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  • Cynthia Coupe

Tender and Raw

I sat down to blog about neurodiversity, its importance…what it’s like to parent a neurodivergent child…but all of that seems like I’m masking what’s really underneath, which is intense grief, so I’ll go there first…the rest will come in time.

My beloved Frank’s memorial was this Sunday, a moment I spent the past 3 months preparing for…anticipating and looking forward to in some weird way. Planning, putting together, coordinating…and it all came off without a hitch. It was *PERFECT.*

Two days before the memorial I got an email from an old friend of his from back in the day…I’d heard of her but never met her…she shared her story of knowing Frank, and of observing our relationship from afar…what she said grounded me for the days to come. I finally understood my place, understood how we fit together and the importance of our union. It felt like a gift from Frank…the timing couldn’t have been better.

We had family and friends from all over the globe…England, Montana, Texas, New York, Washington state, all over California, some from Nevada…I’m sure I’m missing a few locations.

We began the day as a family, at a favorite beach of Frank’s…also a spot where both his parents are in ash form. I had been wondering for many weeks how he would show up on Sunday, what sign would he send letting us know he was there?

It was Osprey.

We arrived at the beach, the whole gaggle of us, and I saw an Osprey hovering in the wind. “Look!” I called “One of Frank’s favorite birds! He’s here to say hi!” I acknowledged him, and thanked him for showing up. We dispersed, I walked down the beach. I heard a high-pitch whistle chirp and though at first it was Frank, doing the osprey call he did so well. Of course it wasn’t (or maybe it was, in osprey form!), but there the bird went…calling, calling…one more osprey joined, and they called to one another. Then another osprey…and another…and one more until there were five. The birds dispersed along the beach, five osprey, five siblings. One bird followed me, hovering just a stones toss away, down the beach as I walked, and back up as I turned around…slowly a couple circled up towards the sun which had a big sun-bow around it…up, up, and gone…but the one stayed there, hovering above the beach, as we all walked to our cars and then was gone.

Frank was there.

We gathered at the community center, with cookies and treats lovingly donated by a local business (THANK YOU GOOD LIFE!), others made with loving hands by our friends. The alter was set, the chairs were lined up…and the house was full.

Just before the event his dear friend of 50 years gave me a talking stick Frank had made over 30 years ago, he said he held it for a long time, but never used it to its intention. It struck him the other day that Frank made that stick for him to hold on to, for me to receive as I carry forward. Another gift. Another level of understanding the ways Frank and I can co-create in this new terrain.

His nephews MC’d the event, sisters sang, and talked…read poems and letters…friends shared memories, nephews exchanged tequila stories…Lena spoke and I did too. I even sang (that’s a big deal…not to happen again but I’m glad I did it). His friend from a transformational training program we did a number of years back gifted me with a beautiful painting he did of Frank and Lena, I sobbed as he handed it to me.

Some of us gathered afterwards for pizza and beer at a place Frank and I frequented on a Sunday, after our typical game of Petanque (Thank you The Brickery at Cafe Beaujolais for such a wonderful set-up). The howling wind died down, day turned to night, we reluctantly went back to our hotels.

A few people gathered here and there, sharing even more stories, reminiscing of the man Frank was, the depth of his character, his joy, his love…it felt like he was with us, laughing and crying alongside me.

Somewhere along the way Frank became a verb…to “be Franked” means, basically, you’ve been pranked, or some version of Murphy’s Law has come and left its mark on you. Maybe a dead battery, maybe a spilled glass of wine, a tree that fell on your shed…something he would have laughed at, found humor in, while also taking care of what needs to be done.

On Monday nearly everyone made their way home. My daughter left for a trip with her dad, My Godsister stayed and I spoke with one of Frank’s very best friends for hours. I could have done that for weeks. Every story, every unfolding…figuring out, sharing, delighting in Frank and what he meant to us. Trying to figure out the enigma that he was, that we all are…not being able to, but sharing pieces of history anyway.

I returned home, my Godsister left to catch a flight…Monday fell into Tuesday which bled into Wednesday…me at home, packing to move out of the only place we lived in together…I appreciated some of the down time, I was exhausted, still am…but by Wednesday it became clear I didn’t set myself up for a win.

I was alone at my office for an important conference call, which I had unknowingly missed by an hour. When I realized it, I fell apart. Too fragile to be kind to myself, too delicate to see any other option, I became a sobbing, hysterical mess and fell to the ground. I crawled out of my office, and into Frank’s. I laid on his rug and let myself be consumed by snotty, blubbering tears. I didn’t know what to do, who to turn to, how to get out of this mess.

With gratitude, it occurred to me who I could contact. I texted a dear friend who immediately called back and told me to come over. I did. They had tea and snacks, conversation and laughter. Space for my tears, and a biomat. (What is that you ask…I’d never heard of it either but now I. Must. Get. One. It’s a heated amethyst infused mat that you lay on and rest…it ionizes your body and takes some tension out in whatever new-agey way that works, I don’t fully understand, but it doesn’t matter…it was wonderful).

I felt renewed.

Today my business coach asked me if I had support around me this week. I broke into tears. A little bit, but not enough, I admitted. She encouraged me to reach out, and I will. It’s tough, because having people near me is difficult…but being alone is hard too.

So…next week I plan to educate you more about neurodiversity, it’s importance and it’s challenges…

But today, today I had to be true to myself, to be tender and raw and vulnerable.

To let you know that the depth of my heartache knows no limits, at least not yet. I’m still falling to the bottom of the bottomless pit, and the only thing that keeps me going is believing that what Frank and I started is alive and well within me and I will carry it forth. I will make a huge impact for the world of autism and neurodiversity. This work has chosen me, and I will honor that, even in my pain.

And the love…oh, the love that was there for Frank is there for me too. And to think of the love Frank and I shared…how glorious and incredible and enriching it was…all the challenges and all the ways we rose to meet those challenges…those are a part of me forever.

I love you Frank James Mehnams. I always have, and I always will. All ways and always.

Seaside Beach, 2018. Before you were an Osprey....

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