Mic check, 1, 2, 1, 2.
Is this thing still on?
When most bloggers take an extended pause from their blog, the first post is most often an apology for neglecting their craft or ignoring their audience. But this wasn’t the year for needing to express every thought in a public forum. This year was for ME.
2017 has been an intensely internal year for me, and most of my writing this year has been focused on personal journaling to bring clarity to my emotional rumblings.
However, I felt compelled today to share my internal thoughts externally after spending the Saturday before Thanksgiving talking about the topic of this post with two dear friends and then having a beautiful epiphany about this same topic today after listening to one of my favorite podcasts.
As we approach the end of another calendar year, and particularly as we head into another holiday season, I pray that these words will bring you peace, clarity, and comfort.
Most of my 2017 was spent as follows: Bed + Tears + Food + Tissues + Sleep + Repeat. I was wading in this emotional swamp because I chose to take on the herculean task of doing something I had never done–grieve the death of my mother. My mother died 34 years ago when I was a toddler. However I’d never given myself the space to mourn her loss until my life forced me to do so.
My inner four-year-old shouldered enormous responsibility for my mother’s death. She thought that she caused her mother’s cancer. She was upset that her family never told her that her mother died. She thought that she needed to be punished for causing such a beloved person in her life to leave forever.
Those toddler-esque thoughts showed up in my nearly 40-year-old world as overcompensating to prove my worth and value to others, overcommitting my time, energy, and resources to earn a living and to be loved, and overextending my boundaries to the point of emotional volatility.
My tipping point came on a hot summer night in July when I was bawling my eyes out over a difficult project. The project needed very simple fixes, but the weight of meeting my client’s expectations and my very real need to be compensated for my work were just too much too handle in that moment. I was also present and aware enough to know that my intense emotional reaction had nothing to do with the work or my client. My inner four year old was throwing emotional tantrums all over the place. And if she was being activated, I knew that all roads were finally leading me to get knee deep in the muddy abyss of my loss.
Wading into that muddy abyss showed up as me working through some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, challenging yet necessary conversations I’ve ever had about the loss of my mother with a divine being also known as my life coach, Jennifer.
I’ve done an extraordinary amount of coaching and self-inventory work over the last decade–from one-on-one coaching to group coaching programs to reading spiritual texts to watching copious episodes of Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” and “Iyanla, Fix My Life.”
But what I needed and what Jennifer provided in this chapter of my healing was this beautiful, gentle yet tough unfolding that helped me come to my own understanding that my mother’s death was not my fault. We would talk for an hour or so, I processed our conversations, I did the homework she assigned, I journaled my thoughts on my laptop or recorded personal video logs to capture my thoughts, I took long baths, I ate my comfort food of choice during this healing process–grilled Swiss Cheeses with copious amounts of butter, and I slept A LOT. The marathon sleeping surprised me the most, but I now get that that was my body and my soul’s way of saying, “You can let that go and REST now.”
Through our work, I began to release the anger I had at my family for not telling me about my mother’s passing. I now understand that there was probably no way to tell me that or for me to comprehend that loss at such a young age. But I could now forgive them and allow that anger to subside.
I also had the awareness that I could now stop showing up in intimate relationships and friendships as Wonder Woman. I no longer had to atone for my mother’s death by carrying the inordinate expectations of lovers and friends to prove my worth and my existence. I no longer had to violate my own boundaries and deplete my emotional bandwidth to prove my lovability. I now know that my worth and value just ARE because I AM. There was no longer any point to prove. I could now JUST BE.
By the beginning of November after nearly a dozen calls with Jennifer, I felt like I had waded through the thick of the mud of this chapter of my grief. I now know that grief is an ongoing process, so I will never be done, but I felt like I landed in a better place with more emotional clarity. While I felt better emotionally, on paper, I felt like 2017 was a wash. There were no big celebrity projects on the radar or epic trips across the globe. Wading through this emotional mud made my work as a solo entrepreneur incredibly tough and sobering. I told Jennifer in one of our last calls that I felt like I spent most of the year in an emotional washing machine.
She simply replied, “But you now have a relationship with your mother that you never had before.”
Indeed, I do.
I now see my mother as a WOMAN, and not some mythical being without flaws. By the time my mother was my current age of 38, she had already given birth to seven out of her nine children (with my brother Thomas and I still to come!). I could not imagine what that experience was like for her. Who did she talk to? How did she emotionally manage seven children and a marriage? I’ll never know, but it gives me more empathy and compassion for her life and her experiences.
I now make time every day to talk with her more. When I miss her, I allow myself to cry. If I’m angry that I can’t share a moment with her, I give myself the space to be angry. When someone assumes she’s alive and I inform the person that my mother has passed, I don’t cringe (as much) when someone says, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” I now welcome those genuine moments of sympathy and empathy a little easier.
And then all of my crying, sleeping, and grilled cheese-eating suddenly had a purpose on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Two of my dear girlfriends who had their own parental losses called me within hours of each other to get my perspective on grief. I was in the middle of cleaning my apartment and packing up to head home to Maryland for the week, but I stopped and just offered my ear and my heart. I now found myself in Jennifer’s position of gently offering my friends suggestions for being with their grief and walking themselves lovingly through the honoring their loved ones. It was REFRESHING to be whole enough to be a resource for my friends.
AND THEN…the crescendo of all this weeping and wailing came to light for me this morning as I was listening to my favorite podcast, The RobCast with Rob Bell. In the most recent episode, Rob interviewed funeral director, Caleb Wilde, about his new book, “Confessions of a Funeral Director.” This was a fascinating conversation about grief and death, and the conversation point that grabbed me the most is when Caleb said, “Grieving is a form of worship.”
I literally had to stop and take that in.
GRIEVING IS WORSHIP.
As I sat with that thought, I recognized that all worship isn’t joyful exclamation. Sometimes worship is yelling at God, being pissed, crying your heart out, and walking through the valley of soul-shaking grief. But now being on the backside of this very intense year of grieving, I now know that if you don’t do it, it’s going to show up somewhere else in your life.
So all of that crying, rocking in a fetal position, binging out on “This Is Us,” and stuffing my belly with bread, cheese, and butter was really a very intense way to honor the loss of someone I never got to know on this earthly plane. Every tear was gratitude to God for my parents loving each other enough to create me. Every moment of anguish was exaltation for my mother selflessly giving of her body so that I could gestate, grow, and BE. And every moment that I mourn the loss of Ida Mae Lakins and all of who she was, it’s a divine reminder to know that I loved her enough to be in the pain of losing her–and knowing that the pain doesn’t last forever.
Grieving is hard, y’all. Plain and simple.
But I am a witness that it is the most hard, beautiful, emotional, tough, enlightening, and NECESSARY work I’ve EVER done. This grieving process has allowed me to manage my wound now as a WOMAN, and not as a screaming toddler, and interestingly enough, it’s brought me closer to my mother more now than I have ever been before.
The After Thoughts
My intention for sharing these words today was FIRST for my own self-acknowledgement of the very scary and very sobering work of walking through my own grief and being a flawed and authentic example that it can be done.
SECOND, I know how challenging the holiday season can be when you are missing a loved one, and I hope that something I have shared here will give you the inspiration to do your own work.
THIRD, DO NOT DO THIS ALONE. I repeat: DO NOT DO THIS ALONE. Take the time to find the right professionals, whether it is a psychotherapist, psychologist, or life coach, who can walk you through this process. And real talk, I will be more than delighted to recommend the amazing professionals who have been instrumental in my journey.
And FINALLY, take the timetables and expectations off of your grieving. I will always miss my mother. ALWAYS. Some years, the grief is more manageable than others. (This was not one of those years! Ha!). But I now give myself the space for that grief to just BE, and not beat myself up for not “being over it yet.”
Grief is the battle scar we EARN for being courageous enough to love and lose and love again.
Wear your battle scars well, my loves.