Tag Archives: #greateasternsun

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.

Finding Your Breath

What is breath to you?

I have the unwelcome opportunity, as you probably do, to ponder this often. One day in particular, I woke up with a clear plan for my day. I drove to my yoga studio. After parking my car, I realized I had forgotten my yoga mat and had a moment of irritation that I would have to pay for a loaner mat because I had not been mindful enough to bring mine. As I locked the car door, a woman said: “Do you know you have a flat tire?”

“I didn’t. Thank you.”

I did not feel grateful. With a big sigh, I unlocked the door and sat back down. I looked up the weird warning that had started flashing that morning and sure enough, it meant a problem with tire pressure. I felt myself sinking into the frustration of missing my class and now having to go to the rental agency to get another car. Closing my eyes to re-center, I recalled an email I had received the day before from a friend asking for prayers for a mother whose daughter had been missing for five days. Fortunately, she followed up with an email a few hours later saying the daughter was found and safe.

Getting Assistance
Pulling out my phone, I called my VISA, who transferred me to their emergency road service number. Another moment of annoyance rose when they said there was a $60 charge to change the tire. I debated changing the tire myself, but quickly talked myself into the benefit of getting assistance. An edge of irritation invaded my voice as I answered the woman’s questions. Do any of you ever do that to customer service people? You know it is not their fault but they are the ones saying what you don’t want to hear. I pulled away from that edge in my voice until it was lower and quieter, reminding myself I was safe and didn’t have a daughter that was missing.

The tow man arrived, kneeled down, and inspected the flat tire. “That is a really big nail!” he said, pointing to the large head in the tire. He raised the car and used his high powered tool to unscrew the lug nuts. “These are on really tight.” I cracked a small smile, glad I called him, imagining myself trying to take them off with a small hand tool, imagining the curses that would have started to spew out of my mouth.

After he finished screwing on the last lug nut, I started the car and turned out of the parking lot. Hot tears spilled down my cheeks and I started sinking underwater again. I wailed: “I am suffering, I am suffering, I am suffering.” A laugh bubbled up and interrupted my tragic lament. That laugh was like someone reaching down and pulling me out of the water. That laugh brought breath to my lungs that spread to my heart and along my limbs until my toes tingled.

What Helps Me
As I drove across the Richmond bridge in the slow lane with my donut tire, I looked out at the great expanse of the bay and asked myself: “What helps me find my breath?” What helps me when I sink into a place where I forget beauty, trust, and gratitude?

First and foremost, breathing deeply. I often hold my breath when I am sinking, and that cuts off oxygen to my brain. Laughter is another way to breathe deeply, as is dancing to a song rich with rhythm and beat. Perspective is another hand that pulls me out – like thinking about that mother who did not know where her daughter was for five days. I did not attend the prayer circle for the mother because I was having dinner with my precious, safe daughter. Perspective reminds me I am not the only person feeling minor annoyance or deep despair. Yoga is another hand that pulls me up and gives me breath, which is why I was sad to miss my class. I pondered more ways I find my breath as I transitioned onto the 80 freeway. I had gotten up that morning and set my timer for 15 minutes to meditate, counting my in-breath and out-breath to 10. Whenever I noticed I was on number 34, I returned to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

As I exited on Gilman Avenue and passed the soccer fields, I thought of my twins, now 21 and embarking on their own journeys. They are finding the hands in life that will pull them up when they go underwater, stop breathing, and forget their resiliency.

On this day my faithful, strong hands, born of constant discipline, pulled me up from a minor drama. Sometimes, when someone we love goes away or executive decrees slap down justice unrelentingly, we really do feel like we are drowning, like we cannot breathe. Many people in my circle are reeling day to day, as if there is a boot on their necks, pushing their precious faces under water. Many I don’t know have had their faces pushed under water for decades, for centuries, for many lifetimes.

So again, I ask you: How do you find your breath?

Finding your breath means looking unflinchingly at the larger picture and also being one with every single detail that grounds us. To make a good cup of tea, I have to be that tea, and the cup. I have to be the hot water. Sometimes I am the honey and the spoon and the coconut milk.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a buddhist teacher, said it well:  If you can hold the pain of the world and never forget the vastness of the great eastern sun, then you can make a proper cup of tea. #coaching #breath #greateasternsun