This blog has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent weeks because I have been taking inventory regarding where to go from here. My intention all along was to pair nature photography with contemplative reflections. Why was I drawn to a certain image in the first place? What feelings and insights arise?
And then my mom became ill and died, and I find myself grappling with Big Questions and the many manifestations of grief. My writing has become more personal than I ever intended to share. Am I writing an autobiography of grief? Is it useful to share such personal feelings and experiences?
Much of the time, I honestly feel as if I am losing my mind – which I realize is one of the primary manifestations of grief. When I was in my twenties, I volunteered for an organization in Syracuse called Hope for Bereaved, which published a book called Hope for Bereaved: Understanding, Coping and Growing Through Grief that consists of short articles that address all kinds of losses. The title of the very first article is “I Wasn’t Going Crazy…I Was Grieving.” How reassuring!
It’s not only the loss of the deceased loved one that makes this season of grief so challenging. It’s the way relationships shift, like aftershocks from an earthquake. It feels as if the very foundation on which I stand has been removed from underneath me. Life feels unstable, unsupported. Even my sense of self feels like shifting sands. I have been floating in teardrops, releasing inhibitions, and dwelling in questions – Big Questions, like:
- Why am I here in the first place?
- Where does my responsibility to others begin and end?
- Is my ultimate responsibility to myself, to live fearlessly and follow my soul wherever it leads?
- How do I balance my own happiness and peace of mind with caring for others?
- Is there some kind of divine blueprint for my life, and if so, how am I doing so far? How can I tell?
- Or perhaps when all is said and done, is all the content from this lifetime just information to process and understand rather than to judge? (Will we review our life with an omniscience that allows us to see things as they really were, rather than through the limited, skewed lens of our own ego?)
Sometimes these questions threaten to overwhelm me, for I don’t have the answers and can be very hard on myself. Sometimes I wear myself out by giving in to the temptation to seek external stimulation by filling my mind with the voices and opinions of others, when true peace and fulfillment is an inside job cultivated more effectively by sitting alone and still and filling with light from the inside out. Only then can I beam light to others. But I can’t do that when my own battery is depleted.
It is more important than ever at this dark time of year to kindle the inner light and to be gentle with myself – especially now that my mom’s nurturing presence is absent from my life. Yesterday, it occurred to me that there’s nobody to buy me gloves and socks anymore. Sure, I can buy them for myself. However, that was something my mom always did – and that I often took for granted. She came through with sweet, small, comforting gestures that nobody else thought of. There’s a certain kind of love and care that is missing now and that needs to be cultivated in other ways. And there’s also the question of how to navigate new and unfamiliar relationship patterns. Who picks up the pieces? Who (and to what extent) cares for the most fragile family members? I try my best but cannot fill my mom’s shoes, and my attempts often feel awkward and clumsy.
It reminds me of what it was like to become a mother. Having a child changes your life monumentally, and I remember wondering: When will life return to normal? The reality was that it never would return to what it was before. You become accustomed to a new “normal.” And I think that’s what I’m dealing with now, in the wake of my mother’s death.
I find that when I feel overwhelmed by questions about how to manage relationships, the best I can do is to avoid taking the tempting detour into the thinking mind. Instead, take a deep breath and slow down. Return to the moment and practice self-care faithfully. Get enough sleep, to begin with. Meditate. Exercise. Eat right. Speak the truth. Say no when saying yes would overload my circuits. Channel the energy so it doesn’t get stuck inside me. Listen to and follow the internal compass known as intuition.
These responses might not provide the answers to the questions that arise. They might not be exciting. However, they restore me to a more centered, balanced state from which I can discern the next step. And that’s probably the best I can do. One step at a time, may I be led by the best and highest within me and honor the Self that unites us all.
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