Last evening, as I finished reading my Year Three, Chapter 6, EfM lesson, this week known as, On the Eve of the Councils (a most heavy and tedious chapter on the subject of Christology and the Trinitarian question as it was addressed at the end of the first century; and one that reminded me of why I never took many classes in philosophy during my college years) I glanced around me and took in the faces of the happy, carefree diners that made up the crowd in the bar area of McCormick and Schimcks. I like to go there each Thursday evening, have the $2.95 cheeseburger and occasionally a glass of wine from their Happy Hour menu, relax, unwind and go over my lesson one last time before class which begins right next door at 7:00PM. But last night, my mind (as it is often prone to do when I observe others having fun), wandered down that old familiar “I- miss-Ashley-so-badly-I-could-cry-right-here-in-this-restaurant” road and suddenly the following words filled my head…
“Will the year ever come, where there is a week, that has a day in it that I don’t ache for at least a moment just like I did the instant I heard you were gone?”
I did go ahead and cry. And as I did, I grabbed a pen and wrote the words down because they seemed to express so powerfully, the fact that years can go by but that pain, that sadness still has a way of flaring up or resurfacing with the same intensity that it had originally. Anywhere, anytime…I never know. Again, I am reminded of how different I am, or rather feel that I am, from the rest of the world around me. As I gather up my things, pay my check and walk through the still, dark, maze that is the pathway from the restaurant to my classroom inside the beautiful, old, gothic, All Saints church in Pasadena, I find comfort in the soft glow emanating from the classroom and acceptance from the friends inside. I breath easier now and settle down into the rhythm the class naturally takes week after week, year after year.
During our break someone mentions what a wonderful service we had last Sunday which was All Saints Sunday. It was said that Ed Bacon, our rector, preached a wonderful sermon and a chamber ensemble orchestra preformed the Requiem Mass, “Lux Aeterna”. My spirits fell as I began to realize what I had missed by being out of town last weekend, but I made a mental note to go on-line and listen to the sermon in the morning.
This morning I found and listened to Ed Bacon’s All Saints Sunday sermon entitled, “Life is Changed, Not Ended”. It didn’t take me long to know that God had given me this message as a gift. Once again, He led me to the place I needed to be. After I listened, I printed the sermon and read it again and again. He quotes excerpts from several sermons by another pastor named Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin who lost a son at the age of 24 in a tragic car accident. I immediately found comfort in the first of those quotes when he preached, “When the waves closed over my son’s car sinking in the Boston Harbor, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.” And suddenly I realized that would apply in our case too, that surely then God’s heart must have already been aching by the time I received the news that Ashley had died.
Dr. Coffin went on to say that, “The trick is not to pray to God to rid you of your pain, but to ask for grace to improve the quality of your suffering.” Coffin stated that for him the improvement in the quality of his suffering helped him to see that Albert Camus had it right when he wrote, “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in my heart an invincible summer.” And that he learned to say with Nietzsche, “If it doesn’t kill me, it will make me stronger.” Those are all gifts from God. Gifts given and meant to sustain us, to support us, not to protect us. “Scripture is not around for anyone’s protection,” Coffin says, “just for everyone’s unending support.” What a perfect response or answer to the age old question of, how could God let something like this happen to me or to him or to her?
So Rev. Bacon goes on to suggest that we might pray in our own words something like this, “God, please take the chaos of my life, the jumbled feelings, the grief, the loss, the confusion, the disappointments, and failures and transform it all into love. Let me see and feel the love in my life, not the fear.” And for me Lord, please “fill the hollow in my heart with joy that can absorb the sorrow; with hope that transcends the despair and love that joins all mortal and immortal life, so that I may do as all the saints would have me to do; fight the good fight, endure unto the end” and by Your side Lord, live to stand victorious in the midst of any week or year, ache or tear that falls. In God’s name….Amen
That damnable month is here! October. Every year that passes I think to myself on some childlike level that maybe this time I can stop it. Maybe this year I can thwart October’s attempt to arrive. This year someone who rules the world somewhere will announce that due to extreme and unbearable sadness, October has been cancelled. But given that I have not yet managed to do that, I find I am faced instead with thinking each year, of ways to deal with it.
I recently ran across something that helped me to cope with the overwhelming sense of loss and “The Great Sadness” that inevitably comes to rest on my shoulders each October. It was the notion that perhaps when someone leaves this earth and passes on to their Heavenly home, they get to have what they call a Heavenly Birthday on each anniversary of that passing. A celebration maybe, a huge blow-out with all the best that Heaven can arrange. Suddenly, I’m liking that a little as I start to imagine what kind of party Ashley would be having. My mother would be there and my Dad and her Dad now too. My little brother even, whom I never got to meet. She and Audrey Hepburn would go shopping beforehand to pick out fabulous outfits because at the party Patrick Swayze will be dancing with Ashley now instead of Jennifer Grey. The menu will be hers for the choosing and there will be a little bit of everything she loves because calories don’t exist. The swag bags given out to all in attendance will be filled with Mac make up, Kate Spade purses and shoes, Skittles, Ugg boots and DVD’s of every season of Sex in the City and Little House on the Prairie. When it comes time for karaoke she will make the angels envious with her amazing and glorious voice as she sings a remarkable Cher-like rendition of “I’ve Got You Babe” to offically welcome Steve Jobs and help put him at ease.
Dosen’t that sound like a fantastic birthday party if ever she could have dreamed one up? It makes me smile just to picture it. It is important to me to think of the afterlife in terms and ways such as this. No one I know of can ever tell me I’m wrong about it either. It’s what gets me spiritually through the day or “the Month”. Because right now, for us still here on earth missing you Ashley, it still doesn’t make any sense..our losing you. Prehaps you are able to see it all now and know and understand what we find so senseless and needless and painful in our lives. I hope your birthday buddy Steve Jobs was right when he said,
"It is impossible to connect the dots of our lives looking forward, only looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something…guts, destiny, life, karma, whatever… because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path and that will make all the difference."
May the belief that all our dots will be connected someday..each of us and with yours again in majesty and glory and for eternity sustain us and keep us. Happy 6th Heavenly Birthday Ashley. We love you up to the sky!
Lately, I have been enriched and empowered by the reading of several excellent books. Over the course of time, I hope to share some of the most moving and meaningful insights they have offered. I also intend to revamp the look and feel of this site soon to include other resources and information such as a listing of books I feel have made a difference in my life and might likewise be useful to others. But for now, I will just tell you that the two books that have truly meant the most and actually been life changing for me lately are “Anam Cara - A Book of Celtic Wisdom”, by John O’Donohue and “A Hidden Wholeness” by Parker J. Palmer.
You are familiar, I am sure, with the feeling you get when something just jumps right out of the page and speaks directly to your soul. You feel it physically almost as if you were sort of punched in the solar plexus. Even as your breath is taken away, goose bumps begin to cover your body and it all happens in an instant. You know what I mean, right? It is as though the words are a song, and you alone have recognized the tune.
Then what do you do? Well, if you are anything like me, you grab your highlighter and your pen to mark that line and make additional notes. You don’t ever want to forget that passage and how your soul felt when it first heard it. And pretty soon, that special book is annotated, highlighted, dogeared, and sleeping right next to you in the bed at night!
And so it was for me with the books I just mentioned. As a priest friend of mine said of one of them, I just drank them in!! I lean a little toward the Anam Cara as the absolute number one and I will definitely go into it with you down the road but today I want to mention something from the other one in hopes that it may resonate with you in the same way it did me because it deals with devastation.
Thomas Merton (one of my favorite spiritual masters) has said that, “there is in all things…a hidden wholeness” but for those of us who have suffered a painful loss, this may seem like wishful thinking, says the book. Boy, I can sure identify with that!! It seems to me that almost everyday I am reminded of the fact that I am no longer “whole”. I find myself jealous of people who are as I am sure that I will never experience that feeling again. But the book goes on to say the following as it relates the author’s experience of revisiting his favorite wilderness area for the first time after a raging fire….
"I was heartbroken by the ruin and wondered whether I wanted to return. And yet on each visit since, I have been astonished to see how nature uses devastation to stimulate new growth, slowly but persistently healing her own wounds.
Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness — mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
So I am asking you to embrace your brokenness; think of nature and how new growth follows devastation and see how it can do just that with you. Find your seedbed for new life. No, you won’t ever be the same but the new you will be given new gifts, new goals and a new path to follow as you find and use them. Try to honor the new you and as you do so, may you be blessed and filled with love and kindness.
And yes, that is a bit of a double entendre! I meant you the reader (since it has been so long since I have posted anything new) and you, Ashley!!! But a recent experience was a wake-up call for me and I knew I had to share it….So here goes!!
As I was busy trying to get my thoughts together for a new brochure I was writing for International Cruise Victims, I was directed to a website for a radio talk-show called Cruise Radio. I was intending to listen to a pod-cast on the site detailing several safety tips for those planning to take a cruise vacation. Great idea, since that is exactly what my brochure will be outlining as well.
I go on the site, see where I am to click to hear the pod-cast and begin listening. I am listening to Miami based attorney Jim Walker talking to the hosts of the program and suddenly my eyes land on some text there on the site which says that this one certain cellular provider now offers cruise ship cell service. All you have to do is call them and set up the service and you will be able to have your phone work while on your cruise ship!! Well, isn’t that a great idea, I thought to myself. I have never heard about this until now. Suddenly, I begin to think about the true significance of this and out of no where, I have the breath knocked out of me by this cosmic 2 x 4!! It’s like the universe needed to get my attention in a big way and it worked. As though a veil was being lifted from my eyes, it dawned on me that this one thing could have saved Ashley’s life. I began to tremble as I thought about the fact that she could have just grabbed her cell phone and called me or one of her brothers or best friends to say that she wanted off the ship because she had had a fight with her boyfriend or that she didn’t feel well and was scared or that she needed help. What if….if only….damn it!! That old voice of self-recrimination is still alive and well.
I made it through to the end of Jim’s interview somehow and then quickly picked up the phone to call the cellular provider to ask a few questions about this coverage and while I was on hold, the tears came. I tried so hard to stop them, make them go away, but the harder I tried the more upset I got and the more determined they seemed to be. I tried to swallow the huge lump in my throat and gather my wits about me by telling myself that I mustn’t be crying when the sales person comes on line. She will think you are a crazy lady!!! So I’m trying and wiping my eyes when suddenly the representative comes on and says in a cheerful voice, “Hello and welcome, how may I help you? My name is ASHLEY!”
Oh dear God, please don’t do this to me, I thought. I don’t need this kind of test!! But there wasn’t time for much more thinking than that; I had to speak to her. And somehow with a tiny little, weak and sniffly voice I began to ask her about the details of the cruise ship service plan. Finally, the call was over and I just began to sob. I kept thinking of how long it had been since I had had a day like this. Remember, I used to measure my good days by defining them as one I got all the way through without crying? Oh, I couldn’t stop. But eventually a realization came to me.
It may or may not have saved Ashley’s life, this phone service, but it definitely is important information. Now, she or the Universe itself wants me to do something with it. It hits me….get the word out there!! Put that in your brochure, Jamie. Let it save someones life NOW!
So it will now be front and center in the ICV brochure which is coming soon and I have no doubt that that is just as Ashley intended. I love hearing from you sweet baby, but Oh, how loudly you and/or the Universe speak sometimes…is it wrong to say that occasionally, a whisper would do!!
The training I went through last weekend was one of the most intense and yet wonderfully moving experiences I have had in the longest time. I am talking about the bereavement facilitator training I mentioned in my last post. That 8 hours a day, two day training means I am now officially certified (no, I didn’t say certifiable:) to facilitate a bereavement group. I’m actually embarrassed to admit it but that was my very first experience with group. I have certainly been in therapy, but in one-on-one private sessions and now, I can’t say enough positives about group. The two days were filled with massive armloads of sharing, caring, compassion, support and laughter through tears; one of my favorite emotions (as Dolly Parton said in “Steel Magnolias”). There were ten of us in the class and two facilitators. Out of that group there were four of us who had lost a child. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t alone in my grief. There was a husband and wife in the group who lost their 21 year old daughter in a car accident; a mom who came home one day to find her only child had hung herself at age 14; another mom whose only son told her one afternoon that he would be back soon as he left to go on a run with his friends, but ended up collapsing and dying of heat stroke; and then of course Ashley’s story. There was a woman who lost her husband and shortly thereafter her house burned to the ground taking everything she had with it. Another young woman spent three months in Italy helping her mother in her final days. Still another 3 women worked as counselors or therapists with low-income clients and finally one woman whose story touched us all. Let’s call her Joan. She is an RN and works for an agency that serves the homeless and tries to get them back on their feet. One day a woman came to her whose teen aged daughter had been taken away from her and she was glad. She said her daughter was too much trouble and she was glad her daughter was gone. When Joan said she was sure she didn’t really mean that her reply was certain that she did….she was dead to her now she swore. Then Joan said to the woman in a soft and loving voice, “Well, I realize that children and our relationship with them can sometimes be difficult, so why don’t I look in on your daughter and make sure she’s safe for awhile and why don’t I love her for you until you feel like you can again.” Well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place after that.
I sure hope that Heaven has someone like Joan who wraps our children in their arms as soon as they get there and promises them that they will look after them and love them until we can be there with them to do it again. Don’t you?
well, there’s really no good excuse!! I am finding that my time is taken up lately with many new and different, and yes, worth while projects, but this blog is certainly one too. And in keeping with that (among other things) I am taking a course this Friday and Saturday which will enable me to be a certified bereavment facilitator. It is a comprehensive training program that will provide insight, knowledge, and hands-on classroom experience which will help me to develop the skills necessary to interact with the breaved and help facilitate their grief. A friend of mine who has already taken the course says that I should be prepared to have old issues resurface!!! I had to laugh to myself as I thought, why should that day be any different. I certainly still have those days I refer to as my M&M days (the ones where the coating that surrounds and protects me is as thin as that of an M&M and as easily shattered). But regardless, I am looking forward to the training and I promise to post how it goes.
I am also really enjoying (but feeling loaded down with homework, for the first time in oh…..um…a few years, let’s say) my class in Theology which I am taking through my church. It is called Education for Ministry (sounds much more “Bible Study” like than it is). This is an Episcopal seminary program which takes four years to complete and is similar, material wise, to an actual seminary education, except you aren’t a priest at the end. What am I going to do with that, you are probably saying to yourself, right along with me, because at this point, I haven’t a clue. I just know that it is something I have wanted to do for years (since my Aunt did it way back in the 80’s) as well as something I feel led to do. It will take me where it takes me…..God will know even though I don’t.
I am also busy brushing up on my speaking skills since joining a Toastmasters Club last September. Even though I used to teach speech and theater, this has become a useful and enjoyable tool for my personal growth and “re-invention.” I highly recommend it to all. I hope to improve upon my Travel and Cruise Line Safety and Security presentation by way of my Toastmasters speeches. I did win best speaker the night I did my first speech on Cruise safety, so that’s a good start. I plan to recreate the speech (hopefully with improvments) and post it on YouTube. I will let you know when that happens so you can alert anyone you know that is interested in cruise safety.
So….yes, life is busy but …this too is a committment and one I am passionate about, so I promise to do a better job of things here. Until the next time…….Big Hugs, Jamie
It always amazes me when I read a comment posted on Ashley’s page or after an airing of the 48 Hours Mystery about her death that is uncaring and insensitive. It just makes you wonder what people are thinking when they throw things like that out into cyberspace for all the world to see, including the family of the victim. You would think that after 4 1/2 years maybe I would have built up some sort of immunity to those harsh comments but no, I really haven’t. And then today, I was looking for something on YouTube, totally off the subject of Ashley when I decided to type her name in the search field and, lo and behold, Ashely Barnett popped right up! So of course I clicked on it and there are several clips posted from her “48 Hours Mystery….Dark Voyage” on there. Even though it wasn’t bad or negative, it still just took my breath away to see her there and all the views and all the posts accompanying it.
This really brings it all home to me that we are living in a different age now. One with technology and a firestorm of information coming at you from all directions. The more we share, the more open we are, the more vulnerable we become. There was a day when this kind of assault would never reach us but that day is gone. So while we are sometimes thrilled by the new connections we make and the swiftness of the information highway travel, we struggle to find new suits of armor now to protect us like never before. There are firewalls and anti-virus protectors for our computers but where is the protection for a mother’s heart and soul? Perhaps it will come dressed simply as compassion. A dream of mine, I guess!!
I have this wonderful friend named Debbie. She lives in NY. Staten Island to be exact. She and I and many who may be reading this have something in common, we have lost a child. Debbie lost her teenage son about a year before I lost Ashley. His name was Joey and he died as a result of his injuries during a car accident. That common loss was the thing that brought us together. Debbie thrives on the paranormal world. In fact, she was on an episode of ”Maury” today as a professional paranormal investigator. Her big thing is EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon. This is the belief that the voice of spirits may be heard if recorded and then played back. Sort of like the movie, “White Noise”. Whereas you or I may not believe in such a thing and I’m not here to judge the validity of the practice either, but Debbie really does get into it. I admit I tried it, as I would imagine most grieving, desperate mothers would but I never felt any real sense of contact the way she does. But the most important thing of all here is the friendship that grew out of this crazy beginning. Debbie always says to me when we discuss what life feels like for us, “We’re screwed.” I always agree. We are. Now, mind you, we always laugh about this in a sort of why-bother-believing-it-might-ever-be-anything-else sort of way. In a we’re-stuck-and-there’s-nothing-anyone-can-do-about-it sort of way. We even laugh about how death doesn’t scare us anymore. If someone or something were to threaten to kill us, well, we would say that they better come up with something worse than that, cause death we don’t mind. Well that threatening something has come to Debbie in the form of pyogenes staph pneumonia. Apparently Jim Henson of the Muppets died of it within 12 hours; it’s a killer, very aggressive. She is literally barely hanging on. There are many, many people praying for her around the clock, I among them and I ask that you might do the same if you are the praying or spiritual sort.
I just think that this case is a little different from most people who need your prayers of healing and strength. This is how I have finally come to see it…..she is going to have to fight like a tiger to stay alive, does she really want to? I’m not sure she doesn’t want to give up and just go be with Joey. Now she has a daughter who is a senior in high school and needs her desperately as do the rest of her family and friends but the battle is Debbie’s and Debbie’s alone. Fight to live and come back to us or let go and be with Joey. Few people understand what a battle and what a fierce decision that would be, so here’s how I have prayed. I’ve prayed to God, but mostly to Joey that after a nice visit with her, he might convince her that where she belongs is back here with us. Her value is here and it is great. She would be sorely missed!!!
Please join me in asking Joey to remind his mom that her days on earth are not done. That she is greatly loved and needed here. That’s who holds the power. Wouldn’t you say?
How do you think you fared? If you were anything at all like me, you probably had at least one or two moments or melt downs. I had several and they all occurred after the festivities were done. First, and apparently meant to set the stage for further dramatic developments, I had a vivid and disturbing dream. I dreamed that my entire family was on holiday somewhere resort like. My father included. (All of my sons and I had actually spoken to him on New Years day and discussed openly the painful struggle involved in calling him and talking to him since the onset of dementia and his rapidly increasing frailty now days) In the dream Ashley suddenly appeared and stepped right up to him, so strong and in charge was she as she said to him, “Come on Grandaddy, I know you need to go to the restroom, so let me get you up to go.” As she tried to do this, I jumped in and took over because it didn’t appear that Ashley was going to be able to support him physically, so I did. When I couldn’t shake the dream the next morning and kept thinking about it, I repeated it to my friend Susan, who I think is a wonderful interpreter of dreams. She said that right away her first thought was that Ashley had come for my dad and I intervened. That interpretation left me speechless because of the way it instantly resonated with me. It made perfect sense. She had loved my father, and would certainly be there to help him cross over, no doubt. In one sense it was comforting and in yet another so sad. The rest of the day I reflected on the dream and the possible interpretation and thus the stage was set for the events that followed. As I went about the routine tasks at hand like cleaning and laundry I hung up a pair of blue jeans I had just washed for the first time to dry instead of putting them in the dryer in hopes they wouldn’t shrink. I hung them over the closet door in my bedroom and left them to dry. Later I went in my room again for something else and noticed the jeans hanging there. I very casually reached over to smooth out a wrinkle in one of the legs when suddenly a “memory wave” came out of nowhere and could have knocked me off my feet. Instantly tears flooded my eyes and fell on my quivering cheeks and lips as I remembered so vividly the time that I thought I was being so helpful by taking a load of Ashley’s laundry out of the washer and putting it into the dryer. What I didn’t know was that the load contained a pair of jeans that were really expensive that she wanted to air dry. When she came home she was so upset because I had ruined her new jeans. I just never thought she wouldn’t want them to go in the dryer. I’m so sorry Ashley, I would do it all so differently now, if I had the chance to do it over, I promise!!! That old promise, how many times have we found ourselves begging for that one??? Countless, right? Later that evening I thought I might practice a little escapism by watching the newly released DVD of the first season of “Glee” and of course so strongly reminisent was it of the show choir in which Ashley had so lovingly and brillantly performed all the way through high school, that I was once again knocked senseless by “the wave.” All I had to do was barely blurr my eyes and I could perfectly see Ashley on that stage, dancing and singing her little heart out. Damn, she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket but she sure looked great up there, selling the heck out of whatever song they were performing. Then as all three episodes, the dream, the jeans and the choir, came rushing back in on top of me, I feared drowning once again. I could feel that all-to-familiar heaviness, the difficulty in breathing, the immeasurable weight pulling me down. It would be so easy to give in to it, to stop struggling against it and let it take me. That would require nothing. The opposite fight is the one that requires strenght and determination. The courage needed to resist that pressure is what we all have to keep finding; time and time again. I don’t think it ever gets easier, it’s just that each time we resurface after being pulled under we do so with a little bigger breath of air that will help us fight a little longer this next time to stay on top. Our muscles are getting used to the workout and thus stronger each time. It’s not getting easier, we are just getting better and stronger for the fight.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Well, we know we’re not crazy, right? Because we know this is going to happen over and over again and the results are always THE SAME! Memories, emotions, events and the likes knock us to our knees; we are then so heavily wrapped in sorrow and sadness that the world breaks away and disappears beneath us, but somehow, from somewhere, like a lifeline we reach out and grab the strength and courage we need to pull ourselves up and out of the depths, only this time we’re stronger and filled with resolve that we will go further for longer now with the ground back under us. It is my pray that this year will bring even more healing and courage and strenght to each of us than we ever thought possible. May it be so!! God Bless.
Maybe I’ll just mention in print that I’m having a bad day. I know they are bound to happen especially at this time of year, but they do manage to somehow just sneak up on you, even after more than 4 years or 30 or more!!! At times like this, I guess the little girl comes out in me and I am jealous of all the happy people with whole families. I want my daughter back, I want my Mom back, I want my Dad to be my Dad again instead of the aging, fraile stranger he has become. I wish my son and his wife and children weren’t out of the country for the holidays. I wish I could have some help getting ready for Christmas and that someone would share in the cooking that I have to do Christmas day in order to feed the 20 or so people coming over. Don’t get me wrong…..I’m glad they are coming, I can’t imagine how deep into despair I would have sunk by now if it weren’t for the fact that I will have a house full of people around, I just wish, well, I wish the most for things I know are impossible. I wish that on Friday as I am scurrying around the kitchen that I could just holler out, “Ashley, I’m ready for you to come make the ambrosia,” and magically she would appear to do so just like she always did. I wish my mother and my grandmothers were in the kitchen with me teaching me once again how to make their special signature dishes and fussing at me for sticking my finger in their precious concoctions. I wish my Dad was cracking funny jokes from the next room as he watched football on the TV punctuated by a trip through the kitchen with nothing more important on his mind than hugging my Mom. I just wish we were whole again and filled with the sweet innocent bliss that only that wholeness can bring. If you are lucky enough to still have that, please treasure it for it is temporairy. But chances are you know exactly what I am talking about. I know I’m not alone but still I am lonely. Ya know!!!!
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