retreat for two

Saturday 3/24/18

Here I am. At my retreat for one that’s really a retreat for two. I’m sitting in an above-garage studio apartment in the foothills above Boulder. It’s gorgeous up here, of course. I’m surrounded by pine trees, steep and windy roads, dirt-and-rock terrain that tells me I made it out of the city, mountain homes that blend with the environment, and chilly piney mountain air.

I’m sitting on a comfy chair with my laptop on my, well, lap, because there’s no table or desk. I’m hoping I don’t get a stiff neck on my weekend away where I plan to do a lot of writing. I might steel away to a coffee shop for an ergonomic break. When I look slightly to my left I am looking to the east, and out a row of windows, I can see the city of Boulder and plains beyond. When I look slightly to my right I am looking out the French doors onto the sunshiny deck and mature ponderosa pines dotting the property.

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The closest branch is a mere 20 feet from where I sit. And this is my view if I were to look up and behind me.

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My bed is under the skylights so I literally fell asleep underneath a bright crescent moon and stars.

You know what I wish? I wish I was in the Boulder area this weekend because I was visiting Kade at CU (as much as it would pain me that he wasn’t at CSU).

It would go like this. We would have planned way ahead, because he would be a busy student (and, oh yeah, I would be, too). He could meet me here at the mountain casita, or I could meet him at the place he shares with six roommates…OK, we’d meet here. 😉 This time it would be just me visiting, because most of the time Brian and Asher would be with us when we get together. He’d know where to take me to hike off the beaten path. We’d probably have to drive a ways, but that would be OK ‘cause we’d have time together in the car.

But it’s not that. This is something…less normal. This is something I felt pulled to do…but think it’s shitty that I am doing it. I took care to plan it…but was pissed off driving up. I couldn’t wait!…but tears came to my eyes when I walked in the doors.

I’ve been dying (no bad pun intended) to get away for one night to have alone time to be with myself, my grief, and Kade. In a paper in my Grief Therapy class (a YEAR ago) I remember writing that I would soon plan time by myself for this purpose. Months ago, I told a select few friends that I was going to do this soon.

Now that I have started the clinical portion of my program, the time crunch has been on. Commuting, learning, clients, groups, supervision, receiving feedback, documentation…But this weekend, book-ended with practicum obligations near Boulder, contained this 3-day possibility.

And here I am at Starry Nights Mountain Casita.

Happy and sad. Writing and hiking. Missing and being with. Mothering and indulging. Answering and questioning.

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I know how to party

Sunday 3/25/18

It’s 5:00 p.m. and I’m bushed. I went on two hikes yesterday and one today. The first was before lunch, down the road. The views in the neighborhood are stunning.

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It was to be an easy little walk to just get outside before lunch, but I forgot: what goes down must come up. These hills are steep! After lunch I took the Airbnb hostess up on her hike recommendation: Mount Sanitas Trail in Boulder. Ahem, I wonder what kind of shape she thinks her guests are in? Evidently great, being this is Boulder, one of the fittest places in the country. Frick, it went straight up!

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The trail required you to step up probably 12 to 18” each step. Not so bad going up slowly, but each step coming down was like doing a squat. I’ll just say I can feel my quads today. Not entirely a bad feeling, though, as it felt good to work out. Going straight up made for pretty views.

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I started my days with yoga. Yesterday I found a video for energizing morning yoga, and this morning I found one for yoga for grief. I hope that after I get home that I maintain starting out my days by rolling out my mat, at least some mornings.

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I’m excited to tell you about today’s hike. I feel like a real adventurer, finding my own (rated easy) hike, not relying on navigation apps because there was no address to plug in, driving there, and hiking by myself (well, I hope not really by myself). I did NOT think I would be driving far enough to be able to see Rocky Mountain National Park but I was treated to this when I was almost to the trailhead.

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When I arrived, I was afraid at first. Iamafraidofbearsandmountainlions. There. I said it. I’m a Colorado girl, and admit that whenever I hike, I think of bears and mountain lions. (Are there support groups for that?) I told myself I would go out at least 15 minutes before turning back. But seeing other people on the trail, my bearmountainlion worries dissipated, and I was able to instead focus on soaking in all the mountain goodness.

When I wasn’t thinking of Brian and Asher and getting excit about hiking with them this summer, I was hiking alone with my thoughts. Not something I often do, and it was so cool.

I thought of Kade. I imagined us hiking together. He would be ahead, quicker and stronger. Akin to how Kade’s friends, Dylan and Jason, were on the fourteener they took me up last summer. No worries, though, as Kade would be patient like they were. I would tell him how his dad and I used to go “up the Poudre” to hike with our toddler, who was always up for running to the next bend and summiting the next boulder.

I thought of metaphors for my grief and my Ceran St. Vrain Trail hike. I was nervous about driving up the winding road, ever higher, ever farther than I thought it would be.

I kept going though.

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Me? Lost? No! I just pulled off on this incorrect road for the views…

I felt vulnerable, being by myself (well, you know, sort of by myself). That’s how most of grief is, I think. Sometimes it’s shared: in support groups, retreats, with grief friends, close family, my grief therapist, and other friends. But mostly, it’s experienced in my head, my heart, my body. Even shared moments of grief are just that: shared moments. But I was able to feel vulnerable, and alone, and still keep going.

There was a stretch where the trail narrowed, was covered with hard packed snow, and a steep drop off to one side. I was not a fan.

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The trail even seems to pitch somewhat toward the drop-off, amIright?

I felt some doubt with my old-ish hiking shoes, tired-ish legs, and out-of-shape-ish self. I don’t know if it was the smartest choice, but I checked my tread (looked good) and went for it. I was afraid of a rogue slip that I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Damn, like looking at this section of trail, there have been times in my grief that left my blood feeling cold. And, damn, there will be more. And I’ve survived all of them. Every godforsaken anniversary (how will it be six this June?) and birthday where my young man should be in his twenties, not dead. How have I, and others who love him, survived these perilous spots?

(And did a deer just bound through my field of vision out the window just now to let me know that Kade is OK? That it will be OK?)

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Back to the perilous spots. I guess we get by by checking our tread, steadying ourselves, and just moving forward.

There were trees cut down near the trail where I could see their fresh looking exposed rings. I counted the tiny rings of one up to about 40, and there were probably 20 more. Why did that tree get to live to 60 years and Kade only got to live to 19? Why is Kade one of the cut down trees, and not one of the towering ones all around me?

Monday 3/26/18

I have joined the real world again, and said goodbye to my cozy mountain casita. I’m glad I got to wake to sunshine my first two mornings, but this morning it was a different kind of beautiful to wake to fog and flurries.

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I did another yoga for grief before packing up, and I’m loving this stretching first-thing ritual.

I’ve joined the real world, in my work clothes, in a café, getting ready for practicum group tonight before I can finally trek home. I’m making last edits on my blog. I’m saying ‘bye for now to my quiet mountain retreat, which was at times a visit to my son, at times a visit to myself, and at times a checking out from evvverything and eating really. good. chocolate.

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capture your grief, day 18: the grief shift

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A picture I took on a recent afternoon “with Kade.” 

I recently had an opportunity to meet one of my favorite grief mentors for the second time at a book signing (the first was when I attended her retreat for traumatic bereavement). Joanne Cacciatore is the founder of the MISS Foundation and Center for Loss and Trauma, an academic researcher, professor, clinician, and bereaved mom. She’s an articulate and fierce advocate for the traumatically bereaved…and of peace.

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Louise, Patty, Dr. Jo, me, and Terri

Today’s quote CarlyMarie shared by Rumi, “Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom” immediately reminded me of my biggest takeaway from Dr. Jo’s book-signing:

The people who have felt pain are the peacemakers.

She explained: Here we are. So what do we do with that pain?

She illustrated the martial art of Aikido. It’s where you accept the energy of the punch, and redirect it.

My experience of grief has been one of mostly learning. Through the learning, I am feeling pulled to inhabit it more. Make no mistake, there have been times of full immersion, especially in the beginning (I felt a pang of anxiety just thinking of “the beginning”). Now…now that it has been five years, and I have been physically and emotionally able to attend to graduate school (and its demand of self-reflection), my focus has been being a highly engaged student. A very busy student. Though I will finish the last year of my program no doubt still busy, I am sensing a shift from these outward demands to inward ones. From school, clinical placements, and the field of counseling…to Kade. To my undying relationship with my first born. To my relationship with myself. To my relationship with this thing called grief. And to my relationship with my broader purpose.

CarlyMarie’s instructions for Capture Your Grief, Day 18, The Grief Shift: I have always loved this quote by Rumi – “Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”. What has your experience with grief been like? Do you think of your pain as an enemy or have you made friends with it? Do you believe you can transform the way you feel about it? Where are you currently in your grief journey? Have you had any enlightening moments that you would like to share with others?

capture your grief, day 4: belonging

I love the smell of glue sticks in the morning!

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I really didn’t think I’d be doing a whole art therapy project this morning. But when I read CarlyMarie’s description for day 4, this is what came to mind.

I love vision boarding. I keep our old magazines for this purpose (which my husband loves—not).

I jotted down some of the relationships/groups in which I belong, and found images for those relationships.

OK, my original vision for this project was better than this. If only I would have remembered that vision before gluing. Picture this: I was going to wrinkle every image to represent that every relationship changed with Kade’s death. But since I forgot to wrinkle before gluing, I decided to wrinkle only the stars peppered throughout, that represent Kade in all aspects of my life.

(Am I supposed to be explaining this or should I leave it to the eye of the beholder?)

There has been ebbing…and waning…and retreating…and even severing in my relationships. Mostly there has been flowing to the ebbing…waxing to the waning…and advancing to the retreating.

Is any relationship the same over time? Don’t they all change? Losing a child might just be a magnification of that (albeit a Hubble Telescope kind of magnification).

And my relationship with myself…would I have even included that on a poster-board before my world changed with Kade’s death?

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Instructions for CarlyMarie’s Capture Your Grief, Day 4: Belonging:

When your child dies, your sense of belonging can be torn apart. Friendships change and we often become the elephant in the room. The circles we belong in no longer feel comfortable. This is a secondary loss. As human beings we need to feel that we belong. If we do not belong, we are left feeling isolated which is a lonely place to be. Have a think about the relationships you have in your life. Have you found your tribe? What do they mean to you? Are you in need of a new tribe? Surrounding yourself with like-hearted people – people who make you feel good, the people who make you feel at home will become cherished like family. “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to BE who you are” – Brene Brown.

CarlyMarie’s capture your grief, day 2: rise + shine mourning ritual

Day 2 instructions:

“Create a new mourning ritual. When you rise in the morning spend a few moments in silence and create space for yourself. Wherever you choose to do this, whether it is at the end of your bed as you wake up or out side with a cup of tea, take a few minutes to ground yourself. You can do this by either sitting on the ground or placing both feet flat on the floor. Take a good posture and close your eyes. Take some slow relaxing breaths in and out. Envision your child’s light burning bright like the sun from your heart. Once you feel calm, awake and present, dedicate your day to living for your child and set an intention for how you want your day be. Write it down and share it with us.”

I usually wake at the latest possible moment, squeezing all the milliseconds I can out of hitting snooze. This morning, though, I got up with my alarm and turned on my bedside lamp. I scooted upright, and opened my journal to the blank page (the one after my entry from the bank of the Arkansas after rafting), and closed my eyes.

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I thought of Kade. Then I looked at the picture of him holding Asher on my wall. I sat with him for a quiet moment. If you’re not a bereaved parent this might sound crazy to you (or maybe it doesn’t):

It was nice having a little time with him. I’d been missing him. I need to hang out with him again soon.

My intention for the day came to me in the form of a bracelet I ordered from a site I follow, Hands Free Mama. My bracelet reads,

“Only love today.”

There was my intention.

I found my bracelet, jotted my intention, added a little love note, “captured my grief” (snapped my picture), and felt calm and ready for the day.

Starting my morning slowly, mindfully, and by setting an intention was a brilliant change of pace. I will try to do that for at least the rest of October’s Capture Your Grief, and maybe it will become a habit beyond.

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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?”