Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Bittersweet Symphony

This week marks the one year anniversary of my mom's sudden death. (That's her in the picture above).  Today, my girlfriend lost her mom unexpectedly, and my best friend from high school has a ten year old son that is dying. God, life is short and sometimes unbearably painful. So many of us live on autopilot. Waking up day after day, following the same routine day in and day out. We live under the false illusion that somehow we are in control of our circumstances, when in reality we are not. Life is a gift. We never know when or how it will end, yet so many of us waste the time we have been given. That's something I've become very in tune with since my surgery. How much time is spent wasted. We play on our computers scrolling for hours on social media sites, we are constantly on our phones, we watch way too much TV (darn that Netflix), or simply spend our valuable time complaining about the little things in life (eye roll). You know you're guilty of it~ of wasting time. We all are. Although this past year has been a time of great sadness for me, it has also been a time of huge personal growth. Life has taken on new meaning. I'm doing things I had been putting off, like finishing my Master's degree, and traveling to new far away places. Little things that most people would find meaningless, now bring me joy like never before. I love deeper, hug tighter, hold on longer, forgive more....and I am more mindful of my time. This is what death and darkness has taught me: time really IS precious. You hear this saying all the time, but it literally takes on a new meaning after life body slams you to the ground.

Death comes easy to no one. We grieve, we mourn, we sometimes go on spewing hateful thoughts at the notion of God or to try and find a spiritual meaning to the unfairness of 
life (or was that just me?). Watching my mom struggle to take her last breath, and not being able to help her left me feeling completely helpless. I have always been a spiritual seeker of sorts, but the death of my mom ignited in me a more passionate search for meaning, for a better understanding of life after death, and a reexamination of my faith. I have had to repeatedly tell myself over the past year, that faith is not a feeling, it's a decision to keep believing, even through the pain. God didn't take my mom, he spared her more pain and suffering. 

I actually feel closer to my her now than when she was alive. Since I lost her, my life has been flooded with miracles, blessings, grace, and visions I can't explain and don't deserve. The happiness, joy, love, and numerous gifts I have now are a result of the darkness that I labored through last year. Maybe the saying is true,  That only by walking through the darkness can you find the light~ but boy the darkness sucks. 

I wish I had the right words to say to my two girlfriends or for anyone dealing with tragedy and loss~ but there aren't any. Life is a bittersweet symphony of good times and bad. I read an article that said, when you are knee deep in the darkness and can't find any light, its called the emergence of the soul, not the darkness of the soul. It's here when you realize that you are not your circumstances, but something far greater. I know this now from personal experience. These moments, these defining moments, are a struggle at the time and they totally suck. They are devastatingly painful, and will make you question the purpose of life, and as unbelievable as it sounds, they will also force you to go deeper into yourself where you discover your inner power and essence of who you really are. They will also painfully teach you just how precious time really is. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dear Mom,

Dear Mom,

I can't believe it's been almost a year since you passed. Your birthday is quickly approaching. It's so weird that you're not "here". I think about you more than I ever thought I would and I grieve you more than I ever imagined. Last year on your birthday, we talked and talked, and you were fine. Seven days later you were gone. Forever. What a turning point that was in my life. I feel so lucky that I was alone with you when your spirit left your body. It was such a surreal experience.  I'm thankful I got to tell you everything I needed to before you left, and I'm forever grateful that I could be there for you, and with you, when you took your last breath. I've seen death before, but when you died, in that moment, I actually felt a piece of my soul, the piece that connected us, leave my body. It left me with a gaping empty hole in the middle of my soul. It was in that moment, I realized for the first time how truly connected we were.

It's so weird that life simply keeps going after someone dies. I walked around in a dense fog the weeks following your death, though I pushed through for Logan and Owen's sake, and very few noticed how much I struggled~ except for Owen that is. You know how in tune he is with me. Logan, on the other hand, was very matter of fact about your death. "Grandma's in heaven, and we'll be with her again soon. Remember, a thousand years is like one day in heaven mom, remember?"  Ah, the faith of a child. I often wonder what you're doing up there, over there, or wherever you are. Is Jean Rose there with you? What about Janet? I know how much you longed to see them both. Can you see us down here? Are you able to visit whenever you want or do you have to ask permission?  Did Peter meet you at the pearly gates? What's Jesus like? So.many.questions. Thank you for visiting me in my dreams by the way. I will forever cherish them and long to have more.

I sensed your presence the other day. It was so real. Owen was playing a song on his recorder and I was sitting where you usually sit in our living room. All of the sudden, out of no where, I could feel you. I could smell your perfume that you wore years ago. It was like you were sitting there right next to me, watching Owen and listening to him play. I actually asked Owen, "Do you feel that? I think Grandma's here. Do you smell perfume? I feel her!" That's how most of this year has been. I feel like you are closer to me now than you ever were on earth. I was really good at pushing you away when you were alive, and now that you are on the other side, I can't do that. You have the upper hand, and you show up when you want to, and I feel you when you do. I can't push you away, and I actually love that.

Facebook reminded Kate the other day that you have been friends for x number of years. I thought you would get a kick out of that. We still have your Facebook page opened and I still have your number on my speed dial on my phone. I sometimes still call it just to see what will happen. Nothing does of course, but that doesn't stop me. It's little pieces of your life that we hang on to. If you were here, we would probably talk about what's happening with my boys, school, the ups and downs of puberty, John's upcoming graduation, and how Barry Manilow is coming in concert to Warren. I will forever think about you whenever I hear Barry, Neil Diamond, or Air Supply. You would ask how I'm feeling and how I'm sleeping, and you would pray for me. Your faith was always stronger than mine. The kids are off school today. We most likely would have driven into Warren to see you and bring you lunch like we often did.  I would tell you all about Graduate School, and you would tell me how proud you are of me. I'm sure Owen would have brought his recorder to play for you, and you would have loved every minute of it. Logan would show you his new phone, and you two could learn to text each other. How cute would that be? I would tell you that I would see you on Easter at Michael's... only this year, I won't.

Well, that's it for now. I hope you read this and I hope in some way you know how much I love you. Do you get letters in heaven?

                                                                                         Until we meet again, Jen

Thursday, March 10, 2016

My Body is B.A.D.A.S.S.

"Step away from the mirror.Your body is a miracle and you're missing it"
I recently started a pretty intense exercise program. I thought it would be a good way to zap myself back into shape after enduring the last several months. After getting through the first week of workouts, I was sore. Really sore. I walked with a limp after the first day because we had worked our legs so much. At first, I thought it was a cruel reminder to how out of shape I was, but at the end of my first week, the pain had subsided and I that's when it hit me. I'm doing it. Four months ago I was having my head drilled into for my second brain surgery, and now I am doing burpees and squats. I'm so proud of my body. I.Am.Healed. My body rocks. Our bodies rock.
The human body's mystery, complexity, ability, and untapped potential should inspire awe. The body is and always has been a miracle. We naturally know when we need to eat and when we're full, when we need to rest and when we need to wake. Our eyes naturally dilate when it's dark, our hearts just beat on their own, and we can give birth. Seriously, we can grow humans inside of us! I mean, have you ever thought about how amazing it is that when we cut ourselves, a scab naturally forms? Our bodies know just what to do. How amazing we truly are. Our bodies are incredible but we often miss out on all the magic that takes place on our insides every day because we place so much value on our exteriors.
It's easy to see why.  Look around. We're surrounded by photoshopped images daily, on T.V., magazines, or on good old Facebook (with all the photoshopping people do to their own photos.) God forbid someone see a wrinkle or a blemish. Often we mentally berate ourselves for how we look or don't look. For some of us, being dissatisfied with our bodies is something we've just learned to live with. If it's one thing I've learned since my surgeries it's life is short~ too short to care what other people think about the way you look. If someone passes silent judgement on the way you look, it says more about them than it does about you. Gone are the days of exercising to simply fit into my bikini. I've learned to listen to, love, and appreciate my body. What others think about my body doesn't matter. Now I exercise because... I can! My body can exercise and that in itself is a miracle. My miracle.
This body that has had over eight surgeries and dozens of scars is my body~ my temple. My body is a walking miracle. My body is a badass. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Go With the Flow

In a few short months I will have a teenager in the house. I can hardly believe it. He is my firstborn. There is no one in the word that holds his unique place in my heart. I've been told the tweenage years can be harder than the actual teenage ones, and I'm holding onto that thought. My oldest, who now has aversions to haircuts and leaves his dirty socks all over our house, is now obsessed with video games and you tube. I've always worried about my kids. You worry about how much nutrition they get as babies, you worry about their personal safety as toddlers, and you worry when they start school that they will make friends easily~ good, kind friends. These past few weeks have introduced me to all sorts of new worries. Things like girls, drugs, sex, peer pressure, and social media (including sexting). Peer pressure has kicked in BIG time, along with cliques and other new difficult realities. Sometimes this peer pressure can be felt without a single word being spoken, like when a group excludes others or rolls their eyes at their opinion.
Middle School or Junior High (whatever you call it) is a hot mess. You've got boys that are almost six feet tall with squeaky voices and then you have boys that are barely 5 feet tall. It's a time of raging hormones, changing bodies, and awkward social interactions, and there are all sorts of hormones mixed with pre-teen confusion-laced excitement. My son is now at an age when he is becoming interested in girls. Gasp! Gone are the days where boys and girls disassociate flagrantly. Now we are seeing girls "sext" pictures of themselves in their bras. We have boys looking up naked pictures of women on the internet. They think it's cool. They are testing the waters. They are also testing my sanity. I feel as though my son needs me more now at this stage in his life than he did as a toddler. Could that be that true?
Like most kids this age, my junior higher demands a lot of independence but is not quite emotionally ready for it (though he thinks he is). He hovers between boyhood (playing with Legos) and manhood (wanting a phone so he can text a girl). He's made some strides towards independence but that only happens in very short spurts. He eats non-stop. Seriously, where he puts it I have no idea because he's so skinny. And he often is impulsive, and acts without thinking~ will that ever change? I know all kids go through this phase, and they even have parents who have lived through it, which is remarkable! How my mom raised four kids through puberty is beyond me. I remember giving her a really hard time, and never really "clicking" with her. Ever. I don't want that for my kids. I want to bend and stretch with them on their journey into manhood. I strive to keep the lines of communications open, which is harder on some days than others. I find myself biting my tongue A LOT.  I often struggle with questions like, "When is he old enough for a phone?', "When is he old enough to walk around the mall with his friends by himself?", "At what age do we allow him to have a girlfriend?", "When do I stop hovering around him to make sure all of his homework is done?", "When do I let him start to grow up?"
I read somewhere that the key to getting through sixth, seventh, and eighth grades is to "be like water." Let things flow, and be flexible. And so I try. I try to go with the flow.
If you have a tween, or had one, what's your advice? Do you struggle with the same issues?

Friday, January 22, 2016

The B Team


You often hear how hard it is to be a girl in our society, but you rarely hear people talk about how hard it is to be a boy today. While I may not be a boy, I can tell you as the mother of TWO boys, it's no walk in the park. I have found that it's easier for those boys that are naturally physically gifted with speed, size, or agility in sports. You know the ones:  they have amazing hand eye coordination, awesome aim, and are blessed with strength. These boys are popular and most boys want to be just like them.

There's a lot of pressure to perform at sports. We've all read articles on youth sports and the coaches and parents that are ruining it with the amount of pressure they put the kids under to "win win win." I'm sure I'm guilty of doing it at some point as well. I also understand that being good at some sports can help your self confidence, but what happens to the kids who have a love and passion for sports, but aren't as good? What happens when your kid is just mediocre at sports? What happens when your tween really starts to understand that he's not as good as some of his best friends are at sports and because of that they start to grow apart? How do I explain to my son that ten years from now, whether he plays for the A team or the B team won't matter, when right now, this is all that matters to him? How do I stop him from putting so much pressure on himself?

You see, I have two boys: one with the passion for sports and a mediocre skill level, and one with the natural skills but very little passion. Yikes. That doesn't help matters. It's hard for the brother with the passion, to watch the brother that has the natural skill. My son was born with a love of playing sports. Baseball, kickball, dodgeball, basketball, football, golf. He loves them all. He's anxious though, and the pressure to perform at any sport stresses him out. So much so, that he has performance anxiety before every game regardless of what sport it is. Take basketball for example. He loves the game and loves to play, but he gets so nervous to be on the court, to have all eyes on him, and to perform, that he mentally freezes up and most often misses the shot. His mind gets the best of him every.single.time. It's frustrating as a parent to watch. No matter how much we yell and cheer from the sidelines, no matter what the coach tries telling him, he can't hear us because the thoughts of, "I have to make a shot or the coach won't play me", or "If I don't play good today, my friends will be mad at me", drown everything else out.

At games when my son misses the shot, or strikes out under the pressure, I take a breath knowing that while he may not be the best best athlete, he's certainly not the worst either. He's a good person who is smart, kind, and genuine and will someday make a great husband and father. I have no doubt that my son will turn out to be an amazing man, but for now, it's just hard for him to be a boy.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Being motherless is weird

This is the first Christmas I will be spending without my mom. I haven't really let myself think about it. At all. Whenever the thought of it crosses my mind, I immediately make myself think of something else. That's my way of outsmarting my grief. If I don't let my self think about it, the pain will somehow disappear. Thanksgiving came and went. That was her favorite holiday. I didn't let myself think about her then either. I didn't want that lump in my throat busting loose. It's so weird that life just goes on after someone dies. I know I know, it's supposed to, but it's....weird. They're here one minute, gone the next. And you're supposed to just keep on going. The circle of life, right? The past few months since I watched my mom struggle and take her last breath, I've learned that grief doesn't flow neatly from one stage to another; it has multiple layers , fluctuating cycles, and lots of ups and downs. My mom will cross my mind at the most unexpected times (like last week at a restaurant), and suddenly I feel that all to familiar lump in my throat start to swell and I can feel a "grief attack' coming on. The thing is, I can't allow myself to cry~ not in a public place anyway, so I swallow that lump in my throat thinking I'll save it for another day, another place, another time; only I don't. It's weird.

Part of the hypnotherapy I'm doing, is allowing myself to feel my feelings. That means, meditating and reliving the moment my mom took her last breath, and feeling my way through it, instead of stumbling my way through it in shock, which is what is did. So I'm trying to do that. Okay, that's a lie. I mean I will try to do that.....someday. After her death I tried to stay busy all the time, avoiding the painful and exhausting work that grief is, hoping that time would eventually heal me. That worked for awhile, until I started planning for Christmas. When we were little, my mom busted her ass (and her bank account and credit) making sure we had wonderful Christmas memories. And just like that, the lump in my throat is back. We may not have been the two closest people, but "Home is where the Heart Is", and even though my kids are my heart and home now, my mom was "my home" most of my life.  I would call her every Christmas morning just to make sure I was making her stuffing recipe just right. After all, when I was ten, she's the one who taught me how to stuff and cook a turkey. She would also make the gravy every year too~ and she would always season it just right. I'm not making stuffing or gravy this year. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite capable of making those things, but it was her thing~ it's what she always did. It's weird.

Life is weird. It's weird that my mom is dead. It's weird that my father and my in laws will be here for Christmas, and not my mom. It's weird being motherless. That lump is back. I'll get to it another day, another time, another place. I have Christmas cookies to bake, presents to wrap, errands to run...lumps to swallow.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bye bye baggage!

When most people think of hypnosis, they usually imagine someone swinging a pocket watch in front of a person while saying something along the lines of, "You are getting sleepy... your eyes are feeling heavy" or something like that.  I remember watching the Carol Burnett show as a child and there was an episode where Carol was hypnotized and every time a bell rang, she would begin to cluck like a chicken. To my nine year old self, it was hysterical. That's what I grew up thinking hypnosis was~ all a stage performance.  I couldn't have been more wrong. Over the past few months I have been delving into every holistic type of healing there is. You name it, I've probably tried it. Holistic healing is right up my alley. It combines the spiritual (that I'm totally in to) with the physical healing (that our bodies were created to do). Holistic medicine treats the whole person~ physical, spiritual, and emotional. Many times, the emotional baggage we carry around (whether we're aware of it or not) is what makes us sick, sad, tired, causes pain, anxiety, depression, weight gain, addictions, and more. I've done acupuncture, cupping, reiki, meditation, yoga, massage, emotional release therapy, breath work, Chinese herbs, essential oils, and my absolute favorite, hypnotherapy. I've enjoyed most of them but none compared to how much I love hypnotherapy. (yoga and meditation are a close second) If you haven't tried it, I highly suggest you do.

As a gift, one of my girlfriends bought me "pampering gift" of a session with a woman who does hypnotherapy. She's a gem of a friend. I was excited. I'm always open to trying new things. We joked that I may come out clucking like a chicken. I had no idea what to expect so I went into the session with a completely open and very excited mind. What hypnosis is, is a very deep state of meditation. No wonder I liked it so much! Meditation is one of my favorite things to do. You're actually very aware of your surroundings, however, with the right therapist, you are literally taken back in time. The therapist takes you back to your childhood and you relive and re-experience different events of your life: young childhood, your teenage years, your twenties and so on. You relive all of the emotions from significant events or situations you experienced so that you can work through, and let go of, the feelings and emotions that you felt in a healthy way. It's dumping of baggage you've been dragging around with you since childhood. You know, the emotional scars all of us have to some degree.  It's very intense. On my first visit, I was taken back to when I was seven years old and back in our old apartment. I could literally feel the green shag carpet under my feet and smell the scent of my mom cooking. As emotional each session is, you leave feeling lighter, better, and ...different.

Hypnosis has been the subject of fascination and intrigue and ridicule for centuries. I've talked to people who used it successfully to stop smoking, lose weight and help with depression. I started it completely out of curiosity and to see if it would help me sleep better, and was totally taken with it. So much so, that I've signed up for classes to become a clinical hypnotherapist. Who would have thought? I can't wait for my next session. If emotional scars and baggage are what causes many diseases, sicknesses, sadness, physical pain, anxiety, or in my case, insomnia, then I'm more than willing to say, "Bye bye baggage! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!"