Browsing Tag

healing

Binders, death, Grief, Guest Posts

How to Have a Dead Child, The First Five Years

August 20, 2015
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By Adina Giannelli

Live in a state of fog, half-submerged in water. Everything is fuzzy, cloudy, gray. Feel as though you’ve been anesthetized, but badly. Quickly you realize that what you thought was a general anesthetic turned out to be a local; the pain comes through the haze in sharp shards, and there’s no one you can sue for malpractice.

Cry, seemingly at random, at strollers and strawberries and the number 23. Living after death is not rational. Even through the anesthesia you see that. Exist as unhealed wound, sore and open, vulnerable to everything, yet somehow impenetrable. Scar tissue forms keloids around your head and heart; refuse to be moved.

Stare coldly at strangers who ask questions; stay angry. Exercise until you’ve lost all discernible body fat and rip your hair out at the root. Cry in your bed, in your car, in your office, at the gym. Wear age-inappropriate clothing that hangs on your gaunt frame like a signal light, a warning sign, a red flag.

Imagine yourself pregnant, feel phantom kicks; dream, occasionally, that your dead child is reincarnated as younger sibling. Become pregnant, accidentally but essentially on purpose, by your dead child’s father—a man you once loved and now hate.

Go to Russia where you sleep for fourteen hours a night and cry silently into your cheese grater cot at night, hoping for another day to pass, willing yourself to forget all you’ve left behind. A voice so small it is nearly inaudible whispers in your ear: remember, remember.

Two

 Move to a beautiful apartment in an idyllic little village an hour from where you work, where none of the faces are familiar and no one knows your troubles or your story or your name. Strangers stare, no one bothers to ask. Walk the streets in the day, to the library and the cooperative market and the village’s flower-covered bridge in rainy mornings, sit in your living room chair late into the evening, staring out the window and wondering why.

Your water breaks in the living room late one evening on the precipice of winter. A fierce cherub is born in the bedroom shortly thereafter, apparently healthy and squealing. Your midwife Kirsten catches the baby and places him on your swollen breasts; silently, in a manner discordant with your tradition, you pray.

Do not name the baby for eight days, less for religious reasons, more because you’re scared he won’t survive. His father, if you can call him that, wants to name the baby Uzi. You want to name the baby Ariel. His father is nowhere to be found for most of that first year, visiting occasionally as you monitor your second child’s breathing and anticipate the moment at which it might cease

Cry sparingly, for tears do no good. Winter births spring as you birthed your December baby, who passes through the five-week mark easily and without fanfare and tell yourself that if you don’t get too attached to the idea of his permanence, there is a very small chance he might survive.

Give strangers death stares when they ask about your husband, how many children you have, if he is your first. It is just you and this small infant this first year. Wake every fifteen minutes, checking his breathing, which steadies your own. You call this baby Samuel, a Hebrew name meaning God has heard. You are not so sure.

Three

Exhaust yourself with work and the task of raising a needy infant alone. Stress yourself with thoughts of your own poverty, the loneliness of a solitary future, the uncertainty of how you will survive. Realize you have no idea how to parent this beautiful baby when no one parented you, when you exist in a state of fog, when half of your heart is buried miles away, encased within a tiny white casket in a verdant cemetery plot, left to earth beneath the shade of ancient maple and pine trees.

Visit the cemetery and the other half of your heart as frequently as possible. Watch as your second baby is reborn a toddler through a sort of fog which offers a strange clarity, even in a haze of grief.

Repeat, as a mantra to guide you:

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Your daughter is dead but your son is still here.

Sometimes it will work and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your days are better than others, even good. See that life is extraordinarily beautiful, at times; feel happy. See that life is extraordinarily blessed, at times; feel grateful. See that life is extraordinarily difficult, at times; feel angry. Your daughter did not deserve to die. Your son did not deserve a dead sister, an absent father, a mother teetering on the edge. Resign yourself to the fog, lean into it and hope that like all other weather patterns, it will one day lift. Some mornings it is a challenge to lure your body from bed, the fog is so heavy, but you rise. Even on the worst days, you find yourself lifted.

Four 

Struggle. Become so busy with teaching and work and the labor of parenting a toddler that you have to remind yourself daily of your reality. You don’t feel sad, most of the time, you feel so overextended and exhausted by the activities of daily living that you nearly forget you have a dead child. Cease speaking about her, as a means of self-preservation.

Listen as people ask if Samuel is your only child. Tell people you had a daughter but she died; comfort them as they work through imagined grief. Learn to lie when people ask if you have other children, so as to maximize everyone’s comfort. Think of her daily; cry less frequently; try to move forward and upward and on. Feel guilty, as if by approximating a life you have betrayed your dead child, your buried half heart.

Realize that the fog very nearly overtook you, but it was merely an overture: a necessary beginning, but a temporary one. Recognize that even if you don’t know how to get it, you and everyone around you deserve something else.

Five

Decide you really have to get it together, to get off the treadmill of stagnant, unspent grief where you’ve stationed yourself in the years since your daughter’s death. See that every bad decision you’ve made in the last half-decade has been a function of indecision, a failure, driven by fear, to make a move, to take your life by its own balls and do the thing you were initially driven to do.

Realize that though your daughter is dead, you are not. Recognize that though you have tried desperately for the better part of the last five years to match her in her death state, it is physically impossible. You cannot be dead while you are still alive. The realization is shocking in its simplicity, and somehow profound, if only for the fact that you’d never considered it before.

Recognize your process was blocked, and you need to get unstuck. Act accordingly. Throw yourself into exercise, and friendship, and work. Help everyone who asks. Be kind to everyone who crosses your path. Write and read and teach with fire burning beneath you, from the place where for five years, half your heart’s been buried.

Pitch stories to editors and proposals to agents, knowing that many of them won’t be accepted. Eat ice cream after you go to the gym and have three drinks at dinner with your beautiful cousin and her wonderful husband, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Wrap your arms completely around the broad body of the man you’re casually dating but beginning to love, even if you don’t know where things are going, even if it means your heart will be broken and badly. Your heart’s already broken, and if you’re very lucky, it will break again, and again, and again, anyway.

Go to the cemetery at dusk on the evening of your daughter’s fifth birthday, and cry into the grass while your son runs circles around you. Walk down the hill to the nearby playground with your preschool aged son. Stay there until well after dark, blowing bubbles on park benches and chasing your boy on the pavement, summer fireflies lighting the night around you, long after he should be sleeping. When you arrive home, read him seven books in bed rather than the requisite three. But I’m three, Mama, he will protest, conflating his nightly reading load with his chronological age. Yes, but you’ll be seven someday! you will tell him, and you will mean it.

Maybe it is G-d working in and through and for you and this revelation is holy. And maybe it is for your daughter and maybe it is for your son, maybe it’s for your favorite cousin or that man you are only casually dating but find you’re beginning to love. Mostly it is for yourself, but it isn’t selfish. Your child has been dead for five years, but you have walked among the living, even if half your heart’s been buried since. If you are going to have a dead child you must find a way to be alive. You start by choosing to live.

 

*

 

A writer and teacher whose essays has appeared in publications including Role Reboot, Salon, and The Washington Post, Adina Giannelli lives and works in Western Massachusetts with her son Samuel. She is currently at work on her first book.
Join Jen Pastiloff  and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Featured image by Barbara Potter.

Addiction, Fatherhood, Guest Posts

There’s A Bus Waiting

August 17, 2015
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By David Lintvedt

We called him “Satellite Mike”, but I never knew his real name.  I heard that at one time he had a family, house and a good job, but all of that was taken away by alcohol and drugs.  For many years he’d struggled with his addictions, and had been in and out of AA, rehabs and detoxes.  By the time I met him the abuse had left him with brain damage, what we in ‘the rooms’ refer to as a wet brain, which is almost like a perpetual state of drunkenness.  This condition robbed him of his ability to think clearly and this left him unpredictable: it was a little scary, but could be interesting.

I would occasionally give Mike rides to and from meetings…and although this meant that we had to ride with the windows open (as personal hygiene was not high on his list)  I enjoyed talking with him, hearing stories of his drunken adventures, and the fantasies created by his sodden mind.  Yet these talks also left me feeling very sad, as I could see flashes of the man he once was…before the addictions took him away.

Satellite Mike had been trying to find long term sobriety for years, but every time he would get a few weeks or months of clean time together, he would feel better and decide that his problems were not that bad, and he would go on another bender.  Once he told me that he regretted not taking advantage of those opportunities to find sobriety early on, when he still had a chance; but when I knew him, he was so far gone it was hard to tell whether he was drunk or not.

We put up with Mike in the program, understanding that when he disrupted a meeting, or flipped over a table at the diner, it was because his brain was pumping out bad chemicals.  As a reward for accepting Mike, we learned a lot from him as Mike was a true power of example…a warning of what was waiting for us, if we became complacent, or let our guard down…if we ever came to believe we could handle (or even deserve) our next drink or drug.

When he was going to meetings and in treatment, Mike lived in transitional housing provided by a non-profit group called Project Hospitality, whose goal it was to help people who were struggling with addiction. When he was not sticking to his program Mike would just disappear; sometimes he’d be in a hospital, once he was locked up in jail for a short stretch, other times he was just off on a bender, perhaps sleeping in the Ferry Terminal or on the streets of Manhattan.  Eventually however, he would come back to the meetings, looking sheepish, asking for rides, food, cigarettes and forgiveness.  He came back because he knew that there was nowhere else for him to go.

Satellite Mike was living in one of these transitional housing units when he went on his final drunk.  I never learned how much of what happened was due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, and how much was due to the damage already done to his brain…and in the end it really did not matter, the damage was done.

One cool and damp spring night, after being kicked out of a bar, Mike began roaming the streets of Staten Island, yelling at cars, and accosting passersby.  Finally, he got it into his head to play “bull fighter” with city buses, out on Victory Boulevard; he waved his coat like a cape, and was heard yelling “Toro, Toro!”  Several buses missed him, but as he leaped out of the way of one bus, he landed in the path of another bus, going the other way, and he was gone!

In the years since he died, I have often wondered if Mike meant to get hit by the bus that night, if that was the only way he saw to end the misery caused by his damaged brain, and the horror of not being able to drink without pain, while not being able to get sober either.

 

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

After Striking A Fixed Object

July 22, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By LaToya Jordan

I was jerked awake by the swerving of the car as it raced towards the median. I remember the sound of hands, my aunt’s hands; she pounded the steering wheel trying to make it stop spinning, make the car stop moving. I screamed, we all screamed. I sucked my teeth, said this isn’t happening, can’t be happening. Silence right before impact, the screams of metal and voices vacuumed out of the car; so quiet only heartbeats remained. 

The vehicle rolled approximately three times, the first roll was a barrel roll, driver’s side leading, after striking a fixed object.

I woke with the belief that my skin was made of ice, a chill, a chatter deep inside my bones. Grit in my mouth. I spit the grit, pieces of my teeth in my hand and I wanted to be on a warm beach holding a handful of sand. I wanted to let the wind take the sand from my hand and be left with tiny white slivers of seashells. There was a lot of blood, my blood, and there was a woman’s voice. When I stared at the blood soaking the tissue or towel or blanket she told me to press the something to my face to stop the bleeding. I thought I was going to die a virgin. It was cold and dark though it was morning. Someone cocooned me in blankets. The only light I saw was when I looked up. My mother screamed. Helicopter blades sliced open the sky. The man in the helicopter had warm eyes and he was on the beach with me and we held flecks of shells in our hands. It was so easy to speak to him through my eyes, to be intimate with a stranger when I thought I might die. He tried to start an IV and the needle hurt. I was bleeding from my face, spitting out teeth, and my body was numb, yet the needle hurt.

11/29/97 treated for SHOCK/TRAUMA

This will sting a little, the doctor said. Needles into the gashes to numb. He pieced my face back together. A stitch, a stitch, another stitch. A radio was on in the background. My brain sometimes adds details to the story that weren’t there that day, like the song on the radio was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Diana. She died in a car crash on August 31, 1997. In this created memory I say to myself, at least I can be sewn back together.

This will sting a little.

There’s a part of the brain that controls fear called the amygdala. It is almond shaped. My amygdala has a super power. It transforms every car I ride in into a gray Mercury Sable GS with 82,876 miles on it. It sends me back to the New Jersey Turnpike on November 29, 1997. I get to be 19 again and again. My amygdala rewired my body; my right leg now directly connected to fear. Whenever I’m a passenger in a car my leg pounds the floor in search of a brake. Sometimes I have to hold my thigh to calm my leg. I don’t have the power to turn this off. The motion is like a breath, like a heartbeat. I don’t know how to make my stomach feel like it is not being jerked, like it is not heading towards a median, like it is not flipping over three times across the highway after striking a fixed object. I don’t know how to make my brain shut up.

When in cars I talk to my amygdala.

I hush it.         (but the vehicle rolled three times)

I rock it.          (but the first roll was a barrel roll)

I tell it             (but it struck a fixed object)

everything

is going

to be okay.

(But I can’t forget)

The first time I saw my face in the mirror, I thought, “Frankenstein made a new monster.” A line of stitches, from the right side of my mouth and down across my neck. These new mouths sewn tightly shut but they mumbled so loud.

This will sting a little. Pink skin bubbled out of my scar like lava, forming a new tough skin. A pink protrusion. When the bubbling stopped, I looked in the mirror and saw someone that was not the real me, an evil twin. How would people know this wasn’t the real me?

On physical examination there are two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. The distinct areas are at the lower facial border at the angle of the mandible and on the left upper neck. The larger of the scars is 4.5 x 1 cm in size, this crosses the mandibular angle. The prominent scar of the left neck is 4 x 1.2 cm.

Prominent. A few synonyms: protruding or sticking out or

keloid. Defined as irregular or abnormal scar tissue. Also defined as when your body becomes wet pavement after the rain and a slimy and thick pink or brown earthworm crawls across your skin and settles in, this spot is comfortable. Or you are a tree and your body grows berries, skin fruit that hangs at the site of your ear piercing or your belly piercing or your acne scars. You, with your irregular and abnormal skin fruit for all to see, bulging.

This will sting a little. I covered my mirrors, borrowing something I learned from Jewish friends, sitting shiva for my former self. Here lies a pretty 19-year-old girl. Who will ever love her?

And the sting kept stinging. Not a little. It held venom that paralyzed me. It was hard to get out of bed. I managed to go through the motions for college classes but my average dropped because sometimes I felt like the cracks in my face had been super glued back together, another fall would destroy me. I raged. I wrote pages of stinging words: I’m a monster and no man will ever want me. I got lost inside the sting; I couldn’t escape its grasp. I was too afraid to tell my friends and family how I was feeling. I let them see a stronger version of me, window dressing to hide the pain that ate me from the inside out.

There, in the mirror, is a gray car that flipped three times. There, in the mirror is the bloody face and broken body and all the things I remember and all the things I don’t. There, are the things beyond my control. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face and sometimes the accident is there. Good morning, car accident. How are you today?

How many people will be in car accidents today? I don’t know, but every time a person is killed in a car crash in the U.S. their body is marked on a list of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In 2013, 32,719 people died in car accidents. That’s 89 people dead a day. They’re probably still counting the bodies from 2014.

Raise your hand if you’ve been in a car accident. Raise your hand if you were nervous or terrified about getting back into a car after that accident. Raise your hand if your heart beats fast just thinking about getting into a car. Raise your hand if you never drive. Raise your hand if you are a prisoner of that road or street or stretch of highway. Are they counting our hands? I wish I could see your hands. I wish I could calm your legs when you press those imaginary brakes. You are my people. Are you scared? Are you scarred? How do you cope? Is it meds? Is it meditation? Do people tell you that you should get over it already? Sing this song to the get over it people:

            scar tissue that I wish you saw

            sarcastic mister know-it-all…

            with the bird I’ll share this lonely view.

42,013 died in car accidents in 1997. 115 people in the U.S. probably died on November 29, 1997. I was not one of them.

I was not one of them. Not anymore, not normal. I didn’t want the normals to look at me because they would see my scar, two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. All the normal people who knew me, their eyes changed. I saw sorry, I’m so sorry in their eyes. I saw them remembering the old me. (This lonely view.) With them I tried to wear the I’m still the same person hat. I wore real hats. I wore my hair combed in my face. I wore a scarf to cover my neck and mouth when I went outside. Don’t look at me, my eyes pleaded, don’t look at the very distinct bull’s eye on my face.

I wasn’t prepared for how much words from strangers would sting.

You’re pretty, still, he said. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Triggers

July 21, 2015
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By Heather Regula

My dad died on April 17 2014. It was totally unexpected – he was getting ready to get his hair cut and boom –  just dropped dead.  My mom opted not to do an autopsy as there was little good that could come from it. The doctor told us it was likely a stroke or massive heart attack and that he was probably dead before he hit the ground. My dad’s death has been brutal on me and there have been a few times over the past year when I’ve felt that reminders of my dad’s death were going to crush me. There are physical symptoms associated with where I’m at mentally and emotionally – inability to sleep, restless sleep, grouchiness, extreme sensitivity and being overly emotional, etc… Mainly I feel like fifty bricks are sitting on my chest – every day for the past two weeks.

My dad’s birthday was on September 1st and in a typical overly dramatic fashion I’d like to announce that September damn near killed me. My annual “Dad’s birthday” alert popped up on my iPhone. That visual reminder hit me harder than I ever imagined and it took me months to seemingly bounce back. My dad’s birthday was definitely a sorrowful trigger and I’m cognizant of the fact that September 1st will probably hit me hard every year. I left the birthday alert on my phone – sure I could’ve easily deleted the reminder but I chose not to. Not because I want to feel heartache when it pops up, but because I want the forever reminder – kind of like how my dad is still listed in contacts on my phone. Perhaps if I don’t delete his contact or the birthday reminder, then his death won’t be so permanent. Childish? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Definitely. Avoiding? Likely so. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Letting Go Of My Mother

July 19, 2015
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By Vivki Mayk

After my mother died, the long silence of my 60-mile commute was the hardest part of the day.  I think I missed her most then, after years of talking to her on my cell phone as I sped along, on my way home. We’d gossip about my Aunt Betty or compare notes on Dancing With the Stars. Now there was no sound except rubber meeting macadam or the latest report from NPR.

Sometimes I’d suddenly dissolve into tears, the shaky sobs triggered by surprising things. Dionne Warwick singing “What’s it all about, Alfie?” on the radio once set me off so completely, I’d had to pull over when I heard the line “Is it just for the moment we live?” That hokey question was my reality now, the reality of adjusting to the loss of someone who’d been part of my life for so long – but in the end, not long enough.

I’d grieved slowly. First came the sadness tempered by relief after the months of watching her small frame implode from cancer.  Absorbing her loss was not something that happened all at once on the day she died or even when I collected her cremated remains. I let go of her by inches and days – cleaning out her apartment, hauling carloads of kitchenware to Goodwill, carting her designer clothes to a resale shop.  Bit by bit I was acknowledging, with every box packed and carted away, that she wasn’t coming back.

My daughter acknowledged that finality much sooner than I. On the morning of my mother’s memorial service, she’d turned to me, her grief raw. “Grandma’s gone, and she’s not coming back,” Katti had sobbed, reminding herself – and me — that this was permanent. My mother was not at her timeshare or away for the weekend. Still, it had taken me months to begin going through her belongings. To do that affirmed what my daughter knew, what we’d all known from the moment of her death. She wasn’t coming back. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing

Letter To My Homeless Father

July 16, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Toni White

Dear Dad,

I knew from an early age that our story would never end well but it was a July Saturday that you changed our lives forever.

That was the day you died. 
 At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

You’re supposed to be in your teenage years when you get your heart broken for the first time.  You’re supposed to run home from school in tears that your relationship is over and your dad is supposed to be the one that threatens to ‘hurt him’ because he’s upset his daughter.  You are not supposed to be 10 years old when your heart breaks for the first time and your father is not the one that’s supposed to break it for you; and yet you were.  You agreed to come to Disneyworld with mum and I despite the fact that you were no longer married and I was over the moon to think I would have my first family holiday.  Five days later, however, you changed your mind and you broke my heart; I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.  You called me the following Tuesday, like you always did, but I was still too upset to speak to you; mum told you I didn’t want to talk and you hung up; you never rang back.  It was 6 weeks later when I had to call you and apologise for my behaviour and listen to your mother tell me what I had put you through.  I never got over it.  That was the day I truly began to see you for what you were.  Even writing this brings tears to my eyes and anger to my heart to think you could treat your daughter so callously.  I wish I hadn’t missed you as much as I did and called you; I doubt you would have ever had the courage to call me back and I would have been free from you for all these years.  Hindsight is a cruel mistress.

You are my shameful secret.  If I don’t have to speak about you to anyone, I won’t.  If you were anyone but my father, I would have walked out of your life when I started to see you for the manipulative and controlling monster you really were.  Instead, you pushed everyone away and left me being the only person you had in the world despite the fact I wanted nothing to do with you.  We, as a society, are told to look after our parents no matter what; ‘love unconditionally’ as they say but why?  You have done nothing to deserve my respect, help or love and so I’m going against everything I’ve ever been taught and I’m walking away because I can’t carry you as my shameful secret any longer; I have no desire or energy to keep something so big, so quiet.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Hearing the Unheard in Grief

July 1, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88by Mark Liebenow

If you lose a chunk, or all, of your hearing, the world radically changes. You don’t relate to people in the same way. You may not be able to hear the chatter of birds, the scuffling of leaves in the breeze, or the purring of your cats. There’s a constant vulnerability, a distancing from people, a hesitancy to interact.

Ditto with grief.

The loss of hearing has similarities with losing someone you love. They’re both forever, and both are significant losses. The far greater loss is death, of course, and I’ll try not to push the comparisons too far.

Hearing loss is invisible. You can’t tell until you get close to me and see the hearing aids. Then you tend to stare at them. And I notice.

Grief is largely invisible, too. Until you get close, I seem fine. Then you notice the residue of tears on my cheek and the redness of my eyes. When I talk about grief, you tend to look away. And I notice.

At night we take out our hearing aids and the world goes silent.

With a spouse who has died, the house is always silent.

In a crowded room, the hard of hearing have trouble understanding because aids amplify every sound. The cacophony becomes too much, and we want to find a quieter place.

The grieving have trouble coping with the bustle and noise of crowds, especially if we are introverts. Crowds deplete us of energy, and we seek a quieter place.

When your beloved whispers sweet nothings into your ear in bed, you hear nothing because you can’t hear whispers.

With grief, there is no one whispering.

Every day we are reminded of our loss of hearing in countless ways.

Every day we miss our loved ones when we think of something we want to share with them, when we have a question only they can answer, when we see one of their prized possessions, when we hear certain songs or drive by our favorite restaurants.

If you’re hard of hearing, you read lips at least a little to help interpret the verbal sounds you partially hear.

In grief, you read eyes to interpret what people are saying, to determine if they are trying to be helpful or are only being polite and would rather be somewhere, anywhere, else.

If you grieve and have a loss of hearing, this compounds matters. Imagine that we’re sitting in a busy coffee shop and you’re trying to console me by talking quietly so that others don’t overhear. Well, I can’t hear, either.

We already feel partial for not being able to hear clearly. Now we also feel broken by death. And if our hearing suddenly dropped for no reason when we were in our teens, like mine did, then we have probably learned to be quiet in groups and stay on the side of conversations, even though we’re dying to share our witty retorts. We don’t hear well enough to be confident that we know what conversations are about, and by the time we’re sure, the conversation has moved on to something else.

If your spouse has died, not only have you lost someone you love, you may have also lost “love,” feeling that no one else will want to put up with your hearing loss.

It’s not always easy to live with a hard of hearing person, because you have to repeat things. It can also be funny. Sometimes I mishear the words, think it’s a creative way of saying something, and use it in my writing.

Whether it’s a hearing loss or grief, if you are in front of me, all I ask is that you not jump to conclusions. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, healing, loss

How I Choose To Remember

June 30, 2015
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By Nikki Grey

My mother’s hand shook as she set the black velvet jewelry box on my lap. I knew she was trying to seem excited to give it to me, which was true of course, but she also was attempting to hide the fear in her eyes with the smile on her face.

I opened the box and saw the golden heart-shaped locket. An intricate carving of a mockingbird decorated its face along with a long stem of flowers. I knew the significance of this special gift. I knew she was going to die soon.

This necklace would soon be all I would have left of my mom.

I wore the locket around my neck day and night, even in the shower, for weeks before the day came when my foster mother pulled me aside and told me to go upstairs with her. Right away, I knew something was wrong. My foster mother never asked me to come to her room, even if I was in trouble. Besides, the look in her eyes was not one of contempt— the way she usually looked at us if she were upset, or just in general really, like every time any of us spoke. She never did like any of her foster kids much. But today my foster mother looked less cold and distant than usual. She appeared old and somber. I felt small and young. I was 13.

Immediately I knew what my foster mother was going to tell me. My golden locket clung to my chest, seemingly heavier than before. With its weight my real heart sank, too, because I knew.

I knew as I glanced at my foster sister. She knew, too. I knew as I climbed the staircase up to my foster mother’s room. I knew as I sat on her bed and she put her arms around me. The gesture broke my resolve and I started to cry.

My foster father was also in the room. He sat on the bed with us. I sat waiting between them, two people who hardly knew me and definitely didn’t like me. I held my breath and blinked back a few tears. Then my foster mother delivered the news.

“She’s gone.”

I saw it coming. I’d known for months. I knew it would hurt, but I didn’t really know. I didn’t know my body would shake uncontrollably. I didn’t know I would let these strangers try to comfort me. I didn’t know I would feel so alone. I clutched my golden locket in my hand and held on tight. I didn’t want to let go.

That was my final memory of my mother. It wasn’t a memory of her really, as much as it was my experience of her death. Now all that’s left are memories. The problem is that sometimes I’m not sure I really knew my mother all that well. I saw her as beautiful and fun, but who was she to everyone else? My mother was a drug addict to my older sister when we were growing up; Mom always let her down. To my younger brother she was just a compilation of stories and brief memories of being held as a child; he was only 10 when she died. Her parents viewed her differently from her friends, different from her kids. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

On Forgiveness

June 27, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88Sensitive material: Mention of rape/sexual assault

By Kari Cowell

What is forgiveness? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “forgive” as “[to] stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” Spiritual gurus and psychologists recommend finding compassion for those who have wronged us and letting go of any anger or resentment we harbor toward that individual lest it eat us up inside.

But are there instances where it’s okay not to forgive?

Yesterday, the group intention in yoga class was forgiveness. The instructor said, “Think of someone who challenged you. Think of someone who you need to forgive and dedicate your practice to them.” I was raped the summer of 2011, and I chose my rapist. Logically knowing that forgiveness will heal whatever is left in my body of the incident, I’ve been working for the past year on forgiving this person. And it’s damn difficult.

My rapist was a healer. He was a Reiki practitioner and massage therapist. I was visiting and we went to dinner and talked about healing. I told him I never had a Reiki session and could really use a massage and asked if we could set up a session before I left town. He offered a session after dinner and gave me a choice:  If we had the session on his bed, he wouldn’t charge me because he was feeling too lazy to take out his table. I had known this guy for years, so I didn’t think anything of it and agreed. He raped me during the session. At the time, I was working on being assertive instead of aggressive, and still hadn’t quite figured out how to verbally express what I wanted without sounding bitchy. Upon reflection, I now know there are times when it’s okay to sound bitchy. But my body language was a clear no. I repeatedly moved his hand away from my lady parts, but he kept returning. It took me doing that 3 times before he finally stopped.

Continue Reading…

Don't Be An Asshole Series, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings

I Can Grab My Belly Fat & Make It Talk. I Am Enough. PS- This Shit Is Hard.

June 25, 2015
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By Jen Pastiloff

Hi! Gotta make this quick because I am packing to leave for Italy. I am leading a retreat there starting Saturday. I am not packed and I leave in two hours. I rule.

So, the demons have been back lately. I have been struggling. Who knows why? Free floating anxiety, not-so free floating, the kind that latches on and pulls me down real low to the earth, the kind that sits on my chest and won’t get off like a little bitch. Even when I call it a little bitch, it won’t get off. I have been watching Orange is The New Black and I’m all prisony. And yea, I too have a crush on the new girl on it. Ruby Rose. But I also have a crush on Pennsatucky and Black Cindy and Poussey and Taystee. And the whole show. I want to marry it! I am five years old. I love it so much that I want to marry it.

Anyway, the little bitch that is anxiety won’t get off my chest so my breathing is shallow and  I feel ungrounded, like I am floating, except that sounds kind of nice, and anxiety is not nice, so less like floating and more like a walking dead person. A walking panicky dead person. I hide it well. Probably not, actually. Ask any of my friends who get crazy texts from me.

In case you are new to my blog or my work, I had a severe eating disorder. It still haunts me at times. Anorexia and over-exercising. Like 5 hours a day exercising. Meh. (I probably could do that again if I could watch Orange is The New Black the whole time but nah. Gross.)

I posted this video on my instagram and challenged women (and men if they want to play too) to post a picture or video of their body using the hashtag #iLovemybody and #girlpoweryouareenough. My friend Maggie tweeted me this:
@JenPastiloff I think she’s just saying that you are awesome to accept yourself exactly as you are, when she can’t do the same.

Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, Race/Racism

A Black Remembrance of My White Father.

June 21, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Erika Robinson

I have not shared this photo before. I have wanted to keep my father to myself, perhaps because, when he was alive, I had to share him with so many.

But it’s Father’s Day, and it is both nationally and personally a sober time. So I am giving all of us a gift by sharing my father once again.

My father left for college when he was only 16. He left for the big city from a farm in Nebraska, where he had no exposure to Black people.

There was no one whiter than my father, with his light eyes and hair, his aquiline nose, his Midwestern twang, and the way he said words like egg and roof. Tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and Oxford shirts were his uniform. He lent them a white guy cool by finishing his look with khakis and topsiders that he wore with no socks. He smoked a pipe. He loved Latin and classical music and German food. He was completely and unapologetically white.

My father was also the greatest man I have ever known. I described him to a friend recently: the way my father was committed to social justice and the cause of civil rights; the way he gave his voice, his body, his life force to the struggle for equality for Black people to the degree that he received letters of thanks during his lifetime from Martin Luther King, and to the degree that he was eulogized in Congress upon his death.

My friend said “Your father sounds as though he was very…optimistic.”

This friend of mine is a very polite young white man. I could tell from the pause between the words “very” and “optimistic” that what he’d wanted to call my father was “naive.”

Here is what my father was: he was grounded in his identity as a white man, aware of the privilege this status conferred upon him, and acutely conscious of the mantle of responsibility laid upon him to live a life of service to those upon whom society had conferred a different status entirely. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing

An Open Letter To The Rapist Who Claimed My Virginity

June 21, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88Sensitive material: contains mention of rape and sexual assault.

By Kalee Prue

Dear Brian,

I typed your name into the Facebook search box tonight on a whim. I had done it before one other time, years ago. I vaguely remember seeing your blurred smiling face in a baseball cap, and the feeling of disgust that suddenly welled up in the pit of my stomach, I had to click away. This time was different though, perhaps I have grown softer over the years since then and now… and I have surely grown softer in the years since you stole my innocence in the house that “Merch” built. This time instead of just your smiling face that made me want to punch the SCREEN until it shattered into a million pieces, there was two small, beautiful, golden haired, smiles in pink dresses on each side of your dimples… And your smile… was so happy… so radiant with joy sitting there between those two tiny angels, that instead of disgust… instead of rage… the only thing that welled up in me was an overwhelming feeling of joy in my throat for you… and in that instant… just like that, forgiveness happened.

Fifteen years ago you wanted to pretend that next morning that nothing had happened, and I went right along with you out of shame. I made believe while working and selling right along side of you for weeks afterward that nothing had happened. To the few I told, I made believe that we had made love. That I had finally been “made love” to. You pretended nothing had happened to everyone, after all, you were my team-leader and dating each other was inappropriate, as you had been telling me after every time we had kissed up until that point. Of course the same was true after we… well, after YOU had sex with me… but then you moved on very quickly from encouraging my puppy-love crush in the moments we stole off alone together, to dating another girl who was part of your sales “team”. I’m sure I could write pages on what that did to my self esteem, but I won’t… I want to focus on the rape itself. Because YES, Brian, what you did was rape, though it took me years to call it by name. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, healing

Palms Up

June 16, 2015
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Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Telaina Eriksen

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight. I mean, I haven’t been staring at your body…”

“A lot of weight,” I say.

“I just mean to say… I just want to encourage you… I’m not saying it right, but you deserve to be thinner and healthier.”

I feel the tears spill out of my eyes. So much shame. Ancient shame that I have carried with me ever since my mother slapped my arm repeatedly for salting a saltine when I was four or five years old. Good people aren’t fat. Fat people are ugly and bad and lack control and self-discipline. Men do not like fat girls and if men don’t like you, they won’t marry you, and if you aren’t married, if you don’t have a man, what good are you? The Gospel According to My Mother.

“It’s how I deal with things,” I tell my friend, oversimplifying.

“This fall, I think I know how you felt. I gained a lot of weight, was very heavy for me. I remember thinking, ‘why not? I’m happy with myself’… I’m not saying it right… but I love you. I want you to be happy.”

I am so huge, I require an intervention. I love my friend but I feel like sobbing. Doesn’t she think I know? Doesn’t she know that I always know? Maybe I am naïve enough to believe that some people just accept how I look and aren’t secretly judging me.

I get into my minivan after our conversation. I reach down to feel my stomach, feel the exact proportions of my shame and worthlessness. The exact dimensions of my failure as a woman.

***

As near as I can figure out and remember, I was sexually molested off and on from the time that I was about four to when I was about nine. When I was nine years old, I had my tonsils out and due to complications, almost died. I was without oxygen to my brain for not merely seconds, but minutes. It felt easy to blame my fragmented childhood memories on that illness.

The feelings I remember most from my childhood are terror and anxiety.  Nightmares plagued me. During the daylight hours I constantly sought attention, distraction, love. At night I sucked my thumb and tried not to wet the bed.

***

Here is a list of the things I need to be doing at this exact moment:

cleaning the house

baking my son’s vegan birthday cupcakes

walking the dog

placing the new boxes of tissue around the house (it is cold and flu season after all)

turning in my grades for the semester

mailing the Christmas box to my siblings in another state

scooping the cat’s litter box

cleaning off the top of my desk

loading the dishwasher

wrapping my son’s birthday presents

doing laundry

losing weight

being a good friend, wife, mother and daughter

being Zen (while also being understanding, charming, evolved and happy)

making time for the important things

reducing my social media time

reading more

gossiping less

achieving perfection. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

The Girl I Meet on the Yoga Mat

June 16, 2015
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Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Janna Marlies Maron

Plank pose. I hold myself up with arms and feet. Blood pulsing through my biceps and I feel strong. Pull belly in and I feel healthy. Holding in plank pose I breathe in; I breathe out. I remember how hard it used to be for me to hold this pose. Just 15 seconds and I started to shake. I could not hold it the entire time and had to lower knees down for support. Today I do not shake. I hold until the teacher instructs us to release.

I pull hips up and back into downward facing dog and stretch heels down to the mat. Hands press the mat away; spine stretches. Again I recall what it was like when I first started practicing yoga. In downward dog, knees bent and heels up. Holding that position and I lost my breath.

I move through the poses and watch myself as if I am not me but another student in the class. I watch and remember what she was like when she first started to practice yoga. Not even when she first started, but when she was the most depressed after her diagnosis nearly three years ago. She felt weak and unhealthy. She spent half the class or more resting in child’s pose. She wondered why she was even there. Continue Reading…