July 23, 2016

Legs on a Snake

As one of Amir's friends recently wrote me, "He was so damn good with words." Yes, he was. Though he never studied writing, Amir had a gift for language and for conveying his thoughts most profoundly. I've provided some examples here on this site. Here's yet another, in the form of an email exchange from 2009, after Amir's friend described how she prayed for patience and clarity and trusted that she would be guided to do the right thing. Amir's beautifully-written response:
"What you are describing is a phenomenon commonly known as 'faith.' It not only requires trust in something bigger than yourself; it also cannot be reconciled with or explained through our classical rationale-based thinking. The Buddhists know this--they refer to this kind of neurotic thinking as 'legs on a snake,' totally irrelevant. The scientific method, and Western thinking in general, has no place for this intuitive way of living.
I have understood for many years that God, as I know him, is both imminent and transcendent, within and without. There is no dualism in my mind with regards to this fact. However, I am also well aware that Psychology, as a science, can shed much light on my errors in thinking--'cognitive dissonance,' as it were. The realization is that there is a middle path that incorporates both a rational and spiritual approach to self-improvement. The trick is not letting the pendulum swing too far in either direction.
As you said, you have to know when to turn your brain off so as to avoid spinning your wheels and freezing out any possibility for change. Similarly, despite any overarching spiritual principles, you have to remember that the brain is a machine, and that faulty wiring, manifesting itself in dysfunctional patterns of thought, must be repaired from the ground up. Precisely why I referred to this work as 'tricky business.'
Fierce lions guard these inner gates to liberation, and old habits do indeed die hard. A little effort goes a long way..."
Oh, how dearly I wish Amir had figured out a way to turn off his own brain, as he advised his friend to do. That was one of the things he struggled with the most--I know because it's a struggle he and I shared and talked about openly and often. I'm lucky to have learned how to manage my overactive brain, most of the time. Amir was always searching for ways of calming his mind and quieting his own neurotic thinking and cognitive dissonance. How I wish both he and Jason had achieved that sense of peace. I think they both found it briefly, at different times in their lives, but they struggled to hold on to it, as countless others do. My heart aches for all of them.

July 16, 2016

A Weekend in the Desert

Last weekend, I attended my first annual conference of The Compassionate Friends, a national group founded for bereaved parents, with a growing subgroup of grieving siblings. I've been attending regular meetings in NYC for nearly a year and have made some wonderful friendships among my fellow bereaved siblings. They understand my pain in a way few can. They've lived it.

The conference was an incredibly healing and transformative experience for me. I'm still absorbing it all. I learned a great deal about how to navigate this path and move forward and, more importantly, how to remember, honor and celebrate not only Amir but also Jason in a way that feels right to me.

One anecdote: conference attendees wore lanyards with ID badges stating their name, the name of their loved one and whether they were a parent or sibling. Many people wore buttons with photos of their loved ones. A friend pointed out that her brother would have found that utterly ridiculous and I laughed that Amir would have felt the same. But I did it anyway. I proudly wore a button with his photo even though he would have said something along the lines of, "Please take that stupid fucking thing off."

Along with attending workshops and panel discussions, I thoroughly enjoyed the comfort and camaraderie of other bereaved siblings and parents. The time I spent with fellow siblings was so gratifying and fun and invaluable to me. I'd already found a home with my group in NYC; at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting siblings from across the U.S., with whom I felt that immediate connection that comes with shared loss. They get it.

I listened and talked freely, sharing memories of Amir and Jason as much as possible. Walking around the hotel grounds or along the hallways linking the conference rooms, I felt as though I was among friends--these fellow travelers on the grief journey. The air was heavy with compassion; the genuine care people showed for their fellow bereaved parents and siblings made my heart swell. Often I found myself fighting back tears just witnessing the love, compassion and friendship soaring around me. It breaks my heart that so many people are so deeply grieving, but I'm so appreciative of TCF for helping them (and me) along the way.

One workshop attendee noted, "I have a hard time socializing with non-bereaved people." Damn. This resonated so much with me. I often feel awkward around people, which is why I isolate myself so much. I'm not depressed or "wallowing in it"--I just feel more relaxed when I'm alone. When I'm with people, I zone out or drift off easily, making conversation difficult. I have a hard time focusing. I can be hit with a memory unexpectedly, causing a wave of sadness when I was otherwise enjoying myself. I want to talk about Amir and Jason but don't want others to feel awkward or sad. I'm no longer the person I was before November 22, 2014, and that's very hard to face.

One of dozens of "memory boards"
around the conference where I shared
Amir & Jason with everyone
Still, the conference was not all about grief and sorrow. In fact, I had a fantastic time. I laughed heartily, I ate and drank well, I swam, I relaxed, I breathed deeply and took it all in.

I'm thrilled to have met and enjoyed the company of some truly special fellow siblings from all over the country. I hope to get more involved in helping others who are grieving. All of this can only aid in my own grieving process and help me heal and move forward from the losses I've endured.

I talked about Amir and Jason every chance I got. They were with me at every turn, as they are every day. I posted numerous photos of them on the "memory boards" lining the hallways in the conference center, along with details of who they were. They both deserve to be remembered every single day.