Journey On, Mom

Journey On, Mom

In memory of my Mom, Theresa Belanger, 8/6/22 ~ 3/18/15

“Goodbye, Mama” created on Polyvore

My Mom was a great big Worry-Wart! She could – and did – always imagine the worst! If one of us kids was 5 minutes late, then we must be dead in a ditch somewhere. She worried about my friends, where I was, what I was doing, my driving, my boyfriend (she eventually came around on that one, after we married!). She always feared for the very worst. It strained our relationship when I was in my teens, but once I became a mother myself I began to understand that she was just walking that sword’s edge between love and fear that every mother must learn to navigate. Whatever fears she had for us kids, underneath there was love.

Mom was also a storyteller. She had a million of them. During these last years she would take great pleasure in telling stories about her childhood in Quebec. How she messed around in her sister’s school book bag one day, and ended up spilling black ink all over everything inside of it (including her hands). How she tried to ride on a horse bareback in a wet swimming suit one day, and ended up sliding right off. How one of her brothers tried to put their dog to sleep and the next day the dog came walking back into the house as if nothing had happened. How her siblings called her “Marie Brailleuse” (Mary crybaby) because as one of the youngest of twelve kids she knew how to use tears to her advantage!

But my favorite is the one about moving here to Arizona with my Dad in 1955. While they were already living in the States by then, they were up in Germantown, Ohio – so much closer than Arizona would be to Quebec, which she never stopped calling home. She had three little babies and the thought of moving so far away from home and family scared her. Also, she knew that Phoenix was in the desert. In her mind she pictured Sahara-like sand dunes. Whenever she told that story, I would tell her she was so brave to come here. That, in her shoes, if that’s what I’d pictured Arizona to be like, I would have told Dad, “see ya later!” Of course Dad called all the shots and “see ya later” wasn’t even a possibility in her mind. So she came. It was the longest journey she’d ever made – until now. And when she got here she exclaimed, “They call this a desert? Look at all the green trees!”

Mom was also extremely stubborn and, I think, more than a little frightened of dying. That’s how and why she managed to keep on going to dialysis three days a week, every week, for more than twelve years – since she was 80 years old. Much as she hated it, in her mind it beat the alternative. She got twelve more birthdays, twelve more Christmases, and five more great-grandkids out of the bargain. She also had to endure the loss of many loved ones, diminishing independence and physical decline.

This last year has been especially hard for her. Her eyesight was failing, she was no longer able to do the few things that used to bring her pleasure – knitting, reading, jigsaw puzzles. Dialysis was keeping her alive, but her body was getting weaker and weaker and her mind was slipping, too. Toward the end, she was simply unable to get out of bed. That little Energizer Bunny inside of her just finally ran out of juice.

Recently, she’d been dreaming of Dad a lot (he passed in 2008). And one day not long ago, driving her home from dialysis, she told me Cameron (my son who passed in 2004) was following the car, right outside her window, and he had angel wings. And then, just a few weeks ago, Mom excitedly told me that her sister Carmen (who passed away three years ago) had just been to visit her. Carmen, Mom’s older sister, was a nurse and she was Mom’s safety net – the one she wanted around when she had a baby or a surgery or whenever she felt scared. Whenever Carmen was around, Mom felt safe. So I knew with Carmen nearby, she’d feel safe crossing over.

The day after seeing Carmen, she was simply too weak to go to dialysis, and she never made it back. She hung on for three weeks as her body slowly shut down and her consciousness withdrew. But it was gentle. It was peaceful. She wasn’t in pain. On the 18th of March, as a hospice music therapist played guitar and sang “Always” at her bedside, Mom gently let go and embarked on her next journey.

And I know that right about now, she’s over there with Dad, Carmen, Ray, Cameron, and all the other friends and family who made this last long journey before her. They’re hugging each other. They’re swapping stories. For once, she’s not feeling afraid. She’s feeling a peace she never knew during this life. And she’s exclaiming, “They call this Death? Just look at all this Light!”

Godspeed, Mom. Hold a space for us. We’ll all see you again, soon enough.

The Gift of Lemons

Lemons 2I began my morning bike ride with a somewhat heavy heart. Some big, unexpected changes had just dropped into my life. While I knew that ultimately these changes would be for my good, I couldn’t help but feel some grief for what I was being called to let go of. I was hoping a nice long bike ride would help to lift my mood.

As I headed down the paved walking/biking path along the canal, I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had left a box full of beautiful fresh lemons, free for the taking, at the edge of the path.

These are NOT like the average grocery store lemons. These are big, juicy, fragrant, fresh-from-the-tree lemons, closer to the size of a small grapefruit than the size of my fist. Someone with a tree or trees in their yard and an excess of fruit had generously left these for the passers-by. Grateful I had my panniers on the back of my bike, I helped myself to half a dozen.

I continued my ride with a lighter heart, buoyed by this random, anonymous generosity. The gift of lemons.

Ironic, isn’t it? How often we’ve all heard the old adage, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” (or is that margaritas?!) Life had just handed me a lemon with this unexpected change, so what was I going to do with it?

I got to thinking about all the times I’ve learned to do that – to make lemonade – in small ways and in big ways. And the times when I haven’t. The times when I’ve just let myself get all puckered and sour about something. The first option is a lot more pleasant, and it really is a choice.

I’ve often spent my morning walking and riding time listening to some recorded lectures from Bill Harris (of Centerpointe) about the 9 Principles of Conscious Living. It’s no accident that these lectures were playing through my iPod earbuds this very morning.

Principle 1 is to let whatever is be okay. It may not be what we wanted, but if it has happened, we are already having to deal with whatever consequences it may carry. We can only make things worse and add a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering by resisting what has already come to pass. We can choose to accept what is (whether we wanted it or not) and move on much more peacefully if we let go of our resistance.

Principle 9 is that NOTHING HAS ANY INTRINSIC MEANING. The only meaning an event or experience can have is the meaning WE GIVE TO IT.

Oh, those were two very powerful and difficult lessons for me to absorb when I first began listening to these recordings about a year after my son Cameron died. The first time I heard this “NO MEANING” business, it really pissed me off! If there was no meaning to Cameron’s relatively short life and relatively horrific and dramatic death – then WHAT WAS THE POINT?!

Turns out the POINT was the meaning I would choose to CREATE about that experience, and the journey I would take to get there.

Anyhow, back to those lemons . . .

What clicked for me this morning about the gift of lemons was not only about how we turn our own lemons into lemonade, but how we also gift others with the same opportunity. After we’ve learned to make our own lemonade, are we willing to share the recipe?

I suppose that is what I have hoped to accomplish by writing The Deep Water Leaf Society and within my coaching practice. Not exactly teaching a recipe, but teaching a path to discovering your OWN lemonade recipe each time life hands you a lemon.

Another angle on the gift of lemons is about those times when WE become the unwelcome experience to others – we cut someone off in traffic, we bring them unwelcome news, we cause them grief in some way (whether intentionally or unintentionally).

I’m not advocating that we go out of our way to be someone’s lemon, but on some level, isn’t even that a gift? Every lemon becomes an opportunity to make lemonade – to practice letting what is be okay – to create powerful and amazing meaning that helps us to evolve.

So. There was this  box of lemons on the canal bank this morning, an anonymous gift from a stranger.

“Here. I have lemons in my life. An overwhelming abundance of them. Too many for me to deal with, but I KNOW how valuable they are. So, here. I’m sharing. Take a few and go figure out how to turn them into something delicious.”