memorial day

i never typically do anything for memorial day, except the standard bbq. there was a picture floating around facebook of a woman laying on a grave with the caption, “memorial day: in case you thought it was just national bbq day.” this year it’s different. i still wasn’t sure whether i would visit graves or not, but after the gym and running to the grocery store, i kinda felt like it so i decided to make the rounds.

fort snelling was kind of a zoo, but it was pretty, it was nice. they had flags everywhere, many flowers, lots of cars and people milling around, traffic cops, opportunists selling flowers across the street. it was interesting. until i got there i wasn’t aware of how it would feel on a national day of mourning. i just got really curious and wanted to look at people’s faces, their rituals, i wanted to know how they felt to be there. i noticed that one family had laid out a blanket on the ground and appeared to be having a little picnic by the curb. i walked over to grama’s grave, i was just here last week with my sister to mark what would have been her 95th birthday. every time i look at her name on that stone it just looks surreal. i still get that feeling of unreality looking at it. i teared up a little bit. laid hands on their stones and went back to my car.

after grama and grampa’s graves, i drove down to the cemetary where barb and rick are buried. i’d been there a couple times recently when i was in the area. i’ve been waiting for barb’s headstone to appear. it’s a bit of a sore spot in my heart, but i can’t seem to address it anymore. it’s my counsins’ (her children) responsibility to get her stone placed. but somehow, 8 months later, it still hasn’t happened. during the last visits, there looked to be a space carved out and a little red flag marking the area so i just knew it was coming soon! on the way there, i imagined that of course they would have it up by today. today is a big day. well i got to the site, and there was no stone, but there was what looked to be a fresh patch of grass seed with that garden netting stuff on top. i looked over at a fresh casket sized grave next to their plot. that one had the same grass and netting, but still had a space carved out for the new stone. it had a 2012 death date.

i just went blank and kind of confused. the realization set in pretty slowly as i stood there. they weren’t preparing it for a headstone. the flag and the outline was for a fresh planting of grass. i didn’t stay long. i admired the two pretty plants placed on rick’s stone, and noted another pot of fresh flowers a few yards away, marking rick’s dad’s grave. his family had been here already to pay respects.

i walked back to my car slowly and noticed a man close to my age had come up on a bicycle. he leaned it against the tree and we made brief eye contact, and he went on to visit his loved one. there was a family a few yards away from my aunt and uncle’s spot. i realized that’s the closest i’ve ever been to other people in a graveyard.

i got back into my car and started to cry. hard. i’m trying to be patient with my cousin. we don’t communicate much, he’s not a talker. i don’t know how he is emotionally handling the death of his mother. it has felt like a taboo subject, one we gloss over with jokes and distractions and small talk. but i’m angry that he hasn’t gotten it together and ordered the stone. i know my uncle’s family comes regularly, i see their offerings. i don’t leave anything, but i come. seeing that the cleared area and flag were only there to make way for fresh grass kinda fucked me up a little bit.

my aunt is under there.

don’t just let it be a place where the grass is greener, fresher. in this fucked up turn of events, this is where barb and rick live now. that’s traumatic enough, but to have them cover her baren spot where the grass didn’t grow, to make it pretty and uniform and for the goal to be for that piece of ground to look like nothing happened?? that was more than i could handle. i want to shout in his face, “get it together, give my aunt a fucking headstone! she is here! this happened!” but i can’t do it. i feel like i’m gagged on this situation. it’s frustrating.

i’m waiting for her stone. i’m waiting to see how it feels to look down and see her name and her dates. what it will look like next to rick’s. if it will take me to the next level of grieving. if i will lose it right there in the graveyard. i guess it’s just not time yet. (giant sigh)

anyway, today was my first memorial day where i decided to go out and do what the people do on memorial day. it was strange. i’ve been thinking over these past 8 months about the way grief is such an isolating experience. even when you grieve with others, your timing never quite matches up. it’s something you have to go through in your own time, on your own schedule, based on your willingness to delve into it. how deeply? how often? how much surrender? or based on your avoidance. or healing. or backsliding. it’s such an individual process, so lonely.

but. on memorial day, looking around at the many people who were there to mark the day, and seeing the flowers coloring a typically barren place, it reminded me that there are only a few things as universal as grief. unless you die young, you will experience the loss of someone you loved so much. on this day, i understood the contradiction of this lonely process coupled with the universal experience of it. it was humbling and kind of beautiful.

and i’m probably not the only person whose loved one is not marked.

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family expansions

not mine, calm down.

but a couple of my friends have had some major good news in their families recently. it’s been really joyful for me! two of my best friends who are married just had their first baby on friday night. i got the picture and announcement via text message when i was in bed winding down for the night. she was so beautiful! it made me so happy. i totally started crying. i love these friends, they’re fun and chill, and they’re my role model couple. it was just a very joyful experience to see their family expand.

then another best friend found her birth family! she was adopted from colombia as a baby and though she only recently got ready to search, it turned out that luck was with her and her family was easy to find, ecstatic to hear from her, and they have been in constant communication since. this girl i have known since we were 12 and being witness to her journey is absolutely amazing. it also stirs up things in me and has me processing a lot about my dad and our strained relationship. oh yeah, and he finally contacted me and started addressing our issues – i think that was friday as well. looooots to think about.

but i’m grateful to have these friends in my life, and many other friends as well, and realizing that i celebrate with them and their joy becomes my joy! it has been a good weekend for reflecting on the strong connections i have in my life. i’m very happy!

becoming assertive

by reader request, i’m going to try to address the topic of assertiveness. where to start, where to start…

i think the first thing you have to decide is do i deserve what i want? do i deserve what i need? to some people that sounds like a silly question, but to people pleasers, the passive, those who grew up minnesota nice, those who were taught to be seen and not heard, those sensitive people who have had their preferences and opinions systematically devalued… this is a big giant question. and beyond this, do you know what you want? are you living within your own mind and body enough to understand your own feelings, desires, and preferences beyond what other people might think of your choices? i guess i’ve gone straight to the knife to the gut, heart of the matter. but these are the core issues that need to be addressed before communication pattern can be taught.

i grew up with a family that tends toward ocd, rigid personal preferences, micro-management, and control issues. analyze that. now don’t get me wrong, they were fun, warm, loving women who definitely found the humor in these tendencies. but for me, growing up in this family, it was very confusing. i’m a people pleaser by nature (or was trained to be one, the jury is still out on that one). i was terrified of conflict, anger, being told i did something wrong. so i quickly learned to deal with this by predicting needs, learning the “right way” to do things, and keeping my own preferences on the back burner, only to be allowed out when i was alone and wouldn’t get caught doing the wrong thing. it’s not that i felt my preferences/needs were wrong, it’s just that i didn’t think anybody else had time for that. but when i was alone, i was free. analyze that, too.

i’m a strong believer that your personality is firmly in place by the time you’re 4 or 5, and at that age i was entrenched in the role of mommy’s little servant helper. i had been trained through consequences and rewards to support and maintain someone else’s perfect reality, or suffer the wrath (big, big bark). so for me, it has been a journey from public denial of what i want/need, into getting curious about my own preferences, accepting them and giving them value, talking to other people about them, and then asserting them confidently.

what i’m saying is that there are people for whom assertiveness is entirely contrary to the reality they have been living since childhood. to some people, that won’t make any sense. that’s fine. but i’m talking to you, negator of your own needs!

so take for example, the situation with said predator. if i was still living out of a space what i think/feel/want doesn’t matter, just uphold this dude’s dignity, i would have started blankly and politely at him, allowed him to invade my personal space while subtly trying to back up, leave the room and tattle on him to another group leader in the hopes that someone would swoop in and save me. “how rude of this guy not to notice my discomfort and run me over? he’s so gross. why don’t people understand how gross they are and leave me alone? i hate doing this group, this is so uncomfortable. maybe i’ll ask if someone else can do it so i don’t have to deal with that guy…” this comes from a passive to passive-aggressive place where i’m unwilling to state my own request, but feel angry and walked on because other people aren’t stepping up to take care of me the way i take care of them.

it begs the question, “why is it up to someone else to take care of me and my needs?” that is the quintessential question. it of course has to do with the fact that i’m pushing myself aside to subtly or not so subtly take care of the needs of others. why? most of the time, they haven’t even asked me to do that. it’s this pattern learned at 4 or 5 to take care of others first so there will be no conflict and i can stay safe. but then, why don’t i feel safe? because it doesn’t work anymore. and with a gentleness i didn’t receive as a kid, it’s time to teach myself to grow up and take care of my own needs first. it’s nobody’s job but mine. and as for taking care of other people before myself? as the song goes, take this job and shove it.

so it starts with, what am i feeling? uncomfortable, desrespected, powerless.

why? because you’re sitting too close to me and being disruptive of the group dynamic by talking quietly to me, your body language is turned entirely in on me, and you’ve repeatedly asked me for things that i keep telling you to go to your counselor about.

how do i want to feel? i want to feel safe, competent, in control of myself and my space, comfortable.

what do i need to ask for? i need you to back up about a foot, listen to what i’m requesting, and stop disrupting the group to get my attention.

and what if he doesn’t do what i ask? i will get up and move to another spot in the group, and if necessary ask him to leave, getting other group leaders involved if necessary.

this is just one example, hopefully clear if not overly simplified. the point is that i have to stop taking a position of powerlessness by staying stuck in the mindset of, why is the world like this? why do other people act like this/do these things to me? and instead opt for identifying what is going on inside of me, what specific things i am reacting to, and addressing the situation and asking for the changes that would help get my wants and needs met. that’s the first part. the second part is to examine how they respond. if my request is met, great! if it’s not, then it’s my responsibility to make some self-adjustments or remove myself from the situation. because i deserve to feel comfortable, safe, and in control of myself and what is happening to me. and that’s why the initial question is so important. so.

do you deserve what you want? do you deserve what you need?

a bittersweet mother’s day

so last year i had 3 mother figures, and this year i have only 1 living. i spent a lot of time with my aunt and grama growing up. my mom was 3 days shy of her 21st birthday when she had me, with her husband on the other side of the world. luckily she had support. a good portion of my childhood memories are against the backdrop of grama and grampas house and their big backyard, or over at barb and rick’s. these are happy memories.

i came across this photo last night.

any and every celebration!

any and every celebration!

even though it’s fuzzy, everything in that picture makes me nostaligic. everything about it is so typical of a family celebration. that bucket of ice cream with the ancient ice cream scooper, a round cake, the glasses, the decor in grama’s house, that set of drawers full of who knows what, but in the middle and 3 drawers up – that one was mine and i could always find some little trinket grama had saved for me in there. my mom is on the right, barb on the left. even the way they are sitting and looking at each other looks so perfect and typical to me.

i miss them so much. grief has been back to bite me in the butt more frequently lately. i don’t know if it was the anticipation of mother’s day or the fact that grama’s birthday is coming up next week or that we’ve just passed 6 and 7 months on the deaths. i know it was a year ago now that we got barb’s diagnosis. i feel that, too, in the springtime. it’s beautiful out, everything is waking up, but i can still feel the shock in the air of a death sentence. last year i was busy busy busy. school was coming to an end and i had to go back and forth to the hospital and finish homework and get to class and get to work. a year ago today i went to a wedding. it was kind of horrible. i just found out barb was going to die and i was watching another couple starting their lives. it didn’t make any sense. i remember watching them, and watching my friend dance with his grandmother and just thinking, “shit. you don’t know what’s gonna happen. all this joy and happiness and in 30 years you could both be dead.” it also reinforced that when i get married my aunt and grama won’t be there. it was a sad time.

on mother’s day, usually we would all somehow spend it together. we’d pick grama up and go out to eat with the whole family. i remember once a couple of years ago, my cousins were either out of town or working or something, so barb and grama just came over to my mom’s house and we had dinner there. it was nice. i remember writing out 3 mother’s day cards and telling them all how much they meant to me and that each of them were like a mother to me. and they were. mother figures. i clung to that, especially around the times that barb and grama died, to make a point on how meaningful they were to me. however, they were not my mothers.

with barb, i realized that in the last week of her life. andi had just come back home to be here for the end and they were having a discussion that got a little heated. in trying to counsel and be a peacemaker, i realized that this is mother-daughter stuff. i was lucky to have a close, loving, adoring relationship with barb, but without that tension that comes from the nature of being mother-daughter. and that’s what’s special about being aunt and neice. she was a wonderful aunt! we had a good time. i needed her in my life because she was like me, my counterpart. in the sibling sets in our family, there always seems to be the smart, achiever, perfectionist older one, and the charismatic, personable, lovable, cute, younger one. barb and i understood each other, i needed her influence, her encouragement, and her companionship. i can’t imagine my life without her.

with grama, sure she performed some motherly duties when i was a kid, but i got to be spoiled rotten by her, coddled, loved, adored. i was the only grandchild for such a long time, and i got to be the favorite. and then i got to know her. i was patient with grama, tried not to be frustrated with her, and got to spend lots of one on one time with her. you know, i never talked much around my grama, but i just loved being near her, looking at her face, listening to her. it’s really the epitome of a grandmother/granddaughter relationship. she was not my mom, and that’s great because she was a really good grama. we loved each other so much!

and in these realizations, i come to appreciate my own mother more and more. in these realizations, i can give her a break. i had villanized her for many years, focusing only on the negative, the controlling, the ugly. but she has a lot of great qualities. she’s fun, she has a great sense of humor, she’s real, she’s honest, she loves me so much, she has always tried to do everything she could to make a good life for us. after the deaths, i’ve just come to this great appreciation for her, just for who she is. when i stop expecting her to be someone she’s not, stop comparing her with others, acknowledge there will always be a little something extra in the strain department because of the nature of being mother and daughter… she’s pretty great. i had to grow up and she had to grow up, but i’m glad we’re where we are today. i love her very much.

so today, i’m thankful for all the women in my family who have made an impact on me in their uniqueness, their roles, and our relationships.

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other people’s muck

i spent some time with my family a couple of weeks ago, talking to my sister about some relationship issues she was having. then my mom joined the conversation. mom had solicited my advice on helping my sister, and it turned into somewhat of a family discussion on mental health. in the process of this i was trying to explain to my sister about therapy and the value of talking to someone outside of the family about the effects of growing up in our family. using myself as an example, i talked to her about what i came to believe about myself growing up with mom, and how i thought i was a horrible and incompetent person for a long time. my mom was shocked by this information. in her memory, everyone loved me and showered praise on me for my goodness, intelligence, and talent. it’s complicated.

we talked for a while, my mom ended up apologizing to me, really for the first time, about my experience as a kid. she doesn’t remember a lot of what i remember, but she acknowledges she was partying a lot and caught up in her own life. after a while, my mom and sister fell back into their own unhealthy communication patterns and it started to get ugly so i excused myself to go home.

still. as i walked down the hall out of their apartment building, i noticed a shift in myself. in the past if things had ended in ugliness, i knew i was going to take a break from them for a couple weeks. i just don’t like getting caught up in other people’s muck. i’d rather be safe at home in my own little apartment. definitely an element of self-protection because conflict has made me so anxious in the past. but on this night, i felt different. i knew i would check in with both of them the next day. i think that being willing to be close to people, go through their dysfunction, bad behavior, and acting out along with all the positive, happy times… that’s part of being in someone’s life. i see that i’m making progress on accepting and walking toward all of what it means to connect. even though parts were ugly, i walked out feeling warm. and to be honest a lot of it is my mom making the unbelievable step (given her tendency toward a self-centered point of view) of taking responsibility. so it’s not just about me – she took a step forward and i met her. it feels good!

this year i’m very happy to celebrate my mom. in my adulthood, our relationship has been a little strained, i’ve kept my distance. but over the past year, we’ve grown closer. i acknowledge her for who she is, and i’m thankful for many things about her. as i grow and she grows and our relationship grows, i let go of past hurts and can appreciate her more. it’s a good feeling.

Me and Mom