Until the last few years I’ve seen myself as a bohemian mother, artist, memory maker and caretaker/gatekeeper of developing minds. I’ve viewed my life’s work as the unrealized career of a woman who struggles with organization and focus…not anymore. Actually now that I even saw myself like that, it seems like total bullshit.
I thought as my children grew up that they might be disappointed in me that I didn’t have a traditional career. Talk of the other moms who were doctors, lawyers or therapists sometimes resulted in a sense of less than for me. I assumed my children would all want the total opposite of my life—high powered jobs with days spent kickin’ ass and taking names. Not days filled with kids, carpools, chores, errands, creative work (rarely sold), homemaking and hanging out with friends.
I know many families are unable to have a parent at home, a luxury indeed (especially regarding health insurance). However, increasingly folks find themselves in work/home situations that require a lot of strategy to keep things humming along. Commuting to other cities during the week, working remotely, running home businesses or freelancing are such common scenarios of modern life.
Now, five months into the identity shift of my empty nest, I thankfully see those family years so differently. Creating a home, trying to model a healthy marriage, nurturing my community, making art and being the historian-in-chief was an education deeply connected to my values and interests, there wasn’t a moment wasted (OK, maybe a few).
My years of unprofessional networking created my superpowers.
The world should watch out for parents who stayed home to raise their families. We maybe don’t have the references, titles or 401Ks that our peers have. However, we’re digitally savvy, well practiced in the art of endless diplomacy, good listeners and mighty grateful when our efforts are acknowledged. And now with the dailyness of busy family life behind us, we can do damn near anything.
There is a lot of heartache in the world…on social, personal and spiritual levels.
Right now it seems like an ACT of REVOLUTION to manage stress. For the sake of my mental and physical health, I’m simply trying to lighten up.
Every morning, before I get out of bed, I smile (which feels weird, but actually changes your chemistry) and ask myself: How do I want to show up in the world today?
The feel good neurotransmitters of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released when we smile. This not only relaxes your body but can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Sometimes when I awaken, I want my sorrow or my anger…not too often though. However, when asked that question, the answer is almost always comically obvious.
We’re all energetic beings.
How we show up in the world has a ripple effect—both positively & negatively.
How do you want to show up in the world today?
I lost my Dad in the early morning hours of August 30th. He was a generous, loving, humorous and complex man. He also was in a great deal of pain. Thankfully he no longer is. But, damnit, he isn’t here anymore either. Now, I’m in pain and I would like to talk with him about what bullshit it is to lose someone I love. He knew this pain, he lost his baby brother, my Uncle Tom, almost exactly one year ago.
I flew home to South Dakota from Vermont the morning Dad died. I wept through both airports—Burlington, Vermont and Chicago’s O’Hare. I had a light blanket wrapped around my shoulders that dried my tears as needed. I walked to my gate in Chicago, blanket draped and carrying a garment bag. I caught the eye of a few people who offered nods of acknowledgement and held my gaze, maybe understanding that grief is messy.
Oddly, I kept hoping I could tell someone, anyone that I just lost my Dad. I now understand what to do if I see someone else in the shape I was in. To hell with privacy. I will offer a hug. Or I will buy them a coffee. Or I will ask them why they are crying and listen, even if I only have a minute before my flight.
I arrived mid-afternoon. Flowers, casseroles, baked goods, fruit baskets, cheese and meat trays had already begun arriving at the house. The doorbell was ringing. The landline was ringing. Our cell phones were ringing and pinging. Hugs and tears filled Mom’s back entryway and helped eased the weight of it all.
I knew the process of the “business” of death wasn’t going to be easy. However, writing the obituary, picking out Dad’s casket and clothes, making phone calls and so on—these things kept us busy. Busy is needed those first few days. Making arrangements gave us something to focus on with a deadline, providing a little scaffolding to a messy emotional process.
There were times before the prayer service and funeral, I wanted the whole world to just leave me alone in my sorrow, because I just lost my Dad.
Thankfully the world didn’t.
I’m now keenly aware of how I didn’t give nearly enough attention to the loss of other people’s parents. I’m sorry if I seemed cavalier. I just didn’t know how much even a small gesture could mean. I always thought of grief as a private process. I understand better now what’s necessary to get through it all.
I’m so sorry for your loss, no matter how many years it’s been for you.
The outpouring of love, time and culinary talents from the good folks in Burke, South Dakota made it the whole process a lot more bearable. No one would’ve loved having all of those goodies around more than John. Right, Dad? Although I think he would’ve hidden the bag of Dorothy’s famous peanut butter cookies in the freezer and pretended they were already gone.
I’m grateful to you all. Thank you so much.
PLEASE NOTE: Is there a metabolic trick that helps burn the calories (mostly from homemade baked goods) that are delivered to the family during a time of loss?
grief + baked goods + casseroles + visiting + crying + fatigue = COMFORT
John Lowell Lillibridge lived 79 years, 3 months & 21 days.
Rest, in peace, Big Guy.
You will be greatly missed.
I’m writing a work of fiction about a middle-age woman, newly empty-nested and figuring out her next stage of life. This week my husband, Jeff and I dropped off our twin daughters at college—Lucy at American University & Willa at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.
It won’t take you too long to figure out who “Alice” is in my excerpt.
“Although, she didn’t have the feeling so many of her friends described of instant familiarity with their babies…some bullshit, mysterious, ancient connection. She felt something else, far less magical, perhaps it was a twin thing.
Alice remembers how immediately after holding Frankie and Pearl for the first time she had a feeling that she was ignoring one baby whenever she turned her head and looked at the other. I’m already screwing this up. She couldn’t possibly have known in that moment that this feeling would never leave her. Alice’s head and heart already on a constant swivel, less than an hour after giving birth to twins.”
As many of you already know, it’s quite an emotional roller coaster to send the last of your brood out into the world. I’m only 16 hours in, so this is all still pretty raw for me.
I believe whenever my wholeheartedness is required,
the process just can’t be rushed.
In the remarkably funny (and raunchy) Netflix series Big Mouth, the character of Jessie’s mother, Shannon has the best line to describe what I’m feeling right now.
“Let’s finish basic training before we go to Fallujah.”
She was describing using a maxi pad, when her daughter asked about tampons. A great line for lots of situations though.
BIG MOUTH was created by Jennifer Flackett, Andrew Goldberg, Nick Kroll and Mark Levin. The voice of Jessie’s mother, Shannon is Jessica Chaffin.
(PLEASE NOTE: Do not watch BIG MOUTH with young kids.)
The Ideal Mother is a Terrible Parent
I stumbled upon this article recently, which helped knock back some of those ever present parenting “should haves”. Thank you Erin W.
“Eventually I smothered the ideal mother. I killed her dead. I introduced myself to my kids and started practicing “organic parenting.” I yell, I curse, I kiss and I hug. I hold onto them and push them away. They hold onto me and push me away. Together, we horrify and delight each other, all the time.” (I love this line wholeheartedly.)
My solace will come from many sources. I’m riding the unpredictable waves as they roll in and I’m trying to listen to my inner self . I know she’ll guide this process far better than any outside sources ever could. I have to be willing to actually listen though.
Hang in there fellow empty nesters.
In my dream, I wake up in a city of unknown origin, I think New York. However, it could’ve been any big American city. It was busy, loud and there were tons of people on the street. At first I was disoriented, then I keep saying to myself, Life is Kind. A mantra of sorts, to keep me from being afraid of anyone or anything.
I start walking, it’s midmorning and the first person I encounter is a homeless man. He seems quite drunk, but his eyes are kind and clear and a bright very unique shade between between blue and green. He looks at me, smiles and says, “For a beer, I’ll tell you a story”.
Well, there are few things I enjoy more than a cold beer and a good story.
In my dream, I even thought, “Well, it’s midday, there are lots of people around, it will be OK…Life is Kind”. He stood up, took my hand and led me around the corner and down just a few stairs. The outside looked pretty dirty, scary actually and I hesitated, pulling back from his hold. He calmly said, “It will be OK”.
He opened the door and it was surprisingly a cool, sun-filled space that looked more like a diner than a dingy bar. People were talking and laughing, kids playing and there was a lively piano player. The bartender welcomed us warmly. We sat at the end of the bar where it was a little quieter. The old man ordered us two beers, looked me in the eye and smiled.
With no transition, or any recollection of the old man’s story I’m now back out on the street. I’m suddenly surrounded by young, tall, black men. They are talking and laughing, goofing off, they notice that I’m uncomfortable, but I stay right in the middle of their group. I walk a few blocks with them and then to get out of the pod, I have to excuse myself and duck around them, awkwardly bumping into and nearly tripping a few of the guys. They’re all jumping up to touch things, like light fixtures and the tops of signs.
They start giving me crap about being afraid of them because they’re black. I turned to them, said, “I’m not afraid of you because you’re black. I’m afraid of you because of your youth and there’s so many of you and you’re all so big. It’s intimidating to me today.”
“Oh, Ok, yeah, I sort of get that, my grandma said something like that too”, one of the boys offered. He thumped his chest to me and smiled. They all said goodbye in mumbles and waves and off they went jumping down the street into the afternoon light.
I turn the corner and bump, literally bump into this a woman and knock a bunch of papers and books onto the ground. She’s dressed in a well-tailored grey, plaid suit with a skirt and jacket, high end, high heels and a pink, silky blouse with a bow at the neck. Her slightly grey hair was fixed in a stiff, old lady hairstyle like my grandmother had done every Friday morning. Teased, smoothed and fastened with pins, a satin pillowcase required to keep it all tidy until her next appointment.
I apologize for knocking things out of her hands. She’s rushed and while we’re gathering everything back together, she says, “We can have lunch at two. I have a very busy day. I’ll see you at (I don’t remember the name). I can’t wait to catch up.”
Well, we all know how dreams go. So, even though I have no idea who this person is, I can’t wait to catch up either…waiting until two o’clock seemed like an eternity.
I kept walking around until the appointed time. I was very excited about my lunch and all of the catching up we’re going to do. I arrived at the place and everything is odd, the scale of everything really strange and disorienting. The stairs have a very difficult to maneuver tall rise between steps. The tables were all different heights. The lights were bright on some tables and really dark on others.
I suddenly hear someone a little out of breath in my ear. I get a quick hug from behind and a peck on the cheek. Then I see my lunch date. Who appeared was an older gentleman in a pink shirt, a bow tie, a grey striped suit and beautiful shoes. “Huh” was all I thought to myself. He launched into news and notes about his day and his life. He talked about his children, his work and relayed a story about recently missing a flight. He asked me about my projects and if I had seen someone we allegedly had in common recently.
All of this was so very ordinary. I didn’t question that who I thought I was meeting for lunch was an older woman. I just went with along with it and enjoyed his company. Apparently that missed flight story was a hoot.
He paid for lunch and said that he needed to head back to the office. He asked if I minded heights. I said that I sort of did, but that it depended on the situation. “Ok, follow me”, he said and we headed toward the back of the restaurant. He was walking quickly. I kept up. We got to an unusual door, walked out into an alley and went about seven steps to what seemed like nowhere. It was strange, but he was confident and I went along.
“Can you climb?” he asked me. I said that I could. “Jump?” I told him that I could, but that I didn’t really want to. He climbed up the wall, got to the top, swing his legs around, sat a minute and jumped down, now out of my sight. I climbed up. Swung my legs around and looked down. It was about ten feet. I then said, “I don’t want to jump this far, I’m training for the senior olympics. I don’t want to hurt my ankles or knees.”
“It will be fine, dear. I’ll catch you.” I jumped. I landed in the arms of my lunch date. An older woman in a plaid, grey suit, wearing a pink blouse and high heels. She caught me, shifted me upright, gave me a hug and said, “Let’s do this again soon”.
Then, I woke up.
I love this dream so much.
I’m going to put this dream in the category of:
WATCH YOUR JUDGEMENT & ASSUMPTIONS, LISA.
I don’t excel at sleeping. I really never have, but now in middle age, my sleep is interrupted constantly. I’ve decided to not fight it, embrace my natural rhythms and see how the universe wants me to use my extra waking time. Last night was no exception.
I went to sleep around 10:30 and was wide awake at 2:50. Our cat, Karen was sleeping soundly next to me. My husband is gone and I don’t mind waking up Karen, so I felt free to roam. I got up to pee and I noticed that all of the windows were covered with the soft, haze of humidity.
The whole world seems to be trapped in heat and haze right now.
I wondered how I could photograph Cape Cod’s humidity in the middle of the night without leaving my bedroom. I took a few shots. The camera wasn’t capturing what I could see. I decided that wasn’t the inspiration I was searching for, not at all what the universe wanted me to do in the middle of the night on August 9th.
I decided to get back into bed and listen to a guided mediation on the INSIGHT app, which I highly recommend. I have a favorite voice, Sarah Blondin who guides me with her Live Awake series. I consider her a very close friend. Sarah’s voice and words have provided so much, well, insight and spark since I downloaded the app in January.
This morning at 3:10am I chose Life is Kind. Here is the start to her meditation.
“Though we are strangers, we are kindred in spirit. There’s no difference between us. We are the same.
We are here in the name of our hearts, in the name of opening, in the name of unstitching what has overtime grown closed within. We are each here in the name of reuniting with our soft centers. It is the place we are most alive, most accepted, most whole.
It is where we seek refuge from the from the weight of the world.”
I fell back asleep shortly after these lines and had a remarkable, beautiful and kind dream.
I’ll share that dream with you tomorrow.
Since I’m not a twin, I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like for my girls to split up and go to different colleges. I have a hunch they can’t quite imagine what it’s going to feel like either. Please note the title of the article in the first beach picture. I believe it’s about the Kardashians, however, with high school graduation looming, it’s a funny photo to unearth at this time. Oh, the irony of life, isn’t it grand?
- Cape Cod beach day.
- Coming from or going to Mirabelles bakery in Burlington, Vermont.
- New York City for their 9th birthday to see “Wicked”.
- Lucy’s hair flying on the shuttle to the Martha’s Vineyard ferry.
- Getting ready for the Justin Bieber concert, Quebec City.