Tag Archives: grief

Firsts and Lasts and In Betweens: I Miss You, Jeni Flock

Truth be told, it was Jeni who made the first move.

Before I drew a wider circle, Jeni reached out to me. I didn’t know at the time the extent to which she was a boisterous extravert, a curious humanitarian, a mushy marshmallow heart linked to a wickedly smart and witty mind. But I was soon to find out.

She sent me a private message on an adult adoptee forum we were both members of. That message meant so much that I saved the email alert sent by the forum’s platform. Dated February 18 2010:

hmmmmmmm. not sure if you’ll take this in the way it’s intended….

i like you.  io REALLY do not want to like you, but i do.  that is all i have to offer right now.

oh….that, and i like your blog very much.

jeni

That was the first contact between Jeni and me.

The In Betweens

Once I drew that wider circle in Jeni’s adopted city of Atlanta, Jeni and I became fast friends. We’d talk on the phone about her latest conversation with the nail lady or share with me a chapter of the memoir she was writing (she was especially proud of this passage about forgiveness) or when she was in the depths of despair about the double rejection of her birth mom (Jeni once posted that Sallie said she wanted to be notified of her daughter’s death by email — what kind of person assumes she’ll outlive her daughter?).

lori holden, jeni flockJeni came to stay with my family on a business trip later that year. Along with her service dog, Gracie, we took my kids to a festival in the town square and at one point Jeni and I were able to duck into a tavern for a quick drink on a hot day — a salty dog for her and a mojito for me.

We could not stop laughing hysterically about the line, “An angry adoptee and an evil adoptoraptor walk into a bar….”

Oh, gawd, how I loved her laugh, her big, raucous laugh that vibrated through her entire being and was infectious to all around.

Ever generous, Jeni brought me a designer purse that visit, which I happened to be using at the time of her death last week. Being a practical sort, I don’t subscribe to many fashion rules, but I do know that this purse is a fall-winter accessory. I can’t imagine transferring my stuff into something more springy now. Ever (but I’m sure eventually I will).

big moose community church pillowThat winter, Jeni returned to Big Moose in upstate NY, near where she grew up. Jeni sent me a pillow made at a balsam bee at her church there. I wish it were possible to digitize the pillow’s balsam fragrance so I could share it with you. Smells like earthy love (not a euphemism!).

Jeni was not one to brag about her considerable accomplishments (except for one — she was going on 5 years smoke-free, and she did love to let us know the number of days via Facebook status). I found out about many of Jeni’s talents accidentally. She was a Japanese interpreter, having learned the language in school (I lived in Japan and lemme tell ya — hat’s off to her). While growing up Jeni was an accomplished ice skater and ballerina (if you are Friends with her on Facebook, check out this and this, but first prepare to pick up your jaw from the floor). She later was an impressive golfer, as you can see by the header she chose for her blog. And —  news to me this past week — Jeni was once a popular disc jockey!

I was really looking forward to reading that memoir she was working on. Jeni was a woman of greatness — great love, great loss, great breadth and depth of experience, great passion.

Speaking of passion, Jeni loved Gracie and all animals fiercely, and she was on a personal mission to teach the law regarding service animals to anyone who gave her a hard time about Gracie  (looking at you, taxi drivers and car-rental clerks). She campaigned relentlessly to open access to original birth records for all adoptees. She was known all over Facebook for reminding people small ways each of us can help the homeless (“Donation idea: when donating canned food, try to offer pop top cans. Not all homeless people have can openers.”). Jeni served as volunteer chef for awhile at a men’s shelter.

Jeni was a consummate connector. I don’t have enough fingers to count all the Facebook friends I have because of Jeni said to each of us, “You two are both awesome and you should know each other!”

Jeni and my daughter Tessa struck up a friendship. I have not yet told Tessa that her email penpal has died (but I will).

The Last

Our last interaction of significance was when Jeni declared she would cheer for the Broncos in the Super Bowl. “You were my reason for picking the broncos!!!” — she told me. I filled her in that we’d recently gotten a dog, and showed her a picture of Dexter in a Broncos shirt. She was so happy for us, especially for Tessa, whom she knew had been lobbying for a dog ever since Gracie visited us.

Jeni died March 18 or 19. I’m not sure which. If she were alive this morning, she’d tell us all via social media, “No texting in church.”

Oh, Jeni, what a bunch of happy memories you’ve left me with. I wish we’d made more. I didn’t know that would be our last conversation — that’s the trouble with lasts.

Jeni leaves a simple legacy: Be kind. Carry that thought with you today. For my friend, Jeni.

Some of us are sitting shiva for Jeni on March 27. Join if you’d like. And a fund has been set up to donate to Jeni’s causes: adoptee rights, an animal shelter, and a food bank.

No One Laughs at God

That September morning, a boy awoke excited. He was about to become a teenager. He was the eldest of his generation in the family, and he was thrilled to be the one to break this ground. Just two more days and his life would change.

He had no idea. None of us did.

It was during first period at his middle school that he was pulled out of class, along with his twin brothers in the grade below. It was probably at the same time that I got the call from my parents — his grandparents (he is my sister’s son).

His father had been found dead.

There was a letter.

This September morning — today — that same boy is again awakening, this time with an odd mixture of excitement and loss. He is about to become a man. In two days he’ll be eligible to vote, he’ll be invited to register for the draft, he’ll have all the freedom and responsibilities that go with being 18.

And he marks five years finding his way without his dad. With his own resilience and the support of family and friends, this young man can finally say:

I feel content
I feel at peace
You’re so close to me
Even though you’re out of reach

Jake, my nephew, (center, with his brothers) has been grieving and healing in fits and spurts for five years now. Whereas my therapy is blogging; his is rapping. Today, he releases his latest creation, No One Laughs, with haunting backdrop by Regina Spektor. I am honored to share it with you. (Safe for Work version.)

Have a tissue box ready for the ending.

Consider this my love note to Jake, Ben and Ross today. I love you boys with my whole heart, and my love extends to everyone who has contributed to making you you.

Happy birthday, Jake.

Boston’s Darkest Day: a Thousand Points of Light

During the endless looping of limited video during yesterday’s Boston Marathon tragedy, I first fixated on the 78 year-old runner who dropped to his knees at the moment of the explosion. Hours later I was relieved to know he was OK. In the dozen or so times I saw his inevitable crumble, he had become an acquaintance to me (one-sided, yes).

Both riveted and repulsed and against my better judgment, I kept watching the loops. At one point, something kind of cool happened.

organism of light at boston marathonInstead of watching what individuals did, I began to see the people on Boylston Street as an organism. One very big organism. If I slightly blurred my eyes and watched the scene, it was almost like being in biology class and watching a cluster of cells under a microscope being attacked by a foreign agent. Or watching a well-trained army on the battlefield, acting simultaneously as separate entities and also as a unit.

As the video looped I kept expecting the explosion to cause people to scatter, the organism to diffuse itself.

Parts of the organism do scatter, as I suspect I would, but after the initial scramble we see the organism turn inward toward itself. It’s amazing, really. People running toward danger. People overriding their innate flight response in order to help other people. We see first responders — police, fire and National Guard personnel and paramedics who have been trained to fight rather than flight. We also see race workers and volunteers, journalists, observers and exhausted runners setting aside, in the blink of a moment, their own fears in order to aid strangers.

Remarkable.

Choose: Flight or Fight | Self or Other | Inner or Greater

I try to imagine myself in such a situation and how I might react, though this isn’t an answer I can arrive at hypothetically. Would I help? Or would I flee? Would I choose well? And what does “choosing well” even mean?

I’m split. On one side is my connection to my inner circle, my family — urging me to get the hell away. In my mind’s eye I see my children, hear my husband and my parents and sisters telling me to follow the human instinct to stay safe, to run from harm and toward safety. To fulfill my obligations to them by sticking around for many more years in a healthy and contributing way.

On the other side is my connection to the greater circle of humanity. If I saw someone bleeding, dazed, hurt, broken, and I was afraid for myself, if I worried I was not up to the task of aiding and that I would possibly be taking away something precious from my own loved ones — would I still be able to choose to help?

Such a huge decision that hundreds yesterday made in a snap. This is why those people, those parts of the organism’s nucleus in yesterday’s loop, have been on my mind today.

Even in times of darkness within our organism, there is light, so much light.

How can people willingly, mindfully face fear for the sake of others?

How is it that mere mortals are willing to walk toward darkness, to let it possibly envelop them? Do you think you’d have it in you?

As with Newtown, I wondered what I could do from the safety of my home in Denver, Colorado. How could I willingly and mindfully take on some of the pain and anguish? How could I walk into the darkness and maybe even transform it through the power of intention?

As then, the way to do this from the safety of wherever you are perched is with a practice called tonglen, which is is a Tibetan word meaning “taking and giving.” Practiced mystics do this on behalf of all humanity.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says that tonglen is a way to “use what seems like poison as medicine.” It “reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a very ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves and others and also we being to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality.”

How to do this simple process?

Willingly take in suffering, and joyfully send out healing.

1. Get yourself into a meditative state, while sitting, lying down, hiking in nature, walking or while creating art or music or dance.

2. Become aware of your breathing for a few moments. Follow your breath in and out of your lungs.

3. Tonglen breathing has three parts for each breath:

  • For your inhales, imagine you are breathing in all the suffering there is. Allow this suffering to open your heart center further and awaken your compassion for all who deal with it. Ask God, Jesus, the Divine, your spirit guides or whomever to bless all the suffering that you accept into your heart. This is the opposite of the avoidance of pain — it requires the welcoming of it.
  • At the top of the breath, pause for a moment to allow your heart center to transform the yuckiness it holds. Hold that intention.
  • For your exhales, imagine the suffering energy being cleansed and transformed by your heart center and sent from your lungs back to the world. Only now what was dark is now light, what was gunky is now clear. Envision this metamorphosis as performed by your open and aware heart center. You willingly take in suffering, and joyfully send out compassion and healing.
  • Keep up the three-part breathing, mindfully. Fill up your room, your home, your neighborhood with this magnificently pure, love energy.

4. Flow and transform for 5, 10, 20 minutes. No hard rules — just do it as long as you can stay focused on bringing in the “bad” and sending out the “good.” Don’t worry about doing this “right.” Make the practice yours and play with your heart center’s own transforming power.

I practiced a few moments of tonglen this morning and will do so daily for the foreseeable future. I envision a wave of people doing the simple and private act of tonglen, of willingly taking in grief and horror, of holding it in a moment of transformation, and of returning to the world  the energy of peace and love.

Will you join me in being an off-site helper?