Toppling into Grace

A while back, I realized that I’d been beating myself up about my feelings, responses and attitudes around some changes in my life.  My fiance’ had commented that I seemed unhappy and irritable. Being a crabby, unpleasant, complaining person isn’t who I am, or what I’ve ever expected of myself. I’ve always been the one with the smile and light that made others feel better. While I know intellectually that we can only take so much without also taking time for respite and repair, my belief was that I was an icon of strength and patience, even in the face of a long cumulative list of difficult and unpleasant life events, struggles, fearful times, deaths and letting go of old hopes and dreams.

This irritable, anxious person wasn’t the ‘me’ I thought I was, and if this was who I’d become, I didn’t like ME anymore.  Trying to be as compassionate to myself as I would to another, I reminded myself that, yes, I’ve lived through some difficult times– divorce, personal illness, financial betrayal–and hit the repeat cycle. We’ve all been there to some degree.  I prided myself (and others conveyed) that I was living though these passages with grace, mostly. No wild crazy parties, just a few new pair of shoes; well maybe more than a few.  I chose the other direction and took time to reflect, to save, to continue in my fourth career, to explore new volunteer interests, meet new friends and worked hard to develop additional income streams in order to survive. I thought I was going to make it emotionally and financially.  Life was still my oyster.

Then along came the last three years. Tthough productive and filled with much love and satisfaction, they were also full of sadness:  My auto accident and resulting health issues, Mom’s death, being unable to travel for her funeral or help my family through that time, was devastating. The lack of interest and attention from my physician, who was terrified of the legal system and refused to do auto accidents, meant that my closed head trauma was never diagnosed, and I got weaker.  It was demoralizing.  My heart hurt as I became too ill and immune compromised to see my grandson when he was born or help my daughter with my grandchildren.

I’ve always been a positive, loving person with a deeply contemplative side. I found myself closing up and withdrawing, even from my fiance’ and closest friends.  My focus was on getting stronger and improving my health, but looking back, I’m not sure I was going about it in the optimal way… but I was determined to improve.  Then, just as my health began to get better, I took on an immense family responsibility that became the block on the top that toppled my tower.

Overwhelmed, I often found myself sitting and staring, wondering how I’d become so lonely, unmotivated and confused. I felt inadequate to my work and family responsibilities. Grief over my lost sense of inner joy, low energy,  lost feelings of graciousness, gratitude and generosity, brought me to the abyss, staring despair in the face.

The paradox was that this was a time in my life when I had every reason to be happy and excited as we were planning our wedding and new life together. My health was better and I was able to spend time with my daughter, grandchildren and friends.

On one particularly bad day, I realized that changing how I felt was all up to me.  No one else was determining my responses, feelings or actions–only me. No one was criticizing me. I was pressuring and beating up on my self.  I was sitting in the middle of my grief, anger and angst. Knowing that I could choose my responses and feelings didn’t seem to keep me from  jumping up and down on my own back with no slack. I’d let myself get into this pit, and as far as I could see,  I was the only one in charge, so, I had to get me out!

In the midst of this self flagellation, I remembered Thomas Moore’s book, ‘Care of the Soul’. He writes about the perception- in this culture particularly- of believing that we have to be happy.  Yet, we’re fragile and often confused creatures who  feel things, sometimes deeply, and also feel- if we allow ourselves- things we don’t like such as fear, sadness, grief and anger in addition to our joys. He suggests that when we sit with those unpleasant feelings and allow them to be, rather than forcing ourselves to be social, happy, clever people, whatever the expectation might be, that we deepen.  Richard Rohr also talks about learning to be comfortable with paradox and mystery, about the pain or ‘initiation’ of life, and how we choose to frame it and live with it. ..

“…people were usually marked on their body too, like Jacob being wounded on his hip by the angel. The remaining wound tells us that we have gone the distance and completed the necessary cycle. “I can take it, and I am not a victim, but renewed” is the message. ”

In the long run, deepening and embracing helps us to become more soulful and content. I’m pretty sure that  when I’m content with myself, I’m happier and of much more use to myself and the rest of the world.  Trite, but true. There are sunny days and dark valleys and times of testing.  Sometimes we forget that. I did.  Especially on the dark days, I began to challenge myself to notice the many small gifts and to remember them with gratefulness. Then I practiced smiling and sending light to the grocery store clerks, the man who mows my yard, the gas station clerks, strangers in the store.  In time, it became easier and easier to do, and felt better than being hurt, angry, critical. In time, I could feel my light and my joy growing.

I’m glad to be on the other side for now, to be feeling grateful, and gracious and generous. My cup is more than half full, and I am thankful for those who loved me, challenged me,  listened, were patient with me, and who held my hand.

After a long time of letting myself feel whatever I felt, of resting, journalling, crying, laughing, walking and letting it all go–I realised that I’m better and I’m loved, like the old Velveteen Rabbit.  Sometimes we need reminders about who we really are and that  love is absolutely necessary.

Love,

Susan

 

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Let it go!

We’re working on the perfect storm here, and though the skies in Brunswick County are  gray with severe thunderstorms and hail predicted….. it’s not that. It’s something else.

 

Here’s the recipe for Rotten Bog 

-Take one 6 week post-op cardiac bypass patient.
Add driving 45 minutes to Brunswick County to be ready for 8am cardiologist
appointment tomorrow.
Stir in anticipation/dread of another drive back to Wilmington for Wednesday Family
Dinner night.
Shake with one tired frazzled woman (me) who’s been doing  the cooking,  cleaning, packing, loading, unloading, unpacking, etc ad nauseum due to back to back  surgeries, until said patient can use upper body, then….
Mix with anticipation of finally settling in for a dinner of fresh flounder and a glass of  wine on a lovely spring evening.
Muddle with unloading and opening back door to —– not dinner, but toxic fumes of  spoiled food in a dead hot fridge and freezer. Everything melting onto the floor… seafood,  steak, fresh frozen local shrimp, strawberries….. you name it… it’s puddled on the floor.

Thankfully,  said patient called insurance, took photos of damage and food, then went out for ice.  I, in commando mode, mopped floor three times until my sandals no longer stuck and sucked as I walked across the tile; hauled in (with help of a brawny neighbor) patient’s new exercycle for cardio and wheeled across newly mopped floor into den cum cardio room, while formulating the all points plan of attack for food, fridge and freedom.

Now,  I’m alone for a short time. Noxious odors slowly dissipating, I found the scotch only to realize that we have no ice; remembered seeing a small container of ice in the chest freezer.  In an emergency such as this, a knife works just as well as an icepick.  And to think that on the way here I’d made the decision to let go of all my current concerns and worries.  Even threw them out the window to a little white church in a lovely pastoral setting.

All in all, we’re fortunate for many reasons and life is good. It will be even better after we buy a new fridge, find dinner,  have a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.

And it really is getting ready to storm here, y’all!  
 
 

 

 

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Hoping in Hope

Each day as surgery approaches, I am reminded of what is really important.

Peace in my heart.

Love for self, family, friends, and for this fragile earth our island home.

Gratitude for the Creator of all that is, has been and will be.

B angel

B angel

Being a responsible steward of my gifts. Sharing my talents. Taking care of myself so that I can care for those close to me, and make a difference. Resting, playing, dreaming, remembering, hugging, weeping, sleeping…. hoping.

Hope is vital to us, especially when the journey seems dark and frightening.  Hope is the light at the end of the tunnel, and sometimes, just a spark of light in the middle of the night, in a dream, seen out of the corner of the eye.  Hope is the raindrop that nurtures the seed that grows and blossoms, and gives us beauty and fragrance.  I am hoping in hope, and patience, and peace, now.  It’s difficult.  So much easier to go to the worst case scenario, to feel lost in the darkness underground; to moan and groan; to carry this burden of not remembering the light, into every area of my life. As I make a conscious choice not to get lost in the fear, I also acknowledge that these are heavy times.  This tension is real and some days I admit that my brain is blotto.

We have only four more days until Clark’s open heart bypass surgery.  Today, during the four hours of pre op labs, forms, carotid sonagram, pulmonary test and meeting with the anesthesiologist, we heard some very good news.  Clark is one of the healthiest and most fit men they’ve seen  have this surgery, which bodes well for a good recovery.  What a positive thing to hear when our hearts are aching with the tenderness of trauma and uncertainty.

I’m reminded of what we would have missed had we stayed in the stage of  grief and pain.  Bad things happen. Fearful things occur. I’ve been angry; we’ve even felt somehow cheated .. but life goes on, even if differently than we’d planned.  We have the choice to live in hope and light, moving forward and growing, or sitting in darkness, stuck in our confusion and grief.

Today, we gathered Rebecca and the children from the airport. What joy to see them sprinting on the bright green grass, in the sun and wind after hours on the airplane. Their sheer joy in the beauty of this Spring day reminds me that there is much to enjoy, to celebrate and to share.  Thank you for being there to share this journey with us.

“All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”-  Julian of Norwich.

Clark and Susan on Holden Beach NC

Clark and Susan on Holden Beach NC

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In my need….. I weep and scream

“God on high,  hear my prayer, in my need, you have always been there…””
-Valjean, Les Miserables

AWK!!! I squeak and jump as a tall stooped figure silently sidles up behind me. Before I can turn around, I hear her whisper my name… quietly, almost shyly.

“Susan. Susan, that toilet… something’s wrong. I’m afraid it’s going to overflow again. ”

Standing there, hunched over, she’s holding, yet again, the same plate from her upstairs apartment, piled high with carrots, celery and cheese, that she has been determined to bring into my private space, my  kitchen, and place in my fridge, because she believes it belongs there. And she’s worried now because this is the third time the toilet has overflowed. She can’t remember to flush every time.  Gently turning her around, I point her toward the stairs, ask her to take her food and dishes back to her apartment.

This little gift of heaven–a quiet snow day  with privacy and peace in my own home–was just too good to last much past 10am. At least I’d had my morning tonic and meds, a lovely hot cup of Golden Milk and decaf, had meditated and read a bit snuggled under the covers in pj’s. Grateful for that.  Until recently, she’s been up, dressed and standing outside the french doors to our downstairs bedroom by 7:30am. Just standing there. Looking through the drapes. Not seeing.

Now, at 10:21am, I follow her upstairs, sighing again, feeling my stomach clench with the hard sharp grip of an ulcer, heart pounding. I am angry. So, so damned angry at becoming a 24/7 caregiver when my life and love was in full bloom and my health was improving. And I’m angry for feeling angry. Why can’t I just brush it off, suck it up, do the right thing, until we find a place for her? Where is my compassion?   This is the fourth time she’s lived with me, and it’s never been pleasant.  Now, she’s not well in many ways but well enough to know something is terribly wrong.  I don’t feel the tenderness or caring I’ve felt with
other elderly friends as they aged or became ill, but we didn’t have the family history of accumulated hurts and long estrangements.  Still… isn’t that what forgiveness is about? I’m asking myself that question a lot lately.

For many years I counseled families who were caring for a child with disabilities or in the diagnosis process.  Although I often saw their grief, never did I see or feel their anger or frustration or sense that they felt trapped, though as a psychiatric and developmental social worker, I surely knew enough to know those feelings were there.  And, I knew that disappointment, grief and caregiving dramatically increases family members’ chances of divorce, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and domestic violence.

I’m understanding that first hand, now.

No matter what we say in public, or how good we look…. it’s stressful, and stress is a terrible taskmaster.  It brings out the best and the worst.  Yes, I’m an excellent advocate,
case manager, researcher, writer, problem-solver (I tell myself), but in the category of Family and Sibling, I’m feeling like I didn’t get invited to the Oscars, much less nominated….. barely mentioned.  Perhaps that’s the caregiver’s dilemma, especially when it is thrust on one, unchosen.  And there’s something disquieting about dealing with an adult, especially an aging adult who appears normal, but can no longer function normally. That triggers a different feeling.  Resentment, frustration, and disbelief that the simplest tasks are now olympic challenges,with memory and ability changing from day to day. The microwave has become the bane of our existence. The toaster won’t work —because I unplugged it for fear she’d start a fire. I’ve watched her putting paper plates in there and turning knobs.  The fridge door is often open. Dishes are in the bathroom, and tissues are everywhere. I’m tired of cleaning, complaining, coaching, consoling, counseling, case managing… and crying inside. And, I can’t even begin to imagine how she feels.

This is ultimately a thankless task that one does because it is the right thing to do, yet there are not enough ‘thanks’ in the world to make it ok or good or hopeful.  I’ve found that it is only by living in each moment that there is some small, small joy..  some real connection, some bright flash of a smile, some remembered love and something shared.

I weep with Valjean, and scream with The Witch in this ‘last midnight’ and remind myself that there are far, far worse things.

In peace,

Sussi

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No Regrets

I’m reeling over the diagnosis of a family member… something we suspected but hoped was not so. Dementia steals life away so quickly and completely.Hugh, Kay, Henry, Rebecca, Nova, Dan, Bailey, Susan, Clark, Sally

Today was the second opinion and next week will be more tests to determine where we are in the process and how quickly we need to move on all of the many complex issues of safety, finances, legal, treatment, residental and other matters.

No one talks much about feelings through all of this, and in this instance, feelings are already beginning to be obscured by the disease and manifested as fear, insecurity, paranoia, anger… all of the things you might imagine if the world you knew suddenly seemed unreal and unfamiliar and everything was lost and out of place. Alice in Wonderland on LSD. Horrifying.

On the way home we had some tender conversations as she spontaneously reflected on her life, her regrets, wishing that she’d lived with more kindess, compassion, been less rigid and judgemental, more helpful and thoughtful. I was touched by her sudden insight and clarity, knowing that on some level she understood the diagnosis. And, I felt oh so grateful for our now rare, tender, human sisterly connection in the midst of the confusing conflagration in her brain.

As she named people she felt that she’d hurt, I listened and asked if she could forgive herself, and ask for forgiveness. ( I’m learning to wait in the quiet)

Silence.

I took the risk of being real, and named some times she’d deeply hurt me and my family, giving her the opportunity to own her choices, and to apologize if she chose.

After a time, she quietly acknowledged her actions, and said ‘I wish I’d done better. I’m sorry’. and she wept.

That was more than I needed and I hope and pray that was what she truely needed… to hear herself be real, acknowledge her actions, and accept not only my forgiveness, but her own forgiveness, and yes.. her God’s forgiveness. Grace. Karma changed.

I asked if she remembered the good things she’d done, the children she’d taught, saved, served, the audiences she’s entertained… but she was quiet. I’m hoping she’ll remember
those times as well, to balance the regrets.

On that hour long drive  over the Cape Fear River Bridge, through two traffic accidents with back to back vehicles in one lane only, I thought more about regrets, and realized that as much as I’ve wanted to travel, to learn, to dance the Gelede Spectacles in Western Africa, explore Egypt and the Nile, visit Paris, Greece, Chartre Cathedral, see the Great Wall of China, the ashrams of India and so many other places of wonder, adventure, enlightenment, I have no regrets.

I’ve lived a strange, busy, interesting, wonderful, painful, joyous life. At times I felt I might die of heartbreak. But I lived, and chose to love, learn, serve and  let myself feel again.

My life has been one of service which many haven’t understood, and has given me great joy, purpose and a sense of fulfillment. I’ve been derisively called a caretaker, when I supported my dying spouse, when I helped an elderly neighbor and others. But it was the right and loving thing for me to do.

For seventeen years, I travelled two hours each way to rehearse after work and on weekends, in order to travel and sing evensong and ancient acapella music in old one room wooden churchs in NC as well as ancient stone cathedrals in England, and  met wonderful, interesting and ordinary people.

.Sussi singing with Schola Cantorum, Diocese of East Carolina, Bath NC 2005

Often, I’ve wished that I’d kept a journal of all those I’ve met, whether through singing, facilitating retreats, counselling, listening, providing case management, advocacy, a smile, transportation, serving their child, hosting dinners in my home, or simply believing in someone who didn’t feel valuable. The journal would have been about honoring and  remembering those in my life, and a way to stay in touch with and thank those who meant so much to me.

So many people have passed through my life that I’m humbled at the wealth I  feel from the memory of their presence, even when I don’t remember names. But I was busy and let those days wash by me.

Perhaps thats how it should be.
Perhaps not.

Many have helped and supported me during difficult times and dark nights of the soul when I was questioning my meaning and self worth. Our society often measures worth by money, appearance, and career, yet as I look back, more often than not I’ve felt valued and honored just for being my self. Whatever I am, I’m still learning, and hope I’ll always be learning…. but we don’t know. I’m grateful beyond anything else I can say, for each of you who have been there when I’ve been confused, arrogant, depressed, and disconnected. Thank you.

So, if I have regrets, it’s not that I’ve missed Paris- though I’m pretty nostalgic over that one and would love to honeymoon there, it’s that I’ve missed hugging someone one more time and I have a long, long list. It’s missing a laugh over dinner and a glass of wine with someone I don’t see often enough. It’s wanting to watch another fabulous movie and discuss with a friend. It’s longing to enjoy the sunset with my dear, dear partner and lover. It’s wishing I’d listened more closely to someone who needs my ears, heart and skills. It’s the conversation I wish I’d had when I’ve learned someone is gone.

Thankfully,  those regrets are fairly few…and getting fewer as I’m becoming more open and courageous about those important and sometimes difficult conversations.

If you have anything you’d like to say to me, I’m ready to hear it.

And, if you have anything you’d like to hear me say to you, please ask.

Life is short… we don’t have all of the time we think, want or might wish for.
This is it, Dear Hearts….

Love,

Susan

Marilyns candles Artists Way

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Sharing the Light….

The news I read and hear re Black Thursday shopping, children hungry and frightened in our neighborhoods (today’s Star News), dissension re budgets, managing our growth and traffic, school and teacher cuts, somehow seem even more important as we enter this holiday season. Why? because we’re so disengaged. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the time of year when the seasons change have always been celebrated by rituals of light, of hope, of gratitude for making it through the dark, lean nights.

I remember the first year, twenty or more years ago, when we decided to celebrate the season by spending more time with family and friends and only give each other one small, preferably home-made gift. It was a challenge to give up the fun, excitement and stimulation of shopping. After all, aren’t we all in awe of lovely things and the excitement of the season? But we sat in front of the fire, read together, listened to music, cooked meals and ate together, feeling a bit like outsiders while the rest of the world partied.  We talked about Advent and the concept of waiting, of preparing, of resting and the depth of quiet excitement.

There were times we invited friends we knew and new friends we’d just met, who had no family in town, to our home for Christmas Dinner. Our daughter didn’t always like sharing our family time, so we didn’t do that every year. But it gives me pause, to think of how many ways we can show and share our love with the world, and how little we often do it. Even in my deep depression, the Christmas that I knew my marriage was ending, we all sat, holding each other, loving each other, and knowing that love was truly, the only gift, and the best gift.  Thankfully, I’ve lived through those sad days and found that love again and more.

One Thanksgiving, I called Good Shepherd Ministries to the Homeless hoping to volunteer. They laughed, saying that everyone wants to volunteer during the holidays, but they need people the other 363 days throughout the year.  New Hanover County, NC alone, has almost 300 non profits, many working with children who could use a listening ear, a good book, a coach, and some wonderful experiences in our community that they will never have on their own if we don’t step up and provide them.

More thoughts as we enter the holiday season that we can also practice year round. (The following is the copy and paste part) It is important to remember that not everyone is surrounded by large wonderful families. Some have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. Many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. Each of you, wherever you might be, please consider personalizing/editing, copying, pasting, and sharing this status in email and on FaceBook, to give a moment of support to all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares.  Then go the extra mile… actually DO something for someone. Do it for all of us, for no one is immune.

I hope to see this posted many times and also hope to stimulate your own thoughts and actions about how we may best practice living well, and with kindness. Even better, make a plan to take a friend to lunch, be kind to a quiet co-worker, check on an elderly neighbor, or take a kid to get a present or make a present for his Mom. You know what to do, and it’s much more important than Black Thursday and Friday shopping.

I’m grateful for each of you. Our world needs us loving and living with as much kindness as we can muster. Share the light!

Special Thanks to my brother in law, John Sims, whose original post on FaceBook gave me pause, as have many of his comments and thoughts shared over the past 45 years.

                                                                            Marilyns candles Artists Way

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Finding Joy

yoga and meditation place

Yoga sunroom under the trees

A young friend who’s suffered a terrible loss reminded me of my days of fear, anger and joylessness.  I shared with her something from a long time ago when an old friend and former therapist gave me wonderful advice after a horrible long drawn out divorce.  She asked simply if I felt any happiness or joy at all, and I said ‘no’.

I was still crying all the time and keeping myself too busy to really feel, much less heal.

She said, “Well, you will in time, but for now, pretend.” Watching me quietly, she continued, “Sit outside and feel joy in the sun on your skin. Go to a musuem or art gallery and feel joy at the beauty of art, listen to music, sing, dance, and keep on pretending. One day, the joy will return. One day soon.”

So I did. Yes, it was difficult. Now, I’ve learned that my joy isn’t dependent on another person. Hard lesson. Now, in this time of great joyousness in a new time with a new partner, soon to be husband, I wonder. We all grow old and die. We could be injured, in an accident. Sadness will come again.  Sometimes I imagine those ‘what ifs’ and worse. What if I were imprisoned, couldn’t see the sun, everything was dark, dank, painful, where would I find joy?

I’ve been reading about a man imprisoned and tortured for years, who found joy in remembering the land of his childhood, visualizing the hills and valleys, the trees in each season, the crops, the animals; in repeating the many stories he’d heard throughout his life, the poems and songs he’d memorized. He used his mind, heart and spirit to create joy and hope in order to survive. It’s a skill, a practice, a choice,  a self discipline… finding our joy.  And, it’s not simple or easy, this choosing to be in the now, rather than the past or the future of our dreams.

As I sit here writing in my kitchen, I feel the soft cool fall breeze and see the dappled green light shimmering through old pecan trees.  They were stripped bare by hurricanes 15 years or so ago, yet now, are lush, green and bearing.  This makes me happy and peaceful–to be connected with nature, to write, and to share with you.

Have you found joy in your life? Are you living joyously?  I’d love to hear about your journey to joy … or if you’re still struggling and why.

Green gold trees in autumn

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Posted in Art Music Things of Beauty, Celebrations, divorce, Health and Chronic Wellness, relationships | 3 Comments