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Posts from the ‘Divorce’ Category

Brave little girls, big sisters and beach angels

Bandon Beach Labyrinth

Bandon Beach ~ May 2015

Walking on Bandon’s beach last week, I remembered another day at this same beach — some 20 years ago. There was the same ominous heavy moist grayness, the same biting wind and moaning fog horn, and the same super low tide – which left a wide sandy beach covered in a thin glassy sheen of water. Rock outcroppings, usually underwater, were left high and dry, revealing damp caves and passageways.

20 years ago my husband, myself and our two kids were here on a family vacation. Our daughter, Hailey, was six years old. At the beach, this high-spirited little girl turned into an exuberant water nymph, kicking and frolicking at the edge of the waves. She was in her element and I always breathed a sigh of relief because, finally, here was a wild energy that matched her own.

Our son, Kai, was a new walker — a sweet chubby toddler — who we had thoroughly bundled up against the elements. He was happily walking along, with stiff arms and legs, as best he could.

With so much space and a long view, we relaxed and gave the kids free rein to run around.

But when we turned around — Kai had disappeared.

We heard Hailey screaming from a short way down the beach. Next we saw our beautiful fearless daughter plunge into a deep moat circling a large rock and fish little Kai out by his coat collar, dragging him onto the sand. He had gone in over his head – and sunk like a rock.

We ran over, bundled up our two soggy kids in beach towels and carried them up to the car. For a moment, our eyes met — sharing a silent terror – the grim knowledge that, had Hailey not seen Kai, we might not have found him in time.

This is not one of those stories that you laugh about later on. This is the story that you don’t want to remember because it leaves you chilled to the bone with “what ifs?”

Hailey is now 26 years old, a mother herself, and Kai is 21. I had happily walked this beach many times since that family vacation, but on this day I felt weighed down and traumatized. Perhaps it was the similarity in the weather or the season — or maybe even the actual anniversary. They say the body remembers these things and you never know what your subconscious has in mind for you.

I thought about the people I have known who had lost a child. I thought about the premature dissolution of that little family we were back then. The losses and traumas just seemed to pile up. I wondered how any of us can go on.

At one point, I came upon a sand labyrinth, expertly drawn in the sand. The words “Enter Here” with an arrow invited me in, so I stood at the entrance, quieted myself and began slowly walking. By the end of my walk, my dismal mood had turned to sobbing.

I cried for that scary day 20 years ago. I also cried for an even more ancient time when I was a child – a new big sister too – and had been unable to save my little brother from suffering.

I cried for all the times I had been powerless to help those I loved. I cried for the collapse of our little family, and the many times since, that their father and I had let our kids down. I cried for the times we hadn’t been there or done the right thing – or even known what the right thing was. I cried for my lost dreams of how things should have been. I cried because when we failed, it had hurt the two people I care for most in the world.

And also I cried because I was tired of being strong and brave. I was tired of being the one who carried this burden alone – the one who was blamed for everything.

The labyrinth builders, two women and a man, – unknown and nameless, but angels just the same – came up to me. I told them the story of the near drowning of my baby, just the tip of the iceberg, and they took turns hugging me as I cried.

We cannot plan these things consciously – these steps along to healing our life. They come when they do – if we give them the attention and the opportunity. I no longer believe I am to be blamed for everything. I know I cried for the person I was who used to believe that.

I meant to take a simple walk on a beach. Now I recognized it as another step toward the freedom I had been seeking when I first set off on this walkabout.

A freedom I am just beginning to taste.

A little research led me to the website of Denny Dyke, who I believe is the labyrinth maker on Bandon Beach: http://onepath.us/

 

 

Love In The Time of 40 Rose Bushes

rose garden

I used to own 40 rose bushes.

They came part and parcel with a house my new husband and I bought in Boise, Idaho — when we were young, in love and wanting to settle down and start a family.

The roses were a riotous mix of colors and shades, lined up prettily against a low weathered gray fence in a sunny courtyard of our new backyard. The windows from the kitchen, eating area and sun room looked out at them. They were in constant view and not easily ignored.

I preferred to grow vegetables back then and was intimated by the responsibility for these roses, so fragile and elegant — and not at all like a melon or head of lettuce in usefulness.

Still, the roses had been growing at this house for a long time. And someone, or a succession of someones, had cultivated and maintained them – perhaps loved them. I was learning to honor love and ready for new responsibilities. Now that the baton had been passed to me — I did not want the roses to die on my watch.

I diligently studied rose cultivation with books borrowed from the Boise Public library. (These were the days before Google!) I mounded loose acidic bark at the base of each bush and put in soak-er hoses to keep their shallow roots cool and damp through the hot Boise summers. I fertilized them, vigilantly watched for disease, picked off aphids and clipped spent blooms. That first fall, instructions in one hand, sharp new clippers in the other, I pruned them rather far back – reducing them to ugly gnarly stumps. I had a few winter months of worry that I had killed them.

But no, they were consistently resilient and reliable, dying back each fall and blossoming beautifully each spring we lived there. The death/rebirth metaphor for my own life is easy to see now with the distance of age.

The roses came to be a source of pride and joy for me. I needed something alive to cherish and nurture, so I showered those 40 rose bushes with the love I was unable to give the child we could not conceive.

Now, nearly 60, with spring on its way, reminding me of my roses and those heady glory days when opening to new love was easy and untainted by its potential for crushing loss, I do another little bit of grieving for the past.

I know that some years later, after we had moved, that beautiful house and its 40 rosebushes burned to the ground — just like my life did, or so I thought, for several years after my divorce.

There are things you can not know about love until you have loved and lost. There are things you can not know about how to live and honor life until you have been burned to the ground. I could not know these things back then.

But I do know, that as long as I am alive, there are still lessons about love ahead of me.

GLORY DAYS

There were brilliant autumn days

where I stood in fields

gone rampant with abundance.

And I was full to swelling and beautiful.

My baby was a round cherub,

a pumpkin,

and my husband was puffed up with love.

And we were going to live forever.

Glory Days!

The days God gives to remind us,

as winter comes,

that in the end,

it was all worth it.

Betsy Lewis

Wallowing in the messiness of life

Betsy Refrigerator

One of my children returned to the nest to live with me for two months.

He came back angry. Angry about his past and how the adults in his life had failed him. Angry about his father and my divorce and the years following it, where we could not always be counted on to coexist and put him before our issues with each other.

He speaks the truth. We did a poor job at times.

Now he blames us.

I know how he feels. I felt the same way about my parents. I lost sight of their unwavering love, heaped all my anguish and fear upon them . . .  and blamed. It has taken decades for me to forgive them and the other adult betrayers in my life — years to take responsibility for my own life and not let the sins of my fathers drag me down, excuse my behavior or hold me back.

I came across this quote by G.K. Chesterton, “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.”

Ah, the lure of sweet ripe justice! It is forthright – swift and easy to pluck. Mercy not so much. Mercy is elusive — hard to get a grip on. It lives in the gray area where things are complex and murky. I can see that my child wants the easy justice and does not yet have the capacity for true mercy. All I can tell him is, “Learn from our example. Don’t make the mistakes we did.”

He also does not yet know that there is no end to the mistakes you can make in life and that he will make his share too. I do not ask him for mercy because true mercy takes time — sometimes a lifetime – of missteps, misadventures and often years of unproductive wallowing in the messiness of life.

I have no need to rush him – even if I could. He must take his own journey.

So, I witness. I commiserate. Inwardly l say, “Let it rip. Say it out loud at last!” I recognize that this is progress. The first step toward healing for a child who suffered for years, self-combusted internally and did not give a voice to his pain.

That said, the moral of this story has less to do with this child and more to do with my own growing up – my own long journey toward a preference of blessed wicked mercy over justice.

Now I give myself and others credit for managing to stay in the game, in what is a decidedly unjust and crazy-making world. I can take the slings and arrows of justice this child throws at me, gather them in my hands, and hold them with gratitude and compassionate mercy for the both of us. I have regrets, but am no longer haunted by oppressive parental guilt. Hard, intractable guilt goes hand and hand with justice and can only exist in a rigid universe with an immutable standard of perfection – a mythological standard I no longer struggle to meet.

In my world now, nearer to the end than to the beginning of my long adventure with life — “doing the best you can” has become an act of true heroism.

What’s art got to do with it?

By Christine

A painting by a young artist named Christine, for On The Veranda

“Art therapy? You’ve got to be kidding!” Those were my words 10 years ago when a friend suggested this type of therapy to help my kids cope with divorce.

Sure — I knew art could be fun, but I was skeptical about its role in emotional healing.

Reluctantly, I decided to give it a try, so my children and I began sessions with an art therapist – drawing, painting and collaging.

At home my young son and I began drawing together after dinner. Our kitchen table turned into an oasis of creative peace. Many things were expressed, shared and witnessed as we bowed our heads over drawing paper.

Slowly, I began to see that there were means to self-discovery and ways to communicate that did not require words.

Fast forward ten years. My family has weathered the storm, and our lives continue to be enriched by art. Ten years ago there was no way I could have anticipated art’s power to set a new course for my life.

Each summer the Children’s Advocacy Center sponsors art mentoring groups for kids and teens.  At the end of July, Veranda Park Retirement Community offers community artists an opportunity to exhibit and sell their artwork in its elegant meeting room — with wine and appetizers served outside on the broad, cool veranda.

Each year, as I stroll around the exhibition, I know that every painting tells the artist’s story and quite often represents a profound transformation in his or her life. A painting I bought by a young man a couple years ago is a treasured part of my art collection. On my wall, it is an uplifting reminder about hope and resilience.

Do yourself a favor – join us at On the Veranda and purchase your own inspirational work of art. This year’s show takes place on Friday, July 26th, 7-9 pm at Veranda Park in Medford.

 If you can’t make the event, you can still be part of transforming lives through art by making a donation. All proceeds benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center’s kids and teens art mentoring groups.

 

 

Slowly pulling the tree out by its roots

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The rain and gloom have returned to Portland–which fits my mood.

I have been feeling low the last two days. This usually means I’ve come upon an unhappy “anniversary date” of my life. This time I attribute my mood to a loss — some 10 springs ago — when my long marriage came to an abrupt end. It was a shock at the time, and for a good portion of the ten years following, it was an arduous journey for me and my children.

I like to think I am at peace with it now. I can see the gifts and am happily carrying on with the rest of my life. But it is days like today–when the anniversary sneaks up – that I am reminded of how terribly profound this loss still is for me.

Letting go has been an effort of slowly pulling a tree out by its roots — a tree with roots that are firmly anchored in the soil of every corner of my body.

In the past, I would have brushed it off.  Not taken myself seriously. Told myself I had a problem. I might have tried to yank the roots out by force, or been ashamed of my sentimentality. Now it is different. I take time. I move slowly. I light a candle to honor my loss. I let my tears flow. It is only me and my loss. I have nothing to prove to anyone.

I am not sure how many more times I will need to do this – how many more times I will need to loosen the soil and gently tug at those roots, until they suddenly and finally release their hold.

Maybe forever. Maybe never. Maybe it is enough to just keep trying.

As my friend says, and I believe it is true for me now, “I am not wise enough to know.”

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”

Daybreak, Thanksgiving morning 2012 . . .

I stand for a moment at my window taking in dawn’s red sky, the streetlamp still glowing below. I can’t remember if this is a delight or a warning?

And then it comes to me . . . ah oh . . . it’s a warning.

I refused to accept it. I had planned a nice meaningful Thanksgiving of solitude – candles, mindfulness and gratitude. If ever I was to take a spiritual by-pass from the real world – this was it!

The night before, however, I had been haunted by dreams of Thanksgivings past. As I took in the sunrise warning, I knew that my internal alarm clock — now chiming Thanksgiving o’clock — wasn’t going to let me sleep through family drama quite so easily.

My dreams weren’t even about my close family. I dreamed of my former in-law family – a group of people I was well and truly done with – or so I thought.

It still bothered me that I was never accepted or valued by my ex-husband’s family.

My ex and I were a case of “opposites attract”.  He was an outgoing extrovert from a large, Midwestern, Irish-Catholic family — and a frat boy to boot. I was a quiet introvert from the West-coast and my family had mostly disintegrated. I was bookish, intellectual, and had a small circle of close friends– and to boot also, I worked for Planned Parenthood. Partying, beer and football figured large in my ex’s life. For me it was social causes, soulful conversation and reading.

My ex was drawn to my intelligence and depth.  I was impressed with his confidence and ease with people.

You can see where this is going.

Holiday visits with his family were rough. I worked hard to ingratiate myself, but I just couldn’t gain a foothold. His family wasn’t unkind, but they kept their distance. Gatherings took place in the small familial home, which would become crammed with the six grown children, their spouses and kids, cigarette smoke, alcohol, and noise. I would escape to bed early. They didn’t understand. I began to suspect that something was wrong with me, and my ex was more than happy to believe that also.

Now 10 years post divorce these people, who had been in my life for over 20 years, no longer talk to me.

So they come to me in my dreams.

A friend suggested I imagine the difficult people in my life surrounded by angels and held safely and lovingly high up in the sky — well away from me.

So this Thanksgiving, instead of putting my in-law family in an imaginary hand-basket to hell — I gave the angel version a shot.

This healing must have been ripe for the picking, because I started to feel myself emerge a bit from the foggy, pain filled maze I had wandered for so long. My perception moved from dream state to 3D. Both my internal and external vision became sharper and clearer. My surroundings and and body sense solidified. Even colors were brighter and more saturated.

Everything seemed simpler and made sense.

No one was to blame, including myself, and I felt compassion for the orphan I was — for my hopeless quest to complete myself with an extrovert and a family who could not live up to my idealized wishes.

That day I began to separate myself out from an enmeshment with these people who I saw now as  ordinary people — maybe not “my people” — but people who I had made placeholders for my pain.

Damning them would damn me.

Putting the demonized version of them in the care of angels also held my demonized parts safe, and I was better able to find may way out of the fog and confusion.

I saw also that  this was self-compassion.

About this time a quote showed up on my Facebook wall:

“If we don’t embrace our confusion, we remain trapped between worlds—on the one hand, old ways of being ready to die; on the other, new ways of being eager to be born. By holding the space for all the possibilities at once, clarity emerges on its own terms. The bridge from one side to the other is confusion. We must learn how to cross it on the way home.” Jeff Brown

So this holiday season I give thanks for red skies, for parts ready to die and be reborn, and for that blessed confusing bridge and its crossing. I also celebrate my increasing ability to live  in my own skin, angels holding the space for my pain, the fog’s lifting, and my own two feet — now planted firmly on the planet earth.

White noise and the winters of life

I’ve had a lot of what I call “white noise” in my head the last couple of days — random thoughts and incessant low level chatter.  After the clarity following my death-defying drive up Hell’s Canyon, this feels dull and unproductive.

Clearly, there is nothing like a brush with death to force all the pieces into place.

This morning I woke up remembering a quote by Melody Beattie from her book, Journey to the Heart. I don’t have the book with me, but I believe it goes something like this:  “There is never a time when nothing is happening.”

Conversely — Something is always happening.

After my divorce there was a long slow time when it appeared nothing was happening for me. I showed up for life — but just barely. My job was mindless and uninspiring. Nothing deeply stirred or interested me. I tried therapy, but I had nothing to say. I walked with my eyes to the ground, avoiding the stimulation of contact with other people.

One of my few friends told me it was a “winter of my life” and that, although on the surface I felt cold and dead, there was surely slow movement occurring deep within me. She said to keep putting one foot in front of the other and have faith.

She assured me that spring always comes.

And she was right.

One day while walking from my car to the post office, I heard a sound overhead and looked up to see a small shiny silver plane flying against a deep blue sky. I realized that it was a beautiful day. I felt something– not quite yet joy — but an appreciation of something visually striking. I remember it so clearly, even now — where I was, the time of day, what I was doing, and what I was wearing. It was the first glimmer of spring after a very long winter.

I feel joy and have moments of clarity all the time now.

So today I ask  myself, “What’s the hurry?”

My new version of “keep putting one foot in front of the other” has become an enthusiastic “BE! LIVE! DO!”

So when the white noise buzzes in my head, I will remind myself that there is never a time when nothing is happening.

And that is really something.

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