How did I survive the sudden death of my father, the year-long dying of my mother?
I stuck close to friends, in New York and on the West Coast, and everywhere in between. I joined a support group for the grieving. I had little to say but how sad I was, and I said it repeatedly.
My concentration vanished, and driving became difficult. The car occasionally veered off the road, and I realized I was in some kind of altered state. I howled while driving, and I howled in the forest. I drove the back roads, the way my mother did before the physician said Take Away the Keys.
I started to meditate again. At first, meditation meant I read texts that were supposed to be inspirational. That was good, that was fine, but it reached only what some call the left brain. The left brain, or the logical rational part of my brain was impaired.
I wrote attributes I wished for on slips of paper, and stuck them all over the house: I wanted to be loving, patient, tolerant, and kind.
The people in the support group taught me I could not be loving, patient, tolerant, and kind unless I was first loving, patient, tolerant and kind with myself. When the facilitator, Michael, suggested I list what I liked about myself, I cried.
I was at the lowest ebb, ever. My parents died. My family fractured along fault lines based on ancient grudges and current gripes. I had just arrived back in Manhattan and could barely drag myself along the street. I would never again (I was sure of it) have confidence, energy, hope, or even the ability to get out of bed in the morning.
On a mysterious and dusty bit of Broadway sidewalk, on one of those ubiquitous tables of books that sprout even in snowstorms, my eye was caught by a bright red cover. The title was Self Hypnosis, the Complete Manual for Health and Self-Change, and the authors are Brian M. Alman and Peter Lambrou, both PhDs.
“I’ll give it to you for five,” the bookseller said.
“Do you really need that?” my husband asked, the obligatory husband question.
“Yes,” I said, and the man placed the book into my hands.
In the year since, I’ve read and re-read the book daily, trying out every exercise, and then starting over. I learned to shut out the sirens and cabs of Broadway, the cell phone conversations of neighbors, and even, just slightly, to relax on a dentist’s chair. Eventually, as the authors suggest, I wrote goals and dreams.
The authors never tell you what to do. They claim the subconscious or inner self doesn’t like being bossed around.
Once, in the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, Washington, I heard about a workshop. I figured the people who attended would be alternative types, with frizzy partly-gray hair, if women, and hair tied in a pony-tail, if men. Instead, the men were wearing neat khakis and sport shirts. The women wore what conservative women in Port Townsend wear, and their hair was not particularly frizzy. Maybe they smoothed it with what I've learned in Manhattan to call product.
As in: "Your hair is frizzy, Kirie. You need to buy some product."
The most conservative-looking couple of them all led us in the rudiments of something called qigong. They talked about healing energy, pronounced “chi.” None of it involved much talking, and we did not socialize after the group. The couple had studied with Luke Chan, and his book, 101 Miracles of Natural Healing, was available for sale. For several months, on into summer, half a dozen of us continued to meet.