Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Transformation, II

When I went to Portland to hear Father Rohr speak, back in the fall of 2008, I was at a very difficult point. Katie had been dead for just over a year, and I had started to realize that she wasn't coming back, ever. A new kind of reality and grief was dawning, and it was raw and painful.

My dad had just had surgery, and he was feeling vulnerable and afraid. My mom was having difficulty with this. Their struggles were hard to watch.

I invited my niece, Andrea, and her mother-in-law (Katy) and sisters-in-law (Peggy & Libby) to go with me and hear Father Rohr. Andrea couldn't go, but the others, who are devout Catholics, came with me and my mom on the road-trip. Gregg and David stayed home and took care of my dad.
"Two universal and prime paths of transformation have always been available to every human being God has created: great love and great suffering. Only love and suffering are strong enough to break down our usual ego defenses, crush our dualistic thinking, and open us up to Mystery. They, like nothing else, exude the mysterious chemistry that can transmute us from a fear-based life to a love-based life.

"No surprise that the Christian icon of redemption is a man offering love from a crucified position…. Love and suffering are the main portals that open up the mind space and the heart space, breaking us into breadth and depth and communion."
Excerpted and adapted from “Opening the Door: Great Suffering and Great Love” from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
Father Rohr said almost these exact words on the 2nd day of his talk. These words shook me to my core.

They affected me deeply and personally then, and they still do. All I could think of at the time was that Katie and her illness had done this for me.

You may remember that at Peggy's urging, I stood in line to meet Father Rohr. I don't like to invade "celebrities'" privacy, but it felt like the right thing to do, to meet him. I stood as other people asked him to sign their books, and didn't know what I was going to say. I got nervous, and then the thought came to pull out the photo of Katie and me with our heads together - the one that Paul took of us on Andrea and Mike's wedding day.
(Thanks to Stephanie S. for this version of the photo)
I pulled out a little wallet-sized copy of it, and held it until it was my turn to speak to him. With shaking hands, I pushed the photo across the table to Father Rohr, and said, "This is who taught me to open, through love and suffering. It's my daughter, Katie, who died of cancer last year," and then I dissolved in tears. He stood up, and the tenderness he exuded is impossible to describe. He asked if he could hug me. We embraced, and I pulled myself together.

I told him that my question is, How can I remain open? How do I stay that way, and not close down and go to sleep again? He told me clearly that, once your heart is open, you cannot go back; it will not close down again.

I don't understand this, but I am trying to live into it.

Last week, I met with Katie's hospice nurse on Tuesday, and her oncologist on Friday. I am doing research for two presentations, one to a group of Ph.D. candidates in Physical Therapy, and the other for the Hope and Empowerment Event in Indianapolis. I am going back in time to recall what happened to us, how it happened, and what was available to us that made it tolerable, that helped...really, where was the presence of God in it with us? This is not what I am being asked to address, but it's what I can see in it.
We had hospice care, right here at home. Did you know that pediatric hospice care is NOT AVAILABLE to families in many parts of the country? It's not even an option for some families. I was so shocked when I learned this that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. I canNOT imagine what it would have been like to care for my dying daughter without the support of a hospice nurse, who visited our home several times a week, and was available by telephone 24/7. I am preparing to speak about this.

Interviewing Amy and Dr. Park was good, and it was difficult. It brought back sweet memories, and hard ones. It gave me resources to follow up, and things to use as I gather my thoughts and shape my words.

One of the resources Dr. Park suggested I use is the old blue binder that Seattle Children's Hospital gave to us when Katie was admitted as a patient. It contains her treatment plan, guidelines for parents and patients, what to expect and how to deal with it, and paperwork. That blue binder has been packed away in a plastic box in our loft for over a year. I forgot we even received it, let alone kept it.
Yesterday, I ventured upstairs and opened the box.
I took out the binder.
I opened it, found Katie's lab reports and pharmacy receipts, and promptly doubled over on the floor, on my knees.

I think that's what the expression, Bring her to her knees means.

And I think that is a perfect example of what Father Rohr was describing.

Loving Katie led us to accompanying her and caring for her in the midst of hell on earth. Loving her and caring for her led to suffering and surrender. Watching her die was suffering and surrender, but it was done with great love and tenderness, and we were held in great love and tenderness. Love, suffering, surrender, breaking open..."a man offering love from a crucified position."
I can see that, in working on these talks, I am going to have to go slowly, gently, and allow myself to stop and rest. It's hard terrain to walk through once. But if I want to be able to help others, I have to be willing walk through it again - at least, through my memories.

If you are suffering, I send you love and am in solidarity with you. Let us watch and see how Love appears in the spaces in our suffering; I pray that it will be very clear and make its presence known to all of us. Amen


Angela said...

Sweet Friend...sending you love and hugs...

Karen said...

no words--just tears and tears and tears. love you and praying for you.

Kay said...

I'm so glad you found your nerve and had such a meaningful moment with Father Rohr. So lovely.

When we went on hospice with Bub, it was adult hospice and they did not know what to do with us. We signed on and waited and waited and struggled to find ways to handle things by ourselves for several days without help while they did 'research' on their own (without consulting his docs, which really irked them, since they knew him already) and then fiiiinally came to us with 'a plan'. He died that night. Our child hospice experience was less than ideal but it actually was easier on us than the constant influx of people would have been over the long run (esp for him and our daughter).

Yes, you must take it slow. Walking through these things again is very difficult. Even just remembering this little bit stirs things up within me anew somehow.

Clippy Mat said...

Karen: Yes, YOUR heart is open. I can see it. You share it with everyone. Thank you.

Daisy said...

"Just tears" pretty much sums it up for me as well. ((((Karen))))


Karla said...

It sounds as though you continue to have quite a difficult road to walk. I pray for strength and healing. I comend you on going to the blue binder...I have a box that has a binder and paperwork and "must haves" for each of Sam's admissions. I have gone through bits of it, but it is far to daunting to go through much as it brings back such feelings of helplessness and fear. Sam continues to do well but cancer sure raped me of any peace of mind I took for granted before diangosis.

Gannet Girl said...

My darling Karen.


deb said...

You are so incredible.
Hugs to you, and prayers as you journey along this new path.

Maggie May said...

What an honor to read this.

Anonymous said...


Your writing is so honest, and your insights so clear. Your spiritual and devotional inquiries interest me greatly, and I have learend a great deal in reading your entries.

I've never commented before and have a heart overflowing with compassion for you, but don't know how to express it. You, David and your husband are in my prayers as you each navigate this path in your own ways. I admire you tremendously for your courage in presenting at the conference, and for doing what is necessary to prepare for it. I pray that you will be blessed in this good work of yours.

Pax et bonum

Karen B.
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Elizabeth said...

Oh, Karen.

Thank you for sharing this journey that you are on -- Katie's legacy is a mighty one.

Smileygirl said...

You are so brave and prayers are being said for your continued strength. Love you!

AnnDeO said...

Thank you for being so brave. My "training" in life has been to "turn away" to not talk about it, but my mother's death and the accident has blown me wide open. I still sometimes fight against that urge to not face it... and sometimes succumb. Slowly I am learning what you have learned and I cherish your example. Peace and good thoughts as you research and revisit.

Maggie said...

You are amazing Karen. One of the things I admire about you is your determination. You share such raw emotion with us all that it touches me in such a profound deep way...thank you.

Stephanie S. said...

You are so amazingly strong. Come out and see a Seattle U basketball game so I can finally meet you and give you a big ol' hug! Oh, and let me know if you want me to put together more pictures for you. :)

AutumnJoy said...

Your writing "brings me to my knees" flooded with memories of journeying with other children and their families in hospice as a chaplain, and in profound admiration for your taking Katie's journey an additional mile or two with faith, courage, hope and the willingness to share both her story and your transformation. YOU are amazing; Katie is proud; I am in awe and supporting you across the miles with love, thoughts and prayers. Michelle

Tracey Axnick said...

This is a beautiful post, Karen. I haven't been to your blog in awhile and I had almost forgotten how profound and moving your writing is.

Your giving spirit and wisdom have (undoubtedly) helped so many other parents who are going through (or who have gone through) the same circumstances that you and Gregg went through when you lost Katie. And that makes your ministry (for lack of a better word) a great gift and blessing to others.

The love is rippling out, and will continue to do so.

You are beautiful.

Jennifer Stumpf said...

what a comfort your post is, karen.