I’ll be honest, Thanksgiving was not easy this year. Oh, it ended on an upbeat note as I enjoyed dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend at his extended family’s home, but it began with the ever present reminder that my ninety-year old mother is declining and any expectations need to be set aside in order to meet her where she is in any given moment. I am on my own grief journey with her through Alzheimer’s and what a holiday looked like last year, or the year before, or a decade ago, can not be reproduced in 2017 like a Facebook memory.
I am in relationship with Grief. There are days we get along well. Grief offers me reminders of the past. I am appreciative. Grateful. I realize how far I have come on my journey. We even share a laugh and I go about my day. And Grief? Well, I’m not sure what Grief does the rest of the day. Probably settles into my belly for a nice nap.
Life tumbles around me. I listen. I grieve. I rant. I laugh. I mourn. I plan. I let go. I hate. I love. I move forward. I take a step back. I ignore. I stumble. I am strong. I weep. I wither. I tell my story. I withdraw.
Surrender. Trust. Two words loaded with meaning that based on personal experience can trigger the gamut from deep resistance to relief. In the ebb and flow of my own life I have been able to surrender and trust less often with grace than with a dirty stare and a “I don’t think so…I’ve got this covered” stance.
I tend to be an "English Garden" style of writer. Wanting to ponder each word’s placement, making sure the color, texture and sound are pleasing and balanced. Perhaps it is my English heritage, my desire to have order in my life, my perfectionism or the many other reasons I can devise that keep me pouring over a poem, a blog post, an email even, well beyond when it is time to say “done!” However, on my Sunday morning walk yesterday, once again my teacher, Nature, suggested I try to loosen up. So I am going to be vulnerable and brave and write this blog post in one go with one edit before I post.
On Mother’s Day I had brunch with my mom at her assisted living. She turned ninety the week before and her family and friends gathered to celebrate. Fifty-seven years old and I still have a mother. For this I am thankful. I have been blessed with two children, now adults, so am also called “mom.” As a recent newcomer to Facebook, I took the time to scroll through the posts of friends, to “heart” and post comments for their remembrances and gratitude of mothers, grandmothers, children. It seemed important to acknowledge both the joys and the losses.
To say “yes” and not “no” (my usual first response) when offered time away at the beach by a dear friend. Solitude. Dropping down through the curtains of rain, down through the coast range to that sweet point when suddenly (and yes it always seems to take me by surprise) the ocean comes into view. Shoulders drop and my lips taste the salt even with the car windows closed. The sky feels more blue than gray and I turn the wipers off. Instead of driving straight through to Manzanita, I pull over and take photos knowing I can’t capture the magic, but at least I might be able to pixelate the moment into a memory potion one day.
My time has wavered between chronos (sequential) and kairos (indeterminate) time the past five or so weeks. I am in the midst of a leave of absence from my work as a hospice chaplain. There was the “preparing to leave time,” which was focused on easing the transition for my co-workers and patients during my absence. A drop into a vacation to New Mexico for ten glorious days which at times felt other-worldly.
A few weeks have passed since my last post. Preparing for a workshop, a presentation, precepting a new employee…time slips by. Work is busy. I grow tired. Sleep in late and skip my morning walks. I think ahead to my upcoming vacation. Get lost in daydreams. Scurry down Facebook rabbit holes (usually related to poetry at least!) I become annoyed with traffic. Wish the rain would stop for more than a day. Hear a story about refuges and feel guilt for my petty whining. I forget to be present to my day, my moments.
It was relentless. The images. The words. The jabbing at how my beliefs have been shaped by my limited white perspective. I saw the movie I Am Not Your Negro Saturday night with my daughter. The movie is a compilation of an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, who died in 1987, plus excerpts of interviews and lectures he gave against a backdrop of decades old and recent news events. It is raw and his words were prophetic.
Sometimes I wake with the oddest thoughts and this was what popped into my head Sunday morning: happiness is hard work. I assumed these thoughts were stirring from somewhere deeper and wondered where this might lead as I reflected. The day before I had read this quote from Abraham Lincoln “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Then I read in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening a reflection about misery and the two seemed to intertwine. Both focus on attitude and where we focus our energy.
As I hear my story, I see it is only one perspective, one small journey. Yes, it is important. Important for my own healing and growth. But I also need to step away from my story so I don’t become self-focused forgetting there is a larger narrative. If I lose sight of the larger narrative, then I am not willing to reflect on my own prejudices, see that alongside my own indignities there is also privilege.
The world outside my window is locked in ice. Inside my head is mired in the dregs of a head cold. For once the frozen landscape is convenient. It offers the excuse I need to take care and rest—a long afternoon nap yesterday, sleeping in this morning. It is barely afternoon and I am ready to doze again. Despite my best efforts to be more of a human “being,” I still slip into the rut of human “doing” as easily as worn soles slip on glazed sidewalks.
Most of my friends and co-workers have bid “good riddance" to 2016, even amidst births, memorable vacations, graduations, and other life milestones. Maybe that extra leap day tipped the scales. Maybe it was the election and other turmoil around the globe. I know I felt heaviness both personally and in a community context. My divorce was finalized in February after 33 years of marriage, my mother’s unfolding Alzheimer’s disease increased use of blackout curtains to conceal her memories, and on the 29th of December my pug companion of 15 1/2 years took his last breath.