how are you, today?

IMG_5613

Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to ask people in mourning, “How are you, today?” By emphasizing today, we acknowledge the bumpy nature of grief.

Sometimes, I think, asking, “How are you, right now…in this very moment?” may be even more appropriate because one minute you are fine washing the dishes, thinking to yourself about the awkward but funny comment your child made earlier (maybe you should stop referring to private parts by their correct names), and the next, you find yourself in a puddle of your own creation wondering what on earth to do next.

It has been three weeks since my mom died of metastatic breast cancer. Three weeks wrapped up in what feels simultaneously like 24 hours and 3 months. I knew this time would come and often wondered what it would feel like when it did. In the time forever marked as after. That picture was taken after my mom died. That was the kids’ first birthday after we lost her. 

The further I get away from her death, the more I feel like I am leaving the precious and intimately sacred space where time stands still and you are entitled, expected and even encouraged to be all consumed by the enormity of the loss. Friends and family wrap you up in a warm and protective cocoon. Thank God for that cocoon.

But time soldiers on. And eventually, you have to emerge leaving the safe and nourishing shelter as a completely different creature than the the one you were before you started the unwelcome but necessary journey.

You are a changed being now. You will never be the same. You start to acclimate slowly. You return home or the people you love go home. Work, school, plans, and chores resume and sometimes the familiarity is comforting and sometimes it just feels wrong. No, no, no this can’t be, I can’t be laughing and talking about Halloween costumes, my mother just died! In her house! And we were there. And it was intense and beautiful and heartbreaking but beautiful. Sometimes. Sometimes it was and is just plain sad.

I have been creating quiet, restful moments during the day. Grief requires this. And these are the moments when I relish the relationship my mom and I built and revel in the one we are still building.

As Thomas Merton said, “Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would be unheard.”

In this fruitful silence, I notice one palm tree swaying to it’s own breezy music while all of the other trees stand still. I hear the peck on the glass and turn to see a yellow finch trying to fly through the window. I am comforted, soothed.

Sometimes I talk to her out loud. Or I’ll say something to my kids that sounds just like her. Like the other day, as my son played piano in the dark, I walked into the room, flipped on the light switch and said, “A little light on the subject?”  How many times over the years did I hear her utter that expression? I love her expressions with their touch of humor and reliability.

As I feel the presence of my mom, I also feel more and more like her. And I remember the times when she would laugh and say to no one in particular, “I sound just like my mother”. Her mother, my grandmother, Nana, whom I also adored, still adore, and miss.

This week, my oldest turned 11 and my youngest daughter turned two. Our silly and sassy little caboose with brown hair, brown eyes, and a killer grin makes everyone in the room smile. Just like her grandma did.

When my brother said the day after my mom’s service that he knew he would be o.k., my sunny friend Derek enthusiastically said something to the effect of, “Well that is something!” And it is. Because sometimes it is enough to know that we are growing in the right direction. That in this moment, no matter how bumpy and how much we ache for the people we love, we know they are o.k, and ultimately, we will be too.

 

Advertisements

i can just tell

IMG_5366

photo by Phoebe

Dear Blog, it has been four weeks since my last post. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been four weeks since my last confession. As a kid, I was always majorly intrigued by confessional scenes in movies like the one in Flashdance! The dimly lit space I imagine smelling like Frankincense, the mysterious presence behind the partition, the downtrodden expression on the confessor. Dancing, welding, confessionals, leg warmers, hot dogs. For some reason, I recall hot dogs, am I right about this? And the ice skater friend with the sweaty boyfriend and the pervy father. What a movie!

My current state of mind in this particular moment is supremely grateful for my friends, my husband and kids, my mother-in-law, our various babysitters, my siblings, my aunt and uncle who live near my mom, my mom’s friends, her caretakers and nurses, and the random stranger angels that the universe has kindly thrown my way. Like the one at the airport who saw me with the most loving and knowing expression in her moon shaped, chestnut colored eyes. I was alone with my three kids standing on line to get a boarding pass for my “lap child”, sobbing. After saying goodbye to my sweet mom and one of my closest and best friends who came to spend a couple of days with us, I was in bad shape. Always in airports.

This friend who came a visiting, asked if she could do anything to help while we stood talking in the kitchen. Well, there is one thing. I told her she could take my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, Betty, to the vet to have her anal glands expressed. She had been scooting on the floor and her bottom was clearly in need of attention. A google search informed me that this is not something human beings have to worry about, fortunately.

But the visual of my friend backing out of my mom’s driveway with my 7-year-old daughter in the back and the dog in need of anal expression riding shotgun, is a vision I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the look on her face when I told her I would need to get her prepared for the appointment with gloves and goggles. Fortunately, that was a joke. But talk about angels, she is the real deal, that Sal and I love her very much.

When I got up to the ticketing counter, the woman with the kind eyes, said, “I know how you feel, I haven’t seen my mom in two years.”  When I asked her how she knew that I was crying over my mother, she softly said, “I can just tell.”

Angles of all sorts are getting me through this time. Especially in airports. Must have something to do with wings and flying. But I take great comfort in knowing that when life is hard, we are never truly alone. And that we are supported by seen and unseen forces. I believe we are very much loved, appreciated and divinely guided.

And every glance, text, email, voice mail, hug, gesture, card, shared meal, walk, are the bones that hold us up. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We belong to each other.”  We really do. I can just tell.

 

prayer; dear some something

james-douglas-730photo by James Douglas

Prayer. When I was little, I prayed. But it was really more of an OCD. My own version of If I die before I wake…was an anxious plea to keep myself, family and friends safe, healthy, happy, and alive. If I didn’t perform this prayer the same way every single night, right after closing my eyes but before drifting off to sleep, I feared something bad would happen.

Unfortunately, something bad happens whether you pray or don’t, have an OCD or not.

I never learned how to pray. And I didn’t know whom or what I was praying to exactly.

But I did it anyway. It soothed me and felt essential in some curious way.

I didn’t see my parents pray. If they did, it was personal and discreet, perhaps it was something done at night or first thing in the morning behind closed doors.

When I was younger and heard someone say, “I’ll pray for you”, it sounded like an insult. But, “You are in my prayers”, sounded more inclusive, gentler and not so judgemental.

Tosha Silver in her exquisitely beautiful book, Outrageous Openness, seems to echo this sentiment when she writes that worrying about someone is the worst energy we can send them (and ourselves). She writes, “It’s simple instead to learn to send blessings as soon as worry begins. Just hold the person in your mind filled with light and happiness, see them peaceful and content. Do it day after day. That’s the single most useful gift you can mentally offer anyone you love.”

I also read somewhere that while meditation (and or stillness and silence) is listening to the divine, prayer is talking to the divine. To be in a relationship requires both; talking and listening, giving and receiving.

But every dawn of every new day, my definition of prayer expands. It is deeper, wider and more forgiving. The particulars are irrelevant. All that matters is that I do it. Prayer to me is inviting sacred meaning into my day.

And now when I think back to my dad admiring the desert sunset with a gin and tonic in hand, swaths of orange and purple sky embracing him, I see him in prayer. My mom, on the beach, sitting in her chair, toes in the sand, drinking up the sunshine as waves play and roll around in the background, feels like prayer. A positive intention, a wish on behalf of a loved one or stranger can also be prayer. Singing Happy Birthday around a cake lit with the soft glow of candles and smiling faces, prayer. Art, prayer. Walking for charity, collective prayer. Writing this blog, prayer.

While reading the book Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, I loved the visual she offers of imagining a bottle of vinegar and oil. When we pray, her friend Geri says, “pour out the vinegar first – the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh, and jangling your nerves or spirit.” I am worried, scared, sad. 

And then what you find underneath is golden. There, lies the oil. There, the divine is working. There, we are not alone. Please give me strength. Please provide comfort and peace to those I love.

We get to bring our whole selves to prayer. We are honest and naked in prayer with nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers. We pray when we or others are in need. We pray to give thanks. We pray when we are standing in the midst of sacred awe.  And sometimes we pray simply because we don’t know what else to do.

“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge, that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself up to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, “Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going. I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.”

“These prayers acknowledge that I am clueless but something else isn’t. While I am not going to go limp, I am asking for the willingness to step into truth.”

Prayer is said to be powerful. I used to think that meant powerful as in the realm of magic and miracles, powerful. And while that might be true, prayer is also powerful because of what it does to the person praying.

In a recent article in Outdoor Magazine, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg writes about his research on prayer. “Newberg found that prayer allowed his subjects to more ­quickly and ­efficiently achieve flow, that coveted state of mind most commonly described as being ‘in the zone.’ During flow, a cascade of neurochemicals descend into the brain, including dopamine (which regulates pleasure), serotonin (which reduces stress), and norepinephrine (which activates the fight-or-flight response). The brain also undergoes electrical changes.”

Prayer is good medicine.

Prayer for me is no longer an anxious plea. It is a letting go, a ride on the crest of a breaking wave. It is an open arm surrendering, falling backward onto a field of velvety green grass. Prayer is resting. It is being carried. It listens, it holds, and it is always an option. Sometimes, it is the only option.

Admittedly, I still pray, hoping to keep the bad at bay, but in addition, I pray to be given the strength and courage to endure whatever happens. I pray to be of service. I pray as a way of showing up.

I pray to stay open.

And, slowly, prayerfully, I am learning.

 

 

 

 

opportunities

Af0sF2OS5S5gatqrKzVP_Silhoutte

 After a beautiful day at the beach, we came home wanting to fall on the couch and watch a movie. When this happens in our house, it takes at least thirty minutes to find one we all agree on. Tonight, we were really all over the map. I wanted Sound of Music. That didn’t go over very well. So then my husband actually started playing Baby Geniuses…2. Yes, you read that right. When it first began, my daughter asked which of the babies was Baby Jesus. I think she thought that was the name of the movie. Baby Geniuses 2, much to our surprise, was not that interesting so we turned it off and put on Evan Almighty.

It was sweet and I especially liked the scene when God, played by Morgan Freeman, talks to Evan. He says: Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?

Tomorrow, when my daughter starts to whine and I start to lose my marbles, I am going to try and remember this. Maybe those moments, as trying as they can be, are just opportunities in disguise. Opportunities for us to love each other.

Pom Pom

magno

Sitting on my front steps this morning, stealing a few minutes of quiet before lawnmowers and obligations, I enjoy my watered down coffee while breathing in all of the signs of life around me.

The little marigold seeds sprouting up, the cool but humid air, and the Magnolia tree with its new white cottony blooms. They look like little pom poms.

This reminds me of my grandmother, my dad’s mom whom we called Pom Pom. The name, coined by my sister, had something to do with a hat she had made.

Pom Pom knitted beautiful sweaters, blankets, hats and scarves. My cousins called her Gammie and Gammie Maine because that is where she lived before she went back to New Jersey.

And before New Jersey, it was Scotland and Connecticut. That’s when she was Alice.

But to me, she was always Pom Pom.

When I think of her, I think of peach colored pants, the polyester texture dimpled like Ruffles Potato chips. Later, they were replaced with soft velour that my mom bought for her.

My mom would call her to check in and make sure she had enough chocolate. When I think about those phone conversations, they feel like a tangible example of unconditional love. My mom, always there for her.

Pom Pom was the most flexible grandmother I had ever seen. She would sit in a chair cross legged with hips as open as a book, watching t.v. enjoying a Scotch and maybe a cigarette.

She was so beautiful in her old black and white photographs. I used to look at them, admiring her elegance along with her perfectly coiffed hair and posture, stunning smile, and lovely nose. Sitting with her handsome husband; my dad’s dad and her three boys.

She looked happy. Before her husband died so young and she had to move back to the states from Scotland with my dad and his brothers.

She eventually married again. This time to a man with a son and a daughter. Thank goodness, she found happiness again.

I recall her saying things like, “Good Night Nurse” and “Watch your tongue, Bud” and telling me how lucky I was when I would pull a juice box out of the fridge.

I felt that I never knew her very well. But I always loved knowing that she was one of five girls, a colorful and beautiful bunch of sisters.

Sometimes when she visited us in Arizona or New Jersey, she seemed sad or distant. I wondered if she would have rather have been somewhere else.

But I fondly remember her the last Thanksgiving with my Dad before he died. She sat at our dining room table with the china with the letter B on it, wearing a cowboy hat that I put on her head while we listened to the song, “I’m too sexy.” She was a good sport that night!

This remembering today makes me feel incredibly grateful for my mom and my mother – in-law and that my kids have had so much time getting to know them. Being picked up from school, vacations, playing card games and Scategories, making macaroni and cheese along with various desserts, and the best part…hearing lots of I love you’s – indelible memories they will treasure forever.

It also encourages me to love the heck out of people even if they bug me or I don’t quite “get” them. It feels like a nudge to believe that people are doing the best they can.

I knew my grandma loved me even though it wasn’t something she said. And it was interesting, we never spoke about religion and I don’t think of her as being particularly religious. But before she died, she asked me to “speak to the Lord for her”.

It felt like a gift, like a window into her soul and an acknowledgment of mine. This, I will carry with me forever. And in some way, I feel like I am getting to know her more now, a slow and sweet unveiling of her spirit and her story whispering to me through the breezes and the blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, are you happy now?

photo-1422327571285-01fb2ebc228f

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the now the primary focus of your life.”  – Eckhart Tolle 

Sometimes when I find myself ruminating about the future and existing in fear of the unknown, I remember this story.

My brother and my son are good friends. Once when he was visiting and my son was about 6, the two of them had a little heart to heart. My brother was telling him how sad he felt that he had to leave later that day.

That is when my son looked at him, and with his coffee colored eyes, said, “But are you happy now?”

 

 

Hakuna Matata

photo-1446505673095-d7a5ada6aced

I just drove my mom to the airport. We went to the beach for spring break. There, we traded in towels for Kleenex. I had the flu. She had the flu. My baby got the flu. It was miserable. But before we got sick, we had one morning adventure in a golf cart to a bustling bakery and another on the beach collecting treasures from the Gulf.

When I pulled up to the curb at the airport, I hopped out of the car, grabbed her tan bag from the back and briskly walked to the counter, careful not to take too long as to avoid a scolding by security. “No Stopping!” “Keep Moving!”  I gave her a hug and kiss goodbye, smelling that sweet and familiar scent of Oil of Olay on her soft cheeks, when the inevitable trickling of tears, warm and stubborn, wet mine.

I got back in the car. But the security man, a Danny Glover look-alike with a tender grin, stopped me. I got a little scared when I saw him coming, fearing that I was about to get a talking to. But instead…

He said: “You can go, it’s o.k. I’ll watch the car.”
Me: Still the tears. “But, I have to say goodbye sometime.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: Not really answering his question. “It’s just hard, it’s my mom.”
Him: “You never have to say goodbye to your mom. Where is she?”
Me: Feeling literal. “In New Jersey.”
Him: An enthusiastic “NO! Look in the mirror – who do you see?”
Me: I wasn’t catching on. “Me.”
Him: “No, it’s not me, myself and I. You have kids? Who do you see when you look at them?”
Me: Still not catching on, bear with me here, I hadn’t had much sleep in the past week. “My Mom?”
Him: “No, you. And you see your mom when you look in the mirror. Your mom is your past and your kids, the future. Your mom is always with you. There is no need to say goodbye.”
Me: I’m a hot mess at this point and these words, reminiscent of Mustafah talking to Simba in The Lion King, pierce right through my sadness. I feel like at any minute, everyone around me – those walking in through the automatic doors, toting luggage and toddlers as well as all the workers dealing with tickets and bags, are going to start dancing with grass on their heads to the song, Circle of Life. Finally, I come back to this gentle, lovely man, and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, you are so kind.”
Him: “You don’t need to thank me. G-d puts the right people in our lives at the right time to remind us that we are on the right path.”

He mentions my spirit, blesses me, and moves on.

I too move on, taking my mom with me.