Stuck in the wine aisle sobbing; another Valentine’s Day

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On Valentines Day I systematically try to avoid the chocolate aisles. You need to understand one thing: I LOVE CHOCOLATE with a passion that is borderline creepy. I also like holidays, any excuse for a celebration, I’m in. But my mother was my first Valentine and she is not here anymore.

//In the town where I grew up “el Día del Amor y la Amistad”(literal translation: the day of love and friendship) was hugely celebrated. Every year many girls in school would get flowers, chocolates, balloons or teddy bears from a boy (or multiple boys, if they were really lucky). I was never popular with the boys and my parents were well aware, so each year my mom would get me a little something: a teddy bear one year, new pajamas another, flowers, balloons, one year she even got me perfume! She always tried to make the day special. There was always a card and always a box of chocolates. This would cheer me up after a day of wondering why not ONE BOY in the whole school liked me enough to show it.//

I now have children and children love to celebrate, so it’s impossible to avoid the chocolate aisle altogether for the weeks before Valentine’s Day.  I find myself having to breathe and focus on the task at hand: purchase the chocolates, walk away.

Yesterday I lost it and I wasn’t even shopping for chocolates! I was at Cost Plus World Market shopping for fun snacks, coffee and wine. Something about the store, maybe their many Valentine’s Day displays triggered it. It happened suddenly and I couldn’t control it. Next thing I knew I was sobbing in the wine aisle. It was strange. I was a bit embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to ask what was wrong. What would I have said? My mother died <<back in 2010>>. I imagine the confused face of this imaginary person- shouldn’t I be “over it” if it happened 4 years ago?

I calmed myself down, checked out and got into the car. On my drive home I reflected:

I asked myself why should I care what people think? Well… I encounter so many people that are more than willing to tell me about God and God’s plans and mysteries and how my mother is probably better off in heaven- that I am afraid of being caught sobbing in the wine aisle, because OBVIOUSLY wine is not the answer, GOD IS! I wasn’t sure I would be able to articulately handle the rhetoric of afterlife-consolation. When I am calm I think about all these eloquent things I can say in reply, but when I am approached I usually silently blink at the person in awe that they have the nerve to talk to me about grief.

Then I tell myself that I am being silly; the likelihood of a stranger asking a woman who is crying (in the wine aisle) why she is crying is very VERY low. I had gone there after a long day in the office and most likely looked a bit frazzled (if not completely insane) so maybe I should say the chances of someone approaching me were pretty close to null. But then again: A crying woman in the wine aisle is the perfect invitation to someone that is sent to this world to spread the gospel. What if someone offered to pray for me, right there, what would I have done?

What would you have done?

L.S.

With a mind full of loved ones and a heart full of love…

Dr. Joseph Chuman, beautifully said*:

…I think we express our loyalty to those who are gone not by denying our own lives, but by recognizing what they have given us and how their values have merged with our own.

…those who are gone do not totally leave. They remain to populate my mind, and my mind has grown very crowded with the memories of people I knew and loved, and with whom I have significantly shared my life.

It is challenging to belong to a culture with traditional values that expect you to mourn for a given amount of time and act a certain way after your loved one(s) have passed away. I went to the beach with my little one the day after my mom’s burial to the horror of my family and friends. It happened to be Mothers Day, and in my befuddled state it seemed the most logical thing to do. I had to get out. Nature seemed like a good option and my daughter was happy to have a change of scenery. It ended up being an okay morning. Granted I was kind of numb, but felt genuine joy amidst the sorrow because I didn’t have an option: seeing a 3 year old tumble in the waves and emerge with a full head of sand is bound to make you laugh. I had to keep repeating to myself that I knew my parents would have liked me to move on with my life for the sake of myself and my children.

How refreshing it is to hear someone say, not that those who leave populate the heavens above us, looking after us, and possibly chastising us for having a little fun,  but that they are inside our minds. What a beautiful thing to have our loved ones living inside of us in the form of memory.

I think it’s time for people of religious backgrounds to be compassionate towards those who do not believe in an afterlife. As a society we need to start gaining consciousness that blanket statements like “now you have an angel looking after you”, “she is in a better place” or the most presumptuous of all “you will see her in heaven one day” are hurtful to those who do not believe that there is a “better place” and who do not expect to see their loved ones ever again.

Why not just cherish the memories and continue with our lives, honoring those that have gone before us by having the most amazing lives that we can possibly have? It’s a refreshing thought.

With a mind full of loved ones and a heart full of love,

L.S.

*Quotes part of a Platform address by Dr. Joseph Chuman, leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, November 4, 2012. Please take the time to read it in it’s entirety, it will be well worth your time.

Did the ‘Sandwich Guy’ just call me ignorant/plain stupid?

I’m 2 weeks away from my due date. I had a crazy busy day, running errands, dropping files at work, doctor appointments… in the midst of it all, I got hungry and realized it was 1:45 pm. A bit shocked with the realization that I had “skipped lunch” I stopped at the closest sandwich shop I could find.  I ordered my sandwich and then sat to wait for it, sipping lemonade, enjoying the stillness of the moment.

The man behind the counter (probably the owner?) must have felt bad for me or something, because he felt the need to join me, and chat me up. I’ll call him ‘Sandwich Guy’.

Sandwich Guy (SG): So, I see you are pregnant, when’s the due date?

L: In about 2 weeks

SG: How exciting! Grandparents around?

L: My in-laws are.

SG: What happened to your parents, where are they?

L: Dead

SG: What? but you are so young, when did they die? was this recent?

(at this point I should’ve told him to leave me the fuck alone, but I had entered auto-pilot)

L: Yep, about 3 years ago, my mom, 4 years ago, my dad

SG: Wow, what happened? I mean, they were young right?!?

L: They died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

SG: Well, I’ll tell you one thing, people have to be ignorant, plain stupid, not to believe in life on the other side. I mean, how can you NOT believe that there is something else out there? beyond death?!?

Right there, probably looking exhausted and beat and about to go a little crazy and unload on him, I took a deep breath.

L: Well, thank you. Is my sandwich ready? I have a busy day ahead of me.

He looked at me with a confused look and went to check on my sandwich.

Why I didn’t tell him what I really felt? Why do people feel they have the right to tell you how “wrong” it is to not believe in an afterlife?

I’m too tired to over-analyze this interaction. I feel like I should write something insightful and deep about this, but I guess I am still in a bit of a shock. A part of me is angry and a part of me is just too tired to care.

L.

Making ourselves (and others) happy

“To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts.” -Robert Ebert

As you probably have heard by now, Robert Ebert passed away last week. Years ago, I’d read a very interesting Esquire Magazine interview with Ebert that left me feeling grounded and humbled. The article was published in February 2010, but I didn’t get around to reading it until late that summer, some months after my mom passed away.

The interview put my life in perspective, and pushed me to view life outside of my circumstances. It wasn’t just the usual “there are people out there that are worse off than you” sentiment, it was more the “you need a new life paradigm if you are going to be living in this world, where circumstances are –for the most part- not ideal and in some cases down right tragic”.

Then last weekend, I was watching the movie The Magic Trip (how I ended up watching it, is a roundabout and convoluted story), and there was a great clip of an interview with Ken Kesey in which he explained in one sentence what our approach to life should be: “I feel like you only come to this movie once, and if you don’t get something rewarding out of every minute you’re sitting there, then you’re blowing your ticket.” 

It amazed me how that movie, disjoint as it seemed from the death of Rober Ebert, helped me ground some of my thoughts on the fleetingness of life…  and to round it all up, yesterday, I came across this essay from Robert Ebert’s book Life Itself: A Memoir.

I recommend you read the whole thing -here are my favorite passages:

“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.”

“What I expect to happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. I am comforted by Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and telling too many jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all also eventually die, but so it goes.”

“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Yes, “contribute joy to the world” which brings me back to the Magic Bus and the Merry Pranksters and the fact that people could not resist smiling when they saw them driving by, playing instruments in their psychedelic bus. The sense of excitement was palpable, contagious.

I find it incredibly inspiring to see how different people can be, but how everyone can -in their own way- make others happier.

Laura

It is nice to know that there is a community of people reading my stories and following this process with me. It gives me immense relief to have a place to bring my thoughts and share things that have helped me wrap my head around the concept of loss.  If you like what you are reading, please click “Like” below. If you want to chat, leave a comment.