Have you ever felt SO-O-O excited and scared and nervous and sure all at the same time? That’s what I’m going through right now. Oh, it’s rather fabulous to be me right now! It’s only taken 60 years for me, and it’s only been the last year or so during which my potential is being revealed.
Remember the Personal Sabbatical I gave myself – one year to figure out my life, the year after the year after Kevin died? That was nearly three years ago. The first year after he died, I kept on working and trying to fit back into my old normal life, which was impossible. The job wasn’t living up to my expectations anyway, and I was smack-dab in the middle of mourning and grieving. The advice I kept getting was “don’t make any major decisions for one year.” It turns out that was good advice…for several reasons, but mostly because I was completely discombobulated and didn’t trust my own judgment about future decisions that would be needed to be made.
The second year was the year of the sabbatical. I thought I could sit quietly and wait for God to call me on the phone and tell me what to do next, where and how to do it, and who to do it with. Instead of giving myself time and waiting for that call, I quickly (too quickly I think) started my own consulting biz and distracted myself from the grieving process. I listened to well-intentioned friends guide me back to their version of solid ground. What I really wanted to do was float and fly and drift for a while, but still not trusting myself, I let myself get involved in something I couldn’t really put my heart into. My heart was already busy, you see. That year flew by. So I agonized a bit about going back to work, getting a real job. In the end, I decided I needed another year.
The third year that call still hadn’t come. I wasn’t any more clear about my work direction, but I was finding myself. I didn’t know if I had ever – in all my life – really known myself and committed to ME. I figured this out when I discovered that I hadn’t really been happy in my life. Content, yes; satisfied, yes; accomplished, yes. But happy? I felt like I had sort of fallen into my life and hadn’t deliberately planned it out or said “I want this, and then went for it. So when people said to me now, “What do you want?”, I didn’t know. I was frustrated that I didn’t know because I felt like I should. I felt guilty for not having figured it out sooner.
It was at that point I started my real grieving. Losing Kevin was one thing; losing myself was an extension of that. But losing our dreams when I didn’t have any of my own to plug into play was a different kind of sadness. I knew in my heart that his life was about him. Now, I had to face the reality that my life was about me, and I did not have my own dreams, my own plans, my own vision.
However, I had a new awareness that even if I wasn’t exactly happy, I certainly wasn’t unhappy. I was okay just as I was. In fact, I was getting happier than I could remember being, and I knew in my heart of hearts that there was something more waiting for me. I didn’t have to go in search, I just had to be ready. So I started to work on ME instead of working at a job for money. The pay was nil but the benefits are great!!!
Because of my philosophy about life after life, and that life goes forward, and that our children are Life’s longing for itself (thanks, Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet), I decided to stop being the grieving widow. Yes, I did just that – I made a decision to stop. Besides, I was only doing a mediocre job at it anyway. Instead, I started to study my life and figure out what could make me happier, what events or people had influenced me in childhood and beyond, what forks in the road had I taken that made a difference to me. Then I talked to people who knew-me-when. My sister Peggy is only a year younger than I am, so we had a lot to talk about. My parents are both gone, but I talked to an aunt who was around all of my childhood. I talked to friends I’ve had for much of my adult life. I talked to my kids, too. And I read dozens of old journals, books, magazine articles and blog posts, listened to music, watched movies, met new people who didn’t know me as a child or mother or wife.
I started a different kind of journal that has turned out kind of cool. I drew a family tree of sorts (more of a diagram with labels) and pasted in pictures of my mom and dad from when they were young and again about the time I was born, up through the years. I added pictures of me from infancy to today. I included pictures of my husbands and my kids as youngsters to today, plus my grandbabies. Then I described each person, somewhat objectively based on my “research.” Finally, I followed what is the commonly known as the Fourth Step in AA, but I used the Adult Children of Alcoholics model, to do a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, my parents, and my life then and now.
The more I opened myself to what I was discovering, the more light bulbs clicked on, the more puzzle pieces started to fall into place, the more the past came alive. I started finally to make sense of my life with a 10,000 foot view (or 60-year telescope): why I am the way I am, why I do the (some of the) things I do, what my values are, how I stored my feelings, what behaviors have changed, the results of decisions I made. The good news is that as I began to understand myself, I fell in LIKE with Me and we became great friends! Slowly over the last year, I have been letting go of old unresolved hurts, feeling old feelings and saying goodbye to them, learning to be kinder and gentler with my new BFF, Me.
It wasn’t an afternoon at the beach, to be sure. I laid the cards on the table – really, I made up index cards for my feelings – and I played them one by one. Abandonment. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Betrayal. Loss. Insecurity. Anger. Love. Confidence. Hope. Safety. Pleasure. Inspiration. Excitement. Smart. And more. I would pick up a card and question myself about when I had felt that. I would try to remember a childhood experience related to that emotion. Many times I was unsure of what that emotion felt like; I had learned too well how to stuff it away, so identifying it and getting comfortable with it was a process, like defrosting old mystery meat so I could decide to cook it or throw it away. Fortunately, I was able to let go of many of my frozen feelings, which in turn lightened me up, which in turn made me happier. It was like Mario Bros. and I was jumping over the trolls and taking elevators to higher levels. Who knew this is what life was supposed to be about?!?
I still have to sit with my feelings and reflect by replaying old scenes, which now is a 60 year repository to go through. I have learned that living is truly an art; there is no one right way to do it. Social acceptability is worth less to me than it used to be. Praising myself and affirming my choices and decisions is actually more fun than I thought it would be.
I’m not done yet. But I know there is Something MORE for me yet in this lifetime. I was asked yesterday if I ever wish I could have Kevin back again. The obvious (and expected) answer is Of Course! But the courageous and honest answer is, Maybe. I have changed a lot in the past four years, and right now I seem to be in a fast-forward phase of growth. Would he come back as he was then, or would he, too, have changed from his experiences wherever he is/was? I am not ready to really think about that too much, since it’s such a hypothetical question anyway. I’ve moved on, truly, madly, deeply. And I know I have more moving to do.