“That’s for happy people.”
My mother sullenly responded anytime I invited her to join me in a fun activity or special event. As I’ve previously mentioned, she was not only a World War II survivor, but trauma and pain shadowed her for most of her life.
A flat out “No” from her was unnecessary since the sharp tone of refusal was unmistakable. However, I discerned the truth. Her baby-like face, twinkling, daring eyes and partially upturned pink lips forcing down what would be a natural upturned smile, revealed the opposite of her initial response: “Sure, I’d love to go to … “
In fact, until she grew much older and frail, in spite of her protests, she willingly accompanied me on outings, whether they were to the local library, a tag sale, diner lunches or most of the extracurricular activities my kids were involved with when they were young.
After she died in 2015, I missed her company, but forgot about her fussing that preempted our outings. That is, until after our family tragedy and the aftermath of trauma in 2019. Suddenly, whenever I received an invitation or gift of any kind, my mom’s familiar words entered into my mind, “That’s for happy people.”
Survivor’s guilt can do a number on you. To say it feels like you’re “carrying a heavy burden” is pushing it. It feels more like you are stuck in a life that has become a hunk of hardened glue.
This brings me to the generosity of my dear friend Michelle who, at the end of last year, gave me a gift card for a massage. What do you think my response was? Thank you! Thank you! On the other hand, my contradictory mind, though, lamented: “That’s for happy people.”
Sadly, my last massage experience took place about one month before I lost my beloved son. I laid on the table incredibly relaxed and melting to pieces, but my mind battered me. I felt tremendously guilty, pampering myself while my son led a miserable dark, depressed life. Flashbacks of this dreadful time, of course, made me even more reluctant to schedule another massage.
Before Marshall’s birthday rolled around, I knew to “sit around” like a magnet attracting more darkness to the severity of the painful situation would not be wise. I found, however, to sequester and seek solace helps my pain management the most. So why not, I reasoned, take advantage of a massage — in a quiet space under a pair of healing hands?
The day before his birthday, I made an agreement with myself. “If I am able to schedule a last-minute appointment at the place then, so be it. It is meant to be.”
It was meant to be because wouldn’t you know it, there was an opening. The massage therapist’s name was Dawn. I also interpreted the double meaning in her name, the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise, as a sign.
I put my full faith into Dawn, a random woman I never set my eyes on, but who could either break the rest of my broken pieces or help me try and not shatter any more of the messy debris.
Needless to say, I was a wreck when I arrived on a brisk early afternoon, January 18, 2022. It boiled down to, I really, really needed a good massage.
When the woman who greeted me asked, “So, what brings you in?”
I swear I was so close to replying, “My dead son.”
Instead, I said, “A gift card.”
Ironically, Dawn turned out to be a nondescript woman who wore a mask that covered more of her face than necessary in a facility that requires everyone to wear face protection during these pandemic times.
Later, undressed and comfortable on the massage table, every time my mind started to scatter and squirm like an army of ants without my consent, I did my darnest to focus on what was. Be in the now. Humorously, her freezing cold hands won most of my focus. Then suddenly out of the blue, I recognized: “This is my life now.”
I was inspired from the publisher’s description of Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story: A Memoir; a quote I could easily apply to myself now. “There is a frank acknowledgment of the widow’s desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that ‘this is my life now. ‘”
A few moments later, I heard my son’s voice in my mind shout, “Don’t touch me!”
Perhaps because of his shaky early years in the hospital, but my son, in the way some people don’t like to be around cats or dogs, was uncomfortable with physical touch and didn’t like a lot of human interaction.
The realization flew at me like a boat’s paddle: That was his life then and this is my life now.
My faith in Dawn paid off. At the end, I felt fluid. And it felt good physically. Mentally, my gift of peace was still intact.
On what would have been my son’s 29th birthday, after allowing Dawn’s icy hands to kneed and stroke me, I signed up for a year’s worth of massages.
This is my life now — if all goes per plan, I am now booked for a year of massages to take me through to his thirtieth in 2023.
This is my life now. Some, like Michelle and Camille, have stayed with me. Others have disappeared — to many of them I represent the fragility of our existence. In contrast, I honor my grief and the voices, oh, the unmistakable, unbelievable magnitude of voices that spin inside me and are part of all that I am and all that I will ever be, planted forever in the soul of now and every tomorrow, rising above the physical plane of temporary to the dawn of permanence and eternity.
Amazing post. There are many of us who think “this is my life now.” Loss and covid has changed our world. Yet somehow there is a way to go on. I have always been supported and cared about by my friends on Word Press. Keep on moving forward.
Dear Stacy, I’m sending you love, hugs, and prayers. You never cease to inspire me. Your life now~….I will always always always feel sympathy for your loss. I remember you and feel you, even if I’m not on WP. I wish I lived closer if anything, but to sit and have coffee and just hug you. May your life now be filled with massages and messages that comfort your space. Love, Karla 🙏🏻🙏🏻💕💕
❤️ Lovely Stacy. God bless you. Your writings are an inspiration for all
Oh, Stacy, another one of your posts that brought tears to my eyes. I’m so glad you were able to get the massage. When you share what you are thinking (vs. what you actually say) – it is so honest and gut wrenching. And your friend’s card is truly something to save. What a gift she is!
I was thinking of your post title “This is My Life Now.” It reminded me of lyrics from my song “Hang On.” And there was another parallel with the use of the word “dawn.” My lyrics go:
Hang on, for a day will dawn
different from before, but you’ll smile once more
I also believe that dawn represents hope. Things can never be the same, but that doesn’t mean the anguish and heartbreak will crush you forever. Sending you my love and wishes of healing to your broken heart.
Beautiful post Stacy. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve lost my son to a long estrangement by his choice. Certainly not like your loss but I understand that feeling of “this is my life now”. And as a retired massage therapist/spiritual-holistic-healer, whose hands start off cool but warm up as the session progresses, I’m hoping Dawn’s hands do too. 🙂
This was so amazing in so many respects, from you describing your mother to pointing out how hard is it for some people to deal with people that are grieving.
I appreciate Camille for the beautiful card and message, and Michelle for that thoughtful gift of a massage. I, too, believe that therapist’s name was no coincidence. This is a new Dawn for you, of embracing your life now. The pain of losing Marshal will never go away, but perhaps, it can find a way of co-existing with joy.
I love that you booked a whole year of massage!!
Blessings to you! ♥♥
YAY! This is really good news, Stacy! I feel as if this will be life changing for you.