As I am typing these words, I am lounging in bed while listening to Sleepy Hollow on Philly based member supported public radio station WXPN 88.5 fm (you can also get the web-streaming version at www.xpn.org ) In pj’s, nestled in flannel sheets and comfy quilt. Gazing out my window onto a winter-white landscape. A cup of Roiboos tea from South Africa on the nightstand. Breathing in the nutty cinnamony aroma before sipping it each time, making it part of my mindfulness practice. Not such an unusual experience for me.
What has become an out of the ordinary thing is stepping back from activity, of necessity. In the six weeks or so since my mother died, I have been as ‘on’ as ever, maintaining my regular work schedule (full time social worker and consultant, writing, teaching and ministry gigs, as well as doing promo for my own and other people’s work), finishing my book, tying up loose ends with my mother’s affairs, unpacking her belongings and integrating them into my environment, going to the gym for my regular ‘playouts’…much more fun than calling them ‘workouts’ and spending play time with friends. All of this hasn’t left much time for mourning the passing of a woman who I have always thought of as my most ardent cheerleader and (as cliche’d as it sounds) my best friend. Much of who I have become, has emerged from her influence. And therein, I have recently discovered, comes some of what has been challenging for this go-getter, recovering Type A personality.
In an information gathering session last week with my friend Ondreah Johnson, in preparation for being a practice hypnotherapy subject, I had a startling aha-moment.
My mother, whose father died at age 52 when she was a young woman of 18 or so and whose beloved mother died in her 70’s when my mom was 38 and I was 4, modeled doing it all. When my grandmother died, I have no recollection of feeling neglected or of even witnessing my mother mourn out loud. In conversation with my cousin Jody yesterday, she reminded me that she likely grieved with my father, in private. She talked alot about my grandmother, so it wasn’t as if she was withholding her feelings, just putting a bookmark in them so she could keep on keepin’ on and raise two active girls. She just did what was expected of her.
My mom was a Renaissance woman whose jobs while my sister and I were young, included making and selling doll clothes, writing a local newspaper column, working as a gate guard at our community pool, selling Avon door to door and later on as a switchboard operator at Sears.
My father was a milkman and bus driver who worked what we referred to as ‘crazy hours’…and yet, when he was home, we had plenty of family time, vacations, gatherings at our house of aunts, uncles and cousins. I never recall being told to keep the noise level down since my dad went to bed early; not that Jan and I were particularly rambunctious kids to begin with.
My parents had a deeply passionate and loving marriage and had no problems with PDA’s whether in our presence or out on the street.
Quite simply, although perfect they weren’t, they modeled doing it all; so I learned from masters. Back to changing my routine. I am blessed to have loving people in my life who invite me to all kinds of fun events. I used to attend as many as I could and have the energy to keep up with it all. Lately I have been politely declining some invites and uncharacteristic for me, have been changing plans once made. This weekend, I have done it 3 times and have felt only a twinge of guilt. Yesterday, I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a cousin and during the beautiful service at which Gabe mastered his recitation of the Haftorah and Torah portion, aced his speech and shared about his project, I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness, barely keeping the tears at bay and knew I couldn’t gracefully attend the reception. Not wanting to be a distraction, I chose instead to head home.
The second, last night was an annual gathering of kindred spirits called Peacweavers honoring the turning of the new year and the third was an engagement party for the daughter of a dear friend, today. My realization during the session with Ondreah was that for so much of my life, I, like my parents, ‘did what was expected of me’. What would people think if I veered from that path? In the midst of stepping back from activity, I have allowed for the tears to flow, for my grief to be given voice. I know that people understand. It is, as I am, a work in progress. So, for the moment, at least, I am allowing for me time.