A Taste of My Own Medicine

Our older son will turn fourteen this week, and as part of the Jewish tradition he will be walking through the rite of passage of a Bar Mitzvah. Given that my husband was raised Catholic and now connects most deeply to Source through art and nature and the fact that we’re not raising our boys in a traditional religious setting, this will be a very creative interpretation of a traditional Bar Mitzvah. One of my dearest friends from childhood who is studying to become a rabbi will be officiating, we’ll be celebrating in a tent in our backyard, and my son will be offering a highly unusual drash (interpretation of his Torah portion), which has to do with his passion for airplanes. Like all aspects of our life, we’re doing it our own way.

Nevertheless, forty-five people will be joining us, many coming from around the country, and we need to make sure that they’re fed! There’s the ritual aspect, where our son will be leading prayers and offering his thoughts and expressions, and then comes the party, which arrives with all of its attending details: the tent, the food, the music, the flowers, the cake… etc. etc. and as I contemplated these details in the months leading up to the event my brain started to hurt. As much as focusing on the details didn’t bring me joy, I still found myself thinking about them constantly. As you know if you’ve planned a large party (like a wedding), it becomes frightfully easy to focus on the details as we live in a culture that encourages this at every turn. And what a convenient way to avoid what really needs attention, which are the feelings that accompany transitions.

This was the premise of my first book, The Conscious Bride, and now I’m experiencing it again in spades. Except now it’s not me who’s losing an aspect of my identity; it’s my son. But as I intuited twenty years ago when I wrote the book, a child’s transitions are a parent’s transitions, and what I know now as a parent is that a child’s transitions are often felt more acutely by the parents. Every time my son has taken a leap into the next stage of growth, whether his first tooth, turning one, leaving little boyhood and entering big boyhood, having a birthday, or becoming an adolescent (to name just a few), it’s me who has felt the grief more than him. I have cried at every threshold, allowing myself to shed my grief privately so that I could join him in his joy.

At each threshold, each transition, the ache of loss needs to be actively acknowledged and grieved. Clients often say to me, “But I’ve grieved this loss so many times”, and I say, “But you’ve never grieved it for this transitions and each transition offers an opportunity for another layer of healing.” The loss of father, an estranged mother, absent friends, the death of a grandmother… these losses and others need to be grieved otherwise they manifest as anxiety.

But I’ve never encountered a threshold of this magnitude. I look at him and sometimes he’s barely recognizable. “Where is our little boy?” I’ll ask my husband. “It’s going by too quickly,” he responds. Every day he looks older. When my dear friend Lisa stops by, who has known Everest since he was four years old and her son was two and a half, she stares at me with wonder and whispers, “He’s a man!”

I don’t know how this happened. I mean, obviously I do, but it doesn’t make any sense to my heart.

My heart hurts. It hurts from pride, from love, from loss, from gratitude, from grief. It hurts the kind of ache that only arises when we love with abandon, the kind of love that brings with it daily the fear of loss. It’s a bittersweet pain: the love and loss all intertwined around each other until it feels like the heart is going to burst. It’s the hurt that we work so hard to avoid.

By focusing on the food, I avoided feeling the grief that arose daily when I looked at my son, three inches taller than me, and wondered where my little boy has gone.

By focusing on the cake, I pushed aside the pang of loss-pride-awe (all mixed together) that thudded my heart when I saw the tangible ways that his body is changing.

By worrying about the heat and mosquitoes (which can be quite intense in our yard in August), I distracted from the nameless ache that accompanies raising kids and is amplified during these transitions. The grief that no matter what we do, they grow up. The grief that I don’t touch him or hold him in the same way. The grief that he’s becoming his own man.

All those years of early motherhood desperate for a few minutes alone and now, at the end of the day, when he’s doing his own thing and I’m alone in the kitchen, eighteen doesn’t seem so far away. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that I was lying with my baby boy on our bed in Los Angeles, nursing away the hours and crying for the day he would leave home? That day isn’t quite here yet, but I can feel it, like the first crisp tinges of autumn in August. If I focus on the stories of life – whether the Bar Mitzvah or whatever grabs the ego’s ever-wandering, worry-seeking mind – I avoid the pain. And the pain is what needs my attention.

But then he comes downstairs and smiles that same smile I’ve known for almost fourteen years, and I feel grateful that he still wants to spend time with me, that he comes down as soon as he hears me in the kitchen. He sits at the counter and we have a bedtime snack together: he, apple and peanut butter; me, toast and acorn squash. We talk about our cat and our plans for the weekend. As he chatters I just stare at him wondering, “How did you get so big?” He’s still here. And I want to be present for every moment of it.

The antidote to overfocusing on the details, as always, is to let go of the mind-spinning so that I can make room for what actually needs attention. The food will be handled, the cake will be great, the heat and mosquitoes will be what they will be (it’s like the bride worrying about rain on her wedding day; as if we have any control of the weather!). When I remember to gather the stories and worry and send them off to another realm, I breathe more deeply, and in the breath the grief arrives. My own medicine these past few months has been to allow time and space daily to turn inward so that I don’t fall into the trap of focusing on externals as a way to avoid the pain.

When I allow myself to grieve, I also make room for the gratitude, pride, and joy to enter. Grief and joy live in the same chamber of the heart, as I wrote about so many years ago. I haven’t felt that statement so acutely as I do right now as we walk toward this momentous day, watching him grow up and, eventually, fly away. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, once I walk through the grief and fear, the pride and excitement burst through. On the one hand, the statement, “He’s becoming a man” makes me sad. But in the same breath that same statement fills me with pride. How lucky I am to mother this most extraordinary child! How blessed we are watch him grow up and step more fully into his passions and calling. How magnificent it is to witness him maturing, to see him making wiser choices and working to soften his rough spots.

How I’ll stand beside him on the day of the Bar Mitzvah and offer the traditional speech from parent to child without dissolving into a puddle of tears I cannot tell you. But that’s exactly the medicine: to allow myself to cry when I need to cry and break down when I need to break down. It’s what I tell anyone on the threshold of a transition when they ask me how to stay present: feel your feelings. Be willing to cry. Be willing to mess up your makeup. Feeling the full range of our feelings is the gateway to presence. But I’ll make sure that there are plenty of boxes of Kleenex around. Oh, better add that to my list ;).

***

Every blessing in my life – our kids, my work, our home, our land – is based on the foundation of our marriage, and not a day passes when I’m not filled with gratitude for the beauty that surrounds us.  None of this would have been possible had I allowed my fear-walls to dictate my actions, had I allowed the “not enough” lens through which I initially viewed my husband to shut me down or convince me to walk away. It’s through the Love Laws and Loving Actions that I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner that the fear diminished and our love, our beauty, and our blessings grew and continue to grow. When practiced daily and diligently, especially in a group, we lay the foundation and plant the seeds that allow love to flourish. 

23 comments to A Taste of My Own Medicine

  • Kk5

    Wow. I need to sit with this, study, and re-read over and over. Had my boy twins what feels like yesterday and coming up on their first birthday. Sheryl – that photo sent me into tears. I didn’t even think that I would feel these transitions so deeply as my children go through them. This explains a lot, actually, about how I’ve been feeling the past few days. Thank you again for the beautiful words.

  • Skye Isaac

    Thank you,

    I have prickly tears right now … from a mixed source. My son is now 48. It was only as a 47 year old he was diagnosed as having been high function autistic from birth. So many misunderstandings, misinterpretations, isolation and loneliness. I have BIG Grief. and Joy
    This morning he said “I am grateful for MUM and Dad and my sister. Even though his Dad left for another woman decades ago and his sister lives in Denmark and hardly ever makes contact. He is still the tall, handsome, soulful, thoughtful, creative man I gave birth to 48 years ago. We still share many empathic and delight full moments.
    Thank you for the work you do. Blessings on your BIG occasion.
    Skye Isaac Napier. New Zealand

  • Mayberry

    A great reminder that transitions are always happening. Sheryl, I also want to say thanks for the guidance and support you provided in Sacred Sexuality. I am very grateful for the community I found here. Lately I am having trouble with the idea of grief and joy living in the same chamber. It mostly comes up around letting go of my family of origin as my first family (even though I’ve been married for nearly three years now). I’m still sad that I’m no longer a little girl, carefree and so blissfully unaware of all the pain in the world. My parents, for all their flaws, did an excellent job of shielding me from pain. And now, a lot of times when I think about my parents I just get sad that our relationship is so different now. Where is the joy in that? I journal about this a lot, and sit with it, but I’m afraid I’m always going to feel like this.

    • I’m so glad the course was helpful, Mayberry. As far as your question, it’s not that grief and joy live side-by-side in the same moment; it’s that if we try to avoid the grief we tamp down on the possibility of joy entering in a different moment. The movie Inside Out portrayed this so well. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.

  • Wow, this is so beautiful.
    “Feel your feelings. Be willing to cry….feeling the full range of our feelings is the gateway to presence”
    I needed this so much right now, as i can feel something off inside but instead have been over- focusing on the details externals of my first trip abroad. Time to sit with myself and see what comes up.
    Thank you Sheryl, thank you for sharing this with us, blessing to you and your family during this painfully exciting time!

  • Cami

    You are such a beautiful soul, Sheryl. I am sending you the light of healing and presence, which I need myself as well. I thank the Universe for your presence and existence. The best therapy we can get is hearing about your healthy examples of going through a transition and coming out victorious so we can incorporate it in our lives, especially when this is the only example of healthy grieving and processing feelings we have ever had.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you.

  • Everafter

    Thank you for this. You speak so many truths to me during Mg so many transitions. Engagement anxiety, transitioning to motherhood, initial gender disappoint ( <———- seems so silly now) and a love of my son I can’t even begin to describe. The latest transition is , as you say, watching him grow. Three years now and I swell with pride and tears at his growth- it’s goig to fast. I do t want him o grow – but of course I want him to- I wan him to thrive – but I don’t want to lose him. Or lose the little boy I raised and nursed ( trying to wean but he loves it and so do I!) he is my world. And though people say I need my own space this time is so fleeting. No one ever tells you how hard it is with children. Sure naps are hard and baby’s take a lot of work. But the hardest is the emotion, the love more then anything feeling, the fierce protection, the “ wearing your heart outside of your own body”. Thank you for this. Thank you for seeing into my soul and knowing what the anxious mind feels during all of lives passages. Just when I think I made it heough. Another one comes along. Thanks for being there.

  • Tina

    Thank you for such a beautiful article which touched me deeply. It is the first I have read that shows the deep grief we go through as parents when our children grow up and eventually move on with their own lives. My son moved out of home 6 months ago and I cried for a week (behind closed doors). My daughter spends more and more time with her boyfriend and I have cried often at the loss of her company. Yes, I am proud to see my children coping and moving on with their lives, but the grief of losing them has been very painful at times. For the moment I am grateful that I still see my children often and I treasure the time I have with them as I know that there will be more changes as their lives develop..

    • It’s so sad that we feel we have to cry behind closed doors when our kids grow up. Yet another area that needs to be talked about more openly in our culture so that we can hold hands across these tumultuous and painful thresholds instead of feeling like we have to hide our grief.

  • Robin

    I am crying big tears reading this as I prepare to send my little boy to kindergarten. This transition from preschool to kindergarten has been so deeply emotional for me, and I so appreciate your wisdom, insights and experience. I feel validated and comforted by your words, and less alone on this journey through the areas that are not much talked about. Mazel Tov! Wishing you a beautiful Bar Mitzvah.

    • It’s so sad that we feel we have to cry behind closed doors. This is yet another area that needs to be talked about more openly in the culture so that we can hold hands across these tumultuous and painful thresholds instead of feeling like we have to hide our grief.

  • ColoradoGirl

    Congratulations Sheryl! Sending lots of love for the big milestone for both you and your Son!

  • A timely reminder for me that transition pops up in all sorts of places!

    I learned so much from you, Sheryl, and owe my joyous marriage to the work you and the forum members helped me through in the Conscious Bride, and e-course. You said I would one day be grateful for the pain I went through, and there have been many times I think back to that fondly and smile: I am.

    Right now I am actually transitioning from a girl with alcohol dependency problems to a new sober girl whose image is still out of my grasp. So completely different to the transition of marriage, but I see all the same transition signs! So I must buckle down again and remember all I learned to guide me through to this next, most hopeful stage of my life. I write a little more here if anyone’s interested: https://girlmeetssobriety.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/transitions

    • This gave me chills. Thank you so much for sharing, and yes, the principles of transition carry over into so many aspects of life, and when we can name where we are it gives us a foothold in the formlessness that defines transitions.

  • New Mom

    Hi Sheryl, what an important message. This work has been very difficult for me lately. My daughter is 10 months old and she is growing up so fast. I have been recently experiencing pangs if guilt and anxiety that I am missing important moments (I work part time and have a nanny full time) that I can never get back. Change and transitions are hard for me, and being a parent means dealing with continuous change! It’s a amazing and beautiful how much she is developing, but I find myself pining for each earlier stage. And of course, the ever present temptation to focus on the details- the stroller, which foods she should eat, her clothing, which books to buy. It can become all consuming and take me away from feelings of connection with motherhood. Thank you so much for being a rare and steady reminder to turn inward on this journey.

  • Marlene

    Every time I read your posts I think to myself, “Okay,I won’t cry at this one.” And then I find myself dissolved into tears by the end of the post. This resonates even though I have no children. Because, what can we do but soften into the changes and let them move through us? The grief comes because we have no control. None. And that is probably a good thing…what would life be like if I could bend everything to my whim? Yikes. The antidote is gratitude. So thank you, my friend, for sharing.

  • talespinner

    I have been divorced now for almost 8 years and this post brings up that pain. Boy did I love that man, at least I thought I did, it was the unrequited, longing, kind of love that you only experience in chaos. I was too young to know better then. And I know my heart would still flutter if I saw him on the street. I loved him, and I know he loved me to the best of his abilities. And after a 10 year relationship, when he couldn’t deal with the anxiety I was experiencing anymore, and my wanting us to go into therapy began to be the major issue, we ended it. I felt like someone had died, for months, and I don’t remember most of it.

    I started a new relationship about seven months after the divorce to a wonderful man and we are still together today. But this particular issue you have written brings up that feeling of grief for that loss. And I don’t know how I could have held onto “us”, or him, I could barely hold onto me. I wish in some ways I had, had the skills I do now, I may have been able to save it, but I also see that it was good I wasn’t able to.

    I think our culture wants us to move on so swiftly from any kind of discomfort, and so that is what I did. From my friends pushing me to find someone, to loneliness, I don’t think I gave myself enough time, and I can say almost 8 years later that some days I am still sad about our separation, because he was my best friend.

    I am thankful though, the partner I am with is wonderful, and even though he doesn’t cause the butterflies and longing feelings, what I have with him is very solid. We are learning to communicate well, support and care for one another, and apparently what love really is supposed to be. And we are willing to grow together as individuals and couples, and that to me is enough for now.

    As for the divorce, I am holding myself tight and allowing myself to acknowledge that it hurt me deeply, that part of me is still sad. I also am filled with wonder of how amazing it is that the human heart can love so deeply with so many different individuals all at the same time.

    Thanks Sheryl

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