Two Years

Yesterday marked two years since my beloved mother’s spirit escaped from the suffering of cancer and joined the spirit of Great Love that fuels all.

 
Two years flew by. Two years crept. I am not the same person I was before. Neither is my Dad, my brothers, sisters, my husband, my children, nieces and nephews. Life is always changing, of course. Change is painful, because it requires us to shift our thoughts, accept harsh realities and rejigger our deeply held expectations (sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot). Evolving is uncomfortable and awkward but it can be miraculous — particularly in hindsight.
 
Life without my mom was once unfathomable to me. Since I can remember, which is very far back, I categorized that concept as impossible. Apparently, I was wrong. Life without my mom’s physical presence is possible. It has occurred. Her spiritual presence persists in my life and makes itself known in myriad ways, and I am thankful for these reminders. Her physical absence still represents a significant vacuum in our lives. (I think I speak for me and all of you reading this, too.) I continue to battle with that beast but I also have come to accept it a bit more. It enrages me, but I have made room for the absence, too.
 
I guess the absence has its purpose. Without it, would I recall the way her lovely (always cool) long fingers gently stroked on my face? Without it, would I hear her voice in my heart, like a song, calling my name, the names of our daughters, my nieces and nephews. Would I remember the way she would angle her head and smile at someone when she was really listening and wanted to show her sincere attention and concern? And then would I find myself doing the same (without consciously knowing it)? Without the absence, would I feel moved to cook her recipes, to read the books left untouched by her bedside, to reread her love notes and cards to me and my family over the years? Would I be able to recognize her smell when I pull on a sweater of hers, freshly taken from a box sealed up with her things? Maybe not. And that would be a true tragedy.
 
So I guess I must construct a truce with the absence.
 
I can definitively tell you that two years of additional life, love, laughter, pain, tears, joy, dancing, weddings, births, apologies, devotion, prayer, meditation, yoga, running, singing, cooking, baking, connection, new friends, enduring friendships, gardening, reading, writing, growing would not have been possible without you. 
 
Without the friends and family of each of us, without the friends of my mothers’ we never even knew, who remember her and carry her with them and who find it in their hearts to carry us, and love us, my Dad, my brothers and I would not be here today.
 
Without the love of family, the love of friends, the self-sacrifice required to hold us up, to accept us as we are (broken and healing, awkward and tentative) we would not have made it to this point. It is a debt of love we owe to the world because you have given us this gift of your love and friendship.
 
Thank you for keeping my mom’s memory with you, in your hearts, in your words, in your prayers. Thank you for loving us where we have been these last two years. 
 
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What Our Friends See in Us

Mr. Bailey told me recently he admires me for my resilience. By “told me,” I mean one day when I was feeling particularly low I prodded him to tell me what he liked best about me. Anyway, that’s when he said the thing about me being resilient.

Modern Mary considers the future, reflects on the compliments of the past. Amazing painting, “The Future” by Felicia Olin. http://www.feliciaolin.com

It delighted me, as I was feeling not so resilient at the moment. So maybe it was a Jedi-mind trick that he executed quite well.

In any case, it wasn’t the first time I had heard that particular trait called out.

My teenage years consisted of much intense falling in love. In my mind, though, I was not boy crazy. In fact, I despised my classmates who were always talking about some boy or lusting after some dude who they were too shy to speak to or who would not give them the time of day.

Instead, (shameful admission forthcoming…) I chose to be that outgoing, annoying girl who perennially had a loser or scumbag boyfriend who she kept breaking up with and getting back together. Ad infinitum.

Sometime in this morass of teenage girl angst, I found myself bottomed out in the aftermath of yet another lame-o boyfriend break up. I was whining to my best friend, when she said nearly the same thing.

“Mary, you’re nothing if not resilient,” was what she said. (Yes, we did speak like that then.

I may be modern, but I still have a thing for Walt Whitman.

We were major literature lovers who just as often quoted Whitman as we did The Cure.)

The comment, back then, stopped me in my tracks. I had not considered my passionate falls into love and writhing agony I felt after each break up as being resilient. To me, it felt confusing and weak.

Modern Mary considers the idea of “resiliency”. Another amazing painting by Felicia Olin, http://www.feliciaolin.com

As life turns out, resilience has turned out to be a pretty good trait to possess. At my (ahem) tender age, I’ve dealt with a good helping of suffering, betrayal, isolation, depression, grief, change and challenge; humbling humiliation and heart-stopping, hope-busting loss. This last go around had me walking underneath Eeyore’s black rain cloud for the better part of two years. It made the teenage years look like an episode of The Facts of Life. I never thought I would emerge with a place for hope to rest in my soul again.

As it turns out, resiliency as a defining characteristic/flaw is not easily dashed.

But I’ve realized another part of resiliency’s tenacity lies in the precious people you have around you to point it out to you. In that regard, I’ve been ridiculously blessed by a host of amazing friends/sisters/life guides (and, of course, Mr. Bailey, who must deal with all of my crazy crap my wonderful friends are spared).

Thank you for being a reason to find resilience again, for quietly, patiently marking the path back. Thank you for gathering up the broken pieces I had discarded, for believing when I didn’t, for crying with me, for whispered prayers, generous pours, and, mostly, for forgiving me my general lunacy.

Birdhouse in Your Soul by Felicia Olin

I hold so much gratitude to you for helping me repair this birdhouse in my soul.

I can see clearly now and your underwear is way too small

When someone you love is fighting for their life, a lot of stuff goes by the wayside.

A more basic version of you emerges. You develop a predator-like focus on the beasts you’re fending off. For our family, those beasts were cancer and death. We were on the side of many more years and love overcoming illness.

Our eyes were opened, and focused on beating cancer -- and not on so many other things.

Once the battle was over, my focus seemed to shatter into a thousand pieces of distracted attention.

Lately I’ve been working with my SuperGlue, in tongue-over-lip concentration, trying to fit at least a good portion of the pieces back together again.

The pieces are interesting! And shocking.

Take, for example, my daughter Prima’s bedroom closet. It was bursting at the seams with too-small clothes, socks and shoes. While I was the cancer predator, I just shoved new stuff in there, making small pliant promises I would go through it all later.

Later came the other evening. My younger daughter out with her dad, we dove in and began culling through the mess. I tackled her underwear drawer first. I found my 8-year-old daughter had been squeezing herself into size 4, 5, and 6 panties.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” she told me bluntly, when I apologetically pointed out the size discrepancy. “They stretched out.”

Oodles of guilt and shame were followed by a profound love of my Prima, who tends to find the silver lining, especially when she can spare someone’s feelings.

Another interesting piece was our desk. Sheesh! Outdated bills had started mating under the piles of unrequited junk mail, coupons that shouted, “FREE!” birthday cards never sent and school notices that never notified us. (Me: Did you know Prima has a half day today? Mr. B: No, did you?)

The Bailey's desk was about 1000 times worse than this, and remains a work in chaotic progress.

A carefully placed stack of colorful woven baskets yielded bills from the early cancer predator days, shoved away and now outdated, thankfully, and easy to shred.

I’ve woken up! And the living room needs painting and the floor needs changing and our lives need a fresh coat of paint.

The cancer predator was cruel, but it’s over now. And as much as I miss my Mom (with every thought and every breath, every single day), I am glad it’s gone – even if I have to start with tight underwear.