Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

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The Grief is Real

Lately, I've been feeling like I've been run over by a truck, but got away with it.

Bruised, battered, aching all over, but I'm alive, and I'm whole and I can keep going. It's not physically difficult for me to live and do the things that life needs of me, but so difficult mentally and emotionally.

The Capitol Riot occurred on January 6th. That reminded me, in a huge, emotional way, of the fact that my family was wiped out by the Cultural Revolution. Armed insurgents destroyed local governments and moved, eventually, on the capitol of China and destroyed the old way of life. On the way there, they killed, detained, or executed most of the countries intellectuals and artists, including half of my mother's family, and all of my father's who didn't move to Taiwan. I had a very emotional few days, and wrote a big thing on Facebook about that and had hundreds of people respond, forward, and eventually one took exception to my equating Trump and his Proud Boys to the Mao and his Red Army and started verbally abusing me on Facebook. 

Luckily or unluckily or at least to the benefit of my emotional health, Facebook makes it super easy to block someone from everything I do there. And, yes, the methods of Trump and his supporters are pretty much equivalent to the Communists who took over China, so yes, they are the people we should be worried about, not the liberals who want to use the system to help people. I understand the irony of that statement, and stand by it.

On the 10th, Isabel was found fallen in her room. She's fallen in the middle of the night and smacked her head and the cut was big enough they took her to the emergency room to have it stitched up. It also took her quite a while to regain consciousness and when she did she was pretty confused.  Isabel is my mother-in-law and long time followers of this blog also know that she's been very close to my husband and I. She and George came to take care of Jet whenever John and I went off to Biloxi to fix houses destroyed by Katrina, and they would always stay another week before or after to just be with us. 

Those were my favorite times, to just sit with them and especially with Isabel, to just talk and ask about anything and everything, and learn from her. And, maybe most important for me, to be heard by her. 

Crying again. *laughs* I've been doing that a lot. That same week one of my best friends was hospitalized due to low sodium levels. The next week, an old neighbor, Yong, of the old neighborhood, died in his sleep. A heart attack, they think, but he was just gone. He was the one John and I always interacted with at the bus stop as he was taking care of Kendrick, who was a year older than Jet, and they were both at the bus stop every morning and we'd see them every afternoon. He'd was kind, quiet, and always there for the boys. His funeral was that weekend. 

That same week Ruth died, surrounded by her family. She was one of the matriarchs of our church, and always there and always encouraging to me whenever we interacted. She was one of the few people who publicly and at length, acknowledged how hard it was for me to be the moderator for our church during the conflict that happened with the leaving of both our pastors at the time. She came to me, at church, hugged me and thanked me for my service. I cried then and I'm crying now while I think about it. She was a petite woman, but when she spoke, it was always with assurance, patience, and kindness. 

Her memorial was today, and the love her family has for her was so obvious through the service, I just let myself cry. 

Isabel recovered some of her senses after she was in hospital for a week, but with COVID things were pretty confused as to where she would go and when and how. All four brothers worked really hard together and with Emerald Heights and their people to figure it all out. She was super sleepy all the time, and while they'd done a thorough screening, they couldn't find anything that had broken more than it was before, but some of the findings were consistent with a concussion. Eventually, there was the feeling that she wasn't recovering all her abilities and probably wasn't going to, and the four brothers worked with Emerald Heights to get her back into her usual room with 24 hour care.

The weekend of the 23rd of January was a congregational meeting John was supposed to run, but it was also the weekend just before Isabel was going to be moved back to Emerald Heights. The hospital allowed one visitor per day, but Emerald Heights, to protect all its people, didn't allow any outside visitors. So John flew to Seattle that Saturday morning, stayed the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday and as he left Sunday evening, brother Walt arrived for his day before Isabel moved back. David had been there, and Paul came after she was back in Emerald Heights and got to do a window visit with her on the phone. I helped Wayne, our Moderator-to-be in the spring, run the Congregational Meeting at home, and did the minutes for it, and it went really well.

I was really glad folks at the church just filled in as needed around John's absence. When he was with Isabel, he was able to share Amanda's poem from the Inauguration with her, and she recognized him and loved the share. She took great delight in warm blankets, and when she was awake, she knew and responded to her sons and to phone calls from her grandchildren. Jet called her, and she was so delighted, she talked about that to everyone after, and he didn't notice anything different about her and enjoyed talking with her. But at that point, she had maybe one or two lucid hours a day.

When John was in Seattle, I went to visit Jet to get him some stuff he'd left at home over the Christmas Break and I'll always remember sitting in 20 degree weather, on concrete in a park with all the dead plants and no water under an iron sky, with the Colorado winds blowing over us, but with a hot coffee in my hands and Jet and I talking with masks on while eight feet apart and discussing why John went to see Isabel and Jet's surprise, because his interaction with her had been so clearly her.

Her decline was real, though, and once back in Emerald Heights, she wasn't able to get out of bed much more, and that was too much of a drain on the staff there, and so they asked and worked with the brothers on moving her into Assisted Living. A few days after that, she just slept a lot more, and stopped responding to people, and on Friday morning of the Fifth of February, she stopped eating. Earlier that week, the boys were getting ready to call Hospice, so on Friday they did, and Hospice came in and said, "It's a matter of hours, now."

So on the afternoon of the 5th, David, one of the brothers, went to her room, and sat with her and her iPad, and Zoomed in with the other brothers, their wives, and the grandkids. We sang and talked and told her how much we loved her, and in doing so, made it clear how much we loved each other, too. Isabel went from being agitated and anxiously clutching David's hand to being relaxed and calm and just holding his hand. She went into a deeper sleep at about 10 pm Mountain time, and at 11pm we all broke up to go to bed, some of us with plans in the morning to fly to Seattle to see her one last time. At midnight her time, she passed quietly in her sleep. 

Some part of me wants to think that she did so because she wanted us to stay safe. 

In the midst of all that, my friend was diagnosed with lung cancer and is now getting treatment, which is good. They caught it because of her hospital stay and wouldn't have otherwise, so she has a very good chance of beating it by hitting it with the chemo stick much earlier than they normally would have been able to get at it. Still, it's hard. Cancer sucks.

I have been crying a lot this last month. Crying hard over losing Isabel and all that she's meant to me, the relationships she and I formed over the decades of our time together. Three decades. It's good to think of that and know it for what it is. The family joke was that John was Isabel's last try for a girl, and she would always respond that she got great daughters by the marriages her sons all ended up making. And I thought that maybe I should make a shirt that reads, "I am the daughter Isabel always wanted." for any of the wives that might want one. 

After another big loss in my past, I was having these terrible nightmares when I would feel like I was dying. All the breathe sucked out of me, and nothing but pain and emptiness. I had that dream one night, and woke up and asked John to hold me while I just sobbed. And in the midst of that storm, I realized that the source of that huge pain was that core conviction that I am alone. That there is no one who can or will or wants to really understand who and what I am, even with the contradiction right there holding me and telling me it was going to be all right... *laughs quietly* The Loss of Isabel was triggering a lot of those old feelings, and this time I could actually sit with them and be aware of them and let myself feel them and let them go as untrue. They were more true the last time I went through that kind of thing, but now...

Being in that deathwatch with the rest of the clan was a saving grace, as it was very clear that everyone there regards me as part of the family. Jet later thanked me for having him be a part of that, even though all of that was in the midst of him being in a huge sucking homework vortex that was eating him alive, the gathering itself was so good for all of us. And the love she gave us was plenty and more than plenty to pour out on all of us. 

It also helped, oddly enough, that there were basically three deaths so close to each other, as all of them were throwing different resources at those who were mourning all of them. I learned that grief is the pain that comes from loss, but that mourning is what you can consciously do so that the loss doesn't surprise you as much. That mourning is the way we can learn that someone really is gone and aren't hit by it as much with random occurrences, as you can consciously go through so many of the memories and touch on them and understand their loss. The grief will still hurt, but mourning helps let you feel the pain when you can deal with it.

It still drains me to the dregs, now and again. I went for my annual exam in the midst of all this, and as part of the standard procedure he handed me the "Depression" measurement tool. It's something they're doing as part of their COVID response to make sure someone knows what's going on. It's a measurement tool for the recent past, just the last two weeks, and given all that was going on, when I handed it to him, his eyes got wide. He was a good doctor and asked me if I thought I needed medicating; and, if not, who was I going to talk to about this?  *laughs* He wasn't taking, "I don't need help" as an answer. When I said that I was in good relationship with my church and that my pastor would be a good resource he was satisfied. 

And he was right. I had been thinking about it but hadn't really set up a specific date with Pastor Sarah, but when I got home, she had already asked me, in an email, when I might want to walk and talk. We're going through a cold spell here, with temperatures in the low teens and single digits even in the day, but we decided on a lake walk on a balmy day in the twenties (laughs) and so we did! We spent a good hour walking out at the more remote trails of Pella Crossing and talking. She let me process and gave me support and told me when I was off track and helped me get back on again. She was pretty emphatic about me NOT being alone, not just with the congregation and her but also that God was with me and that Her love was there for me. When we ended, she said that we had to do this again, and I will take that not just as an invitation but as something I really do need to do again.

Sarah's going to be helping with the memorial service for Isabel, too, since both Walt and John know her pretty well, and Isabel was attending services on Zoom while she could. And she was in tune with how Isabel would have wanted the UCC part of it to go. I was asked if I wanted a part in it and I will write something and speak at the memorial. It's a way for me to get the words going again.

Through all this, one encouraging thing has been that I've still been painting. It's nearly all been the work I've been doing with Mayee Futterman's classes, but I've done one thing that was more original to me, and another was just a flip so that the painting was easier for me with my right hand. She's a lefty, so its sometimes less easy for me to get at the angle that's so natural for her. 

The four week class was all doing paintings of white things on colored paper. We did jellyfish the first week, some narcissus the second, egrets on the third, and these white magnolias on the fourth. I loved the big, glossy leaves, and the beauty of the flower itself.

The Chinese New Year class was all about the Chinese magnolia, which has a very flashy exterior, but a very white austere interior. It's name is Mulan, and fits the character of the daughter who passed as a man to save her father. It's interesting to connect up the stories and culture of China to the paintings that I've been making. An old classmate of mine asked to buy this painting the moment I showed it on Facebook! Which was really great. It also meant that I was able to, without hesitation, sign up for some of the spring classes (Mini Divas of the flower world!) and even a wet mounting class, so that I could experiment with more modern mounting techniques. 

It's nice to have a hobby that pays for itself. And a kind of creative work that hasn't completely shut down even with everything else that's been going on. Being able to follow the class and still create has been really good for me, and the painting has been a contemplative Flow space that helps turn off the dark or negative thoughts.

I hate that Isabel died, but how she died pretty much was the best way she could have gone given all the circumstances surrounding her death. She knew she was loved, she had the people she loved the most in her ear as she went, and someone she loved holding her hand. We spoke of our memories of her, and John now has thousands of slides that George had taken that he's digitizing and keeping, sorting and making sense of, and keeping some aside for the memorial service. 

Isabel made such a positive impact on so many people for her entire life. For the weeks after her death, John's been called nearly every day by someone that wanted to touch base with him about her death and with their memories of what she'd done to make their lives better. We will all miss her, but the Earth is definitely a better place for having had her in it.

Tags: art, cooking, creation, family, grateful, healing, music, painting, present, processing, walking

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