The last 7 or so years of my life have been full of turmoil. The loss of my mother, and subsequently the demise of my marriage sent me reeling through a storm I never imagined navigating, couldn’t possibly have imagined, having no context for much of what I was going to experience.
And as I’ve finally been coming out of this lengthy storm, rather than feeling joy and relief, I’ve found myself bottoming out in way I didn’t anticipate. I’m exhausted, I cry A lot. I have thoughts of wanting to give up, though not of Really giving up. Or somehow just giving in, to what, I don’t even know. But mostly, I’m just not sure how to move forward. How does one do normal, when normal has left you by the wayside and continued on?
I have had so much support through all of this, therapy, many friends and family members who have shown up repeatedly to help me through this. Love, in it’s many and varied forms, carried me through. I am not alone. And yet this particular journey has been intensely lonely. I am not unique, but I also haven’t come across a multitude of people who have left a mentally ill spouse, who know what it’s like to become the target of someone’s delusions, and have them fixate on you as the source of all of their problems. And to keep coming at you with all of their crazy, again, and again. And undermine the hard work you are doing to create stability for your children. So while I’m at the phase in life where many I know have been or are divorcing, not so many can relate to my particular circumstances.
And so I turn back to the lessons, the stories really, from my youth. I am lately more and more aware that my core values came not just from the parenting I received, but also from the literature I was immersed in, all through my growing up.
I was home-schooled and I spent many a content hour on my own devouring books. The richest of my memories of that time however, were from when my mom would read to my brother and I. I’m pretty sure this happened in all seasons, but what I remember best is cuddling up on chilly (for southern California) mornings, still in pajamas, with my mom and brother, drinking large pots of herbal tea and listening to her read to us. The characters became part of our lives for that time; we laughed with them, sweated with them, rejoiced with them, mourned with them. This exposure instilled in me a deep love of words and language, and an appreciation for their power. And because many of the stories we read were epic, heroic tales, the morals and values I hold as truths came from these.
Mom’s selections were mostly fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Ursula Le Guin were some favorites. I have never been much interested in Science Fiction (Le Guin being a crossover exception), much preferring to be immersed in the classic battles of good vs evil. Harry Potter came along later and my younger siblings got to experience these with her.
In my younger years, though my actual trials were few, I related most to the hero characters, to Frodo, and Harry and the Pevensie children and their counterparts. The heroes don’t know what they’re getting into. They are generally thrust into something they haven’t chosen, and, because they are heroes, they manage to deal with it, taking their hits, oft-times bemoaning their fates, but rising to the challenges just the same. And being forever altered by the trials they live through. I’m not sure this did much to prepare me for life’s true challenges, but it did give me a deep sense of goodness and of who I wanted to be, in my own tale.
Recently, I have become more fascinated by the sages in these stories. Gandalf, Dallben, Dumbledore, Merriman Lyon. The wise ones, the mentors draw me in. Maybe this relates to my own aging, or my own search for wisdom and grounded-ness. But what I am loving most about these wise men (I wish there were more wise women in these stories), is that they not only rise to the occasion, they know what they are getting into, and they show up any way. They have lived enough to understand that sacrifice and loss are as essential to the fabric of life as love and gain, and they go forth, into the fray, willingly, knowingly.
I did Not enter this recent phase of my life willingly. When my life took the unexpected turn it did, I would have run screaming in the other direction if I could have. I would never have chosen this path, but I have survived it. Like Frodo, I wish this had never come to me. But it has.
As the dust finally begins to settle, I am left with the questions, how does one learn to live normally again, peacefully again, after so much turbulence? After ending a marriage. After ending contact between children and their father due to unchecked, untreated mental illness. After trying to deflect incessant accusations of every ugly thing imaginable, and some unimaginable. After so much hope followed again and again by heartbreak. How does one begin again to just live?
It feels arrogant or dramatic to liken myself to say, Frodo, who’s journey helped save civilization, or to Taran, who, from humble origins, became high king. My journey was simply about my children and myself, about conjuring strength and stability out of chaos. After all of this heartbreak, I am left to mostly be just mom, and maybe something more.
Going back to these stories (did you know that Tolkien and Alexander used the same Welsh legends for inspiration?), when the adventures end, the heroes are rewarded with a journey to a restful place. To the Summer Country, or Valinor, to peace and immortality. Frodo and Bilbo, Gandalf and Gwydion, all went off to rest when all was said and done. Taran was given the gift of immortality, but chose to stay. Taran looked around at the beautiful people he knew and loved, and felt called to stay with them and rebuild a life for them all. And thus took another step toward maturity.
So while rest sounds infinitely attractive right now, I guess I get to be Taran. To hang on, and stay. And start to breathe again, and work with what comes next. I don’t know how to do that really, but a happily ever after of peace and immortality aren’t exactly on the table at the moment, and anyway, seem rather hollow without those I love alongside me. Maybe the goal is really alchemy. Maybe part of maturity is morphing from hero to sage. From the one who says please no, and dances as hard as possible to keep the bad things from happening, into the one who recognizes that sometimes bad things do just happen, despite our best efforts to the contrary. And still says yes, here I am.
In the middle of a recent round of crazy, I said, shakily to a friend, that I’d like to become impervious to it, to any attacks. She responded, wisely, that this sounded like enlightenment. And yes, we’re all reaching for that. But the journey along the way is much more the point. So, onward with the journey. Onward with shaking and doing it anyway, onward with accepting that life sometimes really really sucks, onward, knowing more losses are coming, onward amidst so much goodness too. Onward with living and loving bigger anyway.