One of my two dads is dying. Or maybe not. My family has been on this journey now for a decade, two decades, more. This year has been more challenging for him—and us—than most others, a never-ending pattern of hospital, rehab for physical therapy, home…hospital, rehab for physical therapy, home…hospital, rehab for physical therapy, home. We’ve been told that this time, perhaps, he might not be going home. I flash between numb and overwhelm over and over and over every day, the days running together like watercolors. And I live 3000 miles away.
Messages beam through over text from my mom and sister, compact, abbreviated updates on good days and bad. Some days I spend hours going back and forth with them about whether or not to drop everything and fly out. Mom encourages me to wait until my scheduled visit in September, reminds me that we just don’t know when our number is up and that this isn’t necessarily his deathbed, anyway. “Any of us could die at any minute,” she says, “today, tomorrow, a week from now, a month, a year, a decade…”
Well-meaning friends offer a recurrent river of unsolicited yet decidedly loving advice and lately I want to tell them, quite ungraciously, to just shut up. That my situation is different. Old memories, wounds, feelings are rising up and streaming forth more quickly than I can even acknowledge them, and I strive to hold onto my center in this storm of the past.
I don’t want any more advice. I want a quiet container held for my own process, independent of others’ projections and experiences, nothing more. And of course—intellectually—I know that my situation isn’t all that different from anyone else who has witnessed a parent’s final revolutions around the sun. And I know my Loved Ones just want to help, to soothe, to be there for me.
And so I swim through these towering waves and remind myself that my daily practice is not a punishment, but a rock to cling to. The rock may be slippery with seaweed and rough with periwinkles, but that rock is still there, rising up strong and immobile out of the grey and foggy waters. Occasions like this are *why* I built my practice. My touchstone. My reminder that this, too, shall pass, in whichever way it unfolds.
So I shuffle and draw my tarot cards every morning and note the sign and phase of the Moon. I tend my altars. I light my candles. I clear and cleanse my energies before bed every night. I breathe. I surrender. I cry. I allow whatever is present to be present, as best I possibly can. And when the feelings become deafening, I set a timer for ten minutes and madly clear clutter: recycling old papers, going through the sock drawer, setting aside unused kitchen gadgets for the charity shop…anything to make space in my life and in my body for whatever is coming.
As I ride each arriving swell, I find myself wondering: How can we, as leaders, best priestess through the waves when the sea becomes so choppy, when the fog becomes so dense? How can we best stay present for both ourselves and our communities instead of checking out and shutting down, dazed and detached, stoically trapped within our own process? How can we best keep up with our responsibilities to our communities whilst also engaging in deep self-care? How can we best lean in without crossing that ineffable, intangible line between Leader and Celebrant, especially in our open community containers?
What do we do when life isn’t all buttercups and butterflies, when we—or our Beloveds—are experiencing serious health, housing, financial, emotional, spiritual, or others issues?
I’ve become aware that part of this struggle is rooted in that enculturation which trains us—women especially—to minimize our needs, to downplay what is truly happening for us, and most pervasive and powerful of all, to not take up too much space. After the fact we often say things like: I didn’t want you to worry and I know you are busy and I know you have a lot going on and I didn’t want to bother you.
I find myself struggling with just how much space is acceptable for me to take up within the community I lead. I certainly don’t want the community to become a place where things are “all about me” and yet simultaneously, I want to model what it looks like to lean in instead of isolating. This is something we talk about a lot and now that I’m on the path myself, I’m finding it a steep cliff to climb, this discernment needed to authentically offer up my vulnerability without becoming what I perceive to be an emotional burden. I remain most committed to this exploration.
I’ve realized that I often forget to keep my community in the loop, to let them know when I don’t have quite as much strength or capability as I usually do. Sometimes I fail at this because my process is too personal, my feelings are too raw, I don’t want to be on the computer, I’m not sure how—or even what—I want to share, or I feel unable to find words that won’t invite the entirely innocent and heartfelt reply I’m sorry, which for some reason feels worse than no response at all right now.
Enveloped in this living process of grief isn’t everything for me right now, either. I’m still interested in doing those things I have planned to do; I’m still passionate and enthusiastic for everything on my calendar. “Life goes on” they say, and it’s true. Life goes on and I do my best to enjoy each moment: a loud and lively dinner with friends, a baseball game on a warm summer evening, the intricacies of preparing and offering a group ritual, etc.
As I tumultuously float in my little life raft, I consider the question of how do I—as the holder of the container—ask for and receive the space that I need held for me? How do I, as a leader, hold that outer container and allow a smaller, more personal container be held for me within it? How do I do this whilst also holding smaller, more personal containers for others? And then I remember *sacred paradox*. And then I remember trust. And then I remember to ask for what I need, to communicate as clearly as I can even if it’s inelegant or condensed or imperfect and imprecise.
And so today, I will again reach out to my community with an update on my Dad, asking for space to be held for me and letting my Sisters know that hearing “I’m sorry” is difficult for me to receive in this moment, socially acceptable or not. It is what it is.
With Love and Gratitude,
EDIT: Dad passed on the evening of August 2, 2017. Hail the Goer!
1: Source: stocksnap.io
2: A current “every day altar”
3: One of my daily draws
4: Source: fancycrave.com