Love and Loss

Seeing that the last draft on this blog was in March astounds me.  Even worse, I’ve published nothing here since November of 2012.  I lost hope.  Even as I tried to grab at the tattered remnants of the gorgeous golden thread of it, my fingers slipped.  You could say it was a nervous breakdown.  Strong as my spirit can be, the last few years have been especially rough for all of us riding through the universe on our lovely mother, earth.  We are trying to cope with so many stressors at once, and our Great Mother, who supports us all has been getting sicker and sicker.  Species are disappearing, cruelty has been splashed across the news at every turn and if we love our fellow beings it seems cowardly to look away.  Day after day then, we watch the losses mount and hope that our species has enough intelligence to overcome our greed for things.  Each centimeter of wilderness that is lost costs our hearts and souls on some level.  Even as spring arrived, and the trees burst forth with blooms; even as we delighted in a family of fox that took up residence in a mound on our land, still the world seemed fallow.

My birth mother is suffering, and has been since the death of my father.  One accident or illness after another has beset her, and a frightened child took up residence within me.  It became to risky to call and hear the pain in her voice.  God bless my three sisters who would call every day, as I barely managed a weekly check-in.  Lucky enough to see her for mother’s day, I rode many hours in a car driven by a spiritual warrior to get there.  My sister, Anne, has maintained her writing throughout every crisis, every set-back, every let-down as she crusaded for the quality of each human life she offers her wisdom to, and forded the river of deep despair that seeing the gridlock in our nation’s capital has on all but the most powerful lobbies;  allowing our mother to be strafed of life, fracked/raped for the resources we can still violently drag from her depths.  Even through her fallow times, she has prevailed.  I respect her so deeply for that.

My sisters, brother and I are all trying to comprehend what life without our earthly parents will be like.  Each of us is trying to cope in our own way.  Today, rather than working against my self, I am attempting to open the vein of creativity again.  I am putting my faith in the regenerative qualities of letting that blood flow forth, knowing there is always a new supply waiting to refill it.  Loss is as much a part of life as the cry of the newborn child, fox, wolf, of any sentient being.  It cannot be denied if we want to move with the natural rhythm of this earth.  Contemplating all of this, I send you blessings, peace and Namaste‘.  The light of spirit remains however dark our surroundings may seem.  May all of our lights be bright this day, and may strength flow into you like the sap in the trees.

Letting go of my daughter.

Mindfulness is a practice of staying in the present moment with your experience, regardless of what it is.  Pain, joy, anger, peace; whatever comes up.  My daughter recently went through a stage of wanting to be close to me frequently, to spend time alone together, and show her affection openly.  There were times when it was irritating to other family members who wanted my attention, but I loved it.  I adore my boys, and having sons is an experience precious in its own way.  Feeling that bond with my daughter was priceless though.

Now, in what seems like a matter of moments, she has become moody, distant, and wants little (if anything) to do with me.  We used to text “I love you SOOO much” back and forth to each other; smiley faces, and hearts flew across the wireless network between us.  These days I consider myself lucky if she says, “me too” when I say “I love you.”  This child (who is my youngest), was the last to give up our nighttime ritual of  “kissing hand” (copied from the renowned children’s book), and blew me kisses from her bed as I went through her doorway at night, then when I reached the landing, and again when I was all the way downstairs (with me blowing kisses back).  In a single night she disavowed all of it.  She lets me kiss her on the forehead at night now, and give her a hug that she doesn’t return.  The pain of this rejection has been very hard to stay with in a mindful way.

The other morning my daughter was using her now all too common clipped answers to my questions, and I felt anger rise up in me like an earthquake.  My husband was in the kitchen at the time, and as he watched helplessly, I walked away (hearing him whisper, “please tell your Mom you’re sorry”) and retorted, “that’s okay, if she wants to spend all her time hating people that’s her choice.”  Immediately, I felt myself transported back in time to a moment where I told my mother (at close to the same age) “you don’t really love me.”  When my father heard this, he ripped me apart with his words, and his anger reduced me to microscopic size for saying something so hurtful to my Mom, who I knew loved me more than her own life.  Ouch!  A sense of deep shame washed over me, and an indescribable helplessness.  I had purposely hurt my child, after vowing I’d be different from my own parents, and there was no way to take it back.  Shaking, I walked over to her, took her hands in mine and said “I’m so sorry.”  “I felt hurt because of the way you were treating me, and I purposely said something to hurt you back.  It was childish, and small, and I wish with all my heart that I could take back the words, but I can’t.  I know you don’t spend your time hating people.  You are a loving and devoted friend, and have such a kind heart.  What I did was wrong, and there is no way to make it up to you.  I’m so very sorry.”  (tears were in my eyes now, and in my husband’s)  Looking at the floor, my daughter replied, “it’s no big deal Mom.”  “Look at me sweetheart,” I pleaded, and when those huge, sky-blue eyes met mine, I could see the wall I’d created between us.  “It IS a big deal.  I’m an adult, and I acted like a 2-year-old.  I’m so very sorry, and I will try to make it up to you somehow.”  “Whatever,” she replied, “I didn’t even really hear what you said,” and she dropped my hands.

This is what mindfulness can help you avoid.  Pema Chodron once said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “A moment of anger can destroy years spent building trust.”  I know the truth of that from BOTH sides now.  I can only pray that if I keep practicing I can prevent this from happening again.  Letting go of my daughter feels like having my fingernails slowly ripped off, one by one.  At the same time I’m so proud of her and the young woman she is becoming.  She’s developing a great relationship with my husband, her Step-Dad, after years of him feeling the rejection I do now, all while staying calm about it around her.  Parenting, like growing older, is not for the faint of heart.  It is one of the most difficult journeys we make in life.  I’m still ashamed, remorseful, and contrite, but I hope that perhaps some wisdom may have come from this that will help me keep my mouth shut when this happens in the future.  I wish the same for every one of us.  Namaste’.

Resiliency and vulnerability

Listening To Shame is a talk by Brene’ Brown. (www.ordinarycourage.com).  I’ve linked to it, because this is a talk I took notes on.  Sitting at my dining room table (when I should have been making my family a fantastic dinner) I took notes on her talk so the words would be on paper for me to refer to.  Dr. Brown made a number of points that had me bouncing off of my chair with excitement, one in particular being that as a culture (and I’m paraphrasing here) we numb vulnerability.  She also talked about shame, and links were made  between shame and vulnerability.  I don’t know when I came to believe that being vulnerable was shameful.  As Dr. Brown says in one of her talks (I listened to several last night ) vulnerability easily gets confused with weakness, and weakness is not seen as a virtue in our society.  Dr. Brown speaks about how we try to numb our vulnerability, saying we are “the most in debt, obese, medicated and addicted cohort in history.”  (“cohort” being a reference to the group she studied)  Why?  Because many of us try the above, we try to numb our vulnerability, and “you can’t selectively numb,”  according to Dr. Brown.  When we numb vulnerability, we numb everything.

Dr. Brown gives a definition of blame as “a way to discharge pain and discomfort.”  That definition was like an arrow hitting a bull’s eye in my heart.  Blaming myself for my son’s genetic neurodegenerative condition (and pretty much everything else that is “wrong” or not good in our family’s life) has been a way for me to discharge some unbelievably painful and uncomfortable emotions.  It’s also slowly been killing me; at least the me I want to be.

It goes against all of our biological programming (fight, flight, freeze) to stay vulnerable, like you’re constantly exposing your underbelly to the world.  It doesn’t seem like great advice for someone to tell you to stay that way, from an evolutionary standpoint.  That’s if you equate vulnerability with weakness though, and Dr. Brown isn’t doing that.  She equates vulnerability with courage, compassion, and connection.  Those are things that prolong life;  things my Mother is an expert at, and that she tried to teach me.  They are things she learned from her own mother and from losing her only sibling, her brother, in World War II.

She learned it from seeing the vulnerability we ALL have, and when she was hurt in that excruciatingly tender spot we know as our heart, she allowed it to make her stronger.  She didn’t build walls around herself, she flung herself open to life and said, “See?!  I’m still here!  I’m still standing, and loving, and laughing.”  My Mom knows vulnerability inside and out, like a dear friend.  I aspire to her example, because all of the things Dr. Brown suggested at the end of her talk as essential to our survival are things my Mother lives every day of her life (and my siblings do too):  1) Let yourself be seen.  Deeply seen.  2.) Love with your whole heart even though there is no guarantee.  3)  Practice gratitude and joy in moments of terror – fiercely.  4.) Believe, “I am enough.”

I know my Mom has struggled with the fourth principle or piece of advice.  I think a lot of us do.  She has told us, her children, over and over again that we are enough – even more than enough.  Dr. Brown’s talk served as a stirring reminder of so many moments in my Mother’s life.  Standing on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea she could throw a wreath over the rail in memory of her brother, whose body was never found; helping deliver a baby on a moving train in India around the 1950’s;  GOING to India with my Father, oldest sister and having two more babies during their five year stay in the 1950’s…the examples go on and on.  She’s a tough act to follow but she’s never indicated in any way that she wanted to create more of her “selves.”  As I wrote in my last blog post, she’s a pro at letting go.  She worries like crazy, and I don’t want to make her sound too perfect, but she’s an amazing woman.  Her life has really made a difference to a lot of people, many of whom she has never seen again.

My Dad was amazing too, and my intent is not to slight him in any way.  Somehow though, whether it was because she was a woman at a certain time in history, or because she preferred to let my Dad shine to the outside world while she was his emotional support, she received much less attention for the remarkable life she lived (and continues to live) than he did.  She’s okay with that, completely.  She inspires me more than I can express, because despite all the pain in her life, she has allowed herself to stay vulnerable;  and she’s one of the strongest women I know.  She never chose the easy path, never shied away from any challenge, spoke her mind even when people didn’t necessarily like her politics.  That’s how you end up with a gay, Jewish man, who survived the concentration camps in WW II. as your best friend and call him your “soul-mate.”  It’s no wonder so many of the guys my sisters and I dated came back to visit my Mom.  She knows how to listen, her heart is completely open, and her strength is like that of a Goddess.

Thank you Mom, for planting the seed that allowed me to hear Brene’ Brown and still (at my age) have the possibility to bloom.  You’ve blessed the earth in every spot you’ve placed  your delicate foot.  The hardest challenge you’ve given me, and it started at conception, is how the hell I’ll ever live without you.  It’s a challenge you’ve been preparing me for, and one you’ve tried your damnedest to protect me from, but one we’ll face nevertheless.  Bless you for bringing so much beauty into my life, and the lives of all those around you, especially your family.  I bow to you Margaret Eunice Hartley Hills;  to your wisdom, to your beauty, and most of all to your completely open and vulnerable heart.  Thank you for teaching me that vulnerability is the key to resiliency, and strength.  I love you Mom.