If you recall, the press club awarded, Am I in the Right Room? a second prize in the blogging category for CPC’s 2020 contest.
As a side note, one of my travel stories also won an honorable mention in the 2021 travel writing category.
The awards will be presented in June, and I will keep you updated.
I am humbled and, at the same time, honored to be recognized. It has been a bittersweet, 40-something year writing journey. When my children were growing up, and I spent every weekend and holiday “working” on a project, I never doubted for one minute that my earnest efforts would pay off and, in the future, I would have ample family quality time. One day, I thought, I would be able financially to “retire” or, at least, have weekends off. Of course, living in my writer’s fantasy, my dreams were simply illusions, pipedreams dribbled down on paper. I am left with thinking about the years of Sunday movies at the theater that I did not have the opportunity to watch with my young and growing family.
When it comes to writing this blog, sometimes I fear that I shouldn’t be transparent and, instead, keep my vulnerabilities to myself. At this point in my life, though, I work hard at steering clear of judging others and keeping my opinions about others to myself and, as such, the only opinion about moi that matters is my own. This mindset has proven to be of great therapeutic value to me and allows me to express myself during the times I need to. In turn, I am grateful to you, my blogging community, for providing me with a judgment-free zone that is my safe sanctuary and certainly my faith muscle and a “winner’s circle” all around.
In all my days, I’ve arrived late, on time, but never early for a function. When my daughter, her godmother, who is my best friend, and I arrived for the Connecticut Press Club (CPC) awards banquet, we had 20 minutes to burn before the banquet started.
Last week, I wrote aboutmy surprise when I realized I won the 2020 CPC second place for my blog post. After some arm-twisting from my daughter, I agreed to attend the awards banquet. What sealed the deal, as I also previously mentioned, was when I auspiciously discovered an inexpensive but beautiful turquoise necklace at a local store that seemed custom made for my black pantsuit that I planned to wear for the event.
“Turquoise, focus on turquoise.”
I know this is a nontraditional mantra, but repeating these four words helped me release most of my anxiety and PTSD symptoms on the day of the event. In my mind, all the negative, black thoughts were switched out. In their place rolled out a mellow turquoise the color of a New Mexico sky, moments after sunrise, very much akin to many of the photos that my friend sister Anne shoots.
What I am now aware of, that I was unaware of before, is that individuals suffering from mental health challenges cannot employ a mantra to slay their demon minds. Their demon minds slay them. For my son, this meant, outside of his workweek, total isolation.
I remember shortly before our family tragedy, I tried to help a close friend who was undergoing a tremendous amount of anxiety. I advised her to incorporate self-talk into her daily routine. Frustrated, she replied, yelling, “Self-talk doesn’t work for me.”
It was the first time that I started to comprehend the extent of individual variations of mental illness. Still, slaying my private demons decades ago, I fell into the group of positive psychology proponents. I believed that if you incorporate strategies like self-talk, mantras, positive affirmations and the like, it can help turn on a fluorescent light inside a darkened mindset. “Attitude adjustment” was the core belief. Now I know, you have to deal with mental illness before dealing with the attitude. In other words, if your mind is programmed differently as my son’s was, void of windows that allow the healing light to flow, there is no magic mantra to pull from a magician’s hat.
So, lucky me, last Tuesday evening, I possessed the mental clearance to leave the safe confines of my home. Upon arrival, wearing my turquoise necklace and saying my turquoise mantra, I can’t get enough of the turquoise sky crowning the Greenwich Water Club in Cos Cob, CT, a neighborhood in the town of Greenwich. The establishment is a private dinner/recreational club with an emphasis on water-related sports and boating activities for members, I gather, who never have and never will have to poke their rubber gloved hand into the cool water of a ceramic goddess and wash her majesty, a toilet.
As we make our way through the nearly full parking lot, the dust and sand from the spew of pebbles seems to undermine the club’s reputation. The clubhouse building ahead is impressive, but not imposing, perched on the Mianus River. The grounds are overrun by children and adolescents rather than adults. Members eat, swim at the built-in pool and, most obvious, relax, wane with the waning summer’s day that has turned into early evening. It is a Tuesday, my least favorite day of the week, but the sound of the children’s light laughter feels like a massage targeting just the right pressure points on my brain.
Inside a reserved space upstairs from the main restaurant, we are greeted with friendly CPC members who dispense name tags and apparently have no qualms about our early arrival. I scan the other name tags on the table, spotting one familiar one, Amy Oestreicher. It is a young woman and, although I haven’t been on Facebook for a number of months, a Facebook friend and fellow writer, not to mention artist and actress. If given an opportunity, I make a mental note to approach her after she arrives.
Our trio nests in three leather, oversized chairs. I am stationed like a cut-down tree stump. I am there, but not really. My daughter prods me, “Go network.” Fortunately, it is the crowd I’ve grown up with: writers, journalist, PR professionals and all creative types that evenly pump my blood flow. I can do this. I rise and converse with a man who turns out to be the contest director. He informs me that the blogging category was fiercely competitive. Boo-yah! Ego found after being lost through 20 months of grief, isolation and sheer trepidation.
Later, in my seat, CPC officials, along with the evening’s emcee, award-winning journalist and TV personality, Mercedes Velgot, graciously greet us.
Before the presentation, though, I catch the eye of a woman directly across the way, who is with a dapper-looking gentleman. I smile and quietly admire the bright colors she wears.
“Do you know her?”
“No,” I reply to my daughter.
The presentation begins as Mercedes takes her place behind the podium, svelte and towering in a little black dress that elevates the word “perfect” to a higher level.
I’ve attended a vast array of awards presentations through the years and, overall, they are boring, not due to monotone speeches, but because the ego inflation makes my gut heavy, like it’s a soda can depository.
In total contrast, Mercedes’ opening remarks are succinct but packed with the kind of compassion, empathy, and honesty that makes you feel like you are listening to a dear friend’s counsel in your living room. The theme, of all things, is how every cloud has a silver lining, and how we need to learn to discover it.
She goes on to elucidate the many COVID-19 challenges of the prior year and how our world suffered in the eye of death, illness and separation. She also explains how her nine-year, award-winning travel show was canceled. Amazingly, too, she speaks about her voluntarism in different capacities during the height of COVID-19 as a front line worker, including training as vaccination assistant.
“This year has really taught us to be resilient. It’s taught us how to pivot. It’s taught us how to be grateful for each and every day. “
In addition, she credits prayer and “spiritual strength topersevere through all of life’s challenges.”
And adds, “Here’s to all of you … your talents in finding beauty in the human spirit through your pens. Keep writing and keep looking for your silver linings.”
I am blown over by her loving kindness and if the mind demons kidnapped me, instead of sitting in this lovely room with an extraordinary group of people, I would be alone in my bedroom faced with a three-D movie screen in the maniac projection room of my mind in morbid reflection of things best forgotten.
As if listening to the awesome speaker and watching other award recipients claim prizes wasn’t enough, when the award is announced for Amy Oestreicher, Mercedes informs the crowd that the recipient’s parents are present to accept the posthumous award for their daughter.
Posthumous award? How can Amy be dead? She was so young, talented – intent on living.
Question your thinking. I remember one of Mercedes suggestions during her opening remarks. Question your thinking. Self-centered was I to think I would be the one and only griever among the group. The one and only pain-ridden person. Immediately, after the ceremony, I offer my condolences to Amy’s parents whose daughter died at the age of 34 from medical complications only four months prior. The grieving dad, it is obvious, is the mom’s anchor. Mom is a ball of fire. In spite of living through out-of-order death, the mom is an optimist. Her mission is to spend her life honoring Amy’s memory. The mom’s positivity is contagious and my faith-o-meter brims over.
My brilliant daughter advises me that I should mirror the grieving mom’s optimism. She winks her eye when she asks, confidently, “What are the odds of you meeting her and her husband on the same night you win an award?”
I nod my head. Is it coincidence or fate?
Looking back, the entire evening is lifted high in my memory by a faith muscle, fueled by the encouragement and support of my blogging community (thank you all!) and my close friends and, of course, propelled by my spitfire daughter.
To sum it up, I recall a well-known mantra that is intended to help anxiety: “Soham,” meaning “I am that” or “I am the universe.”
The idea reinforces the knowledge that I am one tiny brush stroke in a massive piece of artwork, a mixed-media, collage of life. The awards banquet last Tuesday is significant in my life because it reminds me of my insignificance. It reminds me how I can comfortably take a seat in the arena of life because whether we are in Cos Cob, Connecticut, or Canton, Ohio, or south of the Congo River, there is a designated space for everyone of us if we are wired properly to see it.
I am reminded, too, that no matter how stationary I am at any given moment, time is fleeting. Nothing remains the same. Everything is temporary. One day we are there, sitting. The next day “Poof!” we disappear. Paradoxically, as if on a magnificent piece of artwork, all parts, seen and unseen, make a whole, a never-ending composition of triumph.
It is all there is and ever will be. Right now as my own life fleets by, I can’t stop time, but I don’t have to wait until it is too late to say and claim it: I am that.
I was in the process of writing a blog post on humility, of all topics, and I was bombarded by emails from the Connecticut Press Club about their awards banquet, emceed by award-winning journalist and TV personality Mercedes Velgot, which happens to be tonight, my least favorite day of the week.
I am a member of the Connecticut Press Club that is an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) and includes both male and female members. Every year, the club sponsors a Communications Contest. The last CPC award I won was for an article I wrote in 1997. The article garnered a first place award for travel writing.
Earlier in the year, since I’ve been pouring so much blood, sweat and tears – lots and lots of tears – into my blog posts, I decided to submit one of my blog posts for CPC’s 2020 contest, Am I in the Right Room?
To provide some of my blogging background, I started WTF (Where’s the Faith) in 2013 as a personal blog when I was working in the corporate realm. The blog uses the tagline, “A blog of comfort during unpredictable times.” WTF draws on both secular and spiritual principles to support, encourage, inspire and sustain readers while they face challenging situations.
Although I started WTF in 2013, I rarely updated it on a regular basis. In 2019 after my personal family tragedy, I terminated my personal writing projects, including a novel that I’d been working on since 1996, and sunk inward. Four months after the tragedy in March of 2020, my fellow writer and longtime friend, Laurie Stone, who recently won a National Society of Newspaper Columnists award, encouraged me to return to blogging and suggested that I simply write posts about how my “Faith-O-Meter” (as I now refer to it) is on empty.
I followed Laurie’s advice and began to post on a weekly basis. With the exception of one post that was accidentally scheduled, my posting schedule remains the same: Every Tuesday at 1:51 p.m. This is the timepoint 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 for their departed children. I now forge a bridge of faith, in honor of my son Marshall, out of word bricks, hoping that my pain will help heal the world.
Anyway, as I undertook completing the award entry submission, in the back of my mind, I thought, “With my luck, I’ll win.”
Of course, in my prior life, my normal life, the goal of entering a contest was to win and receive an award. Ah, duh! During the 1997 CPC awards presentation that I attended, I remember flicking around the spotlight like a giddy moth.
Nowadays in my life, I am worn down dodging abundant minefields rigged with booby traps. The most innocuous people, places or things – questions like “How many children do you have?” – can trigger emotional pain that further shatters every broken part of me like a massive electrical explosion.
Personally, at this time, I am safest, and achieve my desired equilibrium when I keep my presence to a minimum in the outside world. Even if this pandemic fully disappears, I will likely continue to spend as much of my time as possible in a quarantine mode.
Knowing all this, I took a risk, hit the submit contest entry button and dove into my daily work schedule. When I received the spring notice and realized that I did not win first prize, I breathed a great sigh of relief and happily returned to tackling my overloaded work schedule.
Fast forward mid-summer, Thursday to be exact, and, as I mentioned, I’m bombarded by CPC emails. Suddenly, last Thursday, the salutation caught my eyes: “Dear Contest Winners …”
Wait A Minute!
Immediately, I download the list, scan like a crazed sleuth-houndand find the improbable that is now A reality: I won SECOND PRIZE for my blog post.
My mind switches to an instant projector mode and in front of me is a panoramic view of my son. A stage. An award that I won for my attendance in a work-related program. The year is 2016. Last minute, my son accompanies me as he sits in the passenger seat while I drive to the awards presentation. It is a big step for him since he is withdrawn by nature and crowds trigger him. He is a 23-year-old bundle of nerves. Halfway there, his fury and rage forces me to veer to the side of the road and halt. He does not want to attend and makes it known, shouting: Why do you force me into these things? Why did you “make” me go? Why do YOU control ME?
I’m an adult, he repeats.
Instantly, I scream back in attack. I’ll take you home right now. Turn around. You ruined my whole day. My special day. My award. Why do you do this?
We are parked in front of a massive Queen Anne-style house, and his brawny physique, suddenly, seems to shrink in size. I catch his eyes and realize that an uncontrollable sense of fear has shut the shade on the actual reality of the situation. Somehow by some miracle, I refrain from lashing out. Actually, it isn’t a miracle. My 30+ years of 12-step life kicks in. Pause. Instead of working off his rage, my empathy takes me on a brief tour, into the pit of his fear, sadness and black hole, lost in an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy.
It will be okay. You always go through this. Once you’re there, everything will be fine — that’s what always happens. We will make it together. My tone softens.
We both grow silent, his favorite state of being, and we drive to the awards banquet, not another word exchanged. As per his usual modus operandi, after we arrive, he was all smiles, refined, quiet, looking dapper, but covered with a light sheen from sweat under his blood-red shirt.
I envision Marshall as he perches over the balcony, beaming as bright as the spotlight in his typical seat-for-one seating arrangement at a small, round table. I feel his glow as I receive my award. Later, in the night, I pry him from out of the background like a fly on a tape trap and prompt him to join me and other celebrants. Still all smiles, he is amicable. Everyone likes him.
On the car ride home, he talks about the pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence, which was one of the presented topics at the awards ceremony. As I listen to his discussion laced with lofty facts, I have a burning sensation of looming dread in the pit of my stomach sensing a cryptic future lays ahead for us both.
Recalling my premonition switches the instant projector mode into a high, out-of-control gear in my mind. As difficult as it is, I refocus on my winners list inspection. It’s my name, maiden name and one-time married name. My children’s last name. The one Marshall took so much pride in.
I won SECOND PRIZE for my blog post.
I think back to the first award I won was in 1994 from Northwestern University for a parenting magazine article that I wrote for parents and how they can prepare their child for hospitalization. I wove my son’s story, who underwent open heart surgery in his first year of life, into the article.
My first award-winning story was about my infant son’s recovery. Now, this “award-winning” story is written as a result of his out-of-order, young demise. I wrote it with his blood. This is how I won an award? A “losing” topic for me?
I am now crying, bawling in my office alone, because this turn of events should not have happened. My son should be here and not perched on a random star in another galaxy as my best friend so succinctly contrived in an attempt to lighten one of my meltdowns not that long ago.
He should have won the award for his AI speech that he presented me with after the last award I won in 2016. Or, he should have won the award for the extraordinary metal parts he engineered and created shortly before his death with his gifted hands. And, I am bawling harder, knowing that his first-grade kindergarten teacher should receive the dunce award for stressing our family out because she failed in properly assessing him and said he lacked “fine motor skills.”
So, here’s the point. As most, if not all, award recipients promenade into the banquet located in no-less Greenwich, CT, primped, proper and ready, I know that I will be dodging these kinds of 3-D thoughts and visual minefields and booby traps. I will be the one working overtime to shut down my out-of-control images, triggered by PTSD, and silence the thought pattern that questions the why behind the award and toiling even harder when the what if tries to force its way in. I will now have a firsthand take on how my son felt in crowds.
For all these reasons, and more, I did not intend to attend the awards banquet. That is until my spitfire daughter, who happens to be visiting with kitty for about three weeks, kicked into her battle cry that is preempted with “Life is for the living.”
Needless to say, last Thursday night, I put lipstick on my drained and depressed self and joined my 26-year-old cheerleader daughter for dinner. Afterwards, we stepped into to a nearby store. I never shop for jewelry, but a long, dazzling, silvery turquoise necklace caught my eyes. I knew the piece was made for the black pantsuit I discussed possibly wearing to the banquet earlier that night during dinner with my daughter.
It goes without saying, first thing on Friday, I ordered three tickets: one for me, my daughter and her godmother, my best friend for the awards banquet.
So, here it is: SHOWTIME! Dear blogging friends and community, please think of us tonight. Actually, as I think about it, let me humbly prepare myself to think of all of you as my 12-step program teaches me.
These posts since March 2020 have turned out to be a means of catharsis, one of the only places where I feel safe to express fully my sadness, grief and, yes, hope and faith. The reason behind this sense of security is that I feel heard and supported by many of your comments, “likes” and personal communications. For the first time in my life, I am learning about different cultures, an area of fascination for my son that I never had the opportunity to share with him.
Obviously, I will not have an opportunity to share this moment with him either. What gives me solace, the faith to step into the minefield and booby traps of the banquet hall, is the visual that he is nesting inside a star somewhere in another galaxy. This time, fear, far removed, is replaced by a celestial glow in his eyes that, I hope, will also cast a spotlight on our souls tonight.
You can do it, Mom. Like you used to tell me, “Whether you win or lose is not the point. You’re a winner for showing up.”
You can do it. You have to take the first step into the field before you can locate and deactivate a mine.
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.
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.
Shortly after losing my son, my friend, and confidant, Betsy, who lost a son about ten years ago, chuckled when she said that I would imprint my brain with a list of the people who attended my son’s funeral. “And, reprint a resentment list of those who didn’t!”
Her sarcasm proved to be true. It might sound petty, but small things like showing up for a young man’s, out-of-order death, is a big deal for bereaved moms, at least for this momma. I won’t belabor the number of MIAs on the list, but more than dredging up feelings of resentment, their unavailability leaves me baffled and, of course, hurt.
Take for example a woman I accidentally saw a few weeks ago. She works part-time at one of the churches in my town. Her son went to kindergarten and first grade with my son until our children attended separate schools after we moved to another town.
Before our relocation, my son and her son were best friends. I connected equally with her. In fact, I was there for some of the lowest, most vulnerable points of her life.
Over these last twenty years, she was “blessed” and things did work out for her. To the best of my knowledge, her mortgage is paid off. Her marriage is solid. Most importantly, her children are alive. Some fifteen months ago, when we had the funeral for my son, I expected her, like a number of others to be there. In addition, I expected her son’s attendance. I had faith in them. They were churchgoers. They were educated and well-versed in the golden rule. She worked at the local church and someone even bought a Mass there for my son. So, I’m positive the tragic news didn’t skip her or her family.
I not only expected her to be there, I needed her to be there. I hate to admit it, but there were two reasons I poured my heart out in my son’s obituary, which, now, I regret. Anyway, the first reason was to end the stigma of depression and suicide. The second was that behind the raw reality I painted in the obit, there was a vulnerable cry for help. As a former cub scout leader, long-ago loyal volunteer, I needed my long-ago tribe. I needed the familiarity of the people I once loved unconditionally. The people I staked my faith on.
In the end, there were two surprises I am grateful for. Michael G. One of the former wrestlers on my son’s team. I hadn’t seen him in a good 10 years. He showed up. Many of the teachers from my son’s high school also didn’t forget us.
After the nightmarish time of physically letting go of my son, when I am particularly feeling vulnerable, my mental list reprints inside my head. The list certainly kicked off when I saw the mom, parked and texting in her car with an unmistakably happy, snappy little aura spinning around her tidy little orbit of a world.
For a moment, I wanted to approach her. “Why? Please help me make sense of life and explain why you couldn’t spare thirty minutes of your Sunday afternoon or Monday morning to say good-bye? Or send a ninety-nine cent sympathy card. Why? Tell me how you contribute to global charities, but can’t give of yourself close to home? Why? Do I have cooties? Do you think you can catch someone’s bad luck? Do I symbolize a super spreader to you?”
Instead of cornering her and taking the risk of making her feel embarrassed, I “let it go.” I haven’t earned much in my career these last 36 years, but I’ve learned much from my 12-step recovery community. I do not have to harbor resentments. I can erase them. Start afresh. Let bygones be bygones, and allow her to drive off to her happy-ending home and obsess about the evening’s dinner choices. Me, I’ll take my crappy little bad luck “blessed” life. All of the hardships, abuse and downright cruelties. Like a young cadet, I have endured the boot camp of life. I know how to lift my head up, shine my heels, and look spiffy and coiffed. Cornelia, one of my beloved mentors, who passed away, and others, taught me so long ago. In other words, allow grace to soldier me forward. I may fall, stagger and sometimes think I do not have the strength to get up from the field of weeds, but I guarantee you, I’ll keep up with my manicures.
Body confusion sounds bad but is good. As my yoga coach explained, when your exercise routine becomes routine, your muscles get bored and slack off. You can schedule the same exercise routine every week, but after awhile it becomes old hat, and your body does not benefit from the workout. In other words, you have to challenge—shuffle things around; in essence, confuse the body to keep it at its best. Challenges and new moves keep you in healthy grooves!
In this same vein, if the body slacks off, wouldn’t the mind do this also? Not to minimize the impact of a life crisis, but one thing it does do is shake you up and orbit you to unfamiliar places that may feel foreign and scary at the beginning, but later as the journey unfolds, recharges the imagination and ignites the creative problem-solving juices.
For instance, before our family’s personal crisis in 2010, I could have continued to hide under some fifty extra pounds of weight and allow myself to fade into the buttermilk color walls of my house, vaporizing behind my then husband’s emotional tailspins.
Instead, nearly four years later, “mind confusion” has kicked me into over drive. Tons of new challenges undertaken…daunting jobs, grubby courtrooms, and a longtime friend who threw me under the bus just when I was about to get my bearings! With the challenges, new joys have also unfolded…dating again since 1989, the last time I had a date; neighborhood kids who come to the door with shovels during a blizzard and a late-life love who surprises me with a kiss that transplanted me back to feel sixteen again when my high school’s gym class cheered me on as I did a tap dance atop the trampoline.
Thanks to the element of surprise, total mind confusion, I not only shed the pounds, okay, some of them, but I have also had a love affair—with my femininity, my individuality, my sometimes tragic, miserable, highly interesting, amazing life, and I learned that courage doesn’t come to me naturally, but that I have to have faith and work at it…not face danger and freak out and bolt, but face danger, freak out and stare it down—a little bit longer at each new perilous zone.
In the end, I still have “the bad” confusion in my life and I struggle as a single mom. It remains an everyday challenge to be stable and balanced, especially when the mortgage due date draws closer, every month, and my mind becomes a 24-hour melee in which I must battle it out with beasts that can and will flex their muscles to frightening proportions. Then there are those days when my body joints tell me I have been squeezed out of so much youth.
Through it all, I have learned to get my shine on and dance through life as if my experience on this earth has been a skip through a meadow of wildflowers and not a plunge into an abominable pit of hot coals, employing grace and dignity at all times when tears mar the vision, but faith carries me forward through the downpour.
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.Job 12:10
Okay it’s been over a month. We are in the middle of Thanksgiving weekend. I can talk about it now. Our beloved French poodle Crouton who has been my anchor through these crisis-filled years, my number one (ok, number three after my kids) cheerleader, my coach, my shadow, my angel passed away peacefully at home on October 17, 2013.
Instead of dwelling on Crouton’s passing, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about a few of the people, angels, who soared into my life and lifted me up at the times I was at my most pancake position. For instance, about a week before his death, I had informed the staff at Waggies, Crouton’s grooming salon at the time, that my doggie had a cancerous tumor. I almost did not call the salon because of his bloody wound, but I wanted my dog to look his astute best during the critical period.
The salon’s owner Ellen told me to come right down with Crouton. The minute we walked throug the door, Ellen and Lisa, my doggie’s groomer, showered us with empathy and consolation. Despite his open bloody tumor, without hesitation, Lisa washed him and clipped him gently and speedily. Two hours later, his spruced up look was just the boost I needed. Like a rite of passage, on his way through the doorway of death, the groomer kissed him on the middle, then the tip of the nose. In a very odd way, the time we spent together was like celebrating sadness.
The week after, feeling glum about Crouton’s deteriorating condition, exiting the supermarket in the middle of a torrential downpour, a man about my age made the mad dash to get his groceries into his car. Following behind, I started to pile my bags into the way back of my SUV when the man’s kindly face came into full view. He positioned the remainder of my groceries into my car, and even took my shopping carriage back to the front of the store. I knew God had sent his messenger to let me know he had not abandoned me.
Meanwhile, through Crouton’s death process, my friends, including Pat, Camille and Michelle, partook in the journey; probably helped prevent a few major falls as I did trip. A couple of weeks after his death, my dear friend Michelle arrived at my door with a homemade meal. It has been one of those days when the house felt particularly empty and big.
“It’s so quiet without Crouty,” my son had said when he came home from work.
The emptiness in our living space was instantly filled with the aroma of the chicken soup and bread that Michelle had walked in with that night. Her entrance and exit was brisk, but her appearance had not only given us the faith we needed at the moment, but had a lifelong effect on us, like so many others that I had encountered through the trying time. In the emptiness of our hearts and our home, God filled the barrenness with His love, manifested through the human touch.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I had some disconcerting news about my beloved apricot poodle Crouton a couple of weeks ago. Fast forward to last week, and I found out there is some hope in his stage 3 cancer diagnosis. The operation will tell all. I am not looking forward to the recovery period for my 12-year-old angel either…but one step at a time. At the moment, I am mulling over how I will obtain $1,200—if I go that route—with everything else going on.
Anyway, the first onset (24-48 hours) of news, I had a lot of reactions from people…in my mind, I started penning a letter with well-meaning friends in mind. And here is an open letter to anyone who cares….
When you find out that your friend/acquaintance/neighbor or whoever is facing the passing of a pet, please do not compare the pet to a child or human being. This is a shocking comparison and one that should be avoided at all costs. It is tasteless to pit a child against a dog or other animal. I know your motives are pure and you are trying to ease the pain, but pain is pain. We are entitled to our own personal pain. Each type of pain is worthy to run its own course the way the griever sees fit. Please make room in your world for my pain. By telling me not to feel the pain, you are deleting something that is natural and normal. Please don’t strip me down because you can’t handle pain; by doing this you will multiply the pain…what you resist persists.
Even if you are not an animal lover, please do not, under any circumstances say, “It is just an animal.” My little “baby” is just that to me. Please don’t try and suffocate my love for something because you cannot empathize. I do not need empathy or even understanding, I just need “to be.” Please, in other words, let me grieve without having to stuff it, or minimize it or tweak it or fake it or…fill in the bank it. I am a mature gal. I have grieved my dad’s passing; my brother’s passing; my son’s best friend’s passing. I have grieved nine friends/people I’ve known who’ve committed suicide. I have grieved my friend Jane’s passing at 17 years old. I do not need a grieving coach. I just need someone who says something like “I hear you.” “You are entitled to your pain.”
Do not ask me if I need anything. I am a big girl. I know how to ask for help. But you can come for a friendly visit with some comfort food we can share. Maybe a phone call to set up a coffee date would be nice. A date where we can just sit and “be” and “be with” and “live” while we are alive, since living, I think, is plum important…living and grieving and feeling…feeling…feeling. I do not want to act like I do not feel. I am at my best when I feel my feelings. I’ve spent thousands of dollars sitting with therapists/coaches identifying my feelings and learning they are okay to have. If you are uncomfortable with that, please don’t come around, that is the best thing you can do for someone who is upset and grieving. In fact, it is far more than “just” grieving about a pet. It is about letting go. That’s a tough hurdle. We live working so hard to accumulate, but even if we never ever have a death to moan or possessions to forfeit, we will at some point have to let go of our last breaths. So, for Pete’s sakes, don’t rattle my journey. I keep the day-tripping adventure real because it is fueled by faith.
I'm glad I learned to express my thoughts clearly and everyone loves to read them. Sometimes it takes a lot of thinking power to think about the surroundings. Someone who likes it, someone who enjoys it, appreciates that he is writing very well. Reading and commenting on the post I wrote would give me a lot of bullshit and I would get new ideas to write new ones.
I'm really glad I got your response.