One Big Hole – confronting the broken heart (aka Chapter 2 of Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older) speaks such wisdom to experience. Over & over, I perceived within Rabbi Dayle Friedman’s words the sense, almost the sight, of my mother.
In her late 80s, Mom did what she’d resisted, from what I can tell, for all of her life – – confronting her broken heart. By the time she was an adult, Mom’s experiences of family relationships had taught her that the simplest way to stay on apparent even keel was to be intentionally blinded to reality, slapping a smiley face on heartbreak.
The most courageous thing I ever saw someone do was my 88-year old mother phoning a psychologist & saying, “Kevyn, I don’t have any idea who I am,” seeking counseling, with the self-trust that it was possible to plant her feet firmly on real ground.
As we grow older, we will lose physical capacities. … We may be stripped of roles we have cherished … perhaps (experience) lack of status, as well. Sadly, we will lose precious relationships as dear family members and friends die or move away. … These losses of later life have been called the “little deaths of aging.” – – Mom commented on that very thing: “Changing roles and changing identities can be rough, especially on children, no matter how old they are. Imagine the upset at finding that good old Mom is not what she used to be. That discovery could make even an adult feel like a kid lost at the department store.” Mom was in her mid-60s when she experienced a cascade of events that changed how she & others saw her – Dad’s death, the loss of the inheritance he’d left due to a foolish financial adviser (NOT the person Dad selected), Scott’s birth, the need for her to bring in an income. By the time she was a self-proclaimed “Ancient,” Mom was used to losing & gaining roles.
Rabbi Friedman uses the Biblical story of the aged Naomi to illustrate how she “weathered an immense accumulation of losses … began again …. built a new life and a future.” She uses Naomi as an avatar of resiliency. – – Mom didn’t see herself as particularly resilient, because she refused to acknowledge being knocked for a loop. But she was, herself, an avatar of resiliency. She totally rocked living.
Allowing Grief: Naomi certainly does not whitewash the pain of her situation. We can easily imagine that Naomi screamed and wailed plenty. Feeling her pain and giving it expression are very possibly important aspects of her capacity to more forward amid it. – – For most of her life, Mom’s survival was rooted in whitewashing the pain of her situation. It was built-in, an immediate, rather than thought-out, response. It was when Mom finally let herself experience a heart-wrenching situation that she gained what she termed the “internal fortitude” to call Kevyn Malloy for an appointment. It was a shock to Mom to learn that it was only when she was able to feel her pain & give it expression that she could move forward to better.
Love: Naomi manages to thrive amid loss because she has someone to love and someone to care for, and because she dedicates herself … to the betterment of the future. … Giving our own love and caring can be (our salvation). – – Straight through to the moment she slipped from us, Mom managed to thrive amid loss through being of service to others. As she wrote, at 90+, in The Velveteen Grammie, “I can still shell hard boiled eggs and clean mushrooms!” More than that, Mom knew that being here with us at Squirrel Haven was both an emotional & financial support. John never had to fret that his hours in his studio left me alone. Mom & I shared a common interest in current events, history, reading & classic movies. The three of us clicked. To her last, Mom’s love & caring made a difference – to the staff, nurses & doctors at first INOVA/Alexandria & then St. Mary’s/Langhorne, where a doctor pleaded with me as we prepared her for discharge, “Can’t you take one of the others & leave her? Whenever I feel down, I know that all I have to do is stop into her room & I will feel better.”; to the family, friends & care partners who delighted in being with her during her final week, at home, in hospice; to a local college’s Psych 101 students who e-mailed her questions throughout that last week, which she answered up to the day of her death.
The Jungian psychoanalyst Polly Young -Eisendrath teaches that compassion is an antidote to suffering and counteracts alienation. – – Family & friends around the world will bear witness about how this personified Mom.
Our losses can open us up to deep empathy and make us uniquely available to others. Remarkably, as we discover how much love we have, we are empowered to go on. – – With most people, Mom was remarkably empathetic. I remember when friends lost a son in a tragic accident. Mom & Dad joined others gathered outside the grieving family’s home, each hesitant to go inside for fear of intruding. Mom finally went to the door & knocked – her dear friend collapsed into Mom’s arms, holding on for dear life. As Mom explained later, “I decided I’d rather be where I wasn’t needed than not be where I was.” Deep empathy & uniquely available to others – that was Mom to a T.
“Life can be walked with gently cupped hands that allow us to let go of outgrown or passing gifts and to receive new ones. … Again and again, like the repeating cycles of passing seasons, we learn to let go. And in the loss, we receive new gifts.” Nancy Copeland-Payton. We would not be alive if we did not feel the pain of our losses. – – see all of the above. Or consider what Mom said – “My own awareness shifted when I suffered a small stroke late last September. That small stroke sped up the process. My mind feels strong, my spirit feels strong. As my body continues to head south, it no longer has the energy to kick up a fuss about being temporary or to even try to fake being permanent. My feet drag somewhat and I move a lot more slowly than I did, but most days my spirit soars, making itself felt more and more. ”
Jewish tradition teaches us to say blessings, to express appreciation, for all kinds of experiences, positive and negative. As you ponder loss, take time as well to cultivate gratitude. – – Mom was all about expressing appreciation & gratitude. At the whoop-de-do party after her memorial celebration, my brother remembered how she’d show appreciation & gratitude for a stretch of meadow or a patch of iris. She appreciated places & people. She had her occasional run ins with family, but could always tell you what it was about each of us that she deeply appreciated. And, above all, she was grateful to the Divine for being raised how she was in the faith she was, that she lived in a small town with a big heart, that she forever held in her heart the inexpressible joy of being married to a good man & forming a deep 3-way partnership (the two of them plus God), that she was mother to five children she dearly loved, that she had interesting in-laws & the best grandchildren in the Universe.
Mom went through things in her life that I cannot begin to fathom, she did her best to keep herself up right (in both writings & meanings of the term), had the strength to see what she’d rather ignore & face what she’d rather deny. She touched my life & many others by simply being Katharine Reynolds Lockhart, one big whole.