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The willow tree symbolizes fertility and new life; a healthy branch can be poked into the ground and it will root, even if it’s upside down. Seems cliche, talking about a willow in connection to grief, but I got here by way of the idea of the beetle that bores into willow trees. Called a Willow Borer, it damages willows so badly that some horticulturists simply recommend against planting it.
Willow Borers can live in the trees for years, boring into the wood and making the tree weep debris from the holes the beetle makes. Eventually the trees disintegrate from the inside out; branches split the tree or break off.
I’ve long identified with the willow for its flexibility in harsh storms. Other trees may break, but not the willow. Its unique makeup makes it supple and less prone to fracture.
I once likened grief to a wet, heavy woolen coat, but it’s not like that at all. You can’t shed grief like a coat. It’s more like the beetle that bores into the willow, only bones don’t weep. At least, not ones bleached dry by the elements.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get out from under the grief. I have a sense of stooped stiffness as I walk, and I wonder how evident it is. Has my own beetle made dust of my bones already, I wonder. But every time I sit down to focus on making something out of nothing I must be shoving a hope stick into the ground, I think.
I purposely shared my story with people this semester, shared even though I’ve become cynical and hollow and invisible, with the admonition that you must choose to walk the path that gives you joy because it will sustain you when you are caught out by tragedy. It’s the strongest counterargument against giving up that I know, a hope stick that may thrive come some random spring.
Once in a while I glimpse a tiny chartreuse sprig, but so far I’ve only managed to wither it with neglect because it’s easier to check out by bingeing Rizzoli and Isles or by playing Clash Royale on my phone. It’s easier to accept being invisible, to fly under the radar and disconnect, but there’s a symbiotic relationship between us humans that I feel obligated to show up for.
Curious, amazing thing about willow trees. They have healing properties that’ve been known for centuries. People have not only chewed on the leaves for pain relief, they have prized beavers, which munch on willow trees. Beavers were hunted to near extinction because people wanted their castor sacs.
Microbiologist Joanne Stolen writes,
“Both male and female beavers possess a pair of castor sacs and a pair of anal glands located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail. Beavers mark their territories by constructing scent mounds made of mud, debris and castoreum, a urine based substance excreted though the beavers castor sacs between the pelvis and base of the tail” (Stolen).
I want to know who first had the bright idea to poke around and test this substance secreted by beavers from their butt region. In fact, I Googled it, and this link was at the top of the page: Who figured out a beaver’s behind tastes like raspberry? They didn’t just observe but tasted?
This I find deeply amusing because it shows how freakily things are connected, and I can’t say no to hooking into the universe, no matter how sad I am. If healing can come from a beaver’s butt juice, I don’t need proof that my own authenticity could help someone else.
I have never been able to open up those Pillsbury roll cans. I have walked outside and gone to a neighbor’s house and asked someone to open the can out of my earshot and then bring it back to me on the porch. I cannot bear not knowing when the can will pop. (I quit buying them. I’m sure the neighbors appreciate that.)
Heretofore I’ve been an eager watcher of suspense flicks, and now, if I hear the first note of tell-tale music dread marches up the skin of my arms to my throat and I have to plug my ears. I’ve been known to bolt from my seat to pace during scary parts of movies. Now I can’t bear suspenseful music, or the threat of physical violence–the threat, mind you. Not the actual violence. Once it’s happening I can relax.
I connect it to my not being able to know what has happened to my son. I have no control over that, and the longer he is missing, the worse the suspense is getting.
Today I talked with a colleague about some things I’m doing in my classes, and she said, “Oh, THAT’s why you’re here at work. You’re passionate about it.” She explained that she could see how focusing on work was helping me to deal with my ordeal.
I was relieved to hear this perspective because I’ve been feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I’m not massively depressed. I love my son, and I am fractured and fragile. I feel like a train wreck, and I think the journey’s miles are heavy on my face. I saw it today when I looked in the mirror. I’m old and gray today. You don’t get frequent flyer miles this way, but you do get some perspective.
Viktor Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl’s words of wisdom have helped me to maintain perspective.
Here are some more, all from Man’s Search for Meaning:
- “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
- “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
- “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
And I pray.
This is a hideous circumstance, but I see grace in my work, in my friends, in my beloved son, Josh, and husband, Tom.
Often I’m angry and despairing at how unfair this is. It is unfair.
But it’s also unfair for the woman whose toddler died on the beach.
It’s unfair for the woman whose daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
It’s unfair for the woman whose son is suffering from neuroblastoma and may die any day now.
Viktor Frankl has this to say, too: “The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
In love there is grace.
And I’m surrounded by both. Even when I can’t see it.
I’m taking care of myself by being open about my state of mind. If you ask me how I am, I will tell you the truth: not good. I am sad. And tired. I cry every day. I keep remembering all the times I could have been a better mother. No, I am not okay. But I am not depressed.
That seems oxymoronic.
Jake’s birthday is coming up. If I could take it to the neighbor’s house, I would.
“Pop this sucker open, wouldja? But wait till I’m down the block.”
On October 30, our church hosted Celebrate Light, as it does every year. My husband and I manned a booth for Chuck the Chicken, and in between scooping out candy for the kids and dipping down to pick up chucked chickens I scanned the crowd for my son.
The festival was the one time each year that I was pretty sure I’d get to see Jake, no matter how mad he was at me. I guess the church property was neutral ground for him. He wasn’t surly, and one year he actually let me drag him around to introduce him to people, and he lingered afterward, like he didn’t really want to leave. That gave me this wild hope that he’d come around, but he didn’t. It was another year and some months before that happened.
So I found myself looking for him, even though I’ve been pretty sure he isn’t in the Valley. I just…hoped. You know?
He never showed, of course, and I still have no idea where he is. This past week’s been particularly difficult (why!? I don’t understand the randomness)– I’m afraid he’s on the streets, not himself. And it hit me afresh that I may never see him again. That makes me feel lopsided.
When you have your children, you never envision a future without them. It’s incomprehensible. You think they’ll always love you, too. My mother told me this, between the lines in her journal and in person when I visited her the year before she succumbed to cancer. She envisioned me frolicking with her in a meadow on a warm, sunny day. Yeah, we never frolicked, but I think she tried–I remember shooting the rapids in the aquaducts in LA, and camping at Thomas Hunting Grounds and Deep Creek and Heart Rock.
Then I definitely went my own way. And on this side of her death, on this side of Jake’s disappearance, I see how hard I was on her. This is why parents have to stick around. So the kids have time to figure out how to forgive them and love them back.
And of course I now wonder if I’d forgiven her sooner would it have made me a better mom?
What if if if….
Got a ton of those.
Last semester was the first time I showed Angela Maiers’ video You Matter to my students. I had them write a reflection on it, and we briefly discussed it, but it wasn’t till this semester that I tasked students with activating the ideas Angela spoke of. (It was a V8 moment. Kuh! Be the change, Stacy! lol)
I went to the Dollar Tree and bought a bunch of small notebooks and handed them out to my Thursday night class last week, and I assigned it as a month-long project. (Tomorrow my Monday class gets the assignment.) To get credit, they have to notice something every day until the due date. I do not require more than this because I believe they will go above and beyond.
I’ve assigned this because these students are going to influence the next generation of children. Because they need to know what they say and do matters. And because they matter to me.
I know if they practice noticing, this will have a ripple effect on everyone, including themselves. And I want them to practice noticing so they’ll be fluent when they have their own classrooms.
I’ve got a notebook, too. I’ve written on the cover, “Mrs. Bodus’ Book of Noticing.” I carry it with me everywhere now.
Things I’ve written down that I previously would’ve dismissed:
-a young boy held the door for me and my husband at church today.
-Emily in the coffee shop looked me in the eye and asked me how I was and really wanted to know.
-Gaynell asked me how my writing was coming because she’d been praying for me. (This rocked my world, it was so awesome.)
-a waiter was attentive and kind to my Nana, and people waited patiently for us to walk through the doors on our way out.
-my husband bought a book for me by one of my favorite authors.
-Patty Ojeda made a bunch of goodie bags for the women on her 5K team; she had a whole tent set up for us with fruit and muffins and water.
I walk in this garden every day. From now on I’ll pay attention to the flowers.
I don’t know yet how this project will evolve, but I’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities with my students. They are geniuses. I expect to be amazed and delighted.
*My son, yes, he is still missing. I know people are concerned.
I don’t have any new news to share. And I don’t know how to seamlessly include that information.
You walk this thin line when you’re going through an emotionally dark time. On one side you’ve got an abyss of fear, and on the other is a pit of despair. You have to let go of things that throw off your balance. If you hold on to a thing that crowds your brain with bleakness, you tip toward the pit; if your imagination does the giddyup, you totter toward the abyss.
Most of the things I’ve let go of are energy sucks. I ask myself daily, how much energy does this [fear/resentment/thought] cost?
Resentments–woo, out the window, baby. Ain’t got time to have hurt feelings. Only room enough for one car on the pain train.
Worrying about what other people think–this really took the stuffing out of me this summer. I worried that I was too emotional, not emotional enough, too preoccupied, not preoccupied enough. I worried about how spiritual, thoughtful, loving, pretty, available, etc., I was. To my brain and my heart, I say, “I’m sorry. It’s enough to be upright.” This stuff’s scattering like the fall leaves I wish we had here in the desert. My version of the fall season, I guess. heh
I’ve been aware of the tightrope, of course, all summer long. I just didn’t realize what was making my balance so precarious until I let a cool writing opportunity pass me by recently. I could have written an essay about how I teach, but I could not bring myself to do it, and when the due date passed I was disappointed in myself. No, worse than that. I shamed myself. Something so easy, and I balked because I was afraid that 1) I would find out that I do actually suck, and 2) now people would know I sucked.
It took me some noodling to get to the root of my resistance, but when I found it I also understood that this was something interfering with my skittery tightrope walk. It has to go.
At the same time I was working through this, I came across a news video about the bombing in Aleppo. A small child is pulled from the rubble and set on a seat at the back of an ambulance. His face is covered in dirt and blood, and you can tell he’s barely waking up and is not processing anything. He must feel the weight of something on his temple, because he reaches his hand up to touch his head, and when he feels the wetness he pulls his hand back and looks at it briefly. Then he sees that it’s messy and his first thought must be to wipe it clean; he rubs his hand on the seat.
No one is there with him; he sits alone because rescuers are busy digging through the rubble for more survivors. He sits quietly, and his eyes are blank.
I can walk this damn path. It may feel like a tightrope, but it really isn’t. It’s just a hard thing. And what now propels me to write is something I feel self-conscious about, but I’m sharing anyway: Writing brings income, and I want to spend it helping children like that little one in Aleppo. (I want to add qualifiers (writing potentially brings income) but I will not. Will not.)
I’ll be writing more about the writing process, but will also post any updates about my missing son when I have them. Right now, all I know is that he’s gone, and his body has not been found. I am mostly trusting that he is alive. Some days, you know….
The two videos below resonate with me today.
Someone asked me where Day 1 was of the Blog of Missing. I started with Day 20, which is kind of a let-down, right? Where’s the beginning? There should be a Day 1. A way to find the genesis of the heartache.
And there should be words for every day of the missingness. We’ve got all the feels every day, and by we, I mean everyone who misses Jake. A post a day keeps the insanity at bay (except there ain’t no sanity clause….)
I don’t know exactly when Day 1 is. I know the first day he left.
I know the last day someone thought they saw him.
I know the first day, approximately, that I started worrying about him before he disappeared.
I know the first day he stopped talking to me three years ago.
I know the day he started talking to me again. And the day he said he forgave me and that he had been mad for dumb things.
I know the day I dropped him off at Denny’s.
I know the last day he called his dead friend’s phone.
I know many significant days.
Which one is the first?
Today marks 118 days since I knew he was safe, had shelter, and he was talking to me. Now I have hope that he is not dead. I don’t know about shelter, I don’t know his mindset, and I don’t know that he’s safe, but it’s comforting to feel mostly sure that he’s not dead.
This summer two people approached me to ask if I’d been checking Jake’s Facebook. When I said no, they told me that their messages to him in Facebook had been read by someone. I myself have seen that twice. I dismissed it because I believed (and still do) that Jake had sold his laptop. I figured someone had access to his Facebook messages.
I have reason to believe he is at least alive and has access to his Facebook account because I used to be able to see his friends list, and now cannot. A person with access to his account would be indifferent regarding privacy, I think.
You know as much as I do.
I can extrapolate a lot from this info, but I’ve learned I’m usually wrong about stuff when I do that. Too many assumptions.
This. It’s where my head’s at.
I’ve found a website that offers help to those who have been reported missing:
THE MISSING BLOG: HELPING YOU SEND A MESSAGE HOME
Here’s what the page says:
You might not be ready, want or be able to return home at this time, but still want family or loved ones to know you’re okay. You could be scared of how they might react or be worried about a difficult situation you left behind.
It can be very hard to make that first contact or find the words you want to say to someone, for a range of personal and individual reasons. That is why we have developed our Message Home service.
Remember, we won’t disclose your location if you don’t want us to.
Simply talk to us and provide us with information that will help prove your identity to the person we are passing the message on to, such as your date of birth or any memorable information. We will then get in touch with your family and ask if they’re willing to receive a message from you.
After, they will also be given the opportunity to pass a message back to you and we will check with you first to make sure you are willing to receive the message.
We will never pass on abusive, harmful , threatening or upsetting messages between family members or messages regarding legal or financial matters.
Want to talk? We are free, confidential and available 24/7.
Call or text 116 000
You can text us even if you have no credit left on your mobile phone.
Here is more general information for someone who is missing: http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/how-we-can-help/missing-adults.html
If you are reading this, know that there’s help available, and it’s okay if you don’t want to pass on a message. I love you.
The past couple of days have been difficult.
I’m not always skilled at knowing what I’m feeling. And sometimes the feelings have a delayed arrival, so that further complicates things. It’s taken two days for me to recognize that I shifted into the Bad Mom space, my parallel universe. I’m in the slipstream of grief, and all it takes is a small rock in my path to knock me out of right now into the other.
I discovered in a rarely-used gmail account an email from people who were putting huge effort into finding Jake. It was a request for my input on a map of Jake’s known haunts. They had one small misconception (an old address that is not relevant).
I answered as soon as I read it, of course, but as Jake’d say, that train sailed.
I had to drive to campus yesterday, something I’ve been avoiding without really knowing why.
I understood when I got to Cole Road in Calexico.
Denny’s on Cole Road is where I left Jake. Where I didn’t know I was saying goodbye for longer than a couple of days.
My line of sight was blocked by a mongo semi, and it was my relief at that that made me realize 1) why I’d avoided coming to Calexico, and 2) that I needed to find an alternate route to work.
So now that I’m all current on my feelings I’ve been noodling on what my youngest said about Jake cutting me off three years ago. (I wrote about that when it happened, here. )
With his extended absence, I waffle between thinking he’s dead, thinking he’s homeless and delirious, or thinking he’s a nomad out to find himself. The ache’s the same, but the excavation I did three years ago [see link above] is unnecessary this time. This is all mom stuff.
So: navigation. You think you know how to make your way through things.
“The people who say you are not facing reality actually mean that you are not facing their idea of reality. Reality is above all else a variable. With a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before.” Margaret Halsey
I’m in this godawful weird place where I don’t know how to live my life. I don’t know where to look for my son, I don’t know what waiting looks like, and I still have responsibilities. I just got a reminder that I need to order books for my classes this fall, another reminder that I have to set a date for an upcoming Kiwanis installation, my cat wants food AND snuggles, and I have a pile of things that require my attention. It’s all my stuff. None of it’s bad. It’s just stuff I need to do.
And yet, when I take shaky steps forward, practice being present, small black shards splinter off inside me.
My youngest son said yesterday, “Mom. You forgot that last time Jake cut you off, he wasn’t going to tell you then, either. You found out by accident. Remember?” I haven’t really processed this statement. I don’t even know how. Is Jake being a nomad, or is he dead? Is he all right? Does he have enough to eat?
[See painting and info here.]
Reality is…all the shards.
When the boys were little, I’d put them down for their naps in their cribs and play this album. Being Mom was simpler.
What is this sadness I feel?
Jake has not been found; I can’t be mourning his loss. Yet.
So is this fear masquerading as grief?
No. Fear travels on the skin like cold water.
Grief squeezes from within.
It’s a clenched fist wrapped tight around your stomach, whereas fear is a hard cold finger right between your shoulder blades.
And anyway, this is an ache, so it’s neither.
Recently someone said, “No news is good news!”
I’ve been trying to deconstruct that phrase for a week, now.
1. No news is…no news. It is neither good nor bad.
2. No news is terrifying. Given our recent reconciliation, I can’t grasp why my son would still be silent, other than that his body has simply not yet been found.
3. No news is better than confirmation that he’s dead.
4. No news is worse than knowing he is safe.
5. No news sucks.
I deconstruct nearly everything in my head now.
I think I’ve always done this, but I have misplaced my ability to multi-task, along with the desire to do so.
So: some silences.
Not right now.
Right now I’m residing here, in a tiny space of almost not-ness, but enveloped by the warm memory of toddler boys napping to Kitaro while I cross-stitched medieval letters and delicate leaves.
Thank you, Candace Payne, for reminding me that joy in simple things brings the light.
My husband insisted I watch this. I’d ignored it on Facebook because it looked dorky, and actually, it kinda is, but therein lies the charm.
It made me remember to be myself, to pay attention to small things, like talking to a 5-year-old sharing her Disneyland trip for her birthday. She told me about a naked human climbing up into the air, right after she explained about a donkey doing something, and I got confused, and asked, “A naked donkey climbed into the air?”
And she did this:
And all I wanted to do was say other silly things just so I could see that face. Makes me laugh now, just thinking about it. I probably didn’t hear right, but who cares. Listening to her code-switch between Spanish and English made my day. She and her mother were a spot of grace-filled sunshine today.
I can’t cry. It’s like the sorrow is hiding, and now panic hovers on the edges, like not feeling constant sorrow means I’m giving up, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel, or what I’m supposed to do because my adult son has vanished and people keep saying the fact that his body hasn’t been found is a good thing.
I get it. But I also wonder if he just did a good job of hiding himself.
I suppose this is where I should tie things up neatly with something light, but