Grief and joy

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Anna turned 9 years old yesterday.  The day was simple and joyful.  And thankfully, it was free from the painful sentimental feelings I normally feel on my children’s birthdays.

This year, Anna could choose between having a birthday party or having a weekend at a hotel with her family.  She chose the hotel, and last weekend we spent two nights at a hotel in Wisconsin.  Anna spent most of the time swimming. We also spent some time seeing old sites from when Alan and I lived there.  We visited my parents on the way home, and they gave Anna her first sewing machine.

On her actual birthday, Anna chose what we ate for breakfast and dinner (pancakes and eggs; spaghetti without meat).  And, she invited grandma and grandpa over for “dessert”, also known as veggies and dip, popcorn, and Zevia root beer.  Somehow, the sweet tooth the rest of us are plagued with doesn’t seem to reside in her–and therefore she is our little health nut who keeps us eating our vegetables.

Family life is sweet and lovely.  It has been especially so in recent months.  Things feel grounded and connected in our little family, and I am glad for that.

In the background, there is grief.  My dad has stage 4 cancer.  He doesn’t want to share the news with anyone outside of our family, at least, not yet.  At first I felt shock and intense love for him and compassion for his suffering.  In addition to this, there is now grief and sadness.  The feelings swing between periods of peace and acceptance and then the intense feelings of grief.

I am letting myself cry when I need to.  Work has been a welcome distraction, although I am not as cheerful or engaged with my clients as I usually am. I’m feeling bewildered and disorganized and uncomfortable, not always knowing what to do when I’m not busy.  I know that allowing the feelings to come is what will heal me and keep me together.  But it is hard.  I often want to run from it and go back to the way things were before.  I am thinking a lot about the memories I have of my dad throughout my life.  Dad riding the John Deere in the summertime, dad taking us ice skating on the frozen marsh, dad cutting down trees and splitting logs, dad building snow forts for us and making awesome sledding trails.  I feel the comfort and the consistency he has provided all of my life.  Always there.  Reliable and strong.  What would it be like without him?

Things that help me cope with this grief are talking about it, walking in nature, cuddling my pets, and reaching out to others. I am visiting my parents as much as I can.

Life is hard.  And, it is beautiful, too.

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What’s been going on for the past 23 months

Since I decided to stop writing in this blog in October 2015, my life has been largely undocumented.  I’ve taken photos of my children and taken some family photos, saved some mementos, and become increasingly lost in the pleasures of daily life.

But, I realize that in 30 years we might want to remember what was going on in 2015-2017. So here goes, in a nutshell:

  1. In July 2015, we lost our cat Luna and adopted our dog, Penny.  This is the same month I decided I needed to leave the church I was a part of.
  2. In September 2015, Mia and Anna were in 6th and 1st grades at their old school, respectively.  We prepared to sell and sold our old house, bought a new one, and prepared to move.  I took a full-time job, was interning and working on my graduate degree. We were stretched thinly. It was a very trying time for all of us.
  3. In November 2015, I finally mustered the courage to announce to Alan’s family and church friends that I was leaving the church.
  4. In December 2015, I finished all of my academic and internship requirements for my MA.  I had still to write my thesis, which ended up taking 1 1/2 years to complete.
  5. In April 2016, we left our home of 13 years and moved into our new home.  Alan gutted the kitchen and flooring throughout the house, and we lived without a kitchen for a while.
  6. In September 2016, Mia and Anna began 7th and 2nd grades at their new schools.  They were devastated and cried for days.  I continued to work at my full time job and going to school and felt increasingly drained and unhappy with our lifestyle.  Alan was still working his job as usual.  Our kitchen was complete.
  7. In December 2016, I quit my job, started a new one, and quit it after 12 days.  I was unemployed until June 2017 and it was a very memorable time.  There was a lot of healing, discovering and self-care that happened during that time.
  8. In October 2016, we lost our beloved cat, Jezzie, at the age of 19.
  9. In March 2017, the stars aligned and we found our new cat, Phoebe, who fills the void that Jezzie left in our hearts.
  10. I completed my Master’s thesis in April 2017 and received my MA the same month.  I walked in my graduation ceremony in June 2017–the same month I accepted the job that I have now.  I love the job.
  11. September 2017: Mia and Anna are in 8th and 3rd grades.  They both love school.  There were no tears this year.  We sold our old car and bought a new one. I am studying for the national exam for marriage and family therapy.  Alan is content in his job.  We appreciate his summers off more than ever.  We had the best summer this year that perhaps we’ve ever had–maybe because we finally appreciate what it means to have time off and time together.
  12. Anna loves ballet and swimming.  She would do both all day if it were possible. Mia loves being creative and has a wonderful sense of humor.  Mia writes songs, sings, and plays guitar.  Anna plays eukelele and sings.  We have family karaoke days where we all sing for hours.  Mia and Anna are exceptional children: both are extremely kind, generous, and wonderful people.  It is an absolute honor to be their mother.
  13. Alan and I have been married over 17 years now.  Wow.  I feel increasingly aware and grateful of the incredible gift of finding him, marrying him, and sharing my life with him.
  14. I took lots of photos and video of the above events and many more events, and I hope someday to get all of these organized.

September 8, 2017

I guess I should start off by saying “hello again” to this blog.  It’s been nearly two years since we’ve seen each other.  Today I had the urge to write for the first time in a long time.  And while this blog seems foreign now, it’s the only place I have to put these words that are coming out of me.  

I woke up today feeling especially grateful for the experience of being alive.  Life is rich and complex.  And at the same time, it is consistent and simple.  Today I especially feel like this physical experience is a journey–a temporary thing that I can choose to enjoy and marvel at. It’s like I can step outside of myself and see that we’re all just living in these bodies and don’t know what we’re really doing here.  All of the trials and tribulations are just experiences–something that will give life depth and meaning, and hopefully lead to wisdom and understanding, too. Like Louise Hay said, “We’re on an endless journey through time.”

What brings a great deal of joy in my current state of being is my relationships with my children.  I adore them.  I love being a mom; I love being their mom.  It is an absolute joy and an honor.  I love planning things with them and spending time with them.  I love lying in bed at night and chatting with them past their bedtimes. I love looking forward to spending time with Alan and the girls over the weekend.  I love getting up in the morning to walk Mia to the bus.  I love bike riding around our neighborhood and biking Anna to school.  I love a day off from work to spend at home, tidying up and caring for our “nest”, with open windows and a cool breeze blowing in. I love birds singing and trees blowing in the wind. I love yoga classes in my new hometown.  I love listening to Pandora while thinking about life and how to grow and get better each day.  I love baths with epsom salts while listening to Josh Groban on Pandora and crying because life is so beautiful. I love nature and being outside, being silent and listening to the sounds of nature, seeing the sun rise and set, seeing the animals and plants survive amazingly amongst each other with only seeds, earth, sun and rain to sustain them. I love sleeping in our solid, warm bed beside my sweet Anna who is my bedtime companion these days.  I love Alan’s consistency and his unwavering loyalty, gentleness and kindness–and that he is exactly the dad I wanted for my children.  I love feeling content in this life we’ve created–which is pretty simple, stable, and nicely predictable these days.

I love my parents.  I love watching them grow old and become more of their true selves, now that the stresses of parenting and supporting a young family are mostly behind them.  I love seeing my children love them and them love my children.  I know now how much they have always loved me, too, and I am grateful for that love.

Time passes more quickly than ever before.  And somehow, I find myself feeling at peace with that.  I used to struggle a great deal with the passing of time, and maybe I still do at times.  I love the phase we’re in, and I love seeing my children grow.  My increased cellulite, gray hair and forehead creases are a reminder of where I’ve been.  They mark a milestone in this physical journey, one of lessons and pain and joy and growth.  I guess I feel grateful for it all, even for the cellulite and wrinkles.

While I am still, at times, hit with the pangs of wanting more children and wishing I had a bunch of babies and was still a homeschooling mom, I’ve noticed that what I have wanted has often times contradicted with what was best.  And sometimes I wanted two things that contradicted each other, such as freedom and babies, for example.  Sometimes life presents us with choices, and sometimes it hands us what we’re intended to have.  Or, maybe it’s all what we’re intended to have and we really don’t have much choice at all.

I guess balance can never be achieved.  Maybe part of life is learning to live with the “what ifs” and “what could have beens”.  Perhaps it’s all perfectly orchestrated, and there never could have been another way.  Like this is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

“Listen, love, and just be there, without judgment or correction.”

These are words are borrowed from The Invisible Scar.

These words eloquently express how we can best help those who are hurting.  They also express how we can best help ourselves.

I was warmed to read them today on one of my favorite blogs on WordPress and wanted to pass them along and record them here as a reminder.  Sometimes the most healing effort we can put forth is to simply “listen, love, and just be there, without judgment or correction.”

A strange day.

I felt weird today–not the good way I’ve been feeling lately.  I am quite sure I am at a lower vibration and feeling the effects of it.  I felt down about housework and carrying more weight than is fairly mine, about my children fighting, and about our house which feels like it is closing on on me with stuff and walls.  I feel cramped and that our house is too small, and that my husband is too stubborn to budge and make a move to a bigger place.

Worst of all, I have this pain of losing my mother when I haven’t even lost her yet.  It’s like I can already feel that grief that I will feel when she is gone and I feel panicked to make the most of having her in this world.  I am sitting here thinking about how the heck a person can go on in this world without their mother?! It seems absurd! To think about living in a world without that mother love–it is utterly dark and painful.  I love my mom so much.  It’s such a deep and primal love.  And, I am remembering now that I had an energetic counseling session less than a month ago in which I strengthened my own boundaries in order to separate from my mother (in a healthy way), and maybe this is the residual effect of that.

I am also pondering my children growing older, which I do all too often, and feeling the pain of the past.  Anna is going to be 6 this year and Mia 11.  Anna’s first 5 years are almost complete, never to be repeated again.  Did I appreciate her enough? Did I give her enough? Right now, I do not think so.  It is painful to acknowledge.  And I can never, ever have a do-over.  I have to accept and forgive my shortcomings and hope to give her the best I can from here on out.  Again, maybe this is a result of the strengthening of my energetic boundaries and the healthy separation from my children.

So, I think my mood came to this place today because of lack of sleep, too much sugar, and too much gluten.  The way back up is positive thinking, gratitude, purpose, movement, and eating well–and tending to those energetic boundaries I am working on.

Here goes my gratitude:

I am grateful for my mother, that she held me and nursed me, taught me what it means to love and be loved.  I am grateful she is still in this world.

I am grateful for being a mother.  I am grateful for my children, who have made me my most vulnerable self, who have given me a deeper purpose, and who fill my life with unconditional love and joy.

I am grateful for my husband, who has been by my side through thick and thin and loves me even on my worst of days–and if we live long enough, who will love me when I am wrinkled and gray.

I am grateful for the gifts within me: a compassionate heart, a desire to better myself, a curious and open mind, and an appreciation for beauty that enriches my daily life.

I am grateful that I know how to make myself feel better without the use of any drugs or other substances, food, or money.

Thank you.

xo

On embracing imperfection.

A foundational aspect of the work of Alfred Adler, after whom my graduate school was founded, is “the courage to be imperfect.”

The courage to be imperfect constitutes a healthy mindset and allows for good mental health, social interest, and meeting the demands of life.  These are all indicators of how a person is doing in his/her life.

I am working on this.  I’ve been a perfectionist as long as I can remember.  I am not proofreading my blog posts the way I used to.  If I notice a mistake after I’ve posted it, I leave it.  This is not a professional site that needs to be perfect.  So it’s ok.

It feels good to embrace imperfection.  So much pressure is removed.  I am imperfect, so what do I have to hide?

I am reading “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown.  It was recommended to me by several different people, so I took that as a message from the universe and started reading it.

On feeling secure and being loved.

I am in a pretty good and secure place now.  My family has had a long stint of illness  this fall; the girls and Alan have had bronchitis over the last 2 weeks, and I have been well.  It’s been tiring to care for everyone but somehow I’ve managed and have met the demands of school and internship without having any major breakdowns.  I am beginning to think that I am capable of handling this thing called life, even when it throws in the unexpected.

I am also beginning to see how many people have my back.  I have had so much support over the last month, from being cared for when I was sick, to receiving words and gestures of love and support from friends, to my school being super supportive about my absences and letting me make it up, to my internship giving me the space I need to care for myself and my family–and no hard feelings or guilt involved.  I think there was an important lesson for me to learn here:

I am taken care of.  I matter.

I really, really like my work as a therapist at Park Avenue Center.  Now that I am doing individual and couples counseling as an MFT student, and no longer doing the LADC work–I just love it.  I know this is what I am called to do, and it makes me feel settled and secure.  I feel like I am contributing and no longer a burden to the center.  I know how to do a lot of things now.  I love working with the clientele at the center I am at. They need this and they appreciate it so much.  I don’t even have to be good for them to appreciate it; I just have to be present and listen to them.  Which is good, because I am nowhere near being a good therapist–but thankfully I am able to listen and genuinely care, and sometimes that is all they need.

Sometimes I feel self-conscious about this blog and how it’s “all about ME.”  It’s kind of self-absorbed.  And then again, it’s the place I can sort out all of these things I need to sort out so I can figure out my life and myself.  It’s healing and rejuvenating.  I do care a lot about other people, not just about myself.  I also know that I have to know myself and love myself first in order to be my best self.  My blog helps me with that, I guess.

I have been really crabby at home lately.  Really anxious and controlling.  I think it has to do with feeling out of control in many ways, and that my home is a place I can express some form of control.  I want my house neat and clean.  It is soothing to me and allows me to focus.  I wish my family felt the same.  They don’t.  I am still the house manager like I’ve always been, only more crabby and demanding. I’ve also felt confused in my marriage and what is ok to expect and what is not.  This goes back to my “boundaries” work I’ve been doing for a while.  It’s a new layer.  I don’t know what is ok to expect, and what belongs to me and what belongs to him.

The Sandplay training I am working on is going well, and I still feel very drawn to continuing and using it in my future as a therapist.  I think I want to eventually have a private practice with a specialty in healing childhood trauma through the use of Sandplay and other modalities.  That is what gets me excited about my future.  I think I am becoming more drawn to working with children.

Alan and I want to buy a piece of land somewhere in WI or MN.  Private and secluded, somewhere we can have a family getaway and build an off-grid cabin someday.  I think we can actually make it a reality someday soon.  It is really, really exciting and I think about it every day.  We hope it will be quiet, have some water access, either on the land or close by.  We’d like a chunk about 20-40 acres.  Maybe we could even live there someday if it would work for our careers.  We both love the country.  We also want a city close enough, especially one with a co-op so we can get our healthy groceries.  The Superior area is looking rather good right now.

Anna is not super happy about Kindergarten anymore.  We’re trying to talk about it a lot and help her with coping skills, and it seems to be helping somewhat.  We’re encouraging her to make the best of it and remember it is over in 6 months.  After that, I think I’d like to home school her for a year.  We could all use a respite from the craziness of this year.  It sure would be nice.

The other night, Anna wanted to snuggle me in my office chair.  I thought about how it was hard to get the space I needed to do the work.  But how could I resist? Then I picked her up and snuggled her.  She melted into me and I could just feel her love.  I felt how wonderful it was to have this being whom I so deeply love, right there close to my heart, loving me right back–while I do my work.  What a blessing. I love her so much. She is such a gift.

Having children is such a healing experience.  I have been thinking of that since that moment in the office chair.  For those of us who did not feel loved as children, or who felt loved only conditionally, having this unconditional love to give and to receive with our own children is such an incredible gift.  Yes, it is time-consuming and sometimes stressful to have children, and it opens us up and heals us in the most incredible ways, which makes that work and stress melt away.  I am so grateful to be a mother.  It’s such a beautiful thing.  It’s such a beautiful thing to love and be loved unconditionally.