Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#SOL16: Love Sounds for My Son

Collage made from Citra Solve papers (M.A. Reilly, July 2016)
I'm pulled from bed this morning with the need to write.  I have been dreaming awake. This post that will take form here began as lines in a dream--words forming first as sound and then whole lines as I was partially awake and now they have become this print. There's a tremendous sadness I feel when I think of my son and the loss of his dad. Dev was one month past his 17th birthday when Rob died. Barely 17. And I think this morning that there will be no father's steady hand to guide him.

This morning fear pulled me from bed.

And make no mistake it is not the fear that Donald Trump spoke about last week. That fear is frankly too pretty--too full of apocalyptic con and slight of hand. The fear Trump railed about is more comic-like, less substance.

The fear that pulled me from bed was fear lodged in my throat. It was fear of what is not now. It was fear in what I imagined might be, in the many instances my son will hurt without his dad there too soothe. And yes, I know I will soothe when I am allowed when I am even knowledgeable, just as I know there already have been days when my touch, my concern, my care was not found nor invited. Some pain is private. There are days when my son's loss finds purchase and steals his breath and I must bear witness. He will fix himself if fixing is needed, but mostly he will endure and add that experience to the emotional chest he has been building since birth.

This is what I can feel. This is what I can endure. This is the taste of sorrow. This is the slash of loss. This beneath it all is love.

And here in the daylight, I wonder if he will be a stronger man as a result of this loss. Will the empathy that comes with losing love, losing a father fuel his drive, his care, his dedication to others? Will his knowledge of other shine, be a beacon of hope?  What trajectories will his life compose?

Mothers know much and nothing.

What I do believe is that love is by invitation. It cannot be forced. Love is more powerful, more constant than fear.

My love for my son is a constant note that sounds below and above the daily actions I take. It sounds even when fear lights like a fuse. Love allows me to know how temporary fear is: a bright light that blazes and then dies as it should, as it must for we are here, living.

Love sounds even when I am blinded
                  by fear and

                              I follow those notes
                         a handful
                                 of musical breadcrumbs
                                  tossed from the hands I have known and not,
                                  tossed from my own hands years earlier.

I follow that line of music
                         leaving behind a dense, imposing forest
and find myself here
              in morning light,
              the burn of fear left behind--the shroud of a dream alongside it.

Here in a clearing called morning
love has called me from sleep, from fear
and I have answered
with a handful of words.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#SOL16: Hope and Doubt

Bluebird (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ~ Charlotte Brontë .

This was the quote for Day 11 of Oprah and Deepak's Getting Unstuck 21-Day Meditation and I found it hopeful and wanted to pass it along.  The talk that day was about developing awareness. Deepak stated, 
"Awareness opens the door to new possibilities. Therefore we must master the skill of being aware." 
He then outlined three key practices that can help us to develop our capacity to be aware: 

1. Pay attention to what is happening in the environment: self, other, environment
2. Practice holding focus--the opposite of being scattered. Key is being interested and engaged.
3. Learn the skill of stillness: Bear witness, restful alertness.

Each morning as I meditate, all three of these skills are present in that action. Mediation lodges me in the present moment, now. On the day before, the quote was from Thích Nhất Hạnh who wrote, 
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” 
In losing Rob, I better understand that life is what we compose. We have choices in how we react, in how we understand, in the ways we frame possibility. Truths are largely what we make, not what is ordained. Deepak talks about hope and doubt explaining that hope pulls us forward into the now, while doubt pulls us backward out of the present moment. There are tensions between hope and doubt and often represent ways we approach the unknown. Doubts limit us, while hope does not. Living in the here and now is the only rational space to stand.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hope, Chefoo Concetration Camp, and the Choices Made

I was out walking and listening to This American Life on WNYC. The show aired, Captain's Log, was from June 2015.  Act I, Cookies and Monsters, was fascinating as it was hopeful.  Here the discussion was about Girl Guides (what we call Girl Scouts here in the US). It was an old notebook found in the basement of a Girl Guide center in London that spurred Janie Hampton to begin to make sense of a particular entry:

And it said, we did skipping, and we did knots, and we did all sorts of jolly things. And then I came across this song that they'd written. And it said, "We sang our song yesterday. And it went, 'We might have been shipped to Timbuktu. We might have been shipped to Kalamazoo. It's not repatriation, nor is it yet starvation. It's simply concentration in Chefoo." And I thought, what on earth does that mean? Concentration in Chefoo?
She wondered about the song.

Mary Previte and siblings on September 10, 1945 eating a meal shortly after
being flown from Weihsien – “When the plane touched down in Sian [Xian],
the men at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) base served us
ice cream and cake and showed us a Humphrey Bogart movie. I think it
was “Casablanca.” Kathleen and I slept that night in an officer’s tent
– unaccompanied by bedbugs. The next night – 9/11 – we were home.
We hadn’t seen our parents for 5 1/2 years.” – courtesy of Weihsien-Paintings
from here
What follows is an amazing story about perspective, about 82-year-old Mary Previte who lives in New Jersey and served as a Democrat in the Assembly, and about 74-year-old Leopold Pander. He is a resident of Belgium.  What unites them?  Both were incarcerated in the Concentration Camp in Chefoo as children. Mary was 9 and Leopold was 2-years-old when he was arrested for having round eyes.

I won't say more.
The narrative from Ira Glass and the American Life folks is stunning.

Hope you find some time to listen.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#SOL16: Death Threats, The RNC and History

I'm thinking about love and honor, about the men I know well: my dad, my two brothers, my son, my father-in-law, my husband, Rob, and a score of friends. I'm thinking about these men in light of the rhetoric of violence aimed at Hillary Clinton by some men at the RNC convention. I'm reminding myself that none of the men I know well would ever speak about a woman as Trump, his advisors and the rest of the RNC speakers have been doing.

Women, we need to be concerned, not mute.

Just take a moment to look at the convention badges and signs that populate the Republican National Convention (RNC)--badges people wear proudly. 
Media preview
This is what the RNC believes. From here.

These RNC bores takes their lead from Donald Trump who said,
“You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass,” Mr. Trump said in a 1991 interview with Esquire magazine.

Does this seem like the language of a self-professed Christian? 

Or this offensive comment by Trump:
"Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world, I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, "Can you believe what I am getting?"

The RNC's candidate understands women as possessions, as appendages.  So it isn't too surprising that the RNC isn't limited to misogynist-based slogans alone. 

KFC move over as some of these Republicans are doling out death.

Yes, death.

Al Baldasaro has called for the death of Hillary Clinton. Yes, her death. And he's proud to do so. Or Michael Folk, a Republican Congressmen who said Clinton should be executed. 

Such is the reckless speech and deed that is so very, very violent at this convention and among the GOP in general.  Like the stance on women, these followers also take their lead from Trump, whose penchant for spewing loose and violent discourse knows little bounds. Trump told us,

  "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."  

5000 of these posters were distributed prior to JFKs assassination in Dallas. 
Now, add to all of this the post by Jim Wright that shows a wanted poster of JFK  distributed just days before he was murdered and the danger of such loose, amoral, and violent rhetoric cannot be mistaken for campaign fodder.  Such hate-speech invites others to also act without moral fitness, without concern for life. It begs others to to do terrible things, things that cannot be undone.

Now is the time for Republicans especially to tell their candidate that the hate speech and buttons and slogans and ridiculous chants are wrong and dangerous. It's past time for GOP voters to stop being mute and say out loud to their candidate that he won't earn their vote by embracing and threatening violence on Hillary Clinton. How can anyone who professes to love the unborn turn such a blind eye at death threats? 


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#SOL16: An Old Chair and All We Cannot Know

Rob's chair.


It was just an old, undersized, mauve reclining wing chair. 28 years old to be more precise. My parents bought it for Rob and me and we moved that chair three times across the last few decades. Today, I gave the chair away.

Rob always hated the chair. He said it was uncomfortable and though I defended the chair for decades, the truth is no one sat in the chair very often. About two years ago, Rob bought a chair of his own to replace an oversized recliner. He kept the chair in the guest room alongside the shelves and shelves of books he had read or was reading. This past Sunday, I finally summoned the courage to reorganize the room, removing old and damaged books, office supplies, and other odds and ends that found their way there. And getting rid of the clutter allowed me to better see Rob's chair. It was exhausting work--the third room I had cleaned and it was late in the day and so I sat for a bit in the chair, I think for the first time, and realized that Rob knew comfort.  The chair fit like an old friend and it was an old friend I so needed. And though Rob died in late winter, I felt as if I was saying goodbye to my husband this past Sunday.  At one point I asked Rob to send me a sign, something, anything.

Some days grief is nothing more than raw, unprocessed pain. Just pain. Sunday was such a day.


On Sunday evening, I dragged Rob's chair to our bedroom, thinking I would swap it with the mauve recliner. Devon helped me to get the recliner out of the room and as I eyed it I noticed it was faded and no matter what I did to clean it, it still, would be uncomfortable.

Is this something you really want to keep? my son asked. 
I don't know. My mom gave it to us. 
It was never comfortable, mom. 
I laughed and said, You sound just like your dad. He too must be laughing at this, cause you know what? He was right. I never told him that, but that chair was never comfortable. 
We each stood at the top of the stairs, the chair between us as I considered what to do. Okay, let's take it downstairs.

I thought to donate the chair to the Vietnam Vets who have been to our home more times in the last few months than most, but learned they don't accept recliners. So instead, the chair sat in the hallway for another day until we hauled it outside. I then posted information about the chair on a Facebook group for my town and am hoping someone will take the chair away.


For the last two weeks I couldn't meditate. I'd sit and begin to fidget 10 minutes in. I remembered a friend saying that her brothers had specific places in their homes for meditation. That made sense to me but I found that couldn't determine such a place in my own home. After settling Rob's chair into a corner of our bedroom, I wondered if I might have found my meditation place. Early this morning, before getting involved in the world, I sat in the chair, feeling it fold around me and I easily meditated.

No fidgeting, just that powerful fall to no time, no space. As I sat in the chair, I felt surrounded by Rob's spirit.  On Monday evening, I was telling this story to a group of women and one named what I could not say, "You got your sign from Rob."

And how right those words felt to me. My eyes grew wet immediately, stung and Yes, I wanted to say, Yes, I did get a sign, even though saying it aloud felt a bit corny. Before Rob's death I didn't pay much attention to signs, nor do I recall placing any great value on stories about signs. Before enduring Rob's illness and death, I was more a doubting Thomas wanting verification through a sense.  Give me what can be observed, what the mind determines. Watching Rob die and living the aftermath has opened me to possibilities that are not rational.  Grief mostly requires us to believe in what is beyond our experience--what is beyond our capacity to name. Grief is its own language full of starts and stops and pauses where early morning light finds a woman humbled by all she could not have known, held in the comfort of her husband's opened hands.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#SOL16: Borderless Grief and the RNC

gesso, acrylic paint, Rob's writing, (M.A. Reilly, 2016)

Grief knows no borders.

It spreads insidiously swamping your life and when fueled, flames out of control.  I know this firsthand and was reminded of the perversion of grief as I viewed the Republican National Convention (RNC). It's easy to take advantage of the grieving for anything that lessens such pain is seductive.  It's a siren call we all want to answer and being able to talk about the loved one and his or her death is a call few can resist.

We talk out loud to make sense of what confounds us still.

But setting up such fragile people to tell these stories as narratives of blame is a false balm for at best this only serves to further indenture the grieving to their pain and the past. There is no grace in blame, especially false blame.  There is no redemption in telling such stories.


I thought about this perversion as I listened to Pat Smith's brief speech at the RNC where she blamed Hillary Clinton personally for her son's death. I thought about this as the two more moms, Mary Ann Mendoza and Sabine Durden, whose sons each died in car accidents and Jamiel Shaw, whose son was killed in a gang shooting spoke blaming their children's death on our President. And as I listened what I mostly thought was Shame on the RNC for exploiting these people's grief and for thinking they could also exploit our tenderness. 

None of us want to bear witness to a parent's raw grief. But even in our most tender moment, we know it is simply an error to blame either Secretary Clinton or President Obama for these deaths. It is just wrong by the RNC to set up these four parents to tell stories that lack the necessary logic to even appear true.


After the camera was no longer trained on these parents, I wondered how they felt. After the high of talking to a national audience was gone, I wondered if there wasn't a profound sense of emptiness that settled about each of them. Filling yourself with hate will not lessen grief no matter how much such relief is sought.

I feel for these four as I imagine you do too.  For how could we not?  Resettling life after a loved one's death feels impossible. The life known exists no more. What is most desired cannot be given, cannot be had. Those in the depth of grief struggle to make sense of loss--loss that is largely irrational. The desire to blame some 'other' is common, if not expected.  And it is this natural inclination, perhaps even need, to seek a rational reason for the death that the RNC exploited.

Exploiting such vulnerability in order to create false linkages among death, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama is a truly shameful act by the RNC. We are better than this, friends.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

SOL16: Seeking Lazarus


I've been listening to Oprah and Deepak's Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life. This is a 21-day mediation experience that is happening now.  Each day Oprah and then Deepak provide some centering thoughts related to helping listeners get unstuck by connecting with untapped creativity and then providing time for meditation. Each session lasts for about 20 minutes. The purpose is to help uncover how to compose a creative life through some centering thoughts and meditation. Since, I have come home from France, I have been listening. The focus for the first week is on how to be in the present moment. In week two, the focus is on choosing expansiveness, letting go of the past, and living creatively. In week three, sharing the spirit of creative awareness with others is the focus.  

There were several things I heard during the first week that I especially wanted to remember--ideas I appreciated and yet quarreled with.  On day 3, Deepak said: 
"Stuckness keeps us from accessing our creative potential, which is our birthright. To begin a more creative way of life some basic points are important. First stop comparing today to yesterday. Look upon every day as a new world, because in truth it is. Only are stuckness makes it old."

I found the idea of not comparing today to yesterday to be a bit alarming. I can't think of a day that has gone by where I have not compared my days with Rob to the absence of him in my life now.  As I listened to Deepak speak, I thought that neither he nor Oprah could have experienced what I am experiencing and so his directive to stop comparing today to yesterday must surely be for other situations, not mine. 

The more I listened, I began to realize that often I was agreeing, but I also found that I would qualify what had been said when it might require me to live more deliberately and move on from the loss of Rob--to not hold myself in some waiting pattern as if Rob was coming home. And this idea of waiting for Rob to come home made me stop and ask, What is it I would have him do when he arrived? I had no immediate answer.  And so I told myself that the ideas professed by Oprah and Deepak were quite sound and that these ideas did not always apply to me. For example on Day 4, Oprah quoted Eckhart Tolle:

"Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you're having at the moment."

I thought, Yes, that can be true, but not for me now. Not at this timeSurely these words are not meant for someone who has suffered the loss I have. Surely this tragedy is not a help in any way. 

I conflated not comparing today with yesterday with requiring me to forget all about Rob. I also thought that some experiences, such as the death of a husband, are too tragic to ever serve as object lessons. Somehow my words began to ring a bit hollow and doubt entered. I began to question if perhaps, just perhaps, some of what Oprah and Deepak were saying might also apply to me even as I resisted the two ideas. It wasn't until I got to day 7 that I realized that living brilliantly as Rob asked me to do requires first and foremost, that I live and be responsible for my life. 

Yes, live.

On day 7, Oprah asked,

What makes one person react to bad news with grace and dignity, while another person experiences the same news with a sense of hopelessness, resentment, or anger? Why does one person get stuck while another uses the moment to make changes and reorient   his or her way of being in the world?  Our perceptions. Our perceptions paint our personal realities...As the author of your life, you can rewrite the story by changing your perceptions. That's a key to getting unstuck...
Years ago on a classroom wall, I quoted a line from Hamlet I found pertinent. Hamlet is explaining to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the relativity of thought.  Hamlet concludes,  "...there is nothing either good or/bad, but thinking makes it so." 


Perhaps there were lessons here I needed to heed.


Saying out loud that living, brilliantly or otherwise, requires me to be present in my life is a step towards wholeness. 

A big step. 

I must be responsible for my life. I realize that I have wanted Rob to be responsible-- from the grave--for my happiness. Even as he lived, he was not responsible for my life, my happiness although I have surely placed that responsibility in his hands these last few months.

I have forgotten that happiness and contentment are not the absence of grief.  For the longest time I have been waiting for my dead husband to return and remedy my grief.  I have been waiting for my own personal Lazarus to arise and take this responsibility from my hands.

But being responsible for another person's happiness is not a definition of love. Love is far less selfish. And though Rob loved me, he was neither able nor responsible for my happiness. That rested in my own hands.  It rests there presently and no amount of wishing can diminish that truth.

Grief cannot be remedied. It is not diminished by the number of activities done, the trips made, the sacrifices accounted, the good deeds done, or the events attended. None of these make a critical difference when it comes to healing. Rather, healing is determined by the perceptions I hold regarding the relationship between Rob's death and the quality of my life.

Only I am responsible for my life. 


Collage made from pages altered by Citra Solv
(M.A. Reilly, July 2016)
Earlier today I was playing around with pages I had altered through Citra Solv and I made a collage. The main figure reminded me of Beowulf and I thought about a line by Leo Tolstoy from War and Peace when General Kutuzov says, "...there is nothing stronger than patience and time, they will do it all" (book 10, chapter 15 ). 

Patience and time. Healing requires both. Knowing I am responsible for my life is a big step. It is a big step that I will surely forget. 

Yes, forget.  

My intentions are often larger than what I can manage. A week from now, perhaps even a day and it will be as if I never wrote these words and I will need to rediscover them again.

And again.

Ahead of me are lots of rehearsals where I will remember the gift of responsibility and accept the ambiguity that accompanies it. 

I will remember and forget well before I more fully author my life.