Sep 8 2012

Sometimes it Lasts…But Sometimes it Hurts Instead

“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.” -Adele

The photo above was taken at a surprise party for Todd Barr on September 8, 2002–his last birthday on earth. I wonder if the people in attendance that day know what a tremendous gift they gave him–just by being there to say we love you and we’re glad you were born. Todd told me (many times over the following days) that day was one of the happiest of his life. It was just like him to be so appreciative of something as simple as a birthday–something he should have had dozens more of.

Todd died three weeks after this picture was taken. He was 34.

A few days ago I attended a birthday celebration for my brother who just turned 57, and as with most ceremonial events in life (weddings, births, funerals and birthdays) Todd came along with me (in spirit) to the festivities.

It was impossible not to be reminded of my deceased fiance as I watched my brother celebrate his special day, but what brought Todd to mind most powerfully for me that evening was the fact that there were so many married couples in attendance–and all of them had been together for decades–happily–according to them.

My brother and his wife went to prom together in 1974 and they remain in love after nearly 40 years. My daughter and her husband met and fell in love in high school in 1996. My sister-in-law’s aunt met and married her “best friend” 19 years ago and another couple had been “matched” by my brother and his wife over 20 years ago. Of the married couples in the room, all but one (newlyweds) were in relationships that had stood the test of time, and the word “soulmate” came up in conversation over and over that night.

So, of course, I thought of Todd often, though I didn’t speak of him in that context. His name did come up, not in a discussion about love and soul mates (I find that bringing a dead fiance into those discussions tends to bring the level of joy down in a room), but in a discussion about swimming in the Pacific ocean and its danger vs. safety.

One of the women there was saying she would never get on a boat or even go on a cruise because she was afraid of drowning in the ocean. The old (pre-Todd) me would have insisted she was missing out on a beautiful relationship with the sea, and that she should maybe reconsider, don a good life-vest, and partake of the beauty and majesty of the open water.

The new (post-Todd) me doesn’t quite see it that way. The new me now understands and can relate to being afraid.

When I was a child, I swam and body surfed in the Pacific ocean with my brothers and sisters with absolutely no fear of any dire consequences. We would swim out to catch the “big ones” and ride the waves back to shore, sometimes rolling and tumbling in the surf when an especially powerful wave hit us. We often resurfaced tangled in seaweed, gasping for air and laughing with joy at the “fun ride” the Pacific can give.

I would never do that today. Nor would I let my children.

I told the ocean-phobic woman I thought she had good reason to fear the power of the sea, then I explained to her how my fiance Todd (a very strong swimmer) drowned in it.

She stared in my eyes for a long moment and promptly changed the subject. “You are not over him,” she told me.

I know.

One thing survivors of loss know is that you don’t “get over” the loss of a loved one. Ever. What you do is experience the grief, then move forward, slowly at first, until life returns to some semblance of “normalcy.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief, lists 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance (not necessarily in that order) as the stages a loss-survivor will experience over time.

I can testify to all five.

But, I would add a sixth (and possibly most potentially debilitating) stage that persists long after those five stages are traversed.

6) fear.

I don’t have anything wise or witty to say about it. I can only say that I remember what it was like to be fearless, and I miss that.

Happy Birthday Todd. I miss you. I wish you didn’t have to leave so soon.

 

(This is a cross-post from WilliamToddBarr.wordpress.com)



Jun 25 2012

Did Michael Jackson’s Escape to Whiteness Add to His Success?

♥♥♥ Michael Jackson died on June 25th, 2009, but not before gifting the world with his amazing talent–and not before he faded before our eyes into a white-skinned man.

Today, as Katherine Jackson is mourning the absence of her incredibly gifted son, I find myself thinking of Trayvon Martin’s mother, who will never know what contribution her young son might have made to the world because a paranoid neighborhood watchman judged Trayvon guilty of simply “walking while black.”
Though their lives may seem to have little in common, both of these American sons were born with brown skin–and both suffered the undeserved consequences of living in a society in which brownness is so often misjudged, disrespected and devalued.

“Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame
They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can’t believe this is the land from which I came”
-Michael Jackson, They Don’t Care About Us

Though we have made many strides in race relations over the decades, this deeply-ingrained fear/loathing of brown skin in America leads many to wonder if the King of Pop would have risen to such heights if he had remained brown. Sadly, it seemed as though the whiter Michael’s skin became, the more the world loved him. Some even forgot he was ever a black man.

Whether due to a medical condition or by his own intention, Michael escaped his God-given brownness, while Trayvon was made a target by it through the eyes of an overzealous gunman who saw that brown skin and interpreted it as a threat.

Michael once sang,

“Before you judge me, try hard to love me. Look within your heart then ask, Have you seen my childhood?…the painful youth I’ve had…”

Painful youth, indeed.

Rest in peace, Michael.

Rest in peace, Trayvon.


Feb 14 2012

Where Do Broken Hearts Go?

“If I should die this very day, don’t cry, ’cause on Earth we wasn’t meant to stay…” -Whitney Houston (Your Love is My Love)

Forgive me for being blunt, but my grandmother died exactly the same way Whitney Houston did, alone in a hotel bathtub. Only, Grandma left a note. She was tired of feeling bad.

Though I was not yet born when Grandma Rita died, I can tell you that the trauma of such an event is like a tidal wave, leaving those directly in it’s path drowning in pain (and seeking an escape from that pain), and those of us further down the line wading through the ripples of the pain-induced choices made by the ones who only metaphorically drowned.

The toxicology results in Whitney’s death are not expected for weeks, but those closest to her are already discussing a combination of Xanex and alcohol as the probable cause.

In my grandmother’s day it was “tranquilizers” the doctors suggested to cure “melancholy” and “nerves”. Today, the pharmaceutical companies are pushing pushing pushing “mood stabilizers” and pain killers on the public like they are TicTacs.

I’d wager that while Bobbi Kristina was in the hospital for “extreme hysteria” (mourning) she was being “calmed down” with a drug similar to the one that likely killed her mom.

I realize medication is often a life-saver, but what has happened to our society that makes “popping a xanax or two” before or during a stressful situation “the cure?”

When will our alcohol-guzzling, pill-popping culture find healthier, non-chemical relief for the broken-hearted? Isn’t that really what depression and anxiety are? A desire to feel happy and fulfilled, with no idea what the steps are to get there, or even where the journey to bliss begins?

When my fiance died, a few people lovingly offered me anti-depressants, telling me I shouldn’t be ashamed of needing it. I wasn’t ashamed. I just figured the pain would still be there when the drug wore off and I would be looking for more drug instead of diving into the pain and dealing with it. The pain was so intense, there were days I wished I were dead, and though I’d never experienced pain like it, my intuition told me that if I could hang in there, with time my heart would heal (which, thank God, it did).

Perhaps there’s a place in me that knows the havoc wreaked by my grandmother’s substance addiction–and it kept me from ever stepping on that path to disaster.

I get that people are frightened for her, but it seems to me the last thing Bobbi Kristina needs is for someone to take her hand and lead her down the same path her mother struggled a lifetime to escape from.

I don’t mean to sound judgmental. And I’ll say it again–I realize medication is often a life-saver. I’m just angry and hurt at all these people dropping dead from LEGAL drugs and alcohol (while the war on illegal drugs rages on.) Prescription drugs kill 300% more people each year than ALL of the ILLEGAL ones (heroin, cocaine, meth, etc.) combined.

Really. Enough already.

“The cure for the pain is in the pain.” -Rumi