Letters to Mom

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Dearest Mom:
I knew, long ago, that I would feel completely lost without you in this world. There are so many ways I miss you I cannot even begin to describe them. I know people try to understand that I’m still mourning. You’ve been gone since June 15, 2013 but it’s barely been a breath in my world. A ragged, dragged in breath between sobs that shake my soul and seem as if they’ll never end.
To say that I miss you doesn’t even come close to what it’s like without you. My life has been ripped apart, and yet, like all my siblings, I have to go on with it. Daniel’s five days in the hospital (where we had an altar with your photo on it) ended with him needing two more respiratory treatments, and his cough is already sounding worse again after a week at home. I don’t know if I can live through losing both of you. I watched your deep sorrows (and joys) throughout your life, and know each of your children had a special relationship with you. Ours seemed to diverge in unthinkable ways at times, and at others seemed to mirror each other. You lost a brother, I will lose a son. You were never quite the same after he was declared MIA, and I have never been the same since Daniel’s diagnosis. I’ve always felt close to your side of the family, and yet I don’t know any of them. I know it is, in part, because you said I reminded you of your mother, although I can’t imagine anyone less like her than I see myself to be. You said I “saved your life” by being there, an innocent young girl with big brown eyes, during some of your darkest times. Times when you needed to know innocence still existed, and I had my child’s view of you as perfect, of your love as perfect, that helped you feel your life was still worth living in some of the hardest days you faced. (then I lost my innocence and caused you some intense worrying, but our connection always felt open) I always saw you as Audrey Hepburn, grace personified, but with an English Garden soul. You didn’t share your most challenging moments with more than a select few. Mostly, you listened. To all of us. Friends, family, people you barely knew. I’ve inherited that from you (or learned it) and I’m so grateful. I let you down most in the last couple of years, when all my sisters called you daily, and I barely managed it once a week. I didn’t want to worry you, and so many of my days were filled with sorrow. Some of it due to depression and letting my “self” get lost. I didn’t want to call you when I was weak, especially once we lost Dad. We’d gone through so much together, I somehow couldn’t bear to talk about our shared loneliness (my own more self-incurred, yours because of the circumstances of your birth and how your life unfolded).
You made Dad’s funeral a hero’s tribute, full of all he accomplished, his honors, certificates, and all he gave to our community. Who will come to your Memorial Celebration Mom? You, who always passed up the glory to let others shine. Those people who really knew you know that Dad, as amazing as he was, needed you as his compass. Always willing to let him have the spotlight, whether holding his hand and heart or holding him up in those last years when dementia robbed him of everything dear to him. No one and nothing was more dear to him than you, sweet Margaret, whose brother carried a photo of you in his U.S. Navy Hat during WW II. where most sailors had photos of their girlfriends. You have been more dearly beloved to more people than can ever show up at your Memorial Service. Many of them are already gone from this “vale of tears” and rejoicing with you, I dearly hope, in that place of peace beyond this life. If there is a heaven, it is there because nowhere else would be fit for someone of such ethereal beauty of form, and of heart, as you. There are many letters, and memories to come. But the duties of my life are calling.
Know my love is with you still, and the love of all your children and so many, many others.

With All My Love, broken-hearted as it may be,

Your youngest daughter,

Janet

Thresholds

I have always lived with the reality that I have heightened sensitivity.  I am hypersensitive to loud noises, bright lights, sudden movement, and especially to anger – whether directed at me, or  my own.  From a young age I learned not to trust signals from within.  Genetically, I have a “special chromosome” that tells me I am at fault for everything.  When a parent or anyone is angry, I know it is because of something I did or did not do.  Whatever hardship comes my way, including abuse of various types; rape, assault, bullying, abandonment – it all seems karmically deserved.  There was something broken in me before birth, and it has been my family’s misfortune to have to witness me living out this belief over and over.  The  bedrock  I built my self on is my complete lack of any lovable quality.  Again, this was/is chromosomal, not due to anything my parents or siblings did or didn’t do.  In some ways the more they ‘ve tried to show me their love, the more shame I’ve felt at the poor stuff of humanity that comprises my being.  Various professionals have attempted to help me along the way, some with more success than others.  This sounds like “victim” talk, but it is a limiting mindset.  It is me trying to understand how I have at 1/2 a century of life still been unable to shake it.

I stand at a threshold, one I’ve stood at before.  This time I want to think deeply about how I want to cross it.  I’ve had my share of falls, trips, and dives through others.  I’ve visualized what I want for my life, and as with many of us, I have limited its fruition due to  circumstances and self-doubt.  There is no blame here (other than my own) for weaknesses that have held me back, distorted my thinking, and guided me toward self-destruction.  I have been extremely fortunate to have a husband who has been stalwart in staying with me, and insisting on loving me despite all my attempts to deny it is possible.  In his case I have not been as able to use the excuse, “well, he’s family, of course he’s going to say he loves me.”  He’s also one of the most determined people I’ve ever met, and does not give up easily.  (to be fair, my family doesn’t either)  The threshold still awaits, and I’ve taken many steps toward it that have been extremely positive.  There have been negative ones as well.  For those of you who share my particular genetic disability (or have it for whatever other reason) how have you overcome it?  I earnestly request feedback on this, and will appreciate any experiences you would be willing to share.  I will keep them private if you let me know that is your wish.  Namaste’.

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’.

Roller Derby Queen?

Most of my life I’ve considered it a virtue that I’m willing to look like a fool.  My children found this to be one of my most endearing qualities when they were young, but as they’ve enter adolescence, well…not so much.  A good example was trying out my LandRollers today.  As a veteran of bilateral knee surgery, I have to wear knee braces.  The current pair I’m sporting are gray, as are my LandRollers.  I happened to be in brown shorts and an orange and brown tie-dye shirt, not exactly a match made in heaven between top and bottom.  Taking the time to change clothes seemed silly though, so off I went, tearing down the driveway, a mismatched melange of colors teetering toward disaster.  I heard my son mutter, “I am not related to you in ANY way!”  as he heard my rendition of Jim Croce’s “Roller Derby Queen” start while my husband snapped candid shots with our camera.

My husband is much more willing than my kids to smile in amusement at my antics these days, probably because they have worked in his favor more often than not (yes, I willingly wear lingerie that would make an underwear model blush).*   Another reason may be that  it suggests a depth of character, laughable as that may seem, that he respects.  My husband is paraplegic, has been since the age of 12, and while in my eyes he literally embodies the physique of an Adonis, he weathered several rejections on internet dating sites (before we were “matched”) simply because he was honest enough to say he used a wheelchair.  I could never make sense of that when he told me about it after several dates.  Here he was, a strong, handsome, virile, man who had been a number one seed on the USTA wheelchair tennis circuit with a coporate sponsor; financially independent with a six-figure salary and enough savings to retire whenever he felt like it; an intellect that both dazzled and seduced simultaneously…..how on earth could something as minor as his use of a wheelchair be a dealbreaker? (his sexy red sports car only added to his “hotness”)  Whether you call it luck or destiny, there was incredible chemistry, and he sealed the deal with our first kiss.

I don’t know if there is any relationship between my willingness to play the fool and the profound love I found on the internet.  It’s an attribute that I’m stuck with and that I hope endears me to my family.  They might have preferred Sophia Loren (especially my husband) but they’ll just have to accept someone closer to Lucille Ball.

* [This attribute must run in my family, because one of my sisters and I ended up laughing to the point of tears as she described squeezing her middle-aged thighs into a pair of chaps her husband had gotten her in a size based more on wishful thinking than reality.]