The Longest Walk

This weekend was my brother’s memorial service, and here is the good news on that: 1) I will never have to relive that moment again, and every step forward is a step away from the rawest days of pain and loss. 2) I have been told by multiple people that was one of the best services and eulogies they have ever attended/heard.

It is with bittersweet irony that I say- apparently I plan a pretty great funeral. Or wake. Or celebration of life. Or whatever we want to call it, since in the end regardless of vocabulary, we are still gathering for the last memory of someone since that’s all there is left. Just the memory.

All I know is that preparing for it felt like the emotional and spiritual equivalent of running 100 miles. And though I was sitting in the first row close to the podium, my walk to the front to give the eulogy was the longest, and the loneliest, walk I’ve ever endured. It’s good the podium was a thick wood stand, since it hid the fact that my legs were shaking violently and involuntarily, and I thought they might collapse from convulsion. They did not. I tried to scrunch my toes to keep me grounded, placed my hands on the top of the podium to keep me stable, took a big deep breath and began to speak the things I’d been carefully holding inside of me all week.

There are no words to describe the surreality of this experience. I only had one sibling, and now he’s gone. I will never be in this position, ever again, saying those poignant words of goodbye. And there was no way I ever imagined I would be saying those words so soon, so young- I still say multiple times a day, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

I have learned that grief will set you apart on it’s own accord. It’s like a sorrowful sanctification process that plucks you out of the everyday stream of life and deposits you into some wasteland you’re forced to find a way out of. You begin to take an invisible and internal odyssey of grief across this strange new land- nobody else can see the journey, but you’re bound to it all the same. You learn to pretend to do real life, as inside you just keep taking one step after the other trying to head towards the light; though you don’t know what landscape the terrain will next take. One moment dry desert, next storm clapped sea, then brief calm of turquoise oasis before tectonics shift the scape again.

I decided last week that since I was lost in that wasteland anyways, I might as well take advantage of the space and infuse each element of my brother’s service with as much of him as I possibly could. So I labored over the words I was writing, polishing and shaping them again and again until they seemed to have perfect facets. And I painstakingly pieced together the video of his life, making sure I included all I could to show the brightness he possessed and the journey he took. I was impeccable with the items I lovingly chose for the memory table and the pictures I had enlarged, along with the colorful weathered wood frames I chose to display them. Then I wrapped all of it up in invisible pink chords of healing, hope and love: that those who saw, might see something of beauty in his life.

My brother was far from perfect- aren’t we all?- and since I believe in loving the whole and not just the sum of our best parts, I even figured out a way to include a little of his unpolished side in my words and give a nod to the fact that sometimes unpolished can be its own form of loveliness. But mostly… mostly I stuck to the beautiful. Memorials are for someone’s light, not their dark.

I don’t think I will ever forget standing up there, digging and reaching and finding the strength to keep my voice steady and true and clear, so I could let the ocean of words I spoke wash over that audience of silent witnesses, flowing in and out of people as they may. Sometimes you can’t control or contain truth, you just let it go where it needs. And in the end, I spoke what I could of my brother’s truth- in ways maybe even he couldn’t have spoken for himself.

I woke up Sunday feeling lighter than I have for the past few weeks. The sadness is still there… in spades and waves and unexpected outbursts of tears, but this sacred space I have been holding inside of myself to do this task- to speak well and true and through the eyes of love in front of a cloud of witnesses- this task is finished and that space has now been allowed to dissolve. It’s left me feeling freer and bigger, and in its dissolution… I’ve found the journey through the wasteland continues. Sometimes there’s larger glimpses of light. Sometimes the sea stills long enough to float for a bit and let the waves carry me. Sometimes I think I lose sight of the horizon… but in the end, it still stays near enough to see.

Like my eulogy, I find there is no good way to end these words I share today. The effort of going through that grief space has robbed me of my ability to caretake and contain my writing by cleverly wrapping things up and bringing them to a close on a note of inspirational hope. At present, I’m not even close to the close… how can I possibly finish this essay when this bizarre odyssey carries on. So instead, I will offer an alternative close and end with the last words I spoke on my brother’s behalf:

I didn’t want to write the closing to this eulogy. Because writing a close means taking one more step closer to the reality that my brother’s death is true… and that is a truth I simply do not want to be true. But in the end, I also know that death is just another journey. We open at the close. And this closure in my brother’s life has opened him to new and beautiful things in the next.

Godspeed our friend, our son, my brother. May you forever rest in love and peace. And Brother Skywalker- May the force always be with you.

longestwalk1

open at the close

Our times march on
our stories go
and life shifts underneath,
we breathe in love
we exhale loss;
and open at the close.

We learn to hurt
then learn to reach
then learn the grace of grief,
our hearts contract
then learn to grow;
hearts open with a close.

We cannot choose
our breaks in life
the things that rearrange,
but we can choose
to look for light;
and open at the close.

There are some things
we’ll never know
some whys that won’t be won,
let love become
your wound’s kind balm;
love opens at the close.

You went away
you left so soon
your light abruptly spent,
but death begins
your journey on;
you opened at your close.

Winters come
to lay to rest
those things that pass away,
but spring begins
all things anew;
life opens at the close

Go on take heed
when sorrows come
and let tears drench your face,
for water cleans
and clears new space;
things open with a close.

So carry on
and love what’s gone
your life forever changed,
but let your heart
be soft to mold;
we open at the close.

openatclose

Take a Knee

There are three things
in this life I will never forget:
The sound that is the
sad lamentation of the sea,
that spaghetti was
my brother’s last supper,
and the sight of my father
kneeling before his fallen son;
Weeping.

Take a knee, for those
who suffer silent grief.
Let your heart be opened
by their stories untold.
Let it rearrange you,
this finite sense that’s loss-
And when your sorrow comes…
still life for awhile,
and take a knee.

There are a few things
I wish I could have said:
that I’m sorry for the time
I broke the lamp when we
were kids and blamed it on you,
that I thought it was really cool
the way you couldn’t be anybody
other than yourself,
and that I always loved you;
even we were unlovable-
And I wish you could
have felt that.

Take a pause, for those
who stumble in the dark.
Learn to walk in shadow,
to better know the light.
Don’t be afraid of pain of soul
it’s how our spirits grow-
And when your own pain comes…
allow it gracious entrance,
and take a pause.

There are some things
I’ll do to keep your spirit live: 
I will always keep your
light saber close by,
I will take good care
of Mom and Dad per
your whispered last request,
and I will try to live for
both of us and take
you where I go.

Take a breath, for those
who go too soon.
Honor their passage by
living well and true.
Learn to keep them in your heart
for love lives on and on-
And when your memories come…
cherish them,
and take a breath.

And when your sorrow comes…
cherish it,
and take a breath.

takeaknee

Odyssey of Love

I wrote last week that the tasks of grief are considerable. I am finding the tasks of death even more so.

Life has taken on a bizarre pattern of surreality as we prepare for my brother’s memorial service. Write an obituary, weep over old pictures, put pictures in chronological order and place to poignant music for the video tribute. Watch it and weep more.

Start working on the eulogy. Talk to your brother’s best friends and learn a beautiful side of him you never knew- take comfort in this gift. Have silent objections to the content of the memorial service since you and your mother have very different perspectives on spiritual matters, but in the end, realize none of that matters anyways if that’s what she needs to say good-bye to her son… a traditional service in the Baptist fashion isn’t going to change the bottom line that your brother is gone and her son left before her… She deserves comfort where she can take comfort.

Order tasteful Star Wars shirts for you and your husband to wear to the service, because your brother would have loved that and somebody has to represent. Order and print pictures for the memorial table. Buy frames. Say goodbye to the body for the last time, comfort your weeping parents and realize all over again the finality of things.

Take a phone call from a friend who recently lost her nephew- offer what comfort and words you can. Hang up the phone and go back to working on the eulogy, you so want to get it just right. Help clean his room. Take advil for the headache you’ve had the last two weeks. Make pot roast in his honor. Write letters to him as if he’s still here. Write a poem for the service program. Grieve.

Move through life in this strange sort of bubble that separates you from everybody else. Not because you want to be separate, but because this kind of grief is so profound it usurps the everything else and demands immediate attention: life keeps spinning on around you- both tragedy and joy- and there you are standing in motion. Be a professional and go to work, because in the middle of this upside down world, which feels like you are living somebody else’s life, work offers its own odd sort of anchor. Besides, you know when the memorial service is over you are going to have plenty of time on your hands to not work. To think. To feel. To sit around and… wait.

Wait for a resolution. Wait for an absolution. Wait for conclusion that doesn’t seem to come.

You realize the process of grief truly is like the ocean. One moment you are standing on the shore and the ground feels solid- you are making it through this, you are going to be okay. Then a rogue waves unexpectedly pulls you in, and you are floundering in the middle of the sea, drowning for all your worth… until you realize the ocean has spit you back out and you are once again on the shore. And though you don’t know how you got there, there is solid ground beneath your feet.

They say there’s no right or wrong way to go through this process, and in upside down land, it’s hard to make sense of anything. The only thing I can figure is that I have made my life’s odyssey about love, so this too can be about love. This is a chance for me to stand at this extreme cross roads and keep my heart open. It is a chance to feel the strange light of grief and allow it to rearrange my heart into a more compassionate, deeper shape. It is a chance for me to sit in a church, which I have old baggage with, along with a few people I have old baggage with, and love on anyways.

It is a chance for me to find peace towards my mother and her process and practice radical compassion that we are all allowed to remember and mourn in our own way. It is a chance for me to sit and walk and be with my father, and remember the good and the bad and the beauty- the totality- of the person we called family. It is a chance for me to look at old faces I haven’t seen in years and nurture the energy of peace inside of me.

And when it comes down to it, at least for this weekend, it is a chance for me to stand before whoever gathers and tell them who my brother was. I have spent the last two weeks piecing together all I can find from family and friends and a treasure trove of memories about the sum of his life and the gifts he brought to this world. Somebody should speak to that. Somebody with an open heart that is big enough to simply love over it all and represent his truth.

Life is infinitely short, I am trying to live it well. And while you can’t stop the cataclysm that is grief when it comes or keep yourself from being pulled into that tumult of an ocean or ignore the difficult and necessary tasks that go along with this kind of loss; you can choose how you go through it. You can choose to fill in the gaps and cracks and in between moments with as much compassion and kindness as you can. You can learn to let your giant heart and your fervent faith in the process of life be a lighthouse in the storm. And you can love over it all.

Even in the middle of that ocean.

You can learn to love over it all.

bygones

I’ll Carry You

My friend, My friend,
Oh where are you?
You went away, you left too soon.
The good we shared
I’ll hold onto.
And in my heart I’ll carry you.

My brother, My brother
Oh where are you?
Where there’s now one, there once was two.
This song of grief
Sings clear and true.
And in my heart I’ll carry you.

My son, My son
Oh where are you?
The love we have, naught can undo.
Our lives forever
Bound to you.
And in our hearts we’ll carry you.

Our love forever
Bound to you.
And in our hearts we’ll carry you.

And in our hearts,
We’ll carry you.

carryyou

moonwalk 

The moon’s mysteries
are insurmountable-
They sent a man
to walk on her,
and he still never
figured her out.
Her bright transcends
measurement.

She’ll remind you
there is always
a way…
Even in darkness.
And though she may
wax and wane,
she will always
return to the light.
She changes
effortlessly,
accepting life’s
cycles as they
come, never trying
to fight them.

She embodies
what it means
to be real in this place.
Never pretending
to be anything other
than who she is-
Whether it’s vulnerable
turn of void,
or quiet curve of
crescent,
or dazzling star sprayed
gloss of full.

She will tell you-
if you stare at her
long enough-
the truth of who
we are.
That our truest
treasure awaits
in the space of
our authenticity.