November 27th

November 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Tomorrow is November 27th. I lost my brother in a car crash on that day 25 years ago. I lost my mother to Alzheimers  on the same date 6 years ago. Even though I think of both of them multiple times a day every single day, the actual anniversary still gnaws at me. My memories of their lives and their deaths are vivid, and the pain, though no longer unbearable, still hard.

Today I want to share some experiences I had with my mother *after* she died that have shaped who I am and who I intend to be.  Whenever a loved one passes, no matter what our religious traditions or beliefs about life after death, most of us hope to receive a sign or some kind of visit from the person who is gone. I have been lucky to have such experiences.

I find it hard to choose a word to describe my relationship with my mother. Our love for each other was great, but it was also wrapped up in codependency and dysfunction. For much of my life I was unable to have an opinion of myself that wasn’t somehow tied to what my mother thought of me, or maybe more accurately, what she thought of herself and projected onto me. I frequently made choices or adopted opinions and behaviors not because I approved of them, but because they might earn me a “good girl” stamp of approval from my mother.

During the final few months of my mother’s life and for some time after, I was ravaged by anxiety. It wasn’t the anxiety that was new. Anxiety is as familiar to me as my oldest friend. The intensity was new. I began to have muscle spasms throughout my body, so severe that when I’d sit in a bathtub to relax, I could see the water pulsate around me. Certain types of lighting caused the room to spin. I would drop things and stumble over my own feet. I sometimes slurred my words and felt like I couldn’t swallow. At the time, I had two very small children at home and I needed help.

During a guided meditation in therapy, I was asked to describe what my anxiety looked like.  I closed my eyes and saw myself tied to a chair that had been placed in the middle of large room. My hands were tied behind me. My mouth was gagged. My legs were bound to the legs of the chair. Friends and coworkers began to move through  the room, dancing and socializing as though it were a party while I remained stuck to my chair. A movie screen came down from the ceiling and scenes from my life played before me, reminders of events in my life I was  not able to fully participate and enjoy because of the psychological ropes that had me tied down.

What I realize now is that my mother was the chair. She had tied me there, and she had to be the one to set me free. In my meditation, she came to me with love and cut the ropes that had me so firmly attached to her.

About a year later the final and most significant meditation came when I was up north at my parents’ cottage. It was the first time I had visited since my mother’s death, and I was triggered badly. I called my therapist and she asked me to find a place on the beach where we could have another conversation with my mother. I chose a bench near an empty playground, closed my eyes and let myself into the experience. I was asked to see myself walking the beach with my mother like I had hundreds of times growing up and to listen to what my mother had to say. Strange things began to happen. My mother took her shoes off and walked in the water. Then she began to play in the water, kicking at it and splashing and teasing me to come in. Then she let herself fall into the water and and flail like a child. It was a strange and beautiful sight. I only recall one or two times in my whole life when my mom actually went in the water while we were at the cottage.

My mom’s message was clear: play. Play in this life and have fun. Do things because they give you joy and don’t worry about the opinions of others. Give yourself permission to be free and grant that same permission to those you love.

When I opened my eyes on that beach that day, the playground I was sitting by was no longer empty. There was one woman, a little older than me, playing on the monkey bars all by herself. (Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.)

You are never too old to play.

Today I am happy to say that every Friday night and Sunday morning I get to play in an environment that supports me being me. Maybe my mom sent these little angels into my life to give me what she wasn’t able to give me while she was here. I am grateful.

Mom and I are tight now. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

xo

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