Friday, July 29, 2016

Grief vs. Trauma

I grieved when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I knew I would grieve when she died. I have grieved for the last three years. Grief is a long, slow journey. My grief work now is very different from what it was at this time three years ago or even a year ago. I have lived three years without my mother's physical presence. I have almost finished graduate school. I have made new friends, I have dated, I have traveled, I have suffered more losses since her passing. And while I of course believe that my mom will always be with me--that does not take away the pain of not having her physically here. But things are different now. The pain isn't so fresh. The feeling of abandonment isn't so strong. I usually describe the loss of my mother as if feeling that gravity no longer exists. I was recently talking to a friend and she asked if that had changed, three years later. I said, it's like I'm on one of the smaller planets/moons in the solar system--so there's some gravity, but it's not the same kind of pull like there is on Earth. In other words, I still feel like I'm floating around, but just not as much.

I am recently realizing that it is not just grief that I have been dealing with since my mom died--I still have a lot of trauma with me from watching her slowly die as the cancer took over her body.

Recently, I had a very frank conversation with a good friend about their mother's cancer and imminent passing. They wanted to know what it has been like for me. And one thing they said really struck me--that when their mom dies, they want to just feel relief.

And I told them--I think that's exactly what my first feeling was. Relief that it was over. That my mom was no longer in excruciating pain. That my family and I no longer had to live in the purgatory between life and death. That, despite how painful the rebuilding would be, we would now be able to continue with our lives. The grief only came later. And processing the trauma, even later.

For the first year after she died, when I would visit my grandparents and dad in Salado in the house where my mother died, I always had nightmares. Every time I was there, as I slept, I was transported to the most difficult days of my mom's illness, including the hospital visits, the chemo treatments, the resulting illnesses, the weakness in her body, the fear in her eyes. I couldn't be in that house and not think about all the painful memories.

When we went to the Christmas Eve service at church in 2013, I couldn't sing the hymns. All I could think about was sitting vigil by my mother's death bed, singing my way through the hymn book. The first time I went through, I skipped the Christmas songs (it was July and I have always had strong feelings about Christmas music only being played between Thanksgiving and Epiphany Day). But the next time I went through and all subsequent times, I sang the Christmas songs too. I had realized it would be the last time she would ever hear them because while the most optimistic estimate was that she had a couple more months, I could feel it would be much sooner and either way, she would not make it to Christmas. So at that Christmas Eve service, I just sobbed.

And then my maternal grandfather was on his death bed, less than a year after his eldest daughter died. When we went to say goodbye to him for the last time, I just stood paralyzed in the corner sobbing while my dad prayed and spoke to him. The scene was too familiar. I couldn't be present for my grandfather in those last hours of his life because I was so overwhelmed by the memories of my mother in that same state.

But earlier this year, seeing my paternal grandmother on her death bed didn't cause the same reaction. I was able to be present as I was present during my mom's last days (I think that's one reason I didn't realize how traumatizing the experience actually was--because I was able to be present with her during those last days). In fact, I engaged in the same practices--singing hymns and folding paper cranes.

And just a month and a half later, my client I had been working with as a senior care companion for nine months transitioned into hospice care. My last appointment with her was four days before she died. She did not open her eyes the entire time I was there. She had always loved music and I had sung to her before, so I did the same thing I had done for my mother and grandmother--sang hymns as Ms. E slowly faded away. I was reminded of my mom and grandparents but it wasn't incapacitating. I could be present.

I have been reading a book called Trauma Stewardship (which everyone should read). It has been eye-opening to me. Putting feelings and thoughts I didn't consciously realize I had into plain words. Confronting contributors to my mental health difficulties. Through processing trauma.

I have had a very hard time being present in the last few years. And I'm only realizing recently that it might have something to do with my trauma that I have avoided dealing with in many ways and not just witnessing the trauma of others. So I'm taking the guidance from this book to heart and am hoping to become a better trauma steward from now on.

Monday, July 25, 2016


This morning I accidentally stumbled onto some "pro-life" web pages and got extremely irritated. Because, I'm sorry, but you cannot call yourself "pro-life" if you are only "pro-life" for unborn fetuses (which apparently these websites like to call "preborn children") aka anti-abortion. (The other "pro-life" issues addressed on this website are birth control and euthanasia. I searched for "death penalty" on the website. No results.)

Here is what being "pro-life" means according to the American Life League:

  • Anti-abortion
  • Anti-Planned Parenthood because they have facilities that provide abortions
  • Anti-abortions of fetuses that have been screened and found to have a disability
  • Anti-birth control because then the possibility of fertilization is prevented, thereby "killing the preborn child inside of her" (Note: every time I type "preborn" it gets autocorrected to "reborn" because PREBORN IS NOT A THING)
  • Anti-euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide (I wondered if maybe this was where they would talk about the death penalty; maybe euthanasia was meant to include lethal injection, but turns out, no, that's not a life issue they are concerned about.)

Here is what being "pro-life" reportedly does NOT include:

  • Pro-healthier environmental practices to slow climate change
  • Pro-universal basic income
  • Pro-universal childcare
  • Pro-free college
  • Pro-paid maternity leave
  • Pro-"welfare" (in quotes because that includes several programs, such as TANF, SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, etc.)
  • Pro-living wage
  • Pro-gun control
  • Pro-comprehensive sex ed
  • Pro-immigration/pro-refugee
  • Anti-police brutality
  • Anti-mass incarceration
  • Anti-capital punishment
  • Anti-war
  • Anti-imperialism

Because, you know what? It is EASY to be "pro-life" when that means demanding someone else carry a pregnancy to term. But if you are not creating a better, cleaner, safer, more equitable world for that child to live in once they are born--HOW is that considered being "pro-life?"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

On Privilege

It is privilege that makes me a third generation graduate student.

It is privilege that my ancestors made the choice to immigrate and were not brought against their will as slaves.

It is also privilege that my ancestors stole land and resources from the people already here.

It is a privilege that I have been able to travel so much in my life.

It is a privilege that I have had very little to do with law enforcement (I may be generally law-abiding but that makes little difference to POC).

It is a privilege to learn about racism and oppression instead of experiencing it yourself.

It is a privilege to be welcomed into spaces occupied primarily by people of color and seen as a friend.

It is a privilege to have friends and community spanning all colors of the spectrum and residing all over the country and the world.

It is a privilege for me to choose to be a freedom fighter. I truly believe that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, but it is also a fact that I do live in a country with systems designed to protect people like me.

It is a privilege to choose to fight against injustice when it does not personally affect you. And I mean, personally, as in your person. Because I do take it personally when my friends and community are affected... but that does not mean it happened to me.

As non-members of marginalized groups--and today I am talking about race, so I mean us white people--we have the privilege to choose to take action, but we also have the responsibility. No, maybe we ~personally~ aren't racist (look at all our black friends!), but we still benefit from systems designed for us to prosper at the expense of our non-white community. And if we do not work to change that, we are complicit. We are complicit in the gunning down of POC, especially black men, in state-sponsored violence. We are complicit in the school to prison pipeline.

We will not dismantle white supremacy in one day. But if we make the mistake of thinking just because we don't believe we are racist or the problem is just too big, nothing will change.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

I don't expect this post to make a huge difference. But I am making public my commitment that I will use my privilege and responsibility to fight back against oppression. What about you?

If you need ideas, click here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I'm back!

I'm dusting off this blog! I am currently interning at the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault for the summer of 2016 and am planning on taking some time to blog on topics related to sexual violence prevention and response, rape culture, intersectional feminism, systems of oppression, and more! Fun stuff, right? The two main reasons I have not written much in this blog in the last few years are

1. I have been very busy with graduate school
2. Writing is a lot harder for me than it used to be. I could go into more detail but the short version is that grief combined with my continuous companions of anxiety and depression for more than ten years has had an effect on my writing.

That second reason has had a lot more to do with my not writing than the first. Yes, I've been busy but writing became such a chore, not just for school but I stopped writing in my personal journal as well. Anyway, at a leadership retreat I attended this spring, one of the goals I set was to seriously work on my writing problem. So this summer, I thought a good way to do that would be to start blogging again. After all, a big part of what I need is just practice!

So watch this space for the summer of 2016! I'll also be posting a long overdue reflection on my trip to Cuba this past winter (and hopefully also even more overdue reflections on the Justice at the Border trip I took to El Paso/Ciudad Juarez in February 2015). And I'll probably post about silly things too, even if it's just to break up the heaviness of a lot of the topics I'll be writing about. And I'll probably also write about how great Beyonce is, because, well, she is.

Welcome to Summer 2016! Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Last Good Day

Mama and I on the Caribbean cruise May 2013

“There's no way of knowing that your last good day is Your Last Good Day. At the time, it is just another good day.” ― John Green (The Fault in Our Stars)

What I would consider Mama's "last good day" was two years ago today: July 4, 2013. Most of the family was gathered in Austin for festivities and we had a great time as a family, as usual. One of the last conversations I remember having with my mom before her final trip to the hospital was about going to karaoke for my birthday. We talked about renting some karaoke equipment for a party. After she died, I was using her computer and saw that her last internet search was for karaoke equipment.

The weekend following July 4th was the beginning of the very end; Mama was weak and exhausted. When we took her to the hospital, after running tests it became clear that this was progression of disease and not just reactions to chemo or pain meds. As a family, we made the decision to transition into hospice care on my birthday, July 10th. She left the hospital on the 12th and died less than a week later on the 18th.

The summer of 2014 I carefully planned out to be in Europe on the Don't Postpone Joy European tour. I find I am wishing that had been an option this summer as well. It was a way to honor and celebrate life, my mother's and my own. I'm not doing anything quite that exciting this July, so it's easier to sit here remembering those incredibly difficult last days.

But her last good day, two years ago, I remember having conversations with her about the summer camp I was working for at the time. I remember her joy, as always, of being with family. I remember her conversation with my "cousin" (not by blood but basically) Timothy about being strong in his faith and continuing his journey to greatness beginning college that fall. I remember her smile.

So despite the fact that the memories of July 2013 are largely painful, today I am trying to focus on Mama's last good day. A day when the cancer was still growing and giving her pain, but she was still able to celebrate being alive and her motto: don't postpone joy. The last good day before the very end and one that I am grateful I could share with her.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Birthday Blog

Despite my best efforts to pretend otherwise, another year since the day of my birth will come to pass next week. I've been feeling a little Peter Pan-like about this upcoming birthday, so this will be the first anniversary of my 25th birthday, because I've decided I'll just stay 25 from now on. Last year's birthday was one of the most fun because I went to Leavesden Studios for the Harry Potter Studio tour. (Yeah, last summer I spent five weeks in Europe. This summer I work at a summer camp with children who don't understand the meaning of an "inside voice.") However, I'm hoping I'll never have a worse birthday than my 24th one, which was the day we realized my gorgeous, amazing, brilliant mother was going to have to transition to hospice care after her fifteen month battle with metastatic cancer. That day I also wore my dress backwards most of the day on accident, which in no way compares, but was a bit embarrassing.

Year 26 culminates a week from tomorrow, and I'll be in Harrisonburg, Virginia for Peace Camp again. My first one in four years and my first without anyone else in my family there. My first since my mom died. It will be the first time seeing many people who absolutely adored my mother and will want to talk to me about her. I don't mind talking about my mother, and I often enjoy it as a way to remember her, but it also wears on me quite a bit being her living memorial. You see, I look so much like her, people who knew her well that I never have known well recognize me immediately as her daughter. And though I cherish that connection to her, it is also a little stab of pain in my heart every time someone says it.

But anyway, I've lived for 26 years and despite all the struggles, I know I am blessed.

If you feel so led to give me a gift, here are some ideas:
"You still look 25!"
Handmade cards
A yoga mat
Gift cards/certificates to: Amazon, Mod Cloth, Jamberry, Target
Sandals (size 8)
A beach trip
Things with Hello Kitty on them 
Funny birthday videos
More hugs and kisses
Obligatory Facebook post

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phenomenal Woman

art by Angela Yarber

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.