Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

You may know that I am engaged in a book study on a private blog, with three other bloggers who also happen to be mothers of children who have died. We are reading a book by an author I love (Joyce Rupp), called "Open the Door." Joyce Rupp came to our church and led a retreat years ago, and I attended it. We studied her books in Lectionary class. I am happy to be sharing this book with such a wonderful group of women.

The reading I encountered yesterday triggered something in me, and I think it's worth noting. Of course, I noted it on our private blog, but I am going to share it here, as well, because if you are grieving, you might find yourself falling down a "rabbit hole" like this one some day, (or, as my friend Karen J. called it, a "dark alley"), and I want you to know that you are not alone. These memories and triggers lurk everywhere in plain sight, and we have to learn to live with them. But sometimes, they knock me down, and that's what happened yesterday.

The reading was fine - it was lovely, in fact - about invisible guides/guardians on our journey. It was the guided meditation that got to me.
"Sit quietly with your attention focused on the in-and-out pattern of your breath. As you breathe in, whisper 'You are with me.' As you breathe out, whisper, 'I am with you.' When you are ready, visualize a sacred dwelling place with dim lighting. See yourself standing before the holy place. On either side of you is a guardian to guide and protect you." - p. 106, Joyce Rupp, Open the Door
This is where the meditation broke down for me yesterday. I wrote,
"Something inside of me screamed, 'NO! Why should I have this protection, when Katie did not?' Irrational? Perhaps. But I can't get rid of the memory - one of the worst of my entire life - of Katie, screaming in pain one evening, 'I want to die, NOW!' My precious, beloved 12-year old girl. Where were her guardian angels, then? I am shaking as I type this. Trauma memory.

'We learned to anticipate her pain episodes after that, and we had them under control, but there were two that got ahead of us in the early days of hospice, and I will take those memories with me...of failure to protect her, of her suffering, of our agony of helplessness, waiting until the drugs kicked in, of the fear of more horrors to come, of compassion for her, and the angry certainty that NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO SUFFER LIKE THIS! I hate cancer.

"So I am throwing in the towel on this meditation for now. Maybe I'll come back to it later."
Later on, after putting the book down,  I took a walk, and it occurred to me that perhaps I was a guardian/guide for Katie during her illness. Not that I was able to prevent her suffering, but I was with her,  giving her love and care the entire time - and when I was out, Gregg was there. David was a companion for her, as were countless nurses and technicians and doctors. We had many helpers in our community, as well.

If I think of guidance and protection as "saving from harm," then no way does it work. But if I think of guidance and protection as loving presence, maybe it does. Perhaps our companions or guardians were not so much invisible, as visible. Perhaps they were not there to "protect" Katie and us, in the sense of preventing what was to come, but in the sense of loving assistance and presence.

I went to see my spiritual director yesterday afternoon, and we discussed this further. I was overwhelmed with a variety of concerns and emotions. I cried and cried until I was exhausted. Then I went home and served dinner to my husband and his parents. I went to bed tense and weeping inwardly, missing Katie, and longing for the feeling of her cheek against mine.
This morning when I arose, I was still exhausted, sad and subdued, but I had a bit more hope than I did yesterday. I decided to try and finish the meditation that I had thrown aside:
"Enter the sacred dwelling place and find an enriching sense of peace. Stay there for as long as you wish. When you leave the sacred dwelling place, renew your desire to give your entire self to the Holy One and to the journey of your growth." p. 106, Joyce Rupp, Open the Door
While I couldn't do this on my own in meditation yesterday, it did happen in my spiritual director's office. Sometimes we need the help of another, and I am thankful to have that in my spiritual director, in friends and family. Just as in the reading, the guides ARE with us. Perhaps I am more in tune with the visible guides than the invisible ones, right now.

After finishing the reading and meditation, one of the saving graces of my life appeared: a massage therapy appointment. I cannot overstate the importance of massage therapy in my grief work. Most of the time, I am not verbal about my grief; I write it, or I keep it inside, but it is there, the longing for Katie. If I don't let it out, I feel as if it calcifies in various places in my body, particularly my neck, shoulders and lower back. Massage therapy releases that brittleness, and allows me to move freely again. I used to think of it as a luxury, but it is truly an essential part of my grief therapy, a release and relief. I have the best massage therapist possible, and she lives right in our neighborhood. That is a gift from God, for sure.

So if you find yourself at the bottom of a rabbit hole, you are not alone. Perhaps a prayer, a friend, a spiritual mentor or a massage therapist can help you.

16 comments:

Andrea said...

I love you, my mom told me to read your blog today, for I myself am in a bit of rabbit hole myself. I want to skip christmas, sure we have a tree and house is decorated but I have no Christmas spirit. I am going to dig myself out...but I am right there with you!

Allegra Smith said...

We are not in charge. How I wish we could spare pain and discomfort not just to the ones we love but to anyone who suffers. That each one of us would be given the blessing of recognizing the proximity of pain and to be able to stop.

But we are not, we can only act upon experience and how much we have learned from that experience, and the pain never truly goes away at what we consider our "failure".
Now let me paint a different scenario: would Katie have been comforted with the same love and the same passion that you and David gave to her if you wouldn't have been there for any reason outside your control? Wasn't it truly your gift to offer your love to her in the form of caring for her? Weren't you, as you hope, her guardian angel although at the time you may have not realized that?

She took with her the gift of your love and a part of you. But she has also left some wonderful memories, and her love for you. The rabbit hole is black and uncertain but it is not eternal.
Your bond to her is. That is the light at the bottom of the rabbit hole. I truly believe this.

I wish I were closer to make you a cup of tea and give you a big hug.
Just a couple of days away for me to be able to do so. Hugs from here.

Mary Potts said...

I can think of nothing more horrifying and painful than hearing your precious Katie scream, "I want to die, NOW!" I know, because my sweet Erin told me the same thing. It's devastating and beyond comprehension. I feel the pain in your words. I'm sorry we have to endure this agony. And I'm comforted in the knowledge that I'm not alone down in that hole that can be so very dark. God bless us, one and all.

Karen said...

These emotional triggers create difficult days. How courageous of you to continue processing on your walk and with your director...to create a place of rest with the beautiful concept of YOU being Katie's guide. I like that very much. That's indeed the way it was. Someday we will know the WHY of it. Till then, peace my beautiful sister and companion, on the bumpy and laborious road of grief.

Cheri G. said...

Hi Karen, The rabbit hole is a place that I have wanted to go to many, many times in my life. Especially during the holidays. It is true what is said - the holidays remind of us of our loss or losses. It just can't be helped.
The challenge is to stay above ground - for our own sake and our loved ones. I am SO sorry that you had a rough day - my heart just aches for you and everyone who is suffering a loss. Thank you for your words of wisdom that so many people can benefit from, Much love,
Cheri

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you for your kind and understanding words, each one of you. I'm sending love to you.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this. Sometimes I find it hard to get past the memories of those last painful days and be able to remember the joys. The laughter. The years of love and light. I'm angry that the pain and horror of cancer is what comes to my mind first when I think of my beautiful mother.
Your tools are brilliant. I'm going to try some of them. Sending you love and peace. Thanks again for reminding me we are never alone in our grief.
xx00
Jennifer

Busy Bee Suz said...

Hugs and love to you Karen.
xo

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this Karen.
Much love,
Carin

amanda said...

The rabbit hole is always there, it's just how far down you go. When you fall, know there are many arms reaching to pull you out...

Jabacue said...

Christmas and many other occasions can be difficult for us especially when they bring back memories of our loved ones.
I have learned that going 'down the rabbit hole' is as essential as its opposite......flying high on life. Can't have one without the other. And Karen you know that those 'dark' periods don't last forever. You were brave to re-visit that difficult meditation. These sessions are not the same for everyone. We all come to them with our own experiences. There is not a magic formula to follow, other than our own path on which we stumble a few times and pick ourselves up and move ahead.
All the best.
Jim

Elizabeth said...

Love to you. So much love.

AnnDeO said...

Thank you Karen, you really are a brave girl. I enjoyed your article on the therapy dogs. Having just lost our faithful friend it was comforting to be reminded of how she blessed our lives. Also, you are correct about the photos on my blog... they are of the Disney Concert Hall in LA by Frank Gehry. I try to take the boys to someplace interesting each time we venture to SoCal to visit my sis. I'm sending you comfort and peace as you navigate this 'rabbit hole'

Kay said...

There are so many 'hard' memories. Sometimes they do bubble to the top when I least expect it. And it does take me to that dark hole. But thankfully there is a Light there when I am seeking God and His wisdom for all of 'this'. I'm glad you were able to see something new in your grief journey. Hugs and love to you, my friend.

Jennifer said...

My heart cries out with and for yours. I, too, wish you could feel Katie's cheek on your cheek. The agony of the memory of Katie screaming out in pain, wanting to die, is unimaginable.

I have been pondering your deeply moving words, particularly about what it means to protect and guide, for the past week. I, too, instinctively think of protecting as "saving from harm/preventing what is to come" ... and yet the way in which you came to define it (or suggested defining it), as "loving presence/assistance" instead, rings true (for me) in a way in which the prior definition does not. And it honors reality in way that the prior definition does not. Your definition brings life and hope and almost a glorious defiance ... in the face of despair. It is REAL, it is true.

While thinking on all of this, the image came to me of a doula (or husband, or friend, or any sort of labor assistant) in childbirth. A labor assistant is not expected to stop or prevent the laboring mother from feeling pain. That, quite simply, is not their job/role. Instead, the pain continues and increases, while the labor assistant provides an increasing vital service: s/he assists, coaches, encourages, loves, supports (emotionally, verbally, physically). And though no one can go through labor FOR her or take away her pain, the mother is relying upon those assistants to amass every resource they have, for her. To give to her.

I mean in no way to compare -- simply to offer an image.

Thank you for your words. Love to you.

Jennifer

karen gerstenberger said...

Every one of your comments here comforts me, makes me smile and/or touches my heart. Thank you for every single one.