Grief, Trauma, Trauma recovery

August Counting

Every year on this day when families return from vacation full of just made memories, begin readying for the school year ahead, every year at this time I count the dead. Because right about now, five years ago, we came home from vacation without one of us forever. And there was no getting ready for the start of school for any of us. There was only a funeral to plan, a death to make sense of, and life to figure out. So today I count and if possible name the dead ones. Those who in the past twelve months lost their lives in the Wisconsin River. Those who innocently were fishing, wading, or boating. Those who in trying to save the lives of others, lost their own in this treacherous river. This river with a killing history exacerbated by an ongoing sinful lack of warning signs and a state refusing to allow survivors to challenge existing laws.

Lynda Mueller, 58

Parker Kruse, 22

Unnamed man

James Dolphin, 62

And I remember Anthony D. Rodriguez who did not come home with us after the Wisconsin River took him on August 13, 2016.

Still.

Faith, Grief, Love

STUFF

Last week I dropped off another load of stuff. Made a donation of sorts to an organization assisting people in need. My stuff helps make their programs happen. I’ve been doing this kind off-loading a lot lately as I forage through item after item in our home looking to toss, keep, or give away.

Of course each item is infused with memories. As I throw out a broken Tonka truck I hear the traffic sounds my young sons once made years ago. As I load up a box with books I remember my beloved career in early care and education. As I sort through old picture frames I remember life as it once was and is no longer. Our stuff holds memories just as the walls of our homes and churches seem to do. As if these inanimate objects and structures infuse our lives with living breath. Memories however are not alive. Yet they are within us functioning as internal containers of the past, ones full of emotions. Some memories, wonderful and loving. Others reminding us of past tragedies, regrets, and unfulfilled dreams.

In December of 1995 I said goodbye to a room full of three, four, and five year old children and their parents and guardians. Most of these families were immigrants. Some from Palestine and more from Mexico. Many families were in Chicago illegally having fled war, hunger, and disease. Even the three year old children showed visible signs of where they came from: Large crusted scars from untreated pinworm, PTSD from witnessing violence, and visceral memories of being hungry. Saying goodbye to these children was painful. I loved them and they me.

Through tears during one last circle time I reached my hands and arms out wide as if holding them all. Then I gathered the air in bringing unseen molecules toward me. My hands resting on my heart as my words spoke my truth: “I will always be in your hearts and you will always be in mine.”

And I have. Held them in my heart for almost twenty-seven years. Their faces, laughs, smiles, and tears rest within me. Surrounded by circles of hope. Well wishes for them and our shared world as prayer for something greater than we can imagine.

My heart, your heart, all hearts expand, make room, welcome. So that when the mementos break, disintegrate, take up too much space, or our beloved church decides to change, combine, or close, then we have what lives on in our hearts, souls, and minds. And we can remember that’s where God lives as well. In us, wherever we go and whatever we do. Always finding new life when what lives in us meets what lives in others. Reminding us that it is not the stuff stored in our closets or the beloved physical places holding our lives. It’s the relationships we grow with God, ourselves, and others.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma recovery

OUT

Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with the Lord is great power to redeem.

It is the Lord  who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.” ( NRSV)

Reflection

Psalm 130 belongs to a group of psalms called “the ascent psalms.” Psalms sung as pilgrims made long journeys to the temple in ancient Jerusalem. Once at the temple, weary  after walking so far, pilgrims may have chanted these words while climbing the many steps leading into the temple. Bodies moving with lament and hope. Arms reaching for God and God’s redemption.

Ascent. A word associated with goodness. We think and speak of going up or moving forward as the best way. Moving downward, not as acceptable or desirable. As in God is up not down. Up in heaven not down here on earth. Not deeper down in the pits of our despair and pain.

Up, down, ascent, or descent are neither good nor bad movements. All movements depend on context. In the context of pain and despair we often move away from God. We turn away from all goodness because we are unable to fathom God moving with us in any direction. 

Yet God always promises to accompany us. God goes with us into every place, including life’s pits. Maybe a better directional word is out. Easing pain moves us out of despair into the experience of joy. Healing uncovers God’s ongoing presence with and in us.

Spiritual Practice: Moving

Read aloud the first two verses of Psalm 130. As you read, reach your arms out in all directions. Reach out and down. Reach out and up. Reach out and to the side.

 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

Read aloud verses three and four standing or sitting still.

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

Read aloud verses five and six while breathing the words in and out. As you breathe listen for God within you and all around you.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

As you read aloud verses seven and eight, move as if you are moving toward God’s hope living within you.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with the Lord is great power to redeem.

 It is the Lord  who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

Prayer

Ascending and descending God, move your Spirit within and around me. Move me with your energy. Create healing as we dance. Amen.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Impatient

“What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? In truth I have no help in me, and any resource is driven from me.” Job 6: 11-13 NRSV

Reflection

Eyes stare. Mouth droops. Limbs sit in supposed silence. Only sores speak. Erupting into puss pools.

Life evaporating like tiny raindrops on desert wind. Leftovers buried with each child. Leaving Job with no vision of future.

Job needs others to hold future for him. To be strength for him. But Job learns people’s consistency and appropriateness in tragedy and trauma varies. Many are unreliable, questionable, hurtful, and harmful. Job says,

“Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty. My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed…in time of heat they disappear: when it is hot, they vanish from their place.” Job 6:14, 17

Job’s friends posture in trauma’s heat. Find quick answers to suffering’s sorrow. Offer support in limp gestures. Cover their cluelessness with words worn as thin cloaks.

In his pit, Job sees truth. Recognizes their moralism as yet another lathering of pain. Adding putrid frosting on top of bitter cake. Each taste full of shaming shapes. Requiring sufferer’s scarce amount of patience to be used on help’s imposters claiming compassion.

“Compassion means ministry.” writes theologian Andrew Purves. Ministry “for healing or wholeness.”

Compassion does not say, “your head should not feel heavy.” Because compassion does not expand pain’s cutting edge. With knives of judgement and misconstrued power.Compassion sees face-to-face. Hears truth. Believes. Feels. Provides. Compassion says, “My head feels your heaviness. Here are some soft pillows.”

Healing Practice: Do No-Thing

Today we offer ourselves compassion. Not judgement.

Self-compassion allows us to do nothing. Only asks us to sit. Stare.

Until sitting leads to noticing. Noticing the sounds around us. Naming them one by one.  

Noticing more sounds. Coming from within. Breath breathing. Fast, slow, deep, shallow, labored, stilted, heavy.

Breath bringing us inside our bodies. Awakening realizations of sensations. Feelings living in muscles, organs, limbs. Some achy, hard, tingly. Some heavy or warm. Forming shapes. Circle, oval, brick, or plane.

Breath leading us back. To what surrounds us. The drawing on the wall. Ceiling fan above. Lamp across the room. Breathing in silence. Breathing out stillness. Breathing in staring. Breathing out seeing.

Prayer

Insistent God, persist in loving me. Persist in caring for me. Persist in healing me. Sprinkle silent kindnesses on my ashes. Infuse quiet kindnesses into my soul. Fill me with just enough determination to persevere another minute, another hour, another day. Send people courageous enough to sit with me in my pit as it echoes with nothing but muffled torment. Amen.


[i] Purves, Andrew. (1989) The Search for Compassion: Spirituality and Ministry. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Page 17.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

One Small Seed

“It (the kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Mark 4:30-32 NRSV

Image by DJnyanko from Pixabay

Reflection

A card stock square. Maybe an inch and half in width. Cream colored. A shaded black square drawn within. Containing an open space in the middle. Open space not empty. One mustard seed, centered and hot-glued on. Just one. With words surrounding the seed. Making a phrase. Corny, like so many faith sayings.

Found in bathroom drawer. Leftover from some worship service. Somewhere. Tossed away. Hiding under makeup, face cream, dental floss. Until now. Finding new life wedged between bathroom wall and electrical outlet.

“Faith as a grain of mustard seed!”

Small card with tiny seed. Just a seed. Not a plant. Not a condiment. Just an increment of something possible. Like faith. Like hope. Like love. Like healing.

Image by GOKALP ISCAN from Pixabay

Healing Practice

Comb the cupboard for mustard seeds. Or borrow a few. Buy some. Allowing your eyes to feast on the varied shades of red, brown, and gold.

Drop a mustard seed, just one, into an empty glass jar. Place the jar on the counter where you will see it several times a day.

That’s it. That’s the practice. The rest is up to your mustard seed. To remind you daily that this speck is all you need of hope or faith or both.

Prayer

God of what can be,

Send us a seed a hope,

Plant in us this one, small seed,

Tend this seed with water, light, and food,

Watch as seed sprouts into seedling,

Grows into young stem, shoots off branches,

Becomes strong,

Until birds build nests in its arms,

Creating new life out of tiny hope.

Amen.

Grief, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Clinging

“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word…My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119: 25; 28

Reflection

Dust. Tiny particles streak air. On sunny, still afternoons. Light reflecting off silvery wisps of nothingness.

Dust. Swirls on dry, windy days. Masking sight. Adding brown to blue sky. Causing itchy eyes, parched throats, and protesting noses.

Dust. Accumulating. Blanketing surfaces. Scattered if moved. Slipping through grasping hands. Landing again. Only gathered in on soft cloths.

Soul unable to cling.

Healing Practice: Dusting

Open your arms wide and to your sides.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in gathering seen and unseen dust particles floating around you.

Breathe out into a hug.

Repeat gathering dust. As long as needed.

Prayer

God,

I cling to the ground. Lift me up.

I cling to the ground. Revive me.

I cling to the ground. Strengthen me.

I cling melted to the ground. Re-form me.

I cling for safety to the ground. Be my security.

I cling frozen to the ground. Move me.

I cling to the ground in pain. Show me healing’s way.

Amen.

Biblical Text: NRSV

Photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

Grief, Trauma

August Lament

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Sand borders water’s end with land’s beginning,

Trees dip roots, branches into cool, flowing water,

Small ripples break surface glistening in summer’s sun,

Welcoming visitors into caressing embrace,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Underneath invitation, creation’s wildness rages,

Imploding with thirty, forty, fifty mile force,

Swift, powerful, rapid,

Grabbing, pulling, clenching,

Sucking breath away from life,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Those who know stay soundless, keeping the secret,

Strangers, named tourists, enter the water without knowing,

News reporting blaming victims,

While calling for more signage,

Announcements making lurking dangers transparent,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Hearts reach for beloveds lost in secret’s rage,

Their words denied, kept out,

Bound from litigation by laws ensuring safety of others,

Governing entities shielded from suffering’s sorrows,

River allowed year after year to leach lives away,

How long, LORD? How long?

 

Each August search for names. Find new tragedies.

Unnecessary killings. Perpetuated through inaction laced with silence,

Today this year’s victims named. Remembered,

Unnamed Man, age 48, on July 22, 2020 

Pedro Merino Alcanter, age 46, on July 27, 2020

How long, LORD? How Long?

 

 

Written and shared in loving memory of Anthony D. Rodriguez. Killed in the Wisconsin River on August 13, 2016. 

 

 

*Photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

 

 

Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery, Writing

Writing Tools

IMG-2135Once I wrote every morning. Upon waking. In dawn’s first light. Under cover’s warmth. Hidden. From world. Not long ago. Life laying low. No reason to rise. Except for brief moments. Fixing food picked at. Not fully ingested by three souls, sitting with silent, wailing hearts.

Still scratch away most mornings. In bed, abating cold under think downy comforter. Or at kitchen table, sky brightening over Eastern tree tops.  Or at desk, feeling grown-up and professional. Even in yoga pants and sweatshirt.

No longer all dawns though. Not now. Life’s varied actions taking over sacred word space. Words watching as I cook, clean, study, parent, build and rebuild relationships, love in verb form, plan ahead, make lists, pay bills, run errands, exercise, sleep.

Words sidelined. Pent up. Waiting. Nagging. Prodding. Agitated. Resentful. Impatient for cleared moments meant only for them. In stolen time away from all else. Thoughts, emotions, connections released from inner captivity. Swooshing out with sighs.

IMG-2118Write on drawing paper. Bound in books, not tablets. Large ones for home use. Small for travel. Not the blank books given at birthday or holiday. No glossy or smooth inspirational cover art or quote from famous author. No place inside front cover for printing name. Making words official if only to self. Instead simple black cover. Woven texture. Raised weave masking cardboard beneath. Square holes punched along left side. Two strands of black wire inserted and spiraling down. Holding innards together. Inside thick paper. Heartier than blank books. Strong enough for frequent erasure.

IMG-2122Write with pencil. Beginning long ago with a DIXON Ticonderoga 2 SOFT. Boxes left over from sons’ elementary school days. Specific request on school supply list each August. Boys calling them “sturdier.” Me, grumbling about extra expense. Left now with boxes of them. Many pre-sharpened. Popping out of clear plastic containers smelling of pencil. Wood wound around graphite. Odor lingering in our collective noses from early on. From beginnings of formal schooling.

Along with sounds of manual pencil sharpeners found in every classroom. Near the door in the front. Drilled into cinder block walls, drywall, or ancient plaster. Leveled at a certain height. Increasing with grade. For standing in front of. Glimpsing the  world outside enclosed space. Teacher eyes waiting possible escape or eruption. But doorway blocked by budding sense of internal boundaries for many. Most turning back toward sharpener. Adjusting hole’s size. Sticking pencil in. Pushing crank. In circular motion. Away from self. Hearing grind. Wondering how pencil will come out. Broken tip or point?

IMG-2109Electric sharpeners buzzing with own sounds, vibrations, issues. Too quick for the lingering, dreaming school child needing small break. Have one of these machines packed away somewhere. Lost in boxes of what was and is no longer. Instead rummage each morning in kitchen junk drawer. For small plastic, pastel colored pencil sharpeners with dulling blades. The kind put in zipped up pencil bags for school.

This fall, new pencil entered my life. A Palomino Blackwing 602. A birthday gift christening another year lived. Marking healing, love, future, me-as-a-writer, another’s belief in me. Pencil, slate grey. Quote written in italicised, gold lettering. “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED.”

IMG-2133Topped with gold erasure cup. Not green. Holding flat, rectangular, pink erasure. For erasing on the horizontal instead of in a spiral.  Gift accompanied by utilitarian sharpener. Small with two holes. One to sharpen. Another to fine tune the point. Small door for emptying shavings.

Discover new pencil’s feel on page different. Softer. Smoother. Words gliding instead of stumbling. Flow like a felt-tip marker. Easy. Simple. Color sitting on top of paper like velvet. Not ground in, etched, or engraved.

IMG-2210A few weeks ago, a seminary friend gave me a pencil. Unsharpened. Along with a smile. Full of shared knowing. About life’s desire for tactile experiences. Our senses, in seminary, needing release from heavy frontal lobe exercising. Our emotional brains, the place where we feel God, crying out for attention, movement, freedom. My new pencil, a PALOMINO ForestChoice 2.

Pencils different than blank books of bound paper. Both necessary equipment. Paper, a receiving tool. Pencil, an active instrument. Paper, the noun. Pencil, the verb. A delivery system creating conduit through which emotions and thoughts merge into words. Uniquely placed on paper forming voice, my voice. Pencil point sailing over page. Blankness filling with lines, curls, dots, and shapes.  At morning’s dawn. Pencils containing memories, stories, healings, hopes. Ticonderogas, discovery of myself as writer. School days for sons. Life in a different community. Late husband’s work. Writing to breathe. ForestChoice, life in seminary in fellowship with others saying “yes” to God’s call. Blackwings, new beginnings after years of therapy expanding self, love, and future.

IMG-2135

Three pencils sitting on empty pages. Staring up at me. Welcoming. Reminding me of life’s trajectory. Movement mapped in pencils. Writing, my constant in never-ending change.

 

 

 

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Minimized: A Healing Meditation

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“For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” Job 3:24-26 (NRSV)

Meditation

Torment escapes from deep within Job’s body on breath’s exhale. Agony flees inner captivity on long streams of air. Wind erupts in animalistic sounds showing injuries’ truths: dread, disquiet, dis-ease, anxious anticipation. All unseen damage from suffering’s somatic experiences.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar hear Job’s pain. Come in consoling comfort. Observe immense heartbreak. Sit with him in silence. Witness loss, illness, grief, and trauma. No words spoken. Saints sitting with sinful natures.

Until these bystanders can stand Job’s pain no longer. Something spins within. Filling each friend with verbal masses rolling into wounding words. Words interrupting air. Stinging silence. Tearing further into wounded flesh and internal organs. Each feeling sanctioned by God or each other to deem worthiness or un-right-ness. Blame Job in entitled convenience. Forgetting life’s immeasurable unknowns. Making small Job’s collective human losses with narrow visions of the Divine. Asking in word and deed, “’Why should God have time’ for you in all your iniquities?”*

Job’s groaning unmasks these carefully constructed faces of others. Uncovers deeply buried wounds. Unhealed lacerations still oozing with infection. Bacteria to be shared. Using Job as a new host. As these speakers hide behind royal judgments. Old pain towering over recently rendered and suffering peasant.

 

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We who live in trauma’s truth sit with Job in a different way. In shared experience of life after trauma. We learn along with Job that our worlds at home, work, community, and extended family minimize trauma. Our trauma. Their trauma. Anyone’s trauma. Others diminishing it when we are weak in our inabilities to cope or heal. Trivializing trauma’s ravages. Asking in verbal, nonverbal, subtle ways for us to move on. Act healed. Use our trauma for the greater good of a broken world. Because surrounding witnesses name us now as damage experts needing to be sent out on patrol.

But this shrinking behavior of others in the story of Job and in our lives today is not an act of God or earthly king. It is a “that’s their stuff,” moment. An alert to something unhealed in others. Resulting in distancing or dissociating behavior of the supposed helper from our lived, daily, experienced pain. Trauma’s evil alive in others hurling in secondary waves through our hearts, minds, and bodies. Sinner outweighing saint.

We cannot force others to unbury and heal their pain. But we can ask ourselves if we too minimize our own traumas. Wonder if we make smaller what really was. Or hide our traumas away so others don’t feel uncomfortable. Absorb these evils further into our bodies. Send messages out into the world such as “It’s in the past,” and “What’s done is done,” and “It is what it is.”

 

Healing Action

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Fill a piece of paper of any size with one large circle. Leave a little space at the corners of the paper. Inside the circle draw a large heart. Along the outline of the heart write “God, God, God,” over and over again in a chain of words.

Write your name inside the heart. If other people living in your immediate family share your trauma (such as children) write their names on the heart as well.

Between the heart and the outline of the circle write names of people who try to not minimize what happened. They are not perfect or one hundred percent. But consistent in making an effort.

Outside the circle write names of people who are not dependable for you now. They may try. But when they do their unhealed pain lives like a big box of heavy bricks between them and you. “Help me hold my box,” they ask you again and again.

In the farthest corner of the page write names of people or organizations who exited or need to exit your life because of your traumas. These entities add lesions to your internal injuries. Creating circles of additional traumas around you with pricks, pokes, and stabs.

Look at your work. What demands your attention? Are your friends better at being with you than your extended family? Or is it the other way around? A mix? Who surprises you with their ability to not judge or minimize? Where are most of your people, inside or outside your circle?

If you need to, cut away the outside-of-the-circle names for now. Crumple up the scraps. Throw them in the recycling bin. You do not need these people or organizations right now. You don’t need their stuff, crap, or pain. Fire them. Forever. Temporarily. Lay them off. Whatever you need this day. You are in charge.

Lay a finger, one by one, on all remaining names including your own. Breathe as you do so.

Prayer

God holding close my pain, surround me with emotionally fearless people. People whose presence and actions bring healing to me and others. Send them God, quickly. Open my eyes in recognition when these healers come into my world. Help me accept their love. Amen.

_______

*Quote from J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. Published by Houghton Mifflin (1986). Page 119.

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~All images courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

Shirted Memories

Blues, burgundies, blacks, greens. Assorted colors pile on floor. Next to empty card board box. Awaiting purpose.

Sit on floor surrounded by shirts. Late. When sleep could sooth. But day not over. Because sometimes life takes me back. Asks me to remember. Or grow. Or move more into the me who is now. Tonight body full of intermittent shakes. Small tremblings. Signaling stressful day. Tension reminding anatomy of former trauma. Forcing confrontation with realities. Emotions. What has happened to me, to us, since Tony died. In wounding aftermath.

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So sort instead of sleep. Decide what to give away. What to keep. Think about what sons may want, be interested in, miss if gone. Suspect this division, this last ordering of Tony’s shirts, may take entire month. Shirts already gone through many times in past two years, eight months. Shirt by shirt leaving what once was our closet. Only a few remaining. My favorites. Cloth I cannot bear to part with. This night scattered on floor. Ready to be folded. Placed. Put away.

Ask many questions. Think many thoughts. “How many favorites do I need to live on well? How often will I really open this box? Sit among these shirts once again? Tears silently falling on disintegrating fibers? A dead man’s shirts are in reality dead. Not living. Just thread woven into being. A sum of things. Inanimate. Infused momentarily with characteristics of person once wearing clothing items. Temporary anthropomorphism of loved one’s stuff. Like fleeting wisps of wind on a hot summer’s night.”

Decide one box. One box of favorites to keep. That’s it. That’s all I’m willing to carry with me the rest of my life. For times of major life events. When remembering, telling the story of who we were as a family and who Tony was as a human being a ritual to live into. Not performance. But dance. His atoms still floating among us. Partnering in silent breezes.

First item in, Baja hoodie. Hands run over coarse woven thread. See scene from first night we kissed. Held each other in nervous embrace. Wondering together and as individuals what it all meant.

Fold black t-shirt with one bright pink triangle in center. With words “Silence = Death.”  Remember shame world’s people placed once again on suffering’s shoulders. Remember determination and courage of ACT-UP. Remember dear ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Remember Tony as a young man wearing this t-shirt with tenacious anger.

Smooth out white tank. With The Men’s Center logo on it. Tony up late night before big run in Davenport, Iowa. Making logo of our fledgling company. Ironing on tank. Soon after we opened. Staking savings into dream. Into serving other people. Tony and nephew running race with pride and a bit of free advertisement.

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A camp t-shirt. From Paul’s school trip to southern Wisconsin. Tony went as parent chaperone. Taking his responsibilities with predictable seriousness. Intensity I fell in love with. Under his supervision, first grade boy fell out of top bunk. Boy’s father of five not concerned. Tony up all night worrying.

Tye-die shirt. Hand made by Ricky on our deck when he was maybe ten. Paul helping. Another shirt with logo on it. Designed by niece Marissa. Creator of The Men’s Center logo. New logo for entrepreneurial son. Risky in sky blue against bleached white. Folded and placed next to local school district fund-raiser t-shirt. From yearly run downtown. On October Sunday morning. Tony running with our sons. But really after them as I watched.

Two t-shirts bought as presents. At birthday or father’s day. Silly shirts full of fun. Gifts I sent our sons out to buy once Ricky drove. Always coming home with loads of snack food, outrageous card, and t-shirt. Like this one displaying a beer-logo because Tony hated beer.

Place black shirt. White lettering in English and Arabic. Bought from an organization dedicated to hard conversations. For Tony, hard conversation about sexual violence and boys. Prevalence hidden. Healing lacking. Shirt shouting to the world, we will not be silent! 

T-shirts, hoodie, topped with dress shirts. One, monogrammed ADR. Another, my favorite bright blue. Black linen left from our early days. All sniffed before packed away. Smelling of nothing. Not Tony. Just slight mustiness of unused clothing. In first months after Tony died repulsed by anything with his smell. Feeling guilty. Like I should sleep with his shirt. Or spend hours lying on our closet floor. Surrounded by symbols of his life, behavior, smell.

But aversion is trauma. Not grief, loss, sorrow. Trauma thieving truth in evil. Stealing necessary moments of love. Two years, eight months of inner work eradicating maliciousness in my body of this villain. Or enough to enact ancient rite of breathing in odor of loved one gone. Bury face in pile of sleeves once yours. Prints, flowers, paisley. Bright as light. Like flowers in rainforest. Reduced to fabric. No longer anything but shirts taking up space. Hanging limply. Waiting for new life. Inhale. Image your smell. Known now only in memory. Memory clear. Bright like your shirts. Rite complete. Enough to continue into next ritual.

One of putting away, making room. Signaling something. An ending. Another completion. Of this place as our home with you. Your shirts, last of things cleaned out. Like socks still in dresser’s drawer. Waiting. Not for you to come back. But for us to move into space and time without your things. Knowing this time approaches. Is even here. Not reactive time. Which somehow is more understood by others. But slow response full of methodical, unknowing, receptive knowledge, and questioning.

Ask again, “How long do we keep the stuff?”

Find no answer in word or reason. Only in action. Shirt by shirt. Some tossed. Some given away. Some saved. Until box full. Sitting Shiva on family room ping-pong table. Marked “Tony’s life in shirts,” in black marker.

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Ignored for days. Until place my hands on box. Allow contents to radiate of dreams fulfilled, dreams incomplete, love lived, memories of all kinds, and something else. Not your smell, nor your smile, chuckle, silences, words. But prayer. Your prayers. For us to carry you within. Box, nice but…not necessary. A little too heavy for daily lifting. But your love, light. Dancing up and down our vagal nerves. Interacting within and with each other. Looking inward into self. Looking outward into world. Leaving box behind.

 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Priscilla du Preez. Check out her work on Unsplash.