Growing Pains

I don certain perspectives with ease. They’re like sunglasses in the sense that they block out certain spectrums of light. Like that one pair of sunglasses that you hate that makes everything look brown.

It’s easy to see life as shit-colored.

Sometimes I wear my sunglasses at night.

That makes it even more difficult.

I was driving home from work one day about 2 weeks ago. Frustrated with myself, upset for feeling so constantly negative. A song came on that reminds me of my sisters, from The Holiday’s movie soundtrack. With tears in my eyes I wished my sisters were here, that things weren’t so hard for me all the time. I was talking to Rachel in my head as I usually do; she was my confidante sister who heard my inner life.

And suddenly I had an image of her, smilingly showing me a picture of myself. I was freaking out, WITH MY OWN HAND OVER MY EYES.

I was covering the light myself.

And I felt like she gently said, “Happiness is not as far away as you think.”

I’m still absorbing that message. Because as Brene Brown talks about, I hustle for worthiness. I hustle for love. I hustle for happiness, and I think that doing things just perfectly will get me there. In fact, one of my favorite perspectives is that IF I JUST DO THINGS PERFECTLY I won’t lose.

I won’t lose the things I desire. I won’t lose happiness. I won’t lose someone I love.

I begged Rachel, in the Critical Care Unit at Penrose Hospital, to stay with me. To be here. I repeated almost word for word the scene from Sense and Sensibility where Elinor begs Marianne not to leave her here alone. I did everything that I could possibly think of. I quoted all her favorite movies, from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility. I sang to her. And in the end, she still left. I couldn’t make her stay for me even though I tried so hard. Even though she was the only person in my family who truly understood me, the only one in my family that I actually felt deeply connected to.

Before that, I begged my dad not to leave. I was 10 years old or so, my dad was very angry one night and threatened to go live on his own, without us. He had threatened this in the past while we had all silently frozen in the face of his rage. I changed my mind that night. I was tired of staying silent. Maybe my feelings would change something. So I hurled myself into his arms crying. “Don’t go Daddy. I love you.”

He put me away from him, moved me away… “Stop all that nonsense.”

I shrouded my heart to keep it safe. Maybe if I had held on tighter. Maybe if I had said the right words instead of “nonsense”.

I have tried ever since to hold on tighter and to do all the right things. I lost my grandpa when I was 15, and that shattered me. 6 months after that, I lost my first love, which I blamed my dad for. I lost my sisters. I got divorced. All these things, I tried so hard to hold them all together and they fell apart. About 6 months after I got divorced, I stopped drinking alcohol. A lot of my drinking had been to release myself from the vice of perfection I was holding myself in.

When I took away that crutch, my perfectionism transferred to school and to alcohol/love addiction recovery. I tried to be the perfect person in recovery. I tried to be perfect with my grades at school. This escalated and escalated until last May when I started to see what I was doing to myself. I stopped running. The instant I did, I was overcome by the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m still not clear on why… maybe because I finally stopped running from falling apart.

I’ve been unraveling it all ever since. I see it as a huge ball. I pull all sorts of strands in, but I have this huge overarching narrative that I like to believe about myself and my life.

“If I can just be perfect I will not lose.” But I can’t be perfect, so I will inevitably lose all I love.

I wish that just seeing that this is going on would eliminate it totally, but that’s not how it works. It’s helpful to be aware that this story is ruling my life, but, then I get to take action.

Which I have been, but change is slow. Especially when there are so many intertwining stories that are connected to this overarching one. And courage is hard to come by sometimes. When I don my usual perspectacles (as dear Glennon Melton calls them) and see only loss in my future, everything gets really black. I lose so much motivation to even go forward.

And so some days it takes all I have to just have the courage to believe what Source/the Universe/my Higher Power (you know, whatever I call that thing these days) seems to be telling me. To just let go and know that It has good things in store for me. Truly good things. And seriously that does take a lot of courage some days to believe. I fight myself, trying to be perfect, until I’m tuckered out and I finally give in. Then I have a cry about my losses because I need to purge the grief, and usually after that purging the world looks a little brighter again. I can see the light again just enough to find strength move forward.

I’m grateful right now for the support I have – a wonderful boyfriend who has persisted in staying by my side, my RootEd satsang who are more precious to me than I could ever put in words, and my new therapist who has valiantly gotten down in the muck with me.

After our immersion weekend for my teacher training last week, something really cool happened. I had brought a plant for the altar as an offering. As I was leaving on Sunday, my teacher asked, “Do you like plants?” and handed me an amaryllis flower, explaining that it needed some TLC. I was thrilled to take it home and put it in my sunroom/altar area. “I’m good at resurrecting things,” I said. Like I was reminding myself.

Then I walked out to my car. Tucked under my wiper blades was a bright, beautiful, colorful bouquet from my boyfriend. I offered a flower. I went home with 3.

These words sprang to mind:

“You are so full of rain,
there is so much that is growing,
hallelujah to your weathervanes,
hallelujah to the ache
hallelujah to your full, to the fall,
hallelujah to the grace,
and every body
and every cell
of us all.”
-Andrea Gibson, I Sing the Body Electric (Even When the Power’s Out)

 

Seeds grow in the dark. Even in the dark where it’s my own hand over my eyes, when it’s my own old stories that hold me back. But that also presumes they are dirt. Which presumes they provide what is needed for that seed to grow.

“You make beautiful things out of dust…” – Gungor, Beautiful Things.

There is so much that is growing. Hallelujah to the ache. To my own precious growing pains. To the sunglasses over my eyes that reveal my need to unveil myself to the world. Hallelujah to it all.

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Breakthrough

Last night I decided to give my new tarot deck one more round of “let’s see what it comes up with” before bed. For those of you who don’t follow my Twitter, I’ve been obsessed with tarot card reading lately. And by lately I mostly mean the last 3 days since I bought this deck of cards.


(Can be purchased at Osho.com)

A friend of mine had used these cards before, so I was familiar with them. This particular tarot is very heavily Zen Buddhist based, one reason I like it. I also love tarot because I’ve always been a highly intuitional person, and it really resonates with that part of me. Hence, the obsession I’ve had with them the past few days…but really maybe always without knowing it. When I had the cards in my hands, I truly felt as if they’d been waiting for me.

So, back to last night. I poured my energy into the cards, shuffling away one last time before bed. I decided to use a paradox setup – 3 cards, one representing past, one representing present, one representing the insight into the paradox. As I shuffled, a card danced its way right out of my hands and fell upright on the floor.

I stared.

I had read earlier yesterday that when a card falls out of the deck like that when shuffling, it’s probably significant. Well, no doubt. Even the picture on the front screamed its obvious significance.

I also knew right away that this was the “present” card of the set of 3. I laid it down, still staring. I continued to shuffle then drew the other 2 cards.

Past:

Insight:

The present card was obviously the highlight of this reading. But the other 2 cards were also loaded. I’ve been flowering – obviously. That’s the past image. True of the past long while, especially of the last 2 years. Insight – I’ve still felt like an outsider. On the edges of life. Unable to fully connect with people. You can’t tell in this picture, but the lock on that gate is ACTUALLY unlocked, the child (inner child?) just doesn’t realize it.

And present is breakthrough.

Today, I got it.

I woke up this morning and immediately felt cautious. My first thought on waking was wondering, “Will today be as good as yesterday? What if it’s not?” Fear came on me instantly. I’ve been struggling hard with fear for the last few months in general, and this one in particular struck right at my fear of loss. What if I lose what good I have?

All morning I tried to combat this feeling. I tried to make the fear go away. My mind whirred and turned over itself trying to analyze it away, to stave it off. Really, I was obsessing. Trying to create a barrier between the fear and myself. Trying to analyze its roots, trying to MAKE IT GO AWAY.

(This is how I always treat uncomfortable feelings. Analyze obsessively to find the root so I can MAKE IT GO AWAY. I can remember starting this as a teenager and I haven’t stopped since. Find the root to make it disappear. Self-awareness is a curse sometimes when your perfectionist nature uses it in such a cruel way. In making pain disappear, I’ve had to make myself disappear too.)

I was a mental wreck and I hated my poor overwraught mind as I watched it torture itself. I tried to have compassion, but I was really frankly rather disgusted. Thankfully, I had grabbed The Untethered Soul and left it in my car so I could read it on break. I’ve been reading this book for the past month or so (because of Sarah Somewhere – thank you beyond words!) and it has been immensely comforting.

I read voraciously on break, trying to find some way out of this awful fear prison I was tangled up in… terrified that the fear was real and I’d lose everything. That the Universe doesn’t give a crap about me and nothing good is headed my way.

But while I was reading, something finally clicked.

I was afraid because I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to lose because that would hurt. BAD. And I know how bad, oh, I know. I’ve experienced quite enough to know. To keep myself away from that pain, my brain could whir on and on forever, creating layers of self-protection.

This morning, I read through a chapter in this book and some words at the end rocked me, and I got it:

You must be willing to accept pain in order to pass through to the other side. Just accept that it is there and that you are going to feel it. Accept that if you relax, it will have its moments before your awareness, then it will pass. It always does.”

My entire perspective changed in that moment and I relaxed. I let the pain in. Instead of contracting around it like usual, I relaxed. Expanded. For a few moments, I shook and tears came to my eyes. Then it settled down to a soft burn, and it’s been there burning all day. Slowly burning all that I’ve been so afraid of.

I feel different. Like anything could happen and I would be okay because… it’s just pain. I can handle the pain. I will feel it, and it will pass, like it always does.

It felt exactly like the picture on that card.

Shell

I am sharing a very vulnerable piece of my heart today, over on the blogging collective I’m involved with: The Sisterwives.

I would love it if you would please go view this piece. It took a lot of guts for me, both to write it and to record it. It’s not something I often make public. But I wanted to share this with you all.

You can see it here: Shell

This is Real

It is so frustrating when I am in the middle of making dinner and realize I need another pan, but I take one look at what I’d have to do to get one, and I completely shut down. I decide not to wilt the kale and sear the garlic. I decide to just go with what I have because it’s too much effort to wash a pan. It would be one thing if this was just once a week, but when it’s every damn night, it gets debilitating.

When every day I go to work and I usually start out okay, but by the middle of the day I’m slumped in my desk chair. Or the reality that many mornings, before I go out the door in the morning, I’m playing that poem I recently posted over and over again just to give myself the courage to go to work. Even the fact that I have that poem half-memorized from reciting it to myself so much to just give myself courage.

“Some people will never understand the superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside…” “…screaming for their pulse to find the fight to pound…” “every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo so I keep listening for the moment that grief becomes a window…” “…knowing their is a chance our hearts have only just skinned their knees…” “…friend if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other, my god that is plenty, my god that is enough, my god that is so so much for the light to give…” “…live, live, live…” (From The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson)

I went to the doctor today. And it wasn’t for my body, it was for my soul. It may have been a medical doctor, but I needed an emotional one. When I reeled out my history, how I’ve struggled with depression since I was 15, he asked why I hadn’t been on medication before. “My parents kind of didn’t believe in doctors, and also I have a lot of neglect in my past.” That statement was loaded.

It also wasn’t completely every morsel of truth. I am stubborn. And everyone has told me – “Once you get divorced it will be better. Once you do the steps it will be better. Once you get through EMDR, it will be better.” The past 2 months have proven it to me that it’s not better. No matter what I do, I am chewing glass constantly. It’s why my smile has such an intense sparkle.

My friends know I’ve been tossing around the idea of medication for at least a year now. In actuality it’s been 2 years since I first came across this idea. The telling thing is that my mind hasn’t changed. I’ve had periods of up time, periods where I smile and I’m happy and I’m okay. But I always drop back down again into the dark, and it’s tiring. I’m tired of bouncing along the bottom.

The past 2 months have been the worst in a very long time. I have lost all motivation. I am sure it has something to do with starting a new full time supervisor job and totally changing my career path. But my career path too just served as a way to keep me running. There is a Pablo Neruda poem that I love that says:

“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.”

Except, that my silence is filled with sadness I’ve never taken time to stop and face. Now that I have taken time to stop and face it, it’s hit me like a ton of bricks. “And the bass keeps runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin and runnin’ runnin’ and…”

Somehow I have always wanted this to happen, though. Somehow I have always felt that I’m just outrunning myself and I want permission to just stop, collapse, admit I really am not okay and line up my external reality with my internal one.

I did a daylong meditation retreat on Sunday and it was horrible. The idea of it was lovely. The thought and intention behind it was fantastic. But we started with a meditation connecting with our body, and it was then I realized just how much emotional pain I’m holding in my body. A LOT. I was all choked up. And the whole day was about sitting with unpleasant feelings. I had pretty much only unpleasant feelings and meditating felt like absolute torture. I wanted to be anywhere but my body. There were other meditation events this week that I was planning on attending, but I haven’t. It feels much too raw.

I knew even more surely that I needed to take next steps.

I was terrified going into the doctor’s office today and jittery from drinking only coffee and having no breakfast. They asked me to fill out the medical history form, of course, and they asked about mental illness. For the first time I stared at that in recognition. Then I marked:

Mom: Depressed.
Dad: Mentally ill. Thyroid.
Grandparents: Mentally ill. Bile duct cancer. Depression. Anti-psychotics.

I stared at the page in shock. I don’t think I’ve ever so concretely put down the fact that my father is mentally ill. My mother is mentally ill. My grandparents, also mentally ill. My parents are undiagnosed. But it’s obvious. The questionnaire didn’t ask about aunts, uncles, cousins, and that would have been even more revealing. I’ve known these things, but never written them so clearly in front of my face. I felt the cold reality of this whole thing settling over me. My DNA was a mess of strange genes, and I was a petri dish that a bunch of them had gathered in.

So I told the doctor (a cool guy who blends Eastern AND Western medicine) some of my history. That I had been in counseling for PTSD, and why. That I’d been depressed off and on since I was 15. Divorced. Crazy family“Why weren’t you on medication before this?” All of my friends have been shocked at this very thing – that I have never been medicated.

After explaining my symptomology, the doctor prescribed me Zoloft, with instructions to pay attention to its affects. He’s concerned (I’m concerned, too) that I might have Bipolar II, and if so, Zoloft will make my manic states worse, so I’m instructed to look for that. He asked me to get a nutrition lab done so we can look for any markers in my nutrition that might cause depression, too.

I was also told not to date. I quote – “You’ll be a new person next year after we get this thing sorted out so you don’t want to get into anything before then.”  I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest; I’m tired of avoiding dating. But maybe it’s just a signal that I can take things more slowly and just ease into friendships with men, like I have been. But that’s a whoooole other post.

I left the office feeling both relieved and totally different. Something pinches my heart with a strong thumb and forefinger, and the resulting pain and bruising is proof that it’s not a dream. The reality is: I am now a person prescribed to take depression medication. I am depressed.

This is real.

Stay Here With Me

There is a spoken word poem by Andrea Gibson that is my love poem to myself. It’s called The Madness Vase/The Nutrionist. I heard it in person last week when she was here for a sold-out show in Colorado Springs. (By the way, talk about an awesome experience – attending a SOLD OUT Spoken Word show. All the feels, errywhere)

 

 

It just so happened that the day I saw her live was the 10th anniversary of my Gramps’ death. He died the year I was 15, which was one of the most difficult and painful years of my life. Spoken word has always pulled me back to that year, as evidenced by the poem I shared on here a couple weeks ago. So it seemed so extremely fitting that I, by no fault of my own, ended up at a spoken word show on the 10th anniversary of his death.

In any case, I had watched The Madness Vase about a week before the show, and cried. Spoken word always makes me cry. This one in particular so spoke to me in my current and past selves.

But hearing it in person, on the anniversary of my Gramps’ death, was an incredibly healing experience. I could feel her in me, the 15 year old. The depressed one. The one that didn’t want to live anymore, that strained with the effort of staying in her skin for one more day, that drew bloodlines on her calves trying to let her trapped self out. The Madness Vase grabbed her and didn’t let her go. I grabbed her, hearing these words, and didn’t let her go, and I whispered to her, backwards in time, Live. Live. Live.”

Because I think my current self can still somehow reach back to my past self and speak those words to 15 year old Laurie. I think it kept her alive from then until now.

And well, the poem’s been rattling around in my heart like socks in a clothes dryer ever since. I found Andrea and Kelsey’s Tumblr yesterday and I’ve been using it to speak healing to myself, over, and over, and over. I encourage you to go have a read if even for a moment you don’t want to be here. Not even just necessarily if you want to commit suicide. Maybe you’re just so tired of life and don’t want to be here anymore, and you’d never pull the trigger or swallow the pills, but some days you just wish a Mach truck would plow you and end it all.

This site will give you a few reasons you might want to stay. Stay here. Stay present. Stay aching.

Lately it’s been so hard for me to stay here. To feel that generous ache that takes over the black hole of my heart and to want to stay here in the face of all the wounds that still need healing. There is no bruise like the bruise loneliness kicks into your spine.” It’s hard to stay here with the bruises.

This poem makes me want to never stop crying. And maybe that’s a good thing, because lately I’ve been coming out of my skin and trying to put my own self back in. Doing my addict thing and avoiding the raw fierceness of my inner girl who is crying for healing. So maybe I just need to keep “listening for the moment when the grief becomes a window.” Maybe I just keep repeating to myself fiercely, these words: “you stay here with me, okay? you stay here with me.

Live. Live. Live.”

 

You too, out there. You stay here with me, okay?

 

Late Have I Loved You – 100th post

(My twin sister loved this painting.)

I miss my twin.

I’ve missed her like hot, searing fire lately… right down to the bone. My skin melting off, charred ash… and the bones still ache, and the ash still smokes from the ground, sending up aching like incense to the sky. These times come without warning, and I don’t know why. I just know that everything in me hurts, especially the empty little space that nests just beneath my rib cage.

I was reading a book this morning, just starting out. One by Richard Rohr; two friends have recommended him to me. So I finally picked up one of his books. And in the first few pages of the first chapter, came a quote by St. Augustine:

“Late have I loved you,
O Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.”

Stephanie loved this quote. And when I read it, I almost felt like she resurrected from it, right in front of me. Spiralling up like a genie out of the Nag Champa I was burning. Suddenly, she was present.

I hate and I love those moments, the ones where I can feel my twin sister’s presence. I love it, because then I know she is not truly gone. But I hate it, because though I feel her, I just cannot see her. I squeeze my eyes shut, tighter…tighter… just hoping. Maybe she’ll be there when I open them. Maybe I’ll smell her, maybe I’ll feel her arms and the sweat-softened, ugly red velour sweater she always wore. Maybe if I just wait long enough there with her, in the silence, she’ll step out from behind the hologram of our existence and be there. I can see her behind my eyes…  maybe, just maybe, she’ll still be there if I open them.

She never is.

And the ache grows. Tears prick my eyes. I just want her back most days. These days, where I grow like a tree split from our same root, my mother’s womb. The womb we shared. And I branched off some time ago, and we were so different back as girls. I didn’t want to be like her, because too many times she stayed in her roots and never dared to touch the sky. But sometimes, oh sometimes… leaves danced with blue like the magical feet of a flamenco dancer. It took my breath away. Her obstinate stillness, though, put me off. Her black and white ways.  So I never grew towards the parts that reached for freedom-blue-sky, because those other parts that held her back were still too present.

But now, my branches grow back towards hers, reaching for her limbs, but coming up empty always. I only find her inside the dark, secret places… like Neruda says, between the shadow and the soul.

“Late have I loved you,
Oh Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.

——

This just so happens to be my 100th post on this blog… I think it’s fitting that I wrote about my twin. Love you, Stephanie.
For the story of what happened to my sisters, start here.

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes (The Day My Sisters Died, Part 3)

If you are just joining in, I invite you to read Part 1 and Part 2, here and here.

——-

st. jude
(St. Jude – The Patron Saint of Desperate Cases and Lost Causes)

“If this is salvation, I can show you the trembling.
You’ll just have to trust me. I’m scared.
I am the patron saint of lost causes…

…We’re not questioning God.
Just those he chose to carry on His cross.”

-Anberlin, *Fin

I was a lost cause walking into the Emergency Room that day. The whole world was swirling around me, like a tornado. I sat in a plastic chair in a daze. The news was droning our story above me, but I was in so much shock I couldn’t process it. I heard my mom, as if from a distance, asking the ER nurse where Stephanie was. The nurse was repeating details of where Rachel was, but not Stephanie. Even knowing the truth, I didn’t want to admit it. I felt sick to my stomach.

After a few minutes, a detective from the police department came and found us. He led us through the hospital in what seemed to me like a maze. I could barely focus. Suddenly we were in a quiet conference room. My friend G– had followed, but wasn’t allowed into the conference room with my mom and I. I am not sure where Grace, my youngest sister, was. I can’t remember if she was there or not.

The only questions I remember from the detective were where we thought the shots had been coming from, and whether we knew anything about why the shooter had attacked us. I explained where I thought the shots had come from, later on finding out they had come from the exact opposite direction. That’s just how confusing it was. I also told the policeman that I knew the shooter had come from the YWAM base in Arvada down to where we were. Honestly, I had no logical reason for that. I just absolutely knew (and was correct). I thought at the time that maybe it was because I’d also been involved with YWAM.

After the questioning, we were taken upstairs to a huge waiting room. I walked in and saw one of my boyfriend’s friends there. I went right over to him and he hugged me, tears sparkling in his eyes. I sat down with him and my other friends who’d arrived. My mom and sister went into a smaller room off of the waiting room.

Another detective arrived and they called me into the room. I knew what this was going to be. I saw the look on the detective’s face, the agony in his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I have to tell you that your daughter Stephanie is dead.” My sister Grace let out a loud cry. My mom had tears streaming down her face. I remember feeling numb, not crying. My friend G– looked at me and grabbed my hands. “I need to tell you something important,” he said. “You need to remember this.” Yet today for the life of me I can’t remember what he said just then. I just remember his desperation. “We’ll pray for resurrection,” he said a moment later. “All is not lost.” I knew it was.

We waited.

My dad was in surgery. They were trying to take Rachel into surgery, but were having a hard time because she kept losing blood. My boyfriend arrived in the middle of this. I took him to a side room and that was where I told him that I loved him for the first time. He tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t be stopped. “No, you need to know. I love you.” I was desperate.

His mom was there, trying to find out what we needed. Scores of other people showed up. My friend Sarah, who had tried to get to the church but couldn’t get through the police barricade, kept trying to get me to eat. I wasn’t hungry; how could I be? She and my boyfriend insisted I should eat. When I told them the only thing I felt like eating was dark chocolate and Mountain Dew, they went to the gift store and bought me a bar of Cadbury’s dark chocolate. Someone handed me a bottle of Mountain Dew.

It’s so odd the little details you remember. Friends. Chocolate. Mountain Dew.

My dad came out of surgery and was in the recovery room. They asked if we wanted to go see him, and of course we did. We were escorted through two sets of double doors. My mom, Grace, and I huddled together as we walked through the doorway. My dad looked only semi-conscious, laying there on a white hospital bed with tubes everywhere. My stomach was dropping lower by the minute. We gathered around the bed.

“Where’s Stephanie?” my dad asked.

We looked at each other – my mom, Grace, and me. No one was speaking! Why wasn’t anyone saying anything? A resigned sort of feeling came over me and inside, I bucked myself up a little.

“She’s… she’s gone,” I said.

I have never said any words in my life that were worse than those three. Out of all of the horrible moments in this horrible day, this one was among the most awful. I watched as my dad’s face contorted in pain, and my heart seized.

After a couple of minutes we went back out to the waiting room. I felt like I’d been tackled by a 200-lb linebacker, and I was laying in the middle of the field with a concussion. Friends came and went. I sat with them, trying to distract myself. My mom came and got me when the doctors said we could go see Rachel. They couldn’t get her body warmed up enough to go into surgery, and she was losing blood fast.

So my mom and I, my friend G–, and two of the pastors went in to her room to pray. My boyfriend sat outside the door.

I think I lost my mind when I walked into that room. This was my baby sister. I’d always, always looked after her. When she was in the hospital a year before due to an ovarian cyst, I was the one that stayed with her longest and didn’t want to leave. When we were little and under the care of some sadly misled babysitters, I was the one who snuck into a dark bathroom to check on her as she was in time out for 25 minutes. She was MY baby sister. I may not have always been the best oldest sister, but Rachel was so special to me. Only 2 months before, I’d become weirdly overcome by sudden emotion and told her, “I just don’t know what I’d do without you. I just want you to know that, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

All this must have rushed through me when I saw her laying there, eyes closed, tubes everywhere, ribs bruised. I prayed. I don’t even know if prayer is a good technical term for it. What I did was to say everything in my power, to beg with all the words I had that she would stay with me. I used my words like swords to fight off evil; Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings, facing the Witch King.

I quoted all of her favorite movies; she loved movies. Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. I told her that she was my Marianne, and I was Elinor, and please, please don’t leave me here alone. I called desperately on God to save her life. I asked her to please come back from the darkness. And I sang.

“Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up.

Because you are loved.”
Josh Groban – Don’t Give Up (Because You are Loved)

Finally, I’d said everything. I’d prayed everything. I’d sang everything. I knew it was time to give her to God. My friend G– disagreed with me. I stayed in the room to go along with him, but it was clear. It was time for me to let God do whatever He decided. Soon after, we all left and went back to the waiting room.

Grace and I sat building a puzzle in one corner with a friend of hers. It was late; 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I tried to distract myself by just looking for pieces to the puzzle in front of me. Some minutes later, one of the pastors appeared. The look on his face told me everything. I sucked in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. Rachel has gone to be with Jesus.”

I started crying then. It hurt, oh it hurt more anything I could imagine. Grace started crying too. I was afraid I’d make her cry even harder, so I stifled my tears, to be strong, for her. We sat huddled together, Grace, my mom, and I. Trying to hold ourselves together somehow. The pastors prayed, as a sort of benediction.

The nurses came and asked if we wanted to see Rachel one last time. My mom, Grace, and I walked in to the quiet dark room that only minutes before had been bustling with light and activity. Rachel lay on the bed as if she were asleep. Her eyes were closed. She looked peaceful. I could feel her, still in the room with us. The nurses had mentioned that she could, as an organ donor, donate her eyes. As we stood there with her, we softly discussed. “No, we can’t,” we decided. She was the only one in the family besides my dad who had gorgeous blue eyes, and they were one of her trademark features. We couldn’t do it, it was still too close, the pain too sharp.

There were many other defining moments over the next few days. Planning a funeral. Visiting my dad in the hospital. Finding pictures of my sisters for the press and for the funeral pamphlet. Meeting Rachel’s best friend, Aimee, for the first time. The viewing. The service. Hearing stories… one of the most amazing being from the paramedic who took Rachel to the hospital.

He said she’d died in the ambulance. And suddenly she came back, and light filled the ambulance and even her skin color changed. I can only imagine; her blue-gray skin is tattooed on the walls of my mind. How breathtaking that must have been. Even in the darkness – light.

Just as it was in life after.

——

Life After

“This is the correlation
of salvation and love
Don’t drop your arms
I’ll guard your heart
With quiet words I’ll lead you in.”
Anberlin – The Unwinding Cable Car

In obvious ways, this event radically altered my life.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty it would bring me. In fact, a part of me still recoils to think of calling something so ugly a place of beauty. And yet. Darkness births light.

I learned resiliency.

I am so grateful and blessed today to have a life that is actually beautiful. But lest you think this is one of those stories with a pat ending; it’s not. I didn’t snap my fingers and recover. It’s taken a lot of hard work. Grueling days. Countless tears, screaming and raging as I drive down the highway. Falling apart in my therapist’s office.

Now, I often feel that my sisters repeat the refrain back to me that I sang to Rachel in the hospital: “Don’t give up, because you are loved.” It’s tattooed on my rib cage, in memory. There’s some days I need those words every five minutes.

Even now, the sting of loss doesn’t fully fade. I’m 25 years old and every day, I become more like my twin, who I thought was so unlike me. Beautiful, but so bittersweet. And oh so many days I wonder what they would think of me now. Who we would be together. We never got the chance to become adult sisters. I lost the ones who shared my childhood; Grace is 8 years younger than me and has grown up differently. I lost partners in crime. It hurts, every day.

Rachel, though, wrote something beautiful in her journal a few months before she died. She talked about how you can let sadness overcome you and live in that sadness, or find the courage to carry it with you, but to no longer let it define all of your life.

I’ve learned how to survive dark days. What it means to be supported unconditionally, even from beyond. The sacred beauty of God as I now understand It – not the God of fantasaical youth, or the God of limiting cages, but the God who favored freedom, grace and wild love.

Maybe most of all… I learned how to feel. Not to drop my arms to life, but to hold them up to where salvation and love come in. Light comes in.

Feeling all the pain, all the horror and sadness and maelstrom. That’s the important thing. See, I kept my arms crossed in front of my chest for years, through a marriage, divorce, and addiction. Trying to hold it all back. Caging myself in. When I finally peeled my arms down and asked for help, that was the correlation of salvation and love, rushing in. If only I could just keep showing up, every day, and have the courage to not drop my arms.

That’s what it’s about today; that’s what I want to share with you. That’s what it took to make it through and finally learn resilience. To just show up, every day, and not drop my arms across my chest but to spread them wide to the world. It’s grueling work, and sometimes it takes all I’ve got. My Higher Power, my sisters… they’ve all supported me through to this point, just whispering, “Don’t give up. You’re loved.” And I’ve learned though that it’s really amazing what happens when you give yourself to the work: It gives itself to you. The light shines in the darkness.

And the darkness does not overcome it.

—-

I wanted to graciously thank all of my readers for accompanying me on this journey of telling my story. Your presence, as I have said to you over and over again, has meant the world to me. Sometimes, healing comes to a greater degree through being witnessed. Thank you for witnessing me. I am grateful to all of you. Especially to those of you from The Rebels Project – an amazing community of survivors that I am so privileged to be a part of. You guys are in many ways like family to me; thank you for existing. You’ve been a light in my darkness. If anyone reading has been affected by senseless tragedy, I encourage you to get involved with The Rebels Project, a place where you can find understanding community and support.

I am also very grateful to the band Anberlin, whose songs I quoted because their CD, “Cities”, was the only thing I specifically requested after December 9. The Unwinding Cable Car was on repeat in my CD player for months. That CD got me through the darkest days of my life and I’m forever thankful it existed. Thank you, Anberlin – thank you for the impact you’ve made. I’m looking forward to seeing you on your last tour this year.