I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Reiki

Believing in Reiki

healing-hands-patricia-januszkiewicz

Healing Hands

“Why yes. Yes I am. I am a Reiki healer.”

Hahahahahahahaha! Cue the laughter. I am just pretending. Fooled you!

My daughter discovered Reiki through her yoga teachers. I was inclined to poo-poo Reiki as crazy hokum. How can someone heal simply by holding their hands on or near you? I want deep tissue massage! I want little needles! And maybe an occasional pill. I want proof!

My daughter shrugged and said it made her feel comfortable and relaxed and all warm and tingly. I was skeptical. I had to read up on it. That’s my way. Let me read some books. Then I tried a few sessions. My Reiki mentors would tell me they could feel the thoughts exploding out of my head. Always thinking thinking thinking! What? Isn’t everyone’s brain like that? She told me to feel the energy move down to my feet, to ground myself in the present moment. I felt comfortable and relaxed and all warm and tingly. I saw colors and images and felt more than two hands offering me healing energy. (To whom did the other hand belong?) My intuition heightened and I could sense someone’s mood or “aura” just by tuning in. When I asked for a book to read, she counseled me “Why don’t you try not reading and just focus on your experience.” Well, that’s different.

During one session, she paused, stuck on my heart. She interrupted the quiet session and asked me what was going on. I cried. And cried and cried. It was around the end of my mother’s life, though she had not yet had the fall that would break her hip and lead to the infection that ultimately would kill her. But the end of her life was near and I had sensed it for a while. So I cried. Mourning the passing of time, the words said and unsaid, the regret that we had not shared more mixed with the loss of the deep love that we had shared.

During another session, I told her about my skin picking. How I destroy my cuticles and pick and rub at the skin by my ear until it is raw. I beat myself up for this nervous habit. All my life I have had this habit and beaten myself up for it. She shrugged and said “Maybe that’s simply what you need to do to release your anxious energy.” Suddenly, the perspective shifted. Maybe it was no big deal! She gave me permission to give myself permission. That I was okay and I could be kind and forgiving. To me.

My daughter and I received Reiki 1 attunement. Then, my daughter and I received Reiki 2 attunement. It was a meaningful shared experience that brought us closer. Occasionally we practiced on each other. I offered Reiki to my husband. He is the ultimate skeptic. He fell asleep and woke up 9 hours later and said it was the best sleep he had ever had.   I offered Reiki to a beloved young woman who was struggling with a panic attack. She calmed. I offered Reiki to my mother when she was dying. She was able to let go. But mostly I secretly and somewhat embarrassedly practiced on myself when I was alone.

Secretly and somewhat embarrassedly because I don’t understand how it “works.” I can hear all the skeptics in my life poo-pooing me for believing in this crazy hokum. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I found it comforting and relaxing and felt all warm and tingly. Like any mystery, it requires faith. Certainly, the power of touch and the effects of meditation and deep relaxation are profound, with plenty of scientific evidence. But healing energy? That’s a little woo-woo for me. And yet. I’ve felt the energy. I’ve experienced the healing. Reiki has helped with my chronic anxious insomnia. My cuticles have started healing. My skin has  started healing. I feel happier, more grounded, more able to enjoy the present moment.

This summer, a full year after receiving Reiki 2 attunement, it occurred to me that I could actually offer Reiki to other people. Truly, it was a revelation, like a voice or a gut feeling that simply but insistently turned on.

I decided that for my birthday, to kick off my new year, I would offer a Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshop. It took me a while to remember to tell my yoga students about it. (Even though I am a marketer by trade, I am not so good at marketing myself.) The first time I mentioned it, I said “Yeah, I don’t really understand how Reiki works, but it’s deeply relaxing.” My daughter laughed at me. “Mom, no one is going to come if you don’t believe in yourself and in Reiki!” Indeed. The second time I mentioned it, I sensed intense interest and acceptance. I heard myself say: “Why yes. Yes, I am. I am a Reiki healer.” One of my students looked me in the eye and said, “Well, of course you are. That makes complete sense.”

What do they see that I don’t?

I led my workshop and poured myself into offering Reiki to my students. After it was over, I saw clear eyes and relaxed bodies and love and gratitude. They felt comfortable and relaxed and all warm and tingly. I was amazed and exhilarated!

I’ve had to work a bit to hang on to that exhilaration. Back in my busy busy busy work world of Monday to Friday, it is easy to let the skepticism take over. This Reiki stuff is silly. Crazy hokum. I have important things to do at WORK! But, if I can help people sleep, help people reduce their anxiety and panic, help people die, isn’t that at least as important as being busy busy busy?

I am a Reiki healer. And I am beginning to believe it.

Image:  Healing Hands by Patricia Januszkiewicz, used with permission.  Thank you Patricia!

I Learned How To Repress From A Master

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Learning to Hug

My father doesn’t know how to hug. When we embrace, he pulls me towards him so I am off balance and I feel like we are both going to fall down. Or, more typically, he won’t allow a full body embrace, holding me at arm’s length, literally. Given that we never hugged much when I was growing up, this is huge progress!

Now when we hug, which is infrequent, we usually cry. It is an emotion so painful to my father that I don’t think he can stand it. On the brink of losing control and succumbing to gasping body-wracking sobs, he quickly recovers and says something like, “It was good to see you. Call me when you get home safely.”

I learned how to repress from a master.

I caressed his face, marveling at how soft his skin is, willing whatever healing Reiki energy I could muster to offer to him, looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you Daddy.”

Whatever anger I have for my father, and there was a lot of anger – mostly misdirected at my self through depression and anxiety – has dissolved with the passing of my mother. Perhaps it is under wraps, waiting to reemerge in a fury. Perhaps it is being rechanneled as anger toward something easier to be angry about. Like Donald Trump, that cad.  Or the godawful trend of building monstrous space-hogging houses on modest lots in my hometown which has sent me into a righteous rage. (Ranting post to come!) Our little triad of a family is now just him and me. Like it or not, I am who I am because of who he is. We are forever connected. With more time and self-awareness and self-compassion has come more understanding and compassion for him.

This weekend was my first visit since the memorial service for my mom. Seven months have passed and he is coping by sticking to his routines. Now we have breakfast. Now we have lunch. We go to this restaurant for dinner. We practice the violin after dinner. We read until midnight. We water the plants on Sundays. We get up and do it over again. Oh yeah, I can relate.  I learned the habits of everyday survival from a master.

Sadly, there is no “we.” Linguistic habits die hard after 54 years of marriage. He is very alone. And lonely.

All I feel now is sadness.

I dragged him to the National Gallery yesterday. After all, he dragged me all over art galleries when I was young, it’s the least I can do now that he is old. My dear friend Paul met us there for lunch and a quick viewing of the special exhibits there. Paul, who is bolder and braver than me at asking emotionally probing questions, gently asked my father: “Do you feel her presence in the house? Is she always just around the corner?” No, he said, he doesn’t feel her presence.

He must refuse to feel her presence. Refuse to feel her loss. Immune to it with his routines. Because she is in every crevice. From the needlepoint-covered brick that serves as a doorstop to the placement of the paintings on the walls. From the black and white tile in the front hall that she picked out long ago to the philodendron that sits waiting for her, forlornly, on her dressing table. Her lipsticks are gone. (I checked.) But she is there. Not the 90+-year-old sitting passively and frail in her spot. No, it is my vibrant mother who, along with my father, made me who I am, who permeates my childhood home with her presence.

My father recently told me, when I asked why he never watches movies or reads fiction, that he either finds them silly or he gets so caught up in the drama that it disturbs him. Wow. That was kind of new and interesting information he revealed. I love getting caught up in the drama of a movie. The more intense the emotion the better. I find it cathartic to cry, well, at least when I let myself cry. But he can’t stand the intensity of the emotion. He can’t stand crying. So he devotes himself to his intellectual pursuits or to the practical acts of survival that fill his day. I used to think he was remote and undemonstrative. Now I think no one taught him how to love. How to cope with the joy and the loss that love requires.

I like to think each generation – or maybe each life, if you believe in reincarnation – peels away another layer of the onion to get closer to enlightenment. For me, enlightenment is understanding – to the core of your being – that nothing really matters except for love. Then acting on that understanding. All the time. Try it. It’s hard. Love is hard. It’s easier to plan what to have for dinner or to get up and go to your job, than to love. All The Time. It is my father’s difficult struggle with intimacy that has given birth to my desperate fight for intimacy.

Maybe you need to know how not to hug in order to be able to hug.

I Did Not Know The Boy Who Died This Week

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Go Deep

I did not know the boy who died this week. The friendly, athletic, well-liked 23-year-old from our town. My kids are in different grades than his younger siblings. They play different sports and hang out with different people. I am woefully unconnected with the school and the town. I’m not unsociable but I am quiet and reserved and I work full time in Manhattan. I worry that my introversion is off-putting and has kept my kids from being more integrated with the community. I prefer smaller groups of family and close friends, so my path did not really intersect with him and his family.

I did not know the boy who died this week. While I thought about him and his mother and his father and his sisters and his friends and all those who were touched by him, I did not feel I had a place at the wake or the funeral. I don’t know this family. But they are part of my world. I feel like I could know him. He could have been any number of amazing, interesting, fun 20-somethings that I do know. With full lives ahead of them. I guess he was out with friends. I suppose alcohol was involved. I am sure he thought he was invincible. Don’t we all at 23? It could have been anyone. It could have been my child.

It takes some living and some near misses to learn that accidents do happen. I could die at any moment. You could die at any moment. My children could die at any moment. As babies, I held them close. Nursing, co-sleeping, baby-proofing. “Never let them out of your sight,” our pediatrician said, only half-jokingly when we asked him for the most significant things we could do to keep them safe. Well, that’s not realistic.  And so we have lived our lives. We put them on the school bus. We sent them on sleep-overs and on school trips. We taught them to ski and take risks and be independent. My daughter drives and my son will soon drive. Off they go. Out of the nest. More out of our sight these days than in our sight. As it should be. And yet, I grasp. I want to hold them close. I want to live forever. I want them to live forever. I never want to let them go.

When they were young, I thought being the mother of a newborn was the hardest thing I had ever done. The exhaustion, the worry. Are they eating? Are they pooping? Are they BREATHING? The mothers of children older than mine would smile indulgently. “Just wait. It gets harder.” What? What could be harder than a newborn?! Now I get it. Now the worries are: Are they safe? Are they happy? Will they live full lives? Will they love and be loved? For many years. For many years, long after I die.

I am a very cerebral and sensible and pragmatic person. Skeptical of the mysterious and unproven. Crazy hokum. And yet. Is it? Crazy hokum? I am fascinated and increasingly open to my intuition and the deep experiences I have had with meditation and Reiki. On Wednesday night, I was drawn to take a yoga class with Colleen Saidman Yee. I don’t know her very well, and I am not a regular student of hers, but she recently published a book, Yoga For Life, that is touching me right now. At Savasana, she said something like: “Dare to go deep.  Deep to the places within. The places that frighten you. The places that you touch and scurry away from.” I tried, but not much happened. Still, I knew shifts have been and are happening.

That night, returning home, the streets were blocked for the wake. The one I didn’t attend because I did not know the boy who died this week. We detoured around to my house. My home. That night, I woke. For my middle-of-the-night battle with my bladder. Should I get up and pee or can I make it through the night? I lay there. And saw something. Felt something. A presence. I laughed. Now I am seeing ghosts? I went to the bathroom and felt the night. Felt the presence. Who was it? I decided it was my mom. Who else would it be? Then that night I dreamt I had siblings. I was talking to my “sister.” She was 17 years older than me and she told me that we had two other brothers. Wow. A whole family of people I never even knew I had?! And then I dreamt I was flying! I was terrified of the sensation. It was exciting but terrifying. I touched the sensation and then scurried away, waking.  Afraid to go too deep.

Today, blessed weekend, I took one of my regular yoga classes with one of my yoga friend teachers with my yoga community in my yoga “home.” Heart-openers. Damn you Clare. As I lifted and expanded and breathed into my heart, I thought about the boy I did not know who died this week. And his mom and dad and sisters and friends. And I suppressed tears. Convulsive sobbing tears. I touched that space and scurried away. I wanted to shout to my yoga friends: A young man died this week! I am so sad!  But I didn’t. I went deep but not that deep.

There is a video montage of photos of this boy I did not know who died this week. I watched it. It could be my family photos. Beautiful human beings doing family things together. I saw him grow from a boy to a young man.  I cried. Cathartic heart-opening tears.

A young man died this week! I did not know him. And yet…I do know him.

Go deep. Love deeply. Live joyfully. We all die. And it might be sooner rather than later.

Image:  4th Mandala Heart Chakra, by Jennifer Christenson

I Want Stained Glass Windows!

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Awe

Around about now, I wish I belonged to a church. It seems like such a meaningful way to spend the holidays. You know, Christmas and Easter. Holidays that I celebrate. Secularly. But the sweet baskets of chocolate and the spring tulips and the nice family dinner don’t seem like enough. I want Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. Stained Glass Windows. The Word of God.

Every decade or so, I wonder about joining a church. The obstacles are many. I was brought up by cerebral scientists who were not necessarily atheists (neither would commit to believing nor not believing), but who were damn sure they did not want to go to church. And, probably not surprising, I married a man with a similar attitude: not quite sure about God but convinced that church is not for him and angry, angry, that religion is the root of so much persecution and conflict in the world.

I am not sure about God, but I don’t believe that Jesus is any more divine than you or me. I am not Christian, but that is the religion to which I’ve been most exposed. I definitely don’t believe that you need to follow a religion and its rules and its mythology to be a good person.  In fact, I am suspicious of those who follow a religion’s rules without questioning.  How can you be so sure? And why is one religion more worthy than another?

But in stillness, the stillness of savasana or meditation or a Reiki session, sometimes – just sometimes – warmth spreads throughout my body. My body tingles with energy. I see colors and images. I am both hyper alert and deeply relaxed. Usually, in my daily life, I am too busy busy busy and too determined to achieve something to be still. To feel. To listen. But in stillness, it happens. Sometimes.

I am sure there is a scientific reason for my very physical, very dramatic, very strange, very powerful, very real experiences. I am equally sure that people who are more comfortable than me with the mysterious and the mystical will claim this as an excellent example of the unknowable. And that I should get myself to church or synagogue or temple without another moment’s hesitation.

When my mother died, I was determined that we would honor her in a church. Unlike our disappointing and unsatisfying nods to Christmas (presents!) and Easter (chocolate!), this life passage needed more meaning. We found a Unitarian minister and church who guided us to create a lovely memorial service. It helped. It made a difference.

I like the Unitarians. They tend to be liberal and intellectual without a lot of strictures. Good God, they hardly even mention God in their beliefs and principles! That’s my kind of religion! I must say however, that their churches hardly seem like churches to me. The church where we had my mother’s memorial service was an ugly building from the uninspired 1960’s. I Want Stained Glass Windows. A Breath-Taking Sanctuary. Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. The Word of God. A church should define the notion of Awe-Some.  Like the cathedrals that inspired me while I was traipsing all over Europe when I was 20.

I suppose the physical space should not matter. Any space can become beautiful, and sacred, as you spend time there, in stillness. It’s not the stained glass windows that are sacred, but the people who make the stained glass windows and sing in the choir.  Or chant in the yoga studio.  Or pray for peace.  Or act to build peace.  What matters is the community of people and the holiness of love and support between the people and a sense of sacred purpose. Faith that life and love matter.

I will spend some of Easter in stillness, being grateful for the hope and optimism that is Spring, and reflecting on love. I believe that what is holy is love. Love is what is Awe-Some.

Photo is the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral.

To Sleep

arianna-addormentata

Perchance to Dream

A funny thing has happened as I’ve gotten older (and kinder to myself). I am sleeping more. Maybe it’s the dark mornings of Winter. Maybe I am a little depressed. While I do feel subdued, I don’t feel depressed. Indeed, after the death of my mother, I feel an increased urgency to live authentically, say what I want to say, and not waste time. Sleep doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Sleep feels precious and restorative. I am less and less willing to drag myself out of bed, tired. Maybe it’s peace. Maybe it’s wisdom.

I used to drag myself out of bed. To exercise. To school. To work. Frequently to exercise. Years and years of my life, I have dragged myself out of bed in the cold and the dark for punishing workouts which allowed me to feel virtuous and smug and provided an excuse for eating quantities of food. In my disciplined way, on auto-pilot, I did not listen to whether my body needed rest, I simply got up and did whatever it was I felt compelled to do at 5 am.

Now, when I wake at 4:30 or 5:00, I go to the bathroom, marvel that I ever dragged myself out of bed so early, and go back to sleep. Sometimes I have anxiety and find it difficult to go back to sleep. I breathe, I chant (in my head – my husband would be quite perplexed if I chanted out loud in the middle of the night), I do self-Reiki, and I usually go back to sleep, grateful that I am past the awful, awful, awful (did I say awful?) years-long, chronic insomnia of menopause. And when I go back to sleep at 5 am, I dream. Wild dreams. Convoluted spiritual journeys. Dives of rebirth into deep, deep water. And of course my standby, the anxiety dream. Lately, however, I’ve caught myself mid-anxiety-dream and told myself not to go there. “Don’t go there!” I command myself. And the dream changes or stops before it gets too nightmarish. I take this as a good sign. Of kindness and acceptance of myself. I am grateful.

Being sleep-deprived used to be a badge of honor. Oh, I never sleep more than 6 hours a night! Oh, I am so tired! Oh, I have so much to do! Oh, I am so important! Funny, then, I was sicker, had more headaches, and carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, “I am so tired” was an automatic mantra. I said it all the time. Now, I catch myself when those words bubble up, usually out of habit. I pause. Am I tired? Why would I say I am tired? Is it an excuse? For what? I’ve realized that it’s usually code for I don’t want to do whatever it is I am about to do. So, I pause and check in. What am I feeling? Am I truly tired? Do I need to do something different? Maybe I need to tackle an obstacle and get through it. Maybe I need to ask for help. Maybe I need a nap.

When I stopped therapy last year, I gave myself permission to treat myself to a massage once a month. This permission is hard for me. Massages feel self-indulgent. But the truth is that I am healthier and more content. The funny thing about these once-a-month massages is that they make me realize how tense I am. On the weekends when I get a massage, I find I am more likely to cut out activities and more likely to take a nap. Rest breeds the need for more rest.

Of course, there is still that voice, that habitual voice, that whispers: “You’re going to get fat. You’re going to get out of shape. You’re going to fall behind on achieving your goals. You Are Lazy. You Are Bad.” But there is a new voice that says, Be Quiet! This is me. I feel better when I rest, restore, sleep. And when I feel better, I am more compassionate to myself, more open to others, more creative, more energetic, more able to live authentically. More myself.

The science of sleep and deep rest (Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Massage) is fascinating. The benefits of sleep are many. Sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing us to heal from pain and wounds. Sleep prevents us from over-eating, helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Sleep eliminates the stress hormones from our body-mind and clears negative emotions, supporting us to be happier and better friends/parents/lovers. Sleep is central to our cognitive well-being, assisting us to process new knowledge and store memories properly. Sleep is crucial for children and teens – growth hormones are more active in certain cycles of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s.  That’s just the short list.

And of course there are all those magical dreams. Those dreams that only occur if you sleep enough to have REM sleep. I’ve started pausing between sleep and waking. Hanging on to my dreams. What was my dream? What does it mean? What can I learn from my dream?

Life is too short to spend it being tired. Go to sleep. Dream. Healing dreams.

Image:  Statue of Sleeping Ariadne

The Breath

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Good-Bye Mom

Dying is a harrowing experience for the ones not dying. I wonder what it feels like to be the one who is dying? What was she thinking? Anything? What was she feeling? Pain? Fear? Sadness? Relief? I hope and pray it was like slipping into Savasana. Please let it be so.

On Saturday, I called the hospital to see if I could get a more clear idea of what was happening with my mother. My father had been providing contradictory information to me for the last few days and seemed frighteningly unsure. The case worker got on the phone and said, quite clearly, “You need to get here today.” Well then. It must really be time. I arrived in the evening. She was having trouble breathing, so they were administering morphine, which reduces pain but also reduces the panicked sensation of not being able to breathe thus slowing down the pace of breathing in and breathing out. Morphine was all she was on at that point, having been transitioned to palliative care. It was the end. I spoke to her and held her hand but she was quite out of it. I debated spending the night at the hospital, but my father was so upset and confused that I decided to go back to the house to be with him.

In the middle of the night, not sleeping, I thought about what I wanted to say to her. The time was here. No time to hold back. But I didn’t have anything to say. The desire for questions and regrets and what if’s was gone. I didn’t have all my questions answered. I didn’t tell her everything. But it didn’t matter any more.

When I was very little, my mother read out loud to me. The first books I remember her reading to me were the Winnie the Pooh stories. It occurred to me that she might be able to hear me and to be more aware of what was going on than I realized so I combed through the house looking for these old books and found the books of poems by A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. I left my sad and exhausted father at home and arrived early at the hospital Sunday morning.

I spoke to the doctor who was mercifully kind – so kind – and clear and blunt. She is dying. It will be soon. There is no hope. We will make her comfortable. (An infection due to complications following a hip fracture led to sepsis.) Doctors: we are overwhelmed and beg you for your clear guidance. Overcome with guilt and doubt, wondering if we should do more, it was a bitter relief to be told that there was no more to do.

Left alone with my mom. I gazed at her, my beautiful old frail mom who I have been mourning for so long. The vibrant and exceptionally accomplished woman who I knew as my mother had faded many years ago.

I began reading. The matter-of-fact tone and silly language of the poetry was so familiar and so enjoyable. I read a poem. Paused and sat quietly.   Held her hand. Read another poem. Took another break. And so the morning went.

I offered her Reiki. I don’t really feel like a “certified” Reiki practitioner. It always seems mysterious and slightly ridiculous for a card-carrying intellectual to find such comfort in Reiki, but if ever there was time for me to have faith, this was it. I felt the energy in my soul and I offered it to her, praying that it ease the transition between the physical world and the spiritual world.

This is what I said to her that day:

I love you Mom. You can go now. I am happy. You don’t need to worry about me. I will take care of Daddy. You are the best mom. It is because you are a good mom that I am a good mom. I have two amazing children. Thank you. I love you.

Later that afternoon, I brought my father to the hospital. He was overcome, broken-heartedly exclaiming “Oh Sweetheart!” It broke my heart to see my stoic father lose his beloved sweetheart of 54 years. She was more agitated, less comfortable but more alert. She opened her right eye half way and stared and stared and stared at each of us. We just gazed in each other’s eyes. She drifted out of consciousness and we took a dinner break. We returned that evening and she seemed quite out of it. The lovely nurse assured us she was aware we were there and was calmer when we were there. So we sat quietly holding her hand. After about an hour, she breathed out and did not breathe in again. Then her breath returned. Not for long. Gradually, her breath faded away.

I love you Mom.

 

“Hi Sweetie!”

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Celeste

I was in our local wine shop this morning, running my litany of weekend errands. I was in a contemplative and compassionate mood – always trying to bring the principles of Yoga and Reiki to my life off the mat, with mixed levels of success. Sundays are good days. I am rested and have more time to be patient, to be open, to listen.

The guy at the local wine shop knows me. (Really, I don’t buy or drink that much wine.) We chat. I tell him what wines I like and what wines my husband likes and he shows me new inventory. When impatient, more affluent customers come in, eager for their more expensive selections right away, I wink at him and tell him I am not in a hurry.  I go and browse while he helps the Very Important Person who lives in the Very Rich Suburbs of New York.

As I was browsing, I felt my cell phone vibrating. Hurriedly, I fumbled for it. It was my daughter! She’s been at college for 3 weeks now, and we all agree it feels like 6 months. Our textversations and conversations are truly the highlights of my days. I grabbed my phone, knowing I could go quietly to a corner of the store, welcome and undisturbed, to connect with my beautiful girl.

“Hi Sweetie!” I exclaimed in greeting.

Suddenly, the lovely old woman near me looked me in the eye and smiled.

“I thought you were talking to me!” She laughed.

I laughed at how my exuberant greeting must have come across to her.

I snuck off and had my delicious conversation and then went to the counter to pay for my wine. The old woman and her daughter, a woman of a certain age, like me, were finishing up. I waited. When they turned to leave, the old woman and I cried “Bye Sweetie!” and high-fived. The daughter, quite perplexed, asked her mother if she knew me. We explained our chance meeting and said our good-byes.

The guy at the wine store commented that I made friends so easily. Ha! Not really. At least I don’t think of myself that way. But maybe that is another aspect of my personality that is evolving. Softening.

As I was driving away, I spied the mother and her daughter walking home. I impulsively stopped and offered them a ride. After all, we were friends now! We introduced ourselves. Celeste is 97. She looks 77. I told her that she looks fantastic for her age (yuck, what a horrible way to say that I can’t believe I said that but she didn’t seem to mind). I told her that my mom was 92 and in rehab for a broken hip. Celeste reassured me that she will be fine. That her generation is strong and resilient. They’ve been through World War 2 after all. We parted ways, expecting to never see each other again, but grateful for the serendipitous connection. Of course, now I can’t get her out of my mind and I wish we had exchanged more than just our first names. Since I am too far away to help my 90-something mother, it alleviates some of my guilt to offer help to someone else’s 90-something mother. Though Celeste doesn’t seem to need a lot of help. She is not frail and has a good attitude. May we all live to be 97, as cheerful and healthy as she is.

I’ve never met a Celeste – it’s one of those lovely older names not in common use now. The only Celeste I know is from the Babar books. Babar tragically lost his mother to hunters. This always shocked and saddened me. Orphaned, he befriended an old lady who mentored him. Babar married his 2nd cousin, Celeste, where they ruled with lovingkindness. I loved the Babar books but kind of forgot them. I am feeling soon-to-be-orphaned.  Is this my old lady mentor?  And elephants always make me think of my daughter.  She is in awe of elephants after one waved his ear at her when she was a little girl visiting the zoo.

All in all I think my new friendship must be a good omen.

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking, By Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

Image:  Celeste from the Babar series  by Jean de Brunhoff

 

The Countdown

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Extra Strong or Maximum Strength?

My daughter moves to college one month from tomorrow. In 32 days. Exactly. Not that I’m counting the days. Except that I am. It’s this big looming day that seems to mark the end of family as we currently know it. I think I’ve been counting the days since the day she was born. Only 18 years with her! They’re going to fly by! Better enjoy it because before you know it she’ll be going to college!

So. Here we are. She is going to college. In 32 days.

We spent two days at Orientation. Thankfully, schools now include parents in the process, allowing us to familiarize ourselves with the campus, the curriculum, and all the transitional support services. It’s a massive relief to have spent those two days together — together but separate…they whisk the kids away from the parents.  It’s a massive relief to have spent those two days together in July, well Before Moving Day. I can approach the next 32 days with some familiarity about what her life will be like After Moving Day.

It’s not how it was done when I went to college. I moved into a dorm under construction into a tiny room with bunk beds and a roommate I had never met. My mother broke down in tears. Who could blame her? Except that it made it even harder for me to separate. I was very homesick. I think my daughter will miss home, a lot, but I don’t wish that kind of homesickness on her. As the mothers who have gone before me have told me would happen – I am sad and anxious but also excited and proud.  Really, all I want is for her to adjust as smoothly as possible and to find her own way as a happy and successful (whatever that means) young adult.

So. Here we are, cramming in doctors’ appointments, filling out paperwork, paying the first tuition bill, making to-do lists, and getting lost in the details of what needs to get done. In 32 days. Before Moving Day. Should I get the Extra Strong garbage bags or the Maximum Strength garbage bags? (Who is the marketing copywriter who thought those categories were clear to the consumer?) Frankly, I never would have even known that garbage bags are better than boxes if it weren’t for my amazing sister-in-law who seems to know everything I don’t know. I pretend I am more capable than her. I research stuff and come up with my own opinions. But when it comes to getting things done, she is way more capable than me. So when staring at the confusing array of garbage bag choices, I knew I had to consult her. Get the Extra Strong, she said. Extra Strong is better than Maximum Strength? Yes, she said. You can throw pillows and bedding into them. And for heavier stuff, like shoes, you just pack as much as you can carry. Okay. Well said. I completely trust you.

All this To-Do Busy-ness is a distraction from the momentous emotion of this still pause in time, between high school and college, a caesura before she leaves. I am too busy to cry. I am too busy taking care of the details to stand back and do what really matters. Be With Her.

So yesterday, we spent the afternoon together. She introduced me to Reiki a while back and we decided to do Reiki training together this year. Yes Reiki. Crazy Hokum, I know. I, the only offspring of scientist, aetheist parents, discovered Reiki through my yoga friends and my wise daughter who explained it to me, simply: “I don’t know. It feels warm and nice.” Indeed. She is so wise. Those engineering students are going to be lucky and grateful she is in their midst!

As my swirling nervous energy entered the Reiki training workshop, our wonderful Reiki Master reminded me to get out of my head and just be. Just feel the moment. Let it happen. Instead of wondering if I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and feeling what I was supposed to be feeling, just appreciate the moment. When my nervous energy wakes me up in the middle of the night, sends me walking briskly at dawn, drives me to pick my cuticles or rub that poor sore spot by my right ear, she suggested that I feel my feet on the ground. “I feel my feet on the ground, calm and peaceful.” I try to say this when I’d rather be picking at the sore spot by my right ear.

At the end of the afternoon training, my daughter and I took turns offering and receiving Reiki from each other. As I was on the table and she was offering me Reiki, she was radiating energy. Such love and warmth were emanating from her. I wondered if I could offer my mother Reiki, allowing her to rest and be peaceful, to touch her with love and warmth? I imagined (or was it a vision? I have visions when receiving Reiki. Yes, I really do. Call it crazy hokum, but it’s the truest peace I’ve found in my nearly 52 years of this life.) I saw myself as old. Old and dying. And that she, my daughter, was offering me Reiki to send me love and peace. I can’t imagine a better way to die. I just hope it’s a long time from now. But it’ll be here before I know it. So I better slow down and enjoy every day. With her. (And all the people I love.) Before Moving Day. In 32 days.

I Spoke to My Mom Today

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And My Mom Spoke to Me

This should not be remarkable, but it is.  After multiple surgeries to remove a recurring benign growth in her throat, she has gradually lost her voice over the last 30 years.  I believe that one’s sense of self is connected to one’s ability to tell your story.  Because she has lost the ability to speak, her self, her stories, and her memories have also gradually faded over the last 30 years.  When I visit her in person, there is a window of time during the visit when she galvanizes her mom persona and I connect with her.  But I don’t visit very often – fraught with old patterns – so most of our interaction is via telephone.  It is difficult to have an in-depth conversation with her in person and even more so on the phone, without eye contact and body language.  She hoarsely whispers and frequently doesn’t finish her sentences.  Our conversations usually consist of me glibly describing my activities and my kids’ activities, a little small talk about the weather and whether she can get outside for a walk, and an attempt to engage with her over whatever book she is reading.  Usually she is reading a book I gave her, because books are where we have always connected and reading together has always been a favorite shared activity.  I am never sure whether she is just going through the motions of reading or whether she is really taking in what she is reading.  She can’t find the words to describe the book to me, other than to tell me that she is enjoying it.

Last week, when we spoke and we completed our routine weekly conversation, she said, lucidly, “I am glad you are doing okay.”  She said it in a way that knocked the breath out of me.  I hadn’t told her anything deep.  She doesn’t know about my writing.  She doesn’t know about my therapy.  She doesn’t know about my midlife search for spirituality.  And yet, she knows?  I shivered.  And wondered if those were her last words to me.  A gentle maternal benediction.  After 51 years, I am doing okay and she can tell.  Perhaps there is more going on inside her than I realize.  Is that what she needs before she dies?  To know that her only child is okay?  I shivered.  That week I dreamt.

Healing

There is a dying withered being, like a malnourished starving child.  My mother?  My self?  My inner child?  It is almost as if she has no skin.  Her eyes are slits.  Oozing.  Tears?  Toxins?  My teacher is there.  She says: Touch her. Use Reiki. But don’t touch her tears, it could make you sick or kill you.  She leaves.  I am alone with this dying creature.  I can’t do this!  I don’t have Reiki power!  I am not a healer!  I am sure she is going to die. I place my hands on her.  She looks at me through those oozing slits. She has no voice and cannot speak. I muster all my compassion and healing energy to comfort her. It is not clear to me that she will survive. I wonder if she will die and feel honored to be the one with her if she passes on to wherever one goes when they die.

This week when we spoke, she was again lucid.  Her voice had some strength and she completed her sentences.  She could tell me what her book was about and that she hadn’t tackled The Goldfinch yet but it was next on her list.  (Same here.)  I told her about my amazing day with my daughter, playing hooky for her 18th birthday.  And then the conversation took a turn:

Mom:  “This is a big year for you.”

Me:  “Yes.  I am trying to spend as much time with my daughter as I can before she leaves for college.  I am going to miss her.”

Mom:  “More than you know.”

Me:  “Mom, did you miss me?”

Mom:  “Oh yes.  So much.”

Quiet pause.  Because neither one of us knows how to take this conversation to the next step.

Mom:  “I am thinking about living to 100.  It’s only 8 more years!”

Me:  Joyful laughter.

Me:  “Mom, is there anything you want to do before you die?”

Mom:  “No.”

Me:  “Just be?”

Mom:  “Just be.”

Quiet pause.  Because neither one us knows how to take this conversation to the next step.

Me:  “Bye Mom, I love you.”

Mom:  “I love you too.”

I wonder what we will talk about next week?

Image:  Visuddha, The Throat Chakra

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