I have a headache this morning. And as I’m drinking my coffee, I’m glad for the pounding in my head. It may not be pleasant, but it’s a reminder that I’m still alive. I still am connected to my body. Thank you, Headache, for reminding me not to take all those days I don’t have a headache for granted. It wasn’t so long ago I was beset by headaches and body aches daily, the result of which contributed to feelings of depression and despair, but I think was my body’s way of telling me I needed to pay attention to it and how desperately in need I was of better self-care and healing of past emotional pain.
When I went to pick up my daughter from drama club Monday night, I realized I was parked next to the mother of my daughter’s best friend. I left my other two daughters at home with my husband. I knew that we had to tell our daughters about their (ex-) Uncle’s passing. I was unsure of their reactions and I was slightly apprehensive about when and how to tell them.
I decided to get out of my car and walk over to this mother, and say hello. She invited me to sit her car while we waited for our daughters. Her other children were in the back, and they were giggling and I greeted them with a smile. And the mother asked me, with her friendly, warm, Middle Eastern accent, “Hello, Casey, how are you?” in her characteristically melodic way. I swear, if words could smile, that phrase does when I hear her say it. I told her quietly about the accident, being very careful not to scare the kids in the back of her van. She was very empathetic and we talked about it a while and about our feelings of still being connected to people who’ve left this world before us.
I told her I had been thinking of her over the weekend (this was true) and realized at some point I wanted to thank her for inviting my daughters and I to stay for dinner (the first person who ever did that in about 3 years) one night a few weeks ago. She said, “Oh, it was our pleasure. And I want you to know, in my culture, my home is your home. You never have to call a week in advance to come over, you just come over.”
And then it struck me, then and there, that I am missing something big: a sense of feeling included, a sense of feeling like I belong, that my presence is not only tolerated, but cherished. That I, my husband and my daughters are like a part of her ‘family’ is a treasured gift to me.
In my experience, most people don’t cherish each other like that.
They haven’t welcomed me deeply like that.
They don’t stay with me like that, without having to ask them to.
I noticed the physical and emotional distance that people prefer to keep. I respect other people’s boundaries, but I find it difficult to cope with sometimes. This distance has always been painful to me.
But when people bridge this distance and make it okay for me to get close, I feel this incredible sense of love and caring that is medicinal to my soul.
Though our daughters were in different after-school programs that ended at different times, my friend stayed with me until my daughter was done, a half-hour after her daughter was done.
I can’t tell you how much that touched me, that she stayed waiting with me for no reason other than to just be present for me with four kids in her car, just because she wanted to be there for me.
When my daughter came out, we hugged, and she kissed me on the cheek. And I kissed her on the cheek, too, something I don’t do with American-born and raised moms, even though I’ve known some a while – because, you know, that would be weird.
I don’t know if she knows how much I am in awe of her. She has such grace and presence and compassion and love and I’m so grateful to her for her kindness. And it occurred to me just now how amazing she really is. I’m reminded of a story she told me not so long ago, about her childhood home in Palestine. One day, when she was 3 years old she was hanging out in her home, just being a 3-year-old, doing what 3-year-olds do. The next moment, a bomb tore through their kitchen wall. She still remembers pointing to the gaping hole in the wall and crying and sputtering. After that, the family fled to Sweden, where her parents still live.
I’m amazed at the grace and gentleness and warmth in this person. Her husband, too, has a gentleness and grace I just don’t see in much in these parts.
I was so, so grateful for her presence Monday afternoon. It helped me feel more at ease and stronger, especially since I hadn’t yet broken the news to our daughters.
I told my oldest in the car on the way home. I wanted her to have a chance to process this quietly, before we told my other two daughters, who are more emotional in their responses. My oldest was stunned a little, but didn’t cry and she worried about that. She even asked me, “is it all right that I felt like crying when they told us they might take away the music program, but I can’t cry for Uncle David?”
I said, “Of course it’s okay. Whatever you are feeling or not feeling is okay.” Later, she said, “I liked uncle David. He was amazing! ”
And she’s right. To my daughters, he WAS amazing.
Any time family get together (dysfunctional though we may be, we spent a lot of time together over the years to keep the 13 children my siblings and I have close), whether for birthdays or for holidays or swimming over the summer, the girls would see uncle David. When we did have summer soirees, he and my husband and my younger brother were usually in the pool with the kids, throwing them from the shallow end to the deep end, squirting them with water, carrying the younger ones on their backs from one end of the pool to the other.
It was harder breaking the news to my other daughters.
My middle daughter had already suspected something terrible happened. I sat down and held her in my arms because she was already melting down about her science fair project (long, boring story) and I told her I had to tell them and my littlest one the news. She covered her ears and said she didn’t want to know and cried. When I told them, my middle daughter relaxed (it was bad, but it wasn’t the worst, for her) she was still tearful and my littlest one hid her face in the couch and cried.
It was hard, but we got through it. I’m glad I cried all day Monday so that when it came time to tell them, I cried a little with them, but still stayed put together.
Last night, though, I was showing stress fractures. I was feeling exhausted and cranky.
I decided to go to an Al-anon meeting, the first one in a couple of weeks – the incessant snow storms have been making it impossible for people to get out to the Tuesday night meetings. It started snowing again last night, but I wasn’t going to let a little snow stop me this time. I needed to get out of the house and be with other people for a time.
I was one of the early ones, and the two other people there didn’t expect a large turnout due to the snow. But surprisingly 14 people showed up. Apparently other members were eager to get to a meeting, having missed a few due to the snowstorms too. I told a few of the early arrivals what happened, not certain I wanted to just hold it in during the meeting. I had a feeling that it might have kept me preoccupied and unable to listen to other’s sharing. And it helped. I wasn’t planning on telling them what happened, I didn’t really need to anymore.
Interestingly enough, the meeting topic was on serenity.
It turned out that one of the other members, who I told moments before the meeting, had asked for some prayers, not only for someone in her life, but for me, too. I realized most people didn’t know what she was talking about, so I decided I was going to need to say a little something about it.
I was feeling surprisingly serene, despite the stress I was feeling just a half hour before the meeting. Other people shared what serenity meant to them, their desire for and struggles with achieving serenity because they couldn’t cease the endless chatter in their heads, even when they tried to meditate.
When it was my turn, I told briefly told them about the accident, and asked them for prayers for my sister and niece and nephew and his family.
I told them that even though this accident happened this week and I was going to go to a wake and funeral and it was going to be anything but serene, I knew that at that moment, I was feeling serene, being there in the room with them.
Something came to me with a quiet conviction as I was talking to them. I said aloud to them:
“I feel most serene when I am making art. For me, it quiets my mind and it is meditative and it lets my inner child come out and play. It feels like I’m on this tiny island in the middle of a vast sea, this safe place where I am feeling centered.
And I realize something:
I don’t have to have all the answers right now, and it’s okay. I don’t have to know what is going to happen in the future right now, and it’s okay. I can’t even know what is going to happen the moment I walk out the door when the meeting is over, and it’s okay. I know I can handle it and I don’t need to worry about it now. That’s what serenity means to me: Being okay with not knowing, without having the answers. “
I went to bed last night feeling really peaceful.
There were no tears. No fears. No heartache. No anxiety.
I thought about David and wondered how his last moments were on earth before the crash, but I’d like to think he is joyful now because his consciousness is now free of his human body.
I felt open spaces in my heart and my abdomen.
I snuggled up next to my husband and wondered at the beauty of that feeling and wish I could stay open like that all the time.
But I know me, I close off to it. I don’t want to, but I know I do.
And it’s okay, too.
For now, I accept that this is how it is for me. I open and close. Open. And close. Open. And close.
I’m simply grateful I can recognize that I do open and allow Life and Love to flow, unimpeded.
Maybe someday I’ll simply just forget how to close.