Tell me a story

the-story-comes-to-life

Sean loved the concept of story.  This definitely fueled his passion for film.  He had such a desire to help people tell their stories.  His journals are peppered with sketches of storyboards and ideas he had for films.  When we were first getting to know each other, he would constantly ask me to tell him a story from my life.

“Tell me a story” became a common and irritating phrase that I began to know him by.  Ironically (and maybe providentially), I really lack confidence with my voice or ability to tell a story.  Even the value of the content of my life’s stories is a source of insecurity, for that matter.  Sean’s initial requests for stories grated against my insecurities and often ignited frustration in our early interactions.  “If you want to know something about me, ask me a question!”  Would usually be my response, frustrated with his seeming inability to provide a space in which I felt I could be heard.

Oh, how I was incredibly wrong about him in that way.
Oh, how glad I am to have known such a person who heard and saw me more deeply than I had ever known.

Sometimes I feel like my life has become this cosmic ritual, continuously living out the narrative that Sean isn’t here.  I wake up from the bed that I sleep in, alone.  I brew enough for two cups of coffee in the morning, and only drink one (it never feels right to make just enough for one).  I take care of the cats, and my own apartment, and live the new life that I’ve stepped into, in response to the beautiful life and the dreams and the person that was ripped apart from me.
I repeat it all the next day.
At times it feels like who I am is an embodied narration of the absence of Sean.  I can’t escape it; it is my story.
Sometimes I don’t really want a different story.

This weekend I went away with my class on a student/faculty retreat, where we constructed ‘life maps’ of the histories of our lives, and reflected on them with one another to gain a deeper perspective of the stories our lives are telling.
How God has been unfolding the stories of our lives, from the beginning.
How our lives are enveloped in the larger story that God is unfolding in the world.

This experience of seeing the value of the stories that make up my life, as part of a narrative that God is creating, allowed me to open to new ways of understanding my life.  New ways of understanding the journeys of other people.  The stories we are living out.  There is something grounding and freeing about beginning to see your life as a whole living narrative, instead of a paper chain stringing together pleasant and painful memories.

An infusion of purpose, and direction, and intentionality.  A sense of safety in the events of my life as held in the hands of the one who created me.

In the last few years it has felt impossible to see my life in anything but two chapters: before and after Sean’s death.  The defining moment of my life.  It was painful and vulnerable to tell my story this weekend in a way that includes Sean as one integrated and incredibly important part of it, but not the beginning and end of it.  Perhaps now the scope of my vision is starting to expand.  I’m growing to see Sean in my life as a beautiful, incredible gift from God.  A sense of home with someone who really saw me, and who heard my voice.  A space to be seen and loved for who I am.

I can see now, since he died, the many other people God has placed in my life who give me the space to be heard.  In a way that will never replace who Sean is to me, and in a way that expands my understanding of community and friendship.  That reflects God’s love to me in ways that are different.  Through the story of my life, at this point, I can recognize my deep longing to be seen and to have a voice.  I can see the ways that God has woven into the story people who really see me, and encourage my voice. This echoes healing into the the hurts and dark places of my life that I’d rather not relive.  Places that carry pain or bitterness, or even numbness.
And through these people, my scope of God expands.  He sees me, and gives me space to be heard.
He has been seeing me the whole time.

I know that this is just the beginning of recognizing the coherence of my whole of my story, and there is so much more to uncover.  The archaeological dig of a life requires investing effort in order to uncover.  To remember, to recount, to receive, to reflect.  It is a life-long process, is painful and vulnerable, and carries so much value in discovering what’s underneath the surface of a life’s story.

What is the story your life is telling?

It would have been five.

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Today I’ve lived more anniversaries without Sean than with him.
I wanted to let today just be.  I didn’t want to fashion some nugget of truth out of today to encourage myself or someone else.  Just be.

Today I wished with all of my being that I didn’t have to wake up.
Today I went to Ahavat Zion synagogue, where I felt space to be deeply sad and was also greatly uplifted.
Today I prayed, painfully. “God, why do I have to do this?”  “I feel so far from Sean.  And from you.”  “I need to know more deeply what it means to be a human in pain, in relation to you.  To identify with every human in our experience of anguish.  To identify with your son who learned suffering.”
Today I walked around Santa Monica and cleaned my apartment.
Today I bought myself flowers and a pumpkin as a remembrance of our first anniversary celebration.  The cashier commented on how perfect a pumpkin it was and I teared up at the register.
Today I watched my wedding and honeymoon videos that Annamarie put on my computer, which I have been saving for this day.
Today I finally changed the lightbulb in my kitchen.
Today I felt permeating sadness in my core, missing Sean and the life we had together.  I also felt immense gratitude- for the many people who loved and supported Sean and me through our entire relationship.  For those who love and support me so well now, as I continue my life as just me.
Today I ordered Thai food.  Pad see ew and yellow curry.


This was at a pumpkin farm we found near the beach on our first anniversary.  I love how weird we were.

“Oh if my voice could reach back through the past, I’d whisper in your ear… ‘Oh darling, I wish you were here.’ “

Haziness

hazy day_04_foggy

Words. This is the most difficult post to write.  Not because it’s emotional or painful….  but because it’s distinctly not.  I’ve stopped and started four times, and have been trying to string together my disjointed thoughts for a while now.  Months.

There’s a lifetime of experiences to articulate.  Packed in the last two years.  The past few months.  The last week.  I don’t have the language to string it together.  Things aren’t flowing; experiences are being stored somewhere that my vocabulary doesn’t seem to have access to. I need a translator, or some sort of emotional ex-lax.

One of my proudest accomplishments in life is designing the headstone for my husband’s grave.  It is also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.
Words.
How do you adequately honor someone’s entire life- someone you know so intimately and whose life you’ve wrapped your own around- on two feet of stone?  What inscription can possibly to envelop the accomplishments, the processes, the influence, the complex and deep relationships of one man’s life?  How do you honor a life knowing that the one you want to honor will never view it?  Who is this really for, and what inscription can possibly hold space for everyone who sees it?
Julie, my incredibly wise and dear friend/counselor/spiritual director/mentor who met with me weekly for a year and a half after Sean died, suggested that perhaps the limitation makes the words more profound.
She was right.  Eventually the words came, and with the relief came a sense that those words acknowledge Sean’s life and honor who he was.

I feel a similar angst now, as I did before the words settled.

It’s tempting to nurse my feelings of loneliness and isolation that allow me to pat myself on the back for getting myself through this.  In reality, the depth of gratitude that I have for so many who have walked with me -even carried me-  is enormous.

I am myself, and experience the loss of Sean uniquely.  We forged our lives together and my sense of self and purpose were buried safely in that life- almost a living, breathing thing itself that died with Sean.  But I can’t pretend that I’m doing this alone.  I can’t ignore God’s movements in my life that have taken the form of so many wonderful and caring and wise and supportive and loving people.  Of learning to see myself honestly.  Of new purpose and passions in life- passions that came out of the experience of being so not alone in the depths of grief.

Words.  I can’t give shape to what life looks like now, as I feel so disjointed and disconnected, piecing life back together with parts that are the same, yet look and feel so different.  The process is frustrating and awkward and unsettling, and I think as God leads me through it, the words will come.

The beauty that I held on to and revered in the last two years now seems dull.  I can still see it and acknowledge it its existence, and I’m also starting to understand there is more to it.  There is more haze in myself to stumble through, and perhaps the cloud is thicker than I realize.
Under all the cloudiness, disconnectedness from myself and from my life with Sean and from God, there is something alive.
Underneath, a small current pulling me toward the one who creates beauty.

The weirdness of walking

body parts

How can one day hold so much?

I had a lot of anticipation and anxiety about this day.  Today marks the continuation of my life.  A life that is very different than what I had planned or hoped; a life without the dynamic life of another.  And, in many ways, a life that has brought me into deeper joys, deeper pain, and a deeper understanding of God and myself.

I’m tired of writing about pain, and I wonder if people are tired of hearing about it.  Today, I’m struck at how much this day was able to hold.

I woke up thanking God for life.  For holding my atoms together, for placing me in this story that is so much bigger than myself.
Thankfulness for the darkness, where he allows me to see the ugly, broken, hidden parts of my heart- and know his love for me there.
Today also held my favorite coffee.  Dinner with friends and so much love from so many.
A homemade Italian cake.  Kosher wine.
An apartment that is becoming a dwelling… an apartment that is filled with two cats when everyone else departs.
Youtube videos with a kind friend.
The feeling of being on my own, and the familiar pang of grief.  Today it feels like my heart is almost physically reaching out for you… almost.

There’s a small voice in the back of my head that says two years is enough: Moving forward means moving on.  Experience and write about new things.

Today, in its capacity to hold so much, shows me that I can also hold so much.  Moving forward looks different now, as I am different.
For me, for today, moving forward holds thankfulness and new understanding.  It holds memories and the pangs of grief.  The foraging fingers of my heart reaching for what isn’t this.
It holds space to not know how to do this, how to be me.  It holds space for tears and for checking out, for packed semesters of grad school and the quiet schedule of summer.
For making different plans.
For hikes and drives, beautiful landscapes, laughing at dumb jokes and sobbing into pillows.
Moving forward means continuing to learn how to walk in this disjointed body, pulled apart and pieced back together in new ways.  It feels awkward, it feels off.  It makes me long for what was, when it seems I had smoother strides.
I don’t know how to do this now, but have I really known at all this whole time?
I think I can hold that too.

The Terrain of the Heart

terrain

If cancer is a filter, living after death is an alternate universe.

It is both vastly empty and filled with more than you can hold.  It is exhausting, it is stretching you thin and exposing your bones.  It is colorless and vivid.  Everything is heavy, everything is passing you by while you move in slow motion.  You get carried up in its currents and you carry it constantly within you.
It is encompassing.

Living with death is choices.
It is an empty bed.
Accomplishing things you never knew you could or wished you would.
It is constant.

In one instant.  Vibrant, dynamic life stopped.  Though really it was more than an instant.
Mine continues on.
Vivid and loud with grays and silence.
Sinking underwater- though it always finds a way to leak out.
Tears help me swim.

I have our cats
I have your jacket
I have a different apartmentschedulebedcarfavoritesong
I have our life in memories, as much as I can remember
I have very little strength today

Though it feels like I don’t have the energy to stand there, it’s a two-shower day anyway.

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “terrain” as it relates to the heart.  I never knew how vast it is, how uncharted.  There is so much expanse… so much pioneering with every choice and every turn.  So much space.
My voice is getting clearer- maybe soon it will be louder.
Although, it’s okay to need a microphone.

I don’t write for sympathy, or to bring up sadness or worry.  I write to process, to flow.  I write to chart the terrain and help others find a map- or borrow mine, if it helps.  I write so we can relate to each other in our pain.  I write to engage in the colors of my life that are beginning to seep into the pages; to feel the vibrance without needing to package it in conversation.

I write to recognize the And.  This is one part of it.

Frayed edges

frayed edges

“Becoming” is tough shit.  I’m tired of talking about my married life in the past tense.  Of censoring my conversation for fear of making someone uncomfortable.  I’m tired of trying to Netflix myself to sleep in my empty bed.  Of mustering the energy to get through every minute of every day.  I’m so tired of being in-between whatever was and whatever is going to be next.  I’m tired of loving my cats so much because they’re the ones snuggling with me at the end of the day.  … Momo is sleeping on me as I write this.

I’ve been tired for two years now.  I’ve been tired by myself for a year and a half.

I’m tired of figuring out how to ask for help, how to let people I love know that I need them.  I’m tired of carrying all of myself all the time.  Can I have some help?  Can I just let go for a second and know someone can hold me?

I have said multiple times and really believed that the second year of living without Sean has been less of a raw experience, and more of a burden of reality settling in.  I was wrong.  However familiar the feelings, I am still raw.  I don’t want to apologize for that anymore, or make myself “normal” for the sake of conversation.  It’s exhausting.  Nice packaging is burdensome.

I texted Sean’s number for the first time on Tuesday night.  Saying things in his direction has always felt awkward to me, until now.  I might send him messages more often.

Jesus was weak

 

openhands

I’d like to say that the Christmas season has sparked this thought for me…. but to be honest, it’s more because I have felt so deeply weak and vulnerable since moving to Los Angeles almost exactly two months ago.  This move continues to uncover new layers of what it means to be settling and living out a ‘new life.’

 

I live in LA because Sean died.

I live in LA because I want to be here, pursuing a grad program I am passionate about.

 

Holding these two truths simultaneously is heavy and is hard.  And really, working out both of those truths in a very physical and tangible way is confusing and can be exhausting on so many levels.  I feel weak and I feel vulnerable, and I feel like I need a lot of help in building a life here.

And I keep coming back to this:  Jesus came in the most weak and vulnerable phase of life, as an infant.  He was God in the flesh, and he chose to become the most weak and the most vulnerable.  He identified with humanity in embodying these two qualities.  In the deep darkness of night.  How profound. Confusing. Comforting.   Jesus chose weakness and vulnerability in his birth, and in offering up his life in the ultimate embodiment of these qualities.

And, he is strong to hold my own weakness.  My own fear.  My own bitterness.  My own confusion, exhaustion, heaviness and loneliness.  My trying to fill the voids in my life.  He knows these things.  He knows.  And he can hold my messy confusion and overwhelming feelings.  The more I am uncovering layers of weakness, the more I am encouraged to identify with Jesus in this way.  He chose the weak and vulnerable path, which seems so counterintuitive.  But as I embrace my own vulnerability, I find myself relating more to God.  And in some ways, to Sean.

However, I can’t just sit in feeling weak.  God has also given me the gift of community and friends and family that love me dearly.  I believe deeply that it is a gift and responsibility to ask for help- a task that is both SO difficult for me and SO restorative when it actually happens.  I often hold to this narrative of not wanting to be a burden, like it’s the worst thing in the world for me to need something.  Well… God is not allowing me to skate by and believe that I don’t need to ask for help from people.  I am so blessed by people who love me enough to help me when I need.  And, I know it’s a gift to others who love me to be asked to join me in this vulnerability, this life.  It’s tough.  And, I really haven’t worked this out yet and need a lot of practice.

Good thing I have a lot of opportunity for practice.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  -Psalm 62:1-2