When faced with loss, I tell myself that there will be another chapter. I believe pain, although unrequested, is fertile ground for something new. Yet, I’ve been struggling with the fear that mom might not have another chapter in her. She is an amazing woman who has found grace through many challenges but it also feels like the veil that separates life and death is translucent. When dad was dying mom quietly asked, “I wonder what it feels like?” I believe she’s ready for her book to end. Yet, she keeps breathing. She is beloved and thankfully, she is in a good place with good people. At almost 94 she still goes to her activities—church, kickball (yes, kickball—they sit in a circle and swat or kick a beach ball when it comes their way. Mom told me once, conspiratorially, “Sometimes we hit each other in the head!” lol), sing-a-longs, drumming, bingo, and meals (even though she's never hungry or interested in eating). Is this enough for a next chapter . . . sans dad?
It’s a familiar question. What’s enough for a next chapter? For anyone in pain, the holidays make this question hang with melancholy silence. The illusion of universal holiday cheer is spiked with rum eggnog, social media’s, “look at my beautiful life,” and one-click, same-day-delivery “stuff” packaged like happiness. We make the holiday illusion believable and the inevitable conclusion painfully clear—everyone is happy except me. “Why is this happening to me?” Whether I tell myself that I don’t deserve this or conversely, I deserve this, the result is the same; it makes me unique . . . separate . . . alone. In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging sits just above the most basic need of safety. We humans are wired for connection and yet ironically we avoid it because it doesn’t feel safe. What a catch 22! The vulnerability that pain exposes is the most profound moment to connect and yet it is the one I avoid.
Kristin Neff Ph.D. author and pioneer in self-compassion research and practice, suggests another path. “Compassion is by definition relational. Compassion literally means to suffer with.” Mindful self-compassion creates a relationship between my experience and me, the experiencer. Dr. Neff says, “I am both the comforter and the one in need of comfort. There is more to me than the pain I am feeling right now, I am also the heartfelt response to that pain.”
I know next chapters take care of themselves. Usually we don't even know we are in a next chapter until we have the benefit of perspective. To be honest, I look ahead because it feels too hard, too scary, to be right here, right now. Yet, there is equanimity when I connect, when I stand in the midst of what’s uncomfortable without trying to avoid it or build a monument to my suffering. The contours of pain don’t make me deformed or special, they make me human—just like you. To use one of dad’s favorite Bible verses, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” When I soften the edges of my resistance and open my tender heart to what’s true right now, I hold mom’s journey and mine with a bit more compassion, more grace and more awe.
In a dissociated world that seems to rotate on fear, may you and I have a holiday of discovery through compassionate connection to ourself, others, and God.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.