Grief like cancer…

I started writing a post a couple of weeks ago. Until today, I had totally forgotten about it. I was on a plane from Christchurch to Wellington reflecting on death and cancer – my eyes welling up with tears having only moments before just learned of my cousin’s death to cancer. Here’s what I began writing…

Sunday 8th June 2014
I just finished reading John Green’s “The Fault of Our Stars”. I finished it late last night. If you haven’t read it, I highly and thoroughly recommend it. For those of you who have read it, you may understand just how ripped apart I feel.

Everyone wants to live.
Even cancer wants to live.
But my cousin… she died.

Yesterday in fact.

It’s a difficult thing to wake up and find your facebook newsfeed so full of pictures of your cousin who only a few days ago found out she had cancer. My immediate thought was that people were wishing her all the best for her battle. But the further I scrolled, the more I could see grief, loss and sympathy. That moment was so unreal so I called my dad to ask him what was going on. It was exactly as I had feared. My spunky cousin was gone. Cancer wanted to live, so she died.

It’s not always easy to hear and discover heartbreaking and devastating news on social media sites but as I sit here on this plane reflecting, I think maybe it’s easier to tell it. The internet isn’t a face. There are no tears on your screen, apart from the ones dripping from your own face. There are no awkward questions about how she died. There are no silly stutters as people search for those foreign words of condolence. You can shout it into the void of the internet, and you can walk away. And even better, you the condolence-giver have time to search for those foreign words.

 

I’ve experienced a few deaths in the last few months that have had some effect on my inner-person. I have cried my fair share of tears this year. It’s been both emotionally and spiritually draining. I don’t hold to much faith these days. I belong to a community of people who meet together once a month – who appreciate where I’m at in my current life circumstance and we journey along anyway. Sometimes we talk about faith stuff – God, Jesus, the like. After my cousin died, I kept coming back to thoughts about the afterlife. No one can really give you anything specific – like what’s happening now for my cousin. Where is she at? But there’s this comforting idea that she’s here making sure he babies are going to be ok before she passes on to something different. There’s the comforting idea that they’re all together – all our deceased loved ones.

Before they closed up her coffin, I, a blubbering mess, whispered one thing into her ear…
“I love you cuz – please take care of my Jojack.”

If there’s anything these past few tragedies have taught me – it’s that life is soooo much shorter than we want it to be. I want to write a whole lot more about it but I feel like John Green speaks them all for me. You should just read it. At the end of the day, we get our infinities. Lots of infinities. Maybe not as infinite as that guy over there, but we have today.

I also learned that funerals aren’t for the dead but for the living. I’ve seen a few this past year and I have often wondered whether the dead person would appreciate it as an accurate reflection of their life. But the grieving process is more than just an hour long church service and a few Hail Mary’s. It’s the gathering group who sit with my endlessly sleeping cousin and sing songs to her. It’s the band of boys who gather over a beer to share stories. It’s the grieving couple who sit and reflect on what kind of personality their miscarried child might have had.

This grief, the reflection on loss, the celebration of life – they all take shape in different ways or forms. And that’s ok. Surely.

 

 

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On grief, loss and Jojack

Up until a month ago exactly, I was pregnant…

I’ve always wanted kids and I was always excited about having them sometime in the future. However, reality tells a different story. I struggled to find any unreserved excitement. If anything, I was scared. The first 12 weeks of pregnancy seem like that for many women. For women struggling to get pregnant at all, that moment of finding out is the most exciting thing in the world, but for me (and it all happened so incredibly quickly), I was freaked out. Only a couple of days earlier, I was having a few drinks with colleagues. A few drinks turned into a few too many and then into several too many. Then suddenly, can’t eat that, can’t eat that either, don’t eat that, don’t drink that, don’t stress too much, don’t sit on the ground, don’t wander around at night, just relax, and make sure you’re taking your folic acid.

I don’t know if I can begin to describe what it’s like to miscarry a baby. I consider myself an empathetic person and I’ve journeyed alongside people who have miscarried before, but I don’t think you really know how it feels until it all falls out from inside of you and you can do nothing to stop it from happening. And then you pick it all up, hold it in your hands and you wonder what on earth went wrong. 3 days ago, you could see a healthy heartbeat and you could see tiny little Jojack and today you’re holding little Jojack in the palm of your hand. It is a dirty rush of emotions (and I mean rush). One minute I’m fine and within the hour, I’m clutching my gut in agony but I can’t tell which hurts more, my suddenly empty abdomen or my suddenly holey heart. And you’re searching for people to share your agony with but they don’t quite get it. In fact, your facebook newsfeed is overloaded with photos of recently born babies, pregnancy announcements and pictures of healthy scans. Why can’t that be Jojack?

Them tears, they flow.

Jojack is a funny name. Hubby and I had a conversation once about what we would call a child if ever we were to have one. He said Jojack as a bit of a joke. Then Jojack became more a term of endearment, a funny little person with a funny little personality, a bit geeky, a bit nerdy and a bit crazy like his/her parents (and very imaginative like his/her parents).

It makes me sad that there’ll never be another Jojack, that he’ll never live to make us laugh or smile.

There is something dramatically unfair about the way that life pans out. And believe me, I felt it. I’ve never cried so much in my life. The tears are unending. Now, four weeks later, it’s like it never even happened… like Jojack wasn’t even real. But I still weep for what could have been and I still envy mother’s who can listen to their babies cry and laugh and snore and cough and breathe. I’m halfway between excitement for my friends and general guttedness.
A large part of me wonders whether I can put myself through that again. I fear that the next pregnancy will produce the same result… more pain, more tears and some more fighting with my husband. But for now, I guess we’ll just see…

image

sidenote:
After publishing this, I was sent a reminder as to why I posted it in the first place. It’s the loneliest journey in the world. I’m inspired by the strength of women who have suffered, even to a greater extent than I with numerous miscarriages. And in fact, the same week we miscarried, we also lost a friend and fellow musician. I cannot imagine the pain if burying a 26 year old son.
In some ways I feel disrespectful speaking about something so taboo and sacred, but when I was going through it, I felt like I was grasping out in the dark chasms of both real and virtual worlds for a hand that would help me navigate what I was then experiencing.
I’m not without hope. Nor am I without self-respect. Just with a little brutal and painful honesty because that’s what connects us in the end.
🙂

Marriage Equality…

I’m cool with it.

 
It’s a very simple way of explaining things but I can’t be bothered with the debate and honestly, I think it’s a waste of time. I have gay relatives whom I love dearly so in many ways, it’s a personal thing. But on a philosophical level I’m not opposed either. If my hubby and I had been alive and met a few hundred years ago, I’m sure we’d have got a whole lot more frowns (I’m brown and he’s white). And while I know it’s completely different, the love isn’t. You can’t tell a gay person that their love for their partner isn’t real, or is second class to your own for your partner. While I understand it’s a contentious issue particularly within the faith I belong to, it just doesn’t make sense to inhibit love more than it’s already inhibited. An emotionally driven response? Perhaps so, but there’s nothing wrong with emotion sometimes :).

So yesterday was a momentous day for some of my family members and friends in New Zealand. And so I’ll raise my glass of water to celebrate with them.

L

Death, dying and fighting…

It’s been almost a year since my grandma died. Of all the grandparents I had, her life and death had the biggest effect on me. I spent two years of my almost-28-year lifespan with her. And it was one of the most significant 2 years of my life. I was completing my final year of study at Laidlaw college when grandma came to live with us. She just came and didn’t leave. I was flatting at the time but decided to move home so mum would have some help. I only had classes two days a week so I could be home to give her lunch and take her to the bathroom, etc. It was a fine balance of duties as I was working at the same time in a resthome not far from home. Most of my life consisted of looking after old folks. But there’s a beauty in it ay. I listened to stories as told by this elderly generation about days gone by living on farms, designing rockets, raising children, writing stories, creating, making, living. And some of their stories were amazing… some were very very… um… tall haha.

Grandma was no different. She would tell stories of her brothers, her children, he cousins, her sisters, her parents. She told stories about her own experiences in growing up in the islands. I spent a lot of time with grandma. A lot. And I learned a few things worth holding on to. I learned primarily that regardless of how stern she was with her 30+ grandkids, oh boy did she love us. I don’t think there was anything that gave her more joy and pride than the lot of us.
She got cold and wanted to go home, so I took her home to Samoa and stayed with her for 6 months. It was supposed to be a year post-study but we ended it on bad terms. Grandma and I were fine but there were a few other relationships that got broken and never really got healed. All of us have our own version of what happened and some of us have tried to be as honest as possible (even about our shortcomings), but pride is an awful thing and a hard thing to let go of. It’s the sufferance of many people in my family and a weakness that perhaps stems from our matriarch – the proudest of them all (not always a bad thing… but definitely not always great).

So grandma came back to NZ, and after a small bit of drama, ended up living with my parents in Wellington. Then… again, she got cold and wanted to go home. So mum took her home and stayed with her for 2 years. My younger sister came and lived with me while I was working as a youth worker (from having an entire life dedicated to caring for old folks to dedicating my life to young people lol). The 2 years ended when grandma passed away at Easter weekend last year. For years I celebrated Easter at Eastercamp with a bunch of young people  but this last year and a bit, Easter consists of remember grandma.

And I guess it’s a time for remembering other people’s grandmas too. A few weeks ago, a friend lost her grandma. And interestingly, the chapel where the funeral was in Timaru, was set up quite similarly to the place we had my grandma’s family service in Samoa. I sat in a spot with my cousins similar to where my friend sat with her cousins. Pain is one of those universal languages we all speak ay.
And last week, my great-aunt died. My cousin’s (or 2nd cousins or whatever – they’re all the same to me), lost their grandma.
One of her grandchildren is currently fighting cancer. It’s been a slow uphill battle for him. 24 and fighting cancer. What do you even do with that? And before I ditched facebook, one of the glimpses I caught of him was the desire to fight for other people once he’s won his own fight. He’s inspiring me.

I guess hope is a universal language too…

Tragedy, Sorrow & Human mortality…

A little under two years ago, I began writing this post…

A week ago, I woke up early like most people in Christchurch. I went to work, like most people in Christchurch. I may have felt the odd aftershock and paid no heed, probably like most people in Christchurch. After September 4th, those of us who didn’t leave town were struck by an air of complacency. Earthquakes, pretty much the story of every Cantabrian’s life. At around midday, I had lunch with colleagues, like most people in Christchurch. After September, life took a while to gain momentum. Our central city lost its vibrance and heart. It was really only just beginning to pick up again after the boxing day earthquake. Then last week happened. And even when it did, so few of us ran for cover… complacency had taken over.

But now, part of me has been so overwhelmed by grief and sorrow that I haven’t really been sure of what to do. Writing about it hasn’t been easy. What do you say that could possibly describe the tragedy? the loss of life? the loss of livelihood? of jobs? of family members? of homes? And what happens when you have no one to blame? The earth was doing as the earth does. It was moving.

and two years later…

It’s still hard to write about.

But we remember.

❤ Christchurch

A few odds and ends…

Considering the last post I published was October 2011, there might be more than a few odds and ends. I’ll make a list yeah?

1. I got married. Last year, I married the man of my dreams. It feels a little cliche to say that but he really is. I’ve never met a man more matching. I once heard a description of myself that went like this: “she’s laidback to the point of comatose”. Someone else said I was actually “dormant”. No no… my husband, he’s dormant. We’re not great at making decisions. We could drive round and round in circles trying to find a place to have dinner, but I’m pretty quick to get frustrated. I get so angry and just pick a place or I get really angry and make him pick a place.
But alas, he’s my dream guy. He plays the guitar, loves the blues, will eat anything, is keen to learn about culture, Samoan language, loves my family, my niece and nephew love him, he makes me laugh, he’s a total geek, he’s full of energy and loves me.

2. I took a church break. Husband and I are almost at the end of month 2 of our church break. When I decided I was going to step out, I said it wasn’t because I was losing faith, but because I was tired. I don’t like saying I’m tired of the institution because I really believe the institution works for some people. I’m not tired or fed up with the institution. I think I’m just tired. I got to that point on a Sunday morning where I was distracting people around me. My husband has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), but I have sermon ADD. Serious. I can’t pay attention and none of it sticks. I wouldn’t be able to tell you of a single sermon I listened to last year (sorry if you’re reading this and happened to speak at one of the services I was at). And as part of the music team, I felt like I only ever turned up out of my guitar/vocal playing obligations. I was told to come with a worshipful heart because I had to lead people with my worshipful heart but I had no such thing.
Taking a break is hard. It means I have to find my own space to figure out who I want to be to God and how I want our relationship to take place. That’s scary. It’s personal. No one’s preaching at me to go do something and something else. I have to find God myself. It’s hard to get disciplined and it’s hard to even start because though I’ve been in these spaces before, I have no idea what I might discover… about God, about people, about myself.

3. We got a puppy. Some people ask me whether it was Hubby’s idea, but it was both of us. Truth is, I was probably the more pushy one. The company is nice. Usually I’m at home by myself. It’s hard at the moment because she’s so incredibly dependent on us. She’s lovely though. Takes a lot of patience but she seems to love us and seems to love being loved.

Anyway, that’s all I’ll post right now. Things to do, people to see! I’ll be back though… hopefully no doubt.
I might even use this to replace facebook hehe.

x

Effects of a transitory kind…

I’ve lived in my current place for almost two years and it’s quite interesting to see how much I haven’t bothered to unpack. When my mum moved up to Wellington a couple of years ago, things had to permanently move from the place I grew up in. You know how you keep some stuff with you at your new flat and keep all your other stuff at the place you’ve always known as home? And it’s not like the place was home, it was the fact that my family was there that made it home. But when home packed up and moved away, it became a little less accessible to leave stuff there. So I packed lots of it in boxes. Most of those boxes came with me. Some sit untouched in my room. Others sit untouched in the garage.

It’s kinda like I live with this expectation that tomorrow I could be gone. And flats are a bit awkward like that. When you’re a student, you live there for a year and generally, one person stays while most of the flat disbands. And that’s not because everyone hates each other, it’s just that, that’s kind of how it is. After highschool, those of us who don’t get married super early or don’t have stable functioning families to live with, become nomads in a sense. We leave home to study, we go flatting with our friends until it turns out we don’t like them as much as we thought we did. And we’re searching aimfully. It’s not aimless at all. We aim to find something that catches us in the belonging (‘belonging’ is totally like a limb). We aim to find something that gives us hope and meaning.

So yesterday, I pretty much decided that here in this place that I live in, I’m home. So I hung up some photo frames and made the space my own. Things could disband at any time. It’s possible that Mr Rapture dude in America is wrong about October 21st. Maybe it’ll happen tomorrow. Who knows? All I know is that while I’m here, I may as well lay down some foundations. And I’m currently journeying with some people I really like. They draw reason from my grumpy rants and we’re growing. We’re trudging our way through some challenging questions about life, community and eternity.

I guess the thought for today is… maybe I should unpack more?