The heart wants what it wants. If the heart wants something that triggers intense pain or strong reactions, resist the urge to shut it down. The goal is not to repress what the heart is stirred to express (hopes, losses, despairs, longings) but rather to hold it all in love….and then release. Staying in the flow of life means feeling what needs to be felt. This alone does not make you a victim of life–it’s the story you tell about the feelings that create liberation or victimization.art by Lori Portka.
It’s been almost five years since I lost my mom and just when I think, mother’s day – it’s all good, I’m cool! Totally got this!…well, you can probably guess where this is going.
Let me walk you through all the feels this weekend, assisted with the imagery of Leslie Knope of Parks and Rec. (Gosh I miss that show!)
Me at 8pm Saturday, Mother’s Day Eve, if you will:
Me at 9pm on Saturday (after seeing the first sprinklings of mother’s day posts on social media)
Me Sunday Morning:
Happy and grateful that my mom was my mom. Tears of joy at the love she gave and continues to give me. Tears of sadness that she isn’t with me other than in spirit. Tears of gratitude for my daughter and for being a mom. Tears for losing a pregnancy and struggling with infertility. Like I said, ALL THE FEELS.
Sunday progressed and was good. It turns out that once you face the 5,000 pound grieving elephant in the room you feel much better.
Sunday night arrived. Was I ready to look at social media?
You guys, I did okay. It was all good.
Like I said, no big deal!
(Yeah this one doesn’t have to do with anything…just couldn’t resist some awesome Leslie Knope wisdom.)
Hope the day landed gently for those who were struggling with loss. (Also hope all you moms were able to treat yo’self! Literally treat yo’self. Okay I’ll stop now.)
I’ve been thinking about the women on the family tree, their circles blackened and crossed out. Elizabeth – Breast, 31. Elizabeth’s cousin (name unknown): Breast, 30s. Elizabeth’s cousin (also name unknown): Breast, 30s. Diane, Breast, 44. Brain mets. 46.
Circles signify women, and blackened circles signify cancer. Lines through them signify death.
I’ve been thinking about how we explain and classify these early deaths of four women in my family.
THE H1686R VARIANT HAS BEEN RECLASSIFIED TO ‘SUSPECTED DELETERIOUS’, MEANING IT IS SUSPECTED TO BE A SIGNIFICANT MUTATION AND IS LIKELY THE CAUSE OF THE BREAST CANCER IN DIANE’S FAMILY.
Letter to my father from Barbara Ann Karmanos Center Institute, Dated May 7, 2015, informing of newfound information on my late mother’s BRCA1 gene mutation known as H1686R.
I’ve been thinking about how names on a chart and genetic abnormalities deny a simple truth: cancer over and over again struck the symbol of feminine nurturing and sustenance–the breasts of young mothers–in my maternal lineage.
I’ve been thinking about the assault on women’s bodies–and male bodies too. To paraphrase Eve Ensler, how patriarchy kills men in their hearts…and women in their breasts. Hearts and breasts.
Photo of my grandmother Elizabeth
Certainly I’ve been thinking about my late mom (Diane), and the grandmother I never met (Elizabeth), and her cousins (names unknown) on the genetic chart, called a pedigree. I’ve been thinking about other women too. Debby and Angela, two women I knew and admired, both not much older than myself, who died recently of breast cancer. Circles blackened and crossed out.
I’ve been thinking about the assault on our bodies and our land. Blackened and crossed.
I’ve been thinking about how our vitality as women and mothers is wrapped in the vitality of the earth. That waiting any longer to confront this truth is a pathology.
We can no longer deny the destiny that is ours by becoming women who wait–waiting to love, waiting to speak, waiting to act. This is not patience, but pathology. We are sensual, sexual beings, intrinsically bound to both Heaven and Earth, our bodies a hologram. In our withholding of power, we abrogate power, and that creates war.
TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS, When Women Were Birds
My heart breaks at the news out of Las Vegas. I am sharing the post I wrote about the aftermath of Orlando and a shooting at a dance club in my home of Fort Myers. The words I wrote then remain true today: I refuse to remain silent. I refuse to stay numb. And I am tired of this madness.
This morning I found myself standing in a strip mall less than a mile away from where I used to live, a dozen roses in my hand and more than two dozen reporters in my face.
I was standing on the site of the latest mass shooting in America.
A reporter asked me was why I was there.
I’d thought about this as I purchased a bouquet of small yellow roses at my local Winn-Dixie this morning. (What types of flowers are suitable to leave at memorials for mass shootings? I wondered. This is now a question we have to ask ourselves in America.)
I thought about gun violence as I made the twenty-three minute drive north from my home, driving past my church that only five short weeks ago hosted a vigil for the Orlando mass shooting victims. I thought about it as I exited the…
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The kiddo was up very early today which meant one thing: I had to blog, just like old times! All those early mornings where I wrote as the sun rose. The days where writing daily was a necessary part of my routine.
I got to thinking about it all. How writing was a daily ritual of healing. Only now can I see what a courageous and life-sustaining act it truly was. Day by day, scrubbing away pain and loss. Transmuting the pain. And now, today on August 2, 2017, the fact is that there is so much less pain to transmute – the main reason I don’t feel the need to write as frequently. A good problem to have, no?
In hindsight I have so many questions for my former self. Why did you, former Sarah, take so long to start writing? Why didn’t you start using anti-aging face cream sooner? And why oh why did you sit in that suffering place for so damn long? (Ever notice that “why didn’t I let myself suffer longer?” has been asked by nobody ever.)
There are a lot of reasons. But mostly it is because I hadn’t learned lesson 3.
This is from the incredible Nigerian poet Ijeoma Umebinyuo. I remember the day I discovered this – I wanted to shout from the rooftops: “THIS! THIS!!!! LESSON NUMBER THREE! THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT PEOPLE! Don’t let it overstay!”
(Thankfully I did not proclaim it from the rooftops. Probably good since my neighborhood is full of highly suspicious retirees who would likely bring such an incident to the attention of the HOA.)
Touch and release. Touch and release. So freaking hard. Feel the feels but don’t succumb to them. Swimming without wearing a huge heavy backpack. (It just weighs you down and plus everything inside gets wet. Who wants that?!)
It takes a helluva lot of courage to set down the backpack full of feels. Once you do, you realize what a heavy weight it had been. Really, it doesn’t need to overstay its welcome. Bye Felicia.
Anyway where am I going with this post? OH yes, sunrises, sunsets! Sunrises full of writing and healing and transmuting pain. Sunsets of saying goodbye to the pain. Lesson number three. Touch and release. Healing. Dropping the heavy backpack at the shore so you can swim.
Tomorrow will mark a year since I sang a song for my mother, an experience that still gives me goosebumps. Everything about that experience was infused with loving grace. I’m writing another post for tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought I’d share that post from last year.
There I was, palms sweating, all eyes on me. My heart was racing. Around me, new friends (very new)—most of them twenty, thirty, even forty years older than myself—urged me on.
“Will you consider it?” They asked.
Would I consider it?
I knew in my heart the answer was yes, even if my sweaty palms said no.
I was at choir practice, and these new friends were fellow members of the choir that I recently joined, which is part of the church that I recently joined. (You know, working on building my village and all that jazz.)
In the way that only deep, deep pain can motivate us, I recently came to the realization that I can’t do this life-gig solo. I need a village. Comrades. Partners on the path of self-actualization
I needed a faith community .
Seeing as I’m liberal-but-leery-of-organized religion, I naturally decided to check out our local Unitarian Universalist church. Their mission statement is “Love. Grow. Serve.” Who can’t get behind that? They describe themselves as an “open-hearted multi-generational community” and that is what I found the instant I walked through their doors.
The people I’ve met in this faith community include a baby-boomer hippy guitarist, a young physics professor, a Jewish grandma, a seventy-year old blue-bird enthusiast, a musical theater professional, and more. (And, they literally greet you with homemade muffins and coffee. In fact, they give new members the yellow mugs, so they can find you and say hello. It just so happens the yellow ones hold the most coffee, which also makes me love them.)
I immediately knew I wanted to join the church choir. Their Director is young and talented. The choir is small and half their members are snowbirds who return north for summer. In addition to needing more warm bodies, I had a hunch they would also benefit from having a few more members who could read music.
So there I was, at the second practice of my new choir at the new church I joined.
There are precisely four sopranos including myself. Judy, who carries a Monet Water Lilies tote and a tin of cough drops, sits to my right and watches out for me. She found an extra binder of music and shared her post-it tabs with me.
I was enjoying the practice. We were rehearsing the old Appalachian hymn “Bright Morning Stars” for Mother’s Day.
Our Director announced she would need a volunteer to do an a capella solo for the first verse, then we would add another part with each subsequent verse.
I absentmindedly scanned my music. I wondered who she had in mind to sing the solo. I was sort of relieved, in fact. Thank goodness I’m new, for surely she didn’t have me in mind, I thought to myself.
And then Judy tugged my arm and pointed to me. My palms started sweating. A lot.
“Will you? Will you consider it?” she asked?
I looked up and all the others were smiling kindly. Wait, what? They were serious? Several altos nodded and smiled at me. I looked at the choir director who was smiling, waiting for me to reply.
It was then that I heard myself say yes.
It is hard for me to describe how much this moment stirred me. I have always loved singing. From as long as I can remember I have sung in a choir. In middle and high school I took voice lessons and competed with other awkward pre-teens in various music festivals, singing with girls’ ensembles and honor choirs and on and on.
Recently, the most singing I’d done was in my shower or dancing with my pre-schooler to Yvis’s Yogurt Song.
And here I was, nonchalantly saying yes to SING A SOLO. In church. My voice, alone. What on earth was happening?
I was still wrapping my head around this fact as our Director paused to tell a story about this particular hymn. She explained how she had performed the song with a group of inner-city youth, most of them living on public assistance of some form in a very low-income area. She said how she talked to them about the meaning of the lyrics, how the song is about a parent’s sacrifice for their children.
It as at this point in the story that she said, that one of her high school students began whispering. Being the great choir director that she is, she cleared her throat and asked the young woman, “Excuse me, do you have a question?”
The student looked up and told her, “My parents are dead.”
At this point my eyes welled with tears. It turns out, of course, that the song is actually a metaphor, and it was about the eternal love of a parent toward a child even beyond death. The choir Director said she explained this to the student, how the song wasn’t literal but in fact about how the love of your parents goes beyond death, and perhaps this young woman’s parent’s were watching over her. Loving her still.
Well, at this point I didn’t know how I was going to sing this song about dead mothers. On mother’s day of all days. With my own dead mother up in heaven like that precious child’s.
None of this mattered. I seemed to be carried by the energy of this group, and I suddenly found myself moments later singing the solo it out into the empty church. I finished and heard the choir members begin to clap.
Judy turned to me and said, “that was beautiful.”
The choir director wiped a tear away.”I don’t know why I’m so emotional today but that really moved me.”
Not only did I get through the song about dead mothers without crying, but I sang the whole thing fairly effortlessly.
And here is the crazy thing: I have always dreaded and hated solos. I have a traumatic memory of me singing at a competition when I was maybe fifteen years old, totally breaking under the pressure of performing in front of others. (I was perfectly fine in the comfort of the pianist’s living room when we had practices.)
Singing out loud, alone, used to be too vulnerable. I was fine blending my voice with others. Exposed and in the spot-light, I would wither and crack. My outsides didn’t match my insides. Or maybe they did, because I felt cracked inside too, I hadn’t yet embodied my voice, and was many many years from that being the case.
And so I circle back to today. This week. I sang effortlessly. I suppose you could say I found my voice.
Today is Mother’s Day. I will put on my pretty blue dress, my heels and my mother’s jewelry. I will go with my daughter and husband to my new church, where I will sing a solo in front of my new, multi-generational faith family.
And I will sing out about how the love of our mother’s transcends death.
I will sing a song for my mother.
Can I hug you all? Seriously, consider these words a virtual hug traveling from WordPress to your computer or smartphone or tablet or smartwatch or whatever device connects us. Because THANK YOUS are in order.
I wrote a post yesterday about how crappy things have been lately and how crappy this YEAR has been. I felt better after writing it (writing heals me, always), but I didn’t fully expect what would happen next. Holy macaroni you guys rock. I was flooded with messages of love and support (and some commiseration too—apparently I’m not the only one who had a bad 2016!). It was absolutely beautiful.
It also confirmed what I already knew, which is that sharing our vulnerabilities in a safe way, with people we trust and whom have earned their right to hear our story, can be truly transformative.This blog has shown me how writing is only half of the puzzle. An important piece for sure—writing is powerful and healing in and of itself. But the second piece, sharing that writing with a tribe who loves and supports you, has the capacity to heal in ways I never fully understood until this year.
Writing + Community (virtual and real world) reminds me of those recycling plants that make benches out of old milk jugs. Writing takes the broken pieces and builds something new, and if you are lucky, that something new might end up being a bench. And if you are luckier still, friends and strangers will SIT on that bench, hold your hand and say, it will be ok.
From my heart to yours, thank you for sitting next to me on the bench. And when you need someone on your bench, because we all do from time to time, you know who to reach out to.