Trancendent Study

I hear enough critique in my own mind, in the real world, and I didn’t need it to come from the afterlife too.

Continued from Such Diffidence

“Learning the lessons of life can be so simple if you believe in immortality.” – Brian Weiss

There is a phenomenon of picking the same seats, day after day in college classrooms. It is a psychological mystery. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t just happen in college and it was apparent there, in the conference center at Omega, full of adults ranging in age from 25 to 80 – that we were also subject to this tendency. The good part was that I could ask that guy next to me – eventually known as Michael – about his regression yesterday.

The resolve I had started the day with, the resolve that quickly waned as I went relatively unnoticed at breakfast, had not walked into that room with me. I sat there, silently, as Dr. Weiss asked us all if today was in any way special. I wanted to say “It’s my birthday” in hopes that he would use me to demonstrate a regression; something I had fantasized about ever since I began reading his books. It was a simple gesture to just raise my hand and make that factual announcement but something heavy and solid inside of me prevented my arm from lifting away from my side and the day got started. I sat there, of course, interested in the unfolding of what I could learn but also disappointed in myself again for not being willing to take the risk, for not allowing myself to be vulnerable. I was still not convinced that my voice, my energy, my input – was worth hearing.

We broke off into groups of two or three several times that day, offering me an opportunity to talk with people and yet even then, I waited for people to come to me or I waited to see ‘who was left’… it was a self-fulfilling continuation of those many times in grade school where I was the ‘last pick’… relegating myself to the benchmark of my youth. There was a woman behind me who appeared as quiet and as low profile as me, she became my go to… my escape when it was time to pick partners. If I chose her, I didn’t feel unchosen. It was a good compromise. What I really wanted was to choose Michael but he had already formed a ‘group’, the popular people… the ones who were bold and confident. I didn’t belong to that group no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t find the moxie to wedge myself in there. It was one of those adult moments that seemed as though we (or at least I) had transported back to middle school for a short time and who in their right mind would do that?

This woman who had become my serendipitous partner was so ‘in tune’ with the Universe that when it came time to practice listening to our souls, she read me like a book. We had the task of taking an item from our partner and holding it – concentrating deeply on the story of the item, it’s history and then share any insight with the owner. I handed her a ring that I had been given from my Grandmother’s estate. It wasn’t old fashioned looking, in fact, I’m not sure it was old, only that it had been hers. She gave me a bookmark. Dr. Weiss directed us through a process whereby we were to consider the object and its energy. I felt way, way out of my league at this point. I was still an infant on the regression thing and reading energy was for Spiritual Masters, wasn’t it? I tried to concentrate on his voice, on the direction but my feelings of inadequacy were too strong. They overruled almost everything that came through my mind. The only thing that I could say I ‘felt’ was God. That is the word that kept coming to me.

When the challenge was finished, we shared with our partner the information we had received about the item we had been holding. I told this lady that I wasn’t very good at this yet, that the only thing I sensed was “God”. She smiled softly and informed me it was the bookmark from her bible and pulled it out of her backpack. It was a worn, King James version that appeared to be well read. As she slipped the bookmark back into the pages, I felt a shiver run up my spine. ‘Whoa’, I thought. Next, it was her turn. She informed me that the ring had belonged to an old woman, perhaps my grandmother – she asked with a question mark. I nodded in agreement. She said that my grandmother had come to her and spoke about all the sadness in our family, that there had been too much loss but that they were all together – the shivers intensified dramatically. And then, she said, “your grandmother said to forgive your sister.”

I sat there stunned and silent. Why would I always have to face this? Can’t Abee just be a non-issue for a while? “Wow, that’s amazing,” I said. “Thank You”. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea that people could talk to me from the grave. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say, actually. Isn’t it odd, perhaps misfortunate, that we only want to hear the things that are supportive and validating?? I hear enough critique in my own mind, in the real world, and I didn’t need it to come from the afterlife too.

We spent a fair amount of time hearing more from Dr. Weiss, details from his sessions with Catherine, in the early regression years. She had channeled some spirit masters who spoke about love, learning, and the ultimate goal of serenity. Those masters indicated that sometimes, we stay in soul form so that we can be guides for people we’ve left or for future generations. Other times, we reincarnate into the same family to continue working on growing in an environment we know is ripe for us. He led us into a regression where we were to connect with our spirit guides, asking them to come to us in an identifiable form. I saw a picture frame on the wall with three ‘windows’ – room for three photos – but they were blank. The more I focused on the frame, I came to realize that there were forms in the squares but they were blurry. I stayed with it. One of the frames became clear and I saw a face. It wasn’t a face that I knew completely but it appeared to resemble my oldest daughter. When I looked closer, I experienced a distinct knowing that it was indeed her. There was something about the eyes that make it obvious and believable. I was a bit confused because she was here… in my life, not just existing in the spirit world somewhere. Was it possible she had come into this world to guide me? I was pleasantly surprised at the prospect.

We watched a couple more regressions that day and by the end of the afternoon, I was tired. I ate a quick dinner and headed back to my room where my roommate, was resting. I tried to be quiet but of course, she woke as I came and unpacked my bag. She was from Pakistan and spoke very broken English but we made it through conversation pretty well. It turns out she was known, in her country, as a medium and was there training with someone renowned in the US. When she discovered it was my birthday she offered to ‘read’ me. She used only my date of birth and jotted down several things. The one I specifically remember is that I would meet a man sometime between holidays, before Christmas; I took that to mean after Thanksgiving. It was still only July so I didn’t get too excited but it was fun to have something to look forward to – maybe.

I had to drive off the mountain in order to talk with the girls who had been waiting all day for me to call so they could wish me a happy birthday. For a few minutes, as I sat by the river in a park across the bridge from Poughkeepsie, I missed them terribly. I considered just leaving, going home to my kiddos and forgetting all this transcendent stuff but I continued to be pulled toward the things I could not rationalize. The week had just begun.

Discovering My Soul

I knew that I could look at each hurt and place it into a perspective of how my soul needed to grow.

Continued from Welcome Back

“I value and honor the way that my suffering brings me to further search and surrender.” ~ Maureen Brady

Thanksgiving was right around the corner and I had promised mom that I would try and get to a place where I was at ease enough with Abee so that we could come together as a family. Twin Emma came with her family to help bridge the crevasse and we got through it. I’m not sure who was pretending more that day Hubby, mom, Abee, or me… I had eagle eyes on them the entire time and knew that my heart raced several times an hour as one of them entered or exited the room and I searched quickly to see where the other was. It was hard to relax but I love Thanksgiving and everything it has always represented so I kept trying and reminded myself constantly to ‘give thanks’ that we were all there, beginning to heal.

My spiritual journey was continuing to evolve as I dove into the hypotheses of what constitutes a ‘soul’. My religious teachings from the Catholic church taught the Blessed Trinity of ‘Father, Son & Holy Ghost’. I had always inferred Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) to mean our soul – although I’m not sure that’s the direct correlation that religious scholars have in mind.

I started to think about our ‘soul’ in a new way. In Conversations with God – Book 3, the author asks God “what is a Soul” (Chapter 11).

As a side note, I don’t believe it is important to debate whether this author was actually talking to God or not. For me, simply reading and opening myself up to a new understanding of my own spirituality was immensely helpful. Who are any of us to tell this man that he was NOT talking to God?? The truth is – we cannot absolutely know for sure. Consequently, reading and asking questions, being open to thinking more broadly, was extremely valuable.

The idea that one’s Soul is the essence of God, a life force that is immortal and evolving across all time, not only made sense but resonated deeply within my own spirit. Suddenly, my religious teachings made more sense. If I took my human body out of the equation and thought of myself as an ageless entity born of the universe and moving through time with for the sole purpose of learning – everything was clearer. My curiosity became almost insatiable and quite naturally, led me right to the concept of reincarnation.

I gradually began to develop a clear vision of how a soul could travel through many human lifetimes, each one designed to teach another lesson much like we Americans move through classroom grades geared to address the knowledge we have accumulated along the way. I considered the term ‘old soul’ – often attributed to someone who had seemingly acquired wisdom, patience, and humility. I thought about people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, modern day prophets who emulated everything I had learned to want from a spiritual perspective.

I thought about Jesus and his living example of soulful perfection – the goal of a Christian conscience. Surely one could interpret that Christ was born to demonstrate the ideal personification of what our ‘souls’ had the capacity to achieve and that by believing that he was ‘the son of God’ (a perfect representation of the purest soul) and who died for our sins (allowed persecution as a demonstration of perfect love) so that we may live (aim for that example) – I was IN!! Wow, that made perfect sense to me. I want to be like Jesus Christ. I want to learn how to live with the purity of love and humility of his example. If it meant coming back to this world over and over again, learning and growing – bring it on!

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain”. ~ Carl Jung

Now I had a reason for all the pain. I knew that I could look at each hurt and place it into a perspective of how my soul needed to grow. I hated to think that growth was only possible through painful experience but hey – we are human and we are not paying close attention generally unless we are in pain. Of course, more evolved souls know that this is achieved through meditation and prayer but I wasn’t there yet!  In any regard, I was wide open to learning and forgiveness loomed broadly in front of me. Crap… this learning stuff is hard!

Forgiving Hubby for some reason was much easier. I don’t know if it was because I already had practice with it or if my expectations for him were just so much lower. Maybe it was because he was there every morning and as the father of my children, the motivation was much stronger. In any case, I opened my heart and allowed God in, which just meant that I lowered the drawbridge that had been so tightly chained and authorized my heart to be vulnerable once more. I understood that to be vulnerable, God has to be at work in your spirit – you must be open to learning (potentially hurting) and that is the work of spiritual growing. I came to believe that if I was hurting then God was growing me. Any tears I shed really were watering the seeds of love and wisdom that were being cultivated in my soul.

The work of forgiving Abee was much more difficult and I needed a ton of help. Our joint therapy sessions continued and I had derived what I thought was a good idea. I had a bag of polished stones that one of the girls had gotten from one place or another. They were in a purple velvet bag about three inches long and two across, with a drawstring closure. I think there were about ten stones. My idea was that the bag represented the relationship I wanted to have with Abee. While I was not under any delusion that our connection would ever be the same, I at least wanted to be able to be together without stress or emotional duress. The stones in the bag represented building blocks to me and after each counseling session or family time where I believed there to be an advancement in my trust of her – I would give her a stone. The control of rebuilding positive interactions between us became mine and it worked for me.

In December, mom and I traveled to Notre Dame to watch Frank swim in one of his last invitationals. I loved watching that boy swim! It was a good trip for mom and I as well, allowing us uninterrupted time to distance ourselves from the family drama. I was nervous about not being there to ‘monitor’ interactions between Hubby and Abee but mom assured me that she knew Abee’s heart, which apparently was beginning to ‘beat’ for another guy. I hadn’t heard about him but I was working on being ‘like Jesus’ so I practiced letting go… I believed that Hubby and I were in a good spot having made it through so much crap… I assured her that we would probably be married forever. I mean, what could possibly be worse than what we’ve already been through?

Silver Linings

I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain.

“We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions…this especially applies to what we used to call bad things…the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative.”  – James Redfield

It’s challenging to write about this time in my life because literally, every day felt difficult if I moved outside the protective walls of my home where my children provided the padding with their smiles, hugs, and loving presence.

To emotionally survive, it was necessary for me to adopt a way of thinking that provided encouragement and hope. I used the basic tenets of my belief structure which are embodied by the quote I use in this post – that ‘in each negative experience, there is value’.  I found strength in the notion that my role in this experience was to search for the lesson and grow.

Our therapy took on a different structure as we began weekly individual sessions and I started to look at myself more closely. I wanted to understand my role in the craziness that was my current life. After the first affair, I could accept that I had room to grow as a wife and a partner and I worked hard to ‘shore up’ those behaviors that contributed to more harmony in our lives. I believed that we had grown as a couple and had become stronger partners, better parents, and good business partners. Our remaining challenges focused on the differences in our sexual needs and I had surrendered myself to the extent that mine were unrecognizable.

This second affair suggested that our problems were less about my ability to be a good partner and more about the individual psychological deficiencies that kept us engaging in dysfunctional behaviors; Hubby having affairs and me staying in such a relationship.

Today, I teach people that behavior is only dysfunctional to the extent that it interferes with your life and/or your relationships. If it works in your life – great. If it doesn’t – fix it.

Something about me had to change. I discovered that my self-esteem had suffered considerably throughout the course of my marriage. Indeed, it hadn’t ever been tremendously strong but the erosion over time in this relationship had diluted what little there was. In therapy, I was able to identify body ‘issues’ that were triggers for me and understand how emphasized they became with the sexual discourse that reigned in my marriage. She helped me define sexual boundaries that were healthy for me – based on my interests and pleasure. Most importantly, she helped me know how to communicate them and stay grounded there.

I judged myself very harshly. The more aware I became; the more devastated I was about the behavior I had allowed myself to tolerate. I was a smart woman, a product of the Women’s Liberation Movement, independent and reasonable. How in the world had I evolved into a woman who had allowed herself to be so blatantly disrespected?

My therapist introduced the term Gaslighting.  It is an effort of one person to ‘overwrite’ or reformat the thoughts of another person with their own. It originated with the 1938 play Gas Light where a woman developed a belief that she was crazy when her husband manipulated information about reality. It has been used psychologically since to describe the manipulation of someone’s sense of reality. Gaslighting is common in cases of infidelity, the continuous denial of the cheater can eventually undermine the affected partner’s sense of reality – leading one to question what, often most, of what they believe to be real.

Learning about Gaslighting was a turning point for me. I was incredibly grateful that I wasn’t crazy!! I allowed myself to reflect on a proliferation of memories and see them more clearly. I slowly relearned how to trust my senses and how to validate myself. The flip side of this was understanding just how deeply my trust in Hubby had been dismantled. I found it difficult to believe anything he said to me, which didn’t help in the process of restoring some semblance of a relationship. I started to see myself differently.

I continued to read every self-help book that called to me. I was hungry to learn about myself and to understand why I chose this relationship – this difficult – seemingly impossible liaison with a man who was also, in his own way – broken. I wanted to comprehend what it was that brought us together and discern what potential there was for us. I grew to believe that we were together ‘for a reason’ – that we had chosen one another for the lesson that existed in our union. What was it??

The Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch continued to provide inspiration for me and I found my spiritual instinct more pronounced, more substantial. I found that as I stepped away from what I perceived as a ‘religious’ view of God – some man on a throne – and thought of God in a universal sentience, the creating energy of all things, existing everywhere at all times, the purest vibration of love – I was experiencing God in a very new, consistent, and comfortable way. I found peace in the idea that I was constantly shrouded with a universal energy that consisted purely of love. I would imagine myself in a God bubble, healing my heart by its grace.

In this spirit, I could get up each morning and look at my husband. I was able to go to work and engage with my sister. I could imagine a time when my extended family might again go on picnics and gather again for Thanksgiving. Our healing was slow, the growth sometimes painful. It was exceptionally challenging for me to begin to trust Hubby. First, I had to trust that he and Abee had terminated their personal entanglements. We rearranged the work schedules, which presented a myriad of complexities and frankly, wasn’t as successful but I was unwilling to have them interacting so closely together any longer. I became a private detective; keenly observing every little detail and deciding about its authenticity in context to my reality. I developed an ability to honor my instincts. I noticed every little detail and was constantly on guard. My therapist taught me how NOT to file stuff away in disbelief but to present information and check for its accuracy. I learned the danger of assumptions and developed a process by which I could fact check and dispel accusations.

Hubby was learning too. Not long after this all blew up; he took some time off and intently addressed his emotional composition. He immersed himself in personal growth also, delivering him to a point where he committed himself to me and to our family in many of the ways I had been yearning for, for years. Maybe this was it – maybe we had been brought together so that we – both – could grow. Perhaps we were catalysts for one another. I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain. I believed that was part of what Jesus taught us to do… love and grow through pain. We were doing just that.

The transformation for both of us was far from complete but we had risen from the ashes of this debacle deeply scarred but hopeful for our future. I was far from trusting. In fact, the absence of trust contributed negatively in our rebuilding efforts and for every five or six steps forward we moved, there was two or three back. However, I believed in our advancing momentum.

Loving Contradiction

Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.

“What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.”  ~ John Piper

We were members of a Lutheran church not far from our home that was undergoing a major transition, moving toward a more spiritually inclusive, contemporary practice. The pastor had returned from some mission work in Central America where he had experienced a transformative epiphany. He formed a men’s group and invited Hubby to join him. In addition, small home groups were established to encourage the personal development of the Holy Spirit within our congregation. We were traditional Lutherans – I was a traditional Catholic, practicing to become a Lutheran – and we were transforming into contemporary Christians. We were becoming comfortable with waving our arms in the air during melodic praise, vocalizing a random ‘amen’ when something poignant was spoken, and dictating prayers beyond those that had been written for us by saints.

*no disrespect intended here, simply pointing out that this behavior was ‘non-traditional’ for both of us.

Something inside of me was stirring. Occasionally, I experienced a deeply intrinsic ‘knowing’- a sensation that I was encountering a sublimate and perfect truth. It was as if I was looking intently into the eyes of love and acknowledging its abyssal source. Those moments were few and far between but they were intense and they pierced me. I was hungry for more and began searching for ways to satisfy my appetite.

Something was happening in Hubby as well. I can’t speak as to what it actually was but I saw an awakening in him too. I’m not sure what actually woke up but I know he was experiencing challenges. In many ways, it appeared he was having a spiritual revolution, a burgeoning emotional war, but it seemed to be drawing him closer to family, to me. I was not complaining. In my mind, the closer he was to God, the closer he would be to me, to his commitment of marriage, and of our home.

It was, that the Pastor responsible for this metamorphosis evolved a bit too much for the comfort of more traditional congregants and he was encouraged to find another flock to lead. He gathered those of us who had made the deep water dive with him and we formed a new entity; a church attuned to Scripture and spiritual growth more fundamentally than any other religious experience I’d yet had. I loved much about this church. I really enjoyed the fellowship, the music, the intimacy within our community. Hubby and I were both on the new board, leading home groups, and on different worship/leadership committees. We were busy. It felt great to be a part of something new and growing, in many ways, as we were giving birth to our daughter, we were also giving birth to a renewed faith and commitment.

Consequently, my prayers – frankly, all of my spiritual energy was being directed into making my marriage reverent. The Pastor’s wife guided us ladies in the art of submission. “It was God’s will”, she said, “that we submit our desires to our man. That we trust him to provide for us, not only in the material dimension, but also in the emotional. She explained that submission was about TRUST”. I was already suspicious about trusting my man. He had lied to me about smoking, he had let me down about quitting, he was suspect about why things had changed so dramatically… I was not very open to the concept of trusting. In fact, I was downright stubborn about it. In every single prayer I prayed, I sought guidance to find, honor, and embody submissiveness in the way that we were being taught. I struggled and developed impatience, frustration, and ultimately anger that I was being led to trust someone that didn’t feel ‘trust worthy’. I felt as though I was failing.

In the interim, I was reading the bible. Peter, Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Timothy, and Matthew. They all reinforced the idea that if I was Holy, my husband would follow suit. I ‘heard’ that it was my job – in my submissiveness – to honor my husband and my God, regardless. There was an incredible conflict in my heart over this proposition. I was experiencing God in a way that felt comforting and beautiful yet the idea that I was to submit myself completely to my man in all of the things he asked of me was contradicting my heart. Our pastor tried in vain to help me settle this internal dispute but it just wasn’t to be reconciled. Ultimately, the banter in my mind was too much and I resigned myself to how I understood the concept of submission – just do what he asks.

Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. I have control issues and the concept of total surrender was unable to take root in my psyche at large. Instead, I opted to surrender in the bedroom. His desires became the focus of my attention. If he asked me to wear high heels, I wore high heels. If he wanted to watch porn, we watched porn. If he wanted to talk dirty, I talked dirty. (Well, actually that part I had to practice… I bought Forum magazines to learn the proper vocabulary.)

What became the most problematic for me was the discrepancy in my own mind about what constituted ‘sin’ in terms of sexual behavior. On one hand I recalled the Catholic teaching that Rocky and I had participated in that taught whatever happened between a husband and wife and was consensual, was honoring your love for one another and therefore, honoring God. Then there were the thoughts about respecting women and the line that separated disrespectful behavior. Where was that line? And more thoughts about what was inherently authentic for me – as a woman. I didn’t have a broad repertoire of sexual interests necessarily although I enjoyed physical pleasure to be sure. I was curious about many things but experienced a very blurred line between the limits of my personal desire and the need for me to submit to desires of my husband which encompassed a much larger, comprehensive, and broad set of variables.

I experienced a rather continuous flow of antagonistic chatter in my mind. Internal criticism and chiding coupled with self-talk that pushed for conformity and compliance so that my marriage could be free of conflict. In the end, I consciously moved myself into compliance via the least resistant avenue. I convinced myself that I was working to be a better wife even if it meant that I was not listening to my inner voice. I found myself focusing on meeting the needs of others over my own once again and persuaded my heart that it was in the name of my faith.

Day by day I was actively engaged in promoting the vision of myself, of us, and of our family as blooming Christians, moving closer to God in our tithing, being prayerful, and committed to building the Church. Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.

Making Sense of Nothing

After that conversation, I found myself looking DEEP into the eyes of every man I met – looking for Rocky.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
— Marilyn Monroe

So there I was – turning 25 and the mom of an almost two-year-old. I vividly recall my birthday that year and a couple of friends from work took me to a disco. Everyone had this goal of getting me hooked up with a guy – I guess it was their way of helping me to see that life could go on.  I recall the bartender serving us shots of Peppermint Schnapps when he discovered we were celebrating and I recall some kind of ‘blue’ drink – perhaps Mediterranean Iced Tea? Well, I’m sure you can see this train wreck coming….  One of my friends (the smart one) went home early and unbeknownst to us, took the car keys. The only transportation option for the remaining two of us was to hitch a ride with the two dudes that had been grinding on the dance floor with us all night. These boys thought they were going to get lucky! It was 1985 – I’m not sure we had any thoughts about which one of us were too drunk to drive in fact, if Patty hadn’t taken the keys – one of us probably would have driven back to my place. I’m so glad we are more intellectually evolved these days

I distinctly recall getting in the house and my girlfriend headed upstairs – she must have been prepared to spend the night. I laid out on the Flokati rug that was in front of the fireplace. Oh man – I was in trouble. My stomach churned and swished and stirred as it tried like a geyser to spout up my throat… This was not going to be good. I recall this guy on his hands and knees over the top of me (we still had clothing on) attempting to kiss me and all I could say was “watch out, I’m going to puke”.  About that time, I hear yelling upstairs “who the hell are you?” and another guy runs down the stairs, saying “Let’s go” and they bolt out the door. It was a long night of puking. It was also the night that became a strong reminder to not abuse alcohol. I can count future hangovers on my hands – maybe even on one.

I had a really hard time redefining myself. I was a single mom. I had responsibilities that prevented me from engaging fully in the ‘single’ life. I didn’t really ‘belong’ anywhere. Eventually, the people I worked with became like family to me. They adopted Francis as a mascot of sorts. I recall a party or two where we took turns trying to get him to sleep while 80’s funk blasted in Dolby stereo. Weekdays were routine…. And emotionally manageable. It was the weekends that truly sucked.

Weekends are for families. They are for making things happen – for forging plans and dreams. For us, they were about cartoons and …. Well – laundry. I adopted a coping mechanism of leaving on Saturday morning. I would pack the car and drive somewhere – anywhere that didn’t remind me of what I ‘wasn’t’ doing. Francis was a trooper on those adventures. He hung out in his car seat and sang songs with me. He may not want to ever admit it but at one time he really moved to Madonna, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon! We occasionally drove far enough that I would grab a hotel room and extend the escapade. I found some great little museums, parks, playgrounds, and beaches by doing this. It remains one of my favorite things to do – random exploring.

I wasn’t alone. I had a housemate who was great. He did all the ‘guy’ things – including the removal of a maggot infused bag of potatoes that had been forgotten in the pantry. I had family. My mom and stepdad, brother and twin sisters lived only 10 miles away. I saw them frequently. I had a lot of support from friends at work. I FELT alone. There is NO surrogate for the father of your child. No one cares as much as you and your partner when he has diarrhea or a fever. No one is able to experience the sweetness of peek-a-boo for the two-hundredth time like a parent. Sharing your child with others who love them is special but it does not replace the experience of sharing it with your partner. It is an obvious omission every day and difficult to get used to. I wish I had known more about gratitude back then.

I was trying to make sense of life. I was still pretty mad at God. I found more reasons than is logical for why Rocky died. I attempted to rationalize beyond a reasonable effort. I tried to convince myself that it had been ‘his time’ and that it didn’t matter that I had bought the kite that ultimately killed him; if we had gone into town, perhaps there would have been a car accident. I was using a concept I had learned as a teenager at a Youth for Christ conference I had attended with a Methodist friend. “Everything happens for a reason”.  It was a mantra that had a big impact then – I was attempting to use it now. What ‘reason’ could there possibly be for this tragedy in my life? I hit a void each time I searched for an answer. My aunt gave me a copy of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People and while I knew that God didn’t make it happen, I needed a reason as to why it happened.

My brother was in high school at this point – remember that kid I dressed up? He was smart and we were close. Rocky had been a mentor to him, a true brother. This death had hit him hard – a turning point in his life too. I recall a particular esoteric conversation with him that bordered on unhinged in the way we discussed it. We began talking about God, heaven, hell, spirits, and reincarnation. We started thinking about Rocky’s death from the perspective that perhaps his soul had been called for another body. What if his only purpose here on Earth was to help me create Francis? What if he was only ‘supposed’ to be here for a while. We talked about that Warren Beatty movie Heaven Can Wait where the main character dies accidentally and his soul needed a new body. After that conversation, I found myself looking DEEP into the eyes of every man I met – looking for Rocky.

It was the beginning of a defining spiritual journey for me. It sparked a curiosity that brewed in my soul for many years. The seed had been planted and while it laid dormant for some time, it was (under my awareness) being fertilized and cared for.

I love your comments – please leave them below.

Letting Go

The sense of him was so strong. I knew in my heart that he was just outside my door.

Life as a widow was exceptionally awkward. I was still very much in the “we” mode. I was hesitant to make plans before I checked with Rocky. I would wonder what he wanted for dinner. I would buy his favorite cookies without thinking. Each time I remembered he wasn’t there I would quickly inhale and stop breathing for just a minute. I was just 24 years old with an 18 mo. old baby, learning to navigate widowhood.

We live in a “couple’s culture”. From a very early age we are exposed to the idea that we will eventually become ‘a couple’. We are led to find someone and share our life. Valentine’s Day, wedding season, two-parent family focus, date night reminders and the like are constant in our society – reminding us of the ultimate goal. When you ARE a couple you are part of the club and when you are NOT it’s painfully obvious that you no longer belong.  Married people we used to hang out with stopped inviting me to events (they didn’t want me to feel bad). When someone did invite me to a party or something, they were generally attempting to set me up with someone.

I was living in a Navy Mecca – Tidewater Virginia. Sailors were everywhere; in cars on the freeway, at 7-11 getting coffee, in grocery stores and banks. Every time I saw a tall blonde with broad shoulders wearing Navy whites I would experience tightness in my chest and feel my stomach begin to turn inside out. For that first six months I was in denial, choosing to believe that perhaps he was just doing another tour of duty, that he had somehow escaped the hospital and had amnesia. No matter what I did, there were triggers everywhere. Even doing something s simple as laundry could move me to an exhaustive crying fit as I realized (again) that there were no men’s briefs in the basket.  I tried to move on. I tried to ‘get over it’. I tried to be how everyone thought I should be. I didn’t know what grief was supposed to look like or how long it should last so I went with what others suggested was appropriate.

I attended a widow’s group at the urging of a neighbor. It was held her church and she offered to go with me although she was not yet widowed. I have to assume that the people in that room were well intended. I realize they were experiencing their own losses. They listened as I described my circumstances, my pain, and my fears. And then they dismissed it all. They told me that I should be glad to be young. They said that I had plenty of time to remarry, that I would find someone else. Another person suggested that I replace all of my underwear because ‘single’ ladies should have pretty panties. Some part of me knew these people meant well. I wanted to spit at them.

In MY mind, it didn’t matter if I had been married 4 years or 40. Perhaps we hadn’t yet accumulated the history but we HAD developed the dreams and anticipation of them. Every aspect of my future – every vision I had about it – included him.  He was automatically built into the mental picture of everything I had hoped for going forward. It was a constant ‘head shaking’ to realign or reconfigure day to day living. In terms of visualizing a future – it was as if someone had built a cinder block wall in front of me. I couldn’t see around it, over it, or through it, I had NO idea what was ahead of me and I had no energy to keep going.

On a particularly difficult night as I lay in bed, deeply feeling my loss and experiencing intense sorrow – I contemplated taking my own life. I didn’t want to be in a world without him. I wanted to be WITH him- no matter how that had to happen. I thought about how I could die without feeling pain. I thought about it a long time. Of course my first thought was Francis…. Who would take care of him? My mom and step dad lived close and my twin (half) sisters were only 7 … they would take excellent care of him; they would love him. He would really never remember us… would he be ok? I wondered if he would hate me. I wondered if Rocky would be happy to see me or mad that I had left Francis? And then… I remembered. I remembered the Catholic upbringing that taught me about suicide; they say it is the ONLY sin committed that one cannot ask forgiveness for… without forgiveness, I would go to hell. That’s what I thought about.

If I was in hell, and Rocky was in heaven – then the entire objective of dying to be with him didn’t make sense. It wouldn’t serve any purpose.

………..

During these months there were a number of incidents that pointed to the idea that Rock was with us…

One evening I went to pick Francis up from the sitter – he’s about 20 mos. old. She explained that she was sitting on the couch folding clothes while Francis played with his truck on the floor. He started chatting and then suddenly got up, ran to the corner of the room and held his arms up chanting “Dadadadada…” then, went back to the center of his room, picked up the truck he had been playing with and took it over to the corner – lifting it high as if to show it off.

The babysitter was freaked out.

On another occasion a few months later after I had moved into a new place I heard Francis in his room playing and talking away… my housemate and I stood in the doorway as we watched and listened to him talk to his dad about his toys.

I was sitting in bed one evening reading. It was quiet in the house and I felt settled for a change. Suddenly I felt something – he was there – in the house. The sense of him was so strong. I knew in my heart that he was just outside my door. “Stop” I whispered. “Please, please don’t come in here.”  I knew that if by being ‘here’ – he could be ‘there’ – I would never be able to leave the ‘here’ space. I’d never be able to live in the world – to have a life.

My heart was beating so fast and hard that I could hear it and tears were building in my eyes. “I have to let you go and I can’t do it if I know that you are here with me.”

I was so very sad.

“Go see Francis – he needs you. I will never teach him that you aren’t really there – be with him but let me be babe.”  I sank into my pillows, eyes tightly closed, and refused him.

That night, I let go and made a conscious decision to keep moving.

Catholic Guilt

I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.