I take with me the lessons of the flowers.
I will persevere and grow,
silently displaying my beauty and strength.
I will reach towards the sun,
hold fast during storms,
I will live life
fully in bloom.
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My body is streaked with sweat and dirt from my desperate search to find safe shelter.
I’m barefoot, in a grimy torn t-shirt and shorts; my hands and feet caked with dirt.
My hair is filthy and matted. My mouth is dry; I can smell and taste the gritty dust that hangs in the air.
I sit down on a curb at the side of the road, and I know it’s over.
I’m unbelievably weary, all my energy spent in the act of sitting down.
I’m devastated…emotionally, mentally, and physically, and the worst of my wounds are invisible.
My eyes fill up, but no tears fall. I can only sit amid the rubble, trying to trust the safety of the gray, silent sky.
But I made it up the many, unforgiving mountain climbs.
I’m on the other side looking at the carnage, no way to fully wrap my mind over my truth yet, but I know
that I’m resilient, I’m courageous, I fought through.
And the words of Joseph Campbell resonate within me. I’m the hero of my story.
image borrowed from google images
It would be interesting to have each of my siblings describe their experience of the week that my father died. It was the first time since my sister’s wedding ten years earlier, that all four of us were together for any length of time. And yet, there we were, keeping a five-day vigil at my father’s hospital bedside.
It was fascinating and frightening to watch my father move through the stages of dying. He was quite lucid as he called each one of us to his bedside and asked permission to die. He didn’t ask for forgiveness, or apologize for hurting us; he just wanted permission to die. As the doses of morphine increased he began to go in and out of consciousness. He was seeing and talking to his deceased family and his beloved cat. These were all ghosts to us, but they were real and comforting to him. For two days before he died he held conversations with his mother, who had been killed in the war when he was seventeen years old. Eventually, he spoke only in Hungarian, his first language.
He struggled to die. Part of that may have been the morphine, but he seemed to have a need for closure with certain people before he could let go. The day before his death, a steady stream of people came and went, said their goodbyes, and he fell into a deep sleep.
Once he drifted into that sleep state, we were told that he would probably die within a few hours. We opted to stay in the hospital that night and wait. Each of us was dealing with our father’s death in our own way, and nobody was talking to or comforting one another.
Once a year while we were growing up, my father had made us sit in a line on the couch and recite, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” while he took pictures. Waiting for word of his death we seemed to be recreating those moments, sitting in a row staring blankly into space.
My sister Lucy loved my father with all her heart. He was always her daddy, and she was grief-stricken that he was dying. She spent a lot of time in his room feeling an otherworldly connection to him and reporting many sightings of his mother. My brother, Thomas was filled with guilt for never living up to the rigid standards that my father had so often reinforced with his fist. Thomas’ mix of guilt and grief was making him angry and contentious. Adam hated my father too. He could never live up to the impossible standards that had been expected of him either. He was distant and off in his own world; silent and withdrawn.
I felt a lot of ambivalence about my father dying. I had watched him struggle with three rounds of chemotherapy and had seen the disease ravage this once very powerful man. I didn’t want him to suffer any longer, but at the same time his suffering was the only restitution I would ever extract from this man who had abused me since I was a baby.
When I moved to Minnesota, he and I had spent countless hours together. He taught and then quizzed me for hours about national and international politics. He spent a lot of time telling me his life story. He seemed anxious for me to learn his past so that he wouldn’t be forgotten by his future grandchildren. My father’s entire family was killed in the Holocaust and he carried immense survivor’s guilt. It was confusing for me. He was unbelievably abusive to me and yet I felt compassion and respect for his life story. I would have preferred to feel a neat and clean hatred and disgust towards him.
Early the next morning, the rabbi on the hospice team came into the room to talk to the four of us. Rabbi Lyon had spent many hours talking with and comforting my father during his extended hospital stays. The four of us siblings were exhausted from lack of sleep and the endless waiting. The air was heavy with grief, confusion, and boredom. The rabbi told us he wanted to relay a few words from my father to each of us. I had an instant distrust of this man when I met him, and that day, chills ran down my spine when he began to speak.
He stopped first in front of my brothers and told them that my father loved them very much. He knelt down to my grieving sister, took her hands into his and began telling her how much my father loved her, how much my father spoke of her and that he himself would be there for her in her grief.
Then he walked over to me and without a moment’s hesitation said, “You are our tough little shit, and you will be fine.” He walked away. I felt three things simultaneously: hurt, rejected, and a profound sense of dread.
excerpt from my memoir Untangled, A story of resilience, courage and tripumph
I said goodnight to yesterday before I went to sleep. It was a hard day, coping with the tears, emotions, struggles of symptom management. It was a fall apart at work day. One of the energy workers generously offered to work on me to help alleviate the congestion associated with this nasty cold I have. When she offered, I just stared at her. That deer in the headlights stare that blank stare. I just didn’t know how to gracefully say, no thank-you. All I could think of is I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you. Totally unwarranted thoughts towards this sweet, sweet person. But that’s an effect of my trauma.
The person I work for came into the office. My boss is awesome! She understands PTSD and all the doo-dahs that go with it. She took me aside and said it’s okay for you to tell people no thank you. What? It is? I know that intellectually, but yesterday in the workplace with all my symptoms knocking on my coping door, I could only stare. I think I’ve painted the picture. It was just one of those shitty symptom filled days.
That very same boss of mine, who I’m also very lucky to call my friend, texted me later in the day. She said to me, “I think often times when we don’t work correctly we think we are broken. At times, our spirits might be. But I don’t think you are broken at all. I think you/your brain are magnificent! How people live with PTSD is fascinating and inspiring to me. The whys and hows of our brains being so wired for survival are incredible. I am so thankful to see this side of people. It is raw, real and beautiful!”
Raw, real and beautiful! I could hang on to that. I was raw, all day. Just feeling those dinosaur feelings of an unimaginable past. It was real, I was feeling it. All of it, and it was beautiful, although it felt ugly.
So as I said goodnight to yesterday, I told myself that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and feel better and start anew. You know, all the “things” we are supposed to say to ourselves to start a fresh day. But what does that really mean?
Just because the date on the calendar changed am I supposed to wake up and “things” will be different, or is it a way to mark an end to something and begin a new day with hope. I’m just not sure! My therapist works very hard to encourage me to feel. Just feel the way I feel with no judgment. All feelings come and go. There is never the turn your frown upside down kind of pressure. That pressure is put on me, by, well…me!
When I woke up this morning my insides felt the same. My mind is still a mess! I still have fucking PTSD! I don’t really see the light, but I know it is there. It is just beyond my reach, but it is there!
So even though I feel the same as I did yesterday, and truthfully, I’m not sure I would be honoring my story and where I am right now in metabolizing it, if I didn’t feel this way. I believe the day will bring new possibilities. I may feel as if I’m at mile 20 of a 26-mile marathon. But the one thing I refuse to run short of right now is perseverance. Otherwise, I would simply stop. I’m not going to come all this way and stop. So Cheers to today….I hope?
I asked, “What am I doing?” She replied, “Healing.”
Sometimes the loneliness and pain from managing my PTSD symptoms can feel unbearable. I ask myself what am I doing and why?
Then the slippery slope of denial kicks in and I tell myself, It’s not like my life was so terrible, awful when I had my memories repressed and I was living an inauthentic and never be vulnerable life.
Except internally and emotionally it was terrible, awful. I’m much happier with the kinds of relationships that being both vulnerable and authentic has brought to me. I no longer have the people in life who wanted me to be a certain way, act accordingly, hide any emotion except happiness. I have kept the relationships and formed new ones who are my mirrors, and I am theirs. It’s reciprocal and easier. Most days, its still a lot easier for me to be someone’s mirror, then to accept the goodness they mirror back to me. But I’m working on it.
When I get down, and the exhaustion of healing begins to get the best of me, I stop and acknowledge the wonderful mirrors in my life.