Calendar Crazies

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This year, one of the retail business owners commented on the local news station how meat and other food products are flying off the shelves as compared to last year. As many of us turn the corner of COVID-19, people feel a need to compensate for the celebrations that the pandemic erased from 12 calendar months.

Calendars serve a lot of other purposes than just tracking special dates, holidays and appointments. For one thing, they can signify importance. When I was an adolescent, I was a recluse. Long before the days of personal computers in the 70s, I spent my lonely days updating my wall calendar, tracking holidays, birthdays and school projects in different colored markers, pens and embellished the days with a variety of seasonally themed stickers. In actuality, whether weekends or weekdays, rarely did I get invited to parties. The process elevated my life. Apart from gifting myself with a false sense of importance, my calendar also offered me a true sense of organization and control during the fragile coming-of-age period in my life.

In the 80s, as I started taking responsibility for my actions and allowed people, some of whom became lifelong friends, into my life. I “grew down,” becoming less self-centered, and reckoned with the fact that I didn’t have to color my life by bringing a false sense of significance to it. My fellow, Allan, aided the process. Some of his favorite sayings were, “Out of all the grains of sand, we are one mere speck!” and “In a hundred years, what will it matter?”

My calendars reflected my new maturity, and they became black-and-white, practical pages that kept track of appointments and reminders.

When my first child, a son, was born in 1993, ironically, at the beginning of the year in January, my calendar-keeping bug not only revived but sparked into an inferno. I purchased a new calendar and an array of stickers and markers and recorded every little hiccup, smile and gained ounce of weight. This practice continued with my second child, a daughter, in 1995. For years, it were as if I wanted to freeze both of them in time, like butterflies under a glass display case to admire them like an over-enthusiastic curator.

I’ve learned, especially through my son’s untimely death, that curators belong in museums. Life has a divine curator, and I can’t tell you all the particulars, but I have full faith that it is not me. For the most part, I ceased my over-indulged calendar-keeping duties when the children grew older. Sure, I noted appointments, assignments and important dates, but, as the stresses of daily life elevated, the new teeth and height spirts became too time consuming to commemorate.

Today, I continue to update my calendar with the bare minimum. In addition, I now have another calendar displayed on the wall downstairs that I turn on the 15th day to the following month, which happens to be today, because instead of chasing behind time, I want time to accelerate and move faster as if I will reach a finishing line for my grief.

The grief that tracks me month after month, season after season, is mine alone to process, not micromanage nor deny, but, wow, somedays its weight can cover me 10 feet deep in cement. I can’t turn the clock back, but I can turn the calendar ahead to give me some sort of symbolic reprieve.

Thankfully, after knowing such influential people like Allan, I can step aside and not allow my jaded vision to dilute others who have faith that their upcoming milestones, celebrations, commitments, important dates and special days ahead will come to fruition because they are marked in permanent ink.

Faith Muscle

Broken Shoelaces

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In my inner circle, sometimes the curmudgeons criticize others when they share about their feelings of pain, as well as sadness, and other emotions involving certain situations that they feel are trivial. For instance, if someone cries, saying, “I met someone who I thought was a keeper, and he | she stood me up after the first date.”

One of the curmudgeons’ favorite replies to a statement like this is, “Don’t cry over broken shoelaces.”

On the other hand, my usual response is, “If those broken shoelaces hurt that person, let him or her cry!”

I could never understand why we assign quantitative, numerical values on a person’s personal feelings and emotions. Feelings and emotions are as individual as a person’s fingerprints. Recently, I read that if fingerprints are burned off, duplicate ones grow back. This is like a metaphor for pain and/or emotions and if we alter them to fit another person’s morphsuit they don’t lessen. Instead, if you’ve read any of the research about blocked emotions, you know they cause a negative impact on mental and physical health.

I don’t need research. During my adolescent years until my mid-twenties, I battled insomnia and suffered from a gamut of gastrointestinal issues. Every remedy I tried, lied. What worked was to identify and learn how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness and anger without inflicting self-harm or harming others.

Pain and emotions are universal, but their intensity is different for everyone and, as such, shouldn’t be judged. To put it in context, a couple of weeks ago, I saw my neighbors constructing a handful of tents, about eight feet wide and high, in their backyard. I figured it was for a party, likely for their daughter.

Sure enough, the father surprised me at my front door when he handed me his cell number. He explained that they were hosting a prom night sleepover for his daughter and a group of her friends. He told me he wanted to be a respectful neighbor and that if the kids turned rowdy, not to hesitate to call him at any hour.

“Let them party!” I replied and meant it.

My response created a comfort zone for my neighbor. He removed his guard and revealed that it was a tough time for him and his wife with their only daughter moving on to “the next stage of life.”

Suddenly, as he unsuccessfully fought the tears, he said his daughter’s relocation to an out-of-state university was heartbreaking. There I stood, like a strong, sturdy pair of steel pliers while inside I crumbled. I realized the grief spilled over his situation could be dismissed as a “broken shoelace” emotion, especially in the eyes of a grieving mom who lost her handsome, brilliant 26-year-old son to suicide. Knowing each other only in passing, obviously he was not privy to our family’s tragedy.

The one and only time he encountered my son was in 2010 after my now ex-husband abandoned his family responsibilities and our neighbor and his daughter, who had recently moved in next door, were in our yard. We mistakenly thought they were helping themselves to our fireplace wood.

My son, daughter and I scooted out on the second floor deck. My son played the role of family protector and in his deep, distinct voice instructed our neighbor, “If you wanted wood, you could have just asked.”

In response, my neighbor laughed and explained they did not need wood, only their ball and thanked us before leaving the premises.

The man now in front of me believed my son, a genuinely good, sensitive and quiet guy, was alive and thriving, living away from home. I looked into his eyes and sometimes a familiar face transports me back to my old self in the days when I took faith for granted, when it was common and as plentiful as mosquitos in the summertime, when I was steadfast in believing only good prevailed.

Then and there, I knew that I had a choice with my grieving neighbor, this broken man in front of me. Stab him with the raw reality. Tell him to stop being a cry baby over a pair of broken shoelaces, especially in light of my tragedy. In this way, I would not only shut him up, but feel as if I’d won in the pain department and, likely, ruin his whole weekend as he would probably feel guilty over his broken shoelace grief.

The man, in fact, reminded me of my similar state of distress when I left my son behind in the classroom on his first day at preschool. I walked like a zombie to the car and immediately after I sat inside, I bawled uncontrollably because the feeling of letting go of my son was devastating, like having every single cell in my body forcefully removed with a sharp pair of tweezers.

“You know how it is. You’ve been through it,” my neighbor muttered through his tear-stained face.

Another scenario occurred to me. Nine years prior after her godmother and I dropped my daughter off for her first semester at college, I bawled during the entire six-hour ride home. Fortunately, my daughter’s godmother didn’t squelch my emotions and because I processed my grief over the separation, I felt better by the time we arrived home.

I nodded at my neighbor like one of my mentors, Cornelia, who, in fact, lost two sons had taught me through her example so long ago.

“It will be okay. Really,” I assured the grief-stricken man before he made a beeline home.

Afterwards, I forced myself to keep the painted smile on my face and conduct the motions of life, but, wow, I was drowning in my children’s bittersweet high school memories at the time when their father abandoned them. Through it all, somehow I managed to keep my head above water. Cornelia, who is now deceased, would have been proud.

Grief, like sadness, I reiterate, is not an emotion to assign a quantitative value to. My natural emotional state of being now encompasses grief. I lug my griefcase wherever I go, and somedays it is heavier than others. Louis, my therapist, who lost a child of his own, promises that the emotions and feelings will lessen in intensity. Of course, we both agree they will not go “poof” and disappear. I live as an amputee who not only has to get used to the new normal, but also learn how to manage the pain.

One of my friends attends a group for grieving parents who have lost children to death. She told me that one of the sessions revolved around the idea that, “There is nothing worse than losing a child.”

In light of this statement, the group members minimized all other types of grief, whether it resulted from losing a spouse or parent or friend and so on. And I told my friend that kind of group would not be a proper fit for me. I don’t want to wash out someone’s grief with my own. The man at my door is entitled to feel his grief from “losing his daughter” as much as I am entitled to my grief at losing a son to suicide.

K.L. Hale, a beautiful member of this blogging community, wrote a heartfelt comment to me after last week’s post. She said, “after 2 1/2 years of not seeing my sons (only because of their Air Force duties) I would think of you. Your loss put things into perspective for me. Your words leave me with tears running down my face. The beauty that you’re able to give us all is faith indeed. I’m so proud of all you have overcome to find that inner peace.”

My reply was: “Thanks to people like you, I am able to hold my head up, carry my griefcase bravely and keep the faith. What has helped me most is the hope that my pain will somehow help heal the world. You have brought this hope of mine to fruition, and I am deeply moved. So moved in fact that you’ve inspired my post’s topic for next week!”

What I also want to say to this beautiful, faith-filled woman is: “We walk these roads of sadness together, never alone as we think of one another and feel our human connection. Allow my loss to help you through this difficult time, but also validate your loss and embrace it. Your feelings of sadness are real and important, and they matter because you matter and through the process, if you have not yet found your inner peace, it will find you. Whether you choose to call it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Goodness, it is deep within you. I promise, because I was fortunate to discover it so many years ago, and I have lived there ever since.”

Everyone is entitled to feel what they feel and experience their emotions when they want to and for however long they need to. In fact, if I can find my way out of my pain and sit with another person’s pain, more times than not, I feel better. The bottom line is, it alleviates my suffering to focus on yours and sometimes it gives me the reprieve I need. Life is hard but we’re in it together, at least for today. Tomorrow some of us that are here right at this moment will be missing, I guarantee it. So let’s hold on tight, keep the faith and allow ourselves to feel our vulnerabilities that are part of our humanness. In fact, if we practice at it, it should become as natural as tying a pair of shoelaces.

Faith Muscle

Time Frames and Life Frames

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In the late 1990s, I attended a seminar in which a woman discussed her recently published book about her experience of working with dying AIDS patients in New York City. Most of her talk centered around the taboo topic of death in today’s world. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a society, she said, is to presume that when a loved one leaves the premises, he or she will return.

My former self would never have fathomed how the author’s profound statement would one day relate to my own life. Two years ago this past Memorial Day weekend, my son left his childhood home and went back to his home, never to return again. My memory frames his tall, broad-shouldered, 26-year-old portrait standing inside our front door. The flashback triggers feelings of sadness and loss, wet and heavy like a low pile rug drenched in pain. I cannot wring out the emotions nor erase the calm look and smile on his ginger-bearded face in those shared final moments. When he was younger, he was the spitting image of his father. Now, his uncanny resemblance to me was unmistakable. Like a baby blanket hand washed hundreds of times, he was familiar to me. Ironically, at the time I was grateful that, in many ways, my job as a mom was a proud accomplishment. He had grown up into a successful young man. Best of all, I thought, I instilled a sense of independence in him and despite a string of setbacks, he had flown the nest.

The airport shuttle bus driver, who was waiting in the driveway to transport him to the airport, beeped the horn. I followed my son outside. I paid little attention to what I took for granted as just another gifted moment. As he sat in the mini bus, I do remember feeling as if he were a young boy again and leaving on the school bus. I waved goodbye as the vehicle disappeared. A part of my former, practical self kicked in and I became focused on my engine red to-do list that was on fire in my mind because there were endless chores, obligations and responsibilities to check off. Yet, another part of me yearned for him to stay one more day and watch the town’s Memorial Day parade, the one he once loved to participate in when he was growing up where there was always a place for him. Just one more day.

I was confident in our Gorilla Heavy Duty Adhesive bond and was tricked to believe no human hands, certainly not our own, could sever it. I returned to the house alone, walked into the entranceway where my mind’s eye captured a snapshot of him towered high, emphasized by the door’s frame. Saying his final goodbye, he had stood in front of the main door with his back to where the sun sets and not far from where our road intersects with another road named Sunset Drive. The same route the driver traveled to take my son home to where he lived on Sunset Road in Kentucky, about 600 miles away. Six months later, the unimaginable happened and my life as I had known it went poof like the blank shells fired during Memorial Day parades.

How could this have happened in my miracle-filled, storied life that began thirty-five years prior when I stood at a crossroads? At that time, I was given a second chance in my life and slowly developed a life of faith. It started when, angry at religion and filled with notions of a punishing God, the 12-step program I later ascribed to taught me to believe in something other than myself. This “something” was called a higher power, and I learned that the higher power could be as random as a doorknob, but the key was, as long as it wasn’t me, it seeded a belief, and the idea of giving up my reign of control on outside circumstances helped me discover something I never experienced – inner peace.

During those years, after a rough ego-shedding start, I was grateful for my new life. My thank-you notes were action steps. Whether someone needed a car ride or a supportive phone call, I helped. I also volunteered at the local hospital’s mental health unit. I watched resilient people overcome insurmountable obstacles. Living a life of witnessing miracles, how could I not envision a bright, promising future for my one and only son? However, the string of happy tomorrows was ripped from me like perfectly healthy layers of skin. The tragedy happened 21 days after a 35-year milestone of my practicing the 12-step principles. It was a time of celebration. On that tragic day, however, I stepped on the landmine I had built out of my sugarcoated optimism, fantasies and misconceptions, and it detonated; my former self left behind in the explosion.

When I saw my son for the last time, framed in the soft cushion of his metal coffin, my new self released into his lifeless palms crowned with his slim fingers and bruised hands, my former self’s 35-year coin, a hallmark of recovery that I carried proudly for over three decades in my wallet like a medal of honor.

Now, nearly 19 months later, the minefields are cleared. I do not trip over booby-traps of overexaggerated optimism, and there are no milestone victory coins any longer in my possession. Don’t get me wrong. I am indebted to the people who helped me achieve those thirty-five years. I have not lost my inner peace. Now, though, I exist within a heavy metal grief framework. I head into my 37th year of recovery with feet flat, accepting life on life’s terms, allowing the raw reality to bite hard, but without chewing me to a pulp. I put my faith into believing that one day the barren, flat ground underneath me will be the perfect level to witness a sunrise; a luminescent horizon, a photo worth framing that makes you believe in an endless loop of miracles that make a surprise grand entrance at your front door.

Faith Muscle

May 25th

Springtime is the Right Time

Today is May 25th. Every year for as long as she lived, my mom marked this date on the calendar as her death date.

Nothing, not anyone, intercepted her schedule and agenda, her oxygen sources. A total control freak, it was as if she grasped a snow globe world in her hands. Whenever she shook it, a blizzard erupted. Additionally, her ultimate weapons of control were superstition and religion.

In Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s short story, So What’s Your Name, Sandra? when the author describes Mama Sandra’s sense of control, he conjures up my mother’s exact image. He writes, “Suddenly she gasped—the realization hitting her that she’d forgotten to pray before her plane had taken off. If they had exploded in mid-air, thought Mama Sandra in horror, if hundreds of someones’ someones had died that day, it would have been all her fault.”

My mom created a cause-and-effect world and whether something good or bad happened, there was always a hard and fast reason. Some of her legacy she passed on to me. Long after my mom’s death, I still avoid stepping on a sidewalk’s cracks .…“Step on the crack, break your mother’s back” .… What daughter in her right mind would willingly do that to her mom, alive or dead?

Most of my mom’s control issues stemmed from being a World War II survivor. She placed her full faith into a built-in life script. Editing it was an impossible task.

One of my mom’s many idiosyncrasies was her desire to die in the month of May. May 25th to be exact. She longed to share the death date with her father, my grandfather. Though he had died long before I was born, my mom insisted that God loved him so much that apparently when he died, he was gifted with the nicest, sunniest day of the year. The sky was as clear as a wavelength of light from a prism, and you could see for miles without having to squint. My mom also said that my grandfather was a well-loved man in the community and hundreds of people attended his funeral and celebrated his life. That said, in her eyes, a May 25th death was not sad or solemn but happy. Plus, perhaps it was also part of the Byelorussian culture she was raised in, but my mom prayed for her specific death date as if she were praying for a future, festive wedding celebration. Year after year, she kneeled in front of her Jesus and Mother Mary statues in her bedroom and, along with her death date prayer request, she also prayed for a peaceful death in her own bed at home. At the very least, if the 25th was inconvenient, she implored God, to grant her a springtime death date.

I had faith that if there existed a compassionate God, he would grant my mother’s wish. Of course, God, my Christian friends remind me, is NOT a magical genie.

When the day arrived, a little more than two months after she celebrated her 90th birthday, instead of May 25th or during springtime, my mother died on December 29th in 2015 on a dark frigid winter’s day. My daughter and I were in another state, about two hours away, when we heard the news and could not immediately return home, because we were trapped in an ice storm. Additionally, my mom did not die, per her request, at home and in her bed. My mom died in a nursing facility, because she had suffered a stroke and required medical support. So, all her years of prayers amounted to nothing.

There’s a silver lining to this story though. First, my mother actually did die as she wanted, peacefully. Second, shortly before she died, I asked her, while she laid in the hospital bed, where she thought she was.

“Home,” she replied.

After her response, I remember that all that came to me was how God was just. If my mom realized the raw reality of the situation and that she would not die in her bed at home as she had always prayed, she would have been devastated. Obviously, too, she was not aware of the season at the time, so that fact also seemed just, but here’s the clincher. The first spring after her death, I found beautiful photos of my mom shot about a year prior on our back deck. There was no special occasion, but our dear family friend, Anne, was visiting from New Mexico, and we held an impromptu gathering. Although my daughter was away working as a camp counselor in upstate New York, my son attended and other family members and close friends. At the gathering, laughter filled the air, and it was the kind of gathering where you might forget eating and drinking altogether because of the abundance of delicious conversation. The sun was aglow, cupped inside a cloudless sky. You could see for miles without a telescope. Out of a lifetime of gatherings, it hit the top ten list.

Anyway, as I examined the pictures, I spotted the date: MAY 25th. In retrospect, I realize IT WAS the last time my mom was alive, at least in the way we knew her. It was the last time she was one hundred percent lucid and pain-free and, in fact, resonated with youth and life. After that day, she took a turn and, in almost every sense of the word, she died. In my mind, I always reflect on that date as symbolizing her last good day on earth until she gave into her symbolized death that night of May 25th. In addition, I see that wondrous May 25th day as the best “Goodbye Party” I’ve ever attended. I couldn’t have prayed for a better outcome.

I, of all people, know that as much as we would like to think we are in control of our destinies, we are utterly powerless. It’s a consequence of being human. But I also know that when things whirl out of control, I need to place my two feet into a composite of faith, trust, hope. At the moment, however, as I carry my griefcase, I only have quicksand to trudge in. Interestingly, I read that you can only sink as far as your waist into quicksand unless you dive head first or face first. Given this information, I keep my faith and allow myself to sink without drowning. Head up, I can’t miss the spring air, and I soak up the warmth and, without orchestrating a thing, allow the process of the natural healing powers to amaze me, especially in the darkest of days that feel like they are buried in a non-breathable acrylic shroud.

Faith Muscle

Maze Craze

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This past weekend, I was cleaning out the car in my driveway and caught sight of the young woman next door. All smiles, she exited her car with a white gown slung over her shoulders and walked into her house. I deduced that the gown was for her high school graduation. For a moment I was transported back to being a naive 17-year-old when I saw the world as a linear, simple place where scheduled events like graduations were made up of happiness, love, sunshine and uplifting greeting card sentiments.

Her smiling face also kicked off a grown-up memory in my maze of life full of twists and turns that happened 10 years ago when my son graduated from high school. About a month beforehand, my son wrote his father, who had relocated some 600 miles away, a request: please do not come. Although I kept my opinions to myself, the last person I wanted to see was the man I was in divorce proceedings with. Secretly, I sensed the act of barring him from my son’s graduation as punishment for the fallout our family experienced for his bad decisions and, at that time, I felt the punishment was valid.

On the day of my son’s graduation ceremony, as far as I remember, I was there with my daughter, Brother Paul, godmother Pat and my friend Lisa. We were all on guard in case my son’s father showed up. Malaise hid behind our smiles as we entered the auditorium. I was like a hawk searching the room with telescopic eyes, worried that my son’s father, whom his children had not seen for over five months at that point, would make a surprise appearance. Inside I was troubled, totally unable to fathom the outcome of such an encounter.

Concurrently, it was also a solemn occasion. Although a chair was reserved for one of the classmates, Robert, my son’s best friend, it was empty. Eighteen-year-old Robert had been killed five months earlier in a freak off-road vehicle accident during a blizzard.

During the ceremony, the family faced the audience as they sat in a special spot reserved for them at the head of the auditorium. The spotlight of unfairness of it all did not occur to me until this past year when I had a deeper understanding what it meant when the future milestones on the calendar are unwillingly torn off along with your heart. Now, looking back, I am stunned to think about how Robert’s family sat in the unfairness of it all and managed to be present and smile for the sake of the other participants. I equate it as purely a heroic act of self-sacrifice. Caught up in my own selfishness, it took a pair of grieving mom’s eyes to understand that after the crowd dispersed and continued the good celebratory vibe, the grieving family left in the same manner they had arrived: carrying their “griefcases.”

In addition, as it turned out, my children’s father never showed — at least, we never saw him. Years later, he revealed that he accomplished the 11-hour drive to the ceremony, but sans admittance ticket, he stood unnoticed outside behind the crowd. I can’t remember if I told my son that bit of information years later, but it’s doubtful if it would have kept him alive in his later years.

Anyway, after the ceremony, my son, despite the sadness of his best friend’s death and anger and angst of his father’s decision to abandon the family, was all smiles like my neighbor this past weekend. He rarely smiled during his middle and high school years. I remember I was on top of the world because of the picture he presented of rare normality, and it was one of the few times that I saw my son in sync with the world.

At the end of the graduation ceremony, the knowledge deep inside pumped my faith muscles and I knew that everything, as my now ex-husband had assured me in the early days of our break up, “would work out.” Obviously, I was tricked. The maze I was given with an entrance and goal was a scam, the layout, to this day, is too convoluted and ambiguous to ever figure out. There is no start and finish. No solution.

The kiss of promise on my son’s face is only a memory. During his 10-year high school reunion this year, there will be two empty seats for sure. Thinking of my young neighbor’s face, it is some sort of consolation, and I hope and keep the faith that things will work out in her life.

I recall seeing her in the window at midnight studying, working, and she reminded me of me at her age. I deserved a happy future just like she does. In the maze of life that’s not straight thinking, because we all get our own very custom-made mazes. Some are crazier than others. We all, though, at one point or another, get lost. Inch our way through. But then again, maybe finding the way out isn’t the key, maybe it’s how we stay steadfast to our values, keep the faith and remain in the game despite a burning desire to take a shortcut and erase the dizzying lines.

Faith Muscle

Monster Moms and other Musings

This year on Mother’s Day instead of focusing on my personal grief journey, I centered my thoughts around my mom. As a child into my young adulthood, I was so unlike her. I thought she had adopted me. I could barely share the same room with her. The word hate is too strong to describe my early feelings toward her, but I spent most of my time dodging her abrasive, nasty, many times cruel remarks, and dealing with the mental anguish that resulted. Believe me, she knew how to push my buttons, because she was a master installer.

Typically, particularly toward strangers, she was taciturn and morose. On the other hand, I was over-excitable, over-sensitive and talkative. Touch, too, was off-limits to her and our family. She was like a splintering telephone pole to avoid. It wasn’t until I was 27 that fellow Brian A. taught me how to offer a cordial embrace. I was an excellent student and, in turn, I became a huggy, touchy-feely person.

Along with learning healthy touch, I implemented a solid self-care program into my daily life, and to my shock, slowly, very slowly, my mom became softer. She switched out her destructive masculine qualities for sweeter, gentler feminine ones. By the time my own children were born, we spoke at least an hour a day on the telephone and, in between our hour-long talks, she called our house in endless succession to the point of irritating the entire household. Our conversations revolved around my son and daughter. She, too, never failed to throw in the latest sensational news headlines before we hung up.

Tuesdays and Fridays were scheduled for her day-long babysitting services, and she’d pinch hit on other days too. Any failings she had as a mother, she made up tenfold as a grandmother. The love between my children and their grandmother was knitted together in 14-karat yarn that could never be damaged, broken or severed. By the time I reached my late 40s, she, shockingly out of character, very matter-of-factly announced that she loved me and, of course, I reciprocated.

My mom had lost a son, my brother, too. He suffered a fatal stroke in 2002, 16 months after losing her husband, my dad, to emphysema. From that point on, I rallied around her and never failed to fudge and compliment her fine mothering skills. I wouldn’t award her any Best Mom trophies in the Hallmark Card sense, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she loved me and my brothers in the best manner she could. For so long society has painted women as natural caretakers, but this role was not a favorite of mom’s. Her fervid desire was to be a certified public accountant, working in a shiny, clean and sterile office setting, churning numbers, calculating hard-and fast-solutions. Instead, she settled in an unsettled family environment of obscure emotional demands at a loss for an exact formula.

In 2015, the year she turned 90, her final year with us, as she withered to illness, she constantly pleaded with me and Brother Paul, “Forgive me.”

To this day, I admire her for taking a personal life inventory and having the courage to complete her amends. As the years pass, her influence has become like a bone fused with my skeleton.

I constantly hear her broken English commands and her practical advice, like, “Clean up! Right away when make mess.”

She had tons of wise sayings too, for instance, “Where people, problems.” “You make plan. God crosses out.”

My mother was a petite woman who led a modest lifestyle in every regard, but she was huge on gratitude. You could give her a sunflower seed and she would dance with it in her hands until she eagerly planted it in her outdoor garden, profusely thanking you until you couldn’t stand to hear her thanksgiving any longer.

Instead of obsessing about myself this Mother’s Day, I am thankful to have had my mom for as long as I did. I also thought about other moms, the moms who did not get to see their children due to the pandemic and for other reasons. I, too, remembered the bereaved moms. The imprisoned moms. The estranged moms. The moms who sat in the same room as their children on the holiday but did not see them for who they were and only saw them for what they wanted them to be.

Moms. Moms. Moms. Inclusion is the buzzword these days, but society still disregards the moms that are so difficult to love, because many of them are simply hurting. It’s been said before: “Hurt people hurt.” Many times, the ones who really need a hug are those who appear they don’t deserve a hug. Monster moms, if you will.

“After one of her mother’s beatings, Ivy could, at least, count on being left alone for a few days. If the beating was particularly vicious, Nan might even cook Ivy’s favorite dishes and allow her to watch television before starting her homework. Nan neither justified nor apologized.”

The excerpt above is from a book, White Ivy by Susie Yang that I recently read. In a bizarre way, it makes me chuckle, because when we think about Mother’s Day and all-things-mom, the antagonistic moms in the novel of life are wiped clean, removed. There is no seat for them at the mom’s table. We close our eyes and, thus, do not deal with their existence. We hide their sickness. They hide too, getting sicker sometimes. At least in my case, I had a lot of assistance in learning how to love myself and then my mom reaped the benefits of my radiated transformation. She basked in it. The benefit of the warmth helped her begin her healing process.

I know one person who never forgave her mom for being verbally abusive. As far as she was concerned, her mother was dead. In turn, the woman grew into one of the most bitter, non-empathetic and punitive people whom I’ve ever met. Her persona exhibits a kind of cancer that eats her whole, and everyone that comes close to her. Ironically, a closer look reveals that she has become her monster mom.

On the other hand, I’ve known dozens of “adult children,” including myself, who survived a gamut of abuse, both mental and physical from their mothers (fathers too, but right now the focus is on moms!). Whether through therapy, divine intervention or some other form leading to positive transformation, the survivors not only survived, but thrived and arrived at a true forgiveness stronghold, and they stopped perpetuating the destructive pattern that was once modeled to them and those around them. Some of them reconnected with their moms and others did not. However, all of them are the kind of compassionate people whom you want to be around, because they make this world a better place.

I think sometimes moms are put on earth for the sole purpose of teaching their children to learn to forgive, which, of course, does not mean accepting unacceptable behavior.

As children, we naturally put our faith in our caregivers. When they disappoint us, we are like abandoned orphans, desperate for love, working overtime for the sole purpose of pleasing others. Truth is, growing up means uncovering the inner fragments, including the broken ones that make us who we are and teach us how to stand tall and be proud. This independence is important because sometimes we have to fill the boots and play the part of our of our own heroes and have the faith that we can fake flying with or without a cape even if we have aviophobia — a fear of flying. First, though, we have to lighten the luggage, compartment by compartment, until we can leap to freedom and parachute to a stable ground that feels like the gentle arms of a mother holding her newborn.

I hope that my blogging community of mothers, godmothers, fur moms and all other caregivers of the universe had a joyous holiday, and I give you all one big, virtual hug.

Faith Muscle

Pondering Poodles & Other Toys

If I lived a storybook happy-ending life, today would have marked 30 years of marriage for my ex-husband and me. During our 19-year marriage, we shared a mutual dream. When we hit the retirement years, our goal was to rent an RV and rescue a group, seven was the lucky number, of abandoned old poodles in the local shelters. With our poodle family packed and ready, we planned to enjoy a year-long road trip from our east coast home to Alaska.

My ex-husband’s brainstorm of an idea was to co-author our own version of Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. I was all for it and eager to chronicle our Alaskan adventure in the same fashion of the great American writer’s experience driving across America with Charley, his French poodle. Throughout each passing year, especially at night when I was tired and spent from a full day, my ex would smile and in a soft whisper say, Travels with Charley.

Those three words, our secret code, was the necessitated adrenaline that renewed my spark and carried me through the day’s remaining hours on a positive note.

Around 2007, our young family even toured the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California, in the area were the author grew up. As I write this post and visit the website to retrace our memories, pure emotional pain veils, like a fetal membrane, my remembrances of our time that we enjoyed in the Golden State together. It is almost incomprehensible now how naïve and innocent I was and how I viewed life on a permanent mural and not on a temporary “Etch A Sketch” toy board.

Anyway, my ex-husband and I never rescued one poodle, apart from the rescue poodle Crouton, whom I already owned. When 2010 rolled around, we could not rescue ourselves. The bottom of our Titanic-fated house sliced open after ramming into a financial disaster iceberg. I went down with the ship. My ex-husband bolted to safety. In fact, I recall that the last time my ex held Crouton was shortly after I learned the raw truth of his departure, before he relocated to a state some 600 miles away. As I bawled my eyes out in the bedroom nesting in the bed, he entered, cradling the dog in his arms, and with a bitter tone he said, “Why don’t you sleep with Crouton tonight.”

Prior to this fateful night, what tripped me up was that I thought the “in sickness and in health; for richer for poorer … “ wedding vows shadowed us and stretched way past the final hours of our wedding day celebration. In other words, I put my life and faith in those vows. Certainly, when I promenaded down the church aisle on the seasonally perfect May day and relished in his face aglow and blast-of-white smile 30 years ago, nothing nor no one could erase the future promise I foresaw. It was as clear in my mind as the intense blue, cloudless sky. Every line of the manuscript in my mind — beginning, middle and end was underscored with “happy.”

As said earlier, I was naïve and innocent and viewed life on a permanent mural not on a temporary “Etch A Sketch” toy board. Unfortunately, what I learned decades later was that his life views paralleled the meaning behind that classic toy: “When you’re done, turn over and shake to erase — then, start the fun all over again.”

At the beginning of our marriage, much of his attention went to a new managerial career while I focused on an infant born with a heart defect. The situation kicked me into a dismal trajectory and the sad ending was that I became an archaic, displaced worker, which later added to our financial burdens. As decades passed, though, admittedly I gained my greatest worth from my role as a mother. My ex gained his worth by being away from home in places where he could garner the full attention that he necessitated as his mental state tore away. Our worlds existed in separate orbits and one day spun out of control and in the frenzy our dreams disappeared.

Sadly, we were required to cash in our retirement fund that helped pay for our divorce legal fees. At that point and time, we could not afford to pay our mortgage, never mind buy an RV. And the road map to Alaska that we so diligently planned was switched out with a map that took us not to a destination but to near destitution with a terribly messy and costly divorce.

I can’t turn time back to the Saturday of our wedding that draped us in its turquoise sky and stroked us in gentle warm breezes. Sometimes I think the pure white Calla Lillies that almost slipped out of the bouquet while I promenaded down the aisle symbolized an omen. Or maybe bad luck unfolded when my soon-to-be groom accidentally saw me that morning before we exchanged our vows later in the day. As a side note, it brought great solace to me when Mrs. B. confided to me that her soon-to-be-husband also saw her by pure accident on their wedding day and they marked 30 years of marriage the same year we married!

Luck or no luck. Good endings. Bad endings. Things happen out of our control. Raw reality is: we are out of control, because all things, including us, are temporary etchings in life. That’s the short and long of it. Life can trick you into believing that we are the authors of our life as surely as the left control on an Etch A Sketch moves the stylus horizontally, the right one moves it vertically. Shake, make it disappear. However, raw truth be told, the design for living has a deadline. When the ending, happy or sad, arrives, there’s no twisting the white knobs on the classic red board, because life magically disappears just like the miles in the review mirror that usher us forward to a great American road trip.

Faith Muscle

Prayer House

Photo by Bastian Riccardi on Pexels.com

Every night for four years, with few exceptions, my dearest friend Pat, a former religious sister, now layperson member of the Carmelite Order, and I prayed for ourselves as well as dozens of other people … Mark, Sarah, Rebecca. As the years passed, we squeezed in new names … Joey and Anthony …. We squinted to read the growing names and intentions on the list that was about the size of an index card.

Always topping the list were the names of my two children and ending the list were the names of those who had passed over.

For the first two years, we prayed on the telephone. The last two years after Pat moved in with me, we congregated at our kitchen table. We prayed for health, wealth, romance, reconciliation or safety for those near and dear. No one could have convinced me that our prayers were left unanswered. Jobless friends obtained job offers. Sick friends became well again … at our table, it was as if we ordered from an a la carte menu … two burgers and one large order of fries, no special sauce. Bottomless bounty was served!

In 2018, we witnessed a miracle. A man in his early 30s, whom we did not know, but heard about from our priest, was run over by a car at a busy intersection. He survived the crash, but he slipped into a coma. Odds of recovery, grim. Through the grapevine we also heard, he was the only son to a mother who had recently immigrated to America. At that time, I could not imagine if something that horrific happened in my cozy,  little life. I prayed, “Please God, help this young man. We ask a miracle … if it is your Holy Will.”

.… “If it is your Holy will.” We capped off each prayer this way, because it reconfirmed our humble servant status. It reminded us that we were not the creators of this world and powerless to perform God’s work. Looking back, I was only kidding myself. When that young man came to consciousness and recovered, everyone called it “a miracle.” My egotistic self knew it was through the specific prayers we prayed at the kitchen table night after night for a month that he was alive and well.

As I said earlier, my young adult children always topped off the prayer list. Year after year, our intentions for them were consistent: good physical and mental health, good jobs and good spouses. For my son, there was always one constant request: help him find a friend.

Week after week, month after month, I knew we were getting closer to our intentions being granted. After we concluded our 20- or 30-minute prayer sessions, Pat gently placed the list under a statue in the kitchen of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, he is recognized as the patron saint of workers. The statue is about three and a half inches long, and the saint is depicted lying on his side, sleeping. The reason behind the supine pose is that it is believed that an angel spoke to St. Joseph in a dream on two occasions to give him much needed direction. We liked to believe that every night while we slept, he “worked hard” and assisted us with his powerful intercession, and obtained for us from the Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We recited specific St. Joseph prayers and they sealed my concrete-like faith.

On the night before our personal tragedy blew our little bubble world into smithereens leaving the hot shrapnel embedded into every crevice of my mind, heart and spirit, we recited our routine prayers. Less than 15 hours later, I laid on the floor like the St. Joseph statue. Of course I was orbits away from being in the state of placid rest. I pleaded, beseeched and begged the invisible air to change what had occurred, my body in a convulsion state. And, so it was. The unspeakable and unimaginable from that day forward was a hard blow and, for me living with grief means crawling, because I feel like I carry 900 pounds of hot shrapnel day after day, week after week, over 17 months later.

I was the one who did not have another prayer request left in me, and Pat and I haven’t prayed since that fateful night. Memories of the last time praying together, and I can still visualize the lit candle dancing around the kitchen, coating our faces within a warm glow, and our spirits free to cavort with the frolicking candlelight.

As my lips fall to silence, Pat, with her religious zeal, that I so admire, has not slackened one bit in her prayer life. If anything, her prayer time has accelerated. For me, right now, I am trying to reckon with my powerlessness and I just listen. Be and leave the BElieving alone, because I don’t want to spark my ego into thinking I have any control on the ways of the world. Just as I possessed no control over the young man who baffled science and fully recovered from a near-fatal car accident. In the same way, I possess no control over my son’s unspeakable set of circumstances.

As a trained journalist, I always wanted the know the answers. Now, I don’t even know the questions to ask. I just know that I don’t mind seeing the statue of St. Joseph asleep and allowing it to remain in our kitchen. He looks comfortable, but, strangely, lonely. Sometimes I have a hankering to say, “Pat! Where’s the list? Can we pray?”

Instead, I remain silent. I can’t fathom another disappointment or letdown. Now, I automatically take cover and duck and don’t stand in the way of life. Especially at night, I reckon with the feeling of loneliness and stark silence in the kitchen, even with the background music. I use what remaining energy I have to BElieve the sun will rise, and I don’t have to lift a finger to help that fireball to ignite.

Faith Muscle

Fear Mongrels

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Since childhood, the bullies in my garden of life are as plentiful as three-leaf clovers. Their job is to intimidate and control. Sling insults, impede success and flatten everyone who appears on their radar.

After a bully encounter with the one of the two bullies, who are like Velcro in my life in spite of my grief journey, I am left with an indifferent acceptance fueling a slow burn in the pit of my chest. Afterwards, I quell my uncomfortable feelings by sprinkling a pollyannish delish sweetener on my angst. Many times, however, the discomfort awakens me at 3 p.m. like a pulled muscle.  

My denial doesn’t trick me any longer into believing that the bullies are acceptable. In reality, bullying behavior under the best of circumstances has the same effect of a concoction of artificial chemicals in the body.

Now, in the final chapter of my life, I am removing toxins, starting a healthy diet and getting fitted for big girl panties. After all, how long can one survive on toxicity? Sometimes, though, finding voice, drawing the line and saying, “No More!” seems like an impossible conquest.

Uncharitable, unkind bullies seem “blessed” in my circle of family and friends. Their big ego magnets attract big things. One bully, for example, who is now an adult, but used to mercilessly insult my son in middle school, has not only survived, but, apparently thrived, having recently obtained a supervisory position. The job involves children, and I wonder if he has outgrown his bully behavior. I wonder what will he pass on?

Bullies come in all ages and from all backgrounds. Bullies rein with a rod of thunder that elicits fear. Their mission is to control the moves on life’s chessboard.

My mission is to stop perpetuating the cycle. If fear and faith are segregated roommates then I am at that point where I am friending faith. This does not mean fear magically disappears. This means, I have to look it in the eye and die … but not REALLY die, because that’s fear talking, lying and stripping me of my birthright dignity. The only path to victory is having the wherewithal to weld a faith shield. I can do that, because I, too, am blessed with courage to climb higher, above fear’s bondage and escape into freedom outside the prison of running scared.

Faith Muscle

WTF: One Year Strong

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After my dear friend, Aileen, encouraged me, I started this blog in 2013, the day after my son turned 20.

“Do it for me,” she had said at one point, which ended my more than two-year mental debate of whether I should make WTF, Where’s the Faith blog a reality or not. From there on, I only wrote posts, for the most part, sporadically.

I relaunched the blog last year on March 31. A couple months after we buried my 26-year-old son, my close writer friend, Laurie, asked me about the status of the blog. I explained that I had abandoned my writing projects, especially writing posts about faith for a faith-themed blog! She countered me, saying, “Write posts about how you have NO faith. How you question faith. How each and every moment is the dark night of the soul.”

I followed Laurie’s advice and since that time I have posted on a weekly basis. With the exception of one post that was accidentally scheduled, the schedule for my posts is the same: Every Tuesday at 1:51 p.m. This is when the Russellville, Kentucky, coroner notified me of my 26-year-old son’s death by suicide. Some grieving parents build organizations, charities and foundations in memory of their lost children. I build faith in the bricks of words, hoping that my pain will help heal the world.

What I have learned in this year-long journey is that even when you feel abandoned, no matter how bone dry your faith-o-meter is, locate solitude. It might be by a veil of a mighty falls or besides a tiny trickle of a backyard stream. It might be inside a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or a wondrous place like the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, New Hampshire, where my once young and whole family found rest and rejuvenation many years ago. Don’t disqualify a barn, shed or cave and other random places that can serve as a refuge from the world’s noise. Fold yourself away and unfold the natural beauty within, warts and all.

For me in the final chapter of my life, often I become in sync with myself by sitting alone quietly in my bedroom and entering into the temple of peace within me. In this personal temple, among the space solely reserved to grieve my son, and the less intense spaces representing my life span, I find my sacred place and sanctuary, a sense of spirit. In my personal temple, I unhinge the rein of control. Here is where I try and write these blog posts and allow the dredging of my words to take on a form of their own, allow them to drip out and expose the most vulnerable parts of my emotions. The uncomfortable parts that want me to take cover and overeat, overact, over-everything and cancel out my humanness and, instead, retire me to a supermarket aisle where I feel like I’m on display in a row of polished cans of sauerkraut.

During these last 12 months, however, there were also times when the noise threw me into confusion and calamity. I lost complete direction. The monster mind reared its evil, ugly lying head, and I thought of ways to end the absolute pain of the grief journey. On those nights, while I felt like I was sinking in a caldron of boiling water, miraculously, one of my newfound blogger friends would reach out and pull me up with an inspiring, reflective and/or galvanizing comment. Or I would read a blog post from another blogger friend, who was not in a good frame of mind, and I would reach out and try to pull him or her up with a helpful, encouraging comment.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, THANK YOU blogging community! Thank you for filling my life with your eye-candy photos and artwork; sage wisdom; daily musings, dreams and fantasies; spirtual beliefs; food recipes; how-to advice; lifestyle interests and, most of all, sharing a generous slice of your private pie, pain and perceptions and, in turn, affording me a dose of Vitamin D rays on the cloudiest of days, and helping me wait around long enough to witness another sunrise.

In other words, thank you for filling my faith-o-meter. Every single drop of your hope and faith has helped fuel me thus far. Amazingly, the faith fuel has appeared from all sides of the globe. For instance, I was very touched by one of my newest blogger friends, Anand, who explained “putra shokam.” In India it means the grief associated with the loss of a child. Anand’s mother, a world away, walks on the same putra shokam path as I do. I think about Anand’s mom as if she were in the ZOOM mode of my mind. I mirror my steps in hers and know that in love as in faith, there is only one universal language.

Anand also generously shared a very intimate post with me about losing his brother, There are always songs to sing.

I meditate on the profound words in the post and the beautiful eyes and smiles in the photo of him and his brother, 17 months older. I think of my daughter and her “twin” who was 21 months older. Anand’s brother died four days after his 25th birthday. My daughter’s brother died 61 days before his 27th birthday.

I’m not sure if I or my daughter can sing quite yet and create music like Anand, but I do think our bond has created a latticework design and repurposed the uninvited litter of grief that we pick through on our grief journey. The latticework is not only beautiful in design, but it sustains us as we use it to support each other.

One day, I hope my daughter and I will find solid footing, climb up and sing in the manner Anand writes about, because I do know that deep in all of us there is a repertoire of music waiting to be surrendered and released to the world, no matter how off key our voices are, because in love and faith, all voices sing in the unison of a common language and are powerful enough to reach the farthest distances on the globe and bring the house down.

Faith Muscle