Monthly Archives: July 2013

Sadness… a welcomed companion

Last night I had an epiphany…

I have been feeling really sad these last few days, but also feeling quite puzzled by sadness’ persistence in staying with me. One of the reasons that, I thought, explained the constant presence of tears was that I had not yet adequately grieved my cousin, Zaida’s, death. I had hoped that Saturday’s internment of my Uncle Roy’s and Zaida’s ashes would be the catalyst that would unleash the depth of grief that has been hovering just beneath the surface of my consciousness since Zaida’s untimely death last year.

And Saturday did unleash many tears. I sobbed on a friend’s shoulder, both of us clinging to each other as waves of grief washed over us. I thought that would be enough, but it was not. The tears are still so close to the surface, and sadness has remained a companion.

Then I received an email yesterday morning from my cousin (Uncle Roy’s eldest daughter) about her husband’s deteriorating health, and once again I became aware and felt the tears threaten to surface and spill over. All through the day, tears and I played tug-of-war. At one point, tears won (and thankfully I had a a safe space in one colleague’s office; she let me stay in her office until the wave of tears had ebbed). But for most of the day, I won; my tug-of-war partner was not able to overcome my determination to stay in control. By mid-afternoon, however, my control was in danger of slipping, so eventually I gave up fighting and left work early.

Last night I found myself awake beyond 10 pm despite needing to get up within the six hours to go to work and teach. I would need to teach about Scripture, about God and Jesus, but all I really wanted to do was to stay at home, to stay in bed, to cry and cry until there were no more tears. I’m actually quite amused at my behavior last night; it was almost as if part of me was a\wanting to stay awake as if that would delay the coming of new day. I didn’t want the new day to dawn because I didn’t want to stand in front of my class, pretending to be composed and confident, pretending that I was feeling okay. I don’t want to pretend; all want to do is weep.

As I lay in bed, mulling over the day, reflecting on my emotional state, a thought intruded into my consciousness. The intrusion came gently, so I was not averse to it. I recognized the feel of it; I knew it was the Holy Spirit, invited me to travel down a particular path. And what was this intrusion, what was the invitation that aroused my curiosity? Well, it was an epiphany, one that my spirit had long beein waiting for.

I realized that the depth of sadness that I am currently experiencing is grief that I have been suppressing for the last two years. I am finally grieving a friend who died two years ago. When she died, the only emotion I could access was anger. Every time I thought about her, instead of sadness, there would be this irrational anger directed at her.

But yesterday, a friend posted a link on my Facebook wall to an article about Rick Warren’s first sermon since his son’s suicide, and in that article was the key that the Holy Spirit gave me to unlock the epiphany. I had completely forgotten that anger is a natural part of the grieving process. alongside denial, anger is a natural response to news of death. what I had forgotten was that the cycle will run its course, that sadness would eventually replace anger. And that was exactly where I was in my grieving process.

For weeks now, I have been perplexed about the intensity of emotions that have been present since my Uncle’s death. I knew his death had really rattled me because now both my mom and dad are the only siblings alive in both their families. I have never been more aware, and more afraid, of my parents’ mortality as I have been these last few weeks. But I understand the intensity of the grief much better now; I am finally grieving the loss of my friend.

So now, despite the presence of sadness, despite the difficulty to cope with what I need to do work-wise and academically, I welcome sadness as a traveling companion. I am no longer afraid of her; I am no longer ashamed of my inability to control my tears. I no longer question my sanity because I am feeling more awake emotionally now than I have felt since my friend’s death more than two years ago.

I am now choosing to journey well with sadness. I will cry when I need to, I will feel down when I need to, I will allow feelings of being overwhelmed to be there and I will wait for the wave to pass without fighting it. I will embrace my vulnerable spaces, no longer trying to ignore or oppress the sadness, because being present to her means being fully present with myself. And that is exactly where I need to be.

Finally able to say goodbye

In June last year, Francesco, myself and two friends embarked on a dream holiday – a 12 night Mediterranean cruise. And on the second night of that cruise I received news that my beloved cousin had died. She was 39 years old.

The shock was almost too much to bear. My immediate reaction was, “No. It’s a mistake. She can’t have died. Maybe there’s a horrible misunderstanding.” But when I called my mom, she confirmed the terrible news. My big sister was gone, and my family urged me to stay where I was, to enjoy my holiday. They said they knew I would be there with them in spirit. I complied with their wishes, and tried to grieve while enjoying my holiday as well. It wasn’t easy, but the shock of her sudden loss helped me dissociate from my emotions so that I could carry on.

In hindsight I wonder if my missing the funeral was a good idea at all. I needed to grieve with my family, but I was too far away, and so, because of the situation, I never fully grieved, I never said goodbye properly. Even when I returned home, the emotions were gone, suppressed, so that even at the first family function I was able to attend, there was no grief, there was no emotions. I could not access my grief.

But today the tears came, and they are still running down my cheeks. I woke up this morning to the soft sound of rain falling. I walked outside, looked up and saw grey skies. And then I thought, ” This is the perfect weather for today. Nature itself is mourning with me as I go to the internment of Zaida’s and Uncle Roy’s ashes.”

We were a small group that gathered around my grandfather’s grave today: Uncle Roy’s wife, two daughters and their families, Zaida’s mom and brother and his family, two of Zaida’s closest friends, an old family friend, an uncle who facilitated the internment and Francesco and I.

And as the rain fell, so did the wall around my heart, the wall that had been built to protect me when I was far away, away from my family, unable to mourn and grieve with them. Today I cried the tears I should have cried last year. As my uncle committed the ashes to the grave, as Zaida’s brother shoveled the soft earth on to the two small boxes containing the last remains of my loved ones,  I was finally able to cry with my family, to grieve the loss with them.

I was finally able to say goodbye…

I am…

At the Writers Track, at the Amahoro Africa Gathering this year, one of the exercises that we had to do was to complete a poem template entitled “I am…” It was a timed exercise, which basically meant that one’s normal cognitive processes – such as over analyzing – would be circumvented, and then hopefully whatever is hidden inside of you would now have the opportunity to come out of the shadows into the light.

Initially I panicked, with thoughts furiously rushing around in my head and emotions churning in my gut. I think at one point Idelette, one of the facilitators, reminded us to just put our pens to paper, to stop thinking about what to write, and just start writing.

And I did just that.

And when we had to share our poems with those sitting around our tables, panic grabbed my throat and physically silenced me. I had never had such a strong physical reaction to sharing my stuff in public. I passed my poem to a friend to read out loud because I literally could not speak. And as she read my poem, tears slowly rolled down my cheeks. I felt completely exposed, vulnerable.

And then Idelette asked us to share with the larger group. In my head I thought, “NO WAY. absolutely not. There is no way. I couldn’t even do it in my small group, so there’s absolutely no way I’ll do it in the larger group. But when another friend stood to share his poem, and could not continue because he was overcome by his emotions, I thought, “I want to get up and read mine for him. I want to overcome my fear for him.” And before I knew it, I was on my feet.

Even though my head was screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” my heart was saying, “You can do this.” So, with a shaky voice, I slowly began to read, all the while feeling Idelette’s encouraging smile cheering me on. This is what I read aloud:

I AM – by Nicole

I am… confused, afraid, fearful of not finding my voice, my way.

I want… to be free from the chains of this fear that seems to rob me of breath, of living.

I feel… overwhelmed, like there is something suffocating me, silencing me.

I wonder… if I’ll ever get over this cloying, breath-robbing fear to live.

I fear… that I will allow this fear to rule, to control me, to silence me.

I hope… to breathe freely, to take the courage to step out of the shadows into the light.

I try… to please those whom I love, admire, idolize; I try too hard to be what I think others want me to be.

I believe… that there is hope. It is a belief that breathes into me breath of life, that pushes against that which suffocates me.

I dream… of a day where breathing will be more natural than feeling smothered, of the day when I wake up, not with a panic attack, but with deep cleansing breathes.

I AM… afraid, but also desperately hopeful, one who will not be overcome, a fighter, one who loves deeply and one who is pursued by a God who will not let me drown, who has not let go of me.

This poem freed me in ways I never dreamed possible – it helped me find my voice. And, in bringing some of the deepest parts of me out into the light, I found myself embracing the “me” of the moment in a way that brought healing.

So now I would like to invite you to try it for yourself. Write your “I AM” poem, using the prompts on the left side of my poem (these were on the template given to us by Claire and Idelette). Sit down and give yourself 7 minutes to write your own poem.

And my prayer for you is that this exercise will be a healing one for you, that you too will allow that which is hidden deep inside of your find its way out of the shadows into the light, that you too will find your own voice and embrace who you are in that moment.