A father in deed
Consistent with his presence
Funny and faithful
Creates a whole family
More than we dared imagine.
*A tanka is like a haiku, but just a bit longer.
A father in deed
Consistent with his presence
Funny and faithful
Creates a whole family
More than we dared imagine.
*A tanka is like a haiku, but just a bit longer.
Grief on Father’s Day:
Missing the man who is gone,
Tears in abundance,
Angry, heart-broken, so tired.
Timidly, gratitude smiles.
*A tanka is similar to a haiku, but just a bit longer.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. Especially on Father’s Day.
Sometimes I think my dog’s approach to stress-inducing situations – loose Samoyeds, renegade lizards sunning themselves on the front porch, live broadcasts – is the only reasonable response to the crazy in this world. He stands there, shaking and drooling, refusing either to engage or to ignore.
In recent weeks, I have felt increasingly like Steve Martin in the opening sequence of the movie Roxanne. He’s jauntily walking down the street, eager to begin his morning. He reaches into his pocket to pull out a quarter to put into the newspaper vending machine. He pulls out one copy of the paper and continues his cheerful gait for about six steps. As the morning edition’s headline starts to sink in, he slows. He stops. Panicking, he flails his way back to the vending machine, playing a version of hot potato with the Times, reaches into his pocket for another quarter, stuffs the newspaper back into the vending machine and quickly closes the lid. Deep breath. Then he resumes his cheerful journey down the sidewalk. This scene resonates with me now more than ever. I cannot tolerate the front page of the paper. Or much of what’s on the inside. Not that I often get past Page One. Every day it seems to takes less time for me to rush the paper to the recycling bin.
I want to be informed. I really do. I want to be open-minded. I really do. I cannot stand the level of hateful, inflammatory, vindictive conduct and the divisive commentary. I just can’t. I wonder if I’m better off not knowing.
But then the truly horrifying events happen, discrimination in its ugliest forms, rapidly increasing climate change, political abuses of power that leave families stranded and hungry, an explosion aimed at children. It’s too much. The images leave us paralyzed. Fear’s intent is to immobilize us. What could we possibly do in the face of so much evil? The drooling and shaking begin.
The sorrowful night is solitary and cold.
Chaos swirls, and the overwhelming dark of evil and confusion takes over. It’s almost impossible to breathe. I wait. I sit. I cry and tremble. In the midst of paralyzing fear and frustration, there comes – briefly – a moment of stillness. Stillness, which is an altogether different experience than paralysis.
Sitting in the dark, the light slowly, confidently, begins to show its presence. I feel Love’s impulse. A moment of inspiration. A smile. A full breath. Fear loosens its grasp on my attention, and I notice that good is happening. People are moving together with one beating heart. I hear Love’s message to Her people: You are enough. Peace begins small, quiet and soft in safe, secluded places and grows in strength. Fear no longer stops me in my tracks, even if it forces a cosmic pause, and I continue forward with joy and purpose. Hope lights up a single cloud in the blue early morning sky, and it is enough to propel me into the morning.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. You are enough.
I have been triggered. You have been warned.
I am generally open to offering perspective or insight. I have not exactly been shy about this path I’m on, as a woman who lost her first husband to suicide, and as a mother to four children who lost a parent at entirely too young an age. I willingly share resources that I have found particularly helpful, books, therapists or organizations, my go-to radical self-care avenues, I share stories of success and failure from my own life. If you think that I personally might be able to help your “friend” (or to help you help your friend) who is struggling because whatever whatever whatever, then I’m in.
If, however, you are calling me to gossip about somebody who “lost her husband in the worst, most tragic way,” then call somebody else. I’m not interested. Do not call me to compare death by heart attack to death by some other attack. Not because I think that my path to widow was worse than anyone else’s. On the contrary, all the ways to widow suck. Period. There is no better or worse in this space. It’s all bad. It sucks in different ways, but every way stinks. I am not going to play this game with you. This is not a competition anybody wins. We are all losers in this race. It sucks whether you’ve been married 5 months, 5 years or 5 decades. It sucks if you’re engaged and don’t even get the “widow” title. It sucks if you’ve been left with young children. Or without them. The sudden heart attack, the drunk driving incident, the terrible accident, the lingering illness. All bad.
If you are calling because you want something you can do so that you will feel better, some task you can accomplish so that you can check the newly-widowed friend off your to-do list, forget that ugly little death business and move on with your day, then I am not your girl. Google the answer yourself. I appreciate that it is incredibly painful to sit with someone you love while she herself is writhing with suffering. I completely understand that this will be inconvenient and time-consuming. If you want to make yourself feel better, pour yourself a glass of wine. Or send the flowers and a note and keep moving. It’s okay. I get that you don’t get it. No hard feelings. Just don’t try to justify to me that you’ve done your part, and now she has to get over herself and figure it out. Her grief is not about you.
If, on the other hand, you genuinely want to help your friend feel better, pull up a chair next to her and buckle up. It’s a long haul, the territory is uncharted, and you’re both in for a bumpy ride. You are welcome to call me along the way. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all experience, but I will share with you what I have learned.
There will be some dark days ahead. Your friend might lose her appetite and an alarming amount of weight in a short time. She might eat only ice cream for hours on end, and she will let the dog eat Moose Tracks out of the container, even though it sticks to his ears. She will seem barely to function; that’s a good day. She will show up late or on the wrong day altogether. She will hardly ever know what day it is, actually. She will stare into space a lot, especially when you start talking, or even when she is talking. She cannot keep track of her train of thought or the incoming mail. Just when you are starting to doubt whether your friend will ever find light again, she will look up and notice that her designer dog is humping your leg, and she will grab him by his little collar and say, “All right. That’s enough. If I’m not having sex, then nobody else in this house gets to have any sex either!” Then the two of you will laugh until your sides hurt and you are crying again, and in this moment you will trust that your friend is – even now – finding her way.
It is interesting to me that most of the widows I know would not trade their particular journey for somebody else’s. Every path is hellish in unique ways. It’s a lot of suffering no matter how you get there. This is not an exercise in comparing and contrasting. The point is to move forward. The path traveled turns the experience from the unknown into the known, and there is comfort to be found in the familiar. When we transcend the language of better and worse, the seeds of gratitude begin to take root.
These movements forward cannot be rushed or forced, although the loving presence of a friend nurtures them along. Show up. Listen. Cry together. Laugh together. Be together. Even on our darkest days, there are reasons to be grateful and reasons to laugh. Healing starts to happen. She manages to drive herself to the grocery store and come back home with the ingredients for a complete meal, including ice cream, which she puts in the freezer before it pools on the counter. She remembers a cousin’s birthday. She shows up early to help set up for the Back to School picnic. She drives carpool. She will, predictably, dissolve into tears at times you cannot predict, but slowly, tentatively, she begins to rebuild her life. She starts to find joy again. She completes a novel. She plans a vacation. She orchestrates an anniversary celebration. She becomes herself again.
She is not fixed; she is transformed.
If that’s what you want to talk about, count me in.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And transformation.
My computer is under the cat somewhere, but the furry tyrant is not in the mood to negotiate. He’s hungry. He’s loud. He’s lost any measure of patience he might once have had. He could not care less about bills or emails or deadlines. He especially does not care about the dog. He could maybe tolerate one of the children, as long as he had their undivided attention, but they – in an act of premeditated and unadulterated selfishness – have left for school. The second best option to the lap is the warm laptop. He will not be deterred. And he will not be ignored.
So I turn my attention to the crabby kitty, and that is how today will go. On days like this, I do my best to surrender, to dredge up a modicum of patience and kindness, to experience a sense of accomplishment in some place other than my go-to to-do list, to trust, to find a flow within the unanticipated course, to be attentive to what joys the unexpected path might bring, to honor the intrusive feline moment.
Wishing you light and strength, even on days like this.
You might never have known what she’s been through when you see her in your weekly yoga class, arriving on time every Tuesday, appearing, as she consistently does, to be so well put-together, a tall pretty blonde, donning the Lululemon yoga pants and corresponding black lycra jacket favored by stay-at-home moms and PTA presidents, freshly pedicured, a mother with the means to work out (and maybe work, depending on whether she prefers hiring a nanny to take the children to the zoo and Music Together classes or taking them to the park herself, but definitely with the seniority and flexibility to take them to the pediatrician when the cough lingers too many days or the fever spikes too high); no, you might not expect, based on her warm smile and the sturdy, effortless look of her Warrior II, that she had grown up with loving parents but ones with a strong German penchant for stoicism, an inflexible puritan work ethic and demand for perfection, that she had been directed her entire life, when facing grief, sadness, anger, or fear to go into her room and come out when she could be a good girl again, a childhood that would render her unprepared for the maelstrom of emotion she would experience by being widowed at the age of 39 when her husband committed suicide by jumping from a parking structure, the classic stock broker’s death on a gorgeous fall day following Black Friday, leaving her with two young sons, ages 6 and 8, and the monumental task of parenting them as a single mother while grieving her own loss, and that it takes every ounce of her concentration to hold the stance, grounded in her feet, steady in her legs, arms outstretched and parallel to the ground, eyes resting just past her outstretched fingers, inhaling and exhaling and trembling, repeating the mantra to herself, “I can do this, I can do this.”
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And resolve.
Parenting is a never-ending exercise in humility. And if the firstborn did not humble you, then the second child surely will.
I remember being in the produce section, Fuji apple in hand, with a brand new baby number two strapped to me kangaroo-style, when a grandmotherly type congratulated me and asked whether this was my first child. I responded from my blissful but sleep-deprived haze that he was my second, and she said, “Oh, then you know all about babies.” To which I replied, “Well, I know all about the first one. And now I’m learning about this one.”
Each boy is so different. Just like brothers should be.
We have four sons now, the youngest a teenager, and in many ways I am still learning who they are. They are, too. Which is all kinds of fun, when it’s not terrifying. And yes, I’m referring to the premiums for their auto insurance. These young men are growing up, finding their way, spreading their wings and eating through an impressive amount of groceries. I’m a little proud.
Thing #3 is graduating from high school, and we are once again riding the roller coaster that is senior year. Achievements and awards, leadership roles, defining moments and bittersweet lasts…. Last homecoming, last music performance, and last playoff game. Looming over the entire last year of high school, of course, is the dreaded college admissions process and the omnipresent question, What are you going to do next year? It is a year full of accomplishments, anticipation and anxiety. It’s hard on the kids, too.
We’ve traveled this path before with our older sons, but it is different every time. All of our sons are smart, funny and devastatingly handsome. Just like every mother’s son in the history of ever. And each in his own way. I have long been a proponent of the theory that there is no perfect school, you just have to find the right fit for your kid. But it’s not necessarily a straightforward undertaking. Sometimes the school finds the kid.
If you’re familiar with the fateful admissions process, then you know that March is the month when many colleges release their decisions. The trepidation surrounding the Ides of March is very much alive and well in the lives of high school seniors all over the country. My husband advises me that if I were a better mother then I would know our son’s password so we could hack in to his portal and access his admissions status ourselves. Instead, we have to wait until he gets out of class for the day. The minutes drag by slowly. He sends a text message with the note “not rejected” and a photograph of the letter from his first choice of schools … waitlisted.
I send a note to my husband and the boys, all of whom are anticipating good news: sad face emoji.
It is a huge disappointment, and the fact that the school is so selective that even a waitlist opportunity is coveted brings no comfort. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that he has already received acceptances and scholarship offers from other schools, because the one he thought he wanted most said Maybe instead of Yes. The boy has no appetite that evening, which would usually be alarming for a teenager, but is appropriate under the circumstances.
His brothers rally their support immediately:
Thing #1 says, “We hate those guys!”
Thing #2 sends a text message, “Screw them!”
We gather around the dinner table, and Thing #4 says, “Hey Mom, you know what sucks?” I’m almost afraid to ask, given his recent impressions of certain inappropriate comedians, many of whom seem to comprise the student body at his all-boys parochial school, but I take the bait anyway. What is it, darling? “[Insert name of offending institution here]!” He glances at his brother, who reluctantly begins to smile.
He has successfully navigated bigger disappointments than this. All the boys have. They’ve each suffered the loss of a parent and endured the blending of a family, including a step-parent and step-brothers. Not one of them would have chosen this path. But we do not always get to choose. Sometimes the universe takes the decision out of our control and points us in a completely different direction. God’s guiding hand can be a real pain in the butt. And sometimes on the unexpected journey, we find love and joy, and brotherhood.
One of the more dismal aspects of being a parent is seeing your child suffer, and we ourselves spend a sleepless night over the discouraging news. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. But with the new day arrives a new letter… My son and I both hear the familiar squeak of the mail truck on the street, and after weeks of greeting the mail carrier and rushing to the mailbox, neither one of us flinches. My husband, the optimist, rushes up a flight of stairs, and asks “Did I hear the mail arrive?” He returns with a fat envelope, Plan B starts to take shape, and we are all getting excited.
At the end of the day, there will be disappointments. Some minor and others staggering, but if you have brothers – biological or otherwise – then there will also be peace, progress, decadent snacks and a healthy dose of irreverent humor.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And brotherhood to support you through life’s disappointments.
“The relationship is more important than being right.” This little bit of wisdom is one of the top ten Mom-isms that my children hear on continuous loop.
In practice, it looks like this: I call my elderly father-in-law at 11:00 to let him know that I will pick him up at 11:30. He seems perturbed, and it takes me a second to figure out why. Gruffly, he says “It’s 11:30 now.” I’m pretty sure it’s 11:00, and I say so, but just to be sure, I look again at my watch, the clock on the wall and my phone. “No,” he is adamant. “It’s already 11:30.”
It’s 11:00. Really, truly, objectively eleven o’clock. But there is no doubt in his mind that it’s 11:30, and there is absolutely no point in my continuing the disagreement, not that I’ve ever “won” an argument with the man. Instead, I tell him that I will pick him up at noon, and he is satisfied. We have lovely luncheon together with the family, and that is the point.
It’s not always so easy. Someone left a note on my windshield last week, written on the back of a Jack-in-the-Box receipt, accusing me of taking up two or three parking spots. “Not cool!” the note proclaimed. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how three cars could possibly have fit in the one marked spot holding my car. But instead of tossing the handwritten missive into the garbage with contempt, which was my first impulse, I folded it and tucked it inside the glovebox. Curiously, there was something about this interaction that I wanted to honor.
It bugged me. I wanted to defend myself, to stand at the curb with the offending note-writer and figure out how, exactly, two cars would fit in that spot, let alone three. It embarrassed me. I like to think of myself as thoughtful, generous and considerate, and this note flew in the face of my preferred self-image. It perplexed me. I wondered what this person had going on in his day that my unfortunate parking job had provoked him to take the time to write the note and leave it on my car. I was disappointed that I had created such frustration, and I was grateful that she hadn’t keyed my car in her rage.
I grew up with the debt/debtor version of the Lord’s Prayer, but this is one of those times when the trespass version was illuminating. The act of trespass is so visceral – physically walking on land that belongs to someone else. As I thought about the verse, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I mentally added the phrase, “because they’re coming.” It’s going to happen. The trespassers are on their way. And sometimes we are the trespassers, even if unintentionally.
This is the challenge of living in community. We will step on each other’s toes – literally and figuratively – all the time.
I broke a toe once when the boys were little, and I remember being astonished at just how many times in a day a busy toddler can step on his mother’s feet. He didn’t mean to cause pain, of course, and I did my best to dance my feet to safety. Even so, the occasional toddler stomp was a small price to pay in the grand scheme.
Maintaining a relationship is not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about the capacity to forgive and to be forgiven, which is much more difficult.
Sometimes, it’s impossible. Sadly, not every relationship is worth the investment. When continuing a relationship means subjecting myself to ongoing abuse, then the best I can do is to cultivate a compassionate stance, from over here. Way over here. I will keep my toes and my children’s toes out of harm’s way, thank you very much. No less forgiving, just a lot less trespassable.
Sometimes inspiration comes from the oddest places, like a hastily-scribbled rebuke from a stranger. But there it is. Trespass is unavoidable. Forgiveness is critical. With that insight, my inner harmony surrounding the interaction was restored. I tossed the note in the garbage.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And serenity in forgiveness.
I was thinking about her on my walk the other day, this woman whose name I do not know but whose path I cross from time to time on our mutual walks. I did see her in the grocery store once, but she didn’t seem to recognize me out of context, wearing lipstick and without my defective hunting dog at my side. It’s funny to call her a stranger when I see her regularly, but I don’t really know much about her, other than what the scarf covering her head seems to betray about her health. Several months back, I was happy to see her without the scarf, her thick, dark hair growing back. As usual, we were heading toward each other along a certain stretch of road but in opposite directions, and when we caught each other’s eyes, I couldn’t help but grin and say, “It’s good to see you looking so healthy!” She returned the smile, but then her eyes grew downcast, and she confided that she was fighting again.
I didn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know me. I don’t know her. Even so, I pressed my hands over my heart and told her that I would hold her in my prayers.
I didn’t see her again for months. The other day, as I was running along the stretch where I most often see her, I began to fear that perhaps I might not see her again.
I saw her the very next day. She was wearing her scarf again, but she was outside and on the move. I was with my most faithful running partner (second-most faithful if you count the dog), and I was so delighted to see her that I stopped to hello and chat for just a few seconds. I wish I had asked her her name, but I was too embarrassed. I’m not entirely sure why. There is a real comfort in knowing each other by name, and yet we can bless each other even in anonymity.
Never have I felt more humbled than one evening shortly following Sam’s death – before the “official” meal schedules had been coordinated – when a woman whose name I did not know stood on my front porch with dinner for my sons and me. I recognized her face; our children attended the same elementary school, but hers and mine were all in different grades and classes. She knew how hard it is to get dinner on the table under the best of circumstances, juggling work, sports, and volunteer schedules. She didn’t know much about me, other than that I had been suddenly widowed, and she showed up and offered her own family’s favorite comfort food. Grace personified.
I am resolved to ask my friend-like stranger her name when next I see her, and I hope I see her soon. But there is something about praying for a stranger that draws me into the very heart of prayer. I don’t know her history, the time she insulted her sister-in-law or embarrassed a colleague or broke a promise. I don’t know what she’s afraid of, why she consulted with her physician this week, or her therapist, or her lawyer. I don’t know how her mother abused her, or who her favorite author is, or who she voted for. Which movies make her laugh. I don’t know whether she hurls epithets at her ex-husband, or her kids, or at Jesus, or whether she reads picture books to her young nieces – or to struggling readers in an impoverished school district – every opportunity she gets, or all of the above, and none of that matters. I am not burdened by her offensive habits, and I am not influenced by her status. All I know for sure is that we are on this treacherous and beautiful road together. None of the details get in the way. My judgment stands clear of my intentions. I wrap her in my heart and lift her toward the divine.
On Sunday, I saw another woman whose name and story I do not know. I see her in church, and like my other friendly stranger, I hadn’t seen her in a while. She usually sits alone, often in the pew behind me and my puppy pack of boys. I do not know the nature of her personal struggles, but I pray for peace in our hearts. I turn to introduce myself, but she has left before the final blessing, before I could ask her name.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And the prayers of strangers.
I cannot move,
Paralyzed by fear,
The kind of dread that brings tears to my eyes,
Steals my breath and appetite,
Makes my heart race toward a refuge I cannot reach.
I’m afraid of uncertainty
Compromised physical safety
The vulnerability of my children,
Afraid of the future
And evil everpresent,
Abuses of power too many to count.
My breath is shallow,
My jaw clenched, afraid to speak,
Afraid to say nothing.
Then fear herself takes a seat.
She rests her hand – surprisingly small and warm – on my trembling knee.
I meet the gaze of her gray eyes,
I didn’t intend to frighten you.
I just wanted your attention
For a moment
To point you in a different direction.
She releases her grip
and is gone.
I reach for the comfort of her presence
And discover that she has left me