#offthemat

I am learning how to lean into tension, breathing into any areas of tightness that I might feel. I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, while respecting what my body is telling me. I am gaining flexibility, while letting go of rigidity. I am learning to set an intention for the day’s practice, lending my attention to something I want to work through, draw to me, or simply something I want to gift to myself. I am closing each practice returning to that same intention. I am learning that yoga makes me happy. Happy in the purest way, that is independent from anyone or anything, and unreliant on external circumstances. I float out of each class, no matter how I felt walking in. Stilling my mind, by focusing on my breath, I am steadily gaining strength, and grace as I flow through the postures. I am learning that something quite remarkable happens when I quiet my mind, yet continue to move my body. It is the closest to God I feel without sitting in a pew. For me, it is prayer with movement. When I practice yoga I am my best self. I am enough, perfectly imperfect, joyful, and whole.

Last class my teacher Rozel talked about taking our practice “off the mat”, transferring the principles that we learn in our yoga practice, and applying them in our daily lives. This lesson, like others I’ve learned from her, resonated deeply with me. Simple and true, this is my answer to a life spent chasing the why of my unhappiness instead of focusing on the how of feeling better.   This lesson is implicit in every talk I give, and all of the work that I do with individuals and their families. It is the fabric of my coaching work, and heartbeat of every article I write. If we can learn to lean into the tension, breathing into any areas in our lives where we experience tightness. If we can push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, while listening for cues when we’ve gone too far. If we can gain flexibility, and let go of the rigidity that creeps in when anxiety, and fear take over, and we scramble to control the uncontrollable. If we can start each day with an intention, and close it the same way. If we can still our minds, while continuing to move ahead. If we can feel as close to God as I do in my practice in the ordinary moments that make up our lives. If we can bring the peace that we find in our happy place with us when we leave it… What an inspired life this would be!! This is the HOW OF HAPPY. This is what it means to take it off the mat.

*I invite you to follow me on instagram and twitter @whatconnects_us.

Join me in inspiring others to take it off the mat. Post a quote, or a picture that expresses your how of happy, and be sure to use the hashtags #howofhappy, and #offthemat so that we can all follow along!

My contribution- My latest vision board. Filled to the brim with what brings me joy.

FIND YOUR JOY.  TAKE IT OFF THE MAT.

 

 

 

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Here and Now

I hadn’t been to a class since dad entered palliative care back in June. After he passed, I let go of yoga, pushed back at writing, and withdrew from the world for a while. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, so I gave myself time. Time to grieve. Time to disconnect. I figured I was being kind to myself, and gentle with my broken heart. Basically, I let myself off the hook. Initially this felt like the right thing to do. An act of care, I told myself. No doing anything I didn’t want to do. For a while it felt good to let go. A short while… While my instinct has always been to disconnect when I feel bad, I’ve learned in recent years that this only magnifies the darkness, and the feelings of separation associated with it. I always feel worse when I hide. In the last few months, more than ever before in my life, I have realized two truths: That it will always be up to me. Up to me to do the things that I know make me feel better, OR don’t, and choose to move in the other direction. Which brings me to the second thing that I’ve learned in the 4 months since my dad passed away: Sometimes I choose to be unhappy. This realization is a tough pill to swallow. I was choosing (daily) to stay unhappy. Now I know, there will be some of you reading this thinking, my God Shannon of course you were unhappy.  You need to give yourself time. Yes I did need to, and I still do, and I probably always will. But in letting myself off the hook, I also let go of joy. I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I care too much about my life. I care too much about my marriage, and my relationships to disengage. I can’t do that because I have two little people that look to me every day to see how freely they get to be joyful. They have felt the sting of my grief. They have seen the depths of my sorrow. Whether I smiled, or I cried, children see through the crap we tell ourselves, and the walls we build around our pain. Not only was my choice to disconnect hurting me, but it also distanced me from the people that mattered most. Sadness infects, and divides unless you allow yourself to be joined. While I took comfort in leaning on my siblings, husband, friends and loved ones, and in sharing my heartache with my mom, my children were a different story. It was ok that they saw me grieve. It was ok that they shared their sadness too. But I did not want them joining me in letting go of joy. I wanted, and needed them to just be, free from whatever I might be feeling.

A few weeks ago I went back to yoga for the first time in 4 months. I started meditating again, and began mapping out next steps. Steps in the direction of reigniting my joy. Steps towards happy. I am not sure I can properly convey here what a difference these intentional commitments have made, but I will say that now more than ever, I recognize the power of choice. I fought back tears at the end of that first day back. Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, newly oiled, I could move again. My body freed from the rigidity that had encased me, my heart restarted by the deep breaths I’d consciously breathed in. I felt as though I’d forgotten to breathe, really breathe, since that day in July when he took his last breath.  I hadn’t wanted to sit in the present moment. I had not been willing, or ready to anchor myself in the here and now. Yes I needed time. Yes I needed to give myself permission to pull away, but what I understood at the end of class that day, was that re-engaging in my life was the only way to truly save it.

My teacher talked about the importance of grounding in yoga. When we root, planting ourselves firmly in the moment, connecting with the earth, we are somehow afforded more flexibility, and greater reach. “We root, so that we can rise”, she said, a lump rising in my throat, as the beauty and applicability of her comment sunk in. I’d prayed for some comfort, and searched for relief, but I was only moving away from the answer that God had put at my feet. I’d been reliving July, and June, and every day leading backwards to that date in March of 2013, when the word cancer became a part of our vernacular. The answer that would ease my suffering did not reside in the past, nor did it belong to the future.   The peace that I’d yearned for, that I’d seen in my father’s eyes before they closed for the last time, is experienced only when we can let the past fall away, and the future wait for us. Sweet comfort found only when we are rooted in the here and now.

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All of Us

I used to love rummaging through my mother’s picture drawer. I’d ask her to tell me about the people in the photographs, and when they were taken. There were black and whites, pictures of relatives I’d never met, as well as ones I loved dearly, mixed with photographs of my brothers and I at different ages. As I grew up, I’d notice family portraits lining the walls of other people’s homes, different sized picture albums on bookshelves, and framed memories on mantles. I wondered why my mother had hers hidden in a drawer, and why there was not a single family photo of all of us adorning our walls?

I grew up one of three children, or so I thought until an impromptu conversation that changed everything… Just 14 at the time, my mother and I were sitting in my room, talking about life, and love and tough choices. A girl at school had become pregnant. I said that she must be terrified, and feel so alone… We talked about the decision she now faced of what to do about a pregnancy, and a baby she was not ready for. As I spoke, my mother began to cry, as though a damn had broken, she could not compose herself. I pushed, and prodded as to what I had said to upset her? But before she could answer, I could see the truth in her eyes. She tearfully revealed a nearly 30 year-old secret, shared only with a handful of people. Pregnant at 16, she’d given birth to a baby girl, my sister, who she’d given up for adoption early into her little life. Her story cloaked in shame, the details spilled out between sobs. She went on to tell me that she’d become pregnant again at 19, with another daughter, and that she too, had been given up… Too much to process, I sat there, shell-shocked, weepy, and trying to console this broken lump of a person sitting across from me on my bed. I cannot remember how I felt in that moment. I was too preoccupied with my mother, who had gone to pieces before my eyes. In a flash, her grief infected me, no room for my pain, as the questions flooded in like the waves of a tsunami. How could I reconcile this new information with my then, current reality? How could this woman, my mother, who I knew and loved, be the same person, as that girl, who made those decisions? It wasn’t that I was judging her, or that this revelation made me love her any less. It was just that she’d been abruptly knocked off the pedestal she’d sat on my whole life.

Eerily, my mother’s unplanned disclosure was not unique. In a drunken confession, her own “mummy”, Mrs. Cook, revealed that she was not her mother, but rather her grandmother, and that the woman she’d thought was her sister, was actually her birth mother. My grandmother, Mary, had been forced to give up my mother after giving birth to her at age 16. Mrs. Cook had insisted she’d raise my mother as her own. A lie Mrs. Cook stuck to until my mother was just 9 years old. And so my mother knew firsthand the impact of accidentally saddling someone with the truth. A burden she’s regretted passing on to me since that fateful day in my room.

After my eldest sister was born, my mother and baby returned to Mary’s apartment, where she’d hidden out when she could no longer conceal her pregnancy. Soon the reality of having no means, and no plan set in. My father, in and out of trouble, and dealing with his own crises at home, offered no reassurance that they could make things work. He did not want his parents’ life: One of eight, poor, living with an alcoholic, and abusive father. And so, a decision was made, though, according to my mother, it never really felt like one. A little over a week after bringing home her first-born, a social worker came, and took her baby girl away. As my mother tells this story, even now, she’d insist that she has no regrets, and that she hadn’t spent every day after that feeling depressed and broken. I couldn’t believe her. I didn’t want to. There’d been some kind of compartmentalizing of events, a splitting off enabling her to move on. How else could I make sense of what I now knew? How do you let go of your children? How do you move on? These questions burned a hole in my chest when I held my own babies for the first time…

When my mother became pregnant again at 19, she would not bring the baby home, or have my father meet his daughter. She’d say, that somehow, she didn’t feel she deserved to keep her, nor would it be fair to her first-born because of the decision she’d since made. All of this, sat tucked away on the highest shelf in my mother’s mind until that day in my room when it all came crashing down.

Just two years after my second sister was born, my parents found out they were expecting for a third time. Now 21 and 23 years old, they decided they would marry. They rarely ever talked about what had happened. They kept their secret, moving ahead, as though somehow re-writing history. P.J became first-born, Tim middle-child, and I, the baby of the family, their only daughter.

It has taken me years to understand where my mother ends, and I begin. The longing she’d fought hard to disown, and sadness she’d buried deep, bled into me. I needed to disentangle myself from decisions made long before I was born. All of this had left me insecure about the one attachment I’d never questioned. After all, it could have been me she’d let go… After keeping the secret for over two decades, at 37, I went to my mother and resigned, relinquishing my secret-keeping position. Worn and bruised from the isolation, and weight of concealing a secret of this magnitude, I’d had enough. I’d never asked for this burden, instead it had been accidentally gifted to me. Time finally, to give it back to its original owners.

Shortly after that conversation, my parents told my brothers the truth… It was not easy. Both Tim and P.J reacted emotionally to the news, and to the fact that I had known for so long. Why me? Why had they not been trusted? They too were flooded with questions, and had to consolidate this new information with everything they’d known to be true before.

Then followed another brave step- to look for my sisters. First we found Linda, first-born, living just a short drive away, and looking so much like my mother. She embraced us right from the start. A fact that baffled us. I can remember how nervous I was to meet her, and how incredibly surreal it felt to experience such familiarity with a complete stranger. Looking into her eyes, I was looking into the eyes of my mother. The way she talked and moved, and even how her hand felt in mine… We cried, and laughed, and talked about things so tender and heart wrenching. My parents sat in their truth, and owned their story for the first time. But there was still a missing face in our family album…

Kathryn, second born, had not registered to be found, and so we were told it could take years to reconnect with her. My father’s colon cancer diagnosis two years ago, shortly after finding Linda, changed all of this. Within a month, they’d located Kathryn, living in B.C. She planned a trip to Montreal, just weeks after speaking to my parents by phone for the first time. Meeting her was equally surreal. She reminded me immediately of my father’s mother, and of my godmother, my dad’s youngest sister. She has my father’s eyes, and so much of my mother’s heart. Finally it was as though a piece of me had been restored. The circle, left open for nearly 50 years, now closed.

My parents believed that the truth would undo them; that they would be judged, even left, unworthy of the love they’d known under false pretenses. They never anticipated that this love could deepen, and expand as the weight of the secret lifted, or the repair that would come with reunion. For me, the secret, and keeping it, drove a quest for truth and connection that has shaped every aspect of my life. I am thankful to have had the courage to inspire my parents to face their truth, and break the cycle of secrecy. Ours is a story of love, and forgiveness, penned in gratitude for all that it has taught me. I cannot recall a single family photo in my mother’s picture drawer… This one, of all of us, hangs in a proper frame on the wall.

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*My father read this piece before he passed away.  He knew I would one day share it.  He was so grateful to have found his girls, and to have been surrounded by all of us in the last weeks of his life.

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A Way Through

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Today I’m choosing to motivate myself. I’m choosing NOT to be miserable. Today I’m choosing CONNECTION. I sit here, on my front porch sipping my coffee, and appreciating the quiet. “I miss you dad”, I say out loud through my tears. I don’t know what it is about mornings…  I still cry almost every day, usually in the early hours. While life has certainly not stood still, it’s as though a veil still hangs between me, and the rest of the world.  I am stronger. Steadier. I can miss him without coming undone. Most of the time anyways.  But mornings, ripe with new possibilities, and a chance to start over, only remind me, that wherever I’m heading, he’s not there.  Despite this, I have certainly felt his grace, and presence. In some ways bigger, and more absolute than before.  Things that once derailed me, seem not to have the same sting.  I feel him pushing me along, “Connect Shannon.  Don’t back away from your life; your dreams.”  We always have a choice. As hard, and as painful as it is to accept this, it is the truth.  Yet fear, and sadness, that ruled my life for so long, scramble to take up new residence in other rooms.  This energy, needing somewhere to go, only loses its velocity when we are brave enough to release it. It takes courage to move on, tacking up the NO VACANCY sign, kicking fear finally to the curb.  When I’m afraid, I cocoon myself. Self-doubt, and indecision weighing me down.  A sort of self-imposed sequestering, I turn away from possibility, and hope. Like a bear going into hibernation, I insulate myself with food, and distraction, and busy myself setting up camp in my little cave.  I stop moving my body. I take myself off the list of things that need attention. I side step time for reflection.  Fear is a way through, and sometimes all I want is a way out. I’m not readying myself to engage with my fear. I am not working through it. I am sitting idly, waiting, worrying and ruminating. Stuck. When fear is in charge, it’s like the bully you avoid eye contact with. You act like it doesn’t bother you. You fake a comfort with its presence, hoping desperately that it won’t notice you.  The problem with this strategy is that when invisibility is achieved, all we’re left with is isolation.  We feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, undervalued, and unimportant. Too many “uns”!  It’s taken most of my life to see, that these UNdermining feelings are the result of a CHOICE I made. That I am the one that needs to SEE and HEAR ME!  Recognition, and external validation are but temporary elixirs. True self-recognition is not dependent on anything, or anyone outside of myself. It is dependent on how I feel about me. This relationship- the one with myself, is where I need to start when I feel myself pulling away.  The biggest threat to fear is connection.

While I have said that the how of feeling better, is vastly less complicated than the why of feeling bad, it takes intention and practice to stay on the path, like a muscle that needs exercising.  When fear is fed, instead of met, we get lost. We stop practicing, and start hiding. My hope is that with time, the choice to live better, while always deliberate, somehow stops feeling like such a chore.   I’m on the road again, thanks in part to my dad, my family and friends, and to my two amazing girls, whose existence reminds me everyday that life is good.  I have only to look through their lens for a moment, to be brought back to the joy that lives on in my sadness, and the fire within that still roars in the rain.

Today I choose to motivate myself. Today I choose connection.

*I want to take a moment to thank the nearly 2000 readers of my last article, “New Normal”, who wrote to me, and bravely shared their stories of loss and love.  When I started this blog nearly a year ago, I had no idea the impact it might have.  Thank you for following, and for sharing a piece of yourself with me. Stay connected.

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New Normal

I haven’t written since the end of May. I couldn’t. While writing is my therapy, or a sort of working through. It is also a process that requires readiness, and willingness. I put my heart and soul on the page, and while I often write of struggle, or challenge, I ultimately find the blessings that come with being broken open, or the growth connected with change. I write to pick myself up. It feels good to write. It allows me to see the light around the cloud, and to sort things out. The only time this isn’t true, is when I’m unable, or unprepared to let go of my sadness. I’ve written, or tried to write when I’m in that headspace, and it’s painful. My despair magnified tortuously with each click of the keyboard. It takes longer to get to the part that feels restorative, to the part of the process that heals me. Seeing the silver lining is what makes the hard stuff less hard. It is the reason I do this. To try to let the light in… But sometimes the blessings are harder to see. Sometimes we need to sit in the dark, until we just can’t help but let the light in.

I am grief stricken. Struck with grief. I go to bed with my grief, and wake up to it. There are moments of pause in between, where I can set it down like a hiker’s pack, standing upright on its own, like a separate entity, heavy and ominous. There is still joy, and love, and gratitude in those moments of pause. Sometimes I find myself at the end of a day realizing I haven’t cried. But when the grief comes, it swallows me. I’ve not been able to write because I knew what writing would mean. A working through that requires perspective. Writing is a way into grief. Not a way out. Despite my resistance, here I am. Pouring out the contents of my broken heart, letting it be messy, and painful, and hoping that in doing so, I might somehow ease my suffering.

On June 1st 2015, we heard the news we’d dreaded hearing for nearly 2 and a half years. No more chemo. I sat there, holding my father’s hand, and squeezing my mother’s knee. 3-6 weeks the doctor told my mother and I privately, as we pressed her with questions when my father stepped away for a moment. A week later he’d be admitted to palliative care, and on July 8th, he would take his last breath. There is no holding back the tears as I type those words. His last breath… The man who’d breathed life and love into me was gone.

In the month he had in palliative care, he was fortunate to have a few good weeks. His pain finally managed, and his head clear, he was more social, and talkative than he’d been in the 6 months prior. “Write Shannon”, he would say. He’d tell every doctor, nurse and volunteer about my blog, rhyming off titles, and themes and insisting that I print copies that people could read when they visited. I knew what my writing meant to him. He read everything I wrote. And re-read it. He knew that writing would sooth me when he no longer could. A lifeline when the grief that was ahead engulfed me… He’d even encouraged me to interview him in the last weeks of his life.   A cherished conversation- a joining of our two hearts. Those precious bits of audio that will be listened to for years to come. His words tattooed in my brain. “The Last Interview” I intended to call it. An article for another day. But not now. Not yet.

Grief is a process, a path. We spiral through its stages, and then spiral through them again and again. A road we’d started out on the day he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. It’s a very strange thing to know that someone you love is dying. To watch them slowly die. To contend with people’s natural response, that we should have hope, and stay positive. We knew, since diagnosis, that a cure was not a possibility. We knew management of the disease was our goal. We’d spend over 2 years being afraid most of the time. Could he be treated at all?   How would he respond? How much could he endure? How would his quality of life be affected? Would he catch some infection that would take him before the cancer did? Would this hospitalization be the last? What will the next set of scans show? How much more time do we really have?  All of this interrupted, and punctuated by periods of quasi-reprieve that we’d soon term the “new normal”. We’d get used to using the word cancer and talking about chemo and disease. We’d grow to expect interruptions in his treatment due to low neutrophils. We’d anticipate the stress of waiting for the results of tests, making it ever so slightly easier. We’d get used to my father slowly deteriorating, knowing that with every dip, there would be a leveling off. We’d become accustomed to his failing health, and lessening energy. We’d learn to appreciate a good day for what it was. We’d be thankful if he could sit through dinner with us, or if we could visit for a while on a day where everyone was healthy, and there was no risk of getting grampa sick by our visiting. But whenever there was a change, fear would creep back in, and we’d grieve anew. We’d anticipate the other shoe dropping. Cancer cuts you off at the knees, and reminds you that control is elusive. We learned that the sooner you get used to whatever new normal you’re in, the easier riding the roller coaster will be. We had no choice but to adjust, and we did, again and again.

When treatment stopped, and we knew he was entering what would be the last stage of his life, the fear changed and morphed into something that didn’t feel like fear anymore. The fog that descended was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. A surrendering. A letting go.   We scrambled to get our bearings. Things like eating and bathing, or even getting from point A to point B suddenly became hyper deliberate because the inertia of life had halted. It was as though all of our priorities shifted. What mattered, mattered a lot, and what didn’t, just didn’t. There was no decision about this reprioritizing. It was automatic. There was an urgency to everything. Spoken and unspoken prayers reverberated through our family like a radio frequency only we could hear. Time. More time. No suffering if possible. And the hope that he’d make peace with whatever he needed to make peace with, so that he could go when he was ready. When he was ready. I prayed and prayed that he wouldn’t linger for us. That he would get whatever he needed to from us, from his time on this earth, and that he would work through his fear of letting go in the most complete sense.

“I am both the happiest, and saddest I’ve ever been, at the same time… Do you know what I mean?” he’d ask me just days before he died. A tear rolled down my cheek, a gentle smile on my face, I nodded. I did understand. There was such light, and love in his dying process. Family that travelled from near and far, friends old and new that visited, he was bathed in love. Cloaked in it. In turn, he exuded it from every pore of his body. He told me, and others, that he wanted those who visited him to leave feeling better than when they’d arrived. His wish was granted.   We laughed, and reminisced, and made new memories to go along with all those that came before. We left nothing unsaid. And we cried… It’s hard work to close a life. Really hard. I saw my father weep, and fold into his release. I heard him bellow, felt his mourning. In those last four weeks, I’d see him cry more than I had in my 40 years. More than he had in all of his 73. We teased that he had some catching up to do, being the patriarch of such an emotional family. He appreciated the space we made for these feelings. In the last years of his life, and even more so in the last weeks, he’d become such an expressive, and tender man. I can see now that this was the person he always was, just that he hadn’t allowed himself to show these tender parts. He hadn’t learned how. In the end, all inhibition, any wall that was once there, melted away. A process that had started over a decade before, now expedited. There would be no more holding back. There couldn’t be. While he’d come to terms with dying, he too prayed for just a little more time. “Fifteen more minutes Shan”, he’d say. “I asked God for just fifteen more minutes”. He spoke of his deep sadness to leave us. To say goodbye to the love of his life, my mom. To his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. I’d reassure him that he’d still see my babies grow. He’d just have a different seat in the arena. He worried about how we would carry on. I’d hold his hand, and kiss his forehead, and do my best to comfort him, telling him, “We are cut from the same cloth dad. We will all be ok. How could we not be? We came from you”.

He showed such grace, and humility, while demonstrating such strength and tenacity. Both in the fight for his life, and in the closing of it. My dad did everything 100%. His positive outlook, and sunny disposition were contagious. He never complained. We had no choice but join him. To be authentic, supporting each other in our sadness, while keeping sight of all that we had to be thankful for. He would repeat how lucky he was daily. He loved his family. He felt our love. This familial love deepened and expanded as our hearts grew heavier and fuller. It became a life force of its own. This force later enveloped us, protecting us to some extent, in those first few days after he passed.

I am thankful for the 15 more minutes we had together, and the incredible gift of a long goodbye. For now dad, I am not ready to set down my grief. I don’t really think I ever will be. My hope is that I may grow stronger with each passing day, and that I can finally set down something else. Something heavier. The thing that tarnishes all good things- my fear. I don’t need it anymore. Maybe I never did… What I feared most happened. Fear never protected me; it only infected the happiness that was there all a long. Even in the dark, there was always light. As I struggle to adjust to yet another new normal, I will remember the man I watched you become. As proud of you, as you were of me. I will hold dear the bond between us, knowing that it will never be broken no matter how far apart we are.

I haven’t written since the end of May… But today, when I visited my father’s grave, and sat in the wet grass sobbing, waiting to feel and hear him. To know he was still there, listening and loving. I took a deep breath, and said, “I know dad… I know what you want me to do. I know what I need to do”.  “Write Shannon”, his words echoing in my ears. Even if it hurts. Even it feels worse.  Like a defiant child that didn’t want a way into her grief, but rather a way out of it. I shook my head, as though trying to quiet the answer I couldn’t help but hear. I hoisted myself up, and lay my hand on the pedestal holding his urn. “I know dad,” I whispered. “I hear you.”

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An Evening with a Soul

Last night 600 friends and family came together for a cause. The hope:  To raise funds for a high school friend living with ALS, diagnosed in his 30’s, married, with three children. An e-mail invite went out in March to friends old and new.  With no other promotion, or social media buzz, the event was sold out, with a waiting list to boot.  Last night I saw people I had not seen in 20 years. Last night a community came together. The way friends greeted each other, the hugs that lingered as reunion hugs do, you could not help but notice the energy in the room.  There was an electricity in the air, and a soul to the evening.  A party with a purpose.  

Listening to our friend, his wife, and brother who mc’ed the evening, and seeing their family and closest friends, weaving laughter and joy into what might otherwise be a solemn conversation, was evidence of the resilience of the human spirit. Life is made up of it all- the good, the bad, and the ugly. The lows and the highs, and the challenges we face are but part of the road we each travel.  Somehow the harder parts put into laser focus what is most essential.  Magnifying what matters, and sustaining us in those darker moments.  A life turned on its head, hard not to be struck by the family’s positive attitude, and their grace. To be able to talk, and laugh, and engage…  My hope is that for a moment, their burden felt a little less weighty.  That maybe, just maybe, the isolation of a diagnosis and a disease was overthrown by the joining of so many hearts.
Last night was not a sad event. It was a celebration. A celebration of a life so precious, and so important to all of the lives it’s connected to. A celebration of a community that did not need to be sold on showing up for a friend and his loved ones. A reminder to live in the moment.  A lesson worth repeating that happiness is not a destination, but rather found in ordinary moments along the way.  It is not tied to the meeting of personal or professional goals.  It is not found in things, in success, or in status. It is found in connection.  It is found in the people who stand by your side when it counts. It is found in the comfort that only our loved ones can bring. It is seen in our children’s eyes, and our spouses smile. It is felt in our parents’ pride, and in their love. It is experienced in reuniting with friends, and in sharing a laugh.  It was found last night in the coming together of a community, for a party with a purpose, and an evening with a soul.
Thank you to Dean, Paula and P.J, and the rest of the family for reminding us all of what really matters.

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Because of You…

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With my mother as a model, I figured that being a mom would be the greatest thing I ever did. That I would love every single selfless minute of it, and that like her, I would be an endlessly patient, and nurturing parent. I thought it would come naturally. After all my mom made it look so easy. I don’t have any memory of her treating mothering as work. She never seemed too tired for me, always making time to play, or sit and talk. If I needed her, she was there. Furthermore, I cannot remember her ever yelling at me, or losing her patience. While I on the other hand have yelled, and lost my head more, in the 7 years since I became a mom, than I have in my entire life.  Yes it is the greatest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also pushed and pulled me in ways I never could have anticipated. It is a giving up of yourself. A letting go of you as an individual. Your needs come second. I mean I’ve since figured out, that in many ways, my needs must remain a priority, and that my joy, and wellbeing are key to the well functioning of our family system. But, looking at my mom back then, I had no idea of the sacrifices she made for my siblings and I, or that she too was tired, and stretched by motherhood.  My mother showed such grace in how she managed things, that any wear she experienced was masked by her positive, and easygoing attitude.  It was always so clear the gratification she got from being our mom.

My mom has reassured me time and again, that she too found it hard. She recounts having left me on the kitchen table in the middle of the night following a feeding, only to remember once snug in her bed that she had left me there. She also assures me that she lost her cool once in a while. She claims that kids have selective memory when it comes to their parents.  I’m really hoping this is true, as I wouldn’t mind my kids re-writing a few less than stellar mommy moments in our family history book.  My favorite story, is one my mother tells of how she once dumped a pot of water on my head because I wouldn’t stop bothering her while she was doing dishes. Thank God! Thank God that my mother, who I saw as the poster child for patience, actually lost it once in a while, and moreover, is like the rest of us, and is capable of being bothered!  Imparting a lesson on the gifts of imperfection, allowing me to embrace my own humanity.  She has taught me, that in parenting you do what keeps you sane.  I was not scarred by her dousing me with water.  I don’t even remember it!  And it probably enabled her to let off a little steam in a harmless way.  She has always encouraged me to be kind to myself first, and reminds me that the cracks in our veneer are where the light comes in.  I love that she has been my champion for every minute of every day I have spent on this earth. I love that while she too knew that being a mom is hard work, that tests every part of you, that she somehow managed to do it all with a smile, convincing me that loving me was never hard.

The single most important thing my mother did for me when I became a mom for the first time was to encourage me to trust my instincts, not getting too caught up in the shoulds, and could haves. She’d come to visit bearing Starbucks, greeting me with a hug, letting me hold on, and let go all at the same time. I was so tired… I felt as though I’d come undone… She’d let me nap, or shower, or leave the house for a few blissful blocks of solitude between feeds. When I would cry, she would soothe me as though soothing an infant. Holding me, she would whisper, “You’re doing a great job Shan. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” She would take every opportunity to remind me of this, and still does to this day, as I move through the different stages of raising children. I needed to hear it as much then, as I still do now from time to time. This has helped foster my self-confidence as a parent, and ultimately my growth as a person.

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Mom… Because of you I know that I am never alone. Because of you I know that no matter what, I will always be ok. Because of you I know that I am deserving of love and care. Thank you for loving me beyond measure. Thank you for being my friend and champion first, and parent second.  Because of you I have faith that with time, and experience, my edges will continue to soften, and that I am already whole just as I am.  You see, because of you, I realize that no matter what I mess up, or can’t seem to figure out, that my daughters will be just fine as long as they know that I am there loving them, every step of the way. Because of you, I know that I am loved…

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