Maternal In Memorium & Mother’s Day Manifesto

IshtarToday marks the second anniversary of my mother’s death.

Ours was an unusually complex relationship, with  complete estrangement over twenty years ago. Despite the common cry of making amends by well-meaning acquaintances who do not know the depth of the family’s dysfuncionality, I have no regrets when it comes to this relationship, or lack thereof.

My mother was a victim of her times and of abuse. She was the poster child of body loathing and repression.  I grew up surrounded by women’s magazines, and I confess, I still regularly take Woman’s World for their feel-good stories and their little strips of inspiration. It reminds me of a simple time when my paternal grandmother would clip the posts and pin them to the fridge, or tear out the Ziggy comics and pin them to her inspirational bulletin board in the sewing room.

My paternal grandmother was in touch with her power as a woman. She was wise, fierce, kind and strong. She lived fully and taught me what it meant to be my own person.

ziggy Times have not changed so much, and maybe even for the worse. Not only are we expected to manage our homes, but bear the burden of less feminine roles as well.  We are still surrounded by racks full of magazines, air-brushed images of the female form, with covers that imply we are flawed; how to be thinner, how to be happier, how to please our men, how to de-stress so we can be all of the above. We are ingrained in a culture who continues to devalue the natural life-affirming work of women.

You may wonder what this has to do with the anniversary of my mother’s death. Everything.

I was raised by a woman who was  estranged from her own beautiful, glorious and powerful self. I had a choice as a young woman, continue the trauma, or claim my own glorious divine feminine. I chose the latter.

So many of us hate our ankles, our bellies, our hair or our skin.  We punish our bodies and ridicule our own needs. We ignore the call of primitive intuition, and we diminish the great power of fertility and motherhood.

We live in the world of magazine promises; to create a common, submissive self that perpetuates a world where our value and spiritual gifts are damned.

As the years passed and I healed into my own femininity, into my own woman, forgiveness came. My mother was not a bad mother as such, she was  truly a victim of her times, of her inability to seize her own power, and grow into her own, always determining her own worth by the praise of abusive men.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I hope that all of the women in my life,  spend some quiet time, reflecting on their own beauty and how their body has served them well, their own natural, intuitive intelligence, and their own power to embrace the fullness of what it means to be a woman.

More than that, I hope that whether maiden, mother or crone,  that all of the ladies reading this live each stage of life and every transition fully.  I believe that is the secret to a well-lived life. That is the secret to having no regrets.

Ghost Whisperer; Listening to Our Angels

waiting for a signI woke up at 6:23 this morning, assessed the snuggling situation with my big, duvet covered bed, and made the executive decision to roll over and relax just a little bit more.

Four hours later I made my bleary-eyed debut in front of the coffee maker, pressed the magic button, and stumbled around opening blinds and welcoming in the day. I would say I welcomed the sun, but alas, it is overcast. It’s the perfect, grey, fall, day to snuggle in and nest.

These are the fall days I’m most fond of. The ones where you can throw on a pair of jeans, sneakers and a sweater and take a stroll without being scorched by the sun, or blown away by a blizzard.

Grey days though, at the beginning of fall (not the nasty bleakness of late November) are the best for baking and cooking.

As a little girl, I was attached at the hip to my maternal grandmother. She taught me to roll pastry dough, to iron, and best of all, during days like today, she would sneak me to the top of the stairs, and read poetry with me.

My paternal grandmother was a woman who lived her life without apology; strong, independent, and fiercely protective of her family. She could also cook and bake like nobody’s business.

I gave her a journal for Christmas one year, and she faithfully wrote in it every day. She gave me the journal when she got sick, and I read it. Her September 13 entry reads,

Babysitting again. Scott slept until noon. Paula got home about 4 o’clock. Nancy came to watch our show. Jake was here. Patricia called. Called Carol later.

(names have been changed to protect the multiple identities of my wacky relatives)

I read her every-day notes, and know that life is just a series of weaving these days together; good and bad, full and lonely, happy and sad. A life is made up of  a series of seemingly insignificant moments that, when stitched together make a beautiful tapestry.

This morning as I stumbled in my half-awake-stupor, back to my writing desk, I had a sudden grief wash over me. I had a deep desire to pick up the phone and talk with her. I missed her with the same intensity I did when she died 15 years ago. More than anything I wanted to connect, to hear her voice, seek her advice, and most of all, do what we so often did when we were together; laugh. My phone rang….

bake a cakeI do believe this to be her way of answering a question I’ve had in my heart for some time. Yah, it may just be coincidence, but since it was an atypical call, I’m going to go with, “Thanks granny you old wise woman you, I really needed that.

Most of the messages I tend to notice are likely just my conscience calming down my anxious nature. Others are; Stay the course. Be patient, screw this and get the hell outta there.

So this morning, I felt lonely, that hollow pit of grief that always remains regardless of time or space when you lose someone you love, and I was given a conversation with someone I love very much to help soothe the ache.

Life is a continuous season of change; friendship, career, life and death.

Although our loved ones die, they remain with us as part of our conscience, whispering to our selves. They remind us of our dreams, reassure us when we are fearful, and once in a while, if we’re really quiet in our minds, shine a little light in the darkness when we’re unsure of which path to take.

Baking and cooking is one of the ways I quiet my mind enough to hear those whispers from the women who loved me the most. I’m sure that both of my granny’s will be with me today in the kitchen. But first…one more coffee…

Beach Buddha With a Side of Fry Sauce

Tneversaidthathis weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to the lake to enjoy a fresh fish dinner, drink Mackie’s famous Orangade, and dunk my fries in their special fry sauce.  Instead,  I got caught up in a whirlwind of worries.

In the moment, with the sun shining in a clear blue sky,the lake calmly offering refreshment, and soaring seagulls, my meditation training came back to me in a snap. This moment is it. It’s all we’ve got.

To be present right here, right now, holding all of our fears and worries, all the while appreciating how fortunate we are to have what we do, now that my sweet peaches, is the art of living.

Holding hope and loss at the same time seems paradoxical, but it’s the essence of the human mystery. I don’t preach this from living a blessed life. Loss is not a stranger in my life. Loss is a ruthless teacher and a sneaky sonnuvabitch.

Anxiety is the residue that gets left over when loss finally packs its oversized bag and leaves.

So often we associate  loss with death, and forget about all of the other losses; home, love, jobs, and hope.

Hope. Yah, that’s a tough one. Loss often packs a good one-two punch, with a kick to the groin – it always blesses us more than once in a very short period of time, leaving us feeling vulnerable, fearful, numb and hopeless.

With each loss we lose hope in the story of our lives; what we hope to do with our loved ones, how we hope to grow old and with whom or that old wounds may somehow heal with reconciliation.

As a young adult I suffered major losses. Journeying with someone I love as they experience new losses in the shadow of my own,  I began to wonder whether it was easier as a young woman than it is now.

But it’s not about easier or more difficult. It’s about different. Different as in; as we age we process loss much differently in the lengthening shadow of our own mortality. With each loss, our perception is that time offers us less opportunity to recover. Perception is the key word here. Loss can cause despair, and on the other hand it can be used as an opportunity to start fresh, put new building blocks in place (think Lego – it was my favourite toy when I was a kid), and write a new story.

Within the period of a few months, loss has snuggled up in our home, poured itself a drink, put its stinky feet up on the coffee table, and helped itself to an unfair portion of our sanity. It’s like the dreaded overseas relative come to stay for an unknown period of time. To celebrate the arrival of our special guest, my anxiety dressed itself up, rolled out the red carpet and said,  “Welcome, what can I get you? My sleep? A cozy blanket of  pathetic weeping perhaps, or how about some home-cooked fear”?

Despite my anxiety, I am aware of my blessings; my child, my love, my friendships, my life as I know it.

As the Buddha at the beach reminded me, it’s not impossible to hold hope and fear. It’s best just to let them both gently go and appreciate the moments as they are.

Wishing you the presence to practice letting go, being present, and keeping love and hope alive in your heart.

You Can’t Go Around It – You Must Go Through It…

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love." ~Washington Irving~

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
~Washington Irving~

There are very few people in this world whom I consider true kindred spirits; the ones who live and die by the Mark McGuinn Lyrics,

I don’t believe you can get too much love, but you can get too much advice.

You can get too much advice. Sometimes any advice is just too much. It’s irritating and hurtful, and painful to hear.

Often it’s not advice that we need. No darling, we already know where the chinks in our personal armor are. We were there when it happened after all. We felt the flesh wound and saw the blood. It’s just that sometimes, as unpleasant as it is,  we must return to the scene of the crime to continue to make sense of it all.

Instead of advice, we need a hug, a snuggle, a hot cup of tea, and a long hot bath by candlelight where we can weep in private and our mascara won’t run. We need to let it all out where no one can see or hear or reach out. Because, the rationale goes, if they know how to comfort, they will know how to wound.

I’m almost a little too aware of what a roller coaster grief is, how it can grab hold, and throw you in the middle of the ring without you even knowing you’re a contender. It’s a fickle bastard with a wry smile and salivating lips. It has the patience of a saint, and the stealth of a lightening bolt. No matter how fast you run, or where you hide, it will find you.

Like most fabulous ladies, I’m a big fan of avoiding emotional discussions until I’m tucked safely away with a stiff drink, some Leonard Cohen, and no place to go until the swelling under my tired eyes goes down. Better yet, I like to avoid emotional discussions in which my emotions are the ones under scrutiny. In other words, I foolishly avoid my own sadness until it overwhelms me, but offer a shoulder when a friend is in need.

It becomes a matter of timing. I hear myself rationalizing, ” I can’t do it now, my kiddo will see me. I can’t do it now, I have to get some sleep. Maybe tomorrow right after work, that way I can pat my eyes in the car. I can’t possibly bother them with this stuff because it’s way too depressing.”

Maybe I’m such a hard ass because I’m not a big lover of well-meaning-platitude-spewing-amateur-therapists. Maybe it’s because when I cry I feel vulnerable and foolish, and the thought of someone minimizing it makes me feel weak. After all, I know what’s happening, so why feel it so deeply?

Maybe it’s because I’m trying to rationalize something that can’t possibly be coaxed into the tidy identity of the woman-who-has-it-all-together, which I’ve worked so hard to create and maintain.

Or maybe, maybe it’s just  hard to talk about things that cause me emotional pain because I’m human too.

I’ll Procrastinate Tomorrow

~ 5 Minute Read~

procrastinationOnce upon a time, in a magazine article far, far, away, I read about the benefits of procrastination.

If I recall correctly, the gist of the article was about procrastination being a psychological defense mechanism mothering us to accept inevitable change.

Change.

That’s what makes procrastination so easy to do. Procrastination slows down time so that we can adjust to what will change when we finally take action.

The thing is, I’ve never been much of a procrastinator. Nope. I jump right into things with two feet, head first, and with great abandon. My attitude is that you don’t know if you don’t try.

As I’ve aged I’ve been able to balance an all-or-nothing attitude with a wait-and-see-attitude. Sometimes I find balance, and sometimes I revert back to my habitual patterns; all in, or nothing at all.

Currently  I’m procrastinating about tidying up some editing of my novel. I’m not avoiding the writing, because I know how good it will feel to sweep the changes together and get on with my other book.

The reason I’m avoiding the emails and edits is because my editor died very suddenly last month.  I’m avoiding reading the last of his insight and encouraging words. I’m putting off the last words.  I’m putting off wondering if he said something I wished I would have asked one, last question about.

I’m putting off the reality of not being able to sit with him in the gallery lounge, sun streaming through the antique, glass windows that distort the world outside. I’m putting off getting on in a world missing a great, creative, soul whom I idealized as living a truly authentic life.

When I want to do something, whether it’s sending a text, picking up the phone, or, in this case, opening a series of emails I should have opened months ago, I know I need to ask myself why.  I know I need to give myself the respect to be honest with myself about the answer.

I wish  you the courage to be still and silent in your moments of procrastination so that you can hear that tiny whisper of your soul telling you the truth about what you need to do.

Suck it Up – Sadness is For Sissies

sadnessOr maybe not.

After all, we live in a culture of perpetual youth and denial of our own mortality.

Forty is the new thirty, celebrations of life rather than funerals, weekend warriors, and ultimate sports – life is not for the faint of heart.

It seems as though sadness is a marginalized emotion. It is the most discriminated emotion of our emotional spectrum. Being sad, like being overweight, is something that we tend to look down our noses at.

Our culture is so fast paced, that after three days we’re expected to suck it up and get back to work following the loss of a loved one. Sadness is not ok. That’s the message.

Not only that, funerals have turned into grand celebrations where smiling and laughter are the ultimate  tribute to those who have shed their mortal coils. Sadness is something we do behind closed doors. There is shame associated with it and we tend to express sadness in private – kind of like smoking.

Deaths and funerals offer us a variety of rituals that embrace sadness, acknowledge the loss to our communities, and create space for sadness.

Parents are famous for saying, ” I don’t want to cry in front of the children”. Why? Don’t worry about answering sweeties, it was a rhetorical question. Trust me, I’ve heard it all.

If you can’t show your children how to cope with real, gut-wrenching sadness (an emotion that none of us are immune to), how will they learn to cope?  Seriously.

The answer is that they won’t learn, and they will likely perpetuate this appalling  harder, stronger, faster culture of robotic functioning, falling victim to their emotions through addictions, unhealthy relationships or an eventual complete emotional breakdown.

Every single one of us will have to say good-bye to a loved one at least once during our lifetime. That’s even more certain than having to have ‘the talk’ with your kids. We’re all guaranteed death, but not so much good lovin’,  if you know what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that laughter and smiles have their place during the grieving process, but I am saying tears, sadness and all of the not-so-pretty emotions (anger, self-doubt, fear) have an important role to play during healthy and whole grieving.

The next time you feel like crying, like pulling the covers over your head and never getting out of bed, think about how you’re coping, and how the people around you cope.

I’m sure you’ll agree, we can do much better.

As it turns out, sadness is not for the faint of heart. Sadness is not for sissies. To be strong enough to allow yourself to be vulnerable takes incredible strength.

Farewell My Friend

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." ~Robert A. Heinlein~

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”
~Robert A. Heinlein~

A few months ago we adopted a kitten.

True to his namesake, Willie Nelson is a mellow, laid-back version of any other cat who made their way into my life.

At nine and a half years old, we figured Leonard Cohen (our older cat), would be a wonderful mentor, and train the wee one in the ways of catdom.

Since all of my cats have lived well past fifteen, Willie Nelson would also grow to  be the caretaker to faithful old Leonard as Leonard was to Whiskey.

But that wasn’t to be the case. Poor old Leonard was taken from us this weekend very suddenly.  He had yet to teach Willie Nelson the art of napping quietly on my bed, stretching out on my belly while I read, or curling up on the footstool while I meditatively stitch my needlework.

There’s something about an old cat. Well, something about my Leonard anyway. We were attached at the ankle as soon as I woke up,and as soon as I walked through the door from work.

Leonard was everywhere I was. He saw me through broken hearts, surgeries, and long bouts of gut-hollowing sadness.

Leonard had a man radar that I could only hope to have; he knew the good ones from the bad ones with just a few short passes around their legs. He knew when I was sick or sad or just plain tired out, and he loved me unfailingly despite my shortcomings.

Friday night, just after he left us, I curled up in my soft flannel sheets and cried.

I missed the bulk of my big, fifteen pound mass of kitty fur and purring. For nine and half years Leonard stretched out on my tummy while I read just before falling asleep. I only had to say, “Ok, Leonard” and he knew it was time for lights out and to crawl onto the passenger side of the bed.

I feel an echoing  ache whenever I think of my old pal, and I miss him terribly.

Willie Nelson seems no worse for wear, batting around toys and chasing his tail until he collapses in a heap of legs, tail and ears, and falling into a deep sleep like only a kitten can. One day Willie Nelson will grow out of his bouncy kitten curiosity and take to the ways of an old lap-cat.

I remember Leonard’s kitten antics; setting his tail on fire (not once, but twice), falling into the toilet, falling into the bath (while I was in it), and doing flying stunts from the top of bookshelves.

We’ll always miss old Leonard. He was a once in a lifetime feline friend.