one year down

My third semester, and my first YEAR, are behind me. There is nothing like the elation of papers handed in and being finished with a semester. I will enjoy my “5 days of summer,” as a fresh semester starts next week.

This semester was WORLDS better than last. Last fall I had two paper-and-presentation-heavy classes with hard graders. Delving into stages of moral development in one class and diagnosable personality disorders in another during the election was a surreal position to be in.

I just wrapped up two of what will be surely be my favorite classes of the program: Grief Therapy and Cultural Issues and Social Justice.

9781304859624_p0_v1_s118x184Grief Therapy: Dr. Annamarie Fidel-Rice was unlike any professor I have had (OK, she was a little like Dr. Pat Sablatura of Spirituality and Counseling, another favorite). Her book, The Alchemy of Grief, was a fascinating analogy of the transformative nature of grief. Her focus in class was that heart, not head, is required when companioning the griever. Grief is not understandable or answerable. She stressed “grief demands feeling” and “attend to it.” It’s basically as simple as that. If you allow yourself to feel, to grieve, in THAT comes the healing. Which is so counter to nearly everything in our society. Many families of origin don’t foster this. Greater society bombards with messages to cover it/hurry it up/don’t mention it. It sounds easy to “attend to your grief,” right? Do you schedule time each day to attend to yours? If you’re looking for a unique book on grief, that is from a “depth” perspective filled with symbolism and metaphor, I recommend Dr. Fidel-Rice’s book. If you read it let me know what you think…

Cultural Issues and Social Justice: Can you say, perfect timing? We learned that being an ethical counselor entails an expectation greater than charity. Advocacy in changing social and political systems that cause marginalization is the expectation.

I had more reason to appreciate my Jesuit university with the service learning requirement for this class. My group volunteered with Family Promise of Greater Denver, that houses homeless families at churches while they partake in a structured program back to employment and housing. We got to teach self care classes to children and adults. Shouts out to my partners, Carrie, Lauren, and Darrin!

This class stressed that knowing/admitting our own biases (that we all have) is important going into the profession. Delving into many marginalized groups’ experiences, and just what White privilege is, was informative. Also noteworthy: learning that gender and sexuality are more of a nonbinary continuum on which we all fall, and learning about microaggressions that happen every day and the toll that hundreds of these over time take.

Research Methods: I don’t have much to say about this class (statistics, bleh). I’ll just say that my proposal set out to answer this research question: Does journaling for 30 minutes once a week improve a bereaved parent’s grief symptoms? We didn’t actually carry out our projects, as there wasn’t enough time, but got into all aspects of the scientific research process.

I’m ready for the next semester. After three semesters I’m in a groove…bring it on. I needed the past super interesting and bit easier semester to recharge after the last hard one. Some people take summer semester off…but it’s my favorite. It’s still light out for the drive home, the weather’s nice, and I get to spend more time with Asher on his summer break, easing school/family balance. With the anniversary of Kade’s death coming up on June 29th, I see school not as a hardship to get through in spite of the difficult time in my life…but as an additional bonus support through the difficult time.

Shooting Stars

I have a final paper that I am working on, due TODAY, for my grief therapy class. So what better time to make a blog post, right?

We can call it procrastinating. We can call it a study break. We can call it thriving under pressure.

In discussing “signs” in my paper, or as Jung would call them, “synchronicities,” I found this piece that I wrote a year and a half ago. In addition to sharing some of it in my paper, I wanted to share it here.

From my writing dated 11/9/15.

Shooting Stars

Shooting stars are one of my “symbols” for Kade; perhaps my most prominent one up to this point. I know exactly the moment that it started.

Kade’s dad, Jon, was saying a few words at the memorial service he had for Kade in Buena Vista a week after the funeral in Highlands Ranch. His brother, David, a pastor, did most of the speaking but Jon wrapped it up. He said, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” I’ve since looked up that quote several times and it is attributed to Lao Tzu, considered to be the founder of Taoism.

It is so incredibly fitting for Kade. He lived this bright, vibrant life. He was loud. And bold. And adventurous. And did I mention loud? Nineteen years is a laughable age for a life as bright as Kade’s to be extinguished. It’s over? Already? It just started in so many ways! Are you f-ing kidding me? He was just beginning!

(breeeeathing)

The quote Kade’s dad stated reminded me of the image of a shooting star. Everyone loves seeing shooting stars. They add excitement to your night. They’re special. You don’t see something like that every day. You look for them. You seek them out. The shooting stars in my life, as I rumble through the memory box of my mind, have been when I’ve been camping, or up in the mountains away from a town, or upper Michigan near my parents’ cabin on a lake. When the sky is extra dark on a summer night you just have to look up. And with a little stillness and patience, you’re treated to a celestial show. Shooting stars. Satellites. The Milky Way. Even the international space station one remarkably-timed night, in a remarkably lucky clearing in the trees.

Kade’s life is like a shooting star (I still have a hard time writing was). So brilliant, exciting, amazing. Hot, fiery, dangerous. Sometimes shooting stars look like they land in your back yard, when in fact they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away, and most don’t land at all, they disintegrate first.

Here’s probably my most significant shooting star story before Kade died. My cousins and I were out ice skating at my grandparents’ pond. I know this because I remember the heaviness, and cold metal blades against my coat, of the skates hanging around my neck. We were on the steps to go inside. My cousin, otherwise known as my partner in crime, Tonya, and I were the only ones to see a brilliant fireball streak across the sky. It was huge, and visible for what seemed to be a long stretch of time. It appeared to have landed in the field next to Grandma and Grandpa’s. We were dumbfounded—then scared at the possibilities that flooded our brains (was it a meteorite that just landed in the field? was it a bomb? was it an airplane crash? was it a UFO?)—then went screaming into the house. We made a real racket telling everyone what we’d seen. Of course our boy cousins didn’t believe us. But some of the adults must have sensed the truth in our voices and came out into the bitterly cold Michigan night and looked where we thought it must have landed, in the snow-dusted, broken-frozen-corn-stalk-scattered corn field.
Surely there must be a fiery piece of space rock laying in a crater, still smoking. Of course we never found it and I heard later on that it was seen, or even landed, in upper Michigan, so we were way off with our guess of the field next door. But we still talk about that huge white fireball we saw.

The most significant shooting star story I have after Kade died was driving to a Compassionate Friends meeting in winter 2014. After daylight saving time ended, the 6:30 p.m. drive was pitch black, and I cranked the music, taking advantage of being alone in the car. Even music Kade would have HATED can prompt tears. Even bouncy music with no Kade connection whatsoever, that I really like, can bring on tears. Music has that way of touching the soul.

Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze came on. I totally lost it because Kade had Hendrix on his playlist, and would have dug that particular song. Purple was his favorite color, he was a guitarist, and, well, it was Jimi Hendrix. Tears gave way to a screaming rant about his death in my car. Kade should be listening to Jimi Hendrix! Tears, and yelling. There really aren’t that many opportunities of solitude to let loose, and it was happening.

Then the direction on the highway I was heading, with the curves and the hills just right, enabled me to see a giant star lit up in the foothills. It quieted me. I pondered whether seeing it right then, at a painfully raw moment, was a sign from Kade, or God, and how I should take it. As I was wondering, and still crying (because a new song had come on prompting new tears), I turned onto Wadsworth and headed north.

Still ruminating on whether the lit-up star was a sign, and from whom, I SAW A REAL SHOOTING STAR, in perfect view through my windshield. That shut me up. OK, Kade, I saw it. I smiled. I laughed. I am so thick that it took two, not just one, stars for me to understand that Kade (or some power) was shooting a sign my way. He was OK. It was OK. It was going to be OK.

I’ve had a lot of star and shooting star signs thrown my way, at just the right times, where I am left smiling and thanking Kade.

Having a symbol or symbols for your deceased child can be an expensive endeavor. I’ve scoured my favorite clothing websites for items with stars. I have star shirts from Express, Loft, H & M, and probably more places I’m forgetting. I have homemade jewelry and home décor from Etsy, an artisan website. I’ve ordered a large, colorful, hanging paper star for Kade’s room. Some of the baby gifts I’ve bought for others have been star-themed. And of course, a shooting star is incorporated in my tattoo.

I stop people wearing stars. I make Brian drive me to the middle of nowhere to get away from the town lights whenever we’re in the mountains, and I stand outside, usually in the cold, and lean back over the hood of my car taking in the whole sky for shooting stars.

The shooting star pendant I wear, that contains some of Kade’s cremains, is one I had custom-designed to represent him, when the ones in the funeral home catalog did not do him justice. No thank you to the plain vial. Thank goodness my online search led me to Starseed Gems and Lynn, a bereaved mom who helps design the perfect, colorful, expressive piece. She told me that blue stars are the hottest, but burn out the soonest. Blue it was. She mixes the cremains with luminescent powder, so it faintly glows in the dark, and puts it in the colored resin, so Kade is in the gem. The StarSeed gem. All elements in our bodies come from stars. We are all stardust. I love the piece and wear it almost every day. It is the perfect perfect piece I was looking for, to wear close to my heart.

capture your grief, day 31: sunset reflection

I had had to be at my school before the sun would set tonight, so I snapped a picture as I arrived, about an hour before sunset.

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An hour before sunset, Thornton, CO

I’m not gonna lie, I’m glad that this October’s Capture Your Grief is over. It was a healing, connecting exercise, but man, sometimes those healing connecting exercises are draining.
I learned that even a short post can say a lot. I disliked when I had a hard time thinking of a photograph to use. I liked that CarlyMarie emphasized that we should feel comfortable taking a day or days away from the project as needed. I also liked the memories of Kade that some of the themes conjured up. And I liked that my 6-year-old would occasionally ask, “Mama, what’s the theme today for Capture Your Grief?”

capture your grief, day 30: my promise to you

I have not made a specific promise to Kade since he died, per se. “Promises to him” seem to be sort of revealing themselves as my grieving morphs and changes.

From this parent’s desire that her son not be forgotten, a promise takes shape to speak his name. From the drive to remember and honor him, and to feel the familiarity of ritual, a promise develops to celebrate his life on his anniversary date, birthday, and holidays.

When I think of Kade and promises, it brings me back to middle-of-the night feedings with my newborn almost 24 years ago. I brought him to the cushy reclining rocking chair in the living room of our little apartment so as not to wake his dad. I turned on the TV for dim light (reruns of Gilligan’s Island). I whispered promises upon his sweet little head with the fervor of a new parent: I will protect you. You will always be loved. I will give you what you need. You will have a good life.

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capture your grief, day 29: give away your love

I did my favorite act of kindness for today’s theme. Favorite because it’s the one I do the most, it’s easy, and I get to leave a Kade kindness card.

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I went through a Starbuck’s drive-through and bought the coffee behind me. (Well, there was nobody behind me this time, so I left $5 toward the next person’s order.) I’m up for some new acts of kindness ideas if you have any!

I’m glad I stumbled upon the MISS Foundation’s Kindness Project online years ago. It’s a way to put your child’s name into the world, and a bit of good, as well.

MISS Foundation Kindness Project