Sunday, March 15, 2015

AGES AND STAGES, PART 2: MEMORIAL SERVICES

I no longer think it would be cool to have my Memorial Service end with everyone dancing to Sympathy for the Devil.  At one time (not really that long ago, actually) I thought that would be a fitting send-off......rockin' to my favorite Mick/Stones song.  I've matured.  A little.

Yesterday my BFF of nearly 30 years and I spent the day at my house revisiting the Memorial Service plans we made in 2006 (type of service, music, flowers, memorials, burial/cremation, etc.)   I had typed the whole plan up and stashed it in a file drawer. It was a semi-serious enterprise then, amidst lots of laughter and silliness, mostly meant to create a record of what we'd like so other family members didn't hijack our final hurrah with trappings we most definitely DIDN'T want.  For example, my friend didn't want any photos of her sitting around staring at everyone with a forced static smile.  I, on the other hand, wanted a full video montage of my life with with a rockin' soundtrack backing.  She had some crazy notion then that rose petals strewn up the church aisle would be nice, especially if mixed with sparkly confetti.  (WHAT?!?)  I had a whole seasonal thing going on, with bright cut flowers for summer and lit greens for winter.  We both agree we still will not abide any of those God-awful floral arrangements with the "Loving Mother" or "Beloved Grandmother" banners stretched across a wreath on a wire stand.

Both of my sons were here in the morning, one helping the other move into a new apartment.  They  thought our get-together yesterday was weird.  They shook their heads and smirked at their silly mom and her "bestie" spending a Saturday refining plans for celebrating our deaths.  Well, that's because they are in their late 20's, not their mid-60's.  The dawn is still at their backs, the sun barely over the horizon.  For us, well, that dusky horizon is before us and the sun is getting low in the sky.

Yesterday's enterprise was still an occasion of laughter -- well, whenever she and I are together, it's an occasion for laughter.  We find each other infinitely amusing.  But it was tinged this time with many more tears.  We've had a few more funerals in our lives since 2006, have endured some changes, have gotten older, and the whole topic has taken on a bit more urgency -- or at least seriousness.

I've ditched the Stones in favor of a couple of UU hymns I love (but I'm keeping the video with Jackson Browne's For a Dancer playing in the background).  She has given up the rose petals and confetti and isn't even sure if she wants a Service at all.  I had thought a nice bookmark for the mourners as a remembrance would be a good parting gift...but gosh, who even reads real books any more? That idea has been scrapped too.

What we both discovered as we went over various parts of the outline we'd created nine years ago, was that there was less extravaganza and more simplicity.  Less for others to tend to and more consideration given to making everything as easy on those left behind as possible.  Often instead of filling in the blanks on our form with minute details, we just wrote -- "whatever will feel right to the family", "whatever is easiest", etc. etc.

I know now, having created a Memorial Service for my mom in 2008, what details go into making a beautiful service.  It was one of the most loving and meaningful things I've ever done and I still remember the initial confusion of many who came and found our non-traditional service surprising, then ultimately moving and deeply meaningful.  You don't need a church or clergy to say a prayer, to read a poem, to give a eulogy, to sing a song, to chuckle at a favorite story, to share a life with those who loved the departed.  You don't need confetti.

There's something very comforting to me about writing down my final wishes.  I so appreciated having in my mother's own handwriting what she preferred, especially since it went so far afield of the traditional funeral rites she (and then I) had grown up with.  She wanted to be cremated, no funeral home visitation, no formal church funeral, no potluck "open house" party afterwards.  So we created our own Memorial Service, a month after her death, for extended family and a few friends.  We gathered her immediate family (children, grandchildren) to bury her urn next to my dad in the shaded corner of an old country cemetery where so many others of my family rest,  then the family spent a night socializing together -- the first time in many, many years since we'd all moved from one side of the country to the other.  It was a reunion Mom would have rejoiced in seeing.

I am writing my requests down too.  But ultimately, like my mom, I just want things to be simple, for my family and friends to remember me with love and care (and a good deal of laughter), and then to live their lives joyfully in connection to each other and the wider world.

This is the Age and Stage of facing mortality, of making plans, of watching that horizon grow closer and hoping for a brilliant sunset full of light and hope. ©

At least, that's the view from here...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

POOR, POOR PITIFUL ME

The month is nearly half over and people are asking me why I'm not posting to this blog.

I've been too busy with a big project that is taking all my energy.

Also, I'm battling the occasional bout of depression, so when I'm not pretending to be perky,  I'm mostly staring out the window like some reclusive scary woman in disheveled clothing, wearing no make up, and sporting wild hair that could stand to be washed and brushed.

Plus, no one wants to read whiny, "poor me" self-obsessed drivel.  I don't even want to write it.

Truth.

At least, that's the view from here...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

AGES AND STAGES, PART 1: PARENTING ADULTS

Here is yet another thing I never really saw coming....the Ages and Stages of adulthood.

I was all over the "ages and stages" thing when my sons were young.  I read voraciously about growth and development, what to expect at various ages, how to get my own expectations of their behavior in alignment with their social and cognitive development.  I tried at all times to anticipate, understand, to guide and to encourage all manner of expression and development.  I was a child development fanatic.  Mostly I think this had to do with how insecure and inexperienced I was; I knew I needed some training to do this job well.   I am also a 'study nut'.  I love reading and taking classes -- especially when the topic has practical applications.  Being a studious parent is like taking the theory class and immediately applying that learning in the lab.  Sometimes the lab gets messy.

But I am realizing that my studies about human ages and stages sort of ended once we all navigated college graduation and the rude awakening adjustments that went along with them finding their way to gainful employment, mature relationships, and independence from Mom and Dad.   I forgot that adults go through stages too, even though I am self-aware enough to know that certain milestones bring up some surprising emotions.

Marriage, children, empty nesting, deaths of loved ones are all life-altering.  Retirement, downsizing a home, children's marriages and grandchildren...more events that rock the status quo.  But I had seen these all as "things to deal with",  both the good and the challenging; sort of events on the surface of life, distinct from one another and once navigated, some altered sense of "normal" would return.  With the initial "off to college" empty nest, I thought I'd done my "letting go", but I realize now it was just navigating an event, not really altering my sense of self.

In a conversation with Son-Two yesterday, however, I realized I am in a full blown "stage of development" that will enable me to grow into a woman who has a different world view; a different behavior pattern; a new way of thinking and being beyond the immediacy of a life event.

Two major family events are happening within three weeks -- the birth of Son-One's first child and Son-Two moving out of our home.

I realize I am struggling with being the mother of adult children.  We all get along great and I'm not feeling stifled, but I'm very, very aware of walking the razor's edge of being too involved and not involved enough.

Son-One and Beautiful DIL are very independent people who rarely ask for help and don't make a habit of informal, spontaneous contact.  They are open and loving when we are together and we all have a great time, yet I don't just stop by their home at the drop of a hat (even though I have a fantasy of doing so) and they rarely come to our home spontaneously either.   I don't offer up the plethora of advice I could when I see them struggling or making decisions I know might be better made in a different direction.  I know they have to find their own way and in fact, their way may work great for them, even if different from my way.  I wouldn't want them to resent me and any "I know best" proclamations, but I also don't want them to wonder why I didn't help them or warn them about this or that. The birth of their new baby solidifies their independence -- and also makes me want to move in with them.

Son-Two has been living with us for awhile to get his financial footing, and now is moving out in two weeks to a shared house about 20 miles away from us.  I'm thrilled for him and sad for me.  He is a joy to have as a "roommate" -- considerate,  fun, conversational, helpful.  He's actually quite open to my natural inclinations to offer advice and guidance, and seems to take it in without resentment or feelings of judgement.  He often ignores me, of course.  Yesterday I was getting rather far along in my "tips for living with a new roommate" soliloquy when I realized I was talking to him the same way I did when he went off to college and not as he is now, a grown and independent young man who has an extrovert's social skills that outstrip my own.

I stopped mid-sentence and burst into tears.  I realized at that moment that I am just unsure how to interact with my grown sons.  Like a "mommy"?  A friend?  Hands on or hands off?  Speak up or stay quiet?  The impulse comes from a place of deep love and caring...of wanting them and the people they love to be happy and never have to suffer.  But does it also come from a place of controlling?  Of not wanting ME to feel the pain of their pain?  Is my intervention about them or about me?

This is where a new stage of introspection comes in.  I learned during the "mothering" stage of my life how to set my own desires aside in service to raising my children.  I was no pathetic, self-pitying mom, but NO ONE raises children without giving up a bit of themselves.  It is a selfless act of love, when done with one's whole heart.  Now I have to learn once and for all how to take back all the parts of myself I gave away.  My love for them will never fade, but it's time to rewrite my "Mom" job description.  It has far fewer "primary responsibilities" and is much more an "on-call" position than a full-time profession.

Finding the "sweet spot"where love and connection reside beside separation and independence is the work ahead of me.   I'm sure it will include a lot of tears, a lot of mistakes, a lot of humor, and a lot of learning.  When I explained all this to Son-Two yesterday, my tears flowed freely as I felt deeply what this change will mean to me.  Then I had to laugh when Son-Two asked, "Mom, how long do you think this stage will last?"   Good question!  It may be as challenging for those around me as for myself.  Just like those Terrible Twos...

At least, that's the view from here...©

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A PERFECT JEWEL

I have a rule about not posting photos of people I know on this blog out of respect for the privacy of all my friends and family.  You can imagine then how freakin' hard it is for me to avoid plastering this post with photos of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BABY IN ALL THE WORLD!  

Yes!  Beautiful DIL gave birth to our little granddaughter, on Thursday, February 26th at 3:43 p.m.  7 lbs., 11 oz.,  21-1/2 inches long and "perfect" according to the doctor and everyone else who has seen her since.   Yes, a perfect Jewel of a girl, who arrived six days early because she just couldn't wait to make her mark on the world!

When something either wonderful or terrible happens I feel compelled to tell the story over and over to either cement it in my mind or work through the emotions that attend a Big Event.  But to everyone  else listening it gets a bit old, yes?  So, no long-winded retelling of the story of labor and birth here.  The abbreviated version is that I got a call at 8:00 a.m., that contractions were under way and everyone was enroute to the hospital.  I live 3 minutes away, so I beat them there.  What followed was seven hours of progressive labor, with a big rush of excitement at the end!

I was in the room, along with DIL's mom and my son, "Daddy", for the delivery.  This was an especially huge deal for me, being a mother through adoption, and never having experienced a birth myself or even ever seen one.  Their generosity to invite me to be an intimate part of this pregnancy and birth was the greatest gift I've ever been given.  

Let me say this about pregnancy, labor, and birth.  It's a little weird.  Many women I know, including DIL, agree.  There is a strangeness in realizing a little human is growing inside you.  We made "Alien" jokes more than once.  And then the whole labor thing.  It looks pretty hurt-y.  I'm pretty good at pain when I set my meditating mind and Yoga breathing to the task, but I don't think I've felt anything at all like labor pain.  It looks a little daunting, but DIL was absolutely amazing.  A little moaning, a few tears, and at the end maybe a delicate "vocalization" (nowhere near the screaming stream of obscenities I was sure would be coming from me at that point had I been in her place.)  

The drama was how fast it all went at the end.  There was one nurse in the room checking her and then frantically trying to reach their doctor, who was nowhere to be found.  A team of nurses with equipment ran into the room, then a doctor no one had ever seen before came in, took one look and said, "On the next contraction, go ahead and give a big push."  She did.  Then one more big push and...zoom!  Baby birthed!  Within minutes, DIL was all smiles, baby lying on her chest.  Son One cut the cord.  Baby got a blanket thrown over her and the bonding began.  

Hub came into the room to meet his granddaughter, Son Two had been babysitting Angel and brought her to the hospital to meet her sister....the rest of the afternoon and early evening was a surreal and tender time of oooohing and ahhhhing, taking dozens of photos on six smart phones and sending the pictures instantly to family and friends far and wide.  Everyone took a turn holding our Jewel.  We toasted with champagne and sparkling cider and then said our goodbyes around 6:30, leaving Son-One and DIL to spend their first night together at the hospital with their new daughter. 

OK.  I guess I did go on and on....sorry.  I'm still a bit in a daze.  All my usual irony is completely at bay and I'm going around spouting the most sappy, cliche'ed, rhetoric about the whole thing.  I am blessed, I am delighted, I am in love, I am proud, I am hopeful, I am glowing, I am ... amazed at my amazement.

"Angel" came to us at 10 months old when Son-One introduced us to,  and eventually married, her mother.  I love Angel with all my heart, and now we have "Jewel" who I will have known from her first breath.  Two little girls in my life, after a lifetime of being surrounded by boys and men.  I cannot wait to watch them grow and become the human manifestation of the bright spirits and beautiful souls I know they are.

At least, that's the (joyful) view from here...©