I am back to work after the long Memorial Day weekend. I’m exhausted, but (mostly) in a great way. I got to see some of my oldest and dearest friends over the weekend, some of whom I haven’t seen since the start of the pandemic. It was time well spent, even if I have an emotional hangover (although that bottle of wine probably contributed to an actual hangover, as well!)
I have found that since the pandemic, I have a lot of social anxiety. I have always been an introvert, so socializing has always taken a lot of energy, and too much socializing could deplete me so completely, I would have to schedule “alone time”, and ask people not to contact me for a spell. While I have genuinely loved a lot of the alone time I’ve experienced during pandemic isolation, I have found that coming out of it has brought new feelings of insecurity: do people still like me? Did they ever? Do I even know how to talk to people anymore? I’m so much fatter now. Why didn’t I start working out before this gathering? I found my heart racing and my hands shaking as I walked into my friend’s backyard.
Thankfully, my anxiety quickly dissipated as I got to actually hug and talk and laugh with old friends, and it was as if no time had passed at all. The day after, however, I found myself tired and irritable. It’s been so long since I’ve spent such a prolonged amount of time with a large group of people, I was emotionally and physically spent. I have gotten into a habit of going to bed and rising fairly early and have barely drunk alcohol during the past two years, so all of my resources - physical and mental, were drained. But I am looking forward to hopefully upping my socializing to pre-pandemic levels and exercising my extrovert muscles in order to lessen and hopefully eradicate my newfound social anxiety symptoms.
Today, while the last vestiges of my emotional highs and lows from the weekend begin to ebb and I return to my more even-keeled self, I nevertheless find myself sitting with a lot. 1,000,000+ people dead from COVID in the U.S., infection numbers on the rise again, and the abandonment of any coherent national plan to acknowledge or mitigate the virus spread, leaving our most vulnerable populations (especially the disabled community) feeling isolated, scared, alone, and abandoned. The mass shooting in Uvalde, TX, and the 19 children and two teachers murdered, the continued gun violence since Uvalde, and the absolute failure of our politicians led by the morally bankrupt Republican Party which refuses to back down from their position of allowing anyone to own a weapon designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a period of time, as they simultaneously fight to end access to safe abortion, birth control, and put in place the mechanisms to begin prosecuting (more) pregnant people. The murder of ten Black people in Buffalo in the name of white supremacy. The continued police violence against Black people two years after the murder of George Floyd. It’s all swirling in my head and my heart as I try to get back to work and back to “normal”.
I find the push to return to “normal” personally untenable. As each day and each act of violence bleeds into the next, I find our collective culture less sustainable, less worthy of defense, more uncaring and more destructive. The violence, anger, hate, and cruelty are coming so fast, I find myself needing more time to process. I need time to grieve. I get up each day and put one foot in front of the other. I walk and feed my dogs and myself. I hug my husband, and I do my job, but at this point, I am a robot barely getting through the motions.
I know I can’t be alone in this feeling. I know everyone feels things differently, expresses themselves differently, and even grieves differently. But I know I can’t be the only person showing up at work, or the dinner table, or the pick-up line, or the play date, or the bbq, or wherever you have to show up to keep life moving forward, with so much heaviness in their heart.
What are you carrying? What are you sitting with these days? Do you want to talk about it?
Do you have questions about anything? Is there anything in particular you’d like me to write about?
I hope you’re doing okay. I hope you’re giving yourself time to feel, process, and grieve. I hope you’re giving yourself time to be a human in a world that wants us to simply produce and consume until we die and are replaced by another warm body.
Write back or leave a comment. I’m thinking of you all, too, and holding you all in my heart.
Trigger warning: I speak frankly and in depth about death and more specifically, the death of my father.
The penultimate episode of the tv show This Is Us aired this past Tuesday. For those who have not watched it yet, there are some spoilers ahead, so put this aside until you’ve watched. But please return to this after you’ve watched it. I’d love to know your thoughts and what this episode brought up for you.
For those who don’t watch the show, don’t worry. It’s not all about that.
This Is Us, a heart-wrenching, weekly television drama is ending. Those of us who love the show tune in weekly to witness the joys, sorrows, triumphs, and pains of the Pearson family. I’ve wanted to write about the show since I started watching it six years ago, but I never felt I had anything to add to the ubiquitous commentary already out there.
What I (and I imagine everyone else) love about the show is how emotional it is. I appreciate that the writers craft truly difficult moments in each of the characters’ lives, and we get to witness their journey in processing those moments and what becomes of their lives based on the decisions they make as a result of their processing. We get to see and feel the heartache, witness the internal and external discussions, and see how these moments shape the characters’ lives. It’s like watching life itself unfold, in a way I don’t think other shows have captured as well (at least not for me).
Folks who are more cynical than I might find the show contrived or the emotional storylines manipulative, but I never have – at least not enough to stop watching. What I love most about the show is its potential to create moments for the people watching to have the discussions in their own homes – with their partners, parents, or children about their own difficult life moments.
Americans are taught to be rugged individualists; to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”. We’re taught to “look out for number one”. We are told, “no one else is going to take care of you, so you better take care of yourself.” On an individual, human level, this is awful. It leaves people feeling lost, uncared for, lonely, isolated, and depressed. People not only don’t learn how to ask for help when they need it, they feel shame if they need help or have to ask. In turn, we don’t know how to help or care for others. Our empathy muscles atrophy. We are uncomfortable and don’t know how to react when people express pain or sorrow.
On a societal level, this is catastrophic. We don’t live in community with one another. We don’t care or look out for one another. We don’t understand or fight for our common interest. We isolate from and turn on one another.
This Is Us, for me, has been a weekly respite from everyday misery, an opportunity for a cathartic cry, and a comforting moment knowing there were thousands of people on their couches and in their chairs tuning in for the same reasons I do. A community of feelers, connecting through the ether, feeling all the feels in a single, 45-minute, cultural moment. Every week has been a journey, but this past episode really brought out alll the feelings and then some.
This episode was about death, specifically the death of Rebecca Pearson, mother of the “big three” and matriarch of the Pearson family. The episode features an aged Mandy Moore, who plays Rebecca Pearson, lying still and non-responsive in a hospital bed in the bedroom of her home, while her children and grandchildren all come to pay their respects and say their final words to her. Those images are juxtaposed against a radiant and young Rebecca Pearson who is walking through cars of a long train, meeting up and speaking with those who have gone before her, like William, Randall Pearson’s biological father, who acts as her guide in this final journey, and the pediatrician who delivered her triplets, who serves her a Vesper in the bar car.
I absolutely love that the writers placed her on a train. According to the book Final Gifts, written by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, two hospice nurses who shared their insights and experiences with patients at the end of their lives, “the dying often use the metaphor of travel to alert those around them that it is time for them to die.” While Rebecca wasn’t communicative with her family in the show (except one poignant moment when she squeezed Randall’s hand), the train trip as a metaphor is beautiful and even fairly common. Other patients in Final Gifts spoke of needing to find maps or of getting in line at the airport. When you don’t think of death as “the end”, but rather the beginning of a new chapter or phase of life, a train trip or other journey is beautifully apt.
I won’t go into more about the show. You either watch it, or you don’t, and for the rest of this writing, it doesn’t matter. My publication is called Sh*t I Wanna Say Before I Die. I’ve written about how I have always thought a lot about death, and how I look forward to volunteering with hospice. I don’t need an episode of This Is Us to make me think about death and dying. My thoughts are usually not that far from it. But I appreciate that the episode exists because not everyone is as obsessed with death as I am. I love that it may have inspired some folks to think about their own death, and what that means in terms of how they want to live. I imagine it conjured up feelings about people they have lost, as well. It did for me, and that is what I want to share now.
In late 2006, my father had a stroke after having surgery to insert a defibrillator pacemaker. He survived the stroke but was unable to walk or eat on his own, had difficulty talking, and had severe cognitive impairment. He went to a rehabilitation facility, but it was clear after a few weeks to the medical staff, that he was not improving, and would need to be moved to a 24-hour nursing home facility. We found a home for him, and in early January 2007, he “celebrated” his 80th birthday there. We had a small party for him in one of the communal rooms. I remember one of his friends from the retirement community he and my mother had moved to less than ten years prior feeding my father cake. The friend, lovingly, yet with a look of utter incomprehension that the man sitting before him was my previously active and jovial father, lifted the plastic spoon to my father’s lips. My father, staring down at the table, mechanically opened his mouth and ingested the cake. We all scurried around him, trying to be upbeat and joyful, but he was miserable. After a short time, he asked to be taken back to his room. The party was over.
At the end of that same January, I got a call from my brother while I was at work. My father had taken a turn and was not doing well. My brother was flying down to Florida immediately. My (then boyfriend and now) husband and I did the same, as did some of my other siblings.
When we arrived, my father was in the hospital. His heart and his other major organs were failing. His blood pressure was so low, that every time they attempted to help him stand, he would faint, and/or his defibrillator pacemaker would be triggered into zapping his heart back to life. He was placed on some sort of IV drip medication to keep his blood pressure stable. The doctors said he was in the process of dying, and the only decision we had to make was whether he would die in the hospital or at home. I remember trying gently to get my father to decide which he preferred. I tried having “hypothetical” conversations with him about it, but he couldn’t quite grasp the hypothetical. I would ask him, if he was dying, would he prefer to die at home, or in the hospital, and he would say at home, so we would tell the doctors to discharge him, but then he would immediately say that he wanted to stay in the hospital to get better so he could go home. Finally, I just had to be blunt. “Dad, the doctors say you’re dying. Do you want to die here, or do you want to die at home?” He said he wanted to die at home.
We arranged for him to be discharged, but a few things had to happen before we could take him home. One was, we had to have his pacemaker turned off. That involved one of the more bizarre experiences of this whole thing. A young, male medical rep from the company that made the pacemaker (Medtronic) came into my dad’s hospital room with a briefcase-like box, pressed a few buttons, and turned the pacemaker off, rendering it useless. It was like a truly bizarre visit from the cable company, only instead of fixing our television reception, he turned off the machine that was keeping my father’s heart beating properly. The other was, when they took my dad off the blood pressure stabilizing medication, his blood pressure would have to stabilize on its own. If it did not, they could not transport him to his home, and he would have to remain in the hospital. We said we understood and left, hoping for the best for when that time came.
My husband Jess and I went food shopping for my mom that afternoon. We were picking up easy, frozen foods that could be cooked quickly for dinner. With so many siblings visiting, my mom didn’t have enough food in the house, nor given the circumstances, did she feel like cooking anything. As we were shopping, Jess said he thought we should buy a cake mix for my birthday. My 34th birthday was the next day, and Jess thought celebrating might be something fun for my dad when he got home. I thought it was fucked up, but didn’t have the energy to argue, so I relented to him buying the cake mix, frosting, and candles. He also bought a couple of helium balloons he thought my dad might enjoy looking at. I just smiled politely and went with it.
The night before my dad came home from the hospital, my brother Kenny decided to stay in the hospital with him. At about 5am, we got a call from Kenny saying he thought we should just take my father off the blood pressure stabilizing medication and let him go. Apparently, my father had had a very rough night. He had been in pain and was cursing a lot and very agitated throughout the night. My brother had finally had it, and called, asking us to let him go. I told him that we were scheduled to be there in about two hours, but instead of waiting, we would get ready and get there as soon as possible. Dad had been clear that he wanted to die at home. I asked Kenny to hang in there and said that we would be there as soon as possible to try to get Dad home.
We got there within about an hour. My Dad was calmer, and my brother was exhausted. I don’t remember how long it took, but we got my father discharged. They got him off the IV drip, his blood pressure was stable, and he was transported to his home. They wheeled him into the house and placed him in his hospital bed in the middle of the living room. I remember making him a gin martini, which had previously been his favorite beverage. There were no longer any rules about what he should or should not eat or drink. I don’t know whether I am a terrible bartender, or he had just lost his taste, but he did not like it and was unable to drink it.
More siblings had since arrived, and we called others to tell them if they wanted to say goodbye, they should come. We didn’t know how long my father would live, but we knew it would not be very long. We sat around talking with one another and sitting with my dad and taking care of my mom. At some point, Jess asked me if I wanted him to make the birthday cake. I quickly told him no. I just didn’t think it would be appropriate. Plus, I thought it oddly put the focus on me instead of my dad, and I did not want that.
That night, we all went to bed. There were siblings strewn about the small house, in twin beds, and on floors. My father slept in his hospital bed in the middle of the living room, and my mom went to what had been their bedroom. A hospice nurse was with us, as well. At some point, not long after we went to sleep, my father began to get agitated. I could hear my mom talking with the hospice nurse but couldn’t hear what they were saying. My father was crying out in pain, and my mother was trying to soothe him. I laid in bed as long as I could, but then jumped out of bed and walked quickly into the living room to see if I could help. My mother was trying to rub my father’s head and calm him down, but it was not working. She looked exhausted and miserable, and I asked her if I could take over and she defeatedly said, “Yes, please. I can’t take this anymore”, and she went off back to bed. The hospice nurse asked if I would like her to give my father pain medication, and I said yes. She administered some morphine, and I tried to massage my father’s hand and shoulders. When I gently pressed down on his shoulder, he cried out in pain, and looked up at me with such a childlike, frightened, look, I drew my hands back as if I had touched a hot stove. I told him I wouldn’t do it anymore, stroked his hair a little, and shushed him like a baby, and told him everything was going to be okay. At the same time, the morphine began to kick in. My father settled down, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.
The next day, I woke up to a bustling house. More siblings arrived. The hospice nurse was still around. I went to say good morning to my father, but he was still sleeping. We continued to all talk with one another and take turns sitting with my dad. As the day wore on, his breathing got increasingly louder, and there was an odd, disconcerting, hiccup-like noise that accompanied it. It was if he were on an invisible respirator that kept his chest rising and falling and him rhythmically breathing. We asked the hospice nurse if this was something to be concerned about, and she said no.
At some point, as I usually do, I found myself standing off to the side, just observing everyone and taking in the scene. I had feared my father’s death since I was a child, and now the moment was arriving. It was surreal. I was standing near the hospice nurse. She looked at me and smiled. I no longer remember if I wondered aloud whether he would wake up again, or if she just sensed my thoughts, but she told me how people who are dying often find a way to say goodbye to their loved ones. She said she had seen it countless times, patients who had been seemingly in a coma or otherwise nonresponsive for days, suddenly wake up, and whether they smile, say something, or just squeeze someone’s hand, it’s their way of coming back to say goodbye. I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable, but glad she had shared that with me, and then I went back to sitting with my siblings.
That afternoon, Jess got tired of waiting for me to want the birthday cake, and he just went ahead and made it. He busied himself with making and decorating the cake, while my siblings sat around sharing memories and laughing as much as we could. I told him we could have it after dinner. I wanted to put it off as long as I could.
The day wore on. My father remained asleep and rhythmically breathing, and Jess finally said I was out of excuses. He lit the candles, and I relented. My mother was sitting by my father, holding his hands. We turned out the lights, and everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Jess placed the cake in front of me, and I smiled and blew out the candles. We all clapped, and as we turned on the lights, I turned to look at my father, and his eyes were open.
“He’s awake!”, I exclaimed. His loud, rhythmic breathing had stopped, as well, although we got the sense he was still with us. We all rushed to his side, and started telling him how much we loved him, and what he meant to us, each of us touching a part of his body, while my mother held his hands in hers and prayed. We just kept saying over and over again that we loved him, and that we would take care of mom. He appeared to speak and say, “thank you everybody,” and then his eyes fluttered, closed, and he died.
Hearing is the last sense to stop working. I love the idea that my father, although not awake and seemingly not aware or present for the last day or so of his life got to hear the joy of his family sharing memories and singing happy birthday to his youngest child. I love that he woke up, and we got to have that beautiful moment where we all got to tell him how much we loved him. My father was a kind, loving man, and I love that he got to have a kind, loving death.
Other than just dying peacefully in your sleep, this is kind of the ideal, in my mind, of the “perfect death.” Not too much prolonged suffering and surrounded by loved ones to see you off on your journey. I also know not everyone is privileged enough to have such a storybook ending. In the past couple of weeks alone, we saw the murder of ten Black souls in a grocery store by a white supremacist, and we also reached the grim reality of 1,000,000 souls lost to COVID-19, many of whom died intubated in a hospital.
My mother was a “control freak”, as they say. I too like to have the illusion of as much control as possible over my life. In the end, that control really is just an illusion. For me, I think my obsession with death is my earthly desire for control. If I think about and plan for it enough, I’ll be ready when it comes. I do think there are steps we all can and should take to help us and our loved ones get ready for our death, especially if you have children, but that is a different post for a different day.
Today, after watching a television show, I was prompted to think about my father’s death, and I also can’t help but wonder about my own. If I have the privilege to live a long life, and if life goes chronologically the way it’s “supposed to”, given I am the youngest of ten kids, my mom and all my siblings will likely die before me. My husband and I have discussed and agreed that I need to outlive him, so hopefully God and the universe will hear our thoughts and prayers on that one, as heartbreaking as it will be. We don’t have any children, so chances are, I will die “alone”. I put alone in quotes because I don’t believe anyone truly dies alone. Rebecca may have been a frail, old woman in a single hospital bed, but even if she wasn’t physically visited by her children and grandchildren or tended to by a nurse, she was still greeted in spirit by so many special people in her life that died before her, like William, Miguel, her pediatrician, and of course, Jack.
While This Is Us may be fiction, I do believe we are accompanied into death by those who died before us. Whether it’s a delightful hallucination, or true spirits guiding us, I don’t know. What comes after those spirit guides leave, I don’t know. But I believe with all my heart I won’t be truly alone. I wonder who my guides will be, and what our surroundings will look like. I don’t love to travel, so chances are I won’t go on a journey or board a train. I hope I’ll be at a party, a Christmas party, visiting with friends and family until the night quiets down, and like Rebecca, I’ll go to bed, I’ll close my eyes and there will be my husband. He’ll say, “Hi, Lamb”, and he’ll pinch the apple of my cheek, and I’ll smile and know I’m home.
Photo credit: Moviephone.com. Image description: Faye Dunaway as actress Joan Crawford in the 1981 movie Mommie Dearest. In the image, Dunaway as Joan is wide-eyed and open-mouthed. A cosmetic masque is smeared on her face, and her hair is pulled back by a thin, cloth headband. She is holding a blurry white object in her hand (an article of clothing on a wire hanger).
I’m never going to be the one who can give you a “hot take”. I’m not capable of processing information or my feelings about it quickly enough. My feelings change with new information and time. It is how I am wired. I used to get tied up in knots over it. My life felt like a constant, uncontrollable, emotional whirlwind because I was always trying to rush through my feelings to get to the point where I could just be calm again. Then I would look back and try to capture how it was I felt. I would often just be coming to terms with whatever issue life had thrown at me when the next one hit. It has been exhausting.
But a beautiful thing has happened over the past few years. I have learned to slow down. I have learned how to ride the waves and process my emotions as I go along. I have allowed anger in, where I used to repress it, and I no longer feel like my life is uncontrollable. I am okay with my emotions, and I am okay with being a slow processor.
In writing here, I had hoped to slowly share myself and my journey with you all so that you might choose to reflect upon similar things. Maybe my painful journey could help ease a particular sore spot you have within yourself or help clarify an uncertainty or heal an old wound. You never asked me to provide this wisdom or share my journey. I know that. I took it upon myself to share it. Reading and writing aren’t exactly contact sports, but I have shared and will continue to do so because I know the silences that met me growing up, both within my own family and from others around me nearly killed me. I don’t want to be silent anymore. Like I said, I have sh*t I need to say before I die.
In addition to my personal journey, I had also hoped to slowly share my political journey - the steps I took to go from blindly being my mother’s daughter to becoming a young, (white) feminist, and on to become someone who wants to spend the rest of her life fighting for racial and social justice; to fight for liberation for all. I will still share this journey, but I can no longer do it as slowly as I would like.
While I am not dying (I mean, we’re all a little closer to death every day, but you know what I mean), our democracy - the version of democracy we have had, however imperfect, is dying, and that death is coming faster and closer with each passing day. This is not hyperbole. This is not the crazy rantings of a she-witch. This is not the “radical Left” distorting facts because the “radical Left”, as the fascist Republican Party has come to define it does not fucking exist. If it did exist, then the Supreme Court would never have had the opportunity to leak that fucking indictment against women and pregnant people that dropped on Monday night.
I am angry at the Supreme Court justices and the fascist right-wing assholes who put them there. I am angry at the Democrats who didn’t have the balls to call McConnell’s bluff and prevent the stacking of the courts, or to get rid of the filibuster to pass voting rights, the EACH Woman Act, or to end the Hyde Amendment. I am mad at every single person - left, right, or center, that I have told, in no uncertain terms since the mid-fucking-1990’s that the goal of the right wing is now and forever shall be to destroy Roe, only to be told I was “crazy” or “there’s no way they would overturn Roe”.
I am angry at myself for straying from the career and life path I should have been on since I was 25 years old. I’m angry at myself for not being strong enough to push back and say, “No, YOU’RE wrong. I know what I’m talking about, and you need to listen!” I’m angry at myself for being kind and deferential and allowing others to have “their own perspective” even if that perspective was informed by lies and misinformation. I’m angry at myself and others with more visibility, power, and media access for allowing the culture to shift so dramatically through slow, steady, systematic, and absolutely calculated disinformation - a tactic which has now been thrust into every other aspect of our political discourse and amplified by social media bots and fucking Russian-government backed trolls.
But there is another anger I am sitting with today. There is a line from the movie Mommie Dearest that keeps running through my head. No, it’s not “No more wire hangers!”, because that exact line doesn’t actually exist in the movie, and I’ll go into why the coat hanger is no longer an appropriate image for reproductive freedom at a time when I am less livid.
At one point, Joan Crawford, played by Faye Dunaway, says to her daughter, “I don’t know what to do with you,” and her daughter, Christina, responds angrily, “WHY NOT?!”
I have spent too much time being angry with and by myself. It has done nothing to serve me, and it has most certainly not helped me to serve others.
But I can’t be the only one angry all the time either. I am angry at every single person who went about their lives on Tuesday as if nothing had happened. I am angry at every single person who isn’t angry or even scared. I am angry at every single person who thinks this doesn’t mean anything to them or their lives. I am angry at every single person who thinks there’s nothing they can do, or worse: they don’t want to do anything because they don’t care. My anger is reserved especially for you today and everyday going forward.
If you’re not angry, WHY NOT?!
In May 2016, I shared a post on Facebook about Mother’s Day. It was everything I had ever wanted to say, but never had. It was an open letter to folks who dreaded Mother’s Day as much as I did. I think about that post often, and I had planned to write an updated piece this year. I wanted to expand upon it. I wanted to check in and state in new ways where I am now. I had planned to share the old Facebook post this week, and then spend the next week writing this new, in-depth piece.
But when I re-read the 2016 post, I realized it had pretty much captured everything I needed to say. I still don’t look forward to Mother’s Day, but I no longer dread it. I am still not close with my mother, but I am no longer angry or bitter about it. I still don’t buy cards that thank her for “being there for me” because she never was. But instead of lamenting that loss, I am at peace with it.
Feelings do surface from time-to-time about my mother. I may write something again in the future about her or our relationship, but for now at least, this is another part of myself that I am putting down; leaving behind; moving on from. I have mourned the loss of that relationship that never was. I am okay, and have no need to share anything new right now.
It is a strange emotional place to be in when you no longer invest so much time and energy in the things you have historically given so much time and energy to. The seemingly vast nothingness that fills your heart and brain, where previously there had been a cacophony of negative voices, emotions, and experiences played on a loop, can feel strange and uncertain. The quiet can cause discomfort, but it is also beautiful. I have spent so much time thinking I need to write something deeper or more meaningful or profound about Mother’s Day, but I don’t.
Sometimes growing is knowing what not to do, how not to expend your time and energy. It’s knowing what is no longer needed, as much as it is knowing what is needed. Now that my energy is no longer spent trying to make something out of nothing – trying to create a specific type of loving relationship when that particular type of loving relationship does not exist, I am left with the time and energy to create new things and share new ideas.
Maybe next week I’ll write about why I consciously decided to never become a mother. Or maybe I’ll write about all the ways I have mothered people, even if I have never given birth. Maybe I’ll write about the inequities in parenting, and how domestic burdens and childcare still fall disproportionately on women’s shoulders within heteronormative relationships. Or maybe I’ll just call my mom, and spend the day with my mother-in-law, and wish my friends and family a Happy Mother’s Day and won’t write anything at all. It is a remarkable and special feeling knowing I have the freedom, space, and quiet within me to create whatever I want, even if it is nothing.
Until next time, here is my Facebook post from May 2016. In it, I said I had hoped my words would serve as a eulogy for whom I had and had not been, and turns out, they were!
“I don't know if you would call this a trigger warning or not, but if you have lost your mother and you miss her dearly, or you can't imagine anyone saying anything bad about their mother, then please stop reading now, because this is what I've always wanted to say at this time of year, but never have, and it's not exactly warm and fuzzy.
It's nearly Mother's Day, and my Facebook feed is beginning to fill with all of the well-wishes of friends and families to their mothers.
"Happy Mother's Day to the most amazing, wonderful, strong woman I know: my mother; my best friend. I'm so grateful for all of your love and support. Not a day goes by that I don't appreciate your sacrifices. I love you, Mom."
They are similar to the sentiments you find in Mother's Day cards: "Thank you, Mom, for all of your support and love over the years. For all of the encouragement and late-night chats, and for all the times you held me and said, 'It's going to be okay.' I just want to say, 'Thank you', Mom, and let you know that I am who I am today because of you."
Ever since I was old enough to no longer make a Mother's Day gift in school, I have hated Mother's Day. Reading through the cards and trying to find one that is respectful without being an outright lie has been nearly impossible. What would be perfect is a card that has some pretty flowers on the front, and in large print script letters, "Happy Mother's Day." Inside in another friendly font would be the sentence, "I am who I am today because of you." Dear Mom, Love Jenn. ‘Nuff said.
Or to be more precise:
"To the mother who always seemed resentful I was born: Don't worry, I don't really hold it against you anymore. How could I? You never received the love you deserved as a child, and therefore you never learned how to receive love, so how could you ever really give it? You can't help it that you were taught to 'follow the rules, and you will one day be rewarded,' only to find out that doesn't always happen. So, you were mostly angry, bitter, and unhappy. You gave me a roof over my head; clothes on my back and three, square meals a day, plus a snack. Thanks for doing the best you could." Sincerely, Me.
I am well aware of my white, middle-class privilege, so I know without a doubt I had a better childhood than a huge number of people. Hell, given my birth order, I probably had a better childhood in many ways than my own siblings. Which is why I have spent years denying my feelings of anger, disappointment, and inadequacy. But as I get older, and I thankfully begin to let my feelings of resentment go, I also want to pay myself the respect of acknowledging those feelings as valid before I kiss them and blow them away into the universe, like the ashes of a deceased loved one.
The fact is, I didn't get the love and support I needed as a child. I was not encouraged to pursue any dreams. I was given absolutely no guidance, but was expected to have goals. Those goals were to be traditionally feminine within the context of what is held respectable by the Catholic Church, and anything else (acting, writing, hell- social work) was just a "pipe dream" and should be forgotten. I was taught to ignore my instincts; doubt my own feelings and ultimately suppress them. To fear the unknown; fear change; fear everything, really.
It has taken me decades to learn to listen to my instincts; to feel what I actually feel and not suppress everything that isn't just sunshine and happiness and what others want to see. I have ignored dreams and even what some might deem "a calling from God", out of fear of success and fear of failure rooted in the fear I was taught as a child and the decades of not knowing how to listen to and respect myself.
Now, I know that this isn't all of my mother (and father's) doing. I am well aware that I have been an adult for a very long time, and I am responsible for my own actions and inactions. I own my successes and failures at this point. Believe me, I know.
I am also well aware that people often are motivated my adversarial conditions, and they succeed greater than one can ever imagine. But that doesn't always make them happy; nor does it mean they have forgotten or even succeeded for the right reasons. ("Rosebud...")
But I share these thoughts now as what I hope is a eulogy for whom I have been (and not been) for too long. To send these thoughts and feelings out into the universe, on a breeze on this very windy day, with the knowledge that most people regret what they have not said, versus what they have said.
My mother is still alive. I still speak with her and see her, and for those of you who loved your mother and miss her; I am truly sorry. I don't mean to be ungrateful; I've just had a different experience.
So this Mother's Day, I thank my mother for the life she has given me, even if I didn't ask to be born. I thank her for all of the positive and loving things she did do, despite being stressed and miserable herself. And I forgive her for all that she could not give me, because ultimately, it wasn't really her fault, was it? It was her mother's and father's fault; and her grandparents' fault; and the generation before them, and on and on.
But I also share this for people who think they are "over" whatever "issues" they had growing up. Just because you don't think about them or they're not on the surface of everything you do or every decision you make, doesn't mean they aren't there; that you're over them or that they don't matter. Until you can truly process; own; heal and forgive, you will pass your traumas onto your kids, and the cycle will continue.
Create a solid foundation of self-love and respect, and your children will be forever grateful.”
In 1997, my boyfriend, whom I had dated on-and-off, but mostly on, for five and a half years, broke up with me. Even though I knew we were not good for one another, I was still devastated. I can still remember lying in a crumpled heap in the middle of my Queens, NY apartment, sobbing. All of the dependence I had had on my parents was transferred to him when we began dating my second semester freshman year in college. I had absolutely no idea who I was without him, and I was terrified.
These lines from Ani DiFranco’s song Independence Day really resonated with me at that time:
“Did I ever tell you how I stopped eating
When you stopped calling me
I was cramped up
And shitting rivers for weeks
And pretending that I was finally free”
But in the end, and after a brief time grieving, I really was free for the first time in my life. That devastating break-up allowed me to explore who I really was at the time – who I wanted to be, and it set the stage for me to be in the right physical and emotional space to meet the man who would eventually become my husband, just three years later.
In 2018, I broke up with the corporate world. After twenty years working for investment banks and multi-nationals, feeling like my soul was dying a little more each day, I said goodbye to my six-figure income and hello to a job that lets me live my values every single day. I am emphatically pro-abortion, and I get to show up every day at a place that works to make abortion and birth control more accessible, and health care more equitable. It is an honor to go to work every day.
While emotionally difficult and painful, breaking up can be the best thing for you. It has been for me. I can’t think of a single job or relationship that I have walked away from, willingly or not, that I have not grown from or was not better off without after time to process, grieve, and rebuild.
So, if I am happy in my relationship and my job, what or with whom am I trying to break up with these days? Without a doubt, I am on one of the most difficult break-up journeys of my life. I am trying to break up with all of the defense and survival mechanisms I created and have utilized since I was a child that no longer serve me. I am trying to let go of all of the self-deprecation; sarcasm; self-doubt; self-hatred, and fear that I have lived with for as long as I can remember. I am learning to break up with my old self, while simultaneously rebuilding a “new” me. But it’s not really a “new” me, as much as it is the me I have finally found after having enough calmness and quiet in my brain to focus on the parts of me I want to listen to, nurture and grow. I no longer hear an incessant loop of negative and hateful thoughts, and when those old brain ghosts do rise to haunt me, I am able to stop them fairly quickly. After so many years of falling victim to those never-ending, negative thoughts, it feels like a superpower to be able to stop them.
But the brain ghosts do rise from time to time, and they keep me from being myself. They keep me from acting on things I want to do and say. They keep me from being who I want to be. They keep me from writing regularly, and they keep me from sharing. But I exorcise them, and I write, and I share, and here we are.
In addition to wanting to become my true self, and in addition to wanting to limit the number of regrets I have on my deathbed, there are reasons I want to share that go beyond my desire for community – or maybe my desire for community is rooted in my knowledge that we are going to need one another soon. In reality, we have always needed one another – we are much more social and communal beings than our individualistic society trains us to be. But as the Right continues to demonize LGBTQ people – particularly trans kids and trans people, and as “CRT” is maligned and misrepresented, as books are banned, as reproductive rights are decimated, as disinformation rages and one party seeks to consolidate power and our democracy struggles for survival, we are going to need to stand up for one another in ways many of us are not used to. We are going to need to stand up through our fear and in the face of fear, and it will not be easy.
I will be honest – I do not have a good track record of standing up when my safety and comfort are at stake. I will write that confessional soon, but suffice to say, I have pretty much always chosen what is best for me and not what was actually the right thing to do in that moment. I am ashamed when I think about what I have done (and more so not done), but I cannot let how I have behaved in the past stop me from doing what is right today and going forward.
If you have not read Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, then I encourage you to do so. I have been the white moderate that Dr. King writes about, and I have most definitely “prefer[ed] a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” I also am doing everything I can every day to learn to push through discomfort and say and do what is right, even if it causes tension within myself and between me and those I love.
The Ani DiFranco lines that are going through my head these days are the following (from her song Willing to Fight):
“’Cause I know the biggest crime
Is just to throw up your hands
Say ‘This has nothing to do with me
I just want to live as comfortably as I can’”
If things continue to go in the direction they are going in this country and abroad, we are going to have to risk our short-term comfort in order to protect our long-term liberty. We are going to have to fight the urge to allow civil and human rights to continue to be taken from “others” because we are not them. We are going to be called upon to stand up and risk our safety and comfort, and if we do not, we will all eventually suffer, but it will be the marginalized folks who will suffer first and worst.
So that is why I am breaking up with my old self, too. If I am a stronger version of myself for me, I can become a stronger version of myself for others. As I become a better and stronger version of myself, I become happier and less afraid. As I become happier and less afraid, I am able to stand up more and am more likely to say and do the right things to help others, and if we all do some version of this work, we will all benefit.
I personally can’t think of a bigger regret on my deathbed than allowing pain and harm to come to others and knowing there was something more I could have said and done to have minimized or stopped it. Let’s all break up with comfort and that “negative peace which is the absence of tension” and pursue personal and collective liberation in order to achieve the “positive peace which is the presence of justice”, so we can all thrive together.
Water typically symbolizes rebirth and life. It can be cleansing, purifying, and healing. But too much water, as in a flood or being caught off guard by a rising tide, can be deadly. Rough ocean waters can symbolize the uncertainty and drama of life, while a smooth surfaced lake is the symbol of peace and calm. The slow but steady flow of a river can symbolize sleepiness and laziness. Or it can symbolize great power and strength, in that it carves a path through centuries-old rock because, despite its apparent calm, it cannot be stopped from moving forward. The human body is about 60% water, with the lungs being comprised of over 80% water, but take a sip of that same substance and have it go down “the wrong pipe”, and you will quickly learn how even a tiny amount of water can take you out, even if only briefly. You can happily swim for hours in the Pacific Ocean, and you can drown in a 1-inch puddle.