Tag Archives: grief

Unexpected Grace: When a Dream Shifts Everything

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This morning, I awoke from a dream that left me utterly jammed in the head with its images, and the profound energy (you’re going to hear a lot of that word, “energy,” in this post) and vibration that I was to record it, write it all down and learn from it.

I also have a friend, who’s a loyal reader and who has taken the time to get to know me and share with me her own wisdom. We all have our stories, and yet we can share them to help others heal. She shares her knowledge about messages we carry inside ourselves, and the wisdom we are supposed to gain from them, when we learn to step out of our own way.

This friend, T, said something a few times in our recent correspondence, and she has been patient with me, and I am so grateful, to let it sink in as I know it requires slow, gentle rainfalls to soak into a parched earth. Downpours simply run off and cause chaos and floods. When it soaks in, we loosen up and learn who we are.

She said to me, in an exchange in which I was fixated on my childhood and the familiar feelings of helplessness. I wanted to blame my mother for things I missed out on (even though I absolutely have a sense of knowing that everything happens for a reason, sometimes it’s hard to let go of that because it’s easier to blame someone else for our situation). She wrote back “At 47, this is not about your mother. If there’s one thing I can tell you, this has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with you.”

“Screw you” I wanted to say to her. But I didn’t. “You don’t know my pain,” I wanted to add on. But I didn’t. While I knew in my head that she was right, I didn’t necessarily agree in my heart.

They take some time to soak in, these messages, and the people who are in our lives who are blunt enough to stand there and hold up a mirror to us deserve some major love. Their shoulders are burning from lactic acid build-up, their forearms are tired, it’s cold out there holding up that mirror. They can’t see your expressions because the mirror is blocking it and they also can’t see anything else around them because they have to hold that heavy beveled mirror stable, in its massive gilded frame in the light of day, in the cold, in the heat, in the windy eerie dark… they wait there, holding up that mirror, saying those few little words, “Not at 47 is this about your mother…”

And your gut churns and your throat thickens and your jaw sets; you gulp. Your brows furrow and your eyes shift left and right, but your head won’t turn because that mirror won’t escape you. It follows your face until Truth sinks in. Until you see you, staring back at you, reminding you that at whatever stage you’re fighting in your life, when your long-lost mother (who was essentially lost to you long before she died), that your life is about you; it always has been about you; it was never about her, or your dad, or your siblings, or your best friend, or your cousins, or the dog.

It’s about you and the fact that you have created the life you live today with your thoughts, fears, intentions, biases, dreams, lies, and hopes… All the things in it: from the obvious, such as your hairstyle, your car, the box of tea you bought for company when you over-performed, the books in your house, the computer at your desk, the can of expired soup in your cupboard, the cat on your couch … that ALL of it, is the stuff of your mind and your intentions. The more subtle stuff, the stuff we want to blame on our history, or boss, or enemies or our environment, things like addiction, neuroses, obsessions and fears: that’s all you too. With Just A Thought, conscious or otherwise, you brought it in because what we think about most becomes our reality. So if you think about fear: your world will be fearful. If you think about peace, you will see with peaceful intention.

For good or for bad, in the warm sun and the eerie dark: all of it, your state of relationships; all the friends and enemies in your life; all your easy slopes and stumbling blocks; all your confusion and your state of function, are all yours. They start with you and then end with you.

This is hard. This is hugely humbling as well as terrifyingly egoic.

The flow of my dream was totally random, as dreams can be. The point is, I woke convinced that it was about my mother. However, that’s bullshit. She was me, but I was me and the other people too… It’s how this stuff goes. It’s always about the dreamer. This is what I’m starting to understand, that what T said to me is starting to integrate into my consciousness, because rather than having it wait three weeks before I “got” it, I arrived at the realization an hour after waking; after thinking about it, making my coffee, taking my son to school. I got it.

The scene is that I was amongst a mob of people (all me), like we were in a train station or leaving a concert — lots of people, streams of them, absent any panic or doom. We were just people on a crowded space heading in our various directions — much like how life actually is. I looked to my left, and I saw an older woman, with chin-length silver hair, much like Mom’s, and she turned her face to me. She had age spots where Mom did, but her face was not Mom’s; it was more rounded, like Betty White’s and then it sort of morphed into my mother, but not until I asked, “Mom? Is that you?” — all in real-time, knowing in my dream that she had died. The woman’s face brightened, morphing in and out between my mother and another elderly woman, perhaps all the women I knew as a child.

This woman sort of nodded, and gently smiled, not in a “you’re nuts” way, but in a kind, nervous way — the energy was that she knew I was seeking something… so she was going to stand by until I found it. My energy shifted as well, I sensed this wasn’t a match, but it was more of a surrogate, and the clothes that this woman was wearing was a full indicator of that: she was wearing pastels, and an eyelet blouse with a rounded collar and a pink cashmere scarf and an off-white soft cardigan, wearing a string of pearls like Mom’s — these colors lit up her face in a super-healthy way, rosy cheeks and bright eyes. The clothes accented her sylvan hair in a way completely opposite than my mother’s complexion would ever allow.

I turned back to my right side and discovered some friends from my yoga retreat. I felt uncomfortable with this older woman in the pastels. My yoga retreat roommate was there, energetically supporting me and pushing me to continue this “experience” with this mother / not-mother woman. I started to sob in the dream, nodding reluctantly to my roommate, whom I know loves me very much, to return to the woman. I had a strong sense that this interaction, this “moment” was not going to last long, nor would it return any time soon. The Moment was “Now” as they say.

I turned back toward the Mom energy being, and this time she was in a car, but it was British, because there was no steering wheel, but she was on the left side of the car. In fact, in my notes, I say this version of my mother is like an “English” version of herself. I said “Mom … I love you. I always did. And I’m so sorry I was unkind to you in our relationship; especially as we both aged. I was so hurt and you were so patient with me even though I never lightened up, that I was constantly on vigil for you and unyielding. I do love you. I did love you… But this was our path…”

I reached in to touch her face, which was still energetically my mother, but physically not at all her, and when I pulled out my hand, it was filled with water. I turned back toward my yoga retreat friends and one of them was now drastically weakened, lying on the floor, and she needed the water, so I gave it to her to sip. I had enough water for all my retreat friends, who were now all present, guiding me forward. The energy of the crowd was shifting, it felt more dire.

I turned back to that mother energy and all the colors were gone. Everything now was black and white, and gray tones. The folds in her sweater were now like stripes and she appeared to be weakening, aging right before my eyes; her smile straightened a little. Her eyes and cheekbones started to fall, hollow. Her  chin became sharper and I began to realize she was dying right in front of me — all of it: from her vibrant, rosy cheeks to her aging to her wasting to her last breaths … in one dream, in one experience (which of course is true: this life is one continuous, connected experience isn’t it?).

She was fading away before my eyes. She became soft and nodded slowly and kindly and patiently to me. Silent, saying not a peep, not even “Piffle” (which was one of my favoritest things Mom said). The sense that this was a surrogate being was so strong at this point, that while my mother’s energy visited my psyche, that her energetic visage in complete attendance to my experience, was unavailable. And of course it left me wanting more of her. But the message was strong to me: that I was meant to have this realization that just as my mind was confused about who she was in the dream, such was it in life in our relationship: I have always felt confused, spongy, mostly antagonistic, distrustful, and ultimately misaligned with her, that our conversations were more parallel than intersecting; and even then, even though they were parallel, they were ideologically disparate.

I went to bed last night thinking in a high level (for me anyhow) way about her, that I need to really stop trying to figure her out; and I’ve become good about that: I’ve stopped trying to figure her out. Even if she was a puzzle wrapped in an enigma inside a riddle, that’s all I need to know. Anything else is a distraction from the life I have created and the life which is slipping through my own fingers. So having this dream, now in retrospect, was extremely healing.

I wrote this morning after returning from dropping my son at school, “I am now feeling authentically and not rationalizing that the tone of neutrality and statements of fact in my “apology” to the mother energy in my dream is (finally) just that: neutral: no sense of ownership for me or for her or a “role” that I had to play. The simple reality is that I am regretful that things weren’t better, more stable, sincere, softer, authentic and real between us — BUT THEY WERE! THEY WERE AS REAL AS THEY WERE GOING TO GET BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED!

The thing is, if Mom were still here today, and if I’d had the presence to say anything like that (which I know I have) the relationship wouldn’t change, because it didn’t before.

That same sense of confusion I felt in my dream regarding my mother’s “identity” (which I finally just stop insisting that it “check in” and decide to BE something) was/is so closely aligned with my ever-constant state of trying to “figure out” who she was (“was she in there?”) ALL MY LIFE. She was who she was. Why couldn’t I see this until now? Because I wanted to blame her for everything. ‘Not at 47…’

The point to all of this is the co-creation: this life IS what it is. We can think we see something else, we can try to twist it, chew it, shape it, rationalize it, describe it, experience it, let it torque and turn us. We can lie to ourselves and say it’s something else; we can enable it and abuse it, but the point is: it’s all futile to do much other than just Be with it (this is so deep even I’m getting lost now).

Typical of me: I take something that is so incredibly simple and complicate the piss out of it. I think that’s the point though isn’t it? To see things properly, to break all the shards away after we’ve twisted and smashed up the glass trying to see things the way we THINK we’re supposed to.

Trying to see life with our -isms and our people with their -isms with filtered lenses is an exhausting waste of energy and time. I interpret my fixation with “Mom’s” visage in the dream as a trap now: something to trip me up, like a technicality in a football game, because what she looked like –in this dream state– didn’t matter, the energy aligned with her and so that “familiarity” was with Mom. So as we are in real carbon-based life not in a dream: we are the energies rather than the forms… it’s the energy we respond do, never the form — think about it: you don’t respond to a person’s form, you respond to their subtle intention, the expression they make, the snicker or the smile… not the “body” or the face. The face and the body are identifiers, they are not the energy / essence of the person…

So that mirror I wrote about earlier? It’s to remind you of your intention and your energy. That phrase of Carl Jung’s could never be truer, something along the lines of what we find to be irritating or considerable in other people says more about ourselves. If you think someone is smug, it’s because you are too. If you think someone is wonderful, it’s because you are too. “When you point at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you…” all that shit. It’s time to get real.

So I thought about my friend T and I realized again after realizing the above, that this dream, and all my life that my mother’s “energy” was who she was. I wasn’t put here to crack her “code” or fight for justice or shame or out her and her issues. That was all a ruse, a distraction, construct of ego, to keep me (and anyone else in that schema) from attending to me and performing to my highest potential (even though if you ask me, I have performed pretty freakin’ spectacularly), and it’s been a rut in a greater part of my adult life. One I am quite ready to break out of.

And what of that apology or statement of regret? I’m very close to seeing it as a release: that in forgiving her for her path in life, and realizing that I’m here to be me, that I can forgive me for being so “hard” (just being me) on her for so many years. Which is really, what I want more than anything: to forgive myself for being such a bull dog. I can’t necessarily blame it on the circumstance of my very young years: I eventually “grew up.” That’s what T means: it’s about me, not Mom. I can choose to be softer, more patient with Mom me now (and it’s so much easier…)

My mother and I were given to each other for teaching and learning. Just as you have been given your people and circumstances to teach and learn. These are the pockets of Grace; they are everywhere waiting for us to pick them, when we learn to let go of our shame and unfold into ourSelves.

Thank you.

Do No Harm.

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My previous post, written mostly as a way to share a voice to those of us who grew up or are in relationships with people existing in tremendous dysfunction, was not difficult to write (although I was taxed heavily by writing it). It was difficult to share. I have tried to maintain a “code” of sorts in my heart, along with my appeals to Archangel Gabriel, that what I write “do no harm” — at least not intentionally.

I feel as though I did not honor that code as effectively as I would have liked. I was filled with regret, an urge to take down the post, and a feeling of shame after writing it. Those feelings were deeply similar to those I would experience after an argument with someone, as though I’d said something horrible, unforgivable to a person, to my mother.

Those feelings were again familiar. I recalled, and have recalled, numerous times when Mom and I would disagree about the course of things, and how I would suffer emotionally for telling her exactly how I felt.

Regarding that post, my greatest wish, to forgive — to actively forgive! — eludes. It’s like some prison I’m in, but it’s not all day, it’s not a life sentence and it’s open. It’s as though the prison gate is ajar and unlocked; there is no key. Yet I go in. I sit there, with my back to the window, avoiding the light. I do not understand it. I have a great life: a loving marriage; beautiful, healthy children; hobbies I thrive in; activities which fulfill my heart … yet … it eludes.

Like she did. She eluded.

Do you know how tired I am of thinking about this?

“Then don’t. Think about something else,” someone I used to know would say all the time about me or other people whose activities or looping thoughts drove her mad. It’s not that simple, or maybe it is. I used to be like that: super black & white. I could flip a switch and move on.

But then I had kids. It all changed after the kids were born. It’s like the DNA was activated: I joke now, but suddenly I cared about China. Like how an addict’s dopamine response to a certain pleasure-giving stimulus was heretofore asleep. I was always hard on Mom, but I could flip the switch when I was younger: lash out and move on.

But once I became a mother, I had a narrower window of forgiveness. It went suddenly from a case of “I don’t know what it’s like” (and to a degree, I will never actually know her life’s depth, so it still applies) to “I know what this is like, and I choose X.”

So back to my premise: do no harm. I feel like I hurt her again. I feel like I was mean to her again and that the shame and the hairshirt of regret I wore was there, cold, stiff and waiting for me to put on again.

I went to sleep that night, fitfully. I woke around 2:30 with a thought based on a quote from Rumi that I read the night before during yoga:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

I woke with the thought:

Regrets are like bricks that we use to build walls around ourselves to keep love out.

That works. Right? If I stay regretful, then I don’t forgive my behavior which was a reaction to the first behavior. Up goes a brick.

So then I come back to this place of “do no harm” because I am filled with regret about the previous post. Another brick.

But then the comments from readers, and the amount of traffic the post garnered, and I know that people “clicked” to “read” it (about 300 actually) but a few people commented to me privately or on the site (2). Basically, if anyone disagreed with me, they didn’t bother to tell me. Those that were grateful for sharing what I did were extremely supportive and candid and they have my thanks.

So it begs the question: did I do harm? Make no mistake: I loved my mother. Make no mistake, I hated what she became. My dad is largely supportive of me; he’s not driving the bus, but he hasn’t come down on me and that’s just so nice.

It’s like I was still 18. I knew that was kooky, so to do what I could to move forward or investigate my allegations, I decided to open a box I had stored under nondescript stuff and wrapped in tape to supposedly protect it from little peepers since I moved out.

paranoid much?

paranoid much? When you have a situation like I did, with a parent who clearly had self-esteem issues and who mishandled a lot of parenting due to the management of those issues, there is going to be a lot of espionage. She wanted my assessments of things, but she didn’t REALLY want my assessments of things, y’dig?

On top of it all was my diary. Which inside it, was another diary.

Many of the items were from high school and college friends. In some moment of haste, I removed most potentially scandalous content. I discovered a letter from an old beau, telling me he didn’t know what to say about the direction of our relationship, and I found the letter to be a perfect example of what I would want my sons to send to a girl should they find themselves in that predicament. It was heartfelt, written in pen without one mistake, and encouraging.

I found some school papers I wrote and was thrilled to see some comments from my teachers: “Tremendous! Your voice is strong, but the run-ons and fragments made what could have been an ‘A’ paper a ‘B-‘…” (run-ons? P’shaw.) and “Deep characterization, such imagery… this would be better as a novella…” Me again: “run-ons?”   (I’ll write more about that box later, it was interesting!)

I was hopeful that I would find a warm letter from my brother written the month before my marriage but I couldn’t. I remember several years ago my mother citing that letter from him to me (it was about both our possessions of sharpened steel tongues and that we were both blessed to be marrying people who were soft and kind and “normal”), she paid particular attention to my tendency for verbal evisceration. The letter was not there, she took it. I will likely never see it again.

I looked for evidence of my tumult with Mom. There wasn’t much in the way of play-by-play. This both confused and delighted me. I don’t think I gave her much mind then. Well, there was evidence of her tampering: she’d scrawled a phone number on the corner of that old beau’s letter I mentioned, so that broke my heart a little, again. There was a comment from her in my diary, which was a very hard for me to reconcile. She was who she was. The time with that box went very quickly; it was fun, most of it.

I wrote immediately upon closing it all back up:

I read most of the content in here. The diary is full of ramblings, some funny and insightful but mostly just the neurotic, insecure blather of an American, single, young woman. Ennui, strife, doom — it’s how I got through it all. … The sum is that I had a lot of energy and was a lot of work for my parents. [My license was suspended at least twice for speeding and while I commuted to my university, I lived at home as though I were on campus, coming in at all hours.] There isn’t much of anything about Mom or from her [cards, drawings — likely because I actively disliked her during those years … brick] in here. I’m surprised by that — but I’m also relieved because despite the drama I was pretty resilient and self-absorbed. That, or it was all so ‘par for the course’ with her that I didn’t find much of it remarkable; or that I knew she would read everything, why give her an audience? … I feel lighter, not mad at all about Mom now. I saw my college work and I feel as though I’ve been rinsed delicately but completely, like an old garment. … It’s all OK now, I can let it just be…

And then the next day, that stupid regret came back. Brick… About that “actively disliking her” then, hey: that’s OK. That was part of my gig our dynamic then. I crossed that “my gig” out because I have to allow that I wasn’t formed in a vacuum; I was a product of an environment, just as we all are, just as my kids are. That as much as the 47-year-old me wants to understand that we are 1) connected, we are still 2) all our own people with our own choices, she has to allow the 16-20 -year-old me some rebellion, separation, and defense.

What I’m realizing as I write is that this “do no harm” code is foolishly not applied to myself. How much of this do we put upon ourselves? I’m guessing about 90% of it.

My mother had won the affections of SO many people from SO many generations and places in life that it made me wonder if I was the crazy one: she was like this silk scarf; a light and fun Daisy Buchanan butterfly to them and it was so different when we were alone. I compare myself to her as a heavy armored beetle.

I wondered, “Didn’t people see something?” It was the 70s. Who knows. The recurring baseline fear was that my memories were just … hijacked and rewritten. I actually considered calling a cousin for back-up, but I asked her to read the post. She did. She validated me. She saw a lot of it.

To properly understand my mom a little more, I watched Gray Gardens from 1976, and it helped so much. I gleaned from it a comment from Big Edie during one of Little Edie’s wide-ranging rants about how she could have made it on Broadway (something I heard a lot of) and her blame at her parents for her failure. Big Edie said something like this, “That’s the problem with the past. If it were right at the time, she would’ve done it. But something in her didn’t do it; I didn’t stop her… but the fact is that if it were right at that time it would’ve happened. You can’t stop fate…” Now, in all honesty, those women were a tangled mess, but I liked what Big Edie said about perception and timing — if it all was aligned and Little Edie wanted to do “it” then, she would’ve. You can’t blame other people for crap you [don’t] do. And I think that’s where I need to Work on me: I screwed up a lot then, but I was also ‘supposed’ to… the thing is though: I don’t know how much room there was in our household for more than one ‘spirited’ female.   

But the regret comes back and looms. It’s born of biblical guilt: Honor thy Mother and Father (or whatever it’s supposed to say) and I don’t know of many who did when they were teenagers. Probably Jesus was the only one.

That regret is born of my fear of other peoples’ perceptions because I was such an untamed mare then. I worry so much about how I’m perceived, that I either hold things back or I don’t admit them to myself. When I was younger, I didn’t care… I miss part of that spirit, just not the recklessness.

One of my readers suggested I read Anne Lammot’s Small Victories and the chapter on Anne’s struggle to forgive her mother after her death. In typical fashion I downloaded the book, but I will admit this: I am afraid to read it. I don’t know why. No, wait. I do: because something in me only knows Mom one way, in this one-dimensional way, that refuses to let her evolve and refused to allow her other aspects. That is not “do no harm” to anyone. I know it’s a knee-jerk reaction: you hurt me, I’ll hurt you. But I’m supposed to be evolving. And Mom’s gone… so what the what? It’s like that open prison…

Brick, please.

So it’s a lot. I’m tired of this wall building.

It’s nearing the end of the first month of the year. I need to make a change I think, in my writing, if just for a little while. I’m thinking mostly fiction for February. I think I’ll read some of those old stories I wrote and share some, updated and cleaned up. See where that goes.

I bought a new set of technical pens, based on the one I found in the box. I started doodling immediately last night. Here’s my first mandala for the year.

mandala_1

I would like to do one a day. I would like to run out of ink doing them.

I say things like that “would like to” because I fear I won’t keep the commitment. But how hard is it to doodle every day? I guess I will find out.

One of the writing people I subscribe to is Jill Jepson. She has a blog, “Writing a Sacred Path” and she got me thinking about this “do no harm” thing most of all, or rather as I believe, it came to me right on time. I needed something to bring me back to center. I was flinging around so much blame that I was leery of becoming toxic. For the month’s final post on January 26 (it’s not up yet today), she wrote about the concept of writing generously and what it meant. And smack in the middle of the post was this:

boom. thank you, Fate.

boom. thank you, Fate. I don’t if I’ve told secrets that weren’t mine to tell. I’ve certainly been harsh. I don’t know about cruel, but I know I’ve been angry enough to be vindictive, but I don’t know. It’s a delicate balance: where does one story end and the other begin?

To be fair, she also wrote that we don’t have to write sweetly and kindly all the time either or else there’d be no satire or horror. But that’s where my bricks are lately: in that “do no harm” concept. It’s been such a whirly 18 months for me that I guess I can see how I’ve both wanted to dodge some bullets while fire some at the same time.

So there is an in-between; and maybe I’ve struck it, in a lot of what I write. Maybe I struck it in the previous post — maybe I can just move on and stop it already. I think I’ve figured it out (I took an hour away to make chili): I regret the way it all went down. I think I just really have the saddest heart about how my mother and I treated each other and how our family had to cope. That’s a big brick, but I hope it’s the keystone. So I need to let it drop so the wall comes down…

So that’s it… I have to get off this bus, and start something new. The only way to do something different is to do something different. Start some fiction writing again or at least less posts about Mom and anger and shitty experiences. Air out my feathers and have some fun. Fiction or bust. Fiction and mandalas are from the land of Do No Harm. Right?

Thank you.

Nostalgist. Memoirist. The Same?

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I never figured myself a nostalgist. Mom was always looking back, reminiscing and talking about when things were always rosy and comfortable.

Her tendency to glaze over the rough peaks and low valleys, filling them in with downy fluff always made my head hurt.

“Why think of only the bad times?” I remember her saying to me on numerous occasions when I simply wanted to connect about things that were real, unhealed and unsolved.

I suppose that’s when I became a “fixer.” I recall many moments when I just wanted a connection about something real, and all Mom wanted was a connection about a memory she held dear. Which is not to say that the memories she tended were not real; they were just distilled through her filters. Mom’s filters were soft, pink, tender, sweet and miraculous, which of course meant my filters had to be sterile, harsh, coarse, acidic and flawed.

So memories have been loaded for me, especially when they came from her, or from other people. Accepting other peoples’ versions of events meant, for a long time to me, that my own versions were wholly incorrect, so as a result, some of my memories have been hazy. Was I 8, 16 or 12? Did that happen in NY or VA? Was that even me?

“Don’t look back in anger, Maaally,” Mom would say often constantly. But it was the only way I could look back; because so much of my moments with Mom were so challenging and confused so I learned to suppress or re-dress what I experienced into more of an “interpretation.”

Since her death, the memories have come back, some fiercely as though propelled like a massive gas bubble, shiny, translucent round and wide at the top, narrowing to a point at the tail as it races through murky depths only to burst at the surface. My body feels like a picture frame at times, doing all it can to contain the kaleidoscopic blasts and sensations when those bubbles erupt.

For a few days last week, a year and change after her death and burial, I was conscious of the anniversary seemed to just exist and go with the flow, yet I was keenly present in my own family’s affairs. All three boys have lessons or practices several times a week and I got them there on time. Last year, I forgot to take people to lessons or pick them up. Murphy had a cyst erupt and that had to be dealt with. I managed to go for a row and make a new friend. I even made dinner –in advance– three nights in a row with no stress. The house was ready for the cleaning ladies (a feat in itself). I even cycled out the battery on my Kindle reading halfway through “The Prince of Tides.”

Late last week, I spoke with a friend by extension about writing and what to do with this trove of content I’ve created. She’s an SVP at a major publisher. Her idea, delivered in that gloriously fast and exacting New York City style I love so much is daunting yet totally appealing: “In your copious free time, define what you wish to offer and create. You’ve got a lot of vantage points here, but for it to work, you need to narrow down. Get a proposal together, nothing too huge, but something that tells someone what you want to do. I’ll try to share it with people, they’ll look at your work and we’ll see what sticks.”

She was also very comforting about self-publishing. “Those days of launching an e-book on your own and then feeling as though you’ve ruined any chance of a big house publishing you are over; the industry has changed so much, so if you decided to go that route, the doors are still quite open.”

So now what? I’m on it.

. . . . . . .

While I’d managed to be present, on Friday I was pulled back to the 1970s. My father made plans to take a train to see my brother and his family for the weekend and I drove him to the station. For me, it was a perfect visit: we weren’t going to a doctor or running an errand. We had a destination and he got to look forward to resting on a train with his laptop and watch the cities fly by.

On my way, my cell phone rang when I had about 45 seconds to go before I was supposed to be at his house, 70 minutes before his train left.

“Hi Dad! I’m on Wiseass Road … I’ll be there in 60 seconds….”

“Where are you, hon-nee?” He asked.

I repeated myself. We hung up cheerfully.

When I pulled into his driveway, he was already out and about, locking up his car and padding his tweed jacket’s pockets for his keys and cell phone and other trinkets.

I took his wheelie and heaved it into my middle row.

I could hear his keys rattle and medicine pills bounce around in their vials as he poured into my car.

We exchanged niceties, he thanked me for helping him out and all that.

“I have something for you, but I’ll give it to you at the station, when you drop me off…” he said a few moments after he settled into place and the car was riding along.

I followed his instructions to get to the interstate near his home. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it — that I needed directions from my dad, who lives very close to me, on how to get to the interstate. It’s not like that. The highways are constantly in a state of flux around here and sometimes traffic is such that Dad wants me to go a different way. Better to not rouse an octogenarian who’s got a train to catch by taking the wrong way to the highway… I’ve learned.

His cell phone rang. It was my other brother, just checking in to say hello and see how things were going on the way to the train.

“Molly’s driving me, she’s taking me now, we’re on our way to the highway. Take this road, here on the right, hon.”

I took that road on the right.

“Are you working? Preaching this weekend? Oh yeah? What’re you working on … Get in the center lane, honey, this is an exit only …”

I drifted to the center lane, which I was on my way to doing anyway, I can READ A SIGN, Dad.

“That sounds interesting. When I get on the train, I’ll call you … I’ll make it my official first call … we’re rounding a bend here to see how it’s going on the highway, OH NO…. JEEEEZUS… Go into the left lane, and we’ll run along the road on a parallel local road … Yeah, I’ll call you later.” His red Sprint handset slaps closed.

“I just haven’t adjusted to the time I guess; I thought people were still on vacation … ” he said, sounding frustrated and aged, lending to me a feeling as though because he was older that the roads were more unpredictable. “There’s always some construction going on … I hope we get there on time…”

So I went to the light, and I turned left and we hummed along the highway, which was eventually humming along as well. “We will absolutely get there on time. It won’t be an issue.” I said.

As we approached the train station, I told him he didn’t need to tell me how to get there, “It’s off Callahan Street,” I said.

“YES! What a good memory!” he said to me. I notice now as I type that exchange, that I do have a good memory, that what I recall might not always be super-duper fantastic Betty Crocker Brady Bunch Cosby Show moments, but that what I recall is likely very accurate, mine, and that it’s ok if it doesn’t synch up or please everyone else.

“Yes, I used to work down here, remember?”

“Yes, for that publisher; your boss, Jim McGovern? Joe McGavern? McGuiness?”

“Close, it’s not a common Irish name in America anyway; but you’re close …” and I told him what it was. “He taught me some amazing lessons about business and publishing and editing. I remember one instance when I …”

“Turn left here. And then we’ll swoop around down to the right and you can stop to drop me off in front.”

That story I was going to tell didn’t matter, I guess. He was excited. We were on time. He was going to see family on a beautiful weekend, for the first time ever unencumbered by Mom and her anxieties and -isms.

I turned, swooped and stopped. Put the car in park and prepared to open my door to get his wheelie out and help him to the doors.

“Hey, wait. I found this and I want you to have it.” He said as he was starting to lean out the passenger door of my SUV. He was reaching into his pocket and handed it to me. “Here. You know what this is…” he said in a gentle, singsongy and sincere voice. “I know she’d want you to have it. I want you to have it.”

Mom's.

Mom’s. It just occurred to me that I don’t have anything like this, other than my rings which I wear all the time, for my children to identify with. I have a locket, it’s got Thing 1 and our first dog in it. But I don’t wear it because doing so was “too much like Mom” even though I wanted to have one.

It was a locket. A gold, 2″ oval etched locket that Mom wore all the days of her life that I can remember. There is no mistake in this memory. I can see and smell and hear that locket swish along the ropey gold chain she wore and see it nestled on her chest, or in the crease between her breasts, or rest on a cashmere sweater that smelled of her, wool and Chanel No. 5. For as long as I can remember, that locket has housed two photos. One of me, when I was in kindergarten, and one of my older brother (whom my father was about to visit) when he was likely in second grade.

‘Shee Chrishhee. Shee Chrishhee…’ ” Dad said as he handed it to me.

I opened it up and the tears bounded out like that bubble from the murk. They poured out of me, and are again. That locket was not amongst her things when she died. It wasn’t in that plastic bag the nurse gave me the night I left her body at the hospital. I wondered where it was. I wasn’t ever going to ask Dad, but I’d wondered for 375 days. I was reluctant to ask.

“Shee Chrishhee.” I whimpered back, vaulted to my toddler self, recalling the phrase I used to utter to Mom to glimpse the picture of my brother.

When I saw the pictures of myself and my brother, they were as I’ve always remembered. The photo of  my brother is patchy and worn slightly, likely from my fingers and thumb rubbing it upon my numerous requests to see the pictures, on demand.

Here is the image of me, still under its little plastic cover which Mom likely added to protect it from destruction as the image of my brother had been worn.

I took this picture in the car, at a red light about three miles from the train station. I was five in this image; about the time in my life when I can remember mostly sadnesses and feeling alone.  I cut my own bangs.

I took this picture in the car, at a red light about three miles from the train station. I was five in this image; about the time in my life when I can remember mostly sadnesses and feeling alone.
I cut my own bangs.

Do you have an image or photo of yourself that you love so much? That when you see it, it all comes flooding back? God, I was so little. I have always cherished this image of myself.

I remember that top. I loved it. It was a blue “Health-Tex” turtleneck with tortoise-y false buttons running down the red-fringed ruffle. I had blue and red gingham pants and a skirt that went with it.

I won’t share the picture of my brother because he’d likely disown me if I did. He is a terrifically handsome man and was a great looking kid too, but per the mode of the time, he is wearing a David Cassidy-inspired vest over a massive-collared pale paisley print man-blouse. His hair is also David Cassidy, in the fashion of the day and his smile is gentle and kind. His teeth are … his teeth have been addressed orthodontically so they are completely different now, but I sense he’d kill me if I shared it so I won’t.

So I see how this goes, at least for the moment. Nostalgia is imminent. Ha. It is though. The following evening I went to a mini-high school reunion and caught up with friends. It was so lovely to be with them all. We’ve all aged beautifully, I might add.

The phrase of the night was “AOOOMAIIIGAAAD! You haven’t changed a bit!!!” and I had to brace a little at that; I spoke with a dear friend about that utterance that night and she said, “Yikes. I hope I have. I hope I’ve evolved! I’ve done so much growing and work…” we laughed.

I decided that I wanted to hear and say this, “You look great! You’ve taken such good care of yourself…” and that that would be enough.

I’ll be around. I’ll be poking at the proposal from my friend in publishing. I’m trying to figure it all out. Maybe this is enough; maybe the blogging is enough. I doubt it though; I need to let myself have bigger plans. I need to let myself chase a dream. Chasing that dream requires I go backwards too, especially if I want to call it a memoir; just don’t ask me to call it ‘nostalgia.’

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief: Ha.

Standard

I plunged a 9″ chef’s knife into a watermelon just now and cut a bunch of quarter slices. I’ve had the melon on the counter for about five days and completely forgot about it and the fresh pineapple I bought over our family birthday-Labor Day-Mimi’s death-anniversary weekend. I just tossed the remains of the birthday cake. My mind has been elsewhere. Waiting.

this is mom holding me in 1968 after i clearly just swatted my older brother. poor guy...

this is mom holding me in 1968 after i clearly just swatted my older brother. poor guy…

I thought I could deal yesterday. What I did yesterday however, was read. I holed myself up on our deck and read all day after I wrote my post about “clarity.” I see the irony now. When Mom died last year, the day was mostly ebbing. It was just around 3pm when I got the call from Dad, so all our plans of having a home-base Labor Day cookout were toast. No pun intended.

So I guess, you don’t experience the anniversary until you experience the anniversary. Of anything. I remember this after 9/11. Up until the one-year, I remember noticing how my body was gearing up, feeling the angle of the sun and other astral, silent and all-knowing familiarities which unrelentingly tie you to a trauma or event. I don’t remember the date when I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time, but I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the Towers.

And this is my first go. I have no clue what to expect, other than to know (now) that expecting anything is a waste. That it happened on Labor Day is just … well … what it is. I could judge it all I want. That’s stupid too, judging.  I’m so grateful to my husband though because he called me in the middle of writing this post to check on me and to also assure me that next year, Labor Day will be on the 7th and that’s great. I’m really looking forward to next year because the anniversary day and the holiday will be far apart.

That evening, last year, I went for a root beer float at the nearby Baskin-Robbins 31 after viewing her body. I bought two. I don’t know why. I decided yesterday morning, that yesterday was going to be a reinvention, a rebranding of Labor Day for me because last year’s was so traumatic. I was almost literally holding my breath until about 3:30pm. Once we passed that timeline, I had no choice (I suspect) because it was all I could do to not compare: “It’s 3:47 and no one has died. Keep reading.”

I realize now, that our human invention, denial, is really one of the stupidest inventions we’ve ever … invented. Don’t pay the taxes and they’ll go away. Don’t sweat the addiction and it will get better. Don’t cut the watermelon because nothing’s going on.

So when the early evening began last year, I was in it. I had fielded calls from my older brother and his wife; I had fielded calls and texts from my concerned friends and cousins; I had taken a couple calls from my uncle and godfather, Mom’s brother. I had taken calls from my kids.

MY KIDS. “Tomorrow,” the day after Labor Day, was their first day of school. My brother and his pregnant wife showed up. That was hard. My oldest son had told my brother about Mom. I gave the other root beer float to my sister-in-law.

As the sun set, I’d been at the hospital four hours; I stayed with my brother and SIL one more hour and then I was going to leave. My brother was there for Dad now.

The attending ER doc for that shift needed my dad to sign Mom’s papers so he could go home. I’m sure the staff would’ve waited and Dad could’ve signed them later, but … it was all a little surreal… he sort of y’know, a’hem, nudged us to y’know … sign. Release the body to the morgue. Let Mom go. I’m sure I wanted to ask him, “Has your mother died yet? Or your wife of 51 years? This shit’s not easy. … Just checking.” Of course the doctor didn’t want to nudge my father in his understandably granitic and unreachable state. No one nudges my father.

So I had to sort of y’know, nudge my brother. To nudge our father. To y’know … leave. It was his turn. I’d done so much already (not comparing, just acknowledging) by being with Dad when the news broke, by being with Dad to view her, by being with Dad when the doctor had to talk about doctorly things in a doctorly way. I was depleted. Mom was dead. There was no do-over.

As I started out, a nurse gave me Mom’s things: a bag of her jewelry to take from the hospital, so I did. In a white paper envelope was her passport (WHAT?). In a white double-plastic bag with those hard plastic snap-together handles were other effects including pants and the navy blue cashmere vneck she was wearing when she was transported via ambulance; it had a few of her stray silver hairs on it. I’m still trying to figure out what she was doing with her passport. It’s so odd. Inside that white bag was another bag containing her jewelry.

When it came to jewelry, Mom was … thorough. As she aged, her OCD really ticked up and she began to trust no one, very little of her nursing aide. So she wore a lot of her valuables. I think whenever Mom weighed-in at her doctors they must’ve just assessed her pirate’s chest of bangles and ancestral baubles and just let it stay; the hell with it. To take it off her and put it back on her would’ve added 15 minutes to the visit and she’dve never let any of it out of her sight. So the bag I was given must’ve weighed about three pounds. But seeing that bag of her favorite things, her “stuff” reduced to a hospital-issued ziplock emblazoned with “INOVA FAIRFAX HOSPITAL SYSTEM” … It was all too much. So I left. My husband and I left for our house.

I had to switch gears, as much as possible. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to deal with the ordeal, it’s that I needed to switch gears. I needed to get out of that pumped-in, fake white light, I had to get away from the Muzak and I wanted to get away from the well-intentioned security guard who simply didn’t know how to look at me.

I had to retrieve my children from their various locations. I had to put my kids to bed. I had to hug them. Inhale deeply and smell their heads, squeeze their bodies and wipe their tears, and press my forehead into theirs as I held them by their jawlines and tell them through tears and sniffles I was sad but that it was all going to be OK and that Mimi was in a better place now and that even though it doesn’t feel like it, things were really going to be OK in a few …

 

So later that night, around 10:00, Dad, my brother and his pregnant wife showed up at my house. I’m not sure when they left the hospital. It was a way station, I guess. I see my deflective madness: that whole plan, to have Dad not sleep here, but it was all I could deal with at the time. “We are animals in moments like these,” I remember thinking to myself, rationalizing.

My brother and I rallied and took Dad back to his house to get some things for the overnight. Dad stayed in my car. It was then that I saw the plate of uneaten breakfast on her side of the bed. She wasn’t feeling well that morning. Dad knows this now, but the signs for heart attack or dire cardiac trouble for women are totally different than for men. We don’t feel tremendous pressure, as though we have an elephant on our chest (that’s a normal feeling for us), we feel sick, nauseated and generally weak and profoundly unwell. Sadly, these symptoms also remind us of fatigue and gastrointestinal distress, from which Mom suffered a great deal. But it was unrelenting, this discomfort, but she didn’t want to go to the ER, she wanted to get ice cream. Dad obeyed; they were going to get ice cream. Then she fell. 

I knew that logistically it was best that Dad be here with me, because I live the closest to him and Mom, but … I’d been on this task for almost eight hours by this point. I was also not rational: I was terrified, frankly, that her spirit would come to my house looking for him. I wanted to reduce that liability. I was also comPLETEly terrified that he would live here in his grief. I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t able to deal with that. I was and can still be a selfish person (I learned from a very early age that relying on others was a precarious endeavor, so as much as I’ve tried to stay aware of it, primal moments like these can make me unhinged, so I go with “selfish”).

So I dug in my heels and it was just me and my team in my house that night. Of the immediate surviving family, I knew that no one would be really getting much sleep that night, but I didn’t want it all here. I also knew my home was going to be ground zero for the next day or so. I just knew it. Dad went home with my brother and his pregnant wife.

The next morning, my other brother flew to DC and we started to rally. That afternoon, Tuesday, Dad and my younger brother came back to the house and we continued and combined our own singular efforts to have Mom celebrated in five days. Out of state. Five hundred miles from where she died. We did all this on my deck with our various laptops, iDevices and phones. We did all this amongst the buzz and presence family and great friends who couldn’t suppress their support for us and their instinct to lift us up in our loss. I see now, a year later (and I sensed then but didn’t really have time or interest in indulging in the time) how Herculean that entire effort was, but true to form, we achieved it. We were like a newsroom.

I needed to write about this today. Fighting these urges to write and share is “crazy talk” as my brother would say (jokingly). I simply couldn’t have had a normal (ha!) day without doing it. Maybe reading this is even helpful to you. I have no clue about where this train will stop. I see now that it’s an unrealistic ambition to say ‘On this day I will end my writing about Mom and my memories of her and my life.” New stuff or old stuff in new suits occurs to me daily. I didn’t sleep well last night; I was afraid she’d visit me. When I did wake, I was sweaty and unrested. So I needed to flush some things out. I feel better now. I always do.

Processing… It’s part of my recovery to allow myself to look back on that day and then see 1) it’s over and 2) how far I’ve come. Without that perspective and ability / allowance to reminisce we would be lost.

Thank you.