Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lamentation, Joy and Motherhood

Well, you may be getting tired of reading my favorite writers, but I am going to share two more quotes here. I get these two emails daily, one from and one from The Center for Action and Contemplation.

The CAC quote for the day before yesterday (from Richard Rohr) was:
"Question of the day: Who shares in your healing process?

The psalms of lament allow us to feel, express and publicly own the downside of things. They allow us to complain to God, and trust that God can receive such complaints.
The psalms of lament recognize that you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and probably express the much-needed meaning of a personal confession or 'communal penance service.'

God alone forgives, but sharing with others is needed for healing."
from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

I wonder if this is why it is so healthy and helpful to me to write down my grief. It can also be spoken, but I tend to worry about the recipient, and whether or not he or she can bear what I have to say. When I write, I know that no one is forced to read it; anyone is free to choose to read, or not to read it. Hence the warning labels in the titles of my posts; for example, my dad needs to be forewarned about the details that might be contained in a posting. He is much too close to the subject to be unhurt by the memories these thoughts will stir up. Other people who are close feel helped by sharing the memories. It's individual, and it's not for me to decide who can "take it" on any one day.

The Word for the Day is:
"Don't be concerned about being disloyal to your pain by being joyous."by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, Alchemical Wisdom

Another aspect of what seems like healthy grieving, to me, is being able to share joy, and not being afraid to allow it into your being. When it arises, being able to just be thankful for it, and not complicating it with too much thinking and analyzing. This was much harder for me, in the very beginning of the journey of facing the fact of Katie's passing. I felt awful about her absence, as if we had left her behind. LEFT HER, as in, abandoned, drove off in a car without her, went on our way, let her go...which is, of course, something we would never, ever do. It felt like the worst violation of motherhood, just completely, utterly WRONG. Yet we didn't leave her; she left us, --she had to -- and no one had a bit of choice in the matter. It was against all of our wishes, prayers, hopes, efforts and will. No matter; it became a fact, and it now is a fact: she had to go on without us. So are we to live a life without experiencing joy, ever again? Is living without joy a fulfillment of our destiny, of what our lives are supposed to be? I don't think so. I feel quite certain that she would be very angry if we chose to live like that, especially as a result of her path.

I have also been thinking about the kind of mother that I am. I have never been one of those mothers whose entire life revolves around her kids, for all that I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. I am too independent, too free-spirited, to discontinue my own interests, passions and need for solitude and creativity, in other areas -- in addition to being a mother. I love my husband, and I am fully aware that we were a couple first, and we are still a couple, who will end up as a couple in retirement, God willing. I have always hoped we would be close to our kids and their families; but I expected them to have their own, full, fulfilling lives, and I wanted them to be FREE to live their own choices. I do not want to be a burden to anyone.

As a mother, I feel that it is my job to love my children deeply, and to teach them about their own goodness, and the goodness of God and His creation; to love one another, to be honest, work hard, play freely, and to be kind. I feel it's also my place to teach my children things that I have learned that are helpful and necessary to survival. It's my responsibility to protect them, as much as is in my power, until they are wise enough to look out for themselves; to teach them not to be fearful, but respectful of things that can harm them. I want my kids to know and trust their own abilities, and to work to help those abilities grow. And I feel it's natural for them to grow in independence, so that they will be happy, excited, ready and free when the time comes to leave home.

It occurred to me yesterday to wonder about why God made me this kind of mother, instead of a more symbiotic mom. I wonder if I was chosen as a mother for Katie and David, not by a "puppeteer" God, but by a loving God, in whose Love those children were given to me (and Gregg), in trust, for a time, so that I could prepare them as best I know how for what I thought was coming, --but in the end, for something that turned out to be altogether different, in Katie's case. Yet the task was every bit as sacred and important; some of the same qualities that would have helped to prepare Katie to leave home for college were needed in the cancer journey, and the journey through her dying.

In fact, at one point, as we were talking about her dying (while she was in the bathtub, where many of our most profound discussions took place), I said, "Maybe I will try to think about you as if you are at college. If you were going to college, I wouldn't be able to see you every day; I would be able to talk to you on the phone, email, you'd come home on vacation, etc., but we wouldn't be together daily. I will think about you every day, and wonder what you are doing, and send love to you, just as I would if you were in college." It's not quite like that, in practice, let me tell you, but at the time, it seemed like a good way to view it before it happened, a way that brought comfort to both of us. And I can see that my way of preparing her and David for life, was probably the only way that I (with my character quirks and limitations) could have prepared her for her death.

I used to think there was something wrong with me, because I wasn't the kind of mother that I saw around me, that I wasn't all about the kids. I thought I was a "less-maternal-than-other-mothers" mom, and not as good as they were. Now, I don't believe that's true at all. I saw what I did for Katie and David during the last two years, and it added perspective to the way that I did things before, and now I know that I am a good mother. I am ME, and my mothering is colored by who I am. And that is good, and good enough; it was all that I could offer to Katie and David, and it turned out to be exactly what Katie needed. She told me herself, near the end of her life: "You are the best mom a girl could have." I disputed this, and she corrected me. So it must be true, in her eyes...and that is good enough for me.


HappyWifeHappyLife said...

Great post, Karen, and beautifully written (as always).
Motherhood is so much different than I thought it would be.... in so many ways. It's much more experiential than I ever expected it to be. And so much of it is rolling with the curve balls that come your way, whether or not you're ready for them. I guess, looking IN at the concept of motherhood before I had my kids, I had very "frothy" expectations of what it would be like.... but then when our first child was born with heavy health issues, we obviously had to adjust our expectations. However, one makes the adjustments, and keeps moving forward. That's the key.

Katie was/IS so lucky that you are her Mom. :-)

Karla W. said...

i love what you had to say. I remember at Children's Mandi would frequently come in the room after school asking me to join you, David, and her the following morning for breakfast. She thought it was really wonderful that you made the time to share with David first thing in the morning. So, In addition to Kattie and David, Mandi and I also think you are a wonderful mother. Thank you for sharing.

Susie Parker said...

What a great post. Could I EVER relate to this one, both as a mother and, even more so, as a daughter. I will expound more on this to you privately in an e-mail. However, suffice it to say, you and I have a lot in common. As my Katie would say, "ain't that the gospel!". I've loved being a Mom but who I am colored my rendition of motherhood, the quirky, slightly (understatement) free-spirited person that I have always been. But I'm also the daughter of two wonderful people who have LITERALLY built their life around me, even more so since my sister died when I was 13. I have always known I was the center of their universe and I know they have placed me there with love. But I must confess, that's sometimes been a very heavy load to carry, even though I know it came from the finest of intentions on their part and never meant it to be so. Having said that, and you know my son is preparing to move to WV and I am days away from truly being an empty nester, I have always thought that one of the most important things I could give my kids, was the freedom to move on in the world and not worry that their doing so would somehow impact me negatively or cause my world to crumble. And I will tell you that I believe they know that. I hope they do. But that's truly an expression of love, for kids to know they can move on and continue their lives without feeling the tiniest speck of guilt in growing into who they want to be, following their passions and choosing their own path. You have done that Karen. Exceptionally so. I hope I have. Sure, I'll miss my son, just as I have missed Katie since she moved to Manhattan, but thank God she didn't take the guilt with her of leaving me. I don't believe Justin will either and if he does, I'll call him on it. You've done it all so well and you continue to and sometimes I relate as much to your story because of your son - I was in that place, the child that survived. That's not an easy role, but again, you are doing it all just the right way. I learn so much from you and sometimes I feel such validation because you are much more brave than me - the things you write and feelings you share. Thank you for this post. Thank you ever so much for it. Susie

Dreamer girl said...

Very thought provoking. Your posts have been very deep lately and make me think about things. I like your description of being a mom not having them centered around you but for them to stand on their own feet. A good guideline for parents to have a good relationship but give them the ability to do the same on their own. You definently are what Katie says a good mother. I like your posts.

Sheri said...

You sound so much like me as a mother, but have done a better job of having perspective on it. I have been very hard on myself for not being "all about the kids" all the time. I always avoided other moms because I am not the soccer mom type and I would rather chew on a shoe than attend PTA meetings.

Thank you for validating me as you have validated yourself.

I am envious that you and smileygirl got to have lunch. I hope we get to do that one day! Much love and hugs.