I’ve just deleted my mother from my cell phone contacts list; this is not as drastic as it sounds. She passed away eight years ago.
You might ask what took me so long. And you’d have a point. I’ve written before about my mother being a force of nature. She was a mighty oak, someone you did not trifle with. And right there lies the answer to why it took me so long. It’s hard to let go of mighty oaks. They provide reliable shelter in a storm.
Within the past decade, I had to weather some rough weather without Mom. My perfect storm was divorce, the deaths of both of my parents, a sister with cancer. I don’t mean to sound callous, but the list doesn’t really matter. I’ve come to realize that it’s less the actual events that occur and more our reaction to them that is the point. We all have our own mix of life’s hardships. My fellow bloggers are a testament to that. From George’s two-funeral week to Caitlin’s recent bout with cancer, we see life can throw us unwelcome surprises at any time.
During my personal storm, I looked for anchors, mighty oaks, shelter. I didn’t find them so much as become them for myself. I remember a few weeks into my divorce, when I realized: No one is going to show up. My sisters proclaimed their love and called often, but most didn’t show up (I’m guilty of the same too often). They were dealing with the same grief I was around my parents and sister—just not also with a divorce as the cherry on top of that sundae. It was a harsh realization; no one was going to sit and comfort me with a cuppa’ and a warm blanket. It fueled me to keep going, in some odd way. It made me rely on myself and stop looking for what had died with my parents.
I’m watching a friend go through a similar storm. Every aspect of her life has changed—and continues to—and it’s all been compressed into a short couple of years. If you’ve been through the wringer, you get it. Or maybe you get it because you’re just one of those rare people who excels at compassion, even if you haven’t gone through a rough time. Perhaps you’re one of the bystanders who doesn’t want to hear about trouble or be near it because you’re worried it’s of the catching variety. Regardless of your level of compassion—or mine—my friend has to weather this one. Outlast it. I feel for her. And yet, I see her reach for her own version of shelter via men. A string of them. None of them, I believe, the kind of mighty oak she probably deserves.
Do you want to know what prompted me to finally delete my mom’s contact information? A happy error. I think one the Universe might have orchestrated to clue me in. As I scrolled down my cell phone contact list the other day, I noticed two “Mom” entries. Stymied, I clicked on the second one. The number listed under it was my own. Huh. And then it hit me–my son’s contact list had somehow merged with mine. I was the almighty “Mom” now. I was the number he wants to have in case of storms. I am the mighty oak, perhaps just with a bit more flex.
I recently met with my retirement advisor, a task I’ve been putting off because my choices—to be at home for a few years with my kids, my divorce—put me in a catch-up position for savings. Or so I thought. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that if I can just keep this apple cart from toppling, and kick my savings back into high gear, I will be ok. Not because of my ex. Not because of anything I took from our marriage. Because my own twenty-something self saved my ass. She didn’t make much but she put the maximum percentage away and invested aggressively. That has made all the difference.
So many of us look outside of ourselves for support. Why do we do that? I guess it’s nice to think someone else will take care of things—and us. But I’ve found at the loneliest times in life—divorce, death, grief—we are all alone. Even if surrounded by people, no one else can take the journey we’re on. They can’t take the pain from us, or the work.
So I know that I can’t solve things for my friend. I can’t “rescue” her. Neither can the men she keeps turning to blindly. My sisters, even if they had showed up, couldn’t have lessened what I had to face. I still sometimes long for a parent’s protection or a spouse’s support–but life served up something more valuable, if less pretty. Life served up events that would lead me to my own rescue. My own strength. A strength I really never knew the depth of until the past decade. A strength I’m sure was born because when my mother died, a part of her essence stayed with me. Linda Hogan, a native American writer, put it beautifully: “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
I think my friend will find her strength. I certainly hope so. I still wish us both loving friends and family who will be there to open the bottle of wine, do the dishes, cry with us, laugh with us. And maybe they will the next time. But then again, if there is a next time we will not need them to so desperately–at least if we’ve absorbed the lessons storms can teach.
So now, when I see “Mom” in my contacts list, I smile. I think of the solidity and comfort inherent in that name for my son. And I realize, I’ve earned those. Thank God. Because now I can provide them in spades, right?
It took me eight years to face what I needed to face. It’s hard to be a woman who doesn’t have a mom to call anymore. And it’s hard to be a woman who has to financially support her family while trying to save for her own future well-being. Society still isn’t sure what to do with that latter group. We don’t pay them enough.
I faced these bits just as I faced the much harder bits over the past decade. My friend will do the same; I’m sure of it. And knowing so many of you who read and comment on this blog so kindly, I am sure you will do similar in your own lives with your own bits.
Our days are filled with the ordinary. We swim in it. Occasionally, life gives us a chance—a choice—to be extraordinary. It’s usually ugly and messy, and so are we for awhile. But then, we emerge.
All thanks to the love of thousands.