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.
My daughter had an epic tantrum at Target today, and I’m pretty sure she did it on behalf of all of us. I mean after this week, who doesn’t want to flail on the floor kicking and screaming while flinging Target Optical business cards in all directions?
We were at Target to buy a bike helmet. We found one that had cat ears and rainbows on it and that filled us both with joy. Then we wandered the Christmas section and delighted over the plush birdy ornaments and santa clauses and snow globes.It was the magical snowflake of Target trips. Until the FINAL FIVE MINUTES.
All I know is that I was in line frantically using my cartwheel app trying to scan the most expensive items for coupons, and my daughter took off. She ran to the drinking fountains. I yelled her full name get back here this minute and she came back with a little smirk. Oh yeah. This wasn’t looking good.
We finally checked out and I thought we were through the worst of it, but no. Something just snapped in my child. She wailed and screamed and at one point was lying on her back on the ground, her skirt flipped up, her face beet red, wailing. MOMMMMMY NOOOOOOO!!!!!
I tried to carry her out of the store, a colossal failure and one that I could have predicted but I tried anyway because what else could I do while pushing that ridiculous cart with the huge added on seats for children to have leg room and harnesses and whatever nonsense. God I love those carts though.
Well, the three-year-old kicked and screamed and in the process knocked over my iced coffee. I did not realize it but we were leaving a huge iced coffee trail behind us.
Insert the f. word.
It was the longest mile. I mean, seriously. How was I going to get out of this store?
Well, that’s when Jeanine came over. She was a fifty-something Target associate who was braver than the other three associates who were staring at the whole scene in disbelief. Dear sweet Jeanine put her arm on mine. She asked if there was anything she could do to help.
“There is nothing you can do” I said as I began to cry. Right there. Near checkout 10. Families silently rolled past me, their children staring.
What I wanted to say?
“Jeanine we are all DOOMED! What the hell happened to our country! I’m so angry and frustrated and I feel so helpless. And yes I get why people want to give a middle finger to the establishment but really, electing he-who-shall-not-be-named??? It’s all too much. And why won’t my kid just sit. in. the. damn. cart?”
Of course, I didn’t say any of that. But Jeanine JUST KNEW I NEED HER TODAY. She quickly went work, fetching a a brown paper bag with little handles that she offered to my daughter.
“Would you like this special bag? Can you put your things in here and carry it all by yourself?” Then Jeanine pulled out her roll of stickers, commenting on each one as she placed them over each Target bullseye.
As if this wasn’t enough to earn her angel wings, Jeanine saw my empty coffee cup and she offered to get me a new coffee. SHE OFFERED TO GET ME A COFFEE. I told her it was ok, I hadn’t purchased at the in-store Starbucks–but I am pretty sure had I asked she would have gone and gotten a new one for me anyway.
I think we are going to need a lot of Jeanines moving forward. Neighbors, colleagues, mothers with stinker-butt children, if you are struggling, I promise to be there for you. (Assuming my child isn’t it booking down the street.)
Let us not forget, we belong to each other. Thanks for the reminder, Jeanine.
There is a large hall full of people, but I initially chose the small side room. I was there by myself, surrounded by plates and plates of hors d’oeuvres. The restaurant servers kept delivering them to me. (My late mother–who was not present because, hello, deceased–had pre-ordered these hors d’oeuvres for everyone. Which if you knew my mom is so my mom.)
It got lonely in this little room. Plus, all this abundance to share. I could not consume it alone.
I came into the great hall only to discover a series of long tables full of friends and family who had been waiting to see me.
At this point I tried on several different outfits until I found what is comfortable on my skin (ahh–to be comfortable in our own skin) and then I spent time catching up with everyone. So much time had already been lost!
We never know when we might be channeling some light. Or reflecting light. I don’t know how it all works. All I know is that yesterday was one of those magical days where it felt like everyone was in the right place at the right time.
Yesterday I took my seat in church choir rehearsal like I always do. Only this time there were four kids in the front row. A ten-year-old boy in front of me put the purple stole up around his ears and made funny faces. A little one sitting to his left stopped in the middle of rehearsal to run to her uncle; her shoes were hurting!
To my immediate left was my friend Jenifer, wise-cracking jokes about the Browns (just like me she has lived in Cleveland and Baltimore–the chances!) and on my right was Judy, who reminds me so much of my mother that I am tempted to turn to her and ask are you a Virgo?
As we finished rehearsal and took a quick break before service began, I mingled among the ushers, greeters, and perhaps even the croissant table. It was then that a dynamic woman in a smart exercise hoodie approached. I remembered her as being one of the handful of parents who hung out during rehearsal. She must have had a child participating in this special 9-11 memorial service.
She was grinning as she said, “This is going to sound crazy…”
I LOVE conversations that start like this! A kindred spirit.
She told me I looked exactly like her late friend Sabine. Sabine died when she fifty years old. She was an amazing friend and human being. An I looked just like her. The woman (her name was Trish–“rhymes with fish!”) sheepishly admitted that she had even snagged a picture of me the other day at rehearsal so she could show her late friend’s children.
She went on to say that she swore I was channeling Sabine. Especially during the song Calling All Angels. How I was glowing and seemed to have Sabine’s spirit. She knew it sounded crazy but I assured her it was not. Nothing surprises me anymore.
I told her about my mom passing and the weird and wonderful coincidences that have happened since then.
I rejoined the choir and service began. As our multi-generational ensemble sang backup vocals for the Calling All Angels duet, I sang for my mom and for Sabine. I caught Trish’s eye. We both smiled. I looked out the window and saw the yellow butterfly dancing, the one I see every week, and sent love to my mom.
Oh, and every day you gaze upon the sunset with such love and intensity
It’s ah, it’s almost as if you could only crack the code then you’d finally understand
What this all means
Oh, but if you could, do you think you would trade in all
All the pain and suffering?
Oh, but then you’d miss the beauty of the light upon this earth
And the, and the sweetness of the leaving
I am so excited to share that I have a piece up on the website Keeping Mum! It is a new platform for mothers without mothers.
I would love for you to check out my story —and for those of you who are mothers who have lost a mom, you might want to check out Keeping Mum’s Facebook page, too. They are seeking to build their community of mothers who have experienced loss.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I appreciate you following my blog, sharing your own stories and experiences and sharing tips along the way. My healing journey would not have been the same without you. I am so grateful for this community.
Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated… It is truly an emotion that rises from the soul.
– Francis Weller
Last week I began writing about my healing journey since losing my mom, then a pregnancy.
I am discovering it was easier to share with you the experience of the pain rather than the beauty of grief.
I want to tell you about the gifts that come from the wild, untamed, soul force of grief. But it feels wrong. It feels sacreligous.
I am re-learning how there are two sides to all experiences. Behind the dark is light. And even behind light is dark.
It still feels wrong to speak of beauty in grief. To exclaim the wondrous joys and gifts that blossom from healing. I want to say, but I would trade any of it to have my mom back or my pregnancy back. (And I would.)
And yet I can’t get them back. Instead I am left to make sense of a journey that twisted and turned through through dark corners and expansive fields with sunshine.
I am still walking the journey and the parts with light are very recent memories on this journey. I am not prepared to draw full conclusions or to tell you even where this road will lead.
But I can share this: that beautiful and incredible things happened when I faced my deepest pain and my most vulnerable self.
When my small ego mind admitted it could not do it all, that it was not capable of finding the path out of pain, nor solving the problems of grief (as though there is a solution!), that it was, dare I say, FAILING in its job to fix, to be a hero, to stand alone like a mountain—that was the turning point.
I found out that none of us are alone in our suffering. That instead of being pinpointed, picked up and punished by the universe, we are simply experiencing the very human pain of being alive on earth.
I found that healing can happen unexpectedly and rapidly when there is community and connection. That by standing in a sacred place among community transformed me. That the simple act of singing with a group of fifty, sixty, seventy and yes, eighty-year-olds, and looking out week after week and always seeing yellow butterflies, that this too healed me.
How long-buried gifts of writing, art, and music were not forever condemned to the attic of my life. That they were not merely childish passions that led down short stumpy paths only to be long forgotten. No, they were secret lockets waiting to be opened.
I have opened them and I have delighted in them.
I cannot wait to decipher the many mysteries that remain. I have no idea where my creative urges will lead me but I know I will continue to be humbled by what can happen when you surrender to your heart.
Thank you also to you, dear readers, for supporting and encouraging me. You are part of the community and connection that has brought me to where I am now, and for that I am forever grateful.
Grief undermines the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and the sanctioned behaviours of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life force… It is not a state of deadness or emotional flatness. Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated… It is truly an emotion that rises from the soul.
– Francis Weller
Those were the words that earlier today brought me to tears and figuratively brought me to my knees.
It might have been more graceful if I had actually been brought to my knees. I could have avoided the very obvious and very awkward moment when I realized I was the only choir member not standing, only to then find myself standing with the wrong hymnal, only to then stumble to find the correct page in the correct book. Singing apparently wasn’t happening for me either, unless it was going to be me squeaking out words, which then generated more tears in a never ending cycle of grace and tears, grace and tears.
All the while as this was happening (in front of a hushed and watching congregation) I was thinking about how funny it was that of all people, I was the one openly crying. (This thought touched me and, you guessed it, made me tear up more.)
Until recently I never really spontaneously cried. I operated on a delay. Longer even than the Olympic delay. Only after my logical brain could examine and then parse it would I finally feel safe enough to FEEL.
So back to the openly-crying-when-I-was-supposed-to-be-singing…I don’t know what exactly it was about the words but the guided meditation stirred the pot, as it were.
We were led to remember both a moment recently that was infused with love and a moment that was not. And the take-away was that we should remember how that moment of love felt and we should have it ready to to hold when another crap-tastic moment comes up in our life. (My words, not quite what Reverend Allison said.)
Yeah, I know this song and dance. Where you honor the pain, but ever so gently…you don’t want to squeeze it until your knuckles are white. You don’t want the pain to overcome you, or numb you, or embitter you. (Been there, done that, not pretty.)
And the trickiest dance step of all: meeting that pain with love.
That part can be hard. Like, really really hard.
So today I was crying about it all. Thinking about the moments of love made me realize how much I miss my mom right now. Her birthday is next week. And come a month from now, it will be three years she has been gone from earth.
And then I thought about the crummy things too. All the things that have come undone since my mom died. How there are wounds that remain very much not healed. The kind of pain where simply facing it is hard, let alone meeting it with love, thank you very much.
Tears tears and more tears. Of love and grace and pain and heartbreak all meshed together.
It may sound strange to count this as a victory, but how wonderful that I was able to openly cry among other imperfect humans who tolerate (nay, encourage) my weeping into the wrong hymnal on the wrong page at the wrong time.
I know none of them were judging me. (If they noticed, that is—we have a bad habit of staring down into our hymnals and not looking up and out at the choir! but we are working on it.)
And get this: as I sit here now, writing it all out and re-feeling the love, I heard something outside my window near the bird feeder I put in recently.
So to set the scene: there I was, having a miscarriage. The baby whose due date was the date my mother died–this baby was not to be.
I was in so much emotional pain. So very much.
I made a choice. I could hold these cards, these unwanted cards that had been dealt to me, and I could throw them down in bitterness and defeat.
Or I could take these cards and place them gently over my heart and weep.
Weep for the child who would not be. Weep for all the losses I had sustained and survived.
I also realized something else: that I did not have to do it alone.
I could extend a hand out for another to hold. Because you see, when your hands are full of cards you don’t want dealt to you, there is someone else whose hands are free. And one day you will be that person with free hands and it will be your turn to hold another’s hand.
I will share my own words to myself written after this difficult passage:
There is so much I want to tell you, Sarah from months ago, Sarah from one, two years ago.
I want to tell you, it is ok that you could not grieve because you had to parent, because you had to manage so many life changes at one time.
I want to tell you to be gentle with yourself.
That this is so hard and heavy, and I see your pain.
I want you to know that it is so heavy for a reason.
That the pain is designed to be heavy—to become unbearable—because that is what makes us realize we were never meant to heal alone.
That the only way to release it is to join hands with others and form a circle around it. To lift it up into the sky together.
Then it will become buoyant and light. It will disintegrate before your eyes.
Today I officially became a member of my community’s Unitarian Universalist church. It is the first time I can say wholeheartedly that I feel spiritually at home with a people, a congregation, a larger community. It is wonderful.
The road to this day was both immensely painful and at the same time full of more grace than I’ve ever experienced. I joined shortly after having a miscarriage, and still on the heels of the loss of my mom.
As I was thinking about how to even begin to describe this journey, a flow chart idea popped into my head. So I started doodling and diagraming. I’m going to share it tomorrow and plan to blog about it all week. I invite you to share your own stories (or diagrams!) too.
Until then, a moment to savor the fruits of much hard inner work. There was a time when faith alone that this too shall pass was all I held onto. It felt impossible. It wasn’t, and it did pass, and only makes the joy in my heart today that much sweeter.
The last few weeks I’ve found myself fantasizing about what it would be like to have my mom around. I doubt this is healthy, but it goes like this: I envision her showing up and going to work. She would get my kitchen really clean—sparkling, lemon-fresh clean. She would brush my daughter’s hair, patiently untangling it. She would spoil her only granddaughter with a special Valentine’s Day dress (something that I wouldn’t have the energy or time to consider buying). Even though I would say to her, mom you shouldn’t have, she would reply, That is what grandmothers are for.
She would treat me to lunch, just the two of us. She would spoil me by footing the bill for a pretty new dress or shirt, just because. I would say, you don’t need to do this. And she would reply, I know, but I want to. And she would mean it.
Lovely as this dream is, it is not reality.
I’ve been lonely for family lately. In addition to my mom being gone, the rest of my alive-and-well-family feels really far away. There is a literal distance of over 1,000 miles. Sometimes that is not a big deal. We Facetime, we talk, and we see each other pretty frequently despite the distance. But it doesn’t replace having grandma down the road. Our far-away family can’t swoop in to babysit if an unexpected emergency comes up.
We know that we need a nearby, substitute family. We are working hard to build our village. Our list of sitters is slowly growing and we are forcing ourselves to forge connections with as many families and friends in our neighborhood as we can.
I see this community as providing patches to a well-loved quilt that currently has some holes in it.
Even though I might not like the fact that big, important pieces are missing from my quilt, it doesn’t mean I can’t try to patch it up, to blend old with new.
To be certain, there is no patch or series of patches that will repair the empty space that was held by my mother. That is not possible. I see the new patches to the old quilt as being like those in a crazy quilt. You know, those folk-art type quilts that are sewn together with irregular shapes and sizes and using unique patterns and materials. (Hey, the name fits too. All families are a little crazy, right?!)
I’ve always liked the eclectic look of crazy quilts. There is beauty in its imperfection.
Which is not to say that I always fully embrace the new. Fantasies about my mom come from a place of resentment. For the fact that there are holes in the fabric of my family. For the fact that clinging to my old quilt just doesn’t work anymore.
The problem is that fantasies never accurately reflect what was or what could have been.
Let’s be honest: If my mom were alive and well, reality would look a little different than the fantasy I described. For one thing, I’d likely be frantically cleaning before she arrived to my house (in order to save face, of course). And while yes, my mom would comb my daughter’s hair, she would likely also raise my ire by asking, “Don’t you ever comb this rat’s nest?!”
While it is very likely we would have lunch just the two of us, it’s also likely that when she would lean over to pass me the bread she would also tuck my hair behind my ear, commenting for the fifteenth-thousandth time that I should “Just pull my hair back so everyone can see my eyes!”
Imagining this revised scene makes me laugh and helps to slay some of the victim-hood.
It reminds me that there is no perfect quilt. Well-loved quilts always have a few frays.