LIFE’s TERMS and WTF?

Life is good, most of the time, damn good in fact. Sometimes however, things happen that call that goodness into question; things that make me almost forget that the sun is sure to shine bright again; that it will come back in time with all of its glory, not just for me, but those I love and care for.

Over the past six months, our family has experienced steady doses of irony. Joy and sorrow arrived so disproportionately that polarity was actually tangible. At times, exhilaration and excruciation jumbled together so rapidly there was no time to truly feel or process any of it.

As this year began, we were beyond excited; we would welcome not one, but two daughter-in-laws; A nephew’s marriage out west would be coupled with a siblings trek through Olympia Forest; there were travel plans up north and to California; I would begin graduate school and best of all, our extended family would be together more than once.

It is now October (dear blog I have missed you) and yes, all of these things took place. The weddings in particular were each spectacular in their own right. They were beautiful, blessed and sacred events. Thankfully, in my heart my memories of both are intact and will always be. They are stored away as perfect days and for that, I am truly grateful.

Yet, through all of these events, the amount and level of emotional tugs went so far past my ability to comprehend that in retrospect I can only stand awestruck at the grace of the grooms and their brides throughout. At times, the challenges and grief that life presented to our children and our extended family was so excruciating, there was nothing to do but choose joy and light in the midst.

A bridesmaid died tragically and a fluke accident left an uncle on life support until his passing on wedding’s eve. Another bridesmaid caused a different kind of grief and concern; a guest’s TSA challenge put a damper on things; an elderly relative was rushed to the ER…and on and on it went. I remember trying to carry all of it like a load on my back, not for me but for the kids; I wanted their sacramental days to be perfect and tried to stand ready to take on whatever necessary to shield them. I have come to realize that perfect is relative, not absolute and that the people I love are incredibly resilient.

For months, the challenges kept wanting to pile up, but with faith as a guide all of us, everyone in this amazing extended family absolutely refused to let them overstep bounds to the brides or grooms happiness. Yes, we honored every sad and difficult moment as they came, but we then chose to shelve what could be, while keeping at hand the rest so as to push forward to celebrate and honor two very special couples and all the family members who showed up for them.

Family wedding planning is stressful under the best of circumstances; two in one year makes for double the stress. There are scads of decisions and logistics needing ironing out, budgets to determine, family dynamics stuff and perhaps a tad too much control from one direction whilst not enough from another. On top of these things, the multiple life stressors coming down the pike could have yielded quite different results, because at times there was no way to know exactly what to feel; this even in the midst of feeling excited and happy.

Grief stung like a bee time and again, though each time the only choice was to bravely pull out the stingers and dismiss the pain in order to process what kept inevitably coming around the bend. What keeps coming to mind is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”

As everything unfolded, and as real and justified tears interspersed with elation, the weddings were spectacular. Of course, a multitude of family photos hit Facebook walls and Snapchat and in unison and connection, relatives sighed with gratitude that the Joy we chose through both instances won out over any grief and the special days were just that – very, very special.

And then, after some weeks, just when we were sure we could now breathe easily, when we just knew that any family stress had to be behind us and we all, along with the newlyweds were headed back on track to happily ever after, another life thing happened.

In the midst of planning travel for the third family wedding this year, my nephew’s out west, something happened making the trip, the plans, and the world stand still. Another nephew, a beloved young man who had recently rocked the dance floor and smiled big in family photos was gone; he died ever so senselessly. So totally were we caught off guard by this loss, that the only choice we had, my family and I, was to brace for this new crash and hope that we could somehow help our little sister put the pieces back together later.

Once again, this year, in the midst of planning for something wonderful, there appeared a very dark shadow. Once again, we would eventually push through to the best of our abilities, because we would, we knew deep in our hearts, actually have no choice. We also know now however, now that the funeral services are over, that we are different on the other side. Life will never be the same, especially for my baby sister and her girls.

The first time I read the words, “Life is difficult,” I thought they were ridiculous; “there was no need to think that way now was there?” Now, I know differently. Sometimes life is hard, very hard and I am not sure whether knowing this is half the battle or not. However, it hit me this year that knowing it is a necessary part of surviving.

An old mentor, Mary Mac, once told me, “in order to be happy you have to accept ’life on life’s terms.’” I had not a clue what “terms” were when she said it, and had no idea what she was talking about, but today I know exactly what she meant. Over many years, terms have presented themselves in the form of challenges and joys as birthdays have come and gone by the wayside. The only thing to do through all of them has been to find a level of acceptance and although it has not always been easy, it has been the only way.

The acceptance part must inevitably find its way; it will, once we decide it must. Sometimes it only comes after true struggle and amidst shattering heartache, but it comes. It comes with a willingness to remember that life is not happening TO me or TO anyone else I love and care about, even though it sometimes feels that way. Instead, life forms as a direct result of what we do with what happens, whatever happens. This is not a simple statement, particularly after a year like this last one for our family. Sometimes life’s events pile so that it seems there is a personal attack from the universe going on; comfort or anything resembling it seems impossible. The key I have learned is even at these times, to seek acceptance and to push through with everything you have to get to it.

This, because it turns out that Life is just that, life, and no matter what, it will go on; it will continue no matter what. It’s not a simple science; even with a substantial amount of spiritual tools amassed, I can still shake to my core when working to accept what feels unacceptable, particularly things dramatically affecting those I love, but I have learned that even then, even amidst the trembles, I have no choice.

This most recent loss, my nephew’s death, was so very painful and utterly senseless and now that some weeks have past and life is trying to get caught up to life, I can only pray that our family, my sister in particular, will find some true peace in our hearts and at least some tiny measure of acceptance as a beginning.

I will never understand the why’s of these last few months and frankly, I don’t have energy left even to try, but within every 24 hour every period, with every walk towards the light there seemed to be something else behind a solution, some challenge behind a joy. Some next circumstance came up so fast that processing any of it felt almost, yet not quite, impossible. Even though the horizon line almost got lost, there it always was again, in the form of a fresh new day.

No, I may never be able to fully process this year. I might not be able beyond that to figure out why, even now, even after all these months of stress mixed with joy mixed with turmoil mixed with awe, why my current “life on life’s terms,” things going on yesterday and today, are carrying yet new challenges to my family in the form of medical issues and injury. However, I will remember to keep these current small things just that, small. The Grace comes in the perspective that compared to what they could be, compared to what they might be, compared to what they have been, these new things are absolutely, positively, no problema.

Although in the midst of our day to days challenges, it is sometimes hard to see, the light is always there behind the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting to shine. I hope it will shine bright on my family. I hope it beams down on my sister and her girls very, very soon and when it does, I hope they will be able to recognize it. I pray that they, we, will remember always, even after forgetting, to reach up and out to the source of All good things, the One shining that light for us to find.

No, I may never understand many of the “terms” of this past year, but even though I will likely not understand, I still must accept. I must accept and then move out and beyond the explanations, remembering that we will not always know why … but always, always, we are meant to remember How. We are meant to keep looking for the light. We simply have to.

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December 26th – The Best Gifts Can’t be Wrapped

I woke up today with mixed emotions, feeling both blissful and crestfallen. I am immeasurably happy because of Christmas successes, yet slightly melancholy because the days unfolding in no way resembled what I had planned for it. This morning I am truly ecstatic over the gifts Santa left behind for me and the ones I watched others open with delight, but I am sorrowful over what I was unable to accomplish that I wanted to. Ah, the unwrapping of Christmas..

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Thinking back to 30 days ago, to the first yuletide thought I had, the one occurring directly after the turkey was put away on Thanksgiving, I have to chuckle at how December 25th this year was so unlike what I had planned for it. I remember taking out the bins of nutcrackers and other decorations and scattering them around the house on black Friday thinking, “Tis the season and this year it will be perfect.” After that, all I recall is putting one foot in front of the other until today.

The list I made for gift buying could never possibly accommodate all I would have liked it to because neither budget nor logistics allowed this year, but it held a few names of people to whom homage had to be paid because of the light and love they share with us all throughout the year.

Soon after the quest began for the right and perfect trinkets which would say, “You matter” on this most sacred holiday, I had to hide the packages from our crazy paper chewing cat so that he wouldn’t destroy the corners of all the boxes and gift bags. I have come to believe he does this to somehow be part of the holiday bustle that goes on in our household. Each time I added another package to the pile, I touched the others in hopeful excitement that it would be perceived with the same spirit it was wrapped in.

Today, the wrapping paper which was crinkled in delight yesterday, now fills our recycle bins to overflowing. Our bellies are substantially rounder, at least in this house, and the day is over. But my heart has a tad of unfinished processing still needing to happen, which is why I must write about it.

Christmas this year involved an effort of accommodation which made it awkward to know where we could be and how we would possibly do it all. In my efforts to appreciate all of my family, I made a choice to honor my husband’s hectic work schedule and so, postponed travel plans up north. My son and I agreed that a slightly later celebration together would be just as cool. I also decided to say, “W\e will be here whenever you come, don’t worry,” to my stepson who always makes the effort to see us. This statement of “whatever and whenever” quietly spoken to my husband in the midst of reshuffling our day was made with so much love that I now realize it became the best gift I could ever give anyone. I gave myself and my family the gift of being allowed to set aside expectations in our showing up for one another and to trust in our love this Christmas.

What is it about holiday expectation that creeps in and tries to wreak havoc? Why have I been compelled in the past to analyze the gestures of others and what they mean to my big picture? At what moment did I realize I needed to remove travel stress from my husband this year? How was I able to stay in the now yesterday and allow this Christmas to unfold the way it did? What grace do I experience in my relationship with my son that made it more than OK to postpone our gift giving slightly? How was I able to set plans aside to take pressure off my young stepson in a way he wouldn’t possibly understand until he has his own children? When did it become possible to trust that my friendships are intact enough to simply have to put my immediate family first yesterday?

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I have no explanation for any of it except to say that somewhere in the midst of all the Christmas planning and hoping, Christmas spirit took over and it became about simply being with the person that is my right and perfect Santa, the man who stands by my side always. It became about realizing what was truly best for our family.

Today, December 26th I am in awe of those who thought of me yesterday with calls, texts and presents. I am astonished at the kind invitations we received from people we love who love us back. Beyond that, I am filled beyond overflowing with gratitude for my family. Remembering all the hopes and dreams that came up for all of us over the twelve months past, the challenges we surmounted, the triumphs and accomplishments and the ways we have done our best to show our love, I am proud and blessed,

No, my Christmas did not go at all as I had planned it weeks ago. A few invitations could not be honored and a few others came out of the blue. Yet, it went perfectly. At about 11 PM I texted my son who was celebrating with his girlfriend’s family up in Connecticut. Within seconds his response came back, “To all a goodnight, I love you mom.” What a perfect way to end the day.

And all was right and good with the world as my head hit the pillow shortly after that text. And yet, when I reached over to hug my husband goodnight, the tears simply would not stop falling as he hugged me..

 

 

 

At the End of Every Ending Lies a New Beginning

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I saw a movie last night in which four grown children return home for their dad’s funeral. To honor his last wishes they stay for a week to bond again as a family.  From the get-go, their sibling dynamic kicks in as you are offered a glimpse into their individual challenges.  In a nutshell, each one is trying to figure out why they are staying in their lives such as they are, or whether they should go.

While watching, I was reminded about my own family and friends. I thought about perspective and how you never have the whole picture of someone else’s life.  It’s so easy to stand in judgment or even revere someone when we go with the information they show us and the world on a daily basis.  But what we don’t know is what they aren’t showing us.  When we encounter a challenge with them, by default it becomes all about us.  Our first instinct is usually to protect our feelings.

Truth is, the challenges occur to show us what to do next. They happen so that we can learn to be vulnerable.  How often have you really stepped back and allowed a situation to unfold all the way?  When was the last time you gave someone else permission to be human?  We never know what makes someone else tick, because we are usually so busy processing how we are feeling in the midst of our encounter with them.  And since figuring that out keeps us so busy, we may miss the whole point.

It is in the midst of our interactions with other people that we learn about ourselves. It is here that we gather information for our future.  And it is here, where we hold on or let go.

At the end of the movie, one of the brothers is seen driving his brothers borrowed Porsche along I-95 to Maine, a trip he has always wanted to take, but has never been able to find time to.  Top down, hair flying, wind at his face, he is making a move to live outside the box that hasn’t served him.  He is taking a risk by letting go.  And in doing so, he is holding on.  And the ending is perfect.  It is a beginning at the end of an ending.  And that, I know today, is what life is all about.