Learning how to grow up is something many of us spend most of our adult lives attempting to do.
As I approach my 46th turn around the sun, I look back at my young 22 year-old self and I see in her, a young woman who stood strong and steady. Open to learning EVERYTHING. And yet, her resilience was unparalleled.
I recall listening to my grandfather's breath as he lay dying day after day and knowing, deeply, that his breath had something to teach me. And I listened hard to those laborious whispers. We were in those moments of quiet together and I remained steady because that was what there was to do.
Before he slipped into his coma, he would look at me with deep searching eyes. He had been the most powerful force in my life and he had been so in the lives of each us bound by him, in our family. When I looked back into his eyes, I held his gaze, every time. Because that was what there was to do. When he slipped away, I was the one who told my grandmother that she had lost her beloved. It was one of the hardest moments of truth-telling because she was not ready, even though it was an obvious inevitability as he lay dying. I had to hold her back as the EMT team took him away. So young to be the person I almost wish I were today, but when called upon, we find it. Because that is what there is to do.
As I stood in front of hundreds of people and gave his eulogy, I stood in the love I had always claimed and there was no second-thinking about who stood before me nor what I was needing to do. I stood for my love. I stood for my grandfather. I stood for a man whose spirit had come through each of us and could never be diminished, not even by death. I stood for the ferocity of my loyalty towards him and I stood for the loss all of us were facing.
Not long after, I had a very different kind of experience, ushering my own father through his dying experience. But that was an entirely separate situation...
What occurs to me now is how much I was holding then. My own father was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. My family was ripped apart by the loss of its anchor. And I stood strong and steady for my grandmother who needed an anchor more than anything.
This is my contemplation.
What do we do when we lose our way? When we lose our anchor? I think we very naturally send out smoke signals to let others know that we need them. When my father was dying, he sent me smoke signals. He needed something from me which only I was able to offer. And after fighting and insisting on all the healing we did during his illness, I am so grateful I was able to offer him what he needed so that he could die with less fear, knowing he was loved by his daughter and knowing, wholeheartedly, that we were at peace with each other.
One of my dearest friends is someone whom I have seen grow more than anyone I have ever known. And anyone who gets to know me, knows that my favorite thing is transformation and striving for growth. She is a very "healthy adult" and it is one of the things I love about her amongst nine million stunning qualities. She always says something like, "everyone is an adult and everyone can take care of themselves." (She may not be the recipient of too many smoke signals! Haah haah! Actually, that is not the truth at all.)
So here is the thing: when you are the recipient of many smoke signals, it isn't always easy to find the balance of caring well for yourself, "healthy loving," and keeping a healthy bandwidth whilst keeping your heart open and not feeling like you are going to go down with a sinking ship when your particular constitution is to be deeply compassionate. That's me. Some have named me a lamed vovnik, which has been both my gift and my peril. I feel absolutely everything and then it becomes part of my cellular make-up (sometimes to the point of picking up on physical symptoms) and therein, lies the peril. But, going back to being 21, 22 years of age, I would awake in the middle of the night, seeing my grandfather scream in pain and then I would call the next day to "check out" what I had seen in my dream and he was always suffering the very thing I would call about. This sensitivity has only "worsened" as I have aged to the point where suddenly I cannot walk or I have a very distinct pain which is connected to someone who is ill. And what I need to do is cloak myself a bit so that I can manifest "healthy adult" living a little better if this is what I have been given.
I, too, know what it is like to lose an anchor. Or what I perceived as a foundation. And having wrestled with that experience for many many years, it led me to get deeply injured physically (because I felt broken inside), emotionally (because that foundation had not been rebuilt) and I too, reached out for other shores.
It was only recently (very recently) that I learned something which has taken me my whole life to learn. That even when we think we need for things to be different so desperately, and we think that if they are different, that is what will anchor and sustain us, the only way to heal is to let go of that need. To find a way out of that need entirely and be free of it. That need is actually the sinking ship and the only anchor which will save us is the sheer act of cutting the rope which ties the anchor to the ship.
I'm not saying it is easy. It took everything I had in me to release. Every ounce of strength and courage being on the high seas all alone wanting to scream for a life raft and send out smoke signal after smoke signal... but I knew, somewhere deep inside of me, it was the only way I would find my way back home.
So, Pop, I think your granddaughter is growing up.