Author Archives: tamischwerin

About tamischwerin

I run a non-profit (Abundance NC) that builds community resilience including health of the earth, our bodies and our spirits. I also am active in creating an Eco-Industrial Park community in Pittsboro NC.

Lobster with Barbara

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Lobster with Barbara

The first time I met Barbara Lorie, I was knee deep in mud and many years of someone else’s trash; meds, mattresses, bottles and cans.  I was cleaning up around the tar paper shack that would soon become my home of 20 years.

She took one look at me and told Lyle that I was a Princess.  So, we didn’t get along very well for awhile.

Barbara was a force to be reckoned with and she met Lyle and our roommate, Jenna at a Thomas Berry workshop.  Barbara lived in Pittsboro and was thinking of starting an intentional community.  There was talk of the intentional community being right where I was cleaning up the most nasty crap from the former owners.

I don’t know when I fell in love with her, but it was a slow build.  I wasn’t used to someone who spoke her mind and was so opinionated. I do know that when she spoke, people listened.  After we came home from the hospital with Zafer, she sent the word out in the community that this young couple needed food and the food kept coming.  Some people we had never met.  We finally had to say that we were capable of cooking and the lasagnas stopped coming.

Less than two years later, when Arlo surprised us and the delivery didn’t go that well, my uterus and other organs ruptured.  I was bedridden for weeks with a catheter and a newborn.  Zafer was not happy about the situation and Lyle was juggling keeping it all together plus building us a pond because it was so damn hot in the house.

Barbara came over every day and cared for me and Arlo.  She managed the guests and turned people away so I could rest.  She would have them drop their food and gifts and tell them to leave.  I have never felt so protected, even if I did want to see those people!  Barbara took me to the hospital for follow up procedures and would yell at the doctors and the nurses about the care I was getting.  They asked if she was my mother.  I said my mother would never speak like that!  Once again, I got excellent service.

Over the years, Barbara was a grandmother to the boys and girls, she taught Jessalyn to drive stick shift, she could keep up with Kaitlin, she certainly taught all the kids the alphabet of curse words.  Barbara and Uncle Mark were incredibly close and for her 80th birthday party Mark and I broke into her house and stole her photo albums and pictures off the walls to make a movie about her.  Doug and Yvonne kept her away for an entire day so we could scan everything.

Barbara would even go visit Lyle’s parents in Canada. The contrast was big.  But they all had a love and respect of one another.  Her intellect and political knowledge could not be beat.

One year she gave me a huge stack of papers to take to the beach.  It was her memoirs.  I thought there is no way I was going to read through them.  I couldn’t put it down.  Her memoirs were wild and a page turner.  Barbara has lived an incredible life of adventure, love and pain.

Another year, Barbara’s spirit was down.  Her body was not delivering.  She wanted to go.  One thing on her bucket list was to go to Mattamuskeet to see the migration one more time.  We made a date to go down and stay in a B&B.  Her stories can keep you spellbound for hours.  We dropped in on my friend, Alisa and met her family and husband Chris.  Alisa joined us the next day at the lake to see the birds and we learned about her hunch that her husband had ALS.  Well, Barbara said on the way home, we must get that family to Chatham County to help her and to see Chris out.  And that is what happened.  A very long story on it’s own.

When Zafer died, it was like she lost her own blood.  She is one of the few people that I could fall apart with.  I remember one day when the autopsy report was emailed to me and I had to read about the tag on Zafer’s beautiful toe.  I read about every part of his body externally and internally and I drove straight to Barbara’s and freaked the hell out on her.  She could handle it and she could listen fully.

Barbara would adamantly give advice.  After listening to my drama du jour, she would say:  Go check yourself into a mental institution right now.  And she would give me the number to call.  And she was always right.  I never did check in, but I should have.

She told me when my skirts were too short, when I hadn’t handled something well, when I was not taking care of myself, and she also gave me tons of praise.  She told me how I was changing the world with my work at Abundance.  She encouraged me and sometimes gave me that extra bit of courage to keep going.

One day Barbara called me so excited.  She had just read “Proof of Heaven; a neurosurgeon’s near death experience”.  She said I MUST read it right now.  In her 90 some years this really spoke to her and she knew that she would see Zafer soon and this was just a transition.  It made her so happy and therefore it made me so happy about her seeing Zafer on the other side.  We laughed about the two of them having lattes together as soon as she got there.  That phone call and the fact that this 90 year old believed this got me through some tough months of grieving.

As Barbara’s body started giving out, we would come up with foods that she wanted.  I wanted to be able to make her whatever she wanted.  The first exotic dish she asked for was duck.  It took me months to get a minute to bake her a duck and the night I scheduled it, Doug had to take her to the hospital.  I thought, shit…I have to get her this duck before she dies.  Well, she didn’t want just any duck, she wanted the Asian market duck where they have it precooked and cut it for you.  So, I went and got the second duck and we had a successful dinner party last fall.
I realized it wasn’t about her having the duck, she wanted me to have that crazy experience of the Asian market.

Standing rib roast was the next dish.  Tony was in town and I went and bought a 4 rib standing rib roast.  It was bigger than a fat baby.  She didn’t trust me with that, so she ended up cooking it and we had another amazing dinner party.

A few weeks ago as she weakened, I came by and she was sleeping.  She opened her eyes and told me my dress was too short.  I asked her what dish she wanted next and she said “lobster”.

It has been refreshing to talk bluntly with her about death and what she wants.  She built this community to see her out.  And we are.  Her legacy is Blue Heron and the sweet community that is giving her 24/7 care right now.  So many people are helping Doug and Yvonne:  Davo, Stacye, Elaine, Sally, Jean, Sue and the list goes on.  Barbara has vision and she created this.  She is a woman that knows what she wants.

I know that soon she’ll be somewhere really fun, being extravagant, with Zafer and Mark and all the other soul families.

And tonight let us eat duck, again.

Popping up like a Prairie Dog

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Popping up like a Prairie Dog


Arlo, Lyle and I flew to the desert for some deep soul searching.  I was scared at diving in deep to do some major internal work and I was proud of Lyle and Arlo for joining me.

Los Alamos was on the way to Golden Willow Retreat Center in Taos, our destination.  We stopped by the Bradbury Science Museum and took in some history of the nuclear bomb. Was it really necessary?  They named the first two bombs Little Boy and Fat Man.  Seems like a lot of young men naming the most destructive tool after their insecurities.

As contrast, we went to the Earthships in Taos.  This is a famous passive solar housing community made of tires, bottles, aluminum cans and natural materials.  Evidently the founder did a lot of acid in the 70’s and 80’s and created these amazing structures that took into account passive solar, greywater, blackwater, trash, was off grid and the average person could learn to build.  They are all over the world now.  And I think he stopped doing acid and began building these beautiful structures en masse.

I remember Lyle building many of the systems we saw at the Earthships or inspiring them at EMJ, The Plant, our house and the early days of the biodiesel coop.

Arlo was jazzed.

Finally, we pulled into the Golden Willow Retreat Center which is about 12 miles outside of Taos.  A beautiful adobe home turned into retreat center with a little chapel in the yard.  We were beginning our custom grief retreat with a team of people that knew our unique issues and had been planning for our arrival.   This team is lead by Ted Wiard who unfortunately is one of the most qualified individuals to host a grief retreat.  Ted lost his dear brother to a fishing accident in the sea.  He pushed it down and had his second baby with his beloved wife.  She died shortly after from an incredibly rare cancer, leaving him with two beautiful young daughters.  His mother in law picked his daughters up from school and accidently rolled through a stop light and they were all killed by a garbage truck.  This man almost ended it to join his family (anyone that has had a traumatic loss has thought of ending it, by the way).

We were well taken care of by the nurturing Diana who came in and cooked for us (she prepared our meals at home on her woodstove) and even made special exceptions for my all fat, no sugar diet that is saving me from my neuropathy.  We awoke to Clint, the intuitive yoga teacher that took us to the chapel and lead us through yoga class.  He had a knowing and a sparkle in his eyes.  Clint was open, honest and I immediately bonded with him.

“Don’t cheat the transition” he said.

From there, immediately into individual therapy sessions for all of us.  We had to spread out.  The team knew our story and each therapist fit us perfectly.  Lyle had Jim, the wise elder shaman that also lead our ceremonies.  He smudged us, was gentle and had a wisdom that could relate to Lyle’s spirit.  A sweet man, Ted D. was Arlo’s therapist.  I didn’t have much time with him, but I know that Arlo fell in love with him.  I was so grateful for that.  And I had the lovely Lindsey who was so refreshing.  She felt like someone that would be a very good friend of mine in Chatham if she lived here.  She gave me permission to feel my feelings.  Sometimes I don’t have compassion for myself and she was great at helping with that.

The first assignment was to write a timeline of our lives, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I was surprised at what made me sob.  Losing Uncle Mark, realizing how my best friends must have felt when we lost Zafer, the pride I felt at being born in a trailer, the “crucible” I have created.  Burning everything down and starting anew.

From there, we were asked to write letters and to go to that childlike emotional state and let your emotions flow.  I went out to the chapel and sat by the fire and started writing.  I had lots of letters to write.  As I was writing one to Zafer, the 400 year old doors creaked open and a white wolf like dog came in and licked me.  I gave him a pat and he walked back out the door.

It felt great to write those letters.  A weight was lifted, although it was emotionally exhausting.

Jim, the shaman, gathered Lyle, Arlo and I back into the chapel and we had a ceremony around the 7 directions.  I had only heard of the 4 directions.  He explained East; New Beginnings, South; Finding one’s truth, West ;Going within, North; where the veil is the thinnest  & our loved ones, Father Sky; Potential, Mother Earth; Healing and Abundance, and Unknown; Trust and Faith, Forgiveness.

We made prayer tobacco ties and tied cloth and tobacco into 7 specific colored cloths.  We prayed into each bundle as we built and tied.   I put the most amount of tobacco into the unknown which was a purple square.

Lyle and Arlo had a ritual of walking each night after dinner into the snow and the first night they happened upon an elk.  It had a huge rack and just watched them.  When they described it they said they were talking about Zafer,  the good times and being grateful for him.  The shaman mentioned these are no coincidences.


There was so much going on in my mind and so much to process that sleep was difficult even though we were in this cocoon of complete care and warmth.  I woke up one night at 3am and just put on my mittens, hat and boots and went walking into the night.  The stars were a bazillion more than at home.  I walked out of the house and the vastness overcame me and I just started laughing and running and jumping in the snow.  Something about nature, the universe, the cosmos, being so much bigger than us tiny humans made me so happy even in my sorrow and troubles. I love that walk and the spirituality of the desert.  Incredible healing.

The second day of yoga, Clint came and he clued in that we had sorrow, grief, difficulties, perhaps some anger and he choreographed a beautiful class of partner poses.  Poses that are about support and connection.  We were deeply moved and I believe it was a turning point in our healing.  He snuck out so we could have family time as we were a puddle on the floor.

We met with our therapists every day and the second day we read our letters to them.  And believe me, they were not pretty.  There is something about witnessing the pain with no judgement that helped me release the feelings.  An acknowledgement that I felt that and it was my truth.  Might be far from the truth, but that is MY TRUTH.  My story.  It was another deeply healing session.  And someone to witness and reflect with made it that much better.

The next task was to get to Taos to have massage.  OMG.  Essential Massage in Taos, I highly recommend.  We were all stoned from such great bodywork.

Ted Wiard, the founder joined us that evening for a “Ted Talk” and he explained the story of the Chapel.  Ted is a joyful, full of light mischievous character, and also has a depth to him that he was gifted from his losses.  He immediately connected with Arlo because of his love of youth.  I appreciate his special attention to Arlo knowing what it’s like to lose a brother and knowing where many people head after a tragedy (betty ford center etc.).  Ted built the chapel with 10 12-year-old boys that he homeschooled.  He took on this challenge.  The chapel has so much love and symbolism built into every crack and door and cross. It has a story about the boys, the stories, the losses, the meaning and it draws people from all over that need to honour their dead including Zafer.

And I found fascinating the research and studies that Ted has embarked on with his ministry background.  After a traumatic complicated loss, the brain reacts like a physical brain injury with loss of short term memory loss, confusion, concentration issues, irritability etc.  The neural pathways start to work differently and we go through a process of denial/insulation, anger/protest, bargaining/cognitive understanding, depression/sad surrender, acceptance/acknowledgement of a fact, the unknown/spirit connection and forgiveness of self, relocation/service-concrete to abstract.

Loss causes us to dig deep into all of our childhood losses and bring those back up.  We tend to go back to infancy and early childhood behavior and sometimes have tantrums.  If we embrace it, we can heal those areas and it becomes a super power.  We are given a gift from this horrible situation which makes sense.  There has to be something positive from such pain.

But we need to accept grief and do the inner work for this to happen. 

If we push it down like nothing has happened or it is too painful to deal with, we will not realize the potential magic and spirit that is there for us.

Ted told me that people that experience traumatic loss often start popping up like a prairie dog and just peeking out of their hole at around 2 and ½ to 3 years after the loss.

I think I’m popping up.  I think I’m seeing the light out of the hole just a little bit.

Esalen, Charles Eisenstein and the Human Potential

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Esalen, Charles Eisenstein and the Human Potential


After a marathon season of Pepper Festival and Death Faire, I boarded a plane at 6 in the morning with Frank and actually had NO expectations.  I knew we were going to Esalen @ Big Sur and that we were going to a workshop with Charles Eisenstein who I knew a tiny bit about.  His new book is just out:  Climate, A New Story.   I kind of thought we would be learning about the science of climate change and while I think that is fascinating, I secretly thought that I would be skipping out a bit to just rest and be.

We stopped at a dispensary in Santa Cruz and saw the sea lions on the pier and drove through the redwood forest.  Exhausted, I went straight to bed when we arrived at Esalen in their cute cabins.

How do I describe the campus of Esalen?  It is a gorgeous strip of land on the edge literally and metaphorically of the Pacific Ocean.  It is breathtaking.  It’s a mixture of beautiful farmland, exotic flowers that smell delicious, redwood trees, bridges and walkways and tons of monarch butterflies fluttering around.  Almost like a Hollywood set, completely mystical.  It’s a famous place of adult education and is part of the human potential movement.  Folks like Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, Fritz Perls, Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell and Boris Yeltsin have all hung out there.  Oh, and there is NO CELL COVERAGE!

The first night, we walked down to the bathhouse.  There are natural hot springs in the MOST BEAUTIFUL stone and concrete bathhouse built on the side of a cliff.  You strip naked and shower in a shared shower over looking the pacific.  Then you choose a single tub or larger hot tub.  Everyone is naked and it becomes quite normal which I found so refreshing.  You would towel off next to a strange naked man and talk about childhood houses as if we were standing in line at the grocery store.  How did we ever normalize all the body issues we have as a culture?  I suppose it started with the church and then corporations took over the shame of the body, but I think that a week of being nude (just at the bathhouse) created a vulnerability and comfort that allowed folks to open up with each other.  It was absolutely a lovely experience.

Day One of Workshop we started with Kirtan Kriya meditation.  There were about 35 of us in a yurt and something about that meditation did me in.  I don’t usually do this, but I sobbed.  I couldn’t help it.  It was ok because everyone had their eyes closed and the music and chants drowned out my crying.  Except sweet Megan saw me and came and held me and of course that created a deluge of tears.  Great way to meet 35 people, except these were the folks you could cry with.  Over the week I got to know about half of them and we could jump into a deep conversation immediately.  The group was super special and some had come from Australia and the U.K. to be at this workshop.

Charles was brilliant.  The name of the workshop was The Space between the Stories and he goes to the very root of the issue of climate change.  The state of our planet is a direct reflection of our inner selves.  What we do to the planet we do to ourselves.  We examined judgment, forgiveness, belonging, collective consciousness, projection, and the future world we could envision.

Charles would tell stories and then give us exercises to do in smaller groups.  The stories were compelling and triggered so much wisdom for everyone.  I was reminded about how effective story telling is for understanding.

Some takeaways for me from Charle’s messages were:

·      There is no other side, we are all one

·      We can choose what we pay attention to:  pay attention to our gifts

·      If I was in anyone’s shoes, I would behave EXACTLY as they do with their set of experiences and background (even someone say…like Trump for example)

·      Forgiveness is a side effect of understanding

·      Violence is just unmet needs

·      Addiction is unmet needs

·      Lying is a safe space where you get to be you if you don’t think you can have what you want

·      Narcissism is not being loved for who you are, but praised for what you are not

·      We are life growing around the conditions given to us

·      Death is not the end

One exercise was to describe a dilemma in your life with a small group and retell it in the future as you wish it were.  We were recreating stories for ourselves to help with painful relationships.
Charles sat in on my dilemma…my child died and I’m dealing with 3 broken hearts and he said, simply “You’ve created a crucible for yourself!”.  When he said that, I thought, of course.  That is what I have done, burnt everything down in order to create new.

So, I am starting anew. 

With morning yoga, ecstatic dance, farm fresh food, hot springs under the stars, beautiful people and very stimulating curriculum, I left Esalen with a new lease on life, courage to step back into my wild life, and totally refreshed.  A new clarity is unfolding.  I’ll bring this work to Abundance, this community, the bend in the road, and my family.

Thank you, Charles (clear brilliant visionary), Adam (warm honey and butter with poprocks), Megan (love, comfort and joy always), the amazing vulnerable participants, and my dear dear friend, Frank (soulmate of the stars).

Hot Flashes, Addiction & Solitude

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zafer 13 martian
Every night I’ve been tearing off the covers, sweating, getting cold again and falling back asleep. Happens a few times in the night.  What is that?  People tend not to talk too much about menopause.  I suppose it’s a scary hormonal emotional, possibly physical ailment that all women go through.

Or is it?

We know that fevers are good for the body.  They burn away the virus to make us well again.  I trust our bodies over western medicine’s strategy of hide the symptom.  Do anything you can with pharmacy to mask whatever is really going on.  So, I started wondering about the benefits of hot flashes.  If you google hot flashes/menopause, it sounds kind of like apocalypse for the middle age woman.

I polled my sweet yoga class and the wise women had a very different take on menopause.  Tracey said hot flashes occurred for her when there was some stress or emotion coming her way.  I agreed.  Watching a movie the other night, during the tense moments I would break into a sweat.

I picked up Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way by Susun Weed that a dear friend gave me years ago.  It made me SO HAPPY.  Yes, “hot flashes and wild heartbeats are honoured and menopause is considered woman’s greatest transformation.”

“Wise Woman stories say that menopause is an initiation that begins with a period of isolation.  The grandmothers say that menopausal women need to draw inward and away from outside responsibilities.  From the Wise Woman view hot flashes, fatigue, headaches, irritability, sleeplessness, and emotional outbursts are allies of wholeness, not problems; they urge me to be alone, to focus on myself and my CHANGE,

to listen to what I want and to ask for what I need “

I have had an intense urge to clear my typically very busy, full house out this winter and the beautiful souls that are there now, will find their way.  I’m going to hibernate, paint, read, write, dance around the house naked, scream, cry, laugh and be a weirdo weirdo as my children would say.

I’m going to dive into the dark night of the soul all winter and my intention is to emerge in the spring as a more whole person.  A more healthy person.  Instead of being scared of loneliness, I’m going to embrace it with all I have.  I’m going to listen and learn from myself and the ancestors of course.

Arlo and I are headed to D.C. to participate in the Shatterproof 5K race that raises money to advocate and raise awareness around addiction.  The founder’s son died from drugs like Zafer did.  My amazing step-daughter Jessalyn has been a supporter of this organization for years and has organized Team Z this weekend.  In her brilliance, she wants to create new memories with her brother and she is gathering the family and friends to run and to celebrate our boy Z.  We’ll be running for Z, for the darkness that causes addiction and for our own resilience.  We’ll get just a little bit better in our journey of grief.
jess and tami copy

I’m so proud of this family and while it’s very messy and our healing is hard, we are all doing the very best we can.  And we’ll create many new memories with Zafer right in the middle orchestrating it all.

Here’s to healing, finding our way, and always love.  Always love.

peter pan copy

 

Larry

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Larry

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I was driving home Sunday morning from my friend, Melissa’s.  It was a hot steamy day and I passed a bunch of bicyclists struggling up a hill on the moncure road.  They all had on their fancy bicycle clothes and one guy was way behind the group trying to catch up.

Walking towards them on the side of the road was an older black man with his impeccable Sunday church clothes, including a long sleeve purple shirt and a purple tie.  He was limping just a bit.  His face had a look of grief, yet incredible determination as he looked ahead walking with purpose.  There was no church within miles.

The culture has taught me not to pick up hitchhikers especially being female.  I rarely do.  The culture has taught me to fear those that don’t look like me.  Be suspicious of those that are different from me.  That part I never bought into.

Something about that man’s face made me turn around. 

I pulled over on the curvy road and asked him if he needed a ride.  He hobbled over and got into my beetle.  He said his ride never showed up today and he needed to get to Homecoming at his church.  I said, let’s get you there, sir.

He asked my name and said he would pray for me today.  I laughed and said I certainly need it.  His name was Larry.  He was somber and said his marriage was in trouble.  I told him my husband and I are separated.  He told me about his 6 children and he told me about his leg injury while serving in the military stationed in Germany.  He told me about his 10 year old son drowning.  I told him about my 19 year old son dying from heroin.

I dropped him at the church where I always work during election time.  The parking lot was packed for Homecoming.

Larry looked at me and said shyly, I hope it’s not too forward, but can I get your phone number.  It helps to talk.  Loneliness is hard.

Absolutely.

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Ramblings of a bereaved mother

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Ramblings of a bereaved mother

Our culture expects people to move through loss, ignore it, don’t talk about it or them, get back to work, pull up your bootstraps and carry on.  “It takes a year” they say.  That is our industrial, consumeristic, you are not valued unless you produce culture talking.  Get busy and all will be well.

Thank goodness our community is different.

We are a year and a half without our Z-boy.  I hate to say it, but in some ways, this year might be worse than last.  I had a year of denial and being in a fog.  Now, the fog is very slowly lifting.  And it seems like this is for real.  He is not coming back.  This is not a nightmare.  How is Zafer not here?  I can’t get my head around this.  I try and try.  My body will only let small bits of data come in at a time.


photo by Libby Capaldi

I have incredible community support, talk therapy, psychics, books, retreats, shoulders to cry on, family to commune with, one Death Faire, sound therapy, keening, ritual, spiritual services, tarot, parties celebrating Zafer’s birthday and a huge Z-fest at Memorial Day.  I’ve had cranial sacral work, deep tissue massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, journaling, grief group meetings, running, biking, lots of wine, a surf lesson, a pedicure, lomi lomi healing, and probably things that I have forgotten.

What a privilege.

Think about most of the population going through grief.  They may not have the support and may find themselves isolated and financially depleted.  Their brains are literally changed, turned upside down.  Where do these people go to find pain relief or just basic support to get through their day?

Functioning has a new meaning.  I used to multitask and handle a million things while juggling family and dinner.  Now, I have a hard time logging into a bank account to manage a simple transaction.  Details are incredibly difficult.  I am grateful and blessed to have amazing staff at Abundance that have picked up where I leave off.  I used to love tons of stimulation.  I find that I need to be at home and introspective now.  Possibly a blessing.  The leader should delegate and be at higher levels anyway.  Thank you Zafer.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a real thing. 

It was midnight and we heard a loud knock on the door.  Our house was lit up with spotlights from the Sheriffs car.  That is how we found out our son had died from smoking heroin.  The Sheriff showed up a few months later because some sort of paper work had not been filled out properly for Zafer’s “estate”.  I started shaking and as he left and broke into tears.  Arlo was extremely shaken.  A state trooper called my phone when the First Lady of NC visited last month to make sure our space was safe for her.  I went into extreme panic thinking someone was dead.  PTSD takes control of your body and emotions.

I used to think I was just a normal average girl from the south.  Not anymore.  My mind and life is forever changed.  The things I see and the ideas in my head are 100 percent different.  Life and Death have very different meanings to me.  Compassion has gone way up and judginess has gone way down.  Thank you Zafer for that gift.  I can talk to people about really weird things and I’m thankful that people trust me to tell me about their odd ways.  It’s so refreshing.  I no longer do small talk.  That is not a thing anymore.  Either go deep and be real with me, or go home.

There are so many lessons in death.  It brings all your issues up to the surface.  You have a list of insecurities, scarcity, baggage you have pushed under the carpet, hard truths, things that you need to say or do.  Death pushes it to the top whether you like it or not.  Some would say in crisis is opportunity.  The teachings are all saying to me to look deep inside my soul.  Our souls were sent here for certain lessons and Zafer and I had a contract that he would be leaving at the age of 19.  I am supposed to learn and do something with this.  And we’ll be together in a soul family soon enough.  Time is not linear in the afterlife.

The quantum physics entanglement theory says “anytime two entities interact, they entangle.  They lose their separate existence and if one is tweaked, measured, observed, the other seems to instantly respond, even if the whole world now lies between them.  And no one knows how.”

When I heard this concept from my friend, Jordan, it instantly opened my mind in a hopeful way.  When Zafer moves, I move and vice versa.  His DNA is in me.  We are one.  And that means we should also choose carefully who we entangle

with.

How do we keep going?  One step in front of the other.  One day at a time.  The beautiful people that hold us up.  The people that can understand the pain.  I don’t wish this pain on anyone, and when I find someone that I can relate to, it is like a ray of sunshine on a summer rain.  We connect at a deep level and it’s like talking to myself.

Sadly, our friends lost their beautiful son recently.  This family can relate to my family like no other.  When they have crazy thoughts, we assure them that we have the same exact thoughts.  We can understand each other implicitly and it has been a mutually helpful relationship and deep bonding.

We come up with coping strategies like texting each other memories of our sons and photos…the good, the bad and the ugly.  We will never stop talking about them.  We tell each other the awkward things that good meaning people do to us.  We laugh a lot and we cry a lot.

It’s now my job to find the meaning and do some healing for Zafer, my love, and for this community.

That is one reason we are putting on our second Death Faire, this Sunday, November 5th .  Please come whether you have experienced loss or not.  We all have this in common.  Sooner or later.

Join us for a keynote by Stephen Jenkinson who will also be holding a Sparkroot weekend workshop November 3 & 4th.

 

The Weavers

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The Weavers

About a day after Zafer died, as I was sitting in shock on the couch not able to move, barely able to breath, Lyle came in and said “do you remember the Fates from mythology class?” and I was very fuzzy on that…I’m sure we covered it in Greek mythology, but I must have been daydreaming during that section.

He described the tapestries of the universe and how the three sisters were busy weaving and some threads had to be cut in order for the bigger picture ahead to happen and play out properly.  It was a grand plan and a good plan.  For some reason, this scenario gave me comfort that this was Zafer’s plan and that there was a much bigger reason for this tragedy.  I have clutched to this idea.  In no way do I feel like Zafer’s leaving was a good thing.  It just keeps getting more painful as the shock, distraction and denial wears away.  There are still the waves and then there are the intense stabs and the fog and the feeling crazy and the way the body reacts to intense emotional pain.
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And I think back to the week before.  My stepdaughter and husband were ready for a family.   They are big career, big city people and always on the go.  My aunt Joyce was turning 80. (or 35…whichever).  There was a big to-do about everyone coming for her birthday and it was decided to fly Zafer in for the weekend from Boulder.  Jessalyn knew he was coming, but didn’t know the reason for his visit.  (my aunt, not hers) She made plans to make a trip from Washington DC to see us.   There was some drama about parties and guest lists and it became kind of a hilarious error of comedies.  Jess wanted to surprise us all with her news of pregnancy.

So, the solution was to have a pre-party at our house in Moncure and then a second party for Joyce in Raleigh the next day.  My immediate family (Lyle, Jess, Zafer, Arlo, Kaitlin and Dan) would have a table outside the room of the party…because that is all the room there was at the restaurant.  There were many jokes and we were all super happy about it.

The Friday night, everyone collected at our house for some southern hospitality…shrimp and grits, wine and beer.  Jess grabbed her glass of wine per usual and we had a raucous chaotic party on an April evening.  Boys going off the rope swing, guitars playing, songs sung, family making fun of family.  Kind of a beautiful blending of my family of origin and my immediate family.  I could not have been happier.  Half way through the night, Jess and Lyle asked for us to meet in the man-cave privately.   Jess announced the impending baby. (the wine was just a prop)

Tears, so happy.  What a surprise. 

We brought in Zafer and Arlo and Dan and she told the boys.  Zafer and Arlo both grabbed her and I wish I had caught that on camera….they knew how important it was to Jess and Dan.  They were so freaking happy to become Uncles.  Zafer in the back of his mind started thinking that he needed to produce some cousins to play with the new addition.
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The weekend was one of the sweetest weekends I could remember with all the personalities and dynamics.  New York cousins, Colorado cousins, the country mice, city mice.  Really lovely.
I took Zafer and Pamela & Will, my cousins, to the airport and Zafer assured me he would be seeing me in a month so we could have some one on one time together.

I never got my one on one with Zafer.  Instead I have gotten a constant Zafer in my thoughts and in my grief and my path is changed.  All of our paths have changed.  That was a big cord to cut.  We are all seeking the relief of the pain and the meaning and we are all supporting each other.  It is still a very lonely and individual process.  I hear that one day, grief can become a tender joy.  I think if we do our grief work and call on spirit and our community and develop an ongoing relationship with our loves, that this can become possible.  It will take a very long time.

I’m still in awe of our support, the net that has caught us, and continues to hold.  From elders that have lost their children to help putting on Death Faire/Día de los Muertos (500 people that came together from all walks of life for celebration and remembrance.)  There is no way that the spirits didn’t help on that day.
I’ve had incredible healing sessions from Carrie Wise where my soul seemed to leave my body, massage with Scotty and Ben, talking and talking and telling stories, hearing others stories of pain and grief.  I even had a friend lose his son unexpectedly and I felt uniquely qualified to help.  I was saddened and also grateful to help him.  We’ve had bears and quilts made of Zafer’s clothing.  Thank you Mom and Kate.  So beautiful and so painful.  Cousin Kate cried through her stitches making that quilt.  What a great way to process grief.
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Lyle is working on a magnificent project.  The Life of Z.  A “scrap novel” of each year of Zafer’s short life.  The endnotes will be much longer than the actual pages.  He paints and adds business cards, photos, soccer cards, and whatever he finds as we piece together the history of the last 19 years.  It’s incredibly healing for him and hard for the immediate family to look at.  One day we will read it with a tender joy.

I’m trying to determine what the Weavers are seeing ahead.  In some ways, life is easier as we let go of control by necessity.  We have the most committed community, the sweetest and craziest conversations, beautiful visions of the future.  Beautiful people that have stepped into our lives.  We are so so grateful.  A beautiful family that keeps rising to the occasion.  A sweet baby to take care of and teach.  We don’t take things for granted as much anymore.

Missing Z and learning that he is right here.  Right here.  (Oh…he thinks the Trump debacle is hilarious….joking a lot about that especially to make Kaitlin mad).

We have a beautiful nightmare.  Thank you everyone for your love and support.
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Zafer turns 20

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Zafer turns 20

20 years ago, I woke up in our old falling down farm house and noticed that my water was breaking.  Exactly on time.   Lyle and I had no a/c but did have plumbing.

The contractions were slow, so we stopped at the 501 diner in Chapel Hill to have a burger, fries and giant milkshake.  I was determined to have a natural birth and my lovely Duala worked with me while Lyle asked if we should play chess to get my mind off the somewhat uncomfortable contractions that started finally.  As midnight approached, the overly tan golfer-type doctor came in and said there was trouble and we had to do a C-section.  At that point, you have no power to negotiate.  So, Z-boy was born at 1.08pm on August 24th.  He weighed 8 pounds 1 oz.  He was beautiful and healthy.

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I loved being pregnant.  My body felt amazing.  My cute Dr. Tyler looked at me in horror on one check up and asked how I had gained 10 pounds in one month.  I said complements of Ben and Jerry, thank you very much.  Zafer and I had a beautiful idyllic autumn together walking in the woods, taking care of chickens, days going by like minutes.  When it was time to go to back to work, I found a caretaker near the office.  I dropped Zafer there and it smelled like cigarette smoke.  I gave my notice and Zafer and I started selling scrap metal art together.  I could take my baby on my hip and I started an art brokerage business with Lyle as my biggest client.  I took 100% of his proceeds, so that worked out well.  Big chess sets, little bugs, colorful metal flowers…looking back, it was so fun, so crazy, never mind we barely had money for diapers.  It was always an adventure going to art shows and creating a new business.

My days are filled with books on coping with the loss of your child, talking and talking and talking with Lyle, the family, friends.  Trying to form a belief system on the fly.
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I’m in a constant state of being held up by some of the most amazing people with incredible wisdom and experience.  Just a few examples are:

Hope and Elizabeth take me to the Honeysuckle Teahouse and discuss the spirituality of Z.  We had the most beautiful and hopeful meeting that left me positive and able to get through one more day.  Their stories of how Z has effected them and that they have an ongoing relationship with him even though they have only known him after death.

I go to to Phifer’s 50th birthday party and find myself standing across the table from Carole Guld.  Her beautiful son, Stephen, died at age 21 from complications for chemotherapy 30 years ago.  Carole is an 81 year old, stunning senior Rockette who happened to know my great Aunt Gene who was a radical lesbian.  The two of them were very active in the synagogue.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but she told me later that Phifer, Muzzy and Adair forbid anyone to go near us and we created this intense sacred space (around the food table….unfortunately).  I feel surrounded by a security blanket as everyone just wants us to heal and live.   Carole took my Mom and I to lunch and confirmed many things I’ve learned and also told us things would get better…it would not always be so painful.  Seeing her bright spirit and joy for life kept me going yesterday.

Tim Toben and I had an intense lunch and he looked thoughtful.  “You must talk to my mother and to Bill Peck who lost two of his children.”  Tim lined up a meeting with the deep, lovely, spiritual Carolyn and she talked to me for 3 hours at her retreat center that she, her boys and her husband created.  Her friendship with Thomas Berry was very helpful in her development.  Her words to me about Zafer were incredibly powerful and she told me that absolutely:  “You are entitled to miracles”.  She is right.  I am experiencing miracles every day.
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The visits from the young and the older, the beach getaway from Lexie, the mountain getaway from Dave and Lisa, the words of encouragement keep me and this family going.  Ongoing talks with Frank about an evolving relationship with our dead loved ones and how to keep them close, really close.  Sitting on the porch of Costa Rica with Alisa when I don’t think I can go on….and so many others, so many others helping.  So much gratitude.

Arlo just got back from Outward Bound in Maine.  He was with other teens that have had significant loss and trauma.  He came back a little bit lighter, a lot more wiser and ready to take on life’s challenges.

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Today, Zafer turns 20.  We will make pizza, eat cupcakes, have a toast and remember so many good times with him.  We’ll remember his second birthday party in which Lyle and I made his cake, decorated it with his tiny trucks and heavy equipment so it looked like a construction zone.  He woke up from his nap and had a complete meltdown because there was icing on his toy trucks.  We quickly cleaned them off and continued his birthday celebration.

To celebrate Z, please make a toast, make a wish for yourself, and here is a song from one of his playlists….play it loud and dance around the house like no one is watching you.  He would love that.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/37549027″>The O’My’s &quot;My House&quot;</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/robbybarnett”>Robby Barnett</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

 

 

Googling Séances

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Googling Séances

Yes…it has come to this.  Lyle and I sat around the other night wanting to bring in the spirits.  We googled “how to have a séance”.  It was a stormy night and the doors and windows were open. We lit candles and invited in the spirits.  Mainly Zafer, of course, but we would have been open to any of our loved ones and hell, we’d take strangers too.  All of a sudden we heard something that sounded like a beat on a drum.  It was an erratic beat.  Lyle had put a glass of water on the table as was suggested in our google search.  Evidently the spirits will sometimes move water around.  Lyle got up to investigate the beating drum sound and it was the gutters dripping on a recycle drum.  Oh well.  We’ve asked for help from our neighbor Whitney who is way more in touch and open to this.  Then we thought we should have an event and and a bigger group and Lyle said he would rig up the water glass with string to move it and freak people out.  We were laughing about this and our grief became a tiny bit of joy.

As we move through our grief and work on functioning again to some degree, we are learning.  The first thing is that this will take the rest of our lives.  The second thing is that we must be gentle with ourselves and explain to others that even if we look good on the outside, our minds are CRAZY AND SCRAMBLED inside and I personally don’t remember things, I can’t comprehend things, my mind is still a blur.  Details are incredibly difficult.  I can work on higher level concepts, I can have coffees and lunches with people, but putting together the action plans afterwards are just not happening.  I get confused very easily and just have to drop a conversation or an email thread.  It’s not personal, I just can’t process all of this in my brain and also keep up with schedules and other people’s agendas.   I’m thankful to our staff and board who understand to keep reminding me to do things and they have check lists for me to make sure the typical very competent Executive Director can keep it together.

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Our family is handling things the same way that they live.  Jess is the high powered executive and working on policy layers around the opiate epidemic.  Kaitlin is being very profound and spiritual and on the west coast hiking with kids through the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Arlo is a camp counselor at his childhood camp in northern Ontario.  He has family and friends watching over him which is so comforting.  I get reports almost every day on his state of being.  My mother is very active in reading and grief counseling and being positive.  Lyle is thinking big, very big.

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Zafer was a skaterboy and a group in Pittsboro had begun a campaign to start a skate park.  The group got a fantastic start and then got busy with their lives.  An idea has started for Lyle, myself, Kathie and the group to get back together and this time, there is a new force behind it.  Lyle is on fire with ideas of design, art, creating a gathering space and since Lyle was a champion skater in his teens, he has some knowledge about how to do this.  Stand by for a very special park in the works that will benefit so many youth and adults.

We hold a summer camp and have had many iterations over the years.  I love the idea of camp, designing the programs and the topics, but teaching and being with the kids is not my strong point.  This year, being with the kids was medicinal for me.  I cried most days with some small trigger.  Many of them had “Z” names.  They were the cutest, sweetest, smartest, kids.  They asked how old my kids were.  I had to tell them one had just died from trying heroin.  Kevin, my camp partner is a complete stud.  A few times we looked at each other and I said this is on the verge of crazy.  He had complete command of the kids and no fear.  The first day we had only 4 kids bleeding from minor bike accidents, but we felt like that was success.  The kids gained confidence, learned a ton about biking and the natural world.  Leif and I took them on a “spirit bikeology” adventure.  It was complete joy plus a few ticks, lots of red mud and sweat.  Alisa taught them about black snakes and purple martins, Jason and Will about farming.  Hannah, Jen, Charlotte and friends taught them cooking.  One kid who had a hard time paying attention became the best in the kitchen and took ownership of salad dressing and making salad.  Another happy boy looked at me and said “this food looks disgusting, but it is DELICIOUS!”   That is what summer camp should be in the piedmont of NC.

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The support continues to pour out.  I met with two beautiful beer brewers.  Sean of Full Steam and David of Yesteryears Brewery.  I’m a huge lover of their beers, true.  These two men met me with tears in their eyes and just wanted to do something to help me and my family.  They can’t bring Z back, but they can make a collaborative beer that has peppers and citrus in it and that commemorates Zafer and benefits Abundance.  I was so touched and I see how far the ripples have gone and continue to go.

Our dear friends, Bryan and Carolyn lost their 25 year old boy in a similar way 3 years ago.  They of everyone know how it feels.  They keep tabs on us, send comforting emails and Bryan calls and says “we love you and need you to stick around”.  Yes…I get that.  I’m going to stick around for as long as possible.

Leif came by and caught me on a bad day.  He said “I’m sorry you are having an accelerated awakening”.  And he is exactly right…we are slammed up against an awakening.  I would vote for a slow build.

Charlie and Kristi are still our team in Colorado dealing with the awful paperwork, sale of a car, dealing with the narcotics agent.  The case has become a federal case now, so there evidently are more complications and Mexican cartels involved they tell me.

Alisa walked in the door the other day.  She is deep in her grief of just losing her husband to ALS.  We buried the two side by side in our home gravesite.  “There is a reason for all of this.  We are going to build something big here and Chris and Zafer are going to partner with us on it.  I know it.  They are just on the other side.” Big ideas are brewing about what is going to happen around here and it gives me comfort to think of Chris and Zafer collaborating with us.  I don’t know the reason or meaning yet, but something very large is emerging.

People are asking how to help and how to make it better.  The only answer I have is to heal yourselves.  Join together.  Help make this place a better world.  Turn all this tragedy into something as good as the awfulness.

Personally, Abundance can use help with upcoming events.  Our Pepper Festival is going to be fabulous this year…a fashion show in collaboration with Raleigh Redress and Julie Moore.  A kid’s cooking contest (pairing middle and highschoolers with Chefs).
We need volunteers, we need to get the word out to new restaurants and food artisans to bring their wares to Pepper Festival for the biggest festival yet.  Zafer was very proud of our work on this festival.

I’m seeking the remedy to grief and so far, it seems to be the basic self care:  fitness, sleep, good food, reflection, and a ton of talking and stories with good friends and even strangers.  Good books.  My sweet friend Gary, prescribed southern fiction.  He said STOP reading all those grief books and near death experience books…take a freaking break from being in that hole.  I’ve taken him seriously and started on a new pile of books.  But I still sneak in the grief literature a little.

Seeking Mysticism 

Shutting the eyes and the mouth to experience mystery.  To connect with my son. I dreamed that Z left me a note that said “I’m leaving” I met with Tracy, a very spiritual friend and also Zafer’s cross country coach.  She had incredible insight into Zafer.  She said “He was exasperating, coming in late, not following the rules AND he was a top 5 runners and you couldn’t help but love him”.  She said he had huge ambition and he wanted everyone to reach their highest potential.  He was frustrated and couldn’t do it by being on this earth…he had to go to a higher realm.  That was comforting.  She said I can access him…just pay attention to those subtle things that happen.  I’m working on it.  Every day.

Something cosmic is happening even if it hurts like hell.  Learning to trust.  Learning to trust.

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Milking the Goats

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Milking the Goats

I’m in awe watching Alisa milk the 2 community goats we have here at The Bend.  7 families “share” the goats although, Alisa and her family do most of the work.  I’ve been getting lessons on milking which I thought would be simple as pie.  Nope.  There is a lot to learn about bacteria, rhythm, getting to know the animal, the baby goats, feeding, muscle memory, etc.  I’ve found that mornings are hard waking up again and knowing that Zafer is not on this planet anymore.  It’s a reality that hits me hard as soon as I open my eyes.  I can cry and then go milk.  It’s hard to milk, so my tears usually dry as I get focused.  I thought I would never get the rhythm until yesterday.  I started the routine and with two hands, the milk started flowing.  Wow.  Something in my brain switched and it gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I could get a handle on the grief.
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Losing Zafer is debilitating at times and I understand that it will be something that I (and this family) will carry until the day we die.  Then I hope to join him.  Can’t wait.  So, our job is to come back down to earth and manage the grief.  We are all desperately seeking ways to lessen the pain.  Everyone is dealing with this in their own unique way.

Jessalyn is taking the policy level.  She works with Blue State Digital, the agency that got Freedom to Marry passed.  A powerful group.  Her next project just so happens to be with Shatterproof (an organization dedicated to protecting our loved ones from addiction).

From Jess:

“Following my meeting with Shatterproof, Dan and I were invited to attend CARA family day on Capitol Hill. CARA (comprehensive addiction and recovery act) is the the first major federal law to address the opioid epidemic in this country, and congress is on the verge of enacting it.
Right now a conference committee from the Senate and House is about to convene to decide exactly what’s in the final CARA bill. Dan and I were invited to share Z’s story with legislators and their staffers to make sure CARA stays as strong as possible, and to get it to Obama’s desk quickly for signature.

And at Blue State Digital, we’re working to support the effort with a digital campaign calling on supporters to call or tweet their legislator – to tell them vote YES on CARA.”
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Arlo is taking the Zafer energy and putting it on the hemp t-shirt business that Zafer and friends started a few years.  Watching the excitement of Arlo and Greyson, Tot, Tucker, Tyler and Sean and others gives me a boost to get through my day.  Zafer had big ideas and vision for this company and Arlo is learning as fast as he can about fiber, business, salesmanship, money and how to keep shipping t-shirts.  He has the guidance of his parents, Eric Henry, Linda Booker and Melissa Best…all heavy hitters.  http://www.hempsmith.rocks/

We have a domino effect in our house….Arlo screams in excitement, I jump off the couch (finally) and run around vacuuming and doing yoga simultaneously and Lyle walks out and becomes elated to see the two of us moving and to see a brief moment of joy.  It can also go the other way if one is crumpled in a chair sobbing, we all go down.

Kaitlin’s response to losing her brother was to grab her best friend Zack, his dog, a car that needed to be moved cross country and the three of them went across the United States with their backpacks, their Mary Oliver poetry and their Zafer playlists.  Seeing the open skies of the west helped begin her healing.  There is a much larger story…but not for prime time.  Kaitlin was visited by Z, protected and also in her dreams.  She has returned with her road wisdom and we are taking it all in.  She discusses how our culture is just not cut out for handling death.  We need to borrow from all the other cultures that know that there is way more to this universe than what we can see.
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“The antidote to loss is an awakening consciousness.” John Breckenridge

Lyle and I are hanging on and taking advantage of all types of support.  We are lifted up by this strong family, our sweet sweet friends and community.  We are never in psync with each other so we can just try and understand where the other is and assure them that the wave will pass soon.  Seeing the grief of your loved ones is another horrible aspect of this situation.

After receiving Zafer’s autopsy report, I fell into hysterics.  Reading about your son arriving in a white body bag with a tag on his right big toe is horrific.  They described every part of his body from his chest scar from a skate boarding accident in which I was there getting him stitched up to his tattoo of the flatirons on his back to his recent nipple piercing.  Zafer had a perfect body, the cutest feet, six pack abs, a gorgeous smile.  The autopsy revealed that Zafer died from heroin.  There were no pharmaceuticals or alcohol or fentanyl involved.  Simply heroin and it killed him.

After reading this report, I drove straight to Barbara Lories and cried and cried with her.  She explained in her grief that she didn’t know what it was, but there was a plan, a bigger plan and I believe her.  I have to believe her with her wisdom and 90 years.

I find my days go by quickly and in a fog.  I was in the HABA department at Chatham Marketplace and Terry, the deli chef sought me out.  He told me that he had been to Z’s service and he was sorry.  Terry said I used to help Zafer tie his ties when he was on the way to a school function.  He said he had lost his 7 year old son who was hit by a car.  I asked Terry if he would see his son again and he said he certainly would.  It gave me strength.

When the grief is at it’s worst and I don’t think we can survive it, a text comes in, a phone call, a visitor with flowers and food, a song, a smiling face, a letter from a stranger with a Zafer story.  I have to trust that the Universe will send us what we need to heal and to get through this.  I’m grateful to the friends that I can cry in their arms, go for walks by the river, sit and talk endlessly about Zafer.  I want to talk about Zafer forever and we will.  I’m grateful for the calls and emails from other parents that have lost their children.  They know exactly how I feel and I don’t think my thoughts are so weird.  Wanting to dig up Zafer (don’t worry, I am not going to do that) is not the strangest thought.  Someone told me that other cultures do this on the anniversary of the death.  Being jealous of people dying.  Daring the lightening to strike me.  Seems to be the norm.

Grief is strange and uncontrollable and something we are learning on the fly. 

A team is forming to create something with the Zafer Julian Estill Memorial Fund.  A skate board park has been mentioned….it will take some thought.  It will be some positive energy for something that will help the community and that Z would be proud of.

This weekend the family is piling in to celebrate Memorial Day weekend.  We always do this and it’s swimming and badminton and this year there will be a huge hole in our hearts and 3 bullet holes in our aortas as Arlo says.
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I’ve asked Zafer to be present anyway.  We’ll be looking for the signs. 

Lyle heard the Whip-Poor-Will last night.   Wanting to improve his bird knowledge, he googles:

“Due to its haunting, ethereal song, the eastern Whip-Poor-Will is the subject of numerous legends.  One says the whip-poor-will can sense a soul departing and can capture it as it flees.”

Zafer, missing you and sending you peace and love.
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