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Here is the story of growing up with my brother Dana, first published on March 12, 2012.

Dana left this world on Labor Day, 2016.

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I went through the windshield of a car when I was four years old, back in the day when seatbelts were charming accessories. The glass shredded my face, the head-on collision gifted me with brain injury coupled with a quirky auditory processing disorder. My deafness came later.

Events of great magnitude seem to have a way of silencing the world and oneself.

The accident silenced 4-year old me, made me still inside.

I remember the change and I recall my world shifting, the confusion that I felt,the isolating pain of experiencing the shift within others.

The world, you see, doesn’t quite know what to do with little girls with blood-red scars all over their sweet little freckled faces, with their strawberry-blonde hair shorn off their heads. It felt as if the world took one look at me and turned away, embarrassed, muttering something about my “pretty eyes.”

But my brother knew what to do.

He knew me. He had always known me.

dana and meriahIMG_6166

Only 15 months apart, he felt closer to me sometimes than my life-breath. IMG_6163

IMG_6162
He knew the person that I was before the accident, the person that I still was after the accident, and didn’t see much in the way of a difference.
He wanted – demanded even –that I play with him, that I be his buddy, ever-ready to hop in a puddle of messy mud on our rural sheep ranch.
Roll down the mountainside in wild games of tag, twirling, round and round, the old oak trees soaring overhead.

IMG_6167

dana and meriah

Through the years, where we lived changed, but not much did within our relationship.

Instead of roaming wild on our sheep farm in northern California, we were combing the coral reef in front of our house in Levuka, Fiji, then bicycling with wicked speed down the streets of the capital city of Suva.

My vision, always incredibly poor, ceased to be so much of an issue as my coke-bottle glasses were put aside each day in favour of contact lenses.

This, right at the same time as my hearing was getting noticeably worse.

He’d tell me what people were saying, my automatic translator of sorts. I’d simply look at him with a question in my eyes and he would tell me what was going on. It wasn’t a big deal but it happened a lot.

In the meantime, I showed him what I thought to be the “cool” dance moves.

We practiced together in his room with our ancient, giant FM radio.

We had our separate groups of friends – sometimes we ended up all playing together and sometimes we didn’t and it wasn’t a big deal. It was just about having fun.

He made me feel better when I was sure no boys would ever like me. He brushed off my tears when people teased me or when I realized that I was more like Dawn Weiner from the movie Welcome to the Dollhouse than I was Veronica from The Heathers.

Without reservation, I loved my brother more than anything in the world.

Many decisions in my life were made from that love.

My decision to go and live in Taiwan to help him out (or, as I later joked, provide him with slave labour – my brother is a notorious workaholic).

Dana and MeriahTwice.

Or was it three times? I can’t remember.

IMG_6156

My decision to major in Elementary Education in undergrad –he did too, and at the same time.

We’d stack up credits, divvy up classes, splitting focus (I paid more attention to the ones I was “responsible” for; we’d compare notes and hold tutoring cram session with one another on our respective areas), which got us both out of University, Bachelor’s in hand, in two and a half years. It was hard. It was great.

dana and meriah siblings and disabilityWe worked well together.


My decision to have more than one child was without question from my relationship with my brother. I couldn’t imagine not giving my child, my beloved little Sprout, a sibling to love and grow up with.

 I just didn’t picture that the sibling I would gift my son with would, like me, have a disability.

I didn’t think that my son would be in the same position as my brother – an older sibling of one who had needs that were less common than most. The doctor who delivered my daughter’s prenatal diagnosis said she’d be a “burden for life”; in his urging us to terminate her life, he told us that we should consider our son, as she would be his burden after we are gone.

It spun me around.

My memories of growing up with my brother… Was I wrong in thinking that my brother and I were such a team? Was I imagining everything, casting a lovely golden glow on our lives simply because they were memories? Was growing up with me really horribly hard for him? Was early life some unmitigated series of various burdens for him? Was I his burden

We’ve never really talked about it, you see. We do not talk about things like that. We’re from that Celto-Scandanavian farming stock, that don’t get into things like “feelings”.

So I asked him. In an email. This is what he said:

I really find the question funny!  Growing up I never looked at you as deaf or scarred.  You were my sister.  We fought about everything but that just brought us closer in later years.  

When we were young you had a hard time understanding other people and in many cases even mom and dad which made you naturally look at me and I would say the same thing again and you would get it. You naturally taught me to speak slower than most people and clearly.  

Growing up I really never thought about it as a chore or looked at you as disabled in fact I thought you were tough and courageous. I remember teaching you how to fight and then you decked that big Fijian girl who was teasing you.  You really didn’t let anyone push you around! 

When we were young maybe because we moved quite a bit we weren’t able to develop a lot of friendships with others so it was basically you and me – partners in crime.. [here he talked about crime stories I don’t want known]

I have so much to thank you for – your “disability” taught me so much growing up – to be more patient, understanding, and protective… you are and always will be my little sister. 

***

We become so scared of the unknown in our cozy American world. Scared of what we don’t know – and disability is such a great unknown for most of us.

When a doctor tells us that our unborn child who has received a prenatal diagnosis of a disability (- be it Down syndrome or another) will be a “burden” for other children, for ourselves, it so easy to slip into the fear those words bring.

Because, well, we don’t know what it’s going to be like.

And yet… in the end, what is a “disability”? Isn’t it just a different way of functioning?

Not necessarily any more or less of a burden than we make it to be.

I think the real burden is living in a world without love. 

The Impact of Disability on Siblings

And that is something my son will never be burdened with.

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Dana, I miss you.
dana and meriah

This is a post about grief.

I had been crying so hard and so long that I couldn’t open my eyes properly. They were puffy, swollen up so that seeing through them was a chore. I also didn’t understand why this in particular was hitting me so hard.

I was turning 45, you see.

All I could think of was that I was reaching an age that my brother Dana never would, that I was moving by him and going beyond where he left in this progression of life.

Something about that shift knocked me out and all I could do was walk numbly around and cry uncontrollably, and I mean ugly cry, the kind that twists my face and streams from my nose and wrenches tears from my heart.

I had hearing aid issues and couldn’t talk to my therapist (we talk by phone). I didn’t know who else to go to for help. This type of grief is huge, heavy, engulfing, and my 6-month period of mourning grace has long passed. So I simply did what I usually do: I walked, and cried while I walked.

I felt a nudge to walk a new route.

I walked by a building that said, “hospice” and, with my swollen eyes still leaking relentlessly sad tears, I steadied my way in and found out about a weekly grief group.

I made a note: I was going to go, it looked good, it felt like something Dana was leading me to.

Which made me cry again, more, harder, back to the ugly kind and I went home and let it loose.

This is the thing: there is a part of me that feels that I should not still be grieving Dana. Isn’t grief supposed to be reserved for those who are truly bereft, who never knew what having a fantastic brother was all about?

For 43 years, I was the younger sister of someone who was beloved to me. I was cherished.

What I said, what I thought, had value, intrinsic value in and of itself because it came from me.

In the experience of my relationship with him, I learned what it’s like to love someone without ‘if’s”, “and’s” or “but’s”, to love knowing another’s very worst, their very best and accepting both, without conditions.

It’s about loving the essence of a spirit. 

I was so blessed to experience that.

There is a part of me that says I should count those blessings and be still – because so many people never even experience what a close sibling relationship can be, and I was so lucky to have had that for 43 years. It feels greedy to mourn.

And yet, a part of my heart was cut out. How can I not mourn it’s absence?

The grief group was a gathering of beautiful people, all races and inter-mixed-races, all ages but more old people than not. Many wrinkles, all lovely. People spoke of the pain of their loss, of loneliness. Of where they were in their re-learning of their worlds without someone who had left, be it their child, their spouse, their sibling.

It spoke to me, and I could speak too, cocooned as I was in this cradle of aloha, a space of stillness and understanding among others who also walked this plain of pain and could hold me in their heart and let me stutter through tears, breath and words.

Then an old man broke his silence.

His face was brown like the rich, warm earth, his wrinkles etching his face into a physical frame of wisdom. He expressed at length of loss and love, and then said, “don’t be scared of the dark.”

…don’t be scared of the dark

A Course in Miracles says that our belief in darkness is what prevents the light from coming in. Growing up Baha’i, I was taught that darkness is not in and of itself anything; it’s merely the absence of light. If you walk into a dark room, all you need to do is switch on the light and the darkness no longer exists.

Darkness to me with regard to grief is feeling the separation that seems to live in the realm between where Dana is now – in the next world – and where I want him to be, with me in this physical one. That grief-space, the grief-darkness-world-place is one I lean in to through prayer and meditation and I can feel the strength, power and love from my brother still.

I can feel him. I really can.

I close my eyes and reach in and I can feel that stillness of who he is now – this great, magnificent soul that I love so well, and I recognize him. Overwhelmed with the feeling of  love and connection, the grief-darkness-I-miss-you-I-want-you-back-here-Dana-dammit slips in and the feeling of closeness and of Dana leaves and I am left with only the grief-darkness.

That’s where I see the wisdom in the words, “don’t be scared of the dark.”

The dark is only the dark, it’s the absence of light. My ego is telling me it’s something it’s not, and I slip into the grief-darkness of what I have experienced only by dint of not allowing the light in. My grief – the darkness – is blocking it off.

Dana was born a year ahead of me.

I’m now 45, an age he never got to be.

I’ve physically gone beyond the person that I looked up to for so long, my fearless leader.

Dana & Meriah, 1980, Humboldt County, California

It feels scary to me, a forage into unknown territory, without anyone to tell me how it is, what this should be like, how it can be the best it ever has.

I am tasked in this to not be scared of the dark: to remember that I only need to turn on the light.

When we first moved to Hawaii from Fiji, Dana was 14 and I was 13.

We were too young to work in America – and we were both pretty upset about it, as Fiji had had no such “child welfare” rules. Being suddenly dependent on our (broke) parents was awful.

Dana turned 15 (the legal age to work) first, and he immediately went out and got two jobs: one at the local frozen yogurt shop, and the other as a newspaper carrier. Since no-one checked in on their carriers, he gave me that job. I did the work; he got paid and he gave me the money.

Dana was that kind of brother.

I was so grateful it’s not even funny, even with those 4am Sunday morning (in Hilo rain!) drops.

Fast forward 30 years and I’m living in a house that was on my carrier route.

Sometimes I feel like things are coming full circle, that some things are looping around and, with the advantage of time and experience, becoming more clear. Things aren’t as confusing as they once were.

Other things – like the “how could ~ ‘s” and the “why did ~’s” are stronger than ever.

That’s the thing about experience: it’s one thing to not understand something because you are a child, and it’s another to be an adult and have children and not understand how someone could do something like that to a child.

All of these pieces are floating in this circle of mine, along with the memories of my brother and the missing of him.

I had a dream with Dana on the evening of what would have been his 46th birthday.

In it, he explained to me something I’ve been asking him in my dreams and my prayers this entire past year: why he left.

He told me in the dream that his leaving had everything to do with choices that he made in this life. It was shown to me in my dream as a linking – with each choice forming a link, and the next choice another link, and another, and so on.

It all ended in a consequence – only I don’t want to say “consequence” because that implies something negative. That wasn’t the implication in the dream. It was simply clear to me in the dream that all choices have a result, like cause then effect.

The result in Dana’s life with his choices was that he had to leave.

Everything in the dream was so full of love and clarity and I woke up feeling deeply happy. Like I understood.

And this is the thing: if Dana were around right now,  he wouldn’t be hanging out with me. He’d be working, busy burning his candle at both ends, busy in a million ways trying to take care of everyone in his world and then some.

Busy trying to become who he needed when he was growing up.

The only way anything would ever be different is if he was still alive and I knew what I know now.

Knowing this, I’d climb into Dana’s truck for a long ride and I’d talk to him for 15 hours – just like I used to in Taiwan – and I’d reach him. I’d REACH HIM and things would change and he’d realize that he didn’t need to take care of anyone, truly, we’re okay, we’ll always be okay.

Then he’d be here, and he would be here like he was here when we were kids in Hilo.

Full circle.

Trigger Warning: guns, violence, death. Grief.

I am astonished at how aimless I remain, Dana.

I’ve been waking up even earlier than my usual 5 in the morning, often at even 3:30. I get my coffee, my laptop, candles lit. Meditate.

I get online, ready and raring to work, and then… I lose focus.

I see your leg and how it was ripped open in half, gouged by the bullets and then by surgery. I think of the gunshots on TV and how being shot is never really shown, you don’t ever see what it really looks like, when your beloved brother is on a fucking hospital bed, pumped with air and compressors and his leg is literally ripped open, as is his chest, and you still think he’s going to make it and you celebrate every fucking little thing, like his rectum surgery.

This time last year, I was about to leave Redding because I was SO SURE you were going to make it, and because Mikey wouldn’t come and stay with me at the hospital because he “was working” and it was harvest and he was “busy.” All of this is in quotes now because who the fuck knows.

I was positive you were going to make it, Dana. I was positive you would wake up, and that it would be on Saturday, and that I’d miss being there when you woke up, but it would be ok, I’d be there for the rest of your time in ICU and would help with your rehabilitation and everything else.

I am so angry, Dana.

I am so sad. 

I’m so angry.

And I can’t stop seeing your leg in my mind’s eye and I know I need to pivot and think about something else, but it’s so, so hard when I’m full of this anger and sorrow.

If I had known then that you wouldn’t make it, I would never have left the hospital, left Redding. I would never have left because I would need to know that I had done everything I possibly could to help keep you tethered to this world.

If I had known you wouldn’t make it, I would have begged Mikey come and take care of the kids in the hotel so that I focus on you, 100%.

kids knees sitting in a circle, holding hands

I would have held your hand as long as I could have.

a man's hand on the bed, with iv lines and bandages attached

Your hardworking, warm, big hands.

Hands that have held mine for as long as I’ve been alive.

two children hold hands while facing the seaI would have grabbed on, and held.

I would have played every song that I thought might make you smile through your coma. I would have blasted our cheesy favorites and Hot Blooded and everything in between, disapproving hospital nurses be damned.

I would have joined Mom in sitting up all night with you in the hospital.

If I had known you wouldn’t make it, I wouldn’t have made those jokes about your feet or the leg compressors, trying to make your kids less scared of what was going on with you. I would have cried and made sure that we all stayed with you, one of us, for every second of every day that we possibly could.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee

Trust in the beauty and purpose of the universe is something I’ve always believed and worked hard at aligning myself with, you know that Dana.

Even as I sit here and type this out, I remember so many times in this very room where you’d sit next to me and we’d talk about this stuff.

I’ve never been angry with God for taking you – but maybe I’m angry with you for going.

Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Maybe I am really angry with you for going.

Maybe I am really angry at some choices you made along the road of your life.

Angry at the trajectories that lined up.

Angry that they resulted in your leaving.

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners. Now, until the day of our death, amen.

If I had known you weren’t going to make it, I would have done more, been better.

I would have been perfect.

I would have arranged the world and restructured the universe to have had things been different.

I would not have lied and told you that it would be okay – that you could go if you really wanted or needed to, that we would be all right.

Because I don’t know how I’ll ever be really all right again in a world that has shifted so hard for me.

I really miss you, Dana.

My brother has been gone for 4 months

I’ve developed a routine: I wake up in the morning, go and light a candle for my grandparents and for my great-aunt Ruby and place it in my shrine.

I light another for my brother, Dana, which I carry with me to the couch. I wear Dana’s warm and fuzzy jacket, cross my legs and practice meditating – breathing in and out, focusing on the light of the candle, or closing my eyes.

Either way, any way, I want to know how to do this, how to meditate, how to silence the monkey in my mind.

My brother has been gone for 4 months.

I can’t explain what it’s like to see these guys hanging out and having fun together.

It’s happiness at what they have, pain in what I’ve lost:

This bittersweet joy that they are now experiencing what I once did.

Sibling love.

As pure and true and whole as it gets.

A brother and sister who will hold each other’s backs. Best friends. The only person in the world who knew all of my secrets, who’d hang out with me and talk apps, pinterest, self-improvement books and in the next breath, call me a wimp and laugh at me (not with; at).

My back-up plan has always involved Dana – “if something bad happens, I’ll go to Dana,” – he was only barely a year older than me, but I turned to him more than I ever turned to my parents.

That’s Dana. Bright light, golden boy.

Micah picked the lemons and the mint, then made lemonade and brought out a couple of cups to his brother and sister to enjoy while they soaked

What a kid!

Micah made this, too – a home-made hummingbird feeder.

I’ll write a post at some point about his school pieces, but in a nutshell, he’s going to school 3 days a week now and at home for bigger projects for 2 days. We’ll see how it goes. We’re discovering that Micah’s an exceptionally gifted person, and an asynchronous developer – which means that he’s developing on-par with his age for some things (like his social skills), and through the roof with others (like his critical thinking, reading and more). We’re trying to figure him out, and in that figuring out, I think we will be testing him in a wide-range of things soon.

He’s a very interesting and unusual cookie.

We’ve been going to Blue Lake – my Mom is working on transforming Dana’s house (and also where my Grandma lived) into a grief and loss retreat.

It’s so painful to be in the spaces where Dana was, sometimes it just about knocks me over.

But those places are also where I most want to be. Not because I like pain; it’s just memories, the physical connection.

I want to hold my brother close for as long as I possibly can, never let him go.

I know it’s moot, but in replaying the last time I hung out with him, I want to go back to that moment and take Dana with me to Oregon, kidnap him if necessary. Keep him with me until the day that he was shot passes.

I want to wake up and have all of this be one really bad dream.

Did you see “The Little Prince” on Netflix?

The rose in the end, right?

I loved that. I think of that all the time now, with Dana.

Because I need to see him in everything.

He is the beauty in the sky now, the bird flexing his wings.

He is the morning mist, the song of the wind, harmony in water.

My heart still physically aches.

I simply can’t think of the reality of the rest of my life without Dana.

I can’t go there.

It hurts too much.

I’m still just walking, step by step.

One foot in front of the other.

Trying as best as I can to move forward in the light.

There’s a part of me that wants this post to be helpful in some way. Point out something that has been useful to me in this grief process.

Say something positive like, ‘these walks really help!’

And it’s true, I suppose, that the walks do help.

Walking is better than sitting inside all day.

But often I’ll be walking and I’ll come upon a place where Dana and I once stood and laughed, or a memory will flit through my head and I swear I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut, I stop, I can’t breathe, I just choke on my tears.

No fucking way I can do this.

So I find myself blocking off my emotions because the pain is just too intense, the reality is more than I can handle.

This is why I instinctively turn to meditation. 

Through that, the monkey in my mind can be silenced (with work, and boring work at that), and I can get to a space in which I simply be, without thought, pain. Just be, exist in my consciousness.

A lot of the photos on this post are for sale on my photography site, Meriah Snaps. Or  you could call it Meriahs Naps.

There isn’t a day  – and often even an hour – that goes by when I don’t think of my brother.

My brother and I, Humboldt County around 1980
My brother and I, Humboldt County around 1980

This is the thing: Dana is in alignment with the universe now.

He is with Source (- God), and Source is all Love.

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If you walk into a dark room, it’s only dark as long as the light isn’t turned on. If you bring light in, there is no darkness, just as if you bring love in, hate dissipates. I don’t believe in “satan” or an actual presence of hate – I simply think that all darkness is the absence of light, and that love is the highest emotion.

I believe that love is what the universe is made from, and I believe that God is the Source of it.

This being said, my brother is with love, the highest emotion. He can’t go low; he can’t go to the lower emotions, ones in which love is absent. He can’t join me, as he once did when he was alive in physical form, in being there for me if I raged or whined. He can be there for me – and is there for me – if I join him in being present in the higher emotions.

Does that make sense?

In a nutshell, it’s that if I’m happy and full of love, he can be with me. If I’m full of anger and grief, he can’t.

Added to this, I find that I’m in a state of grace.

Holding Dana's hand when he was in his coma
Holding Dana’s hand when he was in his coma

The pain of separation from my brother is like a cocoon that surrounds me.

If I walk through this cocoon, if I stay and move through my life with that cocoon wrapped over me, I am in grace.

It keeps me close to God. In order to stay in the cocoon though, it is necessary to keep my emotions aligned. I can’t be hateful and stay in the cocoon.

But it’s really, REALLY hard to stay aligned. It’s really hard to stay centered in my heart. It’s hard to keep my tether straight. It’s hard to make my spirit the priority in my life. It’s like choosing between a party-pack of Tapatio Doritos and a bag of kale. It’s like, I know the kale is going to be good for me, I know the Tapatio Doritos do me no favors, I know how good I’ll feel after eating the bag of kale, I know the kale is an acquired taste and if I keep going, I’ll love it more than Tapatio Doritos (maybe…right?), but I’m NOT THERE YET. So I’m struggling.

I feel pinched off from Dana when I don’t have my alignment.

And that’s the unbearable part.

Dana and I, holding hands when we were kids, overlayed on an image of my hand on Dana's when he was in his coma.
Dana and I, holding hands when we were kids, overlayed on an image of my hand on Dana’s when he was in his coma.

 

 

I want to start this post out by being really clear about one thing: grief is hard work.

There is no way around it: it is simply a process that one must fully engage in. I am quite certain at this point in time that grief is a process that will never be complete. To fully engage in it means that it becomes a part of the fabric of your life. It changes the design you weave, lends it’s light and sorrow to the threads that wrap you in your reality.

Perhaps for some, it is also a catalyst for spiritual growth, propelling you to where you want to be on that level.

This stuff that I’m listing below are simply (for the most part) material tools that I have found helpful in my process so far. They are NOT listed in order of importance, and I am not including things like ‘eat/drink right, exercise’ because everyone tells you about that. You know it already. I’m just adding the pieces that might be new to your own list.

Please dive in and add what you’ve found to be helpful too –

  • Proof of Heaven

I am convinced that my brother sent this book my way, and also nudged the Audible version at me. The last hour of the Audible version was far and away the most useful element in it for me. I cannot recommend it highly enough, because it described the process of dying, of heaven, of God (“Om”), the brain, this world, the next, karma and more in ways that resonated with me.

  •  Candles

I use candles when I wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to be alone. Coventry Candles come with affirmations wrapped around them, and are long-burning, made of essential oils. They smell divine, and the affirmations are comforting.

I think any natural candles are wonderful, especially right now, but I especially like the ones that are made with essential oils and “dipped when the moon is right.” The “Healing” candle is my favorite, but Protection smells fantastic.

 

  • Essential Oils

Mom got me on these, too (you’ll notice “my Mom got me on this” a lot in this post). Essential oils have been a part of my life for a while now (remember my post on essential oils for weight loss?), and at this point, they take on a healing element for my spirit. My Mom has a massive collection that she is very generous with me – right now, I’m using a lot of Young Living‘s “Abundance”, “Inner Child”, and “Pan Away”.

 

  • Abraham-Hicks videos on YouTube Red:

Abraham-Hicks’ “Money and the Law of Attraction” and the book that started it all, “Ask and It is Given” (which my Mom also gave me). I’m NOT writing this to convince you, but if you are looking to make sense out of life or anything, this might help. It helped me get through everything that has happened in the past 8 years (panic attacks, PTSD, my Dad, postpartum depression, Moxie/Down syndrome, leaving my job, leaving my life in the Bay Area, full time family stuff, income struggles, isolation, friendlessness, washing clothes by hand in a Humboldt winter, the loss of both of my Grandfathers, my beloved Grandmother and now, Dana. If I thought anything was big before this, I was wrong. it was all piecemeal compared to this.)

I had to take a leap to get over some of the “out there” stuff to me (like the whole “Abraham” and channeling collective consciousness bit), but the actual content is gold, solid gold, priceless.

I’ve read and watched everything they have that I can borrow/buy – I’m on repeat-land here. So I was thrilled to find that with YouTube Red, you can save videos OFFLINE and listen to them or watch them whenever (which is a big deal because I can’t stream well off the grid).

The whole smorgasbord is there, and it helps me tremendously. For it to be of use to you, or for it to make sense, you might need to backtrack a bit and read the first book (Ask and It Is Given – that’s an Amazon link there but you can get it in the library for sure).

I watched this 30-minute video over and over for about 2 hours the other day, for example, as it spoke so perfectly to how I feel about where I am in my grieving process.

  • Yoga

Yoga has always helped me with the active meditation that it provides, but with grief, it adds a layer of helping me connect with my body when the grief is overwhelming.  Since I am rarely able to attend yoga classes, I tune in through Gaia TV . With Gaia TV, I can choose the type and level I want – it’s usually kundalini for me, but all yoga is helpful.

  • Breathing and Meditation

I wrote this post on mediation, if you want to read more about it.

Breath is an integral part of meditation, and I have found that breathing is critical to move through my grief, when the grief just explodes and hits me. I absolutely have to stop, stop, STOP and breathe, focus, breathe.

Whatever gets the breath going is great; the “breathe” app is what worked for me (and I have it on my Apple watch, which means that it taps at me when it’s time to use it).

 

  • Therapy

I have a therapist that I love.

She meshes talk therapy with action lists, nutrition and advice. Now, I was lucky because I had already started working with her before all of this happened with Dana, so I didn’t have to look for her. I’m not sure I’d have the wherewithal to if I hadn’t already had a relationship with her.

I think we all need to have a safe space to “let it out” and process things in our lives. Get help for hard things. The sooner we find a person that works in ways we find helpful, the better.

  • Boundaries

This isn’t a material item, but I wanted to include it because this has also been very helpful for me.

I can’t really be around people that much now. Kids, yeah (and they are very helpful for my spirit), but the strong energy that comes off of most adults is just often too much. I have had to learn to say things like, “I need to be alone now” – which I’ve never been able to clearly define before.

I just need to be alone. I need to have this space and walk this walk. I can’t physically talk too much about it or have other’s energy come into it, because it is so deeply personal.

  • The Grief Emails

This came from the Mortuary that helped my Mom with her parents and with Dana. Mom told me about these emails – they send one daily and it’s truly wonderful. It varies from ideas and tips to quotes, nuggets of wisdom. Daily Email Affirmations.

  • Body Care

cloud of protectionI have been slip-sliding around with food and exercise, but I’ve found that massage helps me find more balance and love with my physical self. I use my friend Nieves’ line of body oils. She uses essential oils and all good-stuff and I can really feel it as I put it on my skin. I use Legs n’ All, Bath Salt, and “C” Perfect Skin.

She also makes this thing called “Cloud of Protection” which is awesome – it has a really bright scent that can lift me up.

And…

  • Nature

I’d be lost without nature. Living where I live, being able to walk the hills with the mist, the trees, mountains – it is a real gift right now. Nature is the closest I can get, perhaps, to God, and it’s there that I find the most healing.

 

 

Sometimes it feels impossible to talk about grief or even of the tools that help me get through the worst of it. It makes me angry, it makes me sad. Nothing will make it as it once was; he’s not coming back to life, he’s gone, what’s the point? Right. That is true.

But as I weave this grief through my life and create a new world for myself, one without my brother in it, I am grateful that there are some things that can ease the pain a bit and help me with the necessary process that I am going through.

I really hope they might help someone else too.

 

Dana and I talked about everything. He was curious, I was analytical, so between the two of us, we’d mentally dissect just about everything.

What would it feel like to be drunk? Smoke? How about sex – what would sex be like? We talked about it all, long before either of us actually did anything. And the first of us who would do something would report back to the other.

We talked at length about how it felt to have Grandma hold our hands and leave this world. About what it was like to miss someone so much (- he, with Grandpa and me, with Grandma). We wondered what it was like for them, souls free. We also wondered if we had to be on our best behavior all the time now, knowing they would be watching. Haha.

With Dana gone, I keep turning to find him, wanting to ask him what it’s like to die. How is it? What was it like? How does it feel to leave? What did the coma feel like? What about the actual transition? Did you know how much we wanted you to stay? How much we love you? How bereft the world is, without your presence? How borderline-unbearable?

So, with all of this in my mind and heart for the past 3 weeks, I wasn’t surprised when I found the first recording in my lineup from Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday was a show from 2012, “Proof of Heaven” with Dr. Eben Alexander. I knew it was Dana’s way of reaching out to me.

Proof of Heaven

Eben Alexander had been in a coma, and experienced the other world. He came back and wrote about it in his book, “Proof of Heaven.”

Of course I bought the book immediately after watching the show (which was captioned on my DVR; I don’t think this one is?).

The book, “Proof of Heaven” was powerful. As a neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander explains the brain and the experience that he had from a medical standpoint. He then talked at length about what the other world was like for him, as well as the transition back.

I was angry that Eben Alexander had come back and Dana didn’t.

I felt guilty too, wondering if Eben only came back because his hand had been held constantly throughout his time in the coma? Dana’s hand wasn’t held the entire time. Was that why Dana didn’t stay – because he didn’t have a tether to this world? Mikey told me not to “go there.” I’m trying not to.

It’s not easy.

Nor is it easy to focus on what I think Dana’s experience is now. I know that when I do, when I really try and focus on HIM, and the joy that I have no doubt Dana is living now, I am okay. If I deviate from this and start thinking about me and how miserable I am that he’s not around (for the rest of my life? I can’t do this…), then I slip-slide down into a cesspool of sorrow.

But I’m trying. I really am.

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photo credit: Sky via photopin (license)

I’m having a hard day.

Everything is reminding me of Dana, and of Dana being gone. It’s hitting me in every direction. That song? He’s gone. That movie? He’s gone. That joke? He’s gone. That book? He’s gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, HE IS GONE.

With him goes the only person (besides Grandma) that I always believed loved me unconditionally. I’ve felt lucky in that I was secure knowing that Dana would always welcome me, want me around, love me. Always. He’s been my backup plan for as long as I’ve been independent. “If I get really sad, broke, in trouble, need to get on my feet again, I can always go to Dana.” 

It was the love. It was knowing how much he loved me and appreciated me. He made me feel smart, powerful and wise in how he sought out my advice and wanted my approval.

***

Yesterday I walked to the outhouse and saw the red bathtub sitting on the side.  The red bathtub was one that my mom had bought for the house that she originally lived in, then left and Dana moved into. Dana re-did the bathroom and took out the red bathtub. Knowing how much I liked it, he slugged it all the way up here and gave it to Mikey and I for valentine’s day.

He was SO EXCITED when he gave it to us, hopping from foot to foot and barely able to contain his anticipatory glee. “Guess what I brought for you?!!!!!!!!” It was like when we were kids and we’d save our money forever, or work hard and long at handmade gifts. So much time, effort and anticipation went into how much the other would enjoy the gift that we were about to burst when the actual time came to give it.

Seeing the red bathtub sitting on the hill, waiting to be put in and used, I lost it. I sat down and cried my head off.

We don’t know if we’ll be able to stay on this farm,where all of these wonderful physical remembrances of Dana will continue to surround us. The red bathtub. The slope he mowed for me. The lawnmower. The area he cleared for my garden (that I still haven’t put in). The space he told me wanted to build a pagoda and a little flower garden, more trees.

It’s all up in the air now. Leaving would be heart breaking at this point, losing the home and space we love so much in addition to my only brother, my only sibling, my best friend.

 

 

I wake up every morning with this weight on my chest. It’s huge, dark, heavy, I can’t breathe.

The little ones are invariably cuddled against my sides in the (highly comfortable) pull out bed that we are inhabiting at Mom’s house now. I lie there, feel their small bodies against mine, stare up at the ceiling and let tears slip silently down my face.

I try to breathe against the huge, heavy weight on me, the darkness that surrounds.

I try to breathe.

Try to take that breath in through my nose that I tell my kids to take, out through my mouth.

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Mom and I teeter forward, holding on to each other.

There is so much to do.

Death is full of business, cuts no slack.

It’s the impossible, the unimaginable, our world without Dana.

One or the other or both of us stop, think we just can’t do this. And somehow a foot will follow the other and numbly, we trudge on.

***

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I laid down on the grass next to my mother at the cemetery.

We were on the grass that covered her parent’s graves.

Dana’s plot in which he will be buried was directly ahead of us.

I realized that Dana had been standing on his own grave only 6 months ago as we buried our Grandma. My face sank in the grass, my heart went down the tunnel of uncomprehending, soul-cell splinting sorrow.

I saw my mom’s face in the grass too, saw her shoulders shaking, and I couldn’t even imagine what she must be facing right now, what her tunnel is like.

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The kids help us.

I’m pretty sure that Mom and I would be flying down our respective rabbit holes of grief if the kids were not grounding us, absolutely calling us to BE PRESENT.

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I am resentful; I am deeply grateful.

I don’t want to tend to their needs; I would be lost without this.

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photo credit: eagle ( #cc ) via photopin (license)

On Monday, September 5th, my brother was released from this world.

All of us were gathered around him: his 4 children, both of the women that he married in the course of his 44 years, my mother and myself. We held him in our love, with our hands, around our hearts.

We sang. We prayed. We bathed his beloved body in rose water as is the Baha’i custom, and we wrapped him in the silk shroud.

Dana, my beautiful, beloved, big brother has gone.

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The boy who jumped from waterfalls, who rolled around hills, who swung rattlesnakes by their tale.

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The boy who felt closer to me than my own life breath as I was a baby, the one who held my hand and pushed me down the mountain in the big wheel.

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IMG_6167Who twirled with me under the old oak trees.

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The kid who climbed coconut trees like he walked on land, who lived off of mangos in the summer with me as he built our river-floating bamboo rafts. Who was my buddy as we combed the reefs, played hide and seek in the bush, romped the streets on our bikes.

meriah-nichols-4My best friend.

My back.

meriah-nichols-1-5My brother.

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Well.

It turns out that Dana had been really into this one particular TED talk not so long ago. It was called, “Dying to Be Me” – Dana absolutely loved it and made his daughter Yu Han watch it. I put it on and watched it today in his room:

(it’s captioned through corrected YouTube captions; safe for us deafies)

So. Yeah. Blow me away already, why don’cha.

Dana was super-into a story about a woman who went into a coma? Whose organs were failing and was on life support, given hours to live? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE, DANA?!

Because that’s really where he is now. Infection upon infection upon infection. Life support of every kind. Organs failing. Coma. Non-responsive. Brain inactivity.

We don’t know what’s going on. If he’s collecting his energy so that he can pull all of his pieces together and focus and then come back? Or has he moved on? Is he wanting to move on but is hesitant to leave us the way he is? Or does he want to stay but is hesitant about all that needs to be done if he does?

WE DO NOT KNOW.

All I know is that when I sit there with him and hold his hand, play music for him and talk to him, I am truly happy. Just knowing my beloved brother is alive, that that is his pulse that I am feeling in his hand. That brings me joy.

I love him so much. We all love him so much.

****

This doctor walked in yesterday afternoon as I was hanging out with Dana.

She was tall and blonde, very young. She introduced herself and her qualifications and said she would answer any of my questions. I said I really didn’t have any. She launched into a big description of his infections and wrapped it up with the fact that it’s not his infections they are worried about as much as his (lack of) brain activity. I said, ‘well, it’s not over till it’s over. He’s still going.” And then she went on about how they are worried about his “quality of life” and all that crap. I held up my hand, “it’s okay, you can stop there.” “We just like the families to know the reality of the situation,” she said.

“The reality of a situation can change in an instant,” I said, “I know this for a fact. Miracles happen – I know this through my own life, through my daughter’s; things happen and change and you just DON’T KNOW. It is so important that we stay positive and focus on the positive in this.”

She backed down, said ‘sure’ and went about her rounds.

I was left feeling a little violated – pleased that I actually told her what I thought, and pleased that I stopped her from spewing her death pronouncements. But man? She doesn’t need to say all that. I got the feeling that she was really out to burst my bubble, you know? Like, she saw I was in a good vibe with my brother with music going and talking to him as if he was awake – and she was all, ‘gonna squash that one now!”

Joy-sucker.  Hope-Slayer. “Realist“.

You know what I think? Say it all once. Let us know once. And then stop. Let us figure out for ourselves how we need this to be for our own hearts. Let us have hope unless and until hope is futile. It is never over until it really is over.

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I woke up this morning and the first thing that popped into my head was this memory of a waterfall that was near our house in Fiji.

Dana and I used to go there, walking through a nearby village to get to it. The waterfall was surrounded by rocks (seems like waterfalls usually are, aren’t they?). Dana would climb up the high rocks and jump with gusto into the pool below while I sort of plastered my pasty white limbs in fear to the low rocks. It would take me at least half an hour to summon the courage to jump, what, 2 feet?! And Dana, the kid with the golden limbs, sailing happily from the high rocks, was usually the one who would help me.

“Come on, Meriah!” he’d say, “YOU CAN DO IT.”

I’d call Dana ‘The Golden Boy” because he was so golden. His hair was golden, his tanned arms and legs. His smile, joy. The way that everyone loved him. His athletic ability, coordination. Dana was just good at everything.

Contrast that with who I was for a lot of my childhood – the too-tall, awkward girl with scars all over her face, coke-bottle glasses, limp hair and big fat hearing aids and you might think it would sting that I had a Golden Brother. But oh! No way!

I loved my brother. He was my best friend, my confidante. He was easily one of the most popular kids in school in Fiji and I can’t remember one instance in which he did not stop and shine his light on me, include me, help me out, make everything okay.

I’m crying as I type, partly because my memories are so happy, and also because I miss and love him. I am so scared right now.

Mack is slumped in my lap, with his hands in my armpit (??). My tears are dripping on his head.

It  reminds me of how, when I was suffering from massive post-partum depression (and undiagnosed PTSD), I left the Bay Area and went to stay with Dana up in Humboldt. I needed a place to recover and he was always my support system. When Mack would be screaming his head off and not stopping for anything, Dana would pick up Mack and do some of his baby-whispering magic and get him to sleep.

My Golden Brother. The big guy who shines and makes everything right with his smile, joy and love.

 

The fight-or-flight response (also called the fightflight, freeze, or fawn response in post-traumatic stress disorder, hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.


Few instances in my own life have had me fighting. I tend to be the kind of person who has no problem decking big guys that are picking on other women, and will stick my career-neck under the guillotine over an issue of another’s justice.  I will, however, either run away or curl up into fetal position and fall asleep from the stress when it’s me.

My solution to most problems have usually been to move or go away, and we all know how that works, don’t we?! Ha. All problems move with me and it’s amazing how people exactly like the ones I left pop up in a new place. Moving never works. Running away solves nothing.

It still is my modus though, so I was expecting to want to run away from the Lost Coast when Dana was shot. I thought I’d just want to go to. oh, I don’t know, Iceland? Thailand? Some land far, far away, right, that’s good.

But I didn’t.

I went home and was happy to be home. I think this is the first time in my life that I’ve gone home from a massive traumatic event and been happy to be there.

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I’m thinking of Dana, you know.

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Thinking of his own fight/flight that is happening at this very moment.

Thinking of how shocked and traumatized his body is, how he’s making these choices on fighting or flying.

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The day I was sitting there with Mack, picking and eating our grapes from the vineyard, looking out on the Happy Trees in our Bob-Ross-Land, I was flooded with memories with Dana.

Running up the hills around our sheep ranch when we were little kids in Cloverdale, him climbing around some ditch of a creek and wanting me to come in. “It’s FUN, come ON, Meriah!” and I’d be all, “um. no. that’s muddy.” The sandbox, where Dana found a rattlesnake playing with us and had my Dad running out with his rifle. That other rattlesnake that Dana thought was a rope, and caught by the tail and swung it gaily around his head while my parents fainted.

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My mom tells us the story of the big wheels – Dana would take me up the hill behind our ranch house and put me in his big wheel and let me FLY!

My mom’s heart would be in her throat and Dana and I would laugh fit to kill.

And then we moved to Fiji – and Dana amped his play game while I all I wanted to do was read till my eyes hurt. He made me get outside though and we’d sit on the beach and play with hermit crabs, comb the reefs for cool stuff, dodge sea urchins, sort of poke slugs and catch little fish.

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He’s always had this JOY of being alive, this zest for adventure (and danger) that I have loved to be around. He’s an Aquarius. I’m a Taurus. An energetic wind storm to a plodding cow – that kind of says it all.

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I want him to choose fight now.

I want him to choose fight.

I want him to choose FIGHT.

I want him to grow old, see his kids grow up and love his grandson and soon-to-be-born granddaughter as much as they can handle, maybe more. I want him to love and be loved. I want him to rest, have fun, play like he did when we were kids.

I want his bright being to laugh and love his cheesy, awful music. I want to hear him say, ‘phe-nom-enal’ again, I want to hear him begin another story, “Meriah! You will not believe this!”

I want him to talk in his italics. And brag about his quiches or pizzas, “they are the best, and I mean, THE. BEST.”

I want him to FIGHT.

Please keep praying for him. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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A belief is only a thought that you keep thinking.

If you think anything long enough, it will become a belief.

And, as everyone knows, whatever it is that you believe will become your reality.

So the trick to changing things in your life is to focus on thinking thoughts that you WANT to believe, and to focus on the things that you want to have in your life.

It’s pretty simple and yet pretty (incredibly, mind-blowingly) hard.

It’s hard because we all think we have to pay attention to and believe the things that are currently in our reality. But all that is currently in our reality is just a bunch of beliefs that other people had and focused on and came into existence. We think the “real” things are the things that are important but they’re not.

If we believe it, we’ll see it.

If we have to wait to see it until we believe it, we’ll be waiting a long time. 

****

My beloved brother Dana was shot recently.

We’ve gone the ebb and flow of gradual improvements, of incremental change in the direction of healing, with backward steps thrown in for loops. When his stomach and leg were closed, things looked good and he was taken off of sedation. We all expected him to wake up, but he didn’t. He went into seizures instead. His leg became infected, sepsis was back. The ventilator was causing trouble and there were issues with his dialysis machine, his kidneys. There are details here that I simply can’t write of because I don’t know the medical ins and outs of it all.

But suffice to say, he’s taken some pretty big steps back.

I’m thrown into this state of belief/disbelief.

I get into a positive groove of believing that he’s going to be okay, that he’ll live, that he’ll make it. Then I hear an update on what is happening with him and BAM, the disbelief blankets me and I’m suffocating under grief, Just. Can’t. Breathe. Can’t fucking breathe, this can’t happen, Dana can’t go, this can’t HAPPEN.

I step outside and walk around our hill that Dana mowed for me, breathe, I calm down, think of the message that I need to hold in my head and heart. Hold it there until it becomes a belief, and focus on everything that is positive. Hold an ending to this that I want: my brother, alive and walking in sunshine on earth with us.

The problem with belief is in cases like this, it takes two to tango.

It’s not my life I’m trying to believe into reality here. It’s my brother’s. This is his life. It’s his life, his body, his relationship with God, it’s his spirit, his journey.

I can struggle with belief and find it difficult to let go of reality. I can want Dana to heal and live more than anything. I can teeter towards belief, holding faith as my rope, and wobble with each step. But this is his life, and he needs to want to be here too.

Please, if you can, pray for him. And for me, my mom, my family, to stay strong in our faith and belief and help him with our love.

Thank you.

There is nothing like a crisis for making social media meaningful.

I mean, day in and day out, it’s just an information clearinghouse and news board. Then something huge happens and reading each and everyone’s comment of love and support means the world to me, when all I want to do is crawl into a hole and wake up with this all having been one horrible nightmare.

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Dana had another surgery

They worked on patching up his innards, and fixing up his femur. The latter was infected and the former was probably causing his sepsis. So with both fixed, he should hopefully be out of the woods. Fingers crossed and laced in prayer.

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I keep thinking we’re in Canada.

The hospital staff are so polite and friendly, it’s virtually un-American. I mean, everyone in this place is ridiculously nice. Example: I only had a large bill to pay for our lunch at the cafeteria – they didn’t have change, so the janitor paid for our lunch.

Then – my huge stroller was hogging up the aisle and an orderly wanted by and said “excuse me, I’m sorry” so many times, you would have thought he was the one inconvenience me. I was shocked.

There’s a level of kindness here that I have never experienced before in a hospital. It’s laughable comparing their sweet mottos and little slogan-signs of human-kindness (“being kind is good for you!”) with Oakland Kaiser’s “get well or die fast” vibe. I’m infinitely glad that Dana got this end of the stick. And infinitely glad that, by extension, we all did too.

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I have never experienced the ICU before.

Despite the fact that Moxie and I both have disabilities, we are perfectly healthy and always have been (knock on wood). The rhythm of it is foreign to me, and the sway of emotions unfamiliar. The day begins with fresh shock – ‘oh shit, this is NOT a dream…’ and seeing Dana and the absolute sorrow over his pain, and over this stupid, senseless horrific event that will certainly change his life.

By the end of the day, peace is made with it all – and every tiny up-swing in his healing is celebrated and blown up until we all feel like everything is going to be just fine. We go to sleep. And wake up, and it all begins again.

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You’d think my Mom would have dissolved over this. She lost both of her parents only months ago.

But she has risen to it like good cream in a cup of milk. She’s camping out in the waiting room and developing iron in her knees from kneeling on them in prayer. We are all so grateful to her, and to Yu Han, Dana’s eldest daughter.

Yu Han has taken over all of the phone calls, the nitty-gritty management of the details of insurance, of payments, of “regular life” that kind of rake over your brain and make your pores scream. And she’s doing all of this with her heart in agony over Dana lying in the ICU, working through his walk to the edge of the woods.

I have so much admiration for her.

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The kids are still champs.

Oh sure, Moxie still does stuff like she did last night, where she takes off running while laughing hysterically at my scrambles to find her while paying for the wipes at the CVS register (because I’m trying to clean the ‘fix a flat’ explosion in the car from the 108 degree heat here). And sure, the kids seem to time their bathroom visits to where they stagger each other because I wasn’t really paying attention the first time around (and made them all go at the same time!), so I end up escorting them to the bathroom roughly 5 million times a day. And sure there have been some tantrums and Mack still takes about half an hour to decide on what he needs to wear every day (and is a total drama queen over each fold that I did not make over his pants or shirt), BUT OVERALL, the kids have been champs!

That’s the news for today. Over and out.

My brother Dana was shot 3 times. Twice in the leg and once in his abdomen.

The news report on it was vague, but covered the bare facts: that it was an armed robbery. That they took his truck. That he was airlifted to a hospital.

He’s been in the ICU since Saturday, in and out of plateaus of healing. Lower, lower, higher. Higher, lower, lower, low.

IMG_9152Dana’s never been one to rest.

He usually gets about 4 hours of sleep a night, and is constantly in action. Even sedated, with wires on him, dripping tubes and with a ventilator, he had to be strapped to the bed because he was trying to get up.

IMG_9172So many wires. So many machines.

And so much love.

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I can’t thank all of you enough for the outpouring of prayer and love that you’ve given to Dana and my family. I don’t want to keep asking for more, but I am, because Dana is not out of the ICU yet.

He’s come a long way and still has a long way to go. He can use all of the prayers and healing energy that you can send him.

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Moxie has helped me a lot in this.

As I emerged from prayer the other day, I was struck funny by the fact that the last time I have prayed this hard was when I was pregnant with this little girl.

Meriah Nichols -3Yes, she with the dirty face from climbing around the gardens of the hospital and running all over the place.

When I was pregnant with her, she had diffuse fetal hydrops – her skin was completely separated from her body and filled with fluid. She had fluid in her head. She had huge heart holes. She was not expected to be born alive, indeed, they said she wouldn’t likely make it past the second trimester. She was given a “0%” chance of survival.

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There she is again, that child who had a “0%” chance of survival, leading the way in a race to the cafeteria.

So… miracles happen. They do. Moxie, born with no health issues whatsoever, is proof of that. Her hydrops and heart holes cleared by themselves before birth. She was born healthy and remains one of the healthiest people in our family.

This gives me hope with Dana, and refreshes my connection with the power of prayer.

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I don’t really have words to describe the pain and sorrow that I know all of us feel in seeing our beloved Dana in so much pain.

We know that this is a pivotal place in his life. He’s living his story now, and it’s an intense one.

And we remain here for him.

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