deborahjross: (Default)
Life has treated me to a bumpy ride recently. I’ve written about challenging times following the election, with all the fear, confusion, and so on. It seemed the bad news would never end when Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died. We lost our old German Shepherd Dog after a short but difficult illness that turned all our lives inside out. Through this, I tried to practice good self care, cultivate insight and perspective, and share my journey. Mostly I was able to regain my emotional and spiritual balance, and the periods of feeling at a loss grew shorter. The grief for our dog felt natural and healthy; she had gone peacefully in the end, surrounded by love, and we all had so many happy memories of her.

And then I received a letter from the Department of Corrections with the date of the next parole hearing of the man who’d raped and murdered my mother. It’s such a horrendous thing to be reminded of at the best of times, but now, when my stability is already fragile, it’s particularly awful. I’ve written about the murder many times over the years, from my introduction letter upon joining SFWA to a recent post as part of #HoldOnToTheLight (a blog campaign encompassing posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues). I tell my story when I campaign against the death penalty. As much as I do not want to give a single thought to the murder and its aftermath right now, I’m going to have to deal with it. Whether or not I attend in person, send a letter, record a video statement, ask friends to write letters opposing his release, it’s in my mind. Like some particularly vile parasitic worm, it’s wending its way from my thoughts into my guts.

Sometimes treading water is the best you can do, and that’s enough. Running as fast as you can to just stay in place at least keeps you in place. Life flattens us and we have a good cry and then pick ourselves up. Our friends (and sometimes strangers) give us a hand up. We do the same for them. But sometimes what life piles on us is Just. Too. Much.

I didn’t get to vote on this. I didn’t ask for it. My mother was an amazing, compassionate, intelligent, radiant soul. Even if I walk away, the way her life ended will still be with me. I can’t take it out of my mind and body, let alone my spirit.

It sucks bigtime.

That’s where I am today. Despite all the self care, I’m sleeping badly. I’m irritable, at times bordering on irrational, although my family nudges me back to sanity. My muscles reflect the inner escalation of tension. Most of the time, it’s a lot of fun to be me, but not now. I’m not sure why the people who love me put up with me.

Sleep is my miner’s canary, my early-warning signal that I’m no longer treading water, I’m sinking. I don’t ever, ever want to go back to what happened to me after the first parole hearing, so I take these signals very seriously. I take it even more seriously when a dear friend and, separately, a family member express concern for me. I’ve learned to not brush off such concerns with, “I’m fine.” I’m so clearly not fine. If someone who cares about me sees something in my behavior, or hears something behind my words or in my unguarded expression, for them to say something to me is an act of pure love.

When we’re drowning, we need all the love we are offered.

I am loved, and that’s how I’m going to get through this as a sane, loving person.

In the next installment of “In Troubled Times,” I’ll share some of the ways I’m giving myself extra help. I don’t expect it to be an easy passage, but I’ve learned a lot over the years about surviving even what seems to be unsurvivable. Please come on that journey with me: it’s not one anybody should ever take alone.
deborahjross: (hands)
At this time of year, I often feel out of step with the rest of the country, at least as portrayed by the media and demonstrated by election results. Like just about everyone else I know who's old enough to remember the events of 9/11, I have a vivid memory of how I learned about them. I was driving my younger daughter to high school and we were listening to the news on the car radio. We heard the announcer cry, "The second Tower is down!" and the rest of the story tumbled out. The way the events unfolded reminded me poignantly of John F. Kennedy's assassination. I was in high school in 1963, just about the same age my daughter was on September 11. Listening to the news broadcast with her, I experienced a parallel of my own youthful experience. Once again, the world became to be a dangerous and unpredictable place, but for me it was not the first time. I too responded with a feeling that the world has changed forever, but I also had the memory of having walked through this before -- and not just the Presidential assassination.

For me, Septembers will never be solely about 9/11. Twenty-nine years ago this month, my mother was raped and beaten to death by a neighbor kid on drugs. Read more... )It was a spectacularly brutal, headline-banner crime, but only part of a larger tragedy, for his own family had suffered the murder of his older brother by a serial killer some years before. My body knows when the anniversary is approaching, even when my thoughts are distracted. The shift in the quality of the light at summer's end reaches deep into my nervous system. The scar tissue on my heart aches. The ghosts of things that once held the power to drive me crazy stir in the darkness. My sleep becomes fragile, even though I no longer have nightmares. It's a hard time, an intensely personal time.

One thing I have learned over the years is that grief isn't fungible; you can't compare or exchange one person's experience with another's or say, This one's pain is two-thirds the intensity of that one's. Grief is grief; loss is loss. There's no benefit to anyone in comparisons. And no one else can do the hard emotional work of healing for us.
Around me and in the media, I see public displays of remembrance and more often than not, I feel reluctant to share mine. For one thing, I've lived with my story for almost three decades and I've had extensive trauma therapy, but the person I tell it to is hearing it for the first time. "My god," they say, "how did you live through that?" At most times of the year, it's a gift to be able to sit with them, give them time to catch up, and to share a little of what I've learned about healing. But not this season. I need to have a time just for my own grief, a time that is just for my mother.

If someone says they lost a loved one in 9/11, or they had to pass the rubble every day on the way to work, or they were involved in some other way, they have no need to recite the circumstances. Because those events are known to the greater community, there is a sense of shared experience or at least an appreciation of the horror and grief of those directly affected. Individual losses occur in much smaller communities. I have come to believe that none of us can truly understand what another's loss is like. We are all individuals with our own histories, our own resources, our own lurking insanity. But we can say, "Even though I don't know what you're going through, my heart goes out to you." In my own life, I have found this deeply supportive.

I don't want to minimize or take away from the feelings of anyone affected by 9/11. We should be allies, for surely there is enough compassion, enough tears, enough fury, enough mending of hearts, to go around. Sorrows shared are divided, or so it is said. Until now, I have not found a way to both acknowledge the collective grief around me and to maintain the separate integrity of my own. What we share, in many variations, is the darkness and the long slow journey to the light. We share the craving for justice, the moments of irrational fury, the struggle against a world that seems capricious in its viciousness. We share the desperation to hold someone accountable, to inflict blame, to punish that person to the utmost in the hope that somehow it will make us stop hurting. That desire to lash out and make the perpetrator suffer is a universal human impulse, but I believe it is only one part of the initial reaction to a horrific tragedy. It is something we pass through on our way back to wholeness. Anger and adrenalin, with their energizing power, help us to get through the early stages. However, both are anesthetizing, numbing to both emotion and spirit. If we remain there, frozen, we cannot wrestle with the deeper issues of healing from trauma.
deborahjross: (blue hills)
I've been thinking about my best friend, who died last year from ovarian cancer, and about my mother, who was raped and murdered by a neighbor teenager on drugs. Over the last couple of decades since the latter, I've exchanged stories (and tears, and laughter, and anguish) with other family members of murder victims. Sometimes when I read a story in which killing someone is presented as praiseworthy, I want to scream at the author, "Do you have any idea what you're doing? Do you understand how much pain your characters are causing?" I want to sit down with the writers and make them listen to what it's like to lose someone you love and all the years you might have had together for no good reason. I'm feeling really angry about it. Hence the rant below.

I admit that I cannot comprehend why anyone would think that deliberately ending someone's life is laudable. Yes, things happen by accident. People drive around in lethal weapons all the time. People get angry or frightened and lash out. But writing a story is not something that's over in a flash and can never be taken back. It's an act of deliberate creation and as such, calls on us to be mindful. Listen, folks. Life is all too brief, and incredibly precious. It's totally not okay with me to deliberately cut short a human life. For greed, for bigotry, for revenge, for patriotism. In fiction we often do kill off characters. If you do it, do it with full awareness of the cost.Read more... )
deborahjross: (crone with wreath)
Because my friend is dying
I went on to the land she loves
            To say Kaddish for my mother,
Under fir trees, through overgrown thistles
Past the echoing barn,
The last holdouts of summer blackberries,
Following a horse trail,
            a goat trail,
            a deer trail,
            a labyrinth carved by the generations: Exodus.

A cricket told me where to rest,
There by the single daisy,
            the Queen Anne’s lace.
Thorns snatched at the fringes of my prayer shawl.
I prevailed.

We do prevail, said the twilight.
We prevail from our ashes,
            in the sea
            in the cedar grove
             on the mount
            on the mountain
            at the wall
            at the wailing of the day.

I traced the Aramaic letters,
            stumbling like a stranger to my own faith.
And then, as if in the beginning,
            Bereshit,
A voice rose up through me,
A song that made itself up as it went.

This memory is all I have of you.
This moment is all we have ever had of one another.
This grief is a verb.
This peace is always, always becoming what it will be.

Deborah J. Ross
17 Tishrei 5774
deborahjross: (dolomites)
Darcy at 16 weeks

On Book View Cafe blog, my husband has been blogging about our life and adventures with Darcy, which are now coming to a close. Darcy will be returning to his breeder, who will find him an owner capable of training him to his full potential. 



Despite all our care and knowledge about dogs, our age (both of us in our mid-60s) and other competing demands on our energy made it increasingly difficult to give Darcy the training and attention that an smart, intense, high-drive dog needs. This was especially true since at 4 months, Darcy is entering adolescence and testosterone is upping the intensity. Even so, we have given him a foundation of house manners, basic commands (sit/down/come/leave-it/loose-leash walking) and excellent socialization with other dogs. He plays happily with the neighbor's two Labradors, who are big enough to enjoy the kind of rough and tumble that so often characterizes German Shepherd Dogs. At his breeder's, he'll have a chance to play with his sister until he goes to a new home. He's a confident, outgoing dog.



What brings our "temporary parenthood" to a close is a larger, human drama. Today I will be leaving for another state to help care for my dear friend and her family in the final weeks or months of her life. I posted pictures of us a few days back. She's asked me to be present when she dies. I feel honored and humbled by the request. One of the hard realities is that Dave, my husband, cannot manage Darcy alone. So life changes act like dominoes, one cascading into another. Life gets shaken up, fractured into pieces we sometimes don't even recognize. The shapes and colors are foreign, and yet as they settle into their new configuration, they find a harmony there as well. We know, intuitively if not in so many words, that change has brought us everything we love, but that all those things are ours "on loan." We are stewards, not owners. Of land, of animals, of the hearts of those we love and who love us. When these things pass from us, we honor them with our grief.



Darcy goes to the prospect of a full and happy life, doing work he and his ancestors were bred for. I go to offer myself to help ease my friend's passage, to fill her days with the joys of a long friendship, to care for her family. Dave has farewells and awakenings of his own. Our journeys are not identical, nor should they be. He will hold the space for me to return, my anchor, just as I do for him.



Lesson for today: Don't wait to tell the people you love how you feel.

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Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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