5 years later – some reflections on the loss of my mother….

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5 years ago today, in the early morning, my father, brothers, sister and I sat with my mother as she took her final breaths. That was, and remains, the most heartbreaking, moment of my life to date.

I have been reflecting on this, on her life, my life with her, and my life since her passing over the past few weeks. What does one say on such an anniversary? Are words needed or useful?

I don’t know that I am particularly wise regarding this topic, but at least I speak from some experience now, unwonted though it may be.

My thoughts….

It still sucks. The shock, the intensity, the bitterness of it has lessened, but I still really miss her, and it still really really sucks. I still want her back, want my children to have their grandmother. I have a level of acceptance of this reality now that I could never have imagined 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago, and I still wish it were otherwise. I watch my younger siblings grow into more mature adulthood, I imagine some of the big life moments that may be ahead for them, and I want her here for that, for them. They have their own thoughts and perspective on this, but in my mind for them, this really really sucks. I’m probably going to use that word a lot in this post, bear with me please.

I don’t feel her, wherever she is. I’d like to, to have this deep connection that reaches to the other side, beyond the veil, to a place where I could still feel her, believe the connection still exists. Maybe I’m just not that person, or maybe I haven’t figured it out yet, but I don’t like it when people say things like “she’ll always be with you. ” I believe that, in the more symbolic way. I see her in my children, in my siblings, in myself, in some of my actions and beliefs. But I want this to be true in a much more tangible way, and I don’t feel that, and that, yes, that sucks. In the moments surrounding her death, I felt that place, that thinning of the veil, if you will. To me, it felt very much the same as the feeling or energy that surrounds birth. I have, to date, been present for 7 births and 2 deaths, and I believe from these experiences that we return to the place we came from, and that it is good. I don’t know anymore than that, or really need to. But I’d like to feel my mother’s presence. I did once, and once only, in a dream, during a particularly rough patch in my life, where she stroked my cheek and told me all would be okay. In this instance, she wasn’t a character in the mental house-cleaning stream of consciousness type of dreams I typically have. It was different. My cousin told me I would feel the difference, and I did. I woke from this with my cheek still warm from her touch, from sleep? If this was what I want it to be, I’d like more examples please.

Life continues on. There is a rightness to this that I didn’t want to admit or embrace just after she passed, that I can accept and even revel in now. In the moments and days just following her death, I thought, please don’t leave me here without you. And then I looked at my beautiful daughters, and continued on. My baby, not yet 1, is about to be 6, and my beautiful then nearly 8 year old, is about to be a teenager. My awesome siblings are growing and changing into these amazing adults I knew they would become, but couldn’t quite picture in advance. I have the gift of a deepened relationship with my father, this beautiful, compassionate man who I’ve always known, but didn’t know as well until now. I have been able to witness, as I said to my cousin recently, time and life soften him until what exists in him now is rich and lovely, and I’m grateful, so very grateful to have more time with him. Life and time are making their mark on me as well, more noticeably lately, and I doing my best to move forward into this with some grace. All of this doesn’t suck, so there’s that.

The passage of time, of 5 years, has given me time to mourn, to move through the stages of grief, more than once, and to mature myself. I’m glad to have been as grownup as I was when she left, for even then, I was moving into this place of seeing her as more than mom, as well meaning and flawed as myself, as deeply human. It’s an interesting and humbling thing to reflect on both my childhood and my parenting, to see and acknowledge the flaws in both, and then to extend compassion to both parties, to my mother and myself. It’s easy to want to latch on extremes, to the black and white of people. To hold onto only the good, or only the bad, depending on the nature of the relationship. More challenging to learn to hold and accept both. In my teens I remember listening to my grandmother describe my grandfather as this nearly saintly person after his death, while remembering that I learned some of my more colorful swearing vocabulary from the words they called each other when angry. The irony was not lost on me even then, and now, I understand a little. This too, does not suck.

I have one silly thing I do, that I continue to hold onto. My mother was a nature lover, the Lorax in real life. There are moments when I see just a few leaves fluttering merrily at me. Not the whole tree, or all of the trees nearby, just a few leaves. And I imagine she’s waving to me, saying hello. I’m sure there is a scientific, physics based, unmagical answer to this phenomenon, but for now I’ll hold onto the wave. Until we meet again mom.

By the Water

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We are away for a few days this week, by the water, not far from home, but far enough to feel away, which is really really good.

Water soothes my soul, my being, especially big water, vast water. Water so big that you can’t see the other shore. Water so big that it both pummels and massages you, until the rough edges of life are, for a time, worn off, and there is only smooth peace left behind.

Vacationing with children, like most of life, is a completely different animal than vacationing without them. I remember my first real vacation as a mother, when my oldest was about 20 months old. I was, foolishly now it seems, shocked at how un-vacation-like it felt. Unless you have someone else assigned as first responder to your children, especially when small, vacationing with children is really just moving your every day life to another location. You’re still on deck all the time. And so it goes.

But I wasn’t working full time back then, so now, though I’m still on deck (and fortunately, and gratefully, I’m sharing this with a friend, also here with children), it’s a big mental break from the hussle of everyday life. Still cooking, still making sure we all have what we need, still navigating sibling rivalry when it crops up. But there is no schedule to keep, no cleaning to manage except the very basic stuff of everyday life, a lot more time to play, and, magically, a little time to reflect. Not hours of rest, of reading on the big, beautiful porches that come with this gorgeous, antique house I’m fortunate to have use of this week. But time for my mind and heart to settle, to rest in that peace.

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Many thoughts tumble through my mind as I unwind, mostly questions. Water, water, I love the water. I want a life where I can engage big water like this regularly, like a close friend and companion. How much is that house for sale down the block, could I make a go of an airbnb from this distance? Did I respond to that email? Am I doing the right things in my divorce, will I feel some relief when it’s said and done? Am I holding my girls enough? This week, yes, but regularly? Do I listen enough, do I really hear them, could I be missing something big? Can I carry some of this ease I feel here back with me, or is it inevitable that I get sucked back into the hustle of life as I know it now?

Most of these questions don’t have answers, at least not yet, (my California friends would fall over if I told them how little that house down the block is actually selling for), but just the time sit with the questions is a gift.

So for now, for these next moments, you’ll find me by the water, near the water, as close and as often as I can be.

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Seize the Summer Day

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I look forward to summer, to long days, to the heat, wow do I love the heat. I was never a fan of heat as a child growing up in southern California. I remember panting in the back seat of an unairconditioned car, longing to be cool, listening to my parent’s reply to my complaints, which was to open the window. And then getting blasted with hot air.

Now, with 14 (is it really 14?!) New York winters under my belt, I revel in the summers and especially the heat. I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to really cook my bones, until the heat permeates and after months of shivering, I no longer feel the chill.

Yet I’m wistful as a working parent in summer. Summer is actually more hectic for me than the school year. Two kids, usually in 2 separate camps with different drop off and pickup times, an invitation almost every weekend, always something we could be doing at any moment, and me, as usual, but even more so, keeping it all straight. It’s a whole nother layer of busy, and I find myself longing for simpler times, for the back seat of that hot hot car, when summer was down time for me.

This Saturday was full, but Sunday we didn’t have plans. The rain had finally stopped for a bit, and it was warm, dry and beautiful. We had some back to school prep (already, wow!) to do, but I wanted to get us outside and into the fresh air and sunlight.

We did our errand quickly, and there was a whole lot of cranky going on, the type that had me sitting in the aisle of the store, comforting a distraught child. We forged on, me momentarily questioning my sanity at bringing us out when we could be resting in preparation for the week to come.

Ice cream from one of our favorite local stops helped some. The hike I planned seemed doomed to fall by the wayside, but a brief dip at the base of a 60 degree waterfall revived us. They were ready for it, and we did it. A short hike under the deep, shady, canopy of trees, they spied chipmunks, millipedes and many (scary to someone almost 6) daddy long-legs. One was tired, the other committed to finding a place where we could dip our feet in the water once more, because “why did I wear these hiking sandals anyway!” We found it, the water refreshed us once more time, and we turned toward home, the setting sun beginning to peak through the layers of branches.

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My to do list is long, downtime short and I often feel torn between doing something fun, and doing less, and I’m always aware of what needs to be done. I’m coming to believe there is no one right answer to the question of “how do we spend this day, ” and maybe the best answer is just to show up as best we can in any moment, whatever the moment brings. But I’m grateful for the sweet afternoon on that warm summer day.

Paradox

I have recently been thinking a lot about paradox, which to me means holding two contradictory concepts or qualities together.

My mom talked about paradox a lot, and I do mean, A LOT. It was one of those things she mentioned frequently, and I remember feeling that good-natured, internal (but barely) eyeroll at this, one of her “things,” the concepts she latched onto and kept talking about.

In retrospect, I imagine she was trying to make sense of some things that don’t seem to fit together but somehow have to, just as I am right now. So there’s a little irony, or comeuppance for my irreverent thoughts toward her, ha! Sorry mama.

I wonder, these days, how to hold these things in my space or being, that seem to be uncomfortable pairings. How do I, for example, miss my mother terribly, and simultaneously be okay without her, and recognize the good that has come since she has passed? How do I love someone for all of the good they were and are, and yet loath them for their current behavior? How do I embrace the wonder of what’s around the next bend and also acknowledge the bittersweetness of the swift passage of time? How do I love deeply and unreservedly, knowing that loss is inherent to life?

Some people seem to have a better grasp on all of this, or to simply accept it without chewing on it the way I do. Right now I am sitting with all of it, holding it, and meditating on it, which I am not at all good at, but hope to be someday, maybe in 10 or 20 or 50 years. If you have thoughts on this, please share.

 

 

The Light is Changing…

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I am a southern Californian, self-transplanted in central New York. During the 32 years I lived in San Diego, I was aware of seasonal change in a superficial way. ┬áChange clocks, it’s dark earlier, later, holidays are coming, it’s February, might need a sweater in the evening, that sort of thing.

There is a big difference in a 10 degree change in latitude. Summer is bright, the days are really long, with sunrise before 6am and sunset after 9pm. Spring, summer, early fall are times of frenetic outdoor energy, of soaking up sunshine and taking care of what can’t be done in the dark and snow.

The summer solstice is just about a month past, and I see and feel the difference in the light. It’s still mid summer, but already it’s darker later, and earlier, noticeably so, and the angle is different too. Less direct, the light has a softer, more diffuse quality.

I notice this perhaps because, despite my best efforts, I have not become a winter lover. I thought blythely upon moving here, having a few weeks of Colorado winter (ha!) under my belt, “I can do winter!” But winter here is a dark and deep time, and lately I’ve not been up ┬áto the task. I’ll get back to this, probably in mid-winter.

I notice this because my life has been really overfull these past months, and it’s a gift to be reminded in this way that life keeps going, whether I’m thriving or not. Looking for ways to change what is in my power to change is becomes important when I can’t ignore the passage of time.

Yesterday was slow, we were mostly home, focused on mundane tasks and just time together and time apart doing whatever we did. At the end of the day, the girls and I did yoga together in the yard, which dissolved into a silly dogpile game then turned gymnastics over me as I lay face down on the blanket. These are the moments I miss when I’m too busy, and I hold most dear when I’m calm and present. These simple moments.

 

New Life Phase, New Blog

I have blogged before. I started a blog nearly 10 years ago, as a way to chronicle the days of our family, largely with the intention of sharing our happenings with friends and family scattered throughout the country, but mostly far enough that they weren’t in touch with our daily lives.

This evolved over time, depending on my current whim, I sometimes shared recipes and gardening items, sometimes craft projects I or we were working on, often about my thoughts concerning whatever I was living at the time, and still details about our family life, homeschooling at the time, and our adventures in general.

I have archived my original blog and made it private. I continue to mature, along with the blogging world, and now it feels more appropriate to me to keep the specific details of my life more private, especially those involving my family members. Their stories are their own, and not mine to share. This is a writing challenge for me, because of course my life is interwoven with the lives of those I share time with.

So I will say that, for now, my thought is to write about what’s in my own mind and heart, and keep the other details more appropriately vague. We’ll see how I do with this.