This summer – which is not even close to over, in spite of the fall clothing sprouting on retail racks – has hustled along. I look back nostalgically to slower times, when the kids were little: summer consisted of eating (a lot of corn and tomatoes and grilled things), a few errands, a few chores, and long afternoons at the pool (and once the kids could swim, delicious hours with my head buried in a novel). Or…at least I knew my boundaries then, my priorities – I literally could not over-stuff the days, with my two hangers-on. My own rest and refreshment were guaranteed, at least here and there, because I needed to make sure our kids had plenty of it.
Now: well, there’s work, obviously, and all the stuff minimally required for personal and housing upkeep – that hasn’t changed. Then there’s the newer wrinkles like walking the cat (yes, it’s a thing, and he likes it) and my MIL’s life/care to oversee (she’s doing well-enough in her new digs, thank God). I volunteer a fair amount and will probably continue my one-day-a-week at the preschool. I’m genetically predisposed to DO.
And then there’s trying really really hard to be good, hands-off-but-we’re-right-here-waiting-to-impart-Wisdom-really!-right-over-here-not-too-busy-at-all!-yep-right-over-here! parents to our young adult co-occupant.
Honestly, I feel like one of those people at the circus who keeps innumerable plates spinning on top of bendy poles (most of the women reading this are probably nodding: Yep, that’s what we do). There are a number of plates, most of them of similar size. There isn’t one BIG plate that I get to favor or attend to; I cannot get rid of any of the plates either (or I cannot give myself permission to do so…?).
Behind it all, woven through it all, even invading my dreams – sort of like never-ending background music, except not as lovely – has been My Brain Thinking About Too Many Things, but mostly “can it…shouldn’t my life be different? Oh please: can it please be different?” But I have either NO idea, or too many ideas, as to WHAT, much less HOW.
I am, overall, in a better place than even a few months ago: less depressed, with relatively more energy and brain-power. My neurons are firing again. I’ve been reading and reading, and praying, and there are many days now where I feel like I have thousands of electric sparks banging off my insides and sometimes shining out of my eyes, spilling out of my mouth. Those are good days – I feel so full of potential and life. I thank God for this sense of renewal. I am grateful for every little sign that makes me think about Mark, close by and smiling. But I’ve also learned – the hard way – that my walk forward must be slow. Several factors have played into this awareness.
- I tend to take my life for granted until I think I’m about to lose some aspect I treasure. I have a pretty amazing set-up: a part-time job that – for the most part – challenges my mind, has no dress code and 100% flexibility. I’ve not only been able to preserve my very-necessary morning quiet time and exercise time (a fellow grieving mom – one who is now running marathons – and I were messaging the other day about how we have learned that self-care + exercise is how we make our own anti-depressants), I’ve also been able to explore so many other “callings” – from room mom to PTA president, newsletter writer, worship leader, reunion manager, VBS coordinator – because I have wiggle room. This flexibility in my right-now life lets me see/attend to my MIL when needed; it’s left me open to Sarah’s schedule and needs while she’s living at home (“Here I am! Waiting to be part of your life! I know you’re in charge, and boy, you’ve GOT THIS, and wow, I just want to support that. Can I…do something??”) But: not every day has urgency or things to attend to. I have plenty of bits and pieces to do, but get a little bored, I start agitating — and then I realize, especially when I lose some valued part of my routine, “WAIT! I’m so lucky! I love my life!” I am left wondering: is that a comfortable rut (one I need to blast out of) or a blessing?
- Back to what I said above. The WHAT is still a question (what am I feeling called to do? Write a book? Right some wrongs? I’ve been all over the place with ideas, from forming an elder-care company, to working for a moving service that specializes in senior moves, to working full-time at an elementary school, to trying to create something bigger out of Mark’s little scholarship fund) as is the HOW. And what about our accounting business? And the preschool? Am I not giving enough value to what I already do? And what do I give up to take on this next, currently-amorphous thing?
- Those “sparkly” days are sometimes “manic” days. God, I love them, and I must be wary as well, and that makes me a little sad. I like feeling as though I’m about to literally burst with joy, purpose and resolve and I can often be found making some Grand Plans (see #2 above) on those days; I dislike the inevitable crash afterward even more…when the bubble pops and I’m back to a yellow-taped, realistic state of “Proceed with Caution.” Oh Mark. Your death is like the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. When will the sun come out again for longer than a few moments? Grief truly is like a serious illness or injury; it can take a long time to move through it. Our amputation is not visible; similarly, our “crutches” are spiritual and/or relational, but just as essential, just as necessary. And it can take years to learn how to live and function well without that indispensable piece of you.
This makes me think about a family trip to Prince Edward Island, when Mark was 6 and very small for his age. We went to an “amusement park” called Rainbow Valley – I put those quotation marks there because when we actually got to it, we all laughed. No roller coasters; the park is mostly a few water slides, plastic cows and immobilized tractors to sit on, a gift shop that looks like a 1960’s spaceship, and…yeah. Anyhow, the most cool/attractive water slides featured those signs that disappoint small children world-wide: “You must be THIS TALL to ride this ride.” Mark was too short for all those that were obviously not for toddlers, and he was furious. As we drove away from the park later, he read aloud the big sign advertising the park: “Rainbow Valley – Fun For All Ages!” and he fumed “That’s not TRUE, Mommy!! It’s NOT TRUE!”
Similarly, I am feeling held back. Ride restrictions, I am finding, are there for my safety, and must be obeyed. Some days this makes me fume, too, because I am desperate for Something; other days, I feel the security of knowing where the boundaries lie and that I am not required to take on ANYTHING new.
In late June and into July, I was feeling pretty pumped about pursuing 1-2 new things: becoming a spin instructor, and becoming a facilitator for a new Bereaved Parents group forming in our area. When I say “pumped” it was over-the-top, joyful SUPER-YES-WOW. Yes: a bit manic. I interviewed at my local gym and got the layout of the land (“do this and this and this” to get certified); I got a scholarship to help pay for the cost of going to Memphis for the Bereaved Parents conference where the training would take place. Everything seemed to be aligning. Angelic choirs were singing, just a little.
And then, one day soon after, Jeff – the spin instructor – met me as I was dashing down the stairs to class and he was coming up. What? I was late, so why was he not teaching…?! He knows about my aspirations, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when he said, “You’re in charge! I’ve gotta do some stuff.” Eep. I ran into the studio and tried to get it all together quickly. But I had no knowledge of where they were in the process, what the next song was, how to work the timer he uses for intervals. I got rattled. I’m quite friendly with several of the regular spinners and one woman, Vicki, called out helpful suggestions…but I ended up feeling like I was not exactly the natural fit/instructor I thought I was.
Thinking it through over the past several weeks, I am now ready to admit that maybe being a student is a better fit for me…at least right now. I do like the camaraderie of being among friends (we might also heckle the teacher just a bit, but it’s always in good fun). AND I also am remembering that I felt really out of my element when I first started working at the preschool. I still have the opportunity to get the certificate…in 9 days, or later in the fall…but the wind is pretty completely out of that sail at the moment. I’m a little disappointed and discouraged, but also unsure: was there, is this… a barrier I am meant to overcome, or did I truly learn something important about myself to heed, which will help me eventually find the right direction for my energies? UGH, God.
The facilitator thing is going forward. This is in spite of the fact that training wasn’t really what I hoped. We shared some good stories about us/our kids/our own processes which are almost always helpful, but most of the rest of the meeting of chapter leaders was about administrative details related to 501(c)3 organizations, and long-time leaders’ frustrations with their lack of attendees or people to help DO what is felt to be necessary to run a chapter (this is so common to all-volunteer organizations, of which I have been in MANY. When you get to that level of frustration, it’s time to step down or let it go). I was left grateful that I am NOT a chapter president, not ultimately responsible for the nuts and bolts. This way, I can focus on simply staying present for those 2 hours, once a month, starting in October. Because what occurred to me, in Memphis and as I rode home on the plane, is that I am fortunate to have good support – friends, family, church, little communities (even my spin class!) – but not everyone does. Numerous people at the conference spoke of their isolation, of other peoples’ lack of understanding and acceptance of the grief process. Now, I just have to wait and see if anyone shows up. The meetings start in October.
And…I’ll just keep thinking.