Sadness Is On Me, But I Am Not Sad

Senior year for our youngest has flown by. I know this is how it works. Senior year is heartbreaking, expensive, and fast as hell. I tried to keep it together while standing there watching the photographer take his senior photos. I struggled when I had to compose his senior page for the yearbook. He applied to five private colleges (University of Denver, St. Olaf, Reed, Whitman, and Skidmore), received acceptances to all of them, and then committed to attending Whitman in Washington with his brother, which gave me a measure of comfort while still making me sad. With that decision made, I designed his graduation announcements. And today I created a graduation collage for display at his high school in May. Jesus help me. It feels like the universe is trying to break me.

I would like to think all of this is preparation so I can cry myself out before the actual graduation ceremony, but I know that is a false hope. Graduation is rapidly approaching. So I went ahead and made a countdown clock to the ceremony because I need to prepare myself. As of today, we are 60 days out, which means I have 60 days to cry myself free of tears lest I end up an ugly-crying, embarrassing, Alice Cooper look-a-like at the ceremony. I don’t want to be that momma. Luke deserves better.

I have a distinct memory of a time when Luke was around six months old and woke up in the middle of the night. I remember sitting with him in a rocking chair in our living room, rocking and waiting for him to drift back off to sleep. When Joe woke up in the night, I would get so frustrated about the sleep interruption. As he was my first and I was not used to missing out on sleep, it was a struggle for me to be present when all I wanted was some damn sleep. With Luke, though, I knew it would be my last time to hold my sleeping child, so I tried to focus on the moments, to appreciate that this little person needed comfort and I was that comfort. It’s such a different feeling now as I focus on my present moments with Luke because I know he is almost finished needing me. I suppose this is what drives the sadness I am feeling. We have come full circle, Luke and I. My baby is ready to launch. And although I knew this day would come eventually and have been preparing for it since Joe’s graduation, the reality of it happening now is something I’m not sure I would ever be able to prepare for.

So, perhaps, I will go to graduation and cry like the soft, mushy person I am on the inside because this too is part of the experience. I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to stay dry-eyed for it. I have to be there in it because there are only two constants in life, growth and change. Wait. I forgot taxes. So I guess that makes three constants. Growth. Change. Taxes.

I found this on Facebook the other day and it offers a different perspective of sadness:

So I am recognizing now that sadness is upon me. It doesn’t have to live here. It’s just here now. It doesn’t define me. I am not a sad person. I am a happy person with sad moments. And it’s okay to be sad sometimes. We’re meant to be sad sometimes. It means we’re fully experiencing what life offers. Sometimes we want it to be offering lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows, and it instead presents us with pain, overwhelm, and darkness. That is when we need to remember that if the sadness can be upon us, so too can the rainbows. I have 60 days to figure out how to find those rainbow-covered unicorns that hand out lollipops. If I can’t find one, maybe I’ll just have to become one. I’m sure the other parents would appreciate a lollipop at graduation. I think they’ve earned at least that.

Life Is Often Found In What We Are Trying To Avoid

Someone does not want to feel their feelings

I have a confession. Every time I take a flight, as we’re taking off I make peace with my life. I think about how grateful I am for the beautiful, fortunate journey I’ve taken thus far and I think about how much I love and appreciate those who have earned my confidence. I suppose it’s the equivalent of a little prayer of thanks because you just never know what might happen. I am not fearful of flying but, like most people my age, I’ve seen my fair share of air disasters. LOST remains one of my favorite tv series ever, so I am acutely aware of airplane crashes. Even with all the uneventful air travel I’ve enjoyed, the thought of plummeting from 30k feet crosses my mind. Call it fatalistic. Call it macabre. Just don’t let anyone say of me that I was ungrateful for this life or that I was unaware my life, like all lives, had an expiration date.

This morning as our flight was taxiing out of PDX, I did my usual rundown and rehashing and the tears clouded my eyes as they always do when I think about my life and loves. And as I was flooded with the gratitude of a full heart, I reflected on how emotion adverse we humans are. We don’t want to be sad or lonely or frustrated or ashamed and we will do almost anything to avoid feeling uncomfortable. We seek only positive, happy, or joyful experiences. In the absence of those feelings, we will settle for zero feeling because neutral is better than pain. This is why we numb ourselves with all the usual vices, alcohol, drugs, busyness, food, gambling, video games, whatever it takes to move us to a place where we can forget our emotions.

There is something, though, to the exhortation of therapists to feel your feelings. Our emotions are what give our lives life. They comprise the sum total of the human experience. Barring any mental hardwiring that makes experiencing darker emotions unbearable, feeling our feelings is the most important thing we can do to live our lives fully and completely. Is it easy? No. It isn’t. But feelings are the only constant in life. The goosebumps you get when your favorite song comes on the radio, the rapid beating of your heart with anxiety before a presentation, the tears that fall when you lose someone or something precious, the butterflies in your stomach when you realize the person you like likes you back, they are everything.

I’ve long been impressed by Buddhists who shun alcohol and drugs because they alter our ability to stay aware and present. It takes courage to live with ourselves 100% of the time because we are not always likable and our actions are not always honorable. Numbing makes the most horrifying parts of our life travels palatable. Choosing not to numb means we must suffer. We must sit with our darkness and our light. We must feel. I honor Buddhists (and any other individual or group) who choose to say yes to all of life. I’d like to say I could be that brave throughout my entire human experience, but I am not a Sith and am therefore unable to deal in absolutes. I like to keep all options on the table. Still, though, I think their path is probably the most honest way to experience life.

So, I take my therapist’s advice and feel my feelings as much and as often as possible. The anxiety, the heartbreak, the love, the anger, the boredom, the joy, the stress, the fear, it’s all necessary. So if you see my eyes tear up when I am sitting on a flight about to take off (or at any other time, really), no need to ask me it everything is all right. It is. I’m just feeling my feelings, grateful for the opportunity to do so.

The Red Shirt Nation

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~Albert Einstein

Another mass shooting in the news today, this one in Florida. There are no words to describe my sadness, disgust, anger, and frustration over this never-ending story. One stupid man killed four people before giving himself up to authorities. Why do we as a country put up with this? Is it really because we believe the right to own a gun supercedes the right to feel safe moving about in our society, to go grocery shopping, to attend school, to see a film or concert without worrying it might be the last thing we do? Is it really because we think this is a “mental health” issue and not a gun issue at all? I think it’s fair also to say that anyone who would arm up and go kill other people has some mental trouble. But I don’t think you can claim this person was insane when he was sane enough to put on body armor before cowardly murdering unarmed people, including a mother and her infant child who was found dead in her arms. An eleven year old girl was shot multiple times and is expected to survive, but you can only imagine what this will do to her mental well being. The Florida guy claimed he was on methamphetamines. Being hopped up on drugs might be another explanation for his murderous shooting spree. But the bottom line is this keeps happening because as a nation we don’t seem to care about it. Mass shootings and gun deaths are just part of what we get as part of our Freedom Package in this country. You’re free to own as many guns and as much ammunition as you want. You’re also free to be gunned down at any point by a fellow citizen. Brilliant.

I scrolled past fourteen news stories on the CNN app, including one about how Tom Brady had Covid at one point (yawn), before finding the report about this shooting. We are so used to this shit that it’s hardly news anymore. It’s simply what is. We see the story and there is no surprise, shock, or outrage. We just shrug. And half the population says, “Well, it’s just a mental health issue,” while the other half of the populations says, “I’d like there to be some change around this, but we can’t get by the gun lobby so I guess we’re stuck.” Stuck, indeed.

2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for gun violence yet. I’m sure the reasons for this are myriad and complicated. Can we do better? I’d like to say yes, but so far we can’t get our spineless leaders in Congress to work together to make any changes (including something like putting more money towards mental health care) that might start to put a dent in these endless tragedies.

So, I’m left with this conclusion. As a nation, we are sick. Only a sick population would believe that there is not one good goddamned thing we can do to ameliorate this preponderance of gun violence. Only a sick population would accept that we or someone we love might be next. Only a sick population would decide putting kindergarteners through active shooter drills makes more sense than trying to reduce gun deaths. We are seriously ill. We are the only ones who can make us better. We are simply too fucked up to do it.

The Next Step Is A Doozy

“You don’t need to take all of the steps. Only the next one.”

For thirteen years, we’ve lived with a beautiful, anxious, determined, crazy, personality-plus border collie. We have adored her 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time we were wondering what planet she came from and pondering how to deal with her quirks. Dogs are something else. They are furry animals. Animals. And you let them live in your home and sleep in your bedroom. You buy them food and put them on ropes and walk them around outside. You travel with them. They become part of your people family, but they are still animals at the end of the day. Short-lived animals at that. It took us about ten years to understand our border collie, and now we’re on the precipice of losing our sweet baby girl. It’s been a rewarding (and now heartbreaking) journey.

We’ve never had one day in our home without a dog, so when we learned Ruby is losing kidney function we decided it was time to get a second dog that at some point will become our only dog. This is how Ruby came to us. Buddy was our senior dog who began having seizures and other problems. We saw his suffering and knew he wasn’t long for this world, so we selfishly got a puppy to ease our sadness around his transition. A funny thing happened when Ruby came along, though. Buddy (who Luke said was “on death’s doorstep”) suddenly perked up. He initially wasn’t thrilled to have Ruby around, but soon enough they settled into an arrangement. As time went on, Buddy became a bit more active. He played. It’s as if he saw the new dog and said to us, “Hey, hey, hey. I see what you’re doing here. Not so fast. I’m not done yet.” Luke said Buddy “must have drank from the Holy Grail” because he lived a year beyond the seizure we thought would be his end. I suppose now we are thinking that a new puppy might also give Ruby a new leash on life in her final months.

So today we did a thing. We made a commitment to purchase our next, greatest furry family member. Not a replacement for Ruby, as there will never be another dog like her, but a successor. We will be getting a BHT (black-headed tri-color) Corgi from an AKC breeder in Utah before the end of September. When we pick him up, he will be 8 weeks old. He will have been socialized with his five littermates and the breeder’s children, other dogs and pets, and farm animals. He will be cute but he will not look like the dog he will eventually become. He will be an energetic, active, ball of shedding fluff that will keep us awake at night for a while and keep us on our toes for years. We don’t know who this new family member will be or what role he will fill in our family unit, but we know he will bring new life into our home and shake us up. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting as hell. It’a a big commitment, but our kids are grown and we’re ready to experience some youthful energy again.

So, without further ado, meet our future family member, Loki.

He has a seven on his head, so we’re thinking he will be Loki Seven.

Maybe I’ll Come Back As A Tree

IMG_6482This week has been another lesson in the first Buddhist Noble Truth…life is suffering. Last Saturday we learned that we lost a friend unexpectedly and far too young. I was barely at acceptance of that heartbreaking reality check when the shooting at the STEM school happened, directly affecting several friends with children who attend that school. Of course, this came less than a month since the day that all Denver-area students were forced to stay home when a woman flew to Colorado and purchased a pump-action shotgun with the intention of carrying out a Columbine-style mass shooting as our community was preparing for the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, which also directly affected people I know. And then yesterday I spent part of my day at a memorial service and reception for a family member. The precariousness of life, and our need to live in the now (and hopefully zen) moment, pervaded my every thought this week.

This week also precipitated meaningful conversations between my husband and I. We’ve discussed additional life insurance, funeral plans, urns, wills, and making the most of our time on this rotating sphere. He and I are on the same page about most things in life, and this holds true with our thoughts about death. We don’t want to be buried or have our ashes stored in a box or decorative vase in someone’s home. We don’t want a traditional funeral.

Yesterday we were in the car on our way to the interment when we started discussing urns.

“I think I will get a crazy, fun urn for my ashes, like Carrie Fisher did.”

In case you weren’t aware, Carrie Fisher had her ashes placed in a large, Prozac-pill-shaped urn. Cheeky and appropriate for her, I admired her bold choice.

“Maybe I will make a box for my ashes? It will give me a reason to learn tongue-in-groove joints,” Steve mused.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like the guys at the woodworking awards on the Parks and Rec episode who were pictured in memoriam with the caskets they built for themselves.”

“Exaaaaactly,” Steve replied.

“I just don’t want you guys spending money on an urn I wouldn’t be caught dead in. I need to find something that suits me that you can carry me around in until you dump me wherever you decide to unload me. If you keep me around the house, I will come back and haunt you, I swear.”

Later, a friend told us he plans to be put in a Cafe du Monde chickory coffee can. Seems perfectly reasonable and cost effective to me.

This morning, morbid as it sounds, I did a search for funeral urns. Actually, the Google search entry was “crazy fun funeral urns,” and it turns out I wasn’t the first person to search those terms, which gives me hope that I am not the only weirdo out there.

One of the results from the search was for this biodegradable urn by Bios. This urn has a place to hold ashes and then a separate area with a tree seed and the medium to grow said seed. While not particularly crazy or fun, this urn does something more important than hold ashes. This urn gives back. It creates something from nothing, life from death. And it leaves no waste. That’s a win/win in my book. Reflecting on my personality, wishes, and thoughts about death and the circle of life, this might be the most suitable urn for me.

Oddly enough, this search for urns has brought me a measure of peace in an otherwise emotionally difficult week. I told Steve he is not to hold a funeral or memorial service for me, but if he and the boys would like to host a party in my honor that would be marvelous. Hopefully it would involve friends, family, flowers (no lilies, please), food (none of it gluten free), and include a toast to my memory carried out with a Polish vodka shot for all. Now that I’ve shared this here, you’re all honor bound to ensure he carries out my wishes.

Life is suffering. There is physical and emotional pain, aging, and death. Yes. This week has been rough, but that’s what life is, a struggle to grow and persevere despite the inevitable, to leave a mark no matter how ephemeral. I think I will buy one of these urns. There’s something about going to seed that germinates hope where sadness once took root. Maybe someday I’ll come back as a tree, reaching for the sun, stubbornly continuing my growth.