Dear mom

It’s been five years since we said goodbye, but even that phrase “goodbye” doesn’t seem exactly right. We talk all the time. You flood my YouTube feed with Mormon Tabernacle Choir music, and when I ignore you, you up the ante by sending a Mormon tabernacle choir rendition of ABBA’s Dancing Queen. Yeah you knew I’d click it and I did and about died of laughter watching it. Why am I not surprised you’d be pulling off goofy antics even from heaven?

I mean seriously a bell choir is performing ABBA. It’s amazing 😂

You’d be thrilled I took the day off work to grieve/celebrate YOU…and to make some art while rocking out to music. (Don’t worry, I’m not only listening to new wave. I’ll throw some Linda Ronstandt and Streisand in rotation too.)

Mom and me.

We’ll be having a slice of chocolate cake tonight to celebrate your life. Zoey says you get some too, and she’s pretty sure you can eat as much as you want in heaven without getting a belly ache! I bet she’s right. We love you. Keep a listen for the sound of bells….we might put on some tabernacle jams in your honor.

Love,

Sarah Joy

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The heart wants what it wants

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.

Sunrise, sunset! Wherein I (quietly) proclaim the genius of lesson #3

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.

Memes, Pain, and Truth: I. You must let  the pain  visit.  2. You must allow  it to teach you  3. You must not  allow it to overstay.  Ijeoma Umebinyuo  three routes to healing Truth from @thisspirituallife

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. 

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A song for my mother, a year later

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. love-grow-serve

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 weekI 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. 

A list of 20 things I am grateful for from the hell that was 2016

2016 WENT LOW BUT WE WILL GO HIGH!

Yesterday I started a list lessons from the little bastard teacher that was 2016.

Numbers #1-10 were posted yesterday.(My spirited child hindered efforts to finish this in one fell swoop.)

And now, I present #11 – #20.16, Lessons, gifts, and gratitudes (is that a word?) from 2016:

#11. SWEATY PALMS. Lot’s of sweaty palm moments. I’m not talking about gratitude for my generalized anxiety (though I do have lot’s of love for Paxil….) No, I’m grateful for all the SWEATY PALM moments that seemed to culminate in Summer-Fall 2016. Those scary but good moments when I pushed a lil’ bit outside my comfort zone with people I trust to support me. That’s right, I decided to share my writing publicly not just with strangers but with people who know me. (!!!) I started by sharing  a piece I wrote about my grief and healing journey. It discusses fun topics like the loss of my mother and miscarriage!  The reception I got from family and friends was incredible. This paved the way for me to write and share some other pieces – see item #20.16.

#12. A greater appreciation for family in all shapes and forms. I miss my mom. I miss my extended family that lives 1200 miles away. But it makes me savor the moments I do share with them that much more.

#13.Peppa Pig— because without her I could not be writing right now. As my husband says, turn on the child pacification device!

#14. Loving my kick-ass body. The year started off really crummy – I had a miscarriage. And what I did not expect about this experience was how hard it would be on my body image. Every ounce of extra fat reminded me of the fact that my body had been pregnant…and lost a pregnancy. I wanted all reminders gone (as though that would magically make it all better). Well, I finally decided to change the script. I’m not saying it was always sunshine and roses but little by little I have morphed the ways that I view my body. I started swimming and found myself in a flow experience a lot of the time. And now that pool temps have dropped I have started running. I used to hate running. Now I love – and I mean love- the feel of my thick muscular legs, my strong arms pumping, the wind in my hair. I don’t look remotely like I did at the start of 2015 but dare I say I am in awe of this bigger, stronger body?

#15. It’s getting a little serious on this list. I am grateful for ambient music even though it won’t put my kid to sleep. I am grateful for dark chocolate even though it kept my kid up very, very late. My child’s refusal to sleep came up again and again and again. BUT GUESS WHAT. We have instituted new routines and last night my child was down, in bed and left to her own devices to sleep in 20 minutes flat. <—- CoNTACT the PONTIFF cuz THAT THERE IS A MIRACLE!

#16. Sharing my healing journey with Sound of Music gifs.Because if you can laugh instead of crying, or heck, even while you are crying, it makes it all a little bit better.

# 17. Slinkies.Apparently the cheaper and simpler the toy the more it keeps my kid entertained. (And the plastic kind doesn’t bend and warp like those old metal ones we had did! Brilliant. And it comes in rainbow colors. Hoo-ya!)

# 18. Blogging friends. Which are simply friends in my book. Thank you, dear readers and fellow bloggers, who have supported my writing and my journey. I am beyond thankful. (Also, you need to read these blogs asap: One Blue Sail, Plainmama, Dana Schwartz-Writing at the Table , Kimberly Harding Soul Healing Art, 20-20 Spiritual Vision and more I’m sure I’m forgetting. 

# 19. Coffee. I stopped drinking it for a cleanse and I subsequently wrote about it nearly every. single. day. that i was without it. Coffee, my dear friend, I love you. And clearly I cannot live without you.

# 20. Peppa pig playing in one continuous loop in Amazon video streaming. Bless Peppa for still keeping my kid entertained so I can write.( Also, factoid, did you know the Brits pronounce “Zebra” as “Zeh-bra”?!)

and. . .because I am a dork who wanted 20.16 items, here is 

item # .16!

#20.16 This number is tiny,  which is perfect because I am only .16 grateful for this one. I’m grateful for the awakening that has resulted from Trump’s election. See, I didn’t say I was grateful FOR Trump, that would be going a tad too far. Here’s the deal. Trump’s blatant misogyny–seeing patriarchy laid bare–compelled me to break my own silence of surviving sexual trauma. It has compelled me and so many others, too. I am hopeful that the pain of this election will lead to an awakening and a stirring of voices who have remained silent for too long. Or who have been silenced for too long. Change starts with ME.  

That about sums it up. Tonight, join me in dancing on the ashes of the fire monkey year from hell.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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A list of 20.16 gifts from the year 2016. No for real, I’m done bashing 2016. (For the moment.)

I have decided to take the high road with 2016. I’m done whining. Here is my attempt to make peace with the worst year ever.*

20.16 lessons and gifts from 2016

[amended: this is only parts 1-10 because my kid is mixing paints and that spells trouble.]
  1. A YEAR of this blog!

  2. Discovering the show “Jane the Virgin.” (A true blessing indeed.) yiyjlx05aq0fo

  3. Continued health for myself, my husband and daughter. (Wow, that is a big one. Probably should have put this before Jane the Virgin.)

  4. My husband watching my daughter so I can write right now, which involves keeping her and her toy drill out of trouble. It is much harder than it sounds.

  5. ALL OF YOU READING THIS. Because for real, the greatest joy is when people care about what you write and then, to blow your mind even more, care about you the human too. Which you do. Which is freaking amazing.

  6. Rediscovering my artistic passions and painting lot’s and lot’s of birds.

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#Hope. I found myself doodling the word the other day. And then today I painted 🎨this woodpecker who is chiseling the word into a tree. Sometimes we need to spell it out, engrave it into a tree, tattoo it on our heart. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well. 🌟🌟🌟 Coincidentally (or maybe not at all), it turns out that 'hope' is the theme of the first week of #advent. A gentle reminder to light a candle🕯and await our own reawakening that follows the darkness. #artistsforlove #watercolor #birdsofinstagram #inspiration #watercolorsketch #artistsoninstagram #sketchbook #sketchaday #woodpecker #nature #writersofinstagram #blogger #writeeveryday #unitarianuniversalist #spiritual #spirituality #julianofnorwich

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7. Singing in my church choir with the greatest bunch of people you could ever meet. I am surrounded by wise, loving elders who cheer me on and lift me up. I LOVE IT.

8. My husband who is still entertaining a child who is now trying to make potions out of toothpaste and dear god I think I’m going to have to split this into two posts.

9. Using my writing to heal.

10. Muddling through the year with tears and laughter– including surrounding myself with Peter Gabriel hugs, by taking cathartic swims, swinging from palm fronds, and leaning on the kindness of strangers like Jeanine.

Items 11 through 20.16 will come tomorrow because my kid is causing ruckus!  

*but also I can’t wait to burn this list. Come Saturday night I’m doing a ritual I just learned about. I will write on slips of paper all the things from the past year I want to leave behind. And then I will burn the papers. (My favorite part!) And then I will write on slips of paper what my intentions are for 2017. I will put them in an envelope that I can open in six months or so to see where I’m at. I’m told my mind will be blown.]

The Pine Tree (But it’s Not About the Tree)

The neighbor’s pine tree was removed today. It stood several inches away from our property line. But it felt like my tree.

The large crew of workers cheered when the tree came crashing down but I stood and cried. Oh I had plans, all internal mind you, to talk to our neighbors about my their tree. They told my husband they were planning to remove it because it was too messy. I was going to tell them about the woodpecker that lived in the tree. I tried to imagine their faces when I told them to save the tree for the birds, and well, I kept avoiding the conversation. And now my tree was gone, rolled away in an orderly pile of mulch.

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The pine tree that is no more. It is the tree pictured behind the bird feeder. Sniff.

Why am I fretting so much about the tree? It’s not the tree. I know this even though all I want to do is rant about the tree. No, I am crying for all the damn pine trees that have fallen in my life without my permission, disrupting the peace of my birds, leaving me helpless to fix. As if there was ever any fixing to be done in the first place!

Instead I will go for a run. I will drink a cup of hot tea even though I want coffee, because goodness knows more coffee will only make my heart quicken and I don’t need that.

I will fold laundry. I will pick up messes. I will write–first a dark poem about my tree on my private blog nobody knows exists (I will spare you the poem) and then this post. I will yell at the beagles when they find half a churro in my purse, and this sentence alone will make me laugh out loud for the first time since the tree was felled. Then I will chuck the churro away in the trash when I discover it is covered in ants (alas, I do live in Florida after all). Finally, one problem I can fix.

I will put away some dishes. I will drink more tea and keep avoiding coffee. I will let myself cry at the bright sun pouring down on grass where a tree once stood even though I know it’s not about the tree.

A year later: broken open but not broken

I started this blog a little more than a year ago and so much has changed in that time.

I thought about this earlier this week as I rolled a pie crust, dancing to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, belting out old standards that my mom loved. I felt so much joy. This was possibly the first holiday that wasn’t overshadowed by grief. Yes, my mom popped in my head often but it was met more often with smiles than tears. I know she would love my crooning to Lush Life, the same song she belted out when playing the Linda Ronstadt record. And certainly, there were moments of sadness and longing this holiday (this is inevitable, you can’t ignore the empty chair at the table) but overall I felt more peace this year.

And it’s fair to say I feel more rooted than in November 2015. A few days ago I walked the dogs in nearby pine brush woods, collecting tropical flowers, palm fronds and scarlet berries to make a homemade flower bouquet. This act now feels normal. Routine. Familiar even. This landscape of my life–both literal and figurative–that shifted so dramatically beneath my feet three years ago now feels like home. 

I recently heard a moving interview with the poet/philosopher/spiritual writer Mark Nepo and he talked about how humans are unique animals because we can experience multiple metamorphoses. Periods of darkness that take us into a cocoon, often several times in the span of a liftime, and if we choose to we can emerge from these periods anew–with new wings, new eyes, new colors and stripes. 

Twice I have entered this cocoon. The first in my early twenties. My second unfolding occurred with your help, dear readers.

I started this blog steeped in grief, and along the way suffered an additional loss–a miscarriage–that came close to breaking me. Instead, it broke me open. What a gift. I am grateful for it all, the darkness of the cocoon and the light that shines on newly spread wings. Many blessings to you and your family this holiday. I’m certain the best is yet to come.

 

 

Choosing to Dance: My Mother’s Breast Cancer Story

My mom was 43 years old the day that she listened to the voice. Five years older than I am as I type this.

She listened and so she lived. To see graduations, birthdays, weddings, births. To adopt new identities: Mother-in-Law, Great-Aunt, and yes, even Grandmother.

When my mother paused in the kitchen that day to listen, perhaps with her hand resting on the counter near the neat pile of bills and school flyers, her tea nearby cooling, she heard a voice tell her to check her left breast. Immediately. 

She did. Her world fell apart. A lump. Cancer. The mother of all cancers, stage 4. She powered through. Surgeries. An experimental stem-cell transplant. It was living hell. And yet she seemed to always find the humor in the midst of the horror. When cancer came back in the form of a brain tumor, she later would quip that “brain surgery was a breeze!” (and she meant it).

One day when getting cash from the ATM, her wig flew off and danced across the parking lot. She calmly walked over, retrieved it and placed it back on her head, not missing a beat.
“I could laugh or cry, but I would rather laugh,” she said.

My mother learned in the hardest way possible the importance of intimately knowing the map of your own body. She’d been diligent about annual mammograms. The year she found the lump, her most recent mammogram screening showed no irregularities. Of course, this was before the use of ultrasound and MRI screenings for high-risk patients, before testing for genetic mutations.

She would later confess that she avoided doing monthly self-exams. I was afraid of finding something, she told me. She understood the absurdity of this, but fear holds a strong grip. When she was twelve years old she saw her mother die of breast cancer. Her fear was a real one.

(I think she would want you to know that the voice she heard that day in the kitchen, it was her late mother speaking. It was my mother’s voice, she said. My mother told me to immediately check my left breast.)

Today I share my mom’s story because she cannot. She passed away in 2013.

Her story is this: my mother faced her largest fear—of finding cancer with her own hands. She chose to listen to quiet, loving voice that ultimately saved her life.  While the costs were often great (so many sacrifices were made, of body and mind and spirit) she was able to celebrate nearly two more decades of birthdays. Of wedding anniversaries.

My mom was famous for starting conga lines at parties. Her life was a lesson in choosing to dance no matter the music that is playingcelebratory or sad, bleak or hopeful. She taught me that even when there are detours to dark and scary places, if you follow your heart, it will not lead you astray. It might even extend the dance.


Let’s connect! I’d love to hear from you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

 

Squirrels, diiiiiings and a cause for celebration! 

Today has been melancholy. Blah. So MONDAY-ish. Maybe it was the return to work after a great day at the beach with dear friends who were visiting from out-of-state. Maybe it was the post-deathversary-grief. (Grief, after all, is the gift that keeps on giving.) Maybe it was that first thing this morning what did I see but the darn tootin’ squirrel scaling my bird feeder. (Well, I showed him. I sprayed more PAM on the pole. Yes, cooking spray. Try to scale that pole now buddy.)

So yeah. Bummer-ville today. But then this afternoon I hear my favorite little diiiiiiinnnnng –that is the noise on my phone when someone likes a post on my blog! It is like a warm-fuzzy snuggle-hug every time I hear it!

It turns out that WordPress was notifying me for a different reason–this popped up!


IT IS MY SECOND WORDPRESS ANNIVERSARY! Ok where is my cotton you guys??

TWO YEARS. Ahh the memories. But wait–I’ve only been posting since November 18th, 2015. What gives?

Remember how I told the story about how on the first deathversary I went to a beach and waxed poetic and got bit by bugs and angry at life and then had an epiphony that I should start this blog?? That day was two years ago to this day! I hit publish – but the blog was secret so nobody saw it.

I continued to write privately for one full year. 

And then, last November...I published it. It took one year plus exactly TWO more months. Baby steps!

Anyway, I love that now on the day after the anniversary of my mom’s passing I have a wordpressversary to ding and cheer me up. 

Thanks for reading, friends. For all the dinnnngs and comments and love. 

~Sarah