this is how it happens

tim-gouw-165094Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We can practice love as a deliberate strategy to dealing with the pain of loss. It requires practice to respond to anguish with love, but it works. Each time a wave of grief threatens to tear you apart, ask yourself, “What does love ask of me now?”  – from The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. 

I used to never consider traveling back to the same place unless of course it was to see family and friends. I thought, why spend the money on somewhere I have already been? But now, if I feel a connection to a place, I want to go back and experience it again and again. Maybe it has to do with being parent-less and getting ready to put my home away from home, the house my mom lived in since I was a junior in high school with all of our family portraits on the walls, memories, and reliable snacks in the cabinet, on the market. I want centering, grounding, comfort. I want to experience that some things never change.

I just finished reading, The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. According to Brock, they are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Today when my daughter was standing contemplatively at the sliding glass door in a sparkly princess dress too big for her and holding a stuffed Minnie Mouse, I could hear my mom sigh, “What a great picture.”

When I heard a bird singing but couldn’t identify what kind it was, I had to stop myself from picking up my phone and imitating the bird for her on her voice mail. She would get home from playing bridge, listen to it and laugh, call me back and say, “That’s very good, Linds.” I would then tell her that Will had been home from school the last two days to which she would respond, “Poor Will”. She would tell me she didn’t have a lot planned for the weekend and we would talk about her upcoming visit to Florida. I’d hang up but first, I would say, “I love you.” Even though, she would comment on occasion that she didn’t grow up saying this, and didn’t always find it necessary, I did it anyway and she did too. And I think she liked it, even though maybe it was awkward at first.

Yesterday, when I had lunch with a friend, a friend I adore and don’t see all that often, mostly because we are at different stages in life, but also because I don’t see anyone that often other than my kids and husband, she asked me with so much heart how I was doing.

That question again. A sigh, this time from me. I appreciate it. And if it doesn’t come, I am miffed, but when it does, I feel my answer is never quite complete, inadequate. Honest but not sufficient.

It feels as if I am dancing around the edges, as if my feelings are the lacy or sparkly border of a Valentine’s day card made out of pink construction paper. Getting to the center is where the meat is, the real message.

In so many ways, I am o.k. I feel at peace, mostly. And partially I feel this way, I think, because of all the I love you’s and thank you’s I said to my mom over the years.

Recently, during a meditation, I saw my mom’s death from a distance. And thought to myself, wow, it really was beautiful and surrounded by swaths of light and love. In fact, it was light and love. I also heard this message, this is how it happens.

With my son home sick from school, I looked at our fruit bowl and saw so many browning bananas. Like the little spots of discoloration popping up on my own skin. I thought of an easy recipe for banana bread, one that I had found on line last Spring when I was home visiting my mom. She loved it. And then another time when I was back, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast – meals being one of her few sources of pleasure and variety in her day – to which she replied, sweetly and enthusiastically, “I think I’ll have some of your banana bread.” I told her regrettably that I didn’t have any but that I would make some for her again. Anything to perk her up and see sunshine on her face.

So much has changed, so much so that it feels as if giant boulders have been shifting around inside of me trying to settle into their new places. I am letting the experience change me. I wouldn’t want to be the same person I was before. The experience of losing my mom has taught me to be more loving, more understanding, just plain…more.

And that it is never inappropriate, mushy, overly sentimental or too much to say in any way we are able to, I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you and I love you.

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welcome home

willart

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” – Wendy Mass

Last week through tear-strewn eyes, I watched a movie called The Welcome. My dear friend, mentor, and founder of the Exalted Warrior Foundation, Annie, recommended it. Thankfully, she also suggested Kleenex.

The Welcome is a documentary about 24 veterans who, along with family members, partake in a therapeutic weekend retreat, and through writing, talking, and listening, they begin to truly welcome one another home.

What transpires in this room and then later in a sold-out theater in Ashland, Oregon is awe-inspiring.

I felt myself break open as I watched these remarkably brave men and women bare their bruised hearts by sharing their stories. Witnessing their courageous work, one learns very quickly what the true definition of a warrior is and that anything is possible when you face your fears and allow healing to take place. By sharing their experiences, they help us all to understand a little bit better about what it is to be a soldier, and most importantly, a human being.

Their tales of battle, injury, and death are chilling. And often life doesn’t get any easier when they come home.

This movie had a big impact on me and left me with the realization that one of the most truly unselfish things we can do for others is to help heal ourselves. It brings to mind the familiar analogy of the flight attendant on a plane directing passengers to “Please adjust your oxygen mask first before assisting others.” We are of no help to one another, if we can’t breathe.

The Welcome got me thinking about how many times each one of us must return home, and re-enter our lives. Maybe not in the literal sense of returning from deployment or from a trip, but metaphorically, because whether it is falling off the bandwagon or recovering from a significant loss, diagnosis, or accident, we must gather ourselves, pick up the pieces, and rebuild our lives again. We can’t go back, but we can start anew.

Last Thursday as we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, I sat with my family listening to the Rabbi’s sermon about life and death, mourning, and awakening and thought of the men and women from The Welcome.

The Rabbi spoke of the wounds and scars we carry with us. He spoke of how they may never go away, but that over time we can change our relationship to the experience, the suffering, to the very thing that caused the bleeding.

And that is exactly what these brave men and women did during the movie, they changed their relationship to their suffering. To me it was like watching them write their stories, and although they had no control over what already happened, they were going to create the best life they could from this chapter forward. And grieving and mourning and healing doesn’t just end one day, it is a gradual process that takes time and a heartfelt commitment. It truly is work.

Similarly, it is something we are all called to do and often many times in our lives…we welcome our hearts back into our souls with grace, perseverance, hope, and faith. And over and over again, we step back into our lives, our worlds, our homes, and align ourselves with our souls’ deepest wounds and longings and discover our greater purpose.

It is all in the welcoming, and how we welcome all of our feelings, not picking and choosing just the pretty ones. It is how we welcome our loved ones when they walk through our door, how we welcome our friends after they have been hurt, and the way we welcome back our service men and women as they return home.

We can honor our own individual struggles by finding our vulnerability and courage to breed the strength needed to share our stories in the way (and with whom) we want to share them. It is not weakness to admit to feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression, despair, and isolation. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. Coming home to our hearts even if they feel broken helps us find true freedom.

And home is inside, it is always available within as opposed to being somewhere else, somewhere out there. It is behind and beyond our hearts, it is beneath the noise, clutter and busy-ness, and it is deeper than our culture shock, wounds, scars, sadness, worries, and fears.

Home is the still pool of water. Home is here to welcome you no matter what kind of shape you are in or what kind of day you have had.

May we all find the strength, hope, and ability to welcome ourselves (as well as one another) home.

For more on the movie, The Welcome, please visit http://www.thewelcomethemovie.com.

To learn more about Annie’s efforts teaching adaptive yoga to vets and how you can support the cause, please visit http://www.exaltedwarrior.com.

 

 

 

 

 

what a blessing

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What a blessing!

Once when my son Will was a baby, my oldest sister, Heather, and I took him to a nice little restaurant for breakfast. We were in Nantucket, and it was a sunny and peaceful morning. That is, until we appeared. Will was fussy, and I felt really awkward and insecure still adjusting to my new role as a mother. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to keep him happy. I loved nursing but trying to do it discreetly in public was a different story. I always felt as if he was suffocating with a blanket over his face or like my breast was going to do something strange. As I tried to settle in, I looked around sensing that the expressions on the faces of the other diners were not ones of amusement.

There was one woman in particular who was really giving me the stink eye. She was sitting with her husband and would glance over at us periodically and then turn back to her husband and whisper. I couldn’t stop looking at her looking at me.

I had a tough time finding my composure. I didn’t know what else to do and since breaking into tears didn’t seem like the best option, I starting talking trash about this unassuming woman. I couldn’t get over how judgmental she was being! It’s hard controlling a squirmy fussy baby at a pretty restaurant especially on this island where everything feels so picturesque and perfect.

Eventually Will quieted a bit, and I started breathing again. I looked up and saw the woman with the stink eye walking over to our table on her way out the door. “Oh crap!” I thought to myself what is she possibly going to say to me? A million stories ran through my mind…was she going to tell me I was a terrible mom? Or that I should not have brought my baby to a restaurant as nice as this?

As she approached the table, she looked me right in the eye and said, “You are so fortunate to have such a beautiful child. My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for a long time. It is such a blessing.” She was right, and I had been too worried about what everyone was thinking to enjoy this amazing blessing right in front of me.

This story brings to mind two lessons. One is how crazy our drama-seeking minds can be. Often these assumptions we make of others are mere projections of our own insecurities. It’s much easier to make someone else responsible for our own discomfort.

The other is a conversation my sister, Kerry, and I had recently. She told me that when she’s in traffic and getting irritable, she reminds herself that no one knows where anyone else on the road is going. The car that just did something careless like speeding through a red traffic light could be rushing to the hospital.

In real life, whether its on the road, or just going about our daily business, none of us really know where we are going or where we have come from. One thing is certain, however, if we can be present and compassionate to one another, it certainly makes the journey a heck of a lot sweeter.

As I try to stay open to the magic inherit in every moment, I have that unsuspecting angel with the stink eye to thank for teaching me such an invaluable lesson.