I’ve had a huge amount of
crap healing work surface this past week. The kind of stuff that a year from now I will look back on and muse, that was so powerful and worth every painful moment. But when you are living it? Total and utter bologna.
In fact, I have decided 2016 has largely been a very difficult year and I’m quite ready to ring in 2017 thankyouverymuch.
Let me list the reasons why 2016 royally sucked:
- Miscarriage (for a pregnancy due on the day my mom died….ouch.)
- Continued grief for loss of my mother and ripple effects from that loss
- Gawker went under (this was a big one)
- Trump was elected president
- and, saving the best for last, a ton of unexpected childhood trauma healing work. (Ok, maybe not totally unexpected. I decided to break my silence and share my story publicly for the first time, which meant that ten people who read my blog saw it, but trust me even that was a huge huge deal for me. So let’s just say the gates had cracked open a bit.)
Now, since I’m an optimist and someone who makes an effort to choose hope, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I could easily list all the beautiful transformations that occurred this past year. A list that is longer than that craptastic list. But for today, I want to wallow a little.
So wallow I will. Stomp my foot and raise a fist to injustices. Grrrr!!
Oh, but the point of this post (other than a little bit of poor me) was to tell you about my dreams I had this past week. They are little sign posts keeping me going.
The first dream was about a week ago. In the dream I was giving birth and up until this point in the dream the whole process had been so effortless–dare I say easy and painless? (clearly this is a dream)–but suddenly in the dream I felt stalled, and I knew that I was going to have to make one final push, and endure some pain, to give birth.
WELL I’M PUSHING NOW AND IT DEFINITELY HURTS.
And then last night, a dream where I am in a high school type of science classroom. We were all at seats with a microscope. Our instructions were to inject ourselves with some type of shot and then we were to examine the wound under the microscope.
I was reluctant to do the shot to the arm because I was afraid it would hurt, but it didn’t! And then I examined the wound up close. It was fascinating.
So hear we are. Enduring some pain, examining old wounds. Fun times.
But boy, (metaphorical) birth is close, I can feel it.
Last Friday I returned to my home-state of Michigan to attend my 20th high school reunion. I flew out of SW Florida as the hurricane was approaching Daytona Beach and watched news coverage from the airport. If you looked outside of its floor to ceiling windows you would have seen less wind and rain than a typical day during our rainy season, which is just wrapping up here.
Now I am back in Florida, back at my computer with cold Cuban coffee and listening to one of my favorite Detroit radio stations online, a station I was stunned to discover is still broadcasting (and as awesome as ever!). I listened to it while driving my made-in-Detroit rental car north on U.S. 23, fighting the familiar traffic that flees north on weekends, all while soaking in the beauty of a Michigan fall day with its grey clouds, blue sky, and bright sun peaking through to light up trees that were just starting to turn yellow and red.
So much filled me with joy this weekend. Seeing friends who knew before I could read or write. Friends who saw me exactly for who I was in the way that only five-year-olds can. We swapped stories. We mused about what ever happened to this person or that who moved away in elementary school never to be heard from again. We tried to remember the name of our elementary school secretary (she was very much called a secretary then), and then finally remembered. (It was Dorothy.)
The weekend closed with me sitting in a Detroit terminal eating a coney dog and Better Made chips, reading a copy of the Freep, the Detroit paper. I took a picture of these objects, that is how happy I was to have them in front of me. The only way to top it would have been to wash it all down with a Vernors pop. (And yes it is pop, not soda.)
There are other things I want to write about but can only do so in my journal. As I stood with a friend who has known me since I was five we nodded heads talking about how hard and complicated home can get when you are very much a grown adult. I thought about this as I stood in the local neighborhood market, staring at the back entrance where it used to house rental VHS cassettes, and then possibly DVDS, swapped now for shelves that sell craft beer. The butcher department still smelled of fish but strangers walked the small, neat aisles.
As I drove south to the Detroit airport for my return flight, I found myself glancing at the Michigan highway ditches, half-expecting to see egrets hunting for fish instead of the goldenrods that were in bloom. Now I am home. Florida-home. Discussing the hurricane that has passed. Eating leftover take-out Caribbean food. But I am listening to the Detroit radio station, now available online, still as awesome as ever. And it turns out that U.S. 23, the road that leads to home in mid-Michigan, also goes all the way south to Florida, too.
The other day Facebook popped up a photo for me to share from three years ago. The photo was taken two months before my mom died.
Look at this baby! I thought. Oh, and my toddler has grown a lot in the meantime too.
I look at this younger, much more innocent version of myself and think, honey, hold on. You have a wild ride ahead of you.
A wild-ride indeed. I’ve grown up. While the hard-fought life lessons may have come from circumstances I would never have asked for, I am grateful for where I have arrived. Grief cracked open my heart. (And gave me gray hairs, but that is beside the point.)
I feel like I’m coming into my own and damn does it feel good. I’m almost forty and I couldn’t be happier. It is like when I approached thirty–I was ready to say good riddance to my twenties. Well, same now.
I feel like I am in my prime.
Oh, how my twenty-two year old self would have laughed at that!
Not surprisingly, standing in these nearly-over-the-hill shoes brings new perspective. I realized the other day that I am only five years younger than my mom was when she was diagnosed with the big C.
Womp, womp. Way to burst the happy bubble right?
Realizing this has given me even more gratitude AND made me appreciate my mom in new ways. I remember her at that age and she seemed so…WISE. Grounded. She knew who she was.
And damn, she had a fantastic wardrobe. I know that sounds funny but the woman set the bar HIGH. It is seriously time to up my game.
I would write more but my three-year-old is plucking leaves off a succulent plant. My husband is trying to convince her to ride her tricycle but now she has decided to roll the giant watermelon we bought yesterday. That would be my clue to wrap things up.
Life is good. But I also have a feeling when I’m staring down fifty, I will laugh and think, oh my little Sarah, how you have GROWN!
They were slim and satin. She kept them next to her bed, or on cold days next to the heat vent. When we went Christmas shopping together, in between buying gifts for others she would stop by the racks of ladies’ slippers at Hudson’s Department store. This was a long time ago, before it became Macy’s. She would pick them out for herself and then wrap them with all the other presents, feigning surprise when she opened them on Christmas.
They were usually white or ivory, sometimes made of cotton or terry cloth, but always Isotoner Signature Women’s ballerina with the suede sole. In the later years she wore a white satin pair that would turn to gray, despite my father’s efforts to keep them white. (Nobody could do laundry like my mother. It was an art and science. Without her at the helm, we no longer had special containers going at all times dedicated to pre-soaks and stain removal.)
Her feet changed in these slippers. From strong and fast to warped and curled.
She carried the slippers with her hot tea and settled into them both at the end of a long day spent tending to others. She would tuck her feet under her legs, her legs under an afghan. I can see her, scooting over on the couch, a small sweet in her hand (chocolate or perhaps a cookie she unearthed from the freezer). She would look at me and say, Oh honey let me make some room for you. (As though her tall slender body was taking up too much space.) And after I joined her on the couch, she would tuck in my feet under the blanket, too.
When she died, my sister took possession of mom’s slippers. I was relieved. I could not bear to see them, but it made me glad to know my mother’s slippers were still tending to toes, once again keeping strong feet warm under a blanket.
The first dream was two weeks ago:
I am in a bus. We are nearing the place that is in the snowy hill; it is beautiful out. I look up and see these huge white cranes, morphing, dancing in the sky. I point and tell everyone but nobody seems to see them.
The second dream quickly followed the first:
I am pregnant. My mom is with me. I start to have contractions and tell her I want to give birth at home….In the end I realize I am only three months along and I am not giving birth, and yet it is like I am, which confuses me. My mom was so willing to help and was ready to be a midwife and a doula for me. At the end dream I talk about making sure I have pads that are sanitary, whatever that means.
The dreams initially confused me. On the one hand both felt joyful on some level. In particular, the dream with mom was so vivid that she seemed alive and fully present by my side. But the dreams also left me unsettled.
Now I know why.
The dreams foretold my miscarriage.
This pregnancy felt surreal from the beginning. After unsuccessfully trying to conceive for over a year I decided to begin acupuncture treatments for infertility. Within two months of treatments I suddenly found myself pregnant. I was elated but also a bit stunned. Could it be this easy?
The pregnancy came easily but physically didn’t feel right. The first few weeks were punctuated by spotting and occasional bleeding. Then, at seven weeks I ended up in the ER with bleeding. Late that night I found myself in a small dark room with an ultrasound tech. She found a heartbeat! But she also said the baby was measuring really small. Was I sure of the date of my last menstrual cycle? I was. Although I was skeptical that I had the dates wrong, I didn’t think much of it.
I was sent home with good news—good blood test results and a good ultrasound, albeit a due date that was later than I thought.
Not even a week later I had the two dreams. And then suddenly, no dreams. No dreams about baby. No dreams about motherhood. I felt uneasy. Why was I so full of energy? It shouldn’t be this easy, should it? I mentioned this to my therapist when I saw her. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. She tells me that the other shoe doesn’t always drop.
Except when it does.
Several days ago I sat in another dark ultrasound room. My husband chatted with the tech as I watched the screen, noting the tech pause and click, pause and click, silently enlarging images. And I knew. I saw the tiny, curled still image and I knew there was no heartbeat.
The technician clasped my hand.
“I’m so sorry honey. It looks like the baby stopped growing about two weeks ago.”
Two weeks ago, when I had my dreams.
The crane dream, so beautiful. Could it symbolize my child being released from my womb, entering the spirit realm? (Come to find out, in many traditions cranes symbolize travel between realms and are thought to be carriers of souls.)
And then the dream with my mother. Alive by my side as a midwife and doula. Supporting me and guiding me through the miscarriage. The need for “sanitation” now clear—sanitary pads as I began to lose the pregnancy.
Immediately after the dreams I felt a deep malaise that I now recognize as sadness from the pregnancy loss. This “knowing” before consciously knowing about the miscarriage has helped me cope. It feels like I have already processed the loss on some level, because I have.
I decided to experience the miscarriage naturally rather than undergo a procedure, but I suppose my dream already predicted that. As I lose tissue and blood, I feel my mom’s spirit by my side as midwife and doula and I find solace in the image of my tiny baby’s spirit dancing in the sky with the cranes. The dreams have healed me and made this dark passage a little less difficult than it could have been.
Artwork my own – inspired by the dream. Full image can be viewed here (since wordpress cuts it off!).
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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.
Still, I miss her. Flaws and all.
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Last night I found this list tucked away in my journal:
- time alone.
It took me a moment to realize what I was looking at. Then I remembered it was from a journaling workshop I participated in before Christmas.
The question that was asked on the call was:
What is essential to your self-care?
Ah, yes. The universe is wise. I wrote that list two months ago not knowing I would need to see it again yesterday. And there it was, tucked away in my journal. An unwrapped fortune written for my future-self, by my past-self.
I needed this self-care reminder today because the last several weeks have been hard. I’ll spare the details right now, but anyone who runs a household that includes a small child plus two parents who work full-time will understand how easily routines can be thrown into disarray by illness and other unexpected events. Why, even my last blog post was about this exact issue.
Which brings me back to the list of essentials.
What is essential to your self-care?
I don’t easily abandon my writing time, and I certainly had good reason for doing it the last few weeks. (Namely, the first item on the list: SLEEP). But as days dragged on to weeks, it became clear to me that sleep alone is not enough for my self-care.
Why is that the case? Writing is not a mere joy (though it often is) but more like the anchor that keeps me grounded. I’ll defer to Flannery O’Connor who said it best:
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor
Yes Flannery, exactly! Without my time for writing I don’t have a full grasp on all the thoughts rattling around in my head. I get twitchy. Off balance.
This morning, I woke up before everyone else and I sat down and wrote. It felt so good. And, it doesn’t hurt that writing time is also time alone with myself, the third item on my list.
Just call it the introvert’s guide to self-care: sleep, writing, and time alone.
(I’m a blast at parties! No, really—as long as they are small intimate affairs where I don’t have to talk to strangers.)
What’s on your self-care essential list, friends and fellow bloggers? Something tells me your list might include writing-time, too.