions, but it does mean measuring our responses with what we want to feed, told beautifully in this Cherokee story.

And then there is the other way we attempt to address the crux of self-love. The flip side of the negativity towards ourselves and others is bending over backwards (not good for the spine or our well-being) to give love and be compassionate to others. The problem is that if one’s love for self is not clean and well fed, then that external love gets tangled up in unconsciously expecting reciprocity from others that is not asked for directly. We think that if we give what we want, then those around us would get the meta-message. That would work if we were all well-fed and saw ourselves as beloved. We know that is rarely the case. We know because we understand hunger—it is too often our motivator rather than self-love.

The question is not “How do I?” practice self-love. The question is: “Why don’t you see that you do?” “Why don’t you see that you can easily practice even more?” “Why don’t you accept that your power has never left you?”

Email me for my Health & Wellness Checklist – you will get to see what you do everyday to love yourself, you can see how to easily practice even more, and you will see your power manifested every day. #52essays2017

*CRUX
an unsolved question
an essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome