Why Are We Telling Each Other to Breathe?

The first time I remember telling someone to breathe I was following the teenage son of a friend being wheeled into the emergency room several hundred miles away from his family.

I was on staff at a camp and Wesley was playing 3 on 3 basketball. The competition was physical between the older teens, all of them 6′ and more. Wes and an opponent went up for the ball when the other guy fell down on top of Wesley’s foot. His 6′ 3 frame crumpled to the ground.

The hospital was in a nearby town. It was an agonizing ride for Wesley. He was placed on a cart to wheel him into the ER. He bent over his foot holding it in silent agony. I realized in his pain he was holding his breath and I said firmly, yet as calmly as I could, “Breathe, Wesley”.

Today we see that word on memes, mugs and T-shirts. We have it on our phones. We choose it as our word for the year. Breathe

My cousin gave me this necklace as a reminder

My cousin and I have been texting it, writing it and saying it to each other for a few years now.

Why do we have to tell each other to do something we’re already doing? We are all breathing or we wouldn’t be alive.

Just like I noticed Wesley holding his breath when he was suffering we hold our breaths in a figurative sense.

Grief cripples us and our breath becomes shallow. We are trying to hold back the pain.

A hurricane demolishes a community and the effects continue long after the rest of the country has forgotten. Our breathing becomes angry gasps.

Divorce, job loss, miscarriage, empty nest…..they take our breath away. We gulp for air to stay alive but we aren’t breathing in real life-giving breath.

And we say to ourselves and to one another, “breathe“.

To do this we have to loosen our grip around the pain.

Wesley’s pain didn’t go away until he got medical attention. Some of us might need to start with appropriate medication to help us loosen our grip on what’s holding us.

When Beki tells me to breathe I know the she means slow down. Be in the here and now. Stop thinking about the what ifs and what was and what should be. Stop thinking about the unknowns and start with slowing down my mind. When I do that my breath follows and they are in rhythm together. 

The thing I’ve learned is I have to repeat this day after day. My mind is ready to race away with anxiety and worry. When it became overwhelming I sought professional help. While that has brought some relief, it doesn’t release me from needing to create practices that will help my mind and breath find a healthy rhythm.

I often find that healthy pace in the creative process. I read, journal, spend time with people who are healthy and not afraid to remind me to breathe when they see me gasping. I have faith in a God who loves me and restores my breath.

As my son has reminded me, let people help you. It’s how God has always worked in my life – through the hearts and hands of others.

Breathe, friends. Breath in deeply and exhale peace.

No Mourning, Just Confusion

Does it come with age when the passing of a relative barely known brings sadness? Yes, yes, the passing of a soul, any soul, often brings a mixture of emotions. Some relief for the ending of physical pain, the reunion of souls with a new body, a heavenly body. Sadness and sorrow for the earthly loss, or worse, sadness for a soul you’re not sure was at peace.

The first line of my sister’s email was plain, to the point…..”Uncle Mark died this morning.”

He had been very ill for a while. The toll taken from years of self-abuse with drink and drugs. A long prison stint as a result from this lifestyle. The doctors told him he had less than two years. They were right.

Last year when I visited mama, Mark, her youngest sibling, was living with her. It wasn’t good. He was able to get around but struggling then. The medications spread on the counter were amazing. Mama never could understand that was her brother. Her memory had gone to only remembering family from their youthful pictures if at all. Especially one that had been absent much of her adult life. I was so glad when he moved out because the last thing she needed was someone to die in her house. Selfish, yes, but true.

Now the question is to tell mama or not? Not doesn’t seem to be an option as there will be a service and there is still a lot of family in town that will be part of this. Yes, she will need to be told. Although it is highly unlikely she will understand. I’m not there, will not be there for this. Up to me I’d stay home with her. No need for more confusion, more stress.

Mama comes from a large family – 11 siblings. She is a middle child. Most of the boys were older than her and over the years she has called and said quietly, “brother Bill died.” Always identifying them with the title “brother”. For my benefit I know. My brother and I are the children that haven’t grown up as part of this large extended family. Purely geographic. My brother and I were there for our grandmother’s funeral but others were phone calls from mom. The sisters, 5, still living, all in the same town. They will come together. They always do. They come together for mom, but there is nothing anyone can do for Alzheimer’s. Not really. It’s a disease you watch rob and steal.

I am sad for mama, for what she doesn’t know, for what she can’t mourn. I’m sad to see the family shrink. It’s my generation that is quickly becoming the elder group. It’s scary. All of it. But I am a person of hope because faith has hope. Hope in a love that never lets me go. Faith in a mercy that has always been poured on me, a grace that I am not worthy of but am given anyway. “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”