To me, my faith is strongest when I feel my feet are placed firm and rooted, especially when everything around me is displaced and uprooted.
I consider myself a denizen of a balanced rock. If you haven’t heard of them, they are also called a balancing rock or precarious boulder. They are “a naturally occurring geological formation featuring a large rock or boulder, sometimes of substantial size, resting on other rocks, bedrock, or on glacial till.”
Like so many of these precarious boulders around the world, a lot of factors have worked against me, but I remain standing. As this past year draws to a close, I realize how much my community of friends, including fellow bloggers, have helped me keep my feet firmly planted on bedrock.
Sometimes I feel that I am destined to fall, dislodge from grief and emotions, succumb to the earthquake in my head. Then I look down and catch sight of my friends in an “Atlas” pose with their arms above their heads, helping to hold up my rock.
In the interim, a balanced rock is where I tread lightly, talk softly and hope my pain in some esoteric way will heal the world. With all my pain, I am relieved to imagine the possibilities.
The excerpt below is from a post by Liza Smith* in Austin, Texas. She is one of the members in my FB group that is a dedicated space for moms of children who committed suicide. She also lost her child about a year ago, and every word of it echoes how I feel during this 2020 holiday season:
“….Since last Christmas, I vowed to try harder. I picked up some new (to me) outdoor decorations at yard sales and clearance sales. Inside our home is still vacant of holiday spirit. This year actually feels harder than the first year. The exterior shows a normal family, and the interior shows our fragile hearts…..”
At the end of 2019, after the tragic blow of losing my son, with the exception of a wreath on the door, our house remained unmarked of holiday spirit. This year, however, along with my sole surviving child, this sweet mom’s post inspired me to make the dreaded trip up to the attic. Trying not to stare too hard at Christmas’s past, I located and pulled out our Christmas village.
Backtracking, for about five Christmases in a row, we made a pilgrimage to the Ronald McDonald house to deliver holiday pies and desserts. Nearly 28 years ago, my then husband and I lodged at the house when my son was born with a heart defect and underwent open heart surgery at the nearby hospital. The staff had a beautiful Christmas village display, and that was the model we used in our home during the holidays.
Although our Christmas village was nowhere near as intricate as Ronald McDonald’s setup, before the tragedy, it took me days to decorate our home for Christmas. In fact, we didn’t just have one tree, we had two lavish artificial trees, one white and one green!
Now, please read another excerpt from the same FB post by Liza. Again, everything she writes mirrors my feelings.
“….So I picked out the biggest most lavish artificial tree at the store. It was ridiculous; but I imagined the laughter of future Christmas around that tree and had to have it. We only put it up twice. Now it mocks me with its size, and cheerful, colorful lighting.
I tried dragging it out this year and only got the base layer done before melting down. My husband tried to comfort me and said “I thought this was the tree you wanted, it should make you happy” and he was half right. It was the tree I wanted, but only because it matched the life I wanted. Without that life, the tree lost its joy. We packed it back up and offered it to my sister who is starting an exciting new chapter in her life. Her and her partner just moved in together. It’s new and fresh and although she misses her nephew, she has joy again in her life. Her life matches the tree….”
Liza also explained in her FB post that she ended up getting a “pencil” style tree this year—and so did I. I couldn’t bare revisiting the old decorations–my young children’s handmade ornaments, ceramic baby shoes imprinted with birth dates, and so on. I ended up buying plain old NEW globe ornaments. The ornaments resemble this new normal: paired down, slim and simple.
My roomie said my son is happy that I decorated and resurrected the Christmas village. I stopped reading minds, especially ones that no longer emit brainwaves. But I can say, the glow of the village’s white lights are warm and invite me to “participate in life’s calendar of events.” This was another idea from Liza’s FB post. Sweet mom wrote, “I’m no where near ready to celebrate again, but participation I can handle.”
Liza’s FB post also inspired me to dedicate my blog post in honor of my fellow bloggers and all those who are not looking forward to Christmas this week. Perhaps this is your first Christmas without a particular loved one, or maybe your tenth or fiftieth year without that someone special. Or, maybe you are far from home in the military. Or, perhaps, you are at home without any family at all. Certainly, during these challenging pandemic times, some of you may be going through things like job loses. financial upsets, health issues and isolation.
The point is, I invite each of you to participate in life’s holiday calendar of events, whether it is connecting on zoom with a friend or family member or listening to a holiday concert on the internet. What about baking butter cookies? Or driving around the neighborhood to enjoy the array of holiday lights?
Sometimes you have to force yourself to have faith and plan activities that will help you achieve it. On the up side, this is the time of year, even during a pandemic, where holiday lights are the fireflies of winter’s backyard. Grab an imaginary jar and catch the glow.
*Thank you, Liza for your permission to use your encouraging words. I hope they help others as much as they helped me.
Last year, my brilliant, beautiful 26-year-old son, who could light up a room with his smile, took his own life eight days before Thanksgiving. Subsequently, eight days before Christmas, my then 25-year-old daughter and I boarded a flight to Nashville, Tennessee. He had lived an hour away in Kentucky. Our plan was to fly in and drive his car, along with some of his belongings, back home to Connecticut.
During our stay on December 18th, which happened to be my children’s Nana’s birthday, who basically disappeared from our lives in 2010, we were scheduled to present a commemorative plaque that included his photo “Living Waters” at a memorial luncheon at his workplace.
Pre-pandemic days, a sea of travelers wearing ugly Christmas sweaters surrounded us on the plane. We wore the faces of shock, disguising them the best we could. We wanted to blend in with the crowd and not alter the holiday spirit.
Everything felt surreal and in slow motion. The plane ride ushered in another remembrance, not nearly as unbearable, that occurred about eight years ago, when we took the train to my daughter’s new university campus where she was enrolled to live and study for four years.
On the train, the two of us sat on our rock hard seats like misplaced weeds in a bouquet of happy students and their families, brimming with dads galore. (My daughter’s dad had experienced emotional breakdown and for the most part abandoned the family the day after her sixteenth birthday.)
How we managed to get through those tumultuous university years is nothing short of a miracle, sprinkled with a fairy dusting of faith I am sure.
Speaking of fairies and faith, I don’t know if it was coincidence, pure luck or a miraculous moment, but sitting next to me in the plane was a young woman about my son’s age. She was blonde with a smile that could light up any room and cowboy boots that could stomp rocks into dust. We started to chat, and she ended up showing me her tattoos. She had one of her handsome grandfather, rendered from his younger years, on one arm and one of Lucille Ball on the other.
In high school, one of my nicknames was “Lucy,” because I emulated Ms. Ball. Growing up, she helped me believe that laughter could solve the world’s problems. The comedienne certainly inspired me with enough smiles and delight to help me endure my difficult childhood.
Out of all the idols to select in her day and age and here this young woman loved Lucy in the exact way I had generations ago. Of course, in the 70s, tattoos were mostly reserved for sailors, and certainly taboo for woman, so I missed a Lucy face imprint opportunity.
During the plane ride, the Lucy fan revealed how she had battled depression for years and finally pulled through and was making a fresh start of it, but not alone. She had her beaming mom, dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater, on the plane next to her and her two other most favorite people in the world, one tattooed on each of her arms. I’m not sure about her dad, but like the famous Rolling Stones’ song goes, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you’ll find you get what you need.”
Pained, I thought about how my son could have easily identified with this woman as I watched her hair roll, bounce and loop into fun circles that you had to resist from poking your finger inside. Who couldn’t love her? Except, ironically, she revealed, she had to fight hard to win her own love. Finally, she won the battle to endure life in spite of it all. My son ceased trying. My daughter and I were on route to pick up the pieces.
The “Lucy woman” had no idea about our mission. We had no idea about her mission either. But I did have a sense that maybe in the chapters of life riddled with nemeses, one wasn’t forced to feel like they were delivered the book in error, because somewhere before the ending a hero materialized.
In my daze, confusion, shock and looking from the outside in, I remember when I touched that young woman’s Lucy tattoo, I felt like I had somehow landed while the plane was still flying thousands of miles above ground. In some bizarre way, I perceived that imaginary wings of equilibrium enveloped me, and I had a sense that I would walk tall and fake brave from that moment on. Maybe, by some slim chance, laugh again in the future watching an old Lucy flick.
About eight years living a new normal life after my divorce, on a fluke, I tested blue mascara on my eyelashes. It felt wickedly forbidden, because it defied convention of a woman in her late fifties. Being naughty and rebellious sometimes is nice and fun. Needless to say, I defied the norm and ordered blue mascara on a regular mail order subscription basis. Did I say fun?
What is really amusing is when, over the years, onlookers noticed and asked, “Are you wearing BLUE mascara?”
Behind the question, I could detect tones of scorn and exclusion revealing their ageist mentality.
“Yes.” I looked the inquisitive spectators in the eyes as I fluttered my blue eyelashes. “Blue. Really, really blue.”
Recently, I was cleaning out a cosmetic drawer, and I noticed the last tube of mascara I owned, only to open the tube and find the blue color splintered and flaky.
You see, I canceled my subscription service after my son’s passing. Before then, the cherry-on-the-top part of my life was drawing with attitude outside the lines. Happily, too, I tore linear worlds out of my personal coloring book. Days had their challenges, of course, but a child-like faith rode under my heals.
Now, my only wish is for enough relief to cope with each passing day. One thing that helps is time spent in solitude to focus on household chores like decluttering cosmetic drawers.
I have an incredible tribe, but I keep my womb of grief inward. Why dampen someone else’s child-like faith? Yet, I’m often tempted to shout on the top of my lungs and punch them with a dose of reality: “it’s not your turn yet.”
When you least expect it, someone you love will die. YOU will die. It is the price of life. We may be proficient with our time management and schedule things like annual doctor visits on the calendar, but no way can we plan for our death or anyone else’s.
I feel like my personal healing story is set in the rear mezzanine of life. Isolated from the crowd, I recline comfortably there. Without any unnecessary ballyhoo, I appreciate the sights and watch for cool, soothing, curative colors like sky blue on a particularly indigo day.
I don’t know if I’ve “learned” anything of significance this past year after living through my personal tragedy. I have, however, brushed up on vocabulary words. “Schadenfreude,” for instance, means “pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”
Interestingly, while researching “Schadenfreude,” I discovered the following tidbit of information:
According to dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster, “searches for ‘schadenfreude’ spiked 30,500% after President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis was announced.”
The word on its “Trend Watch” page, in fact, “was the top lookup for Friday “by a very considerable margin” and the searches began after Trump tweeted that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive.”
The English word was borrowed from German in the middle of the 19th century. In German the word is derived from Schaden (‘damage’) and Freude (‘joy’).
Below are some example sentences that I pulled off the internet:
“I can easily believe you don’t approve it,” she said with a gleam of Schadenfreude. THE MESSENGER|ELIZABETH ROBINS
Meaning aside, I love the word’s sound that is as fierce as a simultaneous trumpet and trombone blaring. That being said, here’s a suggestion if the juxtaposition of emotional turmoil and your faith-o-meter has become a stress factor. Shout “Schadenfreude!” ten times (preferably when you are alone!). I have found it to be an excellent catharsis.
Many people facing dark times find faith in God or another higher power. At the moment, I put my confidence in the dictionary. Learning vocabulary words keeps my head in a safe space, away from treacherous waters of thought.
I may be far from a world champion in any respect, but my word-champion abilities renew my confidence and award me a promise of a tomorrow filled with substantial lexicons.