This being human is a powerful paradox of terrible and beautiful proportion. We are spirits trapped in bodies. Earth-bound souls forever trying to fly. We marvel at the monarchs. Where they start, what they become, the magnificent distance they journey. They are not unlike us.
In the two years it took cancer to claim my mom’s body, I panicked. Full stop. Who would I call for that kind of love? How could I possibly ever believe in me the way she did? Ever be there for my boys the way she was? Ever be able to weave art and beauty and love together the way she did.
How would I ever be able to arrange flowers with her effortless elegance, make blueberry muffins with her yummy goodness gingham-wrapped in a basket delivered warm the morning of their making? She baked the most perfect hazelnut chocolate chip biscotto and would leave it on a small white plate by our bedside when we’d visit as adults.
She had a way of making the smallest detail monumentally special.
The thought of that being gone was paralyzing.
I froze the last chocolate zucchini bread she made for me so I could have a piece of her every few months, but it got freezer burn and I wasted her beautiful gift without ever having a single slice. Grief multiplied by regret is like starting a wildfire so deep in the forest of your heart, it burns unreachably out of control.
My mom set the spirit of everything free.
From stray cats to fallen branches to storybook characters. She sketched frog and mole and badger from Wind in the Willows in a way that made you wish they could be your friends. She water colored a spectacular daisy but the hero was her penciled in spider hanging from its petal. She had a way of seeing what others miss.
Her artwork is hung all over our house.
She lives on our walls.
I fill her heavy crystal vase with hydrangea year-round. She lives on our counter. I wrote about her magical yellow beetle car driving down our long forsythia driveway hoping she would never get to the end of it. She lives in my poetry.
When our son Leo asked where she was after she died, we asked him what he thought. He said I think Gran is everywhere. In the sky, in the flowers, even in the mailbox but I don’t think she is any computers. Oh, how children get it.
I realized in some strange, other-worldly way, that if I couldn’t be with her, I would have to somehow become the her I missed. At first it was for my sons. She had a gentle way of aligning with them about their crazy mother, when I was indeed being a bit over the top.
So, a couple weeks after she passed, I told them that we would have this new thing called ISLAND TIME. No matter what was going on, even if I was mad, if they said, Mom, can we have island time, I would shift immediately. I would step out of ME and become THEIR #1 advocate-ally-accomplice, the way I think she would have.
I am a Gemini, so I split easily into two.
One morning, right around that time, I picked up another dirty sock off the kitchen floor and was about to supercharge my speech on what it means to be a team player in our family… when I felt my mom suggest a sock puppet.
It’s funny when, as THE mom about to deliver another MOM LECTURE, you simultaneously see the absurd alternate reality of your crazy barking. So, I put my hand into the sock and in a high-pitched voice said, “Lets’ run! I think she is about to blow!!”
Leo and Finn both froze. Cereal spoons hovered mid-scoop. Smiles cracked across their faces nervously as they looked at the sock pocket with disbelief and great relief.
The sock puppet continued, “Seriously, I will smuggle candy out of her secret hiding place and you can eat that for breakfast. Who needs this awful healthy protein cereal anyway. UGGHHH!”
Ferocious nodding. Bigger smiles. Incredulous eyeballs at the rebellious audacity of this shockingly contradictory sock pocket! The joy fest continued with lots of giggling.
I could do this. I could be her. My version of her. It made me mad. I wanted her back. It made me sad. I missed her desperately.
It was the beginning.
Amidst the radically shifting weather of grief– the dense fog of pointlessness, the stabbing pains of ‘never agains’– between all this I began integrating her essence. My interpretation of it.
It began with flat-out rejection. NO ONE can ever be her. I am not talented enough. Not sophisticated enough. Not mature enough. Not anything enough. And then, as happens with the things we resist mightily… they break us… open. And the process of healing begins.
Healing, I think at least for me, is the process of letting go of loss and entering into a relationship with the idea of translation.
A kind of metaphysical translation.
A DIY spiritual transplant.
It has been many years. The weather of grief blows in at unusual times. At Trader Joe’s over a bucket of soft pink peonies. When I pass Le Pain Quotidien and picture us seated in back. But I have also entered into a new and different relationship with her.
I have not lost her. I find her all around me– alive not just in the physical gifts she has left me but in bluejays, the music of Fats Waller, in how I cut a hydrangea stem slant and read the escapades of Eloise with poised brattiness.
I hear her in the quiet stirrings of my soul– the ones I can no longer ignore.
This is where the post was going to end.
Neat, tidy, succint.
But grief is merely the rock bottom of beginning again. I can hear my mentor, Baron Wormser, warning me, through Robert Frost’s adage, No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. Write until you don’t know what is ahead.
So, here we go… I began writing this post in the hopes it might be a useful gift for a dear friend I have never met– for a beautiful woman who used to be one of my husband’s high school guy friends. They are closer now. Joe told me last night that she private messaged him to ask if his ‘pilgrim’ had any posts on loss or grief. She is struggling.
We all lean in when someone genuinely reaches out.
I could not recall if I have written directly about it or where it might be if I have. My memory and archiving ability are sketchy, at best. I offered to talk on the phone. But last night, after driving Finn to Siberia for his lacrosse practice, knowing I would be waiting in the parking lot for ninety minutes I brought my computer to see if had anything remotely useful to offer on these topics.
I know grief. We have been friends and foes. Somewhere along the line, we decided to become partners on this great adventure. She warns me now, when we are headed for despair. It is almost always in situations where I have succumbed to my own confabulations.
I learned this word yesterday, most assuredly because my spirit knew I would need it for today.
Psychologically, confabulate means to truthfully tell a lie.
For example, if I say to myself, Everyone hated my blog post yesterday. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this. It is a complete waste of time. My experiences are completely idiosyncratic and irrelevant. And no one cares.
This may be what I believe at that moment. But it is not true.
Crazy, right. Don’t we all do this, in some small or big way? Present our distorted perception as fact. Offer the story we have created about ‘what happened’ as truth… I do it ALL THE TIME. But, before this word even began transforming how I think about what I think, I had already instinctively STARTED to STOP.
Just this week, I wrote about STEPPING OUT of my mind and into the WORLD. And although my intention to do this was pure, I now see my attempts would have been crippled without the transformational distinction this new word has given to me.
There is a world of difference between my TRUTH and my PERCEPTION.
MY PERCEPTION is wildly fallible and usually missing all kinds of critical substantiating background. The worse I feel about any given situation, the more likely I am to have fabricated a conspiracy around my worst fears. My human assessment of a situation depends entirely on which life experiences I use to evaluate it and how many additional data points I am willing to consider.
MY TRUTH, on the other hand, cannot be altered, changed or threatened in any way because it comes from my soul. It is not good or bad. Not right or wrong. It is not up for question or debate. It is beyond thinking or feeling or words. It is an untouchable kind of knowing.
IT simply IS.
Up until this morning my truth AND my perception were the same. Conflating these two things has meant throughout my life, that by allowing the voracity of my perceptions to be challenged or even questioned, I was willingly putting my soul was at risk. No more.
As obvious as this may sound, realizing that my perception and my truth are different gave me a radically new way to interact with the world. A path forward where I can put my sensitive but resilient SELF out there without damaging my inner most sacred SOUL.
It opened up a door I didn’t know even existed.
My mom and I talk all the time.
She runs with me now. And trust me when I tell you she was most definitely NOT a runner while she was here. This is when I listen best– when my body is moving my mind can be still.
I have been afraid to share these spiritual conversations as truth because I thought real truth must be backed by facts. And all I have is stories and endless notes on our dialogues of her sometimes pithy, sometimes obtuse but always deeply profound advice.
So, let me clarify. This is not THE truth. This is MY truth.
Ahhh. So much better.
I also talk with my Dad, my Pop-pop and even my Uncle Burke, who I barely knew as a child and died of AIDS before anyone knew what it was. I am told he lived in the shadows… of his brothers, his family, society. When my father and uncles went through his closets, they found magenta gowns, rhinestone jewelry and platinum wigs. I hope they made him feel fabulously him.
His advice is always colorful and bold. He offers to dance with me into what feels dangerous, encourages me to step IN when I want to step BACK. To NOT play it safe. To risk comfort for wild creative expression.
The gravity of his levity is like a double rainbow of illumination.
His insights and advice are similar to the rest of my spirit team–unburdened by the baggage or biases they had in real life.
For example, had I told my mom, while she was alive, I was thinking about publishing this post, she would have worried that my feelings might be hurt, that people wouldn’t understand, might judge. She would have championed its beauty but suggested the possibility of keeping this most sacred truth for myself. Warned me about the risk of emotional rejection.
When I asked her this morning, she warned me about the risk of hiding it– of not standing up for my truth– of walking away from the life force that is boldly hoping I will have the courage to say yes. She reminded of the quote from Anais Nin…
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud, was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
She is present for me now in ways she never could have been before. They all are.
I don’t think we ever lose the ones we love.
I think we find them shedding light into the shadows we had mistaken for shade.