Life, death and love: writing about what matters

Until my October Garden post not long ago, I hadn’t written on my blog for so long. It is not that I stopped writing, but that I stopped sharing. Sorting through my Dad’s belongings this past summer while I cleaned out his apartment, I was at times overwhelmed with memories, longings and regrets. I read over old letters and cards I wrote him as a child. He saved every one in a special folder, “Anna.” Every one since since before I could spell Daddy.

The pain of having lost so much time with him as a child after the divorce, and while living overseas in Holland as a teenager, resurfaced. I didn’t want to talk about it, because I didn’t want to hurt my Mum, but silence is suffocating, at least for me. I need to let things out to let them go.

I did pour that pain into poetry, and as my Dad’s one year of passing approaches on November 9th, I am going to share some with you again.

Since losing a baby 7 years ago in labour, and losing my Dad last year to cancer, I have written a lot of poetry about grief. I wonder if this bothers some people in our “get over it and on with it” society. Am I that weird lady who always writes about death?

At the core of it though, I realize I am ultimately writing about love—because love is what connects us beyond death. Grieving is not being stuck in the past, but honouring the fact that parts of your heart have gone ahead to the future, leaving holes until you are reunited.

All we can hope is that the holes will make our hearts bigger, and let the light shine through from those we love, who are already bathed in heavenly peace. If this is all too cheesy and cliché, that’s just too bad. I am tired of not sharing. So with no more fuss, here is one of my poems from this summer:

Laundry Landay

1 July, 2021

I am sitting in the living room
folding laundry when I find a sudden sign of you

I inhale your familiar scent
lingering beyond the grave in your soft pillow case

I crumple and hide my face in it
faded and butter-soft from oh so many washing’s

I think of your quiet gentleness
your simplicity, poverty, and deep love of peace

I remember your arms around me
my eyes closed, my face resting against your shirt buttons

I breathe in deeply and the pain swells
my heart bursting with the bittersweet scent of you, Dad

Do we treat our husbands as well as our friends?

Sometimes we wives and moms can be having a hard day, and are perhaps very tired or stressed, but when a friend calls we perk up and feel much better. And when a friend is in need emotionally, we find the time and strength to be present to them, offering a listening ear, encouraging words, and understanding heart…We are able to give the best of ourselves to friends, even when we are drained.

We wouldn’t imagine saying, “I’ve had a rough day, so I’m going to blast a heap of bitterness into the first available ear, even if it’s my dear friend.” Or “I think I’ll sting my friend with repeated sarcasm if she attempts to make me feel better. What does she know?”

Why then, do we women often do exactly that with our husband, as if our every struggle was his personal fault? As if he should cower under our mood, and be culpable if he doesn’t read our mind and fan us with palm branches before we mention being hot…

We’ve been taught to be very self-righteous as women, and very suspicious of men, but I ask you, is this prickly attitude making us happy? Does it not foster division in our marriages, and dissatisfaction in ourselves?

I grew up with three brothers, whom I love a lot, so I have a hard time buying the “evil men” stereotype. Personally I think we human beings are all fairly imperfect, but still kind of wonderful.

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Ultimately we are the ones who have to make ourselves happy, who with the help of grace have to choose happiness despite life’s challenges. Blaming someone else for all our troubles only traps us in the cage of our own weakness. We wouldn’t blame all our challenges on our friends, so why would we choose (even subconsciously) to blame them on our husbands, who are supposed to be our best friends?

The role of a best friend is to love us no matter what and to walk with us through life, always by our side. It isn’t to carry us so we don’t even have to use our legs. It’s to support us in happy and sad times, but not to provide a godlike dose of happiness and protection from all sadness. You can be vulnerable and honest with your husband without expecting him to be able to fix everything. Don’t deify your spouse. Accept and love him as a human being who is worthy of your respect and tenderness, even if he’s not a superhero. Remember inside there is still a little boy who needs your love.

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Perhaps you and I are never grumpy or sarcastic with our spouses (ahem!), but for those mortals who are, I think this is good advice: try to treat your husband with the same kindness and understanding you do your friends. And of course all this advice applies to men as well, in how lovingly they should treat their wives.

This year let’s take responsibility for our happiness by trying to be our best selves, not just with our friends, but with our spouse. In doing so we will become better people, and give him a chance to do the same. And it is in this striving to become the best version of ourselves that we will find peace and happiness.

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Reveal Yourself and Be Loved

Our deepest fear is that if we reveal our true selves we will be rejected.

Our society encourages this anxiety by bombarding us with tons of glossy magazines claiming to have the secret to perfection: perfect beauty, perfect fitness, perfect diet, perfect relationships.

What message does this send? That if we fail to achieve these things, that’s what we are: failures. Unworthy of attention, unworthy of love.

So we feel the need to cover ourselves in layers of protection: foundation, mascara, blush, lipstick…if we had portable airbrushes we’d likely be constantly glossing ourselves over, too. Like a little magic force field to keep away judgement. (Friends who know I’ve never been much of a makeup girl will hopefully forgive me this cosmetic analogy!) We are afraid that if we let our weakness show through the cracks, we’ll be turned away. Not good enough. Alone.

In fact, this false veneer of perfection forms a wall that keeps others out. The pretence of having no real problems intimidates and alienates others, because everyone has some kind of struggle, and wants to be understood, not judged. Being unwilling to reveal ourselves to others makes us unsafe for others to be honest with us, and blocks the development of authentic friendship, which is based on loving acceptance and trust.

Instead of acknowledging our weaknesses and mistakes, and trying to improve and make amends, we deny them, suppress them, and inadvertently, trap them within ourselves. This makes us feel worse then ever. And carrying all this heavy baggage makes us even more afraid to be discovered. We are haunted by all the skeletons hidden in our closet, if you’ll forgive me the cliché. We become like Scrooge’s partner Marley, who is weighed down by the chains of his guilt for past mistakes. Having never acknowledged his faults and made amends, he is frozen in regret.

I always tell my kids that it’s better to be honest and admit they messed up, than to pretend they didn’t make a mistake. My three year old interprets this in a funny way sometimes:

Me: “Who cut a hole in this?”
Her: “Not me. It was my hand that did it with scissors.”
Me: “Can you please tell your hands not to do this again?”
Her: “It wasn’t the one hand–it was playing Lego–only the other hand.”
Me: “Well, you’re in charge so tell that hand not to do it again.”

It’s natural to deflect the blame, especially when you’re three, but the mature thing is to fess up.

Even though it’s humbling and hard, saying sorry it’s actually very freeing, both for ourselves and the one we apologize to. We can let go of guilt and they of resentment. Truth gives us a fresh start and wipes the slate clean: it is lies that trap us in chains. We have a hard time believing this, because our society can be very harsh and judgemental, and the media loves to glorify the gory details of people’s mistakes. Thank goodness I’m not famous and subject to that!

Sometimes we project our human pettiness onto the divine. We imagine some kind of Zeus waiting in the clouds, ready to zap us if we don’t hide under a bush after making a mistake. But I think this is our biggest mistake–not realizing that we can reveal our true selves and still be loved. That we can always start over again and again, and that the only real failure is giving up on ourselves.

For me, when I apologize after messing up, instead of a thunderbolt, I hear a gentle voice of love. Here’s my interior conversation:

Me: “Hi God. I’m sorry. I messed up again.”
God: “It’s ok, I know.”
Me: “I was trying but…I guess I’m still me, and I just manage to screw things up sometimes.”
God: “I know, and I’m still me, so I still love you.
Me: “Thanks for loving me no matter what. You are amazing.”
God: “And so are you. I made you remember? Don’t give up on yourself. I never have.”

I think if we can rest in the assurance of being loved exactly as we are, we can have the strength and hope to struggle to keep growing, and become even better. This is what true love is, what true friendship is: it inspires us to become the best person we can be. So listen to that cheesy eighties song, and let your true colours come shining through, cause they’re beautiful.