“The Soul’s intelligence may not arrive through rational analysis but through a long period of rumination, and its goal may not be brilliant understanding and unassailable truth, but rather profound insight and abiding wisdom.” Thomas Moore
These words resonate with me as I begin to contemplate the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years since my mother’s passing. I wasn’t prepared for the loss and the deeply profound impact her death would have on me.
As a sandwich generation mother/daughter, I was lucky to get through a typical day with dinner on the table, laundry started but rarely finished, and attempting to work from home, so I could also care for my mom and children. Every day was organized chaos to say the least. It was also very easy to ignore my own needs as I sought to take care of everyone else’s.
The weekend before my mom passed, I remember being very angry with her as I perceived certain behaviors she was demonstrating as giving up. I called her out on them and she politely asked me to lower my voice. I went to bed and she stayed in her room most of the weekend before dying of a massive heart attack the following Monday morning. It was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever faced. I was alone and emotionally unprepared in every way.
I recently came to the realization that she wasn’t giving up at all, but rather reflectively wrapping things up and preparing to let go of her life. She had picked at her food all weekend and tossed her oxygen cables aside as I could hear her wheezing in the next bedroom. My frustration, was actually fear disguised. I was beginning to mourn her loss before she even passed, but didn’t realize it at that time.
It’s only now that I can truly appreciate how her death provided me with a deepening understanding of love, loss, and the inevitable transformation time has brought me. Here are a handful of lessons about making peace with myself that I’ve learned:
Lesson 1: There is no one size fits all as it relates to grief. Be grateful for the pain as it is what will cause the greatest change in you and accept help from others in all ways it shows up. Let go when you are ready. Keep the things that matter to you and don’t feel guilty about the hand painted porcelain elephant your mom loved. It’s truly okay to send it along to its next owner.
Lesson 2: Be the best parent, daughter, wife, sister, husband, son or brother, you are capable of being and know that some days you won’t be good at it. Some days you may really suck, and life will still go on. Get comfortable with the concept of “for now” as in, “for now, this is the best I can do today”. Apologizing doesn’t hurt either.
Lesson 3: Love yourself so you can truly love another. This means allowing yourself to love fully and completely, even and especially if you are afraid. It’s in this vulnerability that you are capable of feeling something authentic. Hug your children, friends, parents, pets and anyone else who isn’t overwhelmed by your display of affection.
Lesson 4: Be Grateful. Write or journal often because the feelings that come from deep reflection and loss will be incredibly healing someday in the future. Find one thing everyday that you can be grateful for and write it down. Trust me on this one.
Lesson 5: Appreciate Imperfection. No one cares if your house is clean or dirty or whether you made your bed. By the way, they never did.
Lesson 6: Celebrate the little victories, and I mean even if you just got dressed and showered before noon, but also the big ones as well. My oldest son wanted a low key graduation from college, because it took him five years instead of four (due to his transfer). What he didn’t fully understand during that time, was that I needed to celebrate his accomplishment as much or even more than he did. (See Lesson 2).
Lesson 7: Take care of yourself. Drink lots of water and less wine–it causes weight gain and night sweats for many women of a certain age or switch to vodka and most importantly, get some sleep! Try meditation or yoga–these things are as good for you as eating your veggies.
Lesson 8: Put one foot in front of the other. I started walking my dog at a local park in my town and loved that it has served as a metaphor for my life as well. Even the smallest effort to start something can help you move your life forward.
Lesson 9: Make peace with your past–all of it! If you made bad choices and feel guilty–get over it because your only path to feeling better is forward. Forgive your exes, former math teachers, coaches, bosses and colleagues or anyone else who may have hurt you or you feel wronged by. The last decade would have been so much easier for me if I could have figured this one out sooner.
Lesson 10: Finally, Forgive Yourself. This for me may be the greatest lesson of all. Life is imperfect and so are we. I spent the first three years after my mother’s death feeling incredibly ashamed for being so harsh with her right before she died. I realize now that I was doing the best I could during that time. In my mother’s wisdom, she demonstrated grace and acceptance of her situation as she prepared to leave, even when her daughter was having a meltdown.
Peace for me has come in small bits and bites. I’ve learned that nothing worth knowing or deeply understanding can happen within an impatient mind. Making peace with myself has enabled me to give more to others, be of service, and share the joys and sorrows of life with those I love. I’m grateful for everyone of these lessons.