Wednesday, October 5, 2022

A Facetime Wedding

My daughter got married in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Registration for the couple, but now legally wed. Her husband kept saying it was really just a lot of paperwork - the bureaucracy getting its stamp on everything but still...

She found a dress to wear, he wore a jacket and buttoned-down shirt. There were three witnesses and his folks were there. After stamps and photocopies and making sure all the information was correct, they were brought to a little room with a lattice and flower backdrop while a woman read to them the solemnization of marriage - in Bahasa Malayu, the official languages of the country. They had to stand, raise their right hands and swear. They were given a lovely red folder with their registration of marriage certificate. Kisses were exchanges, pictures taken and a celebratory air filled the room.

I watched all of this on Facetime and Zoom. We had four days notice of this event. The paperwork went through relatively fast and my American daughter and her Malaysian husband took the first available appointment to get their marriage registration. 

I cried when she told me. 

I've always said to my kids that however you get married (if that is your choice) - courthouse, church, beach - I want to be there. And... I found out that it doesn't really matter what I want when it comes to how my children have to make choices in their lives. Of course they love and respect me - but they have many different currents to navigate for their own happiness. Ultimately, my faraway child knows that I want her to be happy - and this ceremony in the ministry office was what she needed for peace of mind and happiness.  Even so, I felt - bereft - to be watching such an important moment in my daughter's life from the camera on a cellphone.

And... Thank god for technology. 

I wrote before about change and adapting to new circumstances - well, here I am again. I am so grateful that I could watch and chat with her during her registration process while stricken with the reality of not being able to be present to one of her most important life moments. My husband sat at my side, holding my hand and taking the phone when I had to get more tissue. Our other two children were sharing in the call as well, a running commentary that had their anxious sister in Malaysia laughing and crying too. I've struggled with letting go of the expectations that I would always be able to make my way to her in time for these kinds of events. That I would be there when she needed me. Is it my own family history? My history with my daughter? Or just a plain old sadness. Because isn't that also just part of life?

So I sit back and think about these circumstances and I wonder how different this really is than what so many other people feel as their adult children move out into the world as adults? Growing older seems to necessitate finding the capacity within ourselves to accept our changing roles within the lives of those we love.

I am heading faster than I like towards 60. My husband and I talk about retirement while also taking care of elder parents. And no matter how much I enjoy my post child-rearing years, motherhood is still a huge part of my life. Parenting is over, but my identity as a mother hasn't really shifted in my own head. Until now. 

How do I stop feeling left behind?

Sadness and disappointment are perfectly acceptable emotions. Recognizing the wondrous ability of my children to make their ways into this crazy world - as distinct, fascinating beings in their own right - means that life is going to provide me ample opportunities to readjust my own expectations about what it means to be a mother. 

Juxtaposed with that sadness was a dazzling, beautiful moment of love and commitment for my daughter and her new husband. Letting go of what we think we want can open us up to being present to what really, at the end of the day, matters. Our faraway child found a person that helped her remember just how precious she truly is.

It always seems easier to focus on the loss or scarcity; the fears found within all the "what ifs".  It wouldn't be that hard to carry this maternal sadness as a very present burden. Anxiety and I are old friends. And - the harder path, the re-framing of my mother self with gratitude, love, and a sense of new adventures feels so much better. It makes me feel - younger. And free to also ask what new adventures I want to discover for myself.

The deeper truth is this: I am the only one who can leave myself "behind".

Having my daughter living in south Asia is the definition of a new adventure. One of many.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Again and Again

Over and over in my life, I find those moments when unconscious expectations rise up to taunt me as especially painful.

Those moments when I am confronted with a new circumstance that rouses unspoken expectations. That moment of hitting a wall within that leaves me sprawled out on the floor - metaphorically speaking - trying to figure out where the pain is coming from. 

Oh, is that you, Change? Is that you, Unknown future? I thought we'd had a little chat about jumping out from behind the bushes along this path that I was simply walking down and enjoying. I mean, you did just pull off quite the show with the whole pandemic thing - talk about changing things up fast and furious. 

What am I talking about this time, you ask?

One of my children has flown the coop - and landed in South Asia for the long haul. Love, engagement, happy new life far, far away from our little corner of the Pacific Northwest. And me, being the tangible, kinesthetic learner that I am - needed to be there with her for a month to grok the fact that she isn't coming back. I understood all of this intellectually, but being there, spending time with her and her partner in their world, brought this home to me in a way I hadn't expected.  She's going to live in a part of the world that is a day ahead of me. She plans to have children whom will obviously grow up very far from me. And that's right where the unexpected, implicit expectation rose up - the image I've had in my head about who I will be as a mother and (if we are all so blessed) grandmother - my role in my daughter's life let alone grandchildren's lives. 

Look, I get it - its silly to think we ever really know how we will show up in any future reality; and yet, I think people do this all the time. We plot and plan, daydream, envision future selves as ways to often sleep at night. 

And here's the thing that is most important - just because this expectation rose up for me to grapple with didn't mean that I couldn't embrace that picture/that desire and also gently lay it to rest. Change HAS to be grieved. In order to let go, we need to shed whatever energy has built up that vision in the first place. For me, tears were part of that - but I shared those tears with my husband, not my daughter. My daughter and I cry over other things but not my sadness over her choices to follow her heart and build a life with this amazing man I will soon call son.  

It doesn't feel that long ago when I was making choices as I built my life as an adult. There were a lot of decisions made where I didn't take my parents wants and desires into account. Theirs was an often vague discontent in my mind. Even when we moved up north and took their precious grandbabies with us, I was sad and got an earful - but I was also looking forward into the excitement of a new job, a salary that we could buy a house with and a new place that wasn't the strip malls of southern California.

And that comes full circle. Now, I am the 50+ year old whose children are all grown and out of the house. They are all looking forward into their own lives, building new relationships, planning new adventures. I want them to be happy in their lives, actively pursuing their dreams - and I feel more of a spectator now rather than an active participant. As it probably should be. 

Musing on this grief and sense of change, I also hold my father as an example of how supportive a parent can be as an elder - the main cheerleader, the helper, the listener, the guide when needed. He prioritized building relationships with his grandchildren often by simply being present. He prioritized our ability to help each other with all the mundane things in life that often need a helping hand. He was approachable, available, and collaborative. And he seemed to enjoy creating his own adventures, continually crafting how he wanted to interact with the world - painting, camping, building furniture and volunteering almost everyday at the local elementary school. 

Its not that I need to let go of my children - I need to let go of those pesky expectation and outcomes that somehow cling to my brain. Adaptation takes time, reflection and sometimes, yes, grief.

Balance. Letting go, loving always, building new paths with others and for oneself.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Stormy seas

I've been lost in my own sifting and metabolizing thoughts.

The past eighteen months have been ... 
Tell me, how do we even talk about these past eighteen months? Humans are meaning-making beings that love gathering up a host of disparate experiences and saying "this is what this has been." Trauma, I believe, begins when that meaning making process hasn't found its way up into the surface of our thoughts. We try on different ways to articulate an experience (or many experiences) and it keeps coming up short. 

In the past, this country (and any other country) would build a national narrative of What Happened and How We Move On. What has become clear is that the cultural or social construct of a narrative is always driven by a particular point of view. In today's America, the national narrative is now polarized into two wildly different camps - with millions in the middle who don't dare open their mouths to share their own perspectives. Evangelism is not limited to religion anymore. Everyone is finding a soap box on which to stand and shout down anyone who has different values and beliefs. This is how social constructs are structured - you have to curate your data, marginalize alternative data, dismiss what doesn't fit your model and continue to righteously proclaim your truth. 

In the past 200 odd years, I'd say that we had one primary source of how data was interpreted. Most news was filtered through our government messaging. Outlier stories that poked holes in that national narrative were shut down hard and fast.  I'm reading Daniel James Brown's Facing the Mountain and was sickened by the way Japanese Americans were vilified in the press while not reporting on the mass incarcerations of American citizens in concentration camps throughout the west. 

Today, we have two prevailing sources of data and news - and each side demonizes the other. "Main stream media" is for the lazy left to swallow and Fox News is the fodder for idiots (and prime comedy material for shows like the Daily Show). Somewhere in the middle are the rest of us who read various platforms and often go seeking the details and research that went into what we read. That brings us to the worst rabbit hole: The research and details that can be falsified and provided by anyone out there with a "following."  As someone who has worked with research, I can usually quickly identify sources and studies that are reliable.  And still, I only do that based on factors that might be construed as faulty by someone who has a different point of view.  

Point of View. 

Its not just about having different points of view right now, is it?  The COVID-19 pandemic has created rifts due to the varied ways in which people have seen this virus as a threat.  Fear and vulnerability create strong feelings. Offensive and Defensive actions have to play out. One person's safety protocol is another person's violation of personal freedom.  It then becomes oddly necessary to fight for what one feels is the more essential value. Individual Rights or Protection of Community.  

In the past, how I decided to act in relationship to those factors was just how I was deciding to live my life. My world view governed my actions and I understood that other people - due to their own social, cultural, familial norms - had their own ways of determining belief and value sets. Being able to hold multiple perspectives as possible is a skill that I have tried to hone - but it has come up against the violent and abusive refusal to even try to find any common ground. The experience that my beliefs threaten another person's sense of freedom is strange - especially when those most outraged are affluent white people. 

I don't care if you don't want to get a vaccine - but don't tell me I'm an idiot because I choose to believe that a vaccine might help me stay healthy. If I choose to wear a mask or politely refuse to go eat in a busy restaurant, don't make it about your choices, respect my right to choose. If you are going to large gatherings, please don't get mad at me when I wait to see you for a a number of days. Think about why I might not want to hug you after you get off a plane.

Why indeed. Could it be that I am a caregiver to a beloved elderly parent? Could it be that my husband has identified risk factors that make this virus particularly scary? I also know people who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons - I never assume that I know why anyone has made their choices. 

Its been hard to make sense of how quickly we fall into rabid attacking of the Other when our safety is threatened. I'd venture to say that quality is so fundamental to the biological creatures that we are. The veneer of civility is extremely thin - perhaps already irreparably destroyed. How do we go forward as human beings? As Americans? We need a great deal of courage and compassion.

Stormy seas, indeed. Summer of 2021

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Over a Year

Over a year has passed since I last wrote to this blog.
I've wondered why the desire to share my reflections has been so hard to kindle.
And then I realize that I do actually know why: Grief obliterated my capacity to share. When there are no words to describe the indescribable pain of loss - why try and fit those feelings into such imperfect forms like words?
Words and sentences form a story. A narrative of life. I've been completely unwilling to write my father out of the present tense. Not in words nor form nor substance. Not in such a public way that utilizes a few paragraphs to grope towards some sort of incomplete version of what has happened.
There has been a shift in my thinking that no longer needs to put my world into words. Reflective analysis is just dedicated and focused spin on a story of my past.
I may still choose to write about relationships and change - but I can't write about the pain that has permeated my life over the last year. I could perhaps write about the joy. Love. Care. The strong arms that hold me when I need to cry. The warmth of good friendships and amazing children. Travels, adventures, and gardens and cloth.
I don't need to anymore, but I still may choose to.
To those of you who have kept journal over the course of your life, you may understand what I'm talking about. I've spent a lifetime - forty plus years - keeping journals and diaries. Writing became my primary method of processing my emotions. I vented, screamed, raged, and dreamed my life into those journals. I've used journaling and blogging as a way to reflect and ponder, to give a less reactive self the chance to muse about the world that I live in.
Until I couldn't.
There simply were no words that could move with me on the journey of grief. I didn't want to capture moments of suffering that would become snags later. Grief needed to be fluid and unspoken. Heard but not with words wrapped around it. Implicit not explicit. The antithesis of journaling.
And yet, here I am, a little over a year later ... writing.
Because I wanted to reflect on why I haven't been writing. And so I circle back even as I move forward.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Grief and Gratitude

One of the traditions of my family is when we gather around the table at Thanksgiving, every person says what they have been grateful for - usually over the past year.

This year, that tradition is a hard exercise for me to wrap my brain around. Of course I can give homage to all the wonderful blessings that fill my life but its hard to now speak about some of those blessings in the past tense.

Yes, I'm talking about my father. Talking about him in the past tense still feels wrong. The platitudes of grief - "he'll always be with you" - "he's in your heart" - "he's watching over you" - none of these sentiments have meaning to me. Maybe they will - but not yet. I have yet to see him as anything other than the man he was - separate, vivid, uniquely himself. To give him some sort of mystical role or to incorporate him into my own self can't happen when I'm still experiencing him as a real human being.

And because I still feel that way, the loss continues to be profound.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fishing at Tioga

I’m sitting on the rocks near the dam on Tioga Lake. My dad’s fishing pole is propped up in the rod holder, the line disappearing out into the water.

I had a bad moment when I was putting the pole and line together – I couldn’t remember which way the water bubble float needed to go. And was that before or after the swivel with the lead line?

I had frozen, my breath catching.

Dad wasn’t sitting near by to remind me of the proper way to assemble my fishing line. Usually we would sit together outside his trailer and slowly build our poles and lines making ready for the next day of fishing. I counted on his tackle box having the right hooks and leaders.

This time, it’s my tackle box.

Staring at the pole and pieces in my hands, I had stepped through the memories figuring that I would quickly discover whether I had it right or wrong the first time I cast the line out. So far, it seems I remembered what needed to be done.

I didn’t bring down his best pole. I couldn’t bring myself to use it. Black and glossy, I remember him proudly bringing it home from the Fenwick factory visit he made long ago. Stuff happens to fishing poles. Tips break, scratches. The pole has its own leather case and is wrapped in a long flannel bag. Okay, so does the one I did bring with me – another Fenwick pole – but the black one, no, I couldn’t use it yet.

My sister is using my pole that dad gave me one year for Christmas. She purchased her first fishing license just for this trip and even though she hasn’t fished since she was a teenager, she still is able to cast like she’d been fishing her whole life. We both brought in a fish at Lundy and have plans to enjoy a trout dinner tomorrow.

Tioga Lake is breezy at 7 am and its cold. The sky is a brilliant blue and the sun is just starting to hit the mountains of Tioga Pass. Its difficult sitting here without dad. We’re both teary eyed and hollowed out by our memories and grief. He is everywhere – and nowhere. As I sit here pondering the lake, the pole, and the Folgers coffee in my mug, I realize how incredibly happy I am that this place – this  wild and natural pocket of space won’t change. At least not in my lifetime. Sitting here on rocks that I’ve sat so many times before, fishing in the same deep-water hole, drinking the same coffee – I realize that it is here that I feel closest to him.

I have countless memories of watching the sun come over the ridge mountains surrounding this spot. Dad taught my children to fish here. There were days when we caught dinner, others when we left happy and empty handed. It’s over 9000 feet at the edge of Tioga Lake and the hills around us are bare rock and slate. Copper, grey and white. Whitebark and Jeffrey Pines dot the landscape. Alpine meadows are golden brown this time of year and there are a few hints of the fall colors coming.

This is his monument, his memorial.
His resting place permeates these rocks and trees and water.

And that makes this the place that I will come when I need to feel his spirit. I carry his love in my heart – but it’s here and at Lundy Lake and back beyond Saddlebag Lake that I feel so close to him. I’ve whispered to the land, giving over my grief to this beautiful landscape. It’s hard right now to feel anything beyond the searing sense of loss; and yet, this stunning wild place brings its own comfort and peace. When I’m ready, this is where I can walk with him.

The fish aren’t biting at Tioga.
I turn to the water and say, “I’m here, dad.”

Even as I speak, a lone eagle flies along the water towards me, directly over my head, and back beyond the rocks. I’ve never seen an eagle up here in all the years I’ve come. I gasp. Smiling, my heart cracking open, I start to cry.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What do the Holidays mean to me now? Not an easily answered question...

I'm not sure what the holidays actually mean anymore.
To me personally, to my family, to this country that I live in.

Is this sense of dissonance due to the current sociopolitical climate? Is it a shift within my own perspective as a parent who no longer has young children to feed the magic of the season to? Is it the rabid consumerism that has been ingrained into our cultural psyche that feels terrifying when seen against the latest tax bill?

Its a positive mix of answers that can be given to each of these questions; and yet, it is truly my response - or lack of response - that has me mulling this over as I write.

Years ago, I tried to filter out the religious Christmas carols from my usual December playlist. I am not a Christian - even though I was raised in a secular Christian household.  What do I mean by that? My family celebrated the high holy days of Christianity - Easter and Christmas - but we never attended church. Christmas was about Santa Clause and Easter was about egg hunts and chocolate. The rituals of the holidays were studded with family, food, and gifts. It was all a rising crescendo that culminated in what was under the tree Christmas morning.

When I was around twenty one, my parents had the audacity to grow tired of these rituals and it was The Year Without a Christmas Tree. I was horrified. How could they not want to immerse themselves in the glory of ornaments, stockings and outdoor lights?

I understand now.

I digress, let's go back to what I was saying about Christmas Carols. So I cut out the overtly religious carols (with the exception of Silent Night because I - gonna be honest - I love singing that carol in the shower. I change the words a bit, but its in my range). This year,  I've had my ear tuned to the myth of the perfect gift - the manic buy, buy buy that is the holiday season. Cyber-Monday. Black Friday flow charts. The news reporting about whether people are spending or not. The rich getting richer, cost of health insurance going up. Its a cacophony of frantic and hyped need - for more stuff. I guess I'm not feeling like "stuff" is going to fix any of the larger problems facing my local community let alone my country.

Listening to my streaming Christmas music I've had some wayward thoughts. Why is the Grinch such a horrible person? He's mean because he doesn't give gifts. I'm not talking about the cartoon where, sure, he steals all the gifts, decor, and food - and then gives them back when his heart opens up to the magic of community. No, listen to the song - he's a Horrible Person because he doesn't want anything to do with Christmas. The song has become an iconic holiday track. Talk about scapegoating. Baby It's Cold Outside - I don't need to say anything about that song, right? Santa Baby, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Its Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, Silver Bells... the list goes on. As I listen, I wonder what marketing firm for which department store wrote these songs. They insidiously tie the season of peace and love to the buying of gifts. Its consumer programming at its best. Brilliant.

My playlist now is all instrumental holiday music.

I didn't think about all of this for so many years because I was busy crafting the most marvelous holiday experiences for my kids. I think I wanted them to believe in the magic - of something. I wanted them to have rituals that had them taking time to be with those that they love.

Actually, it was about fifteen years ago that I realized how hollow some of the holiday traditions were - for me. Most of that hollowness (and exhaustion) had to do with the purchasing of "the perfect gift"off of the lists that we were given by family members. It was woven into decorating Christmas trees, outdoor lighting displays and participating in multiple events that required hosting or participating in heavy food laden activities. Holiday recitals, class parties, concerts and, not to be forgotten, the foray into downtown Seattle to see Santa or the Nutcracker. I never did so many holiday oriented activities when I was a child - why were we doing all of these things with our kids?

I took a survey of my children - and Andy - and asked: What is the most meaningful parts of the holiday season to you? Trimming the tree - together. Opening stockings on Christmas morning - together. Spending time with family. That was eye-opening. We made changes to our family rituals - giving gifts that we made or experiences that we could do together. We stayed in our pajamas on Christmas day and ate leftovers. I kept trying to evolve our family holiday in a way that didn't give me this hollow feeling inside. Holidays continue to evolve - shifting, changing - but the five of us (and now the six of us) try our best to find time to simply be...together.

But what I'm realizing is that perhaps my holiday experiences have never been any more hollow than the lack of meaning which is at the heart of the American Holiday Extravaganza called Christmas. In actuality, my holiday experiences have probably been more relaxed and filled with love and meaning than a lot of people's. But its all still built on a mythic house of cards that is the high holy day that is Christmas - a day set aside to celebrate the birth of a savior that isn't mine. In fact, it seems to be a segment of his followers who spew the most spite and hate in this country at the moment - and this hypocrisy never fails to astonish and sadden me. There are some beautiful, kind, compassionate devout Christians out there - I just wish their voices were being heard. I'm digressing again...

Actually, no, that's relevant. It is all of this that has had me so very conflicted. The holidays have become the perfect storm of consumerism and experiences all geared to make us happy and joyous. And wow, we American's sure put on a good show.  Its a moving feast/play/recital/shopping frenzy - with a few lovely moments spent with people that we care about.

Now, with the kids pretty much out of the house between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am wrestling with an ambivalence that is hard to shake. And maybe that's also perfectly acceptable because I've been hosting this Christmas performance for over thirty years. I'm ready to pass the baton to the next generation - just as my parents passed it on to me. I have a hunch that there is often a holiday renaissance when little children begin to sprout on the family tree. Regardless of that, my dearest hope is that my children will think long and hard about what they choose to celebrate - and how. My hope is that they are savvy enough to understand what is spooned fed to them by our current social meme. My hope is that they've had a chance to step out of the raging river that is the dominant mindset around the holidays - and will seek out those moments of love and giving.

And I hope to be there with them as we come together to celebrate the return of the light to our dark little corner of the world.