Current Events, Grief And Loss

Survivors’ Stairs 

Leave it to me to make my first visit to NYC and opting to pay homage at Ground Zero.  I am sure my travel buddy husband would have preferred to head to Central Park or something else. But he humored me and we both were blessed by the experience.  I was 26 when I stood next to police officers at my old police payroll civilian job, watching some of the toughest dudes I know allow tears to fall freely.  We had just ran to the cafeteria in time to see the second plane hit.   Hands over mouth. Silent.

The memories of life before and after 9-11 came back in trickles then tidal waves of emotions at the 911 Museum. We walked into spaces with mangled metal. Timelines set minute by minute outlining what would be a defining moment in our nation’s history. Death had come to our soil. Terrorism had come to pay its due. We sat to listen to voices of loved ones sharing the memories of those who now make up walls of faces. Nearly 3000 photos of people overwhelmed one corridor. Wedding photos. Graduation photos. Fuzzy photos. Smiling faces. Stern faces. Mild faces. Serious faces. Young faces. Old faces. All faces no longer with us. Faces frozen in time. 

I think the room that hit me the most was the one of first responders realizing this disaster was truly beyond any earthly understanding. Hearing the radio chatter from one battalion leader to the next. Smoke. Burning flesh. People trapped on floors responders would never be able to get to. Making promises they knew they could never keep. And I’m sitting there hoping that they will be like the protagonist in the movies. That they will save the day and everyone goes home. We get to the end and none of them make it. An entire fire house gone. One survivor was exiting what is now known as The Survivors Stairs, the only stairwell in one of the buildings that was still functioning. “I saw the firefighters going up to help other people. I realized that I was going down to live and they were going up to their death.” 

In times like these, I am saddened by the state of our world. So much suffering. So much evil. There is yet that still small voice that whispers reminders of hope. The first responder who was just done signing off on some retirement papers made his way to Ground Zero. The architect and metal worker who knew how to dismantle this hundred year old edifice to find survivors made their way to Ground Zero. Total strangers who held on to purses and workbags praying and searching for their owners. Countless stories of humanity at its best. Refusing to bow to evil. 

There was one American not on Earth that fateful morning. From his vantage point, astronaut Frank Culberston was told by NASA that we were “not having a very good day down here on Earth.”  He was halfway done reading Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” and felt halfway into fiction and halfway into reality. His words still ring true fifteen years later. “Many things will never be the same again after September 11, 2001. Not just for the thousands and thousands of people directly affected by these horrendous acts of terrorism, but probably for all of us.” 

When we now find ourselves along divisive lines with rhetoric as our weapons, I want us to think of that fateful September morning. When the dust and debris from the fallen buildings hid the color of one’s skin.  And that no one stopped to ask about creed or faith or beliefs as they each helped each other run/walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. As each person took steps down the Survivors’ Stairs escaping death, there was no checking for status or where you stood in your politics. It was simply humananity trying to hold on to each other for dear life. 

To the memory of those whose lives were cut short that September morning. 

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Faith, Grief And Loss, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized

Not All For Naught

Not sure what prompted a mentor of mine to tell me this particular story. Maybe she saw that I was going a hundred miles a minute with no brakes. Or that I had bitten off more at a time that I could possibly chew. Whatever it was, I remember her recounting the story of a head janitor that fell dead in the school office and the principal bending over, unhooking the master keys and passing it on to the next janitor. 

I’m sure there was some wailing and carrying at that moment. I’m pretty sure blood pressures were sky high and tears flowed down like the River Nile. I’m even sure that the memorial service for this head janitor was packed to the gills. I’m sure his loved ones miss that dear man deeply and that life without him is unbearable. 

I am also sure that life still went on. 

We rise from bed, we drink our coffee and we start each day. Some of us pray. Some of us don’t. Our days are filled with agendas, meetings, conference calls, classes, all sorts of activities that keep us busy busy busy. 

When a life is cut short be it at twenty or ninety we seldom pause to take stock of our respective lives and ask God:

Am I where I need to be? Am I doing what I should be doing? What am I driven by? Why do I even bother? 

Experiencing loss is the worse and the best thing that can take place. Worse in that the devastation that grips you and won’t release its hold can lay you real low. But best in that while you are out for the count, God does His best work in you. Paradigms shift. Transformation takes place. Dead skin is shed. And you walk away changed. 

I guess my mentor was trying to drive home the point that all this right here wasn’t worth a damn at the end of the day. That the Ecclesiastical outlook on life is the real truth. You are born. You live. You die. What’s done in between makes a world of a difference. Your eternity’s destination is the final call. 

Because when they reach over your body and hand the keys to someone else, it cannot be all for naught. 

Grief And Loss, Life Coach, Uncategorized

All About Perspective

I believe mental health professionals remain in a constant state of reflection and soul searching. We are diagnosing ourselves at every turn. Taking our temperature, checking our pulse, all things one does to remain sane and to keep the crazies away. 

Enduring the absence of a loved one tends to send one into reflection overdrive. It has been no different for me. A recent personal character survey ranked Perspective as number one of my top 25 character traits. Why am I not surprised?!

While folks are quick to judge, lash out, or be angered, I have opted to just sit back and watch these days.  I was usually game for a rousting match of wits. I now opt to travel a different road. Elevating my blood pressure because of differences of opinion just isn’t my cup of tea. Allowing myself to be swallowed into the vortex of slights and misunderstandings (real and imagined) just doesn’t cut it. Drama was never a friend of mine. But these days, I’m not even trying to associate with those who are magnets for the foolery. 

Perspective causes your patience to increase. A 45-minute ride in the wilds of foreign island, on a hot bus, on bumpy roads, becomes less of a nuisance and more of an adventure.  Planning a lunch date with a 20-something whom you have little in common with, becomes less of an obligation and more of a chance to build a relationship. Meeting deadlines, raising children, balancing budgets, all potentially stressful events and undertakings. All potentially rewarding and enriching experiences. 

It’s all in perspective. I didn’t lay down my gauntlet and decide to become a carpet for folks to parade about on. But I did become someone who not only picks my battles, but my weapons too. 

Faith, Grief And Loss

God’s Will Be Done

Demain si Dieu vle. No more famous words have been spoken by Haitian people who have lived long enough to know better. Simply translated to say, tomorrow if God wills it.

I used to be quick with my “see ya later” and “let’s talk tomorrow” goodbyes. Only to come to a full and flat out realization that no matter how well thought out or planned it is, tomorrow is not promised. Tomorrow is not mine to claim. My Herculean belief in myself, my powers, my influence, and my abilities has been whittled down to a bunch of dry sticks. No, friend. Tomorrow is not ours for the taking. Not unless God wills it. Not unless He deems it is within the grand scheme of his purpose.

My mother did not live a moment past her destined time. Cancer was her exit ticket, but God determined her beginning and transition. Her struggle and personal pain was not a random act of tragedy but a lesson I take into my own being, serving an ultimate purpose in my own life. Some call this view a fatalistic and cowardly way to regard the tragedy of loss. That we just allow things to “happen” to us. That this God I serve is nothing short of cruel and unjust.

Yet he is far from it. His promise is of burdens that will not be too heavy for us to carry. He knows what we can and cannot handle. He boasts of His children whose faith is not based on feelings and emotions. That “avek Bon Dieu, tou va bien.”

With God, all will be well.

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Grief And Loss, Uncategorized

New Year Musings: Lessons From A Year

It was around this time last year that my mom’s health began a steady decline. She kept it from me for a minute but in the first week of January she landed in the hospital and again in February. And so began the snowball effect that led to the ultimate avalanche–that of losing my mother. That this year has not been pretty has been an understatement. I was transferred to a new position where no one knew my business. And I had to quickly bring folks up to speed so that I could make those mid-morning trips to the local cancer center to be with my mom. Then comes a new job. Start the first day of May and mom dies on the 30th May.

I bawl like a baby every time I think of the circumstances of her passing. Mamma being the one who never liked to burden anyone with her issues (she lived with this cancer as her own secret for four years before we found out), I could see her deciding to make the conscious choice to ease on out of this life so that I can continue to live mine. She was always putting me and my brother before her needs. Having me to care for her was not what she wanted or expected. She was that kinda woman. I walked away with some of the greatest lessons learned this year all thanks to her.

1. Death is inevitable. It comes for the rich, the poor, the sinner, and the saint. It has no respect for your station in life or whatever else you think should matter.

2. Grieving is not for the faint of heart. It snatches you by the hair and drags you down a dark tunnel that seemingly has no end.

3. Friends never let friends fall. I knew who my inner circle was before this and their faces have not changed. Loss tends to fade out a few faces along the way. It’s okay, it happens.

4. Living under a rock keeps the drama away. When I decided to hide under the rock that is “higher than I”, I essentially threw up the proverbial middle finger to a whole lotta stuff. Some things just don’t register in my world anymore.

5. My tongue doesn’t hurt as much anymore cause I say what I mean and I mean what I say. Life is too damn short to be holding on the mess in your heart!

6. Make time for who and what matters. Life is all about making memories. Memories are all I have left of my mom. So what I want left of me begins with the making of those memories with those I love.

7. The world doesn’t need another super hero. Being a listening ear is usually all that’s needed. Being a “fixer” for everyone leaves you needing to be fixed. Take the S off your chest.

8. It’s okay to laugh. After all, life is pretty darn funny. Finding a reason to laugh eases the pain by loads.

9. Love deeply with no regrets. This is a finite world we live in. There is a beginning and end to everything. I held her hand, I kissed her brow. I’m thankful that I could.

10. Trust the process. It has its ebbs and flows. There are good days and bad. But it’s part of the process. Welcome it with open arms.

It’s a travesty to think all I learned could be whittled down into ten thoughts. When actually it can’t. But these speak volumes to where I started and where I am now.

Grief And Loss

When Time Stands Still

They say the first holiday/special occasion without a loved one hits you the hardest. Welp! They are right. It is a waterfall, at once painful in its sting and refreshing in its release.

My mind went immediately to a song I sang back in my younger years as a Christian. It had an R and B to it that truly had no meaning to my untried ears back then. But with many seasons later, these ears now hear a different tune that only comes with time and experience.

“When time stands still, and I lose my will, I find myself in you…”
The moment when the world keeps turning and you’ve politely gotten off to deal with whatever it is you’re dealing with. It is then that you come to know Christ for yourself–not just what a clergyman on the pulpit tells you, but what you come to realize in your living this life. So you burrow yourself like a flea burrows into a dog, deeper and deeper into God. Like David, under the wings of His protection, under the rock that is “higher than I.”

“Who am I to ignore what I’m feeling inside?…”
The moment when all pretenses are flung aside in acknowledgement that this pain, this hurt, this hollowness exists. Walking around on eggshells around people is bad enough, walking around the eggshells of your own soul is even worse. Feet must come down hard, even bleed some, as you make your way to finding peace within yourself.

“You know I found hope, after I let go…”
The moment when you release that anger, that pressure, that angst, that burden for the sweet, light, and easy burden promised by our Savior. His promise to never give us more than we can bear seems doubtful at times, hell even unfair! The letting go and letting Him has got to be the one most liberating thing a human being will ever experience in their lifetime. Just let it go.

“Nothing else matters beneath the burning sun…”
This Ecclesiastical approach to life is feared by many. It’s a reminder that this life is not permanent that we are not immortals here on earth. That our immortality is tied to faith and ultimately to our salvation. As visitors walking about this planet waiting on a greater promise, how then should we live? Like slaves to a world who holds no promise or like aliens here but for a moment in time?

“If my dreams shatter, my world will not come undone…”
Our hearts are filled with doors shut hiding dreams unrealized, dreams stolen, dreams shattered. But to know who we are because of whose we are is the single most important revelation we will ever come to. That the dreams we thought we should live out pale in comparison to our Creator’s vision for our lives. Children left unborn, marriages that are no more, loved ones gone too soon all part of His plan for our lives on earth.

“Unconditional trust, sent from heaven above is more than enough …”
With a wasteland of empty promises left behind us, our trust, our hope is in a Savior who came in human form. He is more than enough. More than the husband you may never have. The children you may never have. The degree you may never have. The loved who is no longer here. The friends who have gone their own way. The job that never was. HE IS MORE THAN ENOUGH!

So when your time stands still, will you find yourself in Him?

Family

Family: Who You Make Of It

I learned from my parents a long time ago that family is who you make of it. With relatives living countries and states apart, I knew from early childhood that water would and could in many ways be thicker than blood. Neighbors became aunts and uncles. I would soon accept that it is the common story that would bind me closer to friends than family in years to come.

Holidays and special occasions are a constant reminder that memories are made with loved ones who have stood the test of time. Friends who have helped me create memories that relatives simply could not. Losing my mom brought that home for me. For every memory that I have created before and after her passing has not had the “family member” stamp on it. Rather, it is the friend whose stood beside me, the in-law whose kept me in prayer, the classmate whose not too far away.

Holidays are poignant reminders that family comes in many shapes and sizes. They are the unexpected souls, deposited by God into our lives to walk this journey through life making memories along the way.