Ever Northward

It is late November.  I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses.  The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings.  December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths.  During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times.  Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times.  For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.

I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me.  Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking.  Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside.  Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains.  I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus.  There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages.  Not many people are making this trek.

As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York.  Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death.  Nevertheless I push onward through Lava.  All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes.  Depression epitomized.

I am close.  The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end.  The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale.  Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is.  This is where she “resides” now.  The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine.  Silence.

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Not much has changed since last year.  I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones.  No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual.  I brush away the dead leaves.  My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby.  I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.

She used to live not far from here, my Mom.  I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times.  The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area.  There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas.  There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.

Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different.  This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”

But as I write this I feel something else.  I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence.  For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place.  Her memory deserves it and I need it.

 

 

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The Secret Life

Creative Commons, open license

As you may know, my Dad lives alone now and he is getting on in years. As a result, he had someone come in once a week to clean and tidy up. Her name was Lily (not her real name). She was the mother of two kids and was recently married. She was in her mid-thirties. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), domestic violence costs exceeded $8.3 billion in 2003 dollars.

I had the good fortune to meet her several times over the past four months; just a few times but enough time to see that she was a good person. She was kind and easy to talk to. She cared about the well-being of Dad. I believe that Dad considered her more than just a “cleaning lady”; he relied on her a lot – for small tasks, sure, but more so for someone to talk to. She was a friend. According to the CDC, the physical costs (bruises, broken bones, wounds, etc) of domestic violence are often accompanied by psychological and emotional trauma (addiction, anxiety, homelessness, dysfunction of various sorts, etc.).

Monday night I received a phone call from Dad. I could tell right away that something was wrong. I braced myself for the worst and was completely taken aback by his news. Lily was dead. Lily was killed as a result of domestic violence – shot to death. Supposedly there was an argument (allegedly one of many in the relationship) with her husband which ended with him allegedly robbing her of her life. Allegedly there had been a history of domestic disputes during the course of their relationship and at one point Lily had sought out a protection order against him but never followed through with it. Police eventually arrested the husband and he is currently in custody. According to the CDC, almost 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the U.S. are victims of severe violence at the hands of their intimate partners.

Dad was dumbfounded. “What could they have fought about? What was so terrible that he would kill her over it? Why did she stay with a guy like that? I had no idea that she was going through that.” No idea what was happening on her home front. She had a secret, a dark secret, side to her life. I never would have guessed that she was victimized by domestic abuse. Not in a million years. She hid it very well. According to the CDC, 241 males and 1,095 females were murdered by their intimate partners in the U.S. In 2010.

6597736735_5bdc129acd_mIn recovery, we are told that our secrets will make us sick. If we hold it in, if we hide what we are struggling with, if no one knows we are in trouble … then we are very likely to relapse. For Lily, she kept that dark secret well under cover. I don’t pretend to know if her airing her troubles would have prevented this tragedy; maybe not. All I do know is that keeping that kind of stuff secret is never good. Lily paid for it with her life. Her death leaves an awful hole in many people’s lives – her parents, her siblings, her kids, her friends, her community.

If you are reading this and you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is struggling with this issue call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit http://www.thehotline.org.  Talk to someone! You are not alone and help is available.

I didn’t get the privilege to know Lily very well but I am nevertheless wounded by the loss of a kind and lovely woman to senseless violence. I am grieving over this tragedy and struggle with answers that don’t seem to come.  Lily, I am fortunate to have met you. Thank you.

Passing Through

tumblr_ltwtz9U3821qco6d5o1_500We are here for such a short time.  The fact that we are here at all is a miracle.  While we are here we experience all sorts of emotions, events, joys and sorrows.  We get sick. We enjoy good food.  We love people and our pets.  We witness magnificence and horrors.  We see the very best of humanity and its very worst.

One of my favorite philosophers/spiritualists is John O’Donohue.  (www.johnodonohue.com) He had such a refreshing view on death.  He posits that the souls of our loved ones don’t travel to another part of the galaxy but are right near us all the time.  They have merely loosed the constraints of our earthly bodies and have slipped through the veil to the other side.  They are merely in a different state of being.

While that view is comforting it does not appease the heartache when someone we love leaves us.  It does not quench the overwhelming sorrow.  At least not right away.  O’Donohue says that as much as we would like to take someone’s place when death comes calling, each of us must go it alone.  That passing leaves an awful hole in our life.

Mom passed away suddenly over 14 years ago.  That loss, while bearable now, can never be completely mended.  Other members of my family have also passed recently – four of them within one year!  It’s almost more than one can bear.

So how do we do it? Carry on, I mean?  I don’t have the answers.  I don’t think anyone has the answers to these types of questions.  We’re not supposed to have the answers perhaps.  So when a loved one passes through the veil I try to focus on how the world was impacted for their having been here.  How have they loved? Have they laughed? Have they made others feel special? Have they made others love and laugh?

When I pass I hope that others will celebrate my having walked on this good Earth. I hope they will celebrate life. I really do.