Lessons from my daughter

Feel your feelings fully. Laugh uproariously. Cry until the last tear has been shed and turns into a smile, even if that means two minutes of whimpering and fake crying to get through to the next wave, or to make yourself laugh. There is so little permission in our society for the difficult feelings – the ones that no one enjoys but are the flip side of the happy coin. I watch people turn themselves inside out to get babies and children to stop crying, or yell at them to shut up, stop being a baby, you’re embarrassing me. Instead of holding space for those feelings, we teach our children that those aspects of self are unacceptable, unloveable and we reinforce that in our own minds and hearts. Why can’t you cry? Why can’t you get angry? Why can’t you be silly and laugh so hard your cheeks hurt? Who told you that? They lied.

Time is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it’s 11am, 5pm or bedtime. Sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, play as long and as hard as you can because all we have is now. This is difficult for those of us who are used to living life by the clock. And while many of us thrive on regularity, or a schedule, I believe loosening our grip on time is vital to our well-being. Try it one day a week – take off your watch, put down your devices, ignore the clock, and see what happens. Let your heart be your guide.

Be curious. Ask lots of questions. Look for answers. Explore the world. It doesn’t matter how long it takes – enjoy the process. Follow the tangents. Forget about “should” and “have to” and “can’t”. Ask for help when you need it and let people know when you want to do something on your own. Sing, dance, jump, run, draw, spin in circles because it feels good to move your body and create. It doesn’t matter how well you do it, what matters is that you feel joy in your whole being and pride in what it can do.  Because you – with all your adult hopes and dreams, frustrations and failures, quirks and faults – you are amazing. And when you were little, even if it was only for a short while, you knew it. Let me remind you now.

You were born a bright light in the world. It’s your responsibility to let it shine.

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Might we not say to the confused voices which sometime arise from the depths of our being: “Ladies, be so kind as to speak only four at a time.” – Madame Swetchine

I have been hearing voices lately, some welcome, others not. There’s the one that is ice in the pit of my stomach, whispering, There is not enough, there will never be enough, you can’t afford this gas, this meal, this gift, this opportunity, this house, this life. My inner critic is on overdrive, berating me for being tired, unproductive, a terrible parent, spouse, and friend. Despite my continuing weight loss, she yelled at me today for eating three cooked meals and no salad. The voice of doubt took a peek at my to-do list, at my dreams and goals and laughed uproariously, pointing to the 2000 unread emails in my inbox, the mess in my house and the garden that waits patiently for its summer planting. My back and shoulders ached from the tension. Wanting nothing more than to join Ada in sleep, I put my glasses back on and sat down at the computer to write.

This is where I would have stopped before, in my pre-Benjamin life. The voices would have gotten louder. I would have shut down or gotten shingles or sat with a bottle of wine and some stinky cheese, not getting up until they were gone. I struggled today, wanting to fill the hole with food, wanting to escape the demands of parenting, wanting to be anywhere but exactly where I found myself.

As the anxiety threatened to claim me, the voice of trust chimed in, gentle but with a backbone of steel. You are held. It stopped me in my tracks and I felt the sweetness of it. I am held. There is enough, she added, Look at the gifts. Ah yes, those. The votes of confidence that slide into my inbox daily, the fact that I haven’t seen ants in the kitchen in a week, Ada’s delighted smile and wriggling dances, and that deep knowing, a gift from my son, that I can do this. I will do this. My dreams are worth living and I am held.

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Dancing on my own

I used to be a shy kid. People who know me now shake their heads in disbelief when I mention this.  It used to be that the place I felt the most comfortable was on a stage, dancing my heart out. I was both introvert and extrovert, a chameleon of sorts, practiced at figuring out what was wanted of me and putting that face forward. From this vantage point, looking back, I’m not sure that “shy” is the right word. I think I was afraid – of not being likeable, not being loveable, not being enough. So I hid because it was better than rejection. It was my decision rather than theirs. But when I danced I was long arms, long legs, pointed feet. I was spirit incarnate. I was pure joy.

I stopped dancing.

I went through a stage where I would meet people over and over again and they wouldn’t remember me. I came to believe I was invisible. Unworthy. I got back on stage as an actor and felt seen again, felt admired, if not loved, felt deeply inadequate. I came out of my shell and realized I loved connection, I loved honesty, I loved growth and play and touching people’s hearts with my work. I also learned that women made good friends and I could open myself up without fear of being abandoned.

I danced again.

I felt admired, seen, liked and disliked for my visibility. I felt young and stupid and awkward in my skin. I stumbled in my personal life. I felt closer to and farther from myself.

I stopped dancing.

For 16 years.

Then my health deteriorated, my baby died, my heart broke open and life poured in. Dancing became a way to cope with the fear. It became a life-line, a connection to Source, a connection to myself. And still, I did not dance. Not as often as I needed to. I discovered that when I commit to dance, I commit to myself. I commit to my desire to shine. But where that desire used to be about being seen, being loved, being an image to project fantasies on to, it is now a way inward. It is a meditation, a freedom. It is oxygen for my soul.

I am no longer that chameleon, working desperately to please others.  I stand firmly in the world. I write, I dance, I love. When the winds knock me over, I know I can pick myself back up. One day I might dance again in a public space but for now, I am happy getting reacquainted with the grounding force of dancing on my own.

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On Choosing

Shortly before I met my husband, while healing from the heartbreak of a destructive love affair, I had three conversations with women in their 50’s, all of whom had been married over twenty years. Each of them told me essentially the same thing. There is no The One. You meet someone, you fall in love, you make a choice. You make a commitment, or you don’t. All of them believed there were many possible spouses for each of us, out there in the world.

I found this advice incredibly freeing. Instead of the torment of trying to figure out if my next date was the Disney Prince who was supposed to sweep me off my feet and make life happy forever after, I could, very simply, make a choice. As it turned out, there were three men who appeared in my life in the following months who I felt I could have chosen a life with. They all lived in different worlds and while I had feelings for all three of them, the choice ended up being simple. I fell in love. I made a commitment.

The brilliant thing about all of this is the choice part. Every single day, I get to choose again. Do I want to love this person? Do I want to commit to this person? If the answer is yes, then I get to ask, What will it take to stay in love with this person? To stay committed? To grow and deepen our relationship? To create our happiest life together? If I am drawn to someone else, I get to make another choice – Is it worth sacrificing my relationship to explore this attraction? If I feel there is a growing distance between myself and the one I love, I have the opportunity to decide if I want to bridge that gap and turn towards him, or turn away. It is my choice. He gets to choose me too.

There is always a choice – even when it feels like life has our hands tied behind our backs with baling wire. Stand in your power and make your decision. Right now – what are you afraid to choose?

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Stepping through

Under my hand, I can feel the cool smoothness of the doorknob. I stand, eyes shut and heart open, feeling what is on the other side. Feeling the enormity of the decision, feeling the fear of being wrong, feeling the path under my feet but not knowing how it will change once the door has been opened.

I breathe deeply, sensing the other doors around me. Am I right to choose this one? Will I lose access to the others forever when I step through? I want to ask someone, want a definitive answer from a voice that is not mine. At the same time I know mine is the only voice that counts.

Quieting my mind, I search my heart for what, at this moment, is the truth. I ask the hole in my heart if this is the way to filling it, to healing the wounds inflicted by closing that other door so long ago. I ask and the answer comes. I turn the handle and push, stepping through, stepping into myself. Nothing miraculous happens. There are no angels singing, no fireworks, no applause. There is simply me, on a path, walking through a door into the next stage of my life.

This is not to say I am alone. I am surrounded by those who believe in me, who want the best for me, who see me more clearly than I see myself. Some are friends, some family, some mentors or coaches. I am learning to ask for help, understanding that needing it does not make me weak. I watch things fall into place, watch myself grow with every step, watch my fear and resistance surface. I treat myself with compassion, with love and laughter. Until it no longer feels right, or until the next door appears, I will follow this path – wanting to see where it ends, but knowing it’s better – and more fun – that I cannot.

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10 months

There were no big tears today, no extraordinary sadness, no heavy sighs. Off and on I thought about the date, the numbers 2 and 9 nestled next to each other on the calendar page. I am 10 months from the day he died, with a year right around the corner. I daydream of the party I want to throw – a celebration to thank all those who’ve helped us through this emotional labyrinth – and I wonder if I can do it, or if those days will weigh too heavily to be absorbed in party planning and making sure there are enough deviled eggs on the tray.

The to-do list in front of me is a mile long. There are a thousand “should’s” running through my mind. If I have learned anything these last months, it’s that my heart, my soul, and my body come first. When I listen closely, what I hear tonight is, Light a candle, say a prayer, sleep.

With a heart full of love and gratitude, that is what I will do.

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Grief is not linear

Time heals all wounds.

You’ll feel better in time.

Eventually the pain will lessen.

The first 3 months…the first 6 months…the first year is the hardest.

These are all true, though they offer thin comfort. They add to the illusion that every day is better than the last, that every month is easier than its predecessor, that once you’re through the worst of it, the worst of it is gone. Which might be true but likely is not. Grief is not linear. It could be any other shape – a circle, a spiral, a wave, a triangle even but it is not a straight line.

I seem to feel a shift every few months. There was a lightening at 3 months, then again at 6, and at 9 months, I was feeling able to move forward in my life in a different way. But 2 months ago, I was thrown back to the beginning, to the intensity of daily, sometimes hourly, waves washing over me, demanding that I sob or rage or both. The news of a close friend’s pregnancy – her third child – with the same timing as mine with Ben, brought to the surface feelings that needed to see the light.  It has not been easy on either of us – joy dampened by sadness, a friendship strained as we struggle to understand each other.

I have felt through this entire journey that while I have been mourning my son, other hidden pain has shown up to be healed. There were times I would sob and wonder why the pain seemed old. I would get angry and as I took myself away to hurl rocks at the earth, it was as though a part of my brain closed since childhood was opening. I can’t tell you what I was angry about and I don’t care. I know that it needed – and found – release.

When I heard the news of my friend’s pregnancy, I felt as though I’d been hurtled back into time, back to those first months. I found myself wondering why, even as I knew the answer – grief is not linear. The worst has passed, for now, but I am not sure what will pull me under again. As long as I stop fighting and let myself float, I trust that I will resurface, a little less sad, a little more whole.

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Photo by andrea wanderer via Flickr Creative Commons License

Wondering which ball to drop…

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Thoughts from the shower

I am exhausted.

I am finally taking everything I’ve been and done in my life, and tying it into one cohesive whole. I am moving toward a future that involves me contributing to the world in a bigger way. I thought I would have a newborn in my arms. I thought I would be consumed by the newness of parenting two children. Instead I was handed the pain and gifts of grief, and the flames of transformation have burned brightly. This has been the hardest time of my life and yet…and yet…

Early on after Ben died, as I struggled to find my feet, the glorious Julie Daley shared her time, experience and healing energy with me. I remember a moment in one of our conversations where I realized that my capacity to hold space for difficult emotions would be part of my contribution to the world. Julie gave me permission to allow it to unfold – to know that I didn’t need to get specific or make decisions yet. She reminded me that I needed to hold myself as gently as I hold my daughter and cry. That process has brought me to this moment and as I work to make dreams reality, I am watching a new unfolding. I am seeing old habits resurface and, with new eyes, I am making room for more growth.

A friend of Steve’s asked him a question the other night, as they sat together at a baseball game. He wondered if my working on something new was getting in the way of my blog and my grieving process. In a sense it is getting in the way of my writing here. Over the last months I’ve gone from writing daily, to every other day and now to three days a week. There are times when it feels like too much. But I am writing elsewhere and much of it will end up here so the answer there is yes, and no. This is still the place where I show up to remind myself of the grief and grace of loss.

Is it getting in the way of my grieving process? No. I shed tears on a regular basis. The fact that July 29, 2011 is in sight is a shock to me. As I close in on a full year since Ben’s death, my grief continues to change – as I imagine it will for the rest of my life. There is no getting over great losses. There is a lightening, a release, a freedom from the weight of it all, but there is no forgetting. That is as it should be. Relationships do not end because a body dies. Love does not turn to ashes with flesh. There can be an end to suffering though, an end to pain. Each of us has our own path there, if we choose it.

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The trick is not how much pain you feel but how much joy you feel. Any idiot can feel pain. Life is full of excuses to feel pain, excuses not to live, excuses, excuses, excuses. – Erica Jong

Photo by inu-photo via Flickr CC License

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