Good Grief

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February 5, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

When my husband and I decided to separate, it could be said that I felt more ready than him. He followed my lead through a trial separation, counselling, date nights, and then full separation as if he already knew the whole dance pattern. Once we actually separated, he took to it better than I did—or perhaps that is just how it looked.

I leaked emotion. He sealed his gates.

I became paralyzed. He worked harder.

I isolated myself. He played badminton.

I baked cookies. He bought a FitBit.

This week, he moved out of our family home. Up until this point we have been “bird nest” parenting: each one of us moving in when it was our turn to be with the kids, and moving out when it was the other’s turn. It’s a child-centred way in which to deal with the transition of separation, and all-in-all it has been good for the kids.

We own a cottage just outside of the city, so we had two homes to rotate through. Prior to our separation, the cottage was a place of retreat and rejuvenation for me, which I used monthly. We spent holidays and most of the summer there. I loved the cottage space. However, continuously shifting from home to cottage and away from the kids, created a rollercoaster of emotions after separation. I plummeted toward despair with every arrival, and even though I bolstered myself with music and positive self-talk, I could not stop the descent. At the cottage, the alone time that used to refresh my soul, became a continuous reminder of the failure of my marriage. There was nothing to hide behind; no task large enough to camouflage my pain.

By the end of December, I knew I needed to advocate for my mental and emotional well-being, and I asked my husband to find a place in the city to rent, so I could stay home during his parenting time.

With each new change to our lives, I feel body slammed into denial. This isn’t really happening. To me. 

A couple of months after separating, the depth and breadth of my emotions along with experiencing conflicting feelings made me wonder if I were going crazy. Not crazy though . . . just grieving.

Almost eleven years ago, we adopted our son from Ethiopia. I had been single-minded in pursuing adoption. It would be fair to say that my heart felt like it would break if we didn’t adopt. However, after the adoption became final, and we had our energetic and engaging son in our lives, I became depressed. That confused me just as much as this. How can sadness, grief, irritation, and anger enter my life when I am striving toward something I desire?

According to an article in “The Guardian”, giving yourself time to grieve is one of the most important parts of surviving separation or divorce. “Perhaps you have not just lost a husband, but a lightbulb changer, a chauffeur – or someone who brought danger into your life. You may also have lost your sense of identity and aspirations. […] You may have had an unhappy relationship, but you have also lost a dream: the idea that you would be together forever. Never try to stop your grief – it’s a necessary reaction. Grieve with a friend that you trust – the best time to cry is when there’s someone there to hand you tissues. Not to reassure you it’s OK, but to help you get past your grief.”⁠1

Acknowledging that grief is necessary, normal, and healthy doesn’t make me feel even one iota better, but at least I’m not going crazy. Hand me a Kleenex, will you.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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1 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/09/ease-pain-of-separation

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Who Am I

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January 29, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

It is easy, if NOT accurate, to figure out who you are when you are immersed in an activity-defining role.

I was a child.

I became a teenager, a student, a girlfriend, a high school graduate.

In my twenties, I changed into a respiratory therapist, a clinical instructor, a supervisor, a policy maker, an advocate. I lived with independence. I protected my heart. I hurt others.

At thirty-one I got married. I became a wife without even feeling a shift; I had been heading there the whole time.

Through twenty-one years in relationship I believed I had maintained my independence despite shelving many elements of my self. But the moment we separated—unhitching my person from my husband’s felt like an emotional amputation. My heart split, my lungs compressed, and my mind—a silent soliloquy of blame, sadness, and confusion—burst with thoughts. The what-ifs and the Oh-my-Gods swept through me like stolen breath.

In a single moment, I no longer knew who I was or what my purpose in life could possibly be. So resolutely had I attached myself to my role as wife that nothing seemed possible without the anchor of marriage. Nothing.

I felt as though I had single-handedly broken up the dream we ALL had of family. Sitting in the melodrama of failure and shame is not an ideal place from which to recognize truth, opportunity, or strength.

Months later, THIS month, I arrived in California for my annual seasonal break. Through reading, writing, and walking I hoped to refresh myself, and maybe reboot my system in order to get in touch with who I AM now. It’s strange to be so uncertain at this age and stage of my life. I have focused on the needs of my family for a long time. My role as parent is intact, but changed. While my husband’s life goes on, mine seems to have paused…not pleasantly, but uncomfortably—in the midst of Triangle Pose or Warrior 3.

I brought the book, “the untethered soul” with me to California. The initial sections dealt with the exact question I had: Who am I? It reads like a philosophical conundrum—“Who hears when you hear? Who sees when you see? Who watches the dreams? Who looks at the image in the mirror? Who is it that is having all of these experiences?⁠1

The answer of course is ME. Moreover, we cannot define ourselves as wife, mother, worker, or friend because to do so would be to say that we can not exist before or after marriage, children, and so forth.

That’s a little esoteric for me. I yearn to know myself in order to live more authentically—I want to be true to myself, so that I can show up. In. My. Life.

The role of wife was something I long imagined fitting into. When I chose to step away from it, I inadvertently lost my compass point. I don’t know where true north is. I still feel the magnetic pull to connect with my husband when we are apart. Text. Call. Check in. Problem-solve. Talk. Align.

I am a runner with no finish line, a boat without a moor, a person without her person.

The magnet has merely moved. The ocean. The beach. The hills. Nature.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

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1 Michael A. Singer, the untethered soul

Bruised Ego

January 14, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I just noticed this week that my ego is feeling bruised. I wasn’t particularly aware that I had an “ego”, but my inner voice kept on saying…Why not me? How could he not be enthralled with ME? WTF? It warranted further thought.

When I was in my early-twenties, I dated and then lived with a guy who was an avid cyclist. Consequently, I did what many 20-something girls would do—I bought a bike and took up cycling. One day I rode from our little house to the corner grocer, all downhill. I had been practicing curb hopping, so I would not have to stop and lift my front tire over the curb. I had some speed built up when I reached the square curb in front of the grocer; I lifted out of my seat and did a quick down-and-up motion that, in a perfect world, would have floated me onto the curb like a Canada goose breezing in for a landing.IMy world was not perfect.

I squarely hit the curb, which brought my bike to a sudden—and dare I say, unexpected—halt. I flew straight over the handlebars and landed with the UMPHF of a WWF wrestler on the concrete sidewalk. Directly across the street at the neighbourhood ice cream parlour, I imagined a collective gasp as all eyes turned to me. I bounced back up as if enclosed in rubber, instead of a fragile and now bleeding layer of skin. I picked up my bike and hobbled away in the direction I had come from. My unspoken words and head-down retreat said, “Yeah! I totally meant to do that.”

Many times we adults trip and fall. “It can seem worse when other people see us, and the pain is so much greater when it comes with a bruised ego. We start thinking we are the only ones struggling so much. We fail to understand what’s happening in our life and what to do about it. In short, we feel like losers.”⁠1

Bingo!

Remember in “Mr. Not-So Right” I spoke about being embarrassed to speak the words, “My husband and I have separated”? Yeah, that.

Now I am splayed on the cement after a big fall, like Wile E. Coyote “beaten” by the Road Runner again! Peering over the cliff-edge are scads of witnesses, saying, “Damn, that’s gotta hurt. What’s she gonna do now?” And then they call out, “Hey, do you need any help? Is there anything I can do?” I lift one bruised and battered arm into the air and say, “No, I’m good. I got this.” (Note to self: must reflect upon martyrdom.)

I have been an easy bruiser my whole life, but with a big bounce-back factor. I regularly got knocked down on the soccer field, but before the ball even hit the ground I had bounced right back up and into the fray. Somehow I could fall off my bike when it wasn’t even moving. I’ve had bruises that I couldn’t account for. It may also be said that I’m emotionally sensitive. However, I live a life of resilience, perseverance, and growth. I have (mostly) managed to stay stronger than the hurt-provoking words and actions of others.

You know what I mean? Laura Croft  merges with Dorothy.

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But. . . face-down makes breathing difficult, let alone getting up.  Three of the most important people in my life are witnesses to the fall—my kids. In order to heal and move back into myself, I am going to have to acknowledge the bruised and seemingly mortally wounded parts of myself. I have to realize the experience of separating has bruised ME—not my EGO—I am not less valuable, or less important for the fact that I have stumbled.

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Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

1 http://tinybuddha.com/blog/dont-let-your-bruised-ego-keep-you-down-when-you-fall/

Anchors Away

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January 7, 2017

Dear Cherished Heart,

I have lost my way.

We had but one tradition. Each anniversary we would buy the other a gift that somehow symbolized the past year. One year I bought my husband a set of plastic child-sized tools and he bought me a 500-piece puzzle of a lighthouse. For what we spared in price, we made up for in thought.

Some years ago I bought my husband a pendant of an anchor. He had been a steadfast, logical, and clear-headed partner for most of our relationship. In moments of emotional stress, self doubt, or catastrophic thinking, he became my anchor. His wide shoulders absorbed my disharmony without getting caught up in the emotion. His deep voice reassured me that things would get better. The upright, balanced manner in which he carried himself gave me confidence when mine faltered. His sturdiness became a bedrock upon which I stacked my struggles and inadequacies.

Somehow our lives moved from thrive to survive, capable to chaotic, and unified to disconnected, without our noticing. It was as if a course had been set and we only noticed once we had already arrived. My struggles stacked ever higher, but the anchor stayed fixed.

A few years ago, I read an article that referred to an anchor as a negative thing, something that holds you back. I was gobsmacked. An anchor—something that stabilizes and supports—could not be bad. No way.

And yet?

Over the last decade I have unceasingly engaged in professional and character development, in the hopes that my role as wife and mother would become easier. As if by bettering myself, those that I was in relationship with, would also be better versions of themselves. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Moreover trying harder made me lose touch with what it was I wanted to achieve. I realized that using my husband as an anchor made me align with his values, and conflict arose when I could feel myself drowning my values in order to maintain much-needed peace. I compromised to stay attached.

Exhausted and with little left of myself, I left the boat, slipped off the anchor, and swam away.

Becoming untethered is a form of release. However, being afloat in a sea of memories, emotions, and decisions while feeling alone, makes the release bittersweet indeed.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

The Arena

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December 30, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

Who knew?

That separation was an event—a main event that other people would feel the need to attend, in voice or thought, with opinions for or against.

We have been married for a long time— together for twenty-one years. Some people came to be my friends and family through him, and some people befriended and loved him because of their connection to me. So it goes, each person a ripple in the pond of their community, touching a myriad of people. I thought that my ripples created concentric circles that would not be broken.

I am by nature naive and most often believe in the inherent honesty in others, and that people are offering their best. So my legs get kicked out from under me when this basic notion is challenged or flipped on its head. Some people are mean. Things get said that are hurtful, whether intentional or not.

I didn’t know that separation meant my husband and I would stand in an arena, staring through all the joy, debris, admiration, disappointment, confusion and heartache, like an ever-changing weather system. How could I have known that there would be people who would stop cheering for “us” and only cheer for him? The fact that my presence in the arena still contains elements of loveliness, commitment, intuition, uncertainty, success, failure, and grace, no longer conjures up thoughts of my inherent goodness—for those few.

I am fifty, and I have only once felt the need to choose between him and her in a divorce. People may move closer to one side of the arena or the other, given their history with and affinity for one person. But to support one does not mean to condemn another.

As a teenager, I chose my mom—who stayed, over my dad—who walked out. And though I may have originally condemned him, I’ve kept the hope that my dad would one day turn back toward me; in other words, I continue to believe in his goodness whether he choses to act on it or not.

Right now, I don’t believe my husband or I have given anyone a reason to choose victim or villain. Our mutual admiration and respect continues, despite all else. Separation was not part of the master plan for either of us. Who—after all—gets married with a notion that “growing old together” will not come to pass? We got married with the conviction that it would last forever.

So when those that I have known and loved turn toward my husband and unnecessarily against me, it hurts a lot.

I’m sitting in a Cochrane coffee shop, Dejà Brew, and a song by Jim Croce has started to play. “Time In A Bottle”—a song I have long loved. Today its melancholy lyrics have slipped out of the bottle, and smashed all over the arena floor.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

Looking Good

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December 11, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

During these times of difficulty my friends and family regularly ask me how I am doing. My answers vary. “I’m okay,” I might say; or I’ll sigh, “One day at a time.” Rarely will I admit that I am not doing well, or show any outward signs of the pain I am experiencing.

People commonly respond to me with, “Well…you look really good.”

Looking good is my sub-specialty.

In my twenties I travelled from Calgary back to my home town of Sherwood Park, to gather with extended family for the wedding of one of my cousins. The day after the wedding we gathered at my aunt’s house for lunch. At twenty-four-years-old, I still fit perfectly on my Grampa’s lap. I felt like his favourite, even though I was one of fifteen grandchildren. Grampa gave me a hard time about the fact that my younger cousin had gotten married before me. “You better find someone soon,” he chuckled, “you can’t fool ‘em with your good looks forever.”

Walking to school after lunch one day, a friend of my sister’s told me that my mom and dad were separating. She assumed that I knew. I didn’t. I felt certain that she was playing a mean joke on me, and I didn’t give her ‘insider’s scoop’ any merit. That night therefore, I sat in horrified silence as my dad told my brother, sister, and me that he would be leaving. I was twelve-and-a-half and I had never heard or seen my parents fight. I distinctly remember thinking, “Couples don’t split up after this long”. After all, they had been together a lifetime—mine.

Being in grade eight at the time and growing into some new curves, boys began to take notice of me as I participated in the gymnastics club during lunch. Not only had my dad left my mom, he decided that parenthood was not his bag, and he pulled out of the family unit. It would take me years to work through all of the rejection and abandonment issues that sprung from that action.  While the pain of being rejected and unlovable sunk to some part of my sub-conscious thought, I found that I could play my physical beauty like a trump card. It seemed for a time that all I had were my good looks. So my grampa’s words, years later, opened an old wound.

My grampa had died the same summer as my cousin’s wedding, and so he did not see me married seven years later. I wanted to speak at our wedding luncheon, if only to reassure my Grampa that I had managed to keep my good looks just long enough to snag a mate.

Something so painful cleaves through my heart at the thought that I am loved for beauty’s sake. And of course, Cherished Heart, that is not the whole truth of it. I have so much more to offer. However, many of the other aspects that make me a most authentically beautiful and amazing being, reside in a locked chest of my own making. In courtship, I dance and I sing and I reveal every colour of the rainbow, but, since the twelve-year-old girl who was not loveable enough to hold the heart of her father, still exists inside of me, the risk to be vulnerable eventually outweighs the benefit, and the lock snaps back into place.

The point is not that I don’t want to hear that I am looking good despite what I am going through, for that is a challenge worth noting. But, I also want to know that there are eyes looking beyond my finery, and resting upon that which cannot be seen.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott

 

The Lucky One

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December 1, 2016

Dear Cherished Heart,

I recently went to watch my son play soccer. Each indoor season half of the team changes as kids move into or out of age divisions according to their birth year. I sat with a group of moms I hadn’t yet met. I am a socially capable introvert: one who feels discomfort amidst strangers, yet can easily converse and connect through honed social skills, which are driven by a need to be liked—everywhere, and by everyone. This is not an easy path.

When I sat down, I exchanged the usual—which one is your kid, and what team did he play for last year—chatter with two women. During the second half of the game, one of the women stood up and I noticed that she had a stunning picture painted onto the thigh of her jeans. Given my interest in fabric and clothing, I asked her if she had painted it herself. She had; she’s an artist; she showed us several pictures of her paintings-on-clothing. Jaw dropping images. Not kidding.

I believe strongly in the purposeful encounter of coincidence. Just the day prior, I had been looking for courses that I could take on “Fabric Art”. I am engaged in a spiritual journey with a coach at the moment, and some of the creative work I am doing relates to fabric, fashion, and design. So, meeting a woman who could create art on fabric made the hairs on my arms stand up.

Artist Mom lamented the fact that she didn’t have as much time for art as she would like. “When I was in Hong Kong, before having kids, my job was very busy,” she said. “Now I find that I don’t have the time to dedicate to it.”

The woman seated next to me said, “Your kids are in school right? What do you do all day?” The question sounded like a cross examination in a court room; it was not asked with a drop of curiosity, but instead oozed sanctimonious judgement.

My throat tightened.

Artist Mom explained, “I clean the house, buy groceries, and I’m cooking every day at 1:30, to get ready for the evening meal before a night of activities.”

“Come on,” said Sanctimonious Mom, “Don’t give me those excuses. I work full time, and still have to do all of that. You ‘stay-at-home’ Moms.”

My heart rate shot up; sweat began to drip from my arm pits; and a voice inside of me screamed. “Ummm…” I said, keeping my eyes on the game, but leaning toward her, “What are you saying about stay-at-home moms exactly?”

“You have all the time in the world, but you’re always complaining,” she said. “You are so lucky that you don’t have to work.”

Fireworks went off. I turned my face toward her. “I would be EVER SO HAPPY to have a conversation with you about HOW LUCKY I AM that I chose to work from home raising my kids, and am no longer employable! . . . but this is not the place.”

“Well…” she said, but was interrupted by a mom sitting in front of us who clearly wanted to instil peace; she said, “You have no idea what it is like for moms these days, there is so much pressure to keep up with the Jones’s.”

I shook my head. Really? Not helpful.

I spoke with controlled calmness, “I would recommend that you do not judge others until you have walked in their shoes.” At that moment I began to cry. Hot. Angry. Tears. I got up and walked away.

For twenty-one years, my husband and I created a system of support that took into consideration what each person’s strengths were. I gave up my career when I became a full-time mom because motherhood was the job I wanted to dedicate myself to. My husband, a physician-specialist, became the sole income earner in our family. He agreed that looking after our children and home was important, therefore we pooled our resources. It made perfect sense. Our family grew and so did my responsibilities. I have never worked harder.

We both worked and supported each other in a myriad of ways. The truth that he made all of the money did not enter into my consciousness throughout our many years together. For one thing, he never saw it that way. But moreover, doing my job well enabled him to do his job well. We were a team. Not all parenting teams are made in the same way; not all parents have the choices that I did. I respect and understand that. I have always felt blessed that I didn’t have to generate income; that my work with our family was seen as necessary and valuable.

I felt equal entitlement to my husband’s salary right up until we separated.

And then I felt like shit.

I had to rely on him for my daily existence; I worried about financial security; I knew that I had no skills that would procure a job or money. I knew I could not provide for my kids, without him. My skills and accomplishments—my resumé—would not impress anyone (for that matter neither would my age!). Suddenly, my chosen stay-at-home-mom path seemed foolish at best, and doomed at worst.

So when Sanctimonious Mom spewed her unwelcome viewpoint into the stands, I felt a torrent of thoughts and emotions rise rapidly like stomach acid. It wasn’t what she said. Why would I care what she said? She was a stranger. (And yet…seriously…who says that shit to a complete stranger??) No, it was how her words made me feel. Sanctimonious Mom unwittingly made me feel <less than>.

But why?

How could I feel that I had made the best decision for our lives by staying at home, and then in a flash feel like I had no value without my husband’s eternal love and support?

I think it is the word “support” that rattles me. Down the road, when the dust settles, there will be a separation agreement. However, it will be a one way road in a busy village. The agreement will only detail the support or benefits he gives me—in financial terms, it will not detail the support or benefits I give him—in my role of managing the emotional and physical needs of our children, and home.

I becomer the pitiable one. He, the provider-hero.

I realize, Cherished Heart, that these thoughts and feelings are part of the journey, and as transient as the chinook winds. But chinook winds can gust in excess of hurricane force; and to deny their existence would be very foolhardy indeed.

Truly Yours,

Mona Lott