When Darkness Knocks

He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

“If you want to find happiness, find gratitude.” ― Steve Maraboli

In the beginning of the year I started a gratitude challenge on my Counseling Facebook page. Each day since then – except for two – I have listed three things I am grateful for that day. I’ve tried not to replicate anything, which has been hard because every morning when I am writing them I am always grateful for my coffee! Certainly, at first it was easy as there are many obvious pieces of my life that I am always thankful for … a roof over my head, a warm room, comfy pillows, enough food, etc.

I’ve noticed as the time goes by however that unless I begin duplicating items, I must stretch my awareness a bit and it has been interesting to extend my awareness beyond my immediate surroundings to include the sound of my wind chimes and birds chirping. I am so grateful for those things. Not only do they represent the fact that I can hear but they are pleasant sounds and by noticing them, I also notice how they resonate in my body – my spirit. They create a nice sensation; pleasure.

It promotes more consciousness of people smiling, friendly service, and kind hearts. It stimulates my recognition of generosity, helpfulness, and benevolence, which are all contributors to the experience of happiness. Indeed, I believe I’ve felt a little bit happier than usual despite the negativity that tries to inject itself into my life.

It’s one thing to be a mental health counselor and experience the sadness, frustration, and negative emotions of clients – that’s my job and I am sufficiently capable of keeping it away from my personal psyche. Along the way, I learned the art of allowing clients to dump their stuff in my office without feeling as though I needed to pick it up. I rarely experience a derogatory impact of my clients affect. Don’t get me wrong… if there is something deeply sad – a client who lost a child or someone so deep in their own pain that they are suicidal – I feel sad but I don’t hold it. I can walk out of my office and leave it there.

It’s a whole other thing to live in an environment that is frequently heavy. Our political climate is currently stressed – no matter one’s affiliation – every day there is some element of drama pumped into our consciousness and we are exposed to exhausting bickering, draining our enthusiasm and confidence.

I am still adjusting to the whole ‘empty nest’ experience. While I quite enjoy the clean and constantly straightened atmosphere of my home, there is an eerie silence here that highlights the absence of my family. I miss the anticipation of hearing the creaking steps as one of the girls would come home from work at midnight or the sound of the shower and blasting music in the morning as she prepared for her day. I am blessed that they stay in contact with me via Face time or regular phone calls but it’s entirely different from the smell of their perfume lingering in the air.

And then there is the reality of Harlan’s illness. Coping with fatigue is one thing but coping with pain is another entirely. Every day is filled with the blessing that he can still work and concurrently filled with the reality that he does it battling the effects of chemo and the relentless pain of bone lesions. I see him getting tired. He does an amazing job but I watch him and I am sad and pissed and helpless and scared.

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I don’t like those feelings yet I know they are real and appropriate. They exist like fleas that jump on me when I walk in the door and every time I think I have fumigated their existence with my coping skills, they find another entrance or they are simply re-birthed into our experience. The early spring weather allowed me the opportunity to open the windows and replace the dark sad air with fresh spring hope and then it got cold again. I can feel the air thicken and so I walk outside where the sun is starting to stay longer and a bit brighter.

I live by the motto that there is something good in every single experience; not only on a global level but day by day. What is good about today? The gratitude challenge that I am conducting forces me to pay attention, to look beyond the obvious, to deny those damn fleas too much of my blood. It helps to push the pendulum back, to balance the scale, to make life tolerable.

When I am sad that he is hurting, I am grateful for his doctors. When I feel helpless to fix it, I am grateful to hold his hand. When I am disappointed that we aren’t bike riding, I am grateful to sit next to him on the couch. When I am frustrated that he goes to bed so early, I am grateful that his body heat warms the sheets on my side.

Please know that this is a ‘work in progress’ and I am – in no way – perfect in my efforts to find the silver lining every. single. time. But I keep trying. My daily expression of gratitude is one of the ways that I am working to create balance and a stronger sense of happiness in a time when darkness is constantly knocking on our door.

Won’t you join me? Hop on my HCC Facebook page and add your own three things. The more positive energy we can put forth in the world – the better.

 

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More Letting Go

I had a small epiphany… for a lot of things, letting go isn’t a one and done thing!!

The requirements for our evolution have changed. Survival is no longer sufficient. Our evolution now requires us to develop spiritually – to become emotionally aware and make responsible choices. It requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul – harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life. ~ Gary Zukav

As I wrote yesterday’s post I was emotional. That’s usually a sign that I need to stop writing, process the emotions that are there and then… go forward. I was emotional because it’ hard coping with this ‘new normal’. When I am reminded of the life that H and I ‘wanted’ to live – I get sad because it’s not the life we ‘are’ living and I know it must be very difficult for H if it’s hard for me.

In this year of Cancer, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a lot about H but more about myself. I’ve learned about my friends and family. I’ve learned more about people and thoughts and feelings. It’s been an education on so many different levels.

There are a lot of little hurts that happen and accumulate when life is hard. There are people who aren’t ‘there’ in the way you may have imagined. There are disappointments about plans that have to be changed or canceled. There are misunderstandings because we may not communicate well when stressed. There are hopes and dreams that move from vivid to blurry.

I was ironing some napkins (don’t be impressed – they are cotton and I left them in the dryer)… and thinking about letting go… I use a lot of techniques already to ‘let go’ of old stuff – techniques that work well but… what about the stuff that isn’t necessarily old?

I had a small epiphany… for a lot of things, letting go isn’t a one and done thing!! Some of you may have already acquired this knowledge and bless you… life must be easier for you since garnering this tidbit.

I realized that every morning when I wake up I need to LET GO of the things that are still there that day. It’s not like the dismay that I had to release regarding ex-Hubby or the anger I felt over the betrayal of Abee… H’s cancer is there EVERY DAY. It burdens him and affects our life every day. I realized that I need to practice letting go more religiously.

I thought of the sentiment ‘Let go and let God’… I think… let God what? Is God going to heal H? is God going to introduce me to someone else to grow old with? Is God going to give H more strength and comfort TODAY so that he has a quality of life? I know there aren’t any answers to these questions and even the devout Christians that I admire and love will tell me that God has a plan for this – jeez… I even believe that the Universe (God?) will help us find value in this experience. And so, without specific answers to these questions, I realized today that I need to practice – as in doing over and over again – the act of ‘letting go’.

When I think about what I am letting go of – I think it may be a couple of things….

A specific outcome

I want H to live, to retire with me, to travel with me, and comfort me. I hear the word “I” a lot when I think about how this ‘should’ play out and I feel guilty about that, although I know it’s quite normal. I have no idea what H’s journey is – what karmic agreement he has with the Universe and/or what God’s plan is for him. I get caught up in the things that we talked about – the things that ‘feel’ good to me and I want our story to have a theme very different than the one that is playing.

The need to control

Because I want all of those ‘things’ – I believe I can help them come to fruition if only I was in control of his health…

I use the analogy of fixing H a salad for dinner if I am going to be home late. I get home – see the salad still in the fridge and freak out because he didn’t eat. My mind does this … I see the salad – it means H didn’t eat – which means he didn’t get the nutrients his immune system needs – which means his immune system won’t work – meaning cancer will grow – which means he will die – leaving me alone and unloved.

Yup… that’s what my mind does in a manner of nanoseconds. H doesn’t stand a chance because I see the salad and go right to I’ll be alone and unloved. (hear all that abandonment??) And so – in an effort to prevent all those negative feelings – I try and control for them. I make a salad with lots of nutrients and ask him to eat. Sometimes, he doesn’t want the salad, sometimes, he just doesn’t want to eat.

I realize that I am trying to control his health – and can’t. Just that simple… I need to let go of my need to control his health.

My feelings

I need to let go of my feelings. I tell people all the time not to judge their feelings – I wrote about it the other day and yet on my walk today I realized that I feel guilty about having such strong feelings because I’m not the one who has cancer. I’m not the one struggling physically although I readily acknowledge that it has a dramatic effect on both of us because we are partners.

The realization that it isn’t a one and done venture is most important here. The feelings I had yesterday when I saw him struggling to get up, I worked at letting those go yesterday. But the feelings I had today when he complained of pain that is unexplainable… I need to ‘let go’ again. I need to be better about remembering to ‘let go’ – to imagine myself as a funnel – to detach from the fear and observe it moving in… and out… away…

My fear

Death is a bizarre thing for those of us who keep living… one minute you’re there… the next – you’re not. Sometimes, we experience the absence of the person who died in a physical way, a physiological pain. I’ve heard about it from parents who lost a child and from children who lost a parent, from spouses who lost their lovers and I remember the feeling acutely… a minute that never ends – only lessens in intensity. I’ve realized that I am afraid of having that experience again. It’s not here yet and maybe it won’t come. Hopefully, it won’t come… because I remember how intense it was and I realize how hard I am resisting its return.

My new mantra… “I am letting go of my fear, my feelings, my control and the outcome and I will trust that the lessons here have value”.  If you know me… remind me of this!

 

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Choosing Love

I picked up the phone to call him, just to remind him that I was excited to think about what lay ahead for us.

Continued from Falling

“The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry lifetime after lifetime.” ― Alex Collier

After Harlan told me he had been treated for melanoma I was a bit heartbroken. I didn’t want to go through that again, I couldn’t imagine setting myself up for loss one.more.time. I struggled to find some peace with the idea of letting him go – before he ‘really’ got under my skin and into my heart. I felt disappointed and a little defeated because I had finally met someone worth allowing myself to fall in love again and he is telling me that he had thought he was going to die a few years prior.

He had said the only treatment he had was excision of the mole… no radiation or chemotherapy. One would think that it couldn’t have been too serious and yet, a cancer diagnosis is terrifying no matter the circumstances. Every time I thought I could overcome my fear, the memories of my step dad’s journey with melanoma crowded my vision and then I could see myself again as a widow sitting in the front row of a funeral service. I just couldn’t do it.

I picked up the phone and called my Aunt. We had been close since I had settled my grandparent’s estate and she was like-minded in spiritual philosophies so it was easy to talk with her most of the time about this existential stuff. I needed to think out loud and bounce my thoughts off of someone.

“I met this guy”, I started telling her the story of Harlan and our instant connection. I shared with her, the prophecy from my mountain trip and gave her a general description of how things had transpired so far. I told her about his melanoma and how scared I was to take the risk of loving him.

“So, let me get this straight”, she said. “You are going to throw away the opportunity to love a person whom you are describing as a ‘soulmate’ because he MIGHT die?”. She sounded incredulous. “I thought you believed that everything happened for a reason”. She was challenging me.

I recalled an evening she and I were sitting on the porch at my grandparent’s farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania overlooking the amazing acreage there in the Blue Mountain region. The beauty of it was always intense, no matter the time of year. It was one of those places where you sit and observe the perfection of God’s work, of creation. It is one of those places where the paragon of color, texture, and shape are apparent. We were sitting there talking, taking a break from the emotional aspects of our losses; she of having lost a sister and her parents and me – my mom and grandparents. It was a lot to process. The conversation had turned metaphysical. We talked about the lack of coincidence, cosmic design, divine intervention, universal intent… all of the things that inspire me deeply…

Suddenly it was clear. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, then I had to deduct that

THIS moment

In its intention

Is perfect.

That meant – every moment of my life – each one… in its overall intention for the rest of my  life was perfectly designed.

The intensity of the meaning of that realization took me by surprise. Whether it was God, the Universe, Mother Earth … it didn’t matter – each moment of my life was moving me toward the next… perfectly. It was a concept that we both internalized and committed to memory – feeling quite satisfied that we had discovered something so profound.

She was reminding me of that now as I questioned the value and or the validity of meeting Harlan, of falling in love with him. She reminded me that there are never any guarantees. She asked me if I would have married Rocky even if I knew that our time together would have been short. I knew I would have – those short three and a half years were precious to me and had produced Frank… I would never have given that up. She asked me if I would have married Hubby even if I knew the outcome and as much as I wanted to say a resounding ‘no’ – I knew that the girls were a product of that union and nothing on earth would have me regret those blessings. I wouldn’t change anything about my life.

She asked me to think about whether I was willing to reject even a day of love, of being loved, the experience of the joy that being in love brings for the sake of safety. So, “in other words, she said, “you would rather feel nothing – no pain, no joy, than to feel love and potential pain??”

Hmmm…

I didn’t ‘want’ to feel ‘nothing’ but I was afraid. I was afraid of the pain that loving someone -and losing them- entailed. I was terrified of the darkness that ensues when love ends. The idea of experiencing that again panicked me but then again, the idea of never loving again wasn’t what I wanted either. Crap. Shit. What do I do now?

I appreciated the phone call even if it didn’t solidify a decision to end my budding romance. Rather, it did just the opposite I was more clear on the emotions that I experienced when he told me about the melanoma. I realized that when I noticed the potential for emotional pain, my response was to shut down, turn, and run away. That’s normal, right? Who ‘wants’ to feel pain? I understood then that the ‘fight or flight’ response we instinctively use wasn’t only for our physical protection – it was for our emotional protection as well. In our efforts to preserve our emotional integrity, we avoided or fought back emotionally.

My desire to run away from Harlan in case he died was an instinct to avoid the pain of losing him. The mature adult part of my brain that held on to rational thinking knew that there were no guarantees even if he had never known the word melanoma; after all… Rocky believed he would live to be one hundred years old. Nope, no guarantees at all. With very little conscious thought from that point on, I allowed myself to love.

I picked up the phone to call him, just to remind him that I was excited to think about what lay ahead for us. I looked forward with a little apprehension but less fear by knowing that right now… here… in THIS moment I was choosing love. At some point, I noticed that I always choose love.

And the Kissing Begins

We had a table close to the center of the room and yet I distinctly remember looking in his eyes and not noticing anyone or anything.

Continued from Proven Prophecy

“Hard to sit here and be close to you, and not kiss you.” – F Scott Fitzgerald

Time passed quickly and we had yet to have a lull in our conversation. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to kiss him. I liked looking at his mouth and considered how his mustache would feel against my lips. I felt a stirring that had been dormant for far too long.

“What?” he looked at me puzzled… “Did you just say you wanted to kiss me?” he appeared to be blushing a bit.

I imagine that my eyes gave away my surprise that he had seemingly just read my mind and the idea that he had sent mini shivers throughout my insides. “Um… actually, I was just debating that idea”, and crimson spread quickly across my face as my eyes darted everywhere but toward his. Our coffee was finished and I needed to walk… “how about a walk?” I asked.

We stood up and headed out toward his car where he introduced me to a small long-haired Chihuahua who was yapping at full force and bouncing around the front seat of Harlan’s little truck. The window was open a crack and I was terrified of the energy spilling out of there as he barred his teeth and tried to convince me that he was big, bad, and ferocious. “This is Bear”, Harlan told me – “because he is BEARly a dog.” He opened the door of the truck which encouraged the dog to leap into Harlan’s arms while hyperventilating – or sounding like it anyway. I was smiling from ear to ear mostly because this really big guy was being completely and totally loved by a tiny, hunk of fur. It was a heartwarming sight. I noticed a kindness that few people in my life possessed. Another flutter of my heart occurred.

We walked across the parking lot and down the length of the shopping center. It was a classic winter evening with a soft drizzling rain making it seem twice as cold as it was. We talked long enough that I knew I wanted to see this guy again and probably, again after that. I had to get home but I really did want to kiss him – even though this was the first date… something drove me to move in toward him and lean up. It was a gesture so native and instinctual that neither one of us hesitated or resisted, we moved together and gently, ever so briefly, kissed.

It wasn’t fireworks or a trumpet tribute – it was better than that – it was comforting, safe, and soft. It was compassionate. I knew in this one modest moment that this man and I had a connection that was diametrical to any other in my life. I could feel the anticipation building from the center of my being and I looked at him intently while I said: “you and I are going to have a lot of fun together.”

 

I went home with a dreamy look and a perpetual smile that is indicative of liking, lusting, and infatuation. The girls were there to ask how it went and noticed immediately that I had taken on a giggly persona and so they knew. I sat alone for a while that night after they were tucked safely in bed and considered my life. How many times did I say I was finished with men? With love? How could I have a relationship and be the mom I wanted to be? How will the girls react with a man in my life? Am I willing to consider marriage?

There were so many questions and no answers just yet. The one thing that I did know is that I wanted to do this differently. I wanted to stay ME at all cost. I knew that I wasn’t willing to give up all the ‘inside’ work that I’d been doing, that I had accomplished for the sake of a relationship. How does one do that? I never had before.

With Rocky, we were just young and moldable. We were two pieces of putty when we met and we melted into a single, solid form that was shaped by our combined interests, goals, and aspirations.

With Hubby, I was dedicated to dream manifestation so concretely, that I created whatever image was necessary to create the vision and along the way, I lost track of where “I” was.

I noticed also that with each of these other two relationships, I had kissed them the first night I had met them. What did that mean? I laid in bed that night thinking; my mind running ahead of me faster than I could keep up. I contemplated my future, with and without a man – with and without Harlan. I only knew what he had allowed me to see and yet I already felt ‘at home’ with him. How crazy am I to consider moving this fast again?

I told myself to slow down – to be more present … ‘one day at a time’ I told myself. Everything was fine just as it was. I didn’t have to be in a hurry for anything. IF I wanted a relationship, it would have to fit into what ‘already was’. I must have talked myself to sleep that night, convincing myself to take a deep breath and relax; to go with the flow. I woke refreshed and feeling less intense – ready to take on the day.

That was until Harlan called. My heart skipped a beat when I heard his voice early in the morning and he claimed to ‘miss me’. Eyebrows raise and I feel an exclamation popping up in my mind… dude… too fast. I knew that if we were ‘both’ on the fast track – I was in trouble.

We made plans to get together for dinner on Wednesday when the girls went to their dad’s house. I met him at his office, a temporary job that he was just filling time with, and we went to a generic restaurant around the corner. I had been there before. It was large and noisy; open and crowded. We had a table close to the center of the room and yet I distinctly remember looking in his eyes and not noticing anyone or anything. Even our waitress had difficulty breaking the trance between us.

I was trying so hard to take it slow but our energies were electric as soon as we were in proximity to one another. We went back to his place after dinner and I noticed he was a minimalist. What a far cry from my own home where design and clutter were intertwined. Hmm… There was a loveseat in the living room – a love seat and a lamp. There was a desk and one chair in one of the bedrooms he used as an office, there was a bed in another room he considered the master, and then there were two stools in the kitchen. That was it. I looked around and quickly chose the loveseat. It was just a bit awkward but we had yet to experience a respite in our conversations so we carried on, getting to know one another.

Finally Free

I clearly didn’t understand how or why people I loved drew a line in an area so obviously contrasted to where I would have drawn it

Continued from Escape Route

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

Our aunt returned to Granddad’s house after mom’s funeral to find him in disarray. It appeared that he had had a stroke while everyone was away as his language was garbled and he was looping his thoughts. He refused to go to a doctor, though. She was going to stay with him for a week or so and stay in touch. So many things happening all at once in one family. He lost his wife of 66 years and a daughter within a week of one another and now, he was disoriented and unable to be understood.

I had been appointed his executrix, much to the chagrin of one of my Aunts who had taken my appointment as a slight to her position as the oldest child. As it turned out, it was a blessing. Who would have thought there would be so much grief all at once? A family can only take so much. He lived three hours away from me and as a single mom – for all intents and purposes – it wasn’t an easy feat to get a whole day free from immediate responsibility but my amazing support system was cooperating fully and so, I took the time.

It was heartbreaking to see this person who had been a strong, virile, Marlboro’esque man trying to communicate in loopy garble. He became extremely frustrated when we didn’t understand him and I’m sure he realized that he wasn’t making sense. He did allow me to help him pay bills and go through the mail, managing to communicate to me where things were and that it would fall into my hands soon enough. I drove up there every other week and each time, he was a bit worse but still refused medical care.

On June 1st, Mom’s birthday, we five siblings again gathered to honor her by committing her remains forever in Arlington National Cemetery. As a Veteran, she qualified for burial there and so we went to Washington, D.C. and for another segment of time, managed to act as if we were collectively united in our grief. I don’t specifically recall making eye contact with Abee but I remember not wanting to. It was specifically my love and respect for mom that kept me there in the presence of a sister who was emotionally dead to me.

The last couple of months had put the proverbial nail in the coffin for me. Hubby and I sat down with the girls while he told them that he was in love with their Aunt, and asked them if they would try and accept his decision. None of them reacted well, and for a time, they chose to avoid him altogether. Eventually, they established strong boundaries stating that they loved him but they weren’t willing to be tolerant of his choice in partners. They begged him to move on to Jane Doe or Mary Smith, anyone but a family member; their plea fell on deaf ears. Consequently, they stood strong on the line that said we accept a relationship with you, and you alone. It was a compromise that was exceptionally difficult for them and while I was remorseful that the kinship I had imagined between my children and their father would never exist – I was fundamentally proud of them for honoring their hearts.

Our divorce agreement was effective on that same day. While we memorialized Mom that day, Hubby was moving out of our home. I had signed all the paperwork a couple of days prior after negotiating final details that make it possible for the girls and me to stay in the house until our youngest graduated from high school; seven years into the future. It was unusual and I believe, highly opposed by Hubby’s attorney but I held out and refused to sign away my half of the company until conditions that guaranteed the girls best interest and comfort, were in writing and indisputable. I was rather unrelenting and in the end, Hubby wanted what was best for the girls to… at least in terms of their comfort and home life.

It was a bittersweet transition as I left the cemetery knowing that I was going home to the official ‘death’ of my marriage. On the way home from Washington, I stopped at the hardware store and bought new door locks. I knew that as soon as I got home, my priority would be to reprogram the garage doors and change the hardware on the front and back door. It was MY house now and Hubby wasn’t invited. It took a long, long time but I was free.

I wasn’t home long enough to unpack the bags before the phone rang to tell me that Grandad had passed away. Within three months, one-half of my mom’s family had died. Six had become three. The magnitude of their loss was overwhelming for my two Aunts and an Uncle, life is just completely unfair at times. There was still more sadness to get through and we were all – over it. We all needed a break from the deep, dark, drama that had overshadowed our lives for such a long period of time. It was simply… too much and I was surprised that none of us had ‘officially’ lost our mind.

It was the last time that I was in the same company as Abee. She came to Grandad’s funeral with Emma and they interacted some with other family members but left right after the service. I was too wrapped up in executrix duties and warding off the negative energy building among other family members to be too focused on my old baggage. We were barely tolerant of one another. I knew I just needed to move on. It was sad, though – all those years of ‘family’ down the drain. It was too easy to remember her as a little girl curled up in my lap reading, or the times I would help her with homework and school projects, the times she did the same with and for my children and then the adult relationship that we had enjoyed… twenty-five years of family – gone because she and Hubby wouldn’t deny themselves some kind of convoluted ‘love’ they claimed to have.

I’m not sure I believe that we are supposed to act upon all the feelings we have.  There are times I’m so angry that all I want to do is spit (the most disgusting and awful thing I can think of to do to someone) but that doesn’t mean I do it.  I’ve felt attracted to friend’s husbands but I would never act on that attraction. I’ve wanted to do lots of things that either weren’t socially or morally acceptable and so, I didn’t do them. Isn’t that what we teach our children?? Isn’t that what we expect from society at large? I suppose that somewhere in the principle I am describing is a line that each of us draws and it is obviously different for each of us. I clearly didn’t understand how or why people I loved drew a line in an area so obviously contrasted to where I would have drawn it… apparently, we weren’t like-minded at all.

Settling Granddad’s estate meant disposing of a herd of cows, a couple of horses, barns full of equipment and tools, as well as sixty plus years of marital accumulations. We found love letters that have the potential to be an entirely new book, utility bills from the 1960’s and photographs that were meant to be private. We were closing an era and the eccentricity of personalities that defined my mom’s siblings made it challenging from time to time but ultimately, considering they had lost exactly half of their family, it was all good. We got through it.

As a student of psychology, it was fascinating to experience, to watch. I observed extreme grief reactions inside a family dynamic that challenged everything I knew about bereavement and it formed the foundation for the rest of my academic work.

Escape Route

I believed that maybe, just maybe – a reason for all of my turmoil was to teach my daughters and that – gave me hope.

Continued from Armoured Up

Running away from any problem only increase the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it. ~ Anonymous

When Abee said she “just needed to be alone” I realized that any progress toward a new beginning I thought existed, was only in my imagination. It was possible that she needed space now that the house was empty and she could privately grieve but I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when I was investigating company accounting statements that I actually understood. I noticed a number of charges to the corporate American Express card that were made at retail stores for hair products and swimwear. Obviously curious, I checked the dates on the calendar only to find out that it was the day I had offered to hang out with Abee. Remembering back in more detail I recall that Hubby hadn’t been around either. We didn’t tell one another our plans anymore but I was in the habit of paying attention to when he was or wasn’t home. Well, I’ll be damned. He had taken her shopping on the company’s dime…

A few other incidents occurred across a couple of months that forced me to keep very close tabs on how much money was being spent from OUR company’s funds. Also, the time that Hubby and Abee were spending together in public increased as I received frequent ‘reports’ of them being seen out and about. I had to surmise that now Mom was gone, there was no more voice of reason about the impropriety of their relationship. Hubby attempted to intermingle his weekends with the girls into spending time with Abee as well but they were confused as to why Abee was around with their dad, helping him find a new house, etc. No one was being honest and I was getting fired up.

No matter how hard I worked to cope with the depth of the betrayal from my husband and sister, it was constantly in front of me, requiring me to readjust on a daily basis. There was never time to build tolerance as every time I turned, it seemed as if there was another question from someone… “are they still together?” “What does she see in him?” “What do your kids think?” “I can’t believe it!” or something that brought it all back to the front and center of my consciousness. It didn’t matter what coping mechanism I was using at the moment, I had to find another one. It was as if I was building a tolerance to the methods most common and had to constantly find something better or stronger to help me get through the next round of questions or the next battle of nighttime tears from the girls. There were days when I would be driving into school crying out of frustration on how to put that relationship into perspective. There were nights when all of the broken promises bombarded me like slivers of fragmented glass, ripping metaphorically into my already damaged heart. I was tired of hurting. I wanted to escape.

It was a stressful spring all around. I had missed a week of classes while in San Deigo and so I was playing catch up with my classes. I was noticing my mom’s absence daily as I would attempt to pick up the phone and call to ask how she was feeling or to see how her bridge game went. One evening I was sitting on my bed thinking about mom, going all the way back to my childhood. I remembered, even after all those years, the day she had left to join the Army. As a twelve-year-old, I wanted to come home every day to my mom. I wanted her to teach me how to cook and sew (well, she didn’t really sew…) I wanted her to talk with me about girl stuff and play Barbie’s before bedtime. One this particular evening, as I was reflecting on the pain I felt as a child when mom left and the pain I was feeling that night, wanting to turn to my mother for solace… I cried out in deep desolation, for all of the times that mom had forsaken me. The sorrow escaping my body had been suppressed for more than three decades and yet it wasn’t only that, it was for everyone who had left me – intentionally or otherwise. In that one moment, I understood the intensity of my abandonment sentiment. I grasped right then how I had moved through my life from the footprint of rejection and desertion.

I wrote letters that night to Mom, Rocky, Dad, Hubby, Abee, and a couple of other incidental people who had left me or rejected me for what was to them – either nonvoluntary (i.e., Rocky & Dad) or conscious decisions motivated by needs that did not include me. I was able to recognize that outside of death, those people weren’t really leaving ‘me’… they were focusing on what was good for them. They were satisfying their own needs instead of considering the needs of others and while this is what most of us do… many of us are satisfying the OUR need NOT to hurt people we love.

This is the great dichotomy in which we live really… if we make decisions that make us happy regardless of how other people feel – will we ‘really’ be happy??  If I know that by choosing one direction of happiness for myself means that many others will be miserable… can I still experience the joy I was anticipating? Where exactly is that balancing line? Where do my needs and the needs of others intersect? Why does someone always have to sacrifice?

I considered my own pain. It was quasi-torturous to stay in that house, the one we built together – in the town where we had dreamed of raising our family… to hear people say that they saw my sister and Hubby at the such and such restaurant or driving down the road together… If I moved, I could escape all that. I wouldn’t have to be in the same town with constant reminders or notice the look on people’s faces who knew that my sister, the one I bragged so much about when we hired her to work for us, was hooking up with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I wouldn’t wonder how many people were whispering behind my back. It would be easier to leave – to start anew but the girls… they wouldn’t want to go; they had been raised here. They were embedded in our community, in scouts, sports, and school. They loved this house, their rooms, and the neighbors. I didn’t want to pull them away from their lives. I could go. But then, I would be just like my mom. Leaving my kids to pursue something that offered me personal relief even if it was going to be temporary.

Funny that my oldest daughter was almost exactly the same age as I was when mom left me. Is this life offering the same lesson? Can I break some kind of karmic string if I stay and stare down the temptation to relieve myself? It was so enticing… the possibility of ending in-you-face-betrayal simply by relocating but I couldn’t do it.

I sat on the edge of Sara’s bed one night specifically to let her know that I was there with them, that I would always be there and that from everything… absolutely everything comes something good if we are patient enough to wait for it. I explained that nothing was more important than self-respect and that no matter what happened in her life, no matter the man (or men) she would meet – that compromising self-respect should never – ever – be an option. I hope she heard me. I believed that maybe, just maybe – a reason for all of my turmoil was to teach my daughters and that – gave me hope.

Armoured Up

The flight home was emotionally arduous as we considered the extent of our family’s losses.

Continued from Another Goodbye

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”  ~ Kahil Gibran

It is difficult to describe the sensation, the emotions, of walking out of a hospital or facility with only a bag of personal effects. I’m not sure we are ever prepared to walk out of a building as a person so different than the one who walked in. I had done this twice now, first my husband and now my mother and while death is a part of life, how can we ever be ready to lose either? It doesn’t matter how old you are – we only ever get one mother and now mine was gone.

We all – including Abee – went back to the condo that I had rented for the week we were there. It was a surreal time for us as siblings too. The one thing that had bonded us at all through the debacle of my marital drama was mom. Now that she was gone, what would be the motivation for us to ever stay connected? I was hopeful that we could start over here – allow the bonds of family to be stronger than betrayal or deceit and reconnect. We sat together and cried when the feeling overcame us but mostly spoke about the woman that we all loved. We shared funny stories and discussed quirks that we admired. We eulogized her with our hearts that night in a way that would have had her blushing but feeling proud that her intent had been accomplished. There was no doubt that regardless of the differences we had as adults, this woman had five children who revered their mother passionately. I hoped to be so lucky.

The emotional roller coaster I rode while in San Diego was exhausting. There were times I took a break from being in the room to walk outside to enjoy the California sunshine. My instinct was to talk with Hubby because other than my siblings who were here with me, he was the next closest confidant – or had been. Because it was an ingrained habit, I called him to vent my sadness and heartache over the impending and eventual loss of mom. I must have talked to him two or three times a day just because it had been the pattern over that last fifteen years of my life. There was a strange sense of comfort in talking to him, perhaps the familiarity, perhaps the memories of a better time for us… I’m not sure exactly but my instinct dialed the phone and I felt better afterward so it kept happening.

The truly crazy part of this whole thing was that I wasn’t the only one… Abee apparently was doing the same thing. There were times that I would be talking to him and call waiting would beep in to let him know that she was also calling to talk. That week, it was somehow tolerable or perhaps it was that my brain couldn’t process more than one loss at a time, or that the idea of losing mom far exceeded the idea of losing Hubby. As I sit here and recall those moments of recognition that we were each using the same man for emotional support – in the same way – the absurdity of it is staggering to my brain, but that’s what we did. The three of us formed an interactive triangle that would have made the Kardashians raise their eyebrows.

Abee and our brother had early flights but the rest of us were on a red-eye and had the whole day to get through. We had a memorial lunch overlooking the Pacific in honor of mom and probably drank too many mimosa’s in her honor before we bought a dozen yellow roses (her favorite) to throw into the sea at the point in La Jolla. Just standing there, listening to the surf hit the rocks forged memories of mom onto our hearts as the ocean was one of her most identifying interests. She loved, loved the ocean. She was known to wrap herself in a blanket or two as to ward off a fifty-degree wind so she could sit on the Kitty Hawk dunes and read. It never mattered to her how cold or hot it was as long as there was an ocean breeze and she could hear the waves crashing against the sand. We stood there, three of her daughters in solidarity, celebrating not only the woman that birthed us but the woman that had championed for us more often than not, for most of our lives. Even in her faults, she was Mom and we were going to desperately miss her.

Concurrently with our experience, Grandad and mom’s own siblings were making funeral arrangements for Grandmom. The service was scheduled for the day we arrived back on the East Coast and there just wasn’t any way for us to arrive on the red-eye and then – in our own severe grief – make it to her service. The flight home was emotionally arduous as we considered the extent of our family’s losses. It was barely believable that within eight days of one another, they had both simply ceased to exist in live form. Upon landing, I picked up the car and drove us all home; dropping Emma off at mom’s house so she could be with her twin who had gotten back late – the night before. I walked into the house where my family was still sleeping and went into the basement bedroom where Hubby was bunking, took off all my clothes, and got into bed with him.

In that moment, the only thing I needed was comfort and in some undeniably disturbed way, he was the source of that solace. For just a while, the ugly distorted reality that existed in the space between us melted away and we came together one last time. Grief disrupts emotional reason. It didn’t last long however and after a brief nap, I returned to my senses. I unpacked my resistance and reaffirmed my destiny to personal dignity by talking with E. She offered to come rescue me from myself but I was pledging sanity and knew that my extended family was about to transition from one grief to another, which would be chaotic at best. It was better for her to reserve time and energy for when the bubble eventually broke and my reserve was again tested.

The armor I embraced was iron clad. I drove over to Mom’s house – now Abee’s – where people had begun to assemble and sat there deep in an easy chair with a blanket over my lap as I watched a parade of well-wishers and allies move in and out of the room. It was another one of those times, etched securely onto a memory plate, where pragmatism prevailed and reality emerged only superficially. No matter the intensity of emotions only months ago, it was shelved – set aside – with the most interesting intention – so that we could work together and plan what was to happen next.

Hubby came over once to bring our children and the amplitude of awkwardness was immeasurable. We all felt it – he felt it. He didn’t come back. I’m pretty sure that if he had, my brother would have lost his mind and so it was good that he had the kids to keep him busy. We planned a funeral, held in an old Victorian mansion (another love of hers) and made a photo video that brought most family members to immediate tears as they visualized many of the amazing memories they had shared. I was barely cognizant through her service as the grief drowned me but with the love of so many people who together – embodied her, we got through. As we always do.

When everyone had left and gone back to whence they came, I knew Abee would be alone. Of all of us, this was going to hit her the hardest. She was the only one of us without an immediate family to lift her up. I called – believing that we could start over – and invited her to the house or stated that I would go there to be with her.  “Thanks, ” she said, “I just need to be alone”.

I wasn’t yet understanding how self-destructive expectations can be.