Patrick and Maggie are engaged in their new collegiate life, feeling the stress of papers due, the delight of new friends, the scramble to find good food away from Mom's table.
Rose and Nora and I are using less dishes, and bit by bit, I am learning to cook for fewer people. Thomas often pops in and cleans up the leftovers. He even cooks for us a day or two a week.
We had a bit of a family crisis this past week, and I waited, prayed, meditated until something in me let me know it was time to close up shop and drive to Austin. My kids are all fine. But a family member has been struggling with health issues. In a world where it is tricky to get help if you have been sick and unable to work and don't have insurance to pay for medications, necessary surgeries, treatment, etc.
Last Wednesday was the Autumn Equinox. I just love days that are set aside as reminders that we are tied to this earth and the moon and the stars. After a busy week, I put myself in the kitchen to start the big deep clean that comes before bakery work commences. The girls were gone to karate and cross country practice. I was drinking my iced green tea and thinking. Trying not to think. Trying to be still. Praying for direction and a sign, a calmness, a something that would let me know that going was going to be more helpful than staying.
A few months ago I was involved in too many aspects of leadership in my life. It became very stressful. And then life continued to happen. And a child graduated and another child went through some personal struggles and grief reared its painful head once again.
I was so desperate for Philip to be alive. I wanted him to help me with some difficult decisions. We used to talk about everything. I wanted him to say, I can hang out with the kids while you go take a three day silent retreat. I wanted to feel his hand wrap up my hand and see his eyes look into mine and know that no matter what, we are in this together and everything is going to be okay.
Then I went to Virginia and I sat by his grave and the reality of his dead body being stuck in a grave in Salem, Virginia really worked me over. A counselor recommended meditation. She knows I pray. She suggested that meditation and the act of being still would help my mind settle down. She told me that often we know exactly what to do, if we just sit still long enough to listen to ourselves and the wisdom that is already within us. That our prayers are often being answered, but we are too busy running around to hear those answers. Then we had an absolutely mind blowing EMDR session about the day Philip died. You see, a few months ago, I was riding my bike around town, taking care of errands. And then an ambulance went through town. Which happens rather regularly. But this time, it almost made me sit down in the middle of the street. My mouth got dry, I felt light headed, and all of a sudden, I might have been on my bike in Alpine, Texas, but in my mind I was in the car with Serge, our friend and family doctor, headed to the hospital, and the ambulance, holding my dear, dead husband's body, was sounding off, lights flashing, and everything that we knew was no longer.
It was really weird, this physiological response to the ambulance. I practiced some deep breathing. Raised my head and biked back home. And called my wonderful counselor who does amazing short term counseling and doesn't mind that I don't go see her but on a rare occasion, a couple times a year. She is able to give great direction and counsel when tough stuff comes up.
During that session, I was able to see that grief and pain are perfectly normal after the death of a loved one. Responding to ambulances the way I did that afternoon is a sign of trauma that can be healed. And it was, that afternoon.
I did take up the meditation advice, trying really hard to practice being still, feeling my breath go in, my breath go out. Stopping the constant stream of babbbling noise, making my prayers be more about listening, less about chattering.
It has been amazing how life altering this tiny little practice has been for me.
The other day, as I washed dishes and breathed in and breathed out, I felt Philip's arms come around me. It was weird. I could hear his voice telling me how proud he was of me, and how I am still the prettiest woman in the room, and how everything was going to be okay if I closed the bakery that week and headed to Austin to be with my family.
And that was that. Was it a ghost? Was it Philip? Well. I think I have an amazing imagination, and can imagine just what Philip would say if he were here. I imagine there is quite a bit more to this world than I can see or touch. Either way, I guess I can say I side with Iris DeMenthe regarding the mystery. I don't need to know why. But in being still, the answer revealed itself.
And the memory of Philip was gentle and loving and sweet and dear. I felt so loved. Wow. It gave me strength to make a long drive and be fully present.
The weekend was hard, and we are still hoping for progress. I wish no one ever had to suffer through health difficulties. I wish life didn't have to be so hard. But that said, I got to go make a home-cooked meal and sit around the table with my college kids and hear their laughter and see them grow. It was good. No politics in the world are pure enough or good enough or strong enough to make a system powerful enough to help every human on the planet. I pray that we could all do our little parts for one another and that just as the loaves and fishes became enough, our little puny efforts would be enough. And as we were present, all coming together for family, I felt our little efforts become a safety net.
Not sure what this all has to do with the price of tea in China.
But here I am.
I planted some seedlings in the garden this afternoon. I wrote some recipes for my food column. Tended the bathrooms. Hung laundry on the line. Biked to the bank. Saw some ambulances and was relieved that the sound did not send me into a scary place.
These days, I work for a fellow in a vineyard a couple days a week, weeding, running a hoe. And have two or three house cleaning gigs. The bakery is open a couple of days. I am back to reading to the kids in the evening, at least a few times a week. We are reading My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, a book that changed my life, some 38 years ago. Instead of being in leadership, I come home and pick green beans and tomatoes and peppers. And talk to the chickens. Cook a little. Read a lot. Trusting that the new normal is going to be okay...
ps you guys who leave me comments and emails are so encouraging. It is beyond me why any of you would continue to read! But I will endeavor to keep it real.
And perhaps we will be an encouragement for one another on our journey.