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A year ago I thought I was at the end of a process.  The road to Good Girl had been full of obstacles to overcome and cliffs to jump from, but I had done it, and it felt fantastic.  I remember feeling the weight being lifted from me as I threw all the pain and rage the months of work has dredged from deep inside me into the words coming out of my mouth, and no matter how many nerves I felt or mistakes I made, none of it mattered.  In the end, no one remembered the missed words or the fact that I buttoned my blazer all crooked.  What they remembered was the victory in my eyes at the end.

I’ve written a few times about the healing process and the lessons I’ve learned since the show.  The work healing leaves behind.  The illness still to heal.  The tools yet to learn.  I made mistakes.  I lost people.  Love.  Friends.  Trust.  I tried to do what I thought was best, but I wasn’t yet equipped.  So, I got sick.

Hollywood lies to us about nervous breakdowns.  They’re not always a single moment of complete self-destruction and devastation.  Sometimes it’s months of standing outside yourself screaming “why are you doing this?!?”  Sometimes it’s knowing you’re pushing people away and watching them go and not knowing how to make it stop.  Sometimes it’s losing yourself, because while purging the parts that no longer served me I failed to care for the budding parts of me that were genuine and healthy, and they were dying.  I was dying.

The first time I shared my video was hard.  “It’s heavy,” I warned people before they watched it.  It was the same feeling I had when found me at the theatre to tell me how strong I was or how much they liked it.  I know I had done something big, but I didn’t know how to accept that I may have caused an emotional reaction in others.  I didn’t want pity, I didn’t want sadness, I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently. I avoided the video for a long time.  It was one thing for me to be performing it, focused on the audience and the words and the stage positions.  It was quite another to watch it without distractions.

It was a new love who finally got me to watch it.  We watched together, and it took all of my willpower not to talk over it or give it the Mystery Science Theater treatment.  He had wanted to know that part of me, and it was not my place to ruin that experience for him, so we sat on the couch together one night and watched the girl on the screen pour her heart out to us both.  This love told me he admired me for the work I’d done, for the strength I possessed, for all the things I had not yet learned to acknowledge.  He saw the things that were dying, and as I began to lose my grasp on them I lost him, too, and I questioned all the work I had done.

Yesterday marked a year since opening night.  I wrote a post to commemorate the anniversary, and at the last moment I linked the video.  There was no warning, no worry, and no way to know what would come of it, but by the end of the day I had no less than five message from people who had never seen the video before telling me how much they needed it.  No pity, no praise, just thanks for being a guide on a road they were just beginning.

Good Girl gave me a new chance to live my life and to develop new tools, but it also gave me the responsibility to share my stories and help those who feel alone on their paths.  Hearing from peers how inspired they were to find their strength and take a stand in their own lives reminded me that I am a warrior, a healer, and a teacher, and while I have a lot of work yet to do I’ve also come a long way on my journey.

 

Good Girl wasn’t the end of a process, it was the beginning of a revolution.  Again, my story is not unique but that’s why I must keep telling it.  Together our stories will set us free.

Aloha

 

Go now, be free.

 

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Twenty years ago I learned a veritable tome of lessons, some of which I’m just learning now, and it seems unbelievable to me that I can look back at anything in my life knowing it happened twenty years ago.  My mom taught me a lot about life while she was alive, and I’ve mentioned that before.  She taught me compassion, strength, and determination.  She taught me to seek adventure and levity in everything, to make people laugh whenever you can, and to live and love with all your heart no matter how scary the world feels.  She taught me to trust my instinct and eschew advice that doesn’t feel right.  She taught me to be myself.

What my mother’s death taught me was open honesty.  You never know when the last time you say “I love you” or “good morning” or “good night” will be the last.  It’s made me vulnerable at times, and I’ve had to learn to accept when it’s not reciprocated, but hey, another lesson, right?

But you see, it also taught me some less than positive lessons.  At twelve years old I was already well aware that I was different.  I didn’t have many friends, my anxiety and depression were already in full swing, and I’d already thought about suicide more times than I can remember now.  I needed help, and I was constantly told I was wrong, broken, or worse…that I was fine.  I was fat, I was slow, and I was constantly missing the mark.  At twelve I had already had at least one nervous breakdown, I was scared of losing everyone I loved, and I had been proven correct.  At twelve I discovered my intuition and empathy in the worst way, and I hated it, so at twelve I learned to hide.  I learned to expect the worst.  I learned to expect to be alone.  I learned that change is terrifying.  I learned to build walls, and forgot all those lessons about love and life and laughter.

When I started the Power of One it was immediately pointed out to me that when I’m uncomfortable or anxious I smile.  It’s a skill I developed at a very young age, but I imagine I perfected it at my mother’s funeral.  Since then it became a crutch I used to get me through parts of my life I felt I could not navigate, and it began to cloud the genuine me.  I’ve been lucky enough to have people in my life who could see through the fog and find that genuine me, but for most of my life I haven’t been able to see her myself.  I’ve merely been relying on the testaments of others who tell me they see her, like a fairy tale buried deep inside me.  As the lessons from my mother started to actually take root and as my intuition and empathy refused to be ignored, life got harder, and the more I stayed inside my walls the more the fires outside tried to cook me out. I tried to let myself be vulnerable…to the wrong people at the wrong times.  I tried to be happy…all the time, and ended up holding in the pain and sadness until I couldn’t, resulting in some pretty spectacular meltdowns.   I tried to be strong and independent…and all I did was feel more like a failure.

In the year since I seriously started putting effort into my transformation, I’ve worked on being open without being overbearing, happy without using it to cover up when I’m not, and to know when I can be strong alone and when I need to reach out for help. Not all has gone according to plan, but if my mom’s death taught me none of this other bullshit, it taught me that life doesn’t care about your plans, and unpredictability brings as much serendipity as it does tragedy, and the only control I really have is how I choose to react to it, process it, and move on with my life.    Losing my mother was not the first tragedy I’d faced in my life, but it was the first one I felt like I was facing alone.  The truth is, every situation we face in life we face alone, even if we have the strongest support system on earth, because we’re the only ones who can do the internal work it takes for real survival…and real living.

 

Love you, Mom.  Thanks for still teaching me.  after all these years.

 

Go now, keep learning..keep living….

Aloha.

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Mother’s Day snuck its way in subtly this year, and a bit earlier than usual. For a myriad of reasons it’s historically been a very hit or miss day for me emotionally. It’s unavoidable, but I try not to let it destroy ym ability to function, the result being anywhere from hermitting under the covers all day while my husband flips through funny movies to breaking down in the middle of a wedding reception. But that was before Good Girl, which dealt with both my guilt and grief over my mo’s death almost 20 years ago and the constantly evolving acceptance and mourning of pregnancy loss and knowing it’s unlikely I’ll be a mom. This year, as I’ve stated many ties since December, is different.
My posts about healing have taught me not to expect the same responses to even long recurring events in my life. Enter, Mother’s Day. I didn’t really know how it would hit me, so I had no idea how to begin to process emotions as they ebbed. I felt it coming, but it wasn’t the normal overbearing weight I’m used to, so I waited patiently for my body to tell me what it needed.
Last night I found myself in Spokane, WA, where I laughed and got a little tipsy with new friends. We talked about different issues in our lives, and I was able to begin to sort out different currents of emotion running through me. This wasnt a river of sadness, it was a mixture of different feelings ranging from sadness to gratefulness. I felt ok about things. A little lonely and down, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

This morning I woke up early feeling isolated from myself, and reaching out I found that most of my support system was busy, unavailable, or having their own issues. I really was alone. It hurt, and for a moment I let myself slide into darkness, but I forced myself up and went outside.

If you’ve never been to Spokane, go. It’s beautiful. I found myself walking by a series of waterfalls through a park, and I began to sing and old river chant to myself. As I stood on a bridge overlooking the falls it hit e all at once. The flood. Right there in a public park I bawled like a baby behind my sunglasses. Then it was over, and I realized that this year the grief is not the focus of my being. It’s there in the background, and every once in a while it strikes, takes my breath away, and recedes because it wants to be acknowledged. Not overpowered, not surrendered to, but acknowledged. It wants symbiosis.

A river, my river. It has its ebbs and flows, but it’s very controlled in its rage, and that’s what makes it powerful. This grief doesn’t have to make me weak. It doesn’t have to make me stop. It just has to happen. That doesn’t mean it won’t flood sometimes, but for the most part being a part of my river allows it to run on my terms.

So back to the healing. What’s been bothering me without my knowing it is this feeling that to heal is to abandon. My mom. My babies. My future. My past. Here in the present, it felt like moving forward was leaving them all behind.This river reminds me that it isn’t true. Nothing is ever abandoned, it just becomes a part of the flow.

I had my moment, then I put my phone on airplane mode to avoid any incoming negativity and took control of my day. I found a comic book store for Free Comic Book Day, Auntie’s Books and Uncle’s Games, and a pop up punk rock concert in a parking lot. I avoided the Trump rally despite having to deal with two men hitting on me holding support signs. I walked through parks and trails. I took a million and one pictures of waterfalls. I rode a gondola over the big falls by myself and didn’t have a panic attack as it dangled me precariously over the water. Why? Because was able to recognize the beauty and power in that river matching my own.

I can’t say Mother’s Day this year won’t be sad. I can’t say the tears and keening isn’t over. I don’t think it ever is. What’s also there is the rock solid support of my healing and the growth I continue to navigate, and that’s what makes it different. I’ve jumped in my river, made my peace with it, and am beginning to understand its power and beauty.

Aloha.

Go now, find your river.

It was June, 2001, and it was the first time I had ever felt strong, independent, and capable.  Not that my family hadn’t encouraged me to explore my personality.  For the better part of seventeen years they had patiently supported my every weird, geeky, alternative, freakish whim, at least the ones I felt comfortable enough to speak about.  Here, though, in downtown Nashville, was the first time I was given the reigns of those whims, and I was using it to wander aimlessly.  My clothes were way too black and way too hot for June in Tennessee.  My self-confidence was an illusion, and my body image issues had no concern for the fact that I might die of heat stroke if I ventured out of my comfort zone of body cloaking drapes.  I was, to sum it up, awkward.

I’ve told the story of what came next a few times.  I met a boy and his tribe.  I made friends with a group of Rainbow Gathering kids and street gypsies, and the experience changed my life and how I would choose to live and love for the rest of it.  I would find the courage to follow my heart.

Don’t worry, I’m not telling that story again; I’m honouring the woman who made it possible.

Mrs Judith Flannery.  Mrs Flannery throughout my high school career.  Judy thereafter.

Mrs Flannery was my college counselor, and her presence lit up Holy Names High School like a Christmas tree.  She was always smiling, always encouraging, and always finding new ways to inspire the swarms of girls that filled the halls of the nook of a school perched in the Oakland Hills.  To our class in particular, she was the embodiment of Spirit, and even on my darkest days I couldn’t help but smile when she spoke to me.

My senior year a close friend and I convinced Mrs Flannery to agree to be the voice of reason and eyes of supervision on a trip to a week-long country music festival in Nashville.  To our astonishment, she agreed.  Not only did she agree, but she got excited!  It was settled.  We got our parental permission and made our plans, and a week after graduation we boarded a plane to Nashville.

I was slightly startled when Mrs Flannery suggested that first day that we each explore for a while in whatever way we wished before meeting for dinner.  This was how “adults” took vacation, and I had never been an “adult” on a vacation.  Where would I go?  What would I do?

Then it dawned on me.  Anything I wanted.

The introvert in me smiled to herself.  The latent explorer in me leapt with joy.  We were free!

At dinner I told Judy about my encounter with the cute street kid selling hot dogs in the parking lot, fully expecting a lecture or tighter reins.  Instead, her response was, “Well, why don’t you go?  You have a room key.  Just call me if you’re not going to be there when I wake up.”

Really?  I had never been trusted not to get myself killed in my life!  In retrospect, I may not have been proving that by following a group of strangers around Nashville at all hours of the night, but I returned unscathed each and every time, so Judy continued to encourage my little tryst in Music City.  She even looked the other way when they snuck into one of the concerts we attended.  They were charming.  Even Judy was enchanted, or at least tolerant enough to act like it.

The day we left Nashville I trekked downtown alone to say my goodbyes.  The trip home was quiet and bittersweet, and even I had no idea what I was carrying back with me that day.  A sense of purpose.  A sense of self.  A confidence.  An awakened heart and spirit.  Judy didn’t need to.  She never asked.  She simply sat next to me at the airport and hugged me for as long as it took for me not to feel lost.  As she had done for the previous 4 years, she made everything seem like something I would not only survive, but really live through.

We kept in sporadic touch over the years.  Facebook can be a blessing that way.  I was always happy to tell Judy how my life was going, and she always had some words of support or wisdom and a bright, cheery story to tell me.  I know things weren’t always sunshine and flower in Judy’s world, but you would never know it.  It was inspiring.

I write this today because the friend with whom I took that trip informed me last week that Judy had passed away.

Before I could message back, she added, “the first thing I thought about was our trip to Nashville”.

I was touched with an unexpected sadness, but overwhelmed by the feeling of how blessed I was to have known Judy and how grateful I am that she was a part of my life.  Without her, who knows how I would have been introduced to my soul.

Thank you, Judy.  From the bottom of my inspired, free, open heart.

Aloha.

 

There is a saying:

It’s not about the years in the life but the life in the years.

Nana had both.  At 100 years old she had seen, done, and lived through more than any of us can imagine.    How different life and the world have become in the past 100 years, yet this tiny woman faced it all with enough spirit, love, strength, and faith to carry five generations of family on two coasts for most of that time without missing a birthday, holiday, or special event in any of our lives.  Many of the things we learned in school as history, these things were her life, and she could tell you where much of it was wrong.  To really sit and have a conversation with her, even recently, was to take a journey through time.  You might not learn about the Great Depression or her days as a Rosie the Riveter, but you would hear about a lifetime of love and joy.

This is not to say she didn’t have heartache or problems, but she rode the waves and kept going.  I won’t say she never said a bad word to anyone, because we always knew what was on Nana’s mind.  She was stubborn, like most of the women in our family, but she was strong, and there is not a single picture of her that shows her doing anything but enjoying life, because she knew that the secret to life is to live it and leave the rest to…well, life.

Life.  Nana’s attitude on life can be summed up in one sentence she said to me right before I left for college in 2001.  While the advice I got was mainly about taking care of myself and calling home to check in, Nana’s words were short and sweet.  “Be safe, but have fun.”  Those words have come back to me every time erring on the side of caution turns to limiting myself with worry or insecurity.  Every time I’ve thought things hopeless or finite, I’ve heard her voice saying “eh, we shall see” or what would eventually become her catch phrase, “God willing”.

Life.  Nana imbued life into our family like a vein.  Her house, and later her rooms, were wallpapered in pictures of family, both old and new.  The last things she asked for were her cross and a picture of her family.

Life.  Even towards the end she was still asking about my family and my life, because to Nana life was what mattered.  All of ours.  People she met.  People she loved.  People she believed in.  People with whom she shared her life, all 100 years of it.

Life.  It is because of Nana that I continue to choose the beauty, joy, and love of life over the struggles we face daily.  It is because of Nana that I am not afraid to stand my ground and make my voice heard no matter how small I feel.  It is because of Nana that every birthday song I sing is followed in my head by a tiny voice adding “and many more”.

And many more.

Go now, Nana.  Safe crossing. Thank you for sharing your life with us all.

Aloha

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I know this is a couple of weeks late, but life has a way of getting chaotic around Lammas every year.

As with any harvest festival, at Lughnasad we tend to focus on celebration and gratitude for bounty.  Indeed, we should be extremely grateful for the boons bestowed upon us and celebrate the rewards of hard work.  There is, however, a much more important side to this harvest.  This is where we begin to tear up the plants that are no longer producing fruit in order to plant late summer crops.  This is where we sort the unusable from the produce worth keeping.  This is where we make decisions about what we can store and what needs to be thrown away.

We tend to be a modern culture of acquisition and fear of loss, which leads to hoarding, surplus, and waste.  We do it with physical possessions, people, and emotions that no longer have a place in our lives.  It’s hard to let go for fear of starving, but holding on to everything indiscriminately means risking the whole lot being spoiled or there not being enough room for what’s good and healthy.  This can be a painful process.  The wrong choice can be devastating, but even the right call can be tough at first.

This year has been one of, quite frankly, too many goodbyes.  What started as a fruitful year all too quickly fell fallow and began to rot, and the only way to survive has been to make some terrifying sacrifices.  I pared down my commitments, simplified a lot of my personal life, and cut ties with people who were detrimental to my growth.  There have been deaths that touched me personally and a second chance that blossomed into a beautiful friendship only to be pulled from the ground like a weed and left for dead.

All of these things have weighed me down when there are so many things for which I should be grateful.  All of these things have cast a shadow on a season that should be full of light, music, and celebration.  There is too much rain, too little sunshine, and no way to know what will survive enough to see me through the dark season.  I imagine this is how Lugh felt throwing a funereal feast for his mother who became an agricultural goddess.  Imagine mourning the loss of a parent while exalting her gift to the Mother Earth and her people.

As anyone who suffers from depression knows, there’s a constant dichotomy at play.  We must try to keep pushing forward,  We must try to keep finding joy in the every day.  We must feel our sorrows, move on from them, and keep looking for sunshine.  On Lughnasad I am reminded that this is only the first harvest.  There is more to come.  There is more to eschew, but there is also more to grow and store in my heart and spirit.  Not everything is lost.  Not everything has dies.  Not everything is gone, and that which is probably needs to be.  These fields will not be fallow forever unless I stop cultivating.

Go now, cultivate and know the sun is shining, even if you can’t see it.

Aloha

 

Eighteen years ago tomorrow I melted into the couch trying to disappear while I processed the fact that my mother was dead.  I didn’t want everyone gathered around me.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to react in front of anyone.  I just wanted to soak into the beige cushions and have my moment, but at 12 years old everyone expected something different, something extravagant and wild that required taming and tending.  I didn’t.  I absorbed the information and took a shower, because it was the only place I could go and not be followed.  I spent the next several days trying to gauge what was expected of me.  I helped plan a funeral for the first time.  I went with my best friend and her mom to buy something nice to wear with no idea what acceptable mourning attire for someone in my position could possibly be.  I settled on a navy blue skirt with flowers on it.  My goth stage wouldn’t flood my life with black until a year or so later.

Eighteen years ago today, however, was a very different experience.  One of life.

You always remember the last time you heard someone’s voice before they leave your world.  I remember her laughter and her words.  I remember mine.  I have since had to uproot my guilt over not going to visit as I had promised and how nonchalantly I threw in that last “love you, bye” as only adolescence can cast.  She was coming home the next day.  I was excited, but I didn’t feel any particular need to drag it out over the phone.  This would change how I handle phone calls, I-love-yous, and anticipation for the rest of my life, because the next day she simply didn’t come home.

Yesterday I took a walk around the cemetery to clear my head.  Eighteen years after the last time I hugged her my mom is still the best friend I go to for guidance, as I’ve developed a habit of laying on the grass under the tree she’s buried near and telling her all the things I can’t articulate anywhere else.  It’s the only place I can reach the voice inside me that has answers, because the part of her that lives within me is something I wasn’t capable of recognizing as a preteen.

One of the things I inherited from my mother was her capacity to see the good in people.  Whatever she called it, that woman embraced the spirit of Aloha in the very air she breathed.  No one was ever turned away from her heart, and to those she gave pieces of it too she gave everything.  For a long time I tried to run from that part of myself.   I tried to cage it up, wall it in, and silence it for good.  I hated it.  I hated myself for it.  I struggled for years with the very thing that makes me who I am, because I had let it shine only to have it ripped out, held in front of me, and tortured before my very eyes.  I had watched something beautiful be eviscerated in the name of love, and I couldn’t fathom anything worth experiencing that again.  The lesson from my mother’s last day had not yet sunk in.

So let’s go back to that week.

My mother’s funeral was the first I had ever planned.  The first at which I had ever spoken.  The first I had ever attended.  The first time I had personally shaken Death’s hand had taken from me the most important person in my life, and the seeds of this lesson were planted.  Since then I have been to more funerals than I can count, spoken at many of them, and helped plan seven.  Family, friends, children.  Old, young, unborn.  Sick, sudden, at their own hands.  Loss.  Loss is something you never get used to and something you can never truly plan for no matter how hard you try.  Loss is where the seeds Death planted the day my mother said, “if you’re not coming today, don’t bother, because I’m going home tomorrow” and I chose to stay home instead begin to sprout.  Loss is where those sprouts blossom into regret and sadness every time one of those last conversations is replayed in the back of my mind.  Loss is where I gained the strength and courage to let the part of me which my mother tried so hard to cultivate within me finally be free, because the only thing that can grow taller than Death’s crops in my soul is love.

There are times when I doubt.  There are times when I’m told that opening myself up to love this way makes me weak and vulnerable.  There are times when I’m told it’s ignorant and ugly to let my heart be naked this way.  Not everyone appreciates it.  I’m called crazy, overwhelming, and naive every time I put my heart at risk, but to me this risk is far more acceptable that the one that someone I love never knew it.  In this lesson my mother’s voice lives on.  In this way her heart continues to love.  In this way I am showing her every day how much I loved her and how important she was to me, not just as my mother but as the fire that burns within me.

I’ve written about it before, the reasons I love the way I do.  What it all boils down to is that love is something you can’t do halfway or there’s no point in doing it at all.  It can hurt.  It can burn.  It can tear you apart when you least expect it, but so can regret, fear, and doubt.   At least my way I also run the risk of being happy and loved in return, and that’s the secret my mom knew.

 

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October is well-known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it is also designated as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  October 15th marks a day of remembrance and support.   A few months ago I wrote a post as a letter to my unborn child, and it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to put on paper.

I have felt a calling all my life to be a mother, a teacher, and a nurturer.  Decisions I made very early on in my life made a career in such things unfeasible, but I made those decisions confidently as I tried to navigate a situation I was unprepared to face alone, but alone I was.  I didn’t feel like I could tell my family, and most of the friends I did tell thought I was making a terrible mistake.  Still, no matter how terrified I was of what I was about to face, I gave my future, and my heart to a child that many would have cast away as a reminder of violence and hurt.  In fact, it may have been that unborn child that kept me alive long enough to work through the emotional and psychological damage caused by the experience.  When I lost that first baby I lost the focus of all my attention and energy .  Worse were constant comments like “it was probably for the best” and “you’ll be relieved someday when you have a child out of love”.  I didn’t care.  It was still a loss.

A few years later I would be faced with the same fear.  I was in a loving relationship with the father at the time, but we were barely feeding ourselves, and I knew at the time my health was in terrible shape.  At our first appointment there was no detectable heartbeat, and I almost blacked out in the office.  Repeated attempts yielded no results, and the final consensus was that I had a blighted ovum, an empty sack that the body treats as if it’s a viable pregnancy.  For days before my surgery to have it removed I had nightmares of babies wailing, and in the days that followed I got the same ignorant comments as I’d gotten the first time combined with everyone’s refusal to let me grieve a baby that technically never existed.  I still have a tiny pair of booties in a box.  It existed in my heart.

All in all I’ve had this experience five times, and when Hubby and I talk about children there’s a little sting in the back of my heart that knows it might only be a dream.   Our reasons for not trying yet are numerous and mostly logistical, and when we do try we will have a lot to deal with emotionally and physically.   Since the wedding I feel like people are constantly asking if we want children or when we’re going to have them.  My answer is always the same, “when and if it’s possible”.   I keep it short, because my past is generally ignored, and my future as a mother is a rather sensitive and questionable subject.

I don’t write any of this to drag out old wounds or evoke sympathy.  I write it because for many years I felt like I didn’t deserve to go through any kind of grieving process.  Every time I felt sad I pushed it down.  Every time someone told me “it’ll happen when the time is right” I pushed it down.  Every time I felt like it was my fault for one reason or another I pushed it down.  Any chance I had to work through my emotions turned in to a chance to push them to a place where I didn’t have to feel them, and society wholeheartedly supported that behaviour.  It wasn’t until much later when I eschewed that the notion that my feelings of loss were silly or unfounded that I was able to release that weight and really move forward.  So I write this to tell any one, man or woman, who has been in place that it’s alright to grieve.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the situation was ideal or the timing was right.  You have every right to feel your emotions and work through them in a healthy manner.

 

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I would’ve posted this yesterday, but there is no wi-fi on the river.  Every year on the anniversary of my mother’s crossing over I try to find something to do, not only to keep my mind distracted but to honour my mother and who she was.  My mother was blind, but she never let it stop her from doing anything she wanted to do.  She worked teaching computers to the blind, she bowled, she played frisbee, and she rode roller coasters.  She cooked like a chef, cleaned like a professional, and sewed little neck scarves for a local pet grooming store for extra cash.  She sold Tupperware, collected Princess House Crystal, and never broke a single piece.  She could give you directions or recipes from the top of her head, and never missed an opportunity for a laugh or a practical joke.  My mother was never disabled or handicapped; she simply adapted.  I make it a point not to let the memories of her loss cripple me.  Instead I use the day to try something new, enjoy what life has to offer, and do it in her memory.

This year I’m injured, which limited my options for new experiences.  After two years of invisible illness following three months with a broken tailbone, I’m growing somewhat weary of being limited.  Hubby, however, had a plan.  His idea was to take a rafting trip down a stretch of the Schuylkill River.  This particular stretch was mellow enough for us to take the other couple in our household’s two-year old, so it would be fine for a cripple like myself.  Early yesterday afternoon we loaded the inflatable raft into the water with a cooler of beer and soda.  We then roped two gallons of drinking water and three inner tubes to the back of the float, and we were good to go.  Once launched I spent most of my day in one of the tubes while the boys camped in the raft with the beer.  hey made sure we didn’t drift or get snagged on anything, and I was left to enjoy the sun, water, and peace on the river.  No phones, no computers, no worries.

On our first stop along the shore we can across a still pool full of shells and river rocks.  While the boys had a bonding moment on the shore, I sat in the pool and felt the river.  I could feel it moving just feet away as it flowed past me.  I moved out of the pool and felt the water passing through and around me in a fluid embrace, and each drop that touched my skin had something different to say.  After a few moments a piece of seaweed passed by and caught itself in my hand, dancing through my fingers, and we played for a while before it was time to head back to the waters carrying us down the river.

For someone with no water signs in her chart at all, I have always connected the most and communicated the easiest with water.  As a healer and someone who generally follows my heart and intuition before anything else, water has always come naturally to me as the element easiest to access, whether or not I’m actually near a body of water.  Luckily for me I grew up in California not to far from either the Santa Cruz coastline or the San Francisco Bay.  There were other bodies of water close to me, but those were always the ones we drove to as a kid.

When my father and I started camping together along the Stanislaus River I realized that rivers, more than oceans, were a better fit for me.  I would sit for hours while he fished just being one with the river. I learned a lot about peace, persistence, and calm strength from the river.  I learned control and connection to my own energies.  I learned to use that of the world around me.  Those trips, more than anything else, made me a better witch and a more peaceful person.  Yesterdays trip reawakened that calm within me.  I haven’t been on a river that way in almost a decade, and it was something my body, mind, and spirit were all missing to be whole again.    I don’t think Hubby has had a better plan since “let’s get married”.

What better way then to honour the woman who gave me life than to re-awaken all the parts within me and actually feel alive again?  How long have I been existing this way?  Who have I been lately?  I certainly have not completely been myself.  Yes, there have been moments when I have felt alive and vibrant, but even then it was a temporary condition.  Even then it was a synthetic reproduction of actually being whole.

The river reminded me of my place here in the world.  I am a healer and a  facilitator.  I am constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly shaping.  I have still places, and I have rapids.  I am strong.  I am fluid.  I am adaptable.  I am not always what I appear to be on the surface, and if I am respected and treated well I will embrace and support those who love and understand me.

I am my mother’s daughter, and if yesterday taught me anything it was how much I am like her.  One of Hubby’s biggest issues with me lately it that I hinder myself.  He’s right, I say “I can’t” a lot, even if I know I can.  This is not how my mother raised me.  This is not a value she instilled in me.  I have spent the last fourteen years wondering if she would be proud of the person I have become, and I have been driven to make sure she would.  Yesterday I finally felt that peace.  Yesterday I felt that she was not above me looking down and watching but inside me smiling at the ways I continue to grow and learn.  I have never been as at peace with being without my mother as I was yesterday.  I know there will still be days when it’s tough, but I think I’m moving closer to knowing that I can always look deep within myself for the guidance I need, the guidance she instilled in me years ago.

Fourteen years ago I lost my best friend, my mother.  I immediately felt guilty for all the things I had not done.  I was sure I missed an “I love you” somewhere, sure she was mad at me for not visiting her in the hospital, sure I could have somehow been a better child.  I went through all the stages of grief at once.  I was angry with her for leaving me, but I was sure at times she wasn’t dead and that she’d come back to get me at any minute.  I kept a packed bag just in case we had to run.  I avoided all memories of her as sick or weak, and instead envisioned her as a secret agent forced to fake her own death.  When I wasn’t blaming myself I blamed my stepfather, who was on a different drug every week and stealing from her on a regular basis.  I tried to bargain with every deity I could think of.  I promised to be a better daughter.  I wanted to make sure I had done everything I could to make her come back.  I was sure that if she were alive my room had been bugged by whatever government entity had taken her from me.

I went through all the stages established by the Kubler-Ross model, and I acknowledged in my logical brain that they were all happening in my psyche.  I knew she was dead.  I knew she wasn’t coming back.  I knew it was silly, but I was a child.  I was a child who had made most of the decisions for her own mother’s funeral because no one else seemed capable.  I was a child who had not cried at that funeral, and refused to let anyone see me cry at all, because I didn’t want to seem fragile.  I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.

Some people simply believed I was not allowing myself to grieve, but children process things differently than adults do.  I had a lot of adjusting to do.  Not only had I lost my mother right before my thirteenth birthday, but I had lost my home, my spiritual guidance, and anything familiar in my life.  I moved in with my father and his parents, who did everything they could to make the transition smooth, but it was still a drastic change.  To top it all off I hit puberty that summer.  I had hit the time in my life when a girl needs her mother the most, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have one.

Children not only process things differently, but they develop their own way of coping with and understanding tragedy or loss.  I did what I had always done.  I made myself busy.  I dug myself into school and extracurricular activities.   I got a job.  I made it impossible to have any alone time in my head.  Unfortunately, my thoughts are a force to be reckoned with.  Eventually all the feelings and thoughts I was trying to avoid caught up with me.   It was the day I found out one of my best friends had killed himself.  A week later a friend of mine’s mother lost her battle with cancer.  A week after that I lost my mind in the midst of a computer malfunction that resulted in writing the same paper five times and having it rejected because I could not get it to print properly.

It is during these times when we develop the skills that will carry us through life in one piece.  After a full day of wandering around in a cloud, I cleared my head and began to put the pieces back together.  I started writing, something that has gotten me through every time I think I just can’t go any further.  I also pulled my friends around me, and even though the years have parted us they were my strongest asset at the time.  I taught myself to actually deal with loss instead of running from it with fantasies or aversion.  I learned to face my emotions head on, to embrace them, and to let them happen.

Sometimes I still have moments of survivor guilt.  My mother sacrificed her health and her very being for me.  She gave me everything she could, and I can only hope I was worth it.   I’m learning to accept that this life was her gift to me.  Who I am was her gift to me.  Her faith in me and her encouragement to believe in myself are things that will never die.  This year I’m having a rougher time than I have in the last several years.  There’s a lot of stress in my life, and there have been a lot of close calls and personal losses in the past year.  I have been planning a wedding, a time generally spent with excitement between a bride and her mother.  There have been times when I have simply wanted my mommy.  I know it won’t defeat me.  It might not make me the most pleasant person to be around for a few days, but I know the people who matter most to me won’t judge or mock me for it.  They know the storm will pass, and the old sunny Autumn will be back soon.

And I will be back….soon.

Namaste.

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