A Child’s Wisdom

English: Downtown Nevada City Spring 2011

English: Downtown Nevada City Spring 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the story of why I named this blog “That’s the Way Life Lives.”

When Maya was five years old we moved to California. In Swimming with Maya, I recount the joys and difficulties of adjusting to life in the Sierra foothills outside of Nevada City. Just six weeks after we moved to a tiny cabin on Banner Mountain, I celebrated my 30th birthday. Entering the third decade of my life – and the emotional ups and downs provoked by our move – made me tearful.

“Mommy, what’s the matter?” Maya stood gazing at me in the cabin’s sleeping loft.

My blonde sprite of a daughter was so innocent. How could I explain my inner turmoil?

“I feel so sad,” I said. “I miss our old house and all of our friends.” What I couldn’t say was that I was having second thoughts about the move.

Maya cocked her head and studied my face.

Then she said something I will never forget. “That’s the way life lives,” my little girl told me. I laughed at this quirky saying that held a deep nugget of truth.

“You’re right,” I said, gathering her into my arms. The feel of her little bird chest against my heart and her arms around my neck were so comforting.

A child’s wisdom – that life just lives and we have to live along with it – stays with me. All of my adult attempts to pat life into place, to manage or control, are ultimately futile. After Maya’s sudden death at the age of 19, that saying was like a beacon, guiding me in my halting attempts to let her go.Swimming with Maya

Anyone who lives by the mantra “That’s the way life lives” understands that death and loss are part of life. If we deny death, or try to rush or hide grief, we are not living along with life.  Living in harmony and acceptance of what is – even if what is includes unbearable sorrow – is the mark of a spiritually mature person.

I can’t always live up to Maya’s maxim, but when I stumble, those words return to me. “That’s the way life lives.” So, to honor Maya, and to celebrate the resilience she demonstrated even as a small child, I’m renaming my blog.

I’ll focus on stories that illuminate and inspire, as well as plumb the realities of recovering from deep loss. In the 20 years since Maya died, I’ve learned lessons I’d like to share. We all have the chance to experience life more fully and death reminds us that we don’t have a moment to lose.

Welcome to my new blog!

 

 

 

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True Love

A basic litter box and a bag of litter

A basic litter box and a bag of litter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scott Peck says in The Road Less Traveled that love is not a feeling. It’s an action. I show my love for the cats by the things I do each day, like cleaning the freakin’ litter boxes.

Every morning, two littler boxes, very fragrant. Made pristine before I leave for the office. Every evening, two litter boxes appearing to have never been cleaned. If this is love, could I have a little less of it?

Now that plastic bags are banned from Safeway and CVS, I beg friends to save theirs for me.  I’ve been reduced to scrounging for outlawed plastic bags as the only safe alternative for disposing of the mountain of cat waste produced by two indoor cats every 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Now you may say, “But, Eleanor think of those countless parents out there changing diapers.” To which I say, shit happens. I raised two kids, and I’m doing my grandmotherly bit now. I’ve dealt with poop in every form. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like cat poop. The pee is possibly worse.

Saffron has a large bladder Dr. Bynum informed me at one of his exams. She palpated his belly while peering at me over the rims of her glasses. I thought to myself, “If you only knew.”

Saffie is one of the pee-ing-est cats ever. Big, sticky globs right down the side of the box. I kneel there tossing litter bits with the pooper scooper at these fetid clumps to make them hard enough to scoop. This is true love, people.

As I leave the room  in the morning with my daily pound of poop, Odie runs in and jumps into the clean litter box. It’s not even his. He has his own box in the bathroom closet – one of those extra deep ones with the massive top the size of a small Volkswagen Beetle that supposedly keep the odors in check and the litter inside. Marketing genius. Most of the time Odie uses his giant box, but sometimes he just can’t resist using Saffron’s.

a cat and a Litter box

a cat and a Litter box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so I kneel down and scoop the poop.

I dispose of the tightly tied plastic bags in a second, larger plastic bag that lines my kitchen wastebasket. By the time it’s full after a few days, I stagger under its weight, risking my life as I wobble down the stairs, bag clutched in both arms, to get it from the second floor to the garbage can.

This may not be exactly what Scott Peck had in mind, but I know exactly what he meant. It’s easy to love my boys when I’m petting them and whispering sweet nothings into their upturned kitty faces. But it’s the daily grind of those litter boxes that really puts my love to the test.

Ten Quotes

My publisher asked me to identify ten quotes from Swimming with Maya for promotional blurbs. OK, I thought to myself, how hard can that be?

But I delayed, blaming it on the demands of the holidays. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I sat down with a hardback copy of my book and began reading.Maya Book Cover

Swimming with Maya is a crisis memoir that plumbs deeply the intense shock, grief, and anger that followed in the wake of my daughter’s accidental death. What I wrote in those pages about events now twenty-years-old continues to move and amaze me.

I read page after page, tears streaming down my cheeks, putting colored paperclips on passages so raw they take me right back to the afternoon Maya died and I made the decision to donate her organs and tissues to people in need.

The last third of the book is about how I healed my grief. Those stories – how I wrote my way, slowly and haltingly, to acceptance, worked out long buried family patterns in therapy, sought out people who inspired me, including the man who received my daughter’s heart – are the light that draws me as a reader.  Of course, I know how the story turns out.  Yet there are moments I’ve forgotten and reading about them makes the experiences alive and fresh again.

Here’s one from Chapter 3: “Maya’s chest rises and falls. The ventilator hisses, the computers beep, fiber optic cable snakes into her skull. I never knew love could be so big, that it could expand to allow even this. I have a premonition of lifelong grief rolling toward me, but I know that, once again, I am being asked to give my daughter her freedom.”

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That was the moment I realized I had no right, nor any power, to hold my daughter here. I had to let her go. I gave in to her coma and ultimate death because they were hers not mine, a destiny I could never have imagined. That moment of surrender marked me for life.

This was not an easy book to write, nor is it easy to read.

So why read it? Is there something to be learned in these pages that is valuable enough to offset the pain?

I believe we read to experience life vividly. Good writing puts us inside the mind and heart of the writer, creating a world we can inhabit, a safe space to vicariously experience another’s life.

Swimming with Maya is vital testimony about how losses can be healed. It was worth writing.  I hope you find it worth reading. A paperback and eBook version will be available early in February from Dream of Things press at http://dreamofthings.com or you can visit the  Amazon website today at http://www.amazon.com/Swimming-With-Maya-Mothers-Discovery/dp/1931868344 for the hardback version.

Saffron & Lucia II

My old cat with my 3-year old granddaughter – she loves him. Surprisingly, he seems to be fond of her too. Whereas Odie runs away from LuciaI, Saffron hangs out with Lucia and lets her hug him.

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Saffron & Lucia

Saffron & Lucia