Finally Free

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.

Back to School

Continued from Love’s Journey

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ~ Henry Ford

I believe that I survived because of meditation. It allowed me to ‘reset’ so that my emotions didn’t stay elevated. I eventually learned about stress and cortisol levels… that when we are experiencing extreme emotions (stress), our bodies create hormones designed to help us in that moment (fight or flight response) but our systems are not designed to support consistent levels of those organic chemicals. As such, it’s vital that we learn how to work with our bodies and reduce the amount of time that we allow stress to dominate our life.

I started school full-time in the fall of 2005 and while I was ‘the old lady’ in most of my classes, I loved every minute that I sat in class learning. Of course, I was in the front row and raised my hand twice as much as anyone else… maybe because I was asking all their questions too?? I started all over again with French and literally, every single person in that room had just graduated from high school, but me. It was there – in French class – that I learned the meaning of true humility. I embraced the experience and learned to laugh at myself as I tried to recall the vocabulary I had acquired twenty-seven years earlier. I formed a study group with a couple of gals in my Bio-Psych class where we talked a LOT about the behavior of rats and brain function… Dr. Gans was exceptionally  patient with me as I put three kids on a bus in the morning and then hi-tailed it thirty miles to campus.  If I didn’t time it ‘just right’, I would get behind school buses that stopped at every driveway for more than ten miles. The universe had my back most of the time but every so often, and twice on exam days (Murphy’s Law), I would be ten or so minutes late… entering right in the middle of her lecture kick off. It was pretty hard to ‘slip in’ when my seat was way up front.

The cool part of going back to school in mid-life or for any ‘non-traditional’ student is that the only reason we are there is … to learn. I found out that professors love us. They, of course, entered teaching to teach and we were there to absorb everything we could so it was a perfectly sound, symbiotic, thing we had going. I was serious and demonstrated it by preparing lists of questions, highlighting my textbooks, taking copious notes, and utilizing office hours before tests and after.

I became undeniably fascinated with human behavior. My appetite to understand why people do what they do was almost insatiable. Between the ‘self-help’ library that I was amassing and the academic perspectives I was acquiring, information was being absorbed faster than any other time in my life. All of a sudden, the prospect of browsing through Behavioral Journals became enticing rather than frightening as it has when I first sat through Statistics just a few months earlier. When I was compiling research for a paper on cognitive distortions or adolescent development cycles I would approach the customary sources and then get lost in a sea of collaboration and philosophies from psychology professionals all over the world. Thankfully, academic libraries are available online for registered students and it was fairly typical for a paper to take twice as long to research as it did to actually write for the simple excuse that I was easily distracted on topics ranging from the science of gratitude to deleterious effects of daily stressors and more.

Of course, I read hundreds of studies about dozens of topics but I easily got lost in the – then – relatively new ideas of Positive Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology. They were theoretical positions that moved beyond what we traditionally think of in terms of human behavior, the Freud, Skinner, and Pavlov postulations. Psychodynamic (Freud) and pure Behaviorists (Skinner & Pavlov) theories felt outdated, strict, and slightly contrite as compared to those who introduced the ideas of Transpersonal psychology; Carl Jung, William James, and Abraham Maslow. Indeed, I was so enthralled that I briefly considered bagging my life and trying to get into the University of San Francisco’s Consciousness Studies program. I was hooked.

“‎…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” ~ C. G. Jung

I devoured as much as I could read about Humanistic approaches, especially those in the Transpersonal realm. It was amazing to me that the ideas and thoughts which I had been focusing on recently, the idea that Love was critical (in some way) to our emotional wellness, was being a ‘real’ thing and being studied all over the world. I’m not sure why I was surprised as I have a strong belief in global consciousness and frankly, it wasn’t exactly ‘new’ but here it was – hundreds of studies that validated the direction I was headed.

Wikipedia defines Transpersonal Psychology as a “sub-field of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology” and elaborates “It is also possible to define it as a ‘spiritual’ psychology”.  It fit my ideology perfectly and became instrumental in the design of my approach as a therapist. Additionally, the field of Positive Psychology was beginning to garner lots of attention. Coming out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where Martin Seligman, known as the ‘father’ of this domain, was concentrating his research.  I was fortunate enough to have a professor that personally knew Dr. Seligman and was equally excited about some of the findings, especially in reference to ‘gratitude’. It felt as if I was approaching the epicenter of intention; the Universe was leading me perfectly into the place I was destined to be and introducing me to each element, each component that I would eventually need as I moved forward.

I discovered that professors will generally curve UP for students who are attentive, committed, and exemplify hard work. I tried to establish a thoughtful example. The girls and I would take turns sitting at the computer, typing our little hearts out as three of the four of us were knee-deep in homework most nights. Em was still in Elementary school and was an excellent student but the workload wasn’t yet all consuming. I’m sure that they would have been great students regardless of my personal scholastic efforts yet I’d like to think that I embodied study habits which, they carried on. With intense dedication, I managed to squeak out straight A’s.

Christmas arrived. It was going to be the first year as a partitioned family and Hubby was still living in the basement. I didn’t feel as though it was in the kids best interest to exile him, and I sure as H.E. double L. wasn’t going anywhere. By then, Frank was also living in the basement although he wasn’t home very much either. Christmas morning found us all – sitting in the den doing what we had always done. Hubby and I made it as normal as possible for the girls and managed to be beautifully civil to one another even though I knew he was going someplace else after all the gifts were opened. Perhaps that helped; I didn’t spend any time lamenting on how ‘normal’ it felt but rather used all the ‘tools’ that I had developed from my Positive Psychology studies. He did leave and I remember being only a little sad. The people remaining in the house were my favorite humans and I had everything I needed. I focused intently on gratitude and for the first time in a long time – I felt blessed.