Although it’s hard to believe, three years ago today – Memorial Day 2014 – was my mom’s last day on earth. The last time the sun would set with life in her body. Of course, I miss her and think of her every single day. But I’ve also never felt closer to her. Although technically it has been three years since I’ve seen her or heard her voice, that’s really only true on some levels, for I see and hear her in my dreams from time to time, and her voice only grows stronger in my heart and mind. It’s actually quite astonishing.
Each time the earth returns to the place in its orbit around the sun where it was when my mom passed away, my body knows. It’s like traveling through a familiar belt of stardust. She died after lilac season and just as the irises were blooming. She didn’t live to see the roses in her garden bloom, but we did, and we were grateful she took the time to plant and nurture them with the same loving attention she gave to us.
Today, I am remembering but not feeling grief-stricken. More than anything else, I feel grateful for having a mother who was so warm and kind to everyone and who loved me so much. For having a mother who loves me so much and seems to have found a way to get through to me even though she no longer has a body that breathes and walks and loves and laughs and makes music here on earth.
One day last summer, I was sitting on a bench at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (where I feel her spirit strongly) feeling sad, and I heard her voice in my mind: Let it go. Let it go because it’s hurting you. You’re so wonderful. Now I can see you more completely and wish I could show you how beautiful you are – the amazing light that you are…because then you’d never be sad again.
I am so grateful for that voice that arises in my heart and speaks in my mind as if my heart and mind are one end of a cosmic telephone. That voice has been growing in me and helping me to heal and grow in ways I never could have imagined during the first, anguishing year without her.
My mother loved me so much, despite our differences. When she was alive, I was always giving her push-back because we saw the world so differently. Three years after she passed away, all I connect with now is her spiritual essence, which shone through more strongly as her body became weaker, and I gave up my role in the mother-daughter dance we had been doing my whole life and related to her as one spirit to another. I held her as she cried because she was nearing the end and was afraid her organs would eventually burst, and she was also afraid of upsetting my dad, who was not ready to let her go. I listened to her and assured her that what she was experiencing was normal (which I knew from my hospice experience and research) and that she and we would be okay. Although we loved her and would miss her, it was okay for her to move on. She liked it when I was with her and wanted me to be there as much as possible, and I’m so glad I had my priorities straight and took time off from work to be with her in her time of need, even though I had no idea how long it would go on. When my intuition told me I should take the day off from work to be with my mother or to care for myself so I could be stronger and more rested to care for her, I didn’t hesitate to call in sick. I am so grateful I did that. I knew it was time I could never get back and do over.
Three years ago tonight, when my dad was leaving the hospice house, he told her to hang on until morning, when he’d return. She was the one who took care of everyone, and she was hanging on for our sake. So I told him he needed to say goodbye and give her permission to go. Through some grace, I was able to get through to him, and he told her that he loves her, and it’s okay for her to let go. And a few hours later, she did, in the middle of the night with the adult child she worried about most sitting by her side.
May 27, 2014 was the first morning of my life I woke up motherless. It didn’t make sense that the sun could even rise.
When I reflect on May 2014, I think of being closer to my mom than I’d ever been and making her my priority. I remember keeping vases of fresh lilacs around her and dropping the role I’d played all my life to be truly present to her. I remember filling her hospice room with love and music and conversation around her bed with her bridesmaid from so many years ago who serendipitously found her just in time after not being in touch for decades and shared memories I otherwise would not have known about my mom during her early twenties. I remember doing everything I possibly could do to help my mom let go, even though I didn’t want to lose her.
May 2015 was actually even harder because I had gone a full year without her, and the realization hit hard that she wasn’t returning. I was also in so much emotional pain from grieving other losses that occurred throughout that year that I couldn’t imagine ever feeling good again. She was the one I would pick up the phone and call when I needed moral support, and she wasn’t there. The pain felt enormous, and I was weak from all that grief.
For the past year and a half, at the end of every month I reflect in my day planner on what dreams and goals came true, what lessons I learned, what I need to rant about, and what I’m grateful for. This month – May 2017 – there is not enough space for me to write about what I’ve learned and feel grateful for! To feel as whole, intact, and radiant as I do now is like a miracle.
Time is a healer, but healing is a choice, and how far you go is up to you. Every moment – and in some moments more than others – there is a choice between healing and habit. My experience has taught me that healing begins with mindfulness and an intention to feel good. When you pay attention to what’s going on inside of you, instead of fleeing from it or fixating on external stimulation of any kind, you become aware. When you are conscious of something, you can heal it – even if it really hurts and feels enormous, and you feel powerless against it. Over the past three years, I have learned that pain that big – grief that penetrates all the way down into your bones – isn’t as big as it seems because who you really are is SO MUCH BIGGER! I still feel sad or weak from time to time, but it arises along with a witnessing presence that allows the energy to be felt and expressed. Instead of identifying with the sadness, I allow it with the tender, loving presence a mother would give to a hurting child and realize it’s just a passing storm. The witnessing, unconditionally loving presence that I identify with is much bigger than the emotions – big enough to absorb them in what feels like a ginormous hug. It’s similar to how it feels to be on the seashore: uplifted and part of a rhythm and energy that is much larger than your small, separate self.
So here I am, on my mom’s third angelversary, immersed in gratitude for everyone and everything that has brought me to this point, and for my mother’s love, which has never left me and continues to grow by leaps and bounds in my loving heart and – miracle of all miracles – has replaced my Inner Critic with a nurturing Inner Mother that guides me to practice tender, loving self-care every day.
The past three years have been the most challenging journey of my life, but I’ve emerged from the depths of the forest of grief. From the perspective of my larger self, I know that all is well and that the journey served a purpose. It is the most amazing grace ever to be able to say this after everything I’ve experienced in the past few years. There is hope after loss.
I choose to shine.
I wake up and think a positive thought
before opening my eyes,
ride that wave for a while
and choose another
then get out of bed
and make time for self-care
by drinking warm lemon water
and speaking loving words
into the mirror.
Then I take a walk and gather sunlight
before going to work
because today I choose to shine
one day at a time
because shining feels better
Today I turn off my phone
and silence the voices of others
until I have connected with my Self
and can hear where love and soul
call me forward.
I choose to release what is not
in alignment with that
and to heal myself
for my own sake and so
I can be more helpful to others.
I open my ears to birdsong
and the beating of a great blue heron’s wings
as it lifts into the air.
I listen to my footsteps on the path
and inspiration — tune to that channel
and away from obsessive thoughts and worries,
naysayers and critics.
I open my eyes
to beads of dew on sunlit ferns
and goodness in the world around me.
I feel the cool morning air on my skin
and joy and hope and wonder
and gratitude — such gratitude
for even the smallest,
most wondrously ordinary things.
I taste my food
and the deliciousness of the moment
and smell spring and blooming
in the air.
I affirm that all is well in my world
no matter what is on my plate
or in the news
and know I can handle
whatever comes my way.
Today I make friends
with the present moment, Eternal Now
and make love in so many ways:
by listening closely,
offering a smile or kind gesture,
and feeling my connection
with all living things.
Today I will not let anyone
dim my sparkle or snuff out my light.
I open myself to the blessings
that are trying to reach me
and attune to yes and love and light and spirit
and true intimacy.
I express what is in my heart
without holding back
because today I choose to shine.
No matter what transpired yesterday
today is a new day
and I choose to shine.
Yesterday morning, I was driving to a Reiki training an hour away feeling agitated and anxious, which is not how I wanted to arrive at the training. I needed to get an important message to my daughter before going into the all-day event. I hoped I would calm down before I arrived at my destination and practiced feeling the emotional energy in my body, allowing the uncomfortable feelings, generating compassion, and choosing better feeling thoughts (which included feeling grateful for all the tools I have in my healing toolbox). I found it interesting that peace blanketed me, just like that, as I crossed the Twin Bridges over the Mohawk River.
I’ve loved Kahlil Gibran’s writings ever since a friend introduced me to The Prophet at age 22 – the age my daughter is now. As I continued driving in a more peaceful state now, a few lines from The Prophet (“On Children”) came to mind out of the blue:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
That was a significant poem to me – so much so that we had our parents take turns reading lines from it during my first wedding ceremony. I was 25, and my parents weren’t thrilled with my choice of a husband. They had lots of opinions about how I should live my life – because they cared about me. But it really bothered me that they weren’t able to trust me to make my own choices and even mistakes and seemed to believe they knew better than I how to live my life. Hence, the poem at the wedding.
Twenty-five years later, it was still relevant as I drove to the Reiki training. I had been able to give my daughter the message, and she was able to adjust her plans accordingly. I wished I could do more and wondered if I should turn the car around and spend the day with her. But the poem helped me to realize that I had done my part, and I needed to trust her journey…and go to my training.
When I arrived at the training, I put my stuff down and went into the restroom. What do you think was hanging on the wall next to the mirror in the bathroom? The very same Kahlil Gibran words that came to me in the car!!
Instant tears. I had to pull myself together for a moment before returning to the room.
That synchronicity was the first special gift of what ended up being a very powerful day. I went into the training with no expectations. I hadn’t even received a Reiki session prior to the training and was there simply because I felt guided and followed my intuition. Something very intense happened to me during the attunement ceremony after I accepted the possibility that I might not feel anything at all, and tears kept streaming down my face. I felt a little disoriented as I walked out of the building and into the warm, sunny day for lunch break. Something really big had shifted in me. I knew intuitively that I had said yes to healing myself so I could be a better healer for others. It felt like I had made a deep, inner vow.
During the afternoon, we paired up to give and receive a full Reiki session to a partner. I worked with a highly intuitive practitioner who was there as a helper. At the end of the session, she shared with me what came to her as she flowed Reiki (universal life force energy) to me. She described an image of a willful, young girl and a bicycle that I knew referred to my daughter. A voice was singing the “Hush, Little Baby” lullaby. The woman asked if there’s a message she can give me, and the voice replied, “Just tell her we’re with her.” She asked me if that means anything to me, and it was the third time I was moved to tears.
My daughter has been dreaming of her deceased grandparents a lot over the past few months, and I feel that they are with her. And that brings me comfort.
Sometimes we just don’t know what people are dealing with in their personal lives. My daughter has been going through a very challenging time lately, in which she was living in an environment that was very wrong for her and felt powerless to get out. She didn’t even have a car. Now she is out, thank God. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you are able to remove yourself from toxic relationships and turn your life around, and she is motivated to do just that. One thing I’ve learned from my 50 years on this planet is that if you are living in a way that is not in alignment with who you really are and what your soul wants, the signals will keep getting stronger until you can’t ignore them any longer and are forced into action. Sometimes something that seems like a great misfortune saves you from something even worse.
I think of the Zen story of the farmer’s luck, which I’ve probably referenced before because it’s one of my favorites:
One day, a farmer’s horse ran away, and when the neighbors heard the news, they sympathized saying, “Such bad luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The following day, the horse returned to the farmer along with three other horses, and the neighbors exclaimed, “How wonderful!” The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The next day, the farmer’s son broke his leg when he was trying to ride one of the untamed horses. Again, the neighbors offered sympathy for the family’s bad luck. And again, the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The following day, military officials came to the town to draft young men but passed over the farmer’s son because his leg was broken. The neighbors offered congratulations, and the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
With compassion for my daughter and for other women in similar situations, I offer a reminder to refrain from passing judgment on others when you have no knowledge whatsoever of the context, relationships, personalities, miscommunications, intentions, etc. behind a soundbite of information. Before jumping to conclusions, try walking a mile in someone’s shoes. Things are not always as they appear. As for me, I’m beaming strength, light, and so much love into a world that seems to need it now more than ever. A world in which many people are quick to jump to conclusions that serve their personal or political agendas and to create divisive characterizations that somehow make them feel safer and better about themselves…at someone else’s expense. A world in which people are guilty until proven innocent rather than the opposite. Into that world, I send light.
And you know what’s great about that? More light. Just as the trees are putting out new leaves to collect sunlight, more light equals more growth. This, friends, is the growing season.