When I published my last posting about the St. Regis and my experience there, first with Mom and then with Autumn, I wondered if I was trying too hard to make meaning out of it. When I read my original post to my husband, who is great about giving me feedback and helping, he said it was too fact-based. We went here. We saw this. He helped me bring out and articulate the deeper meaning that I was having trouble expressing. But I was left wondering: Was it silly? A little too much? I don't normally second-guess my postings, but the "old" me, the one wanting proof and concrete evidence for everything was doubting that all this meaning was "real."
Lindi's email came at just the right time, as a reminder that I was definitely on the right path.
Hey Megan So here are my thoughts, which may or may not be coherent... Still battling major sleep deprivation here
You may already know all of this given your profession, so glaze over if I'm "preaching to the choir" but anyway, here goes.
I don't think you're trying to hard to find meaning. I think finding meaning in one's life/events in one's life is a valuable coping mechanism. In my pre-occupational therapy life I ran a psychology research lab. Our work looked at people who face difficult/extreme circumstances and factors that lead to salutogenic (health-enhancing) and pathogenic (illness-inducing) outcomes. This was in 2000, just before the positive psychology movement became well known. We were looking at, among other groups, survivors of genocide. My work happened to focus on Holocaust survivors, but the findings held true in many other situations. I had over 60 survivors answer (lengthy) questionnaires about coping mechanisms, their psychological well-being, and experiences in talking/writing about their experiences. One of the measures we used was looking at something called sense of coherence. It looks at how manageable, comprehensible and meaningful people feel their life is. The survivors who were able to find meaning in their experiences had much lower levels of PTSD and higher levels of positive outcomes (ie happy marriages, satisfactory careers etc). Viktor Frankel wrote a whole book on the topic (Man's Search for Meaning) and his entire method of psychotherapy is based on this premise (ie I don't claim to have 'discovered' this at all!!). Aaron Antonovsky, the psychologist behind the sense of coherence theory has also written extensively on the subject and studies have found higher SOC linked with increased health in all kinds of populations...from astronauts on long duration space flights to families raising kids with complex disabilities, higher meaningfulness is linked to better outcomes. Our drive to find meaning is innate it's a valuable coping strategy and it in turn, improves our health.
The other thing which you probably know is the value of recounting/writing about difficult experiences as a way of coping. James Pennebaker did a ton of work in this area. He published a book "Writing to Heal" around the same time I published some of my findings. It's great if you haven't already seen it. Anyway, he explains how/why writing about emotional experiences is healing much more eloquently than I could!! Interestingly in my study, the majority of Holocaust survivors I interviewed had not started taking/writing about their experiences until 1991 - the year the film Schindler's List came out. They all reported being initially reluctant to discuss their experiences, fearing people's reactions. But once they did start talking, they all noted increased sense of meaningfulness and an improvement in overall well-being. I don't remember specific quotes but I remember being struck but how powerful they found it not only to speak about their experiences, but to hear others responses and how healing it was. In a way, I think your blog has a bit of that. I think it's a beautiful tribute to your mom, and now Autumn, but I think It's also healing for you to write, and to get feedback from others. At least I hope it is.
So that's my very long winded way of saying nope... You're not trying too hard at all. Keep on doing it it's good for you and I enjoy reading
The day before Lindi emailed me, I was going to take Autumn four miles in her BOB. It was the first time that we had taken it for a run in the morning, and I wanted a small blanket to cover her legs to protect them from the sun. In a rush, I opened her closet drawers and saw the gender-neutral one my Mom crocheted for her, before I was pregnant. I put it over Autumn's legs and she idly explored the basket-weave pattern and new texture with her fingers as we set off through the front door.
My Mom's love is seen in all these things she did for Autumn, not even knowing her and how she loved me, giving me the tools to be the best Mom to her. I shouldn't look at what Autumn looses by not having her here, but what she gains because she was that high of a caliber. Bringing this blanket out also meant that Mom was very much present on my mind.
We were going to go home and get ready for swim lessons when I saw signs for an estate sale the street over. Famous for trying to squeeze in too much and often running late, I had been planning to go home and get ready for swim. We didn't have a lot of time and are short on money right now, so going to the sale wasn't practical but I very much had the feeling that we should go, because it was something Mom would love and want us to do. The fleeting thought: Maybe there is something there for me, from Mom came and went as we turned down the street. Autumn and I had been to an estate sale a few weeks before, and I did not wonder this.
We walked through the door of a dated home filled with mid-century furniture. There was a card table set up in the living room with with dishes and china piled on top of it. Most of them were grouped together in sets, but one cup and saucer was by itself. It had pink roses on it and read Mother. My heart skipped a beat. Turning it over, I saw it was made in England.
At first, I had a pang of sadness because it was something I would pick out for her. Then my thoughts skipped back to, and settled on, the feeling that there was something in this house from her, to me. I picked it up and wandered through the rest of the house, thinking of the woman who owned it who I now had gathered was in a wheelchair before she died, like Mom was. Only with Mom, it wasn't due to old age. I thought about this woman's child, likely older than me now, who bought this cup for her and how they too must be missing their Mom.
But if they're lucky, like Mom, this lady gave them enough love to last a lifetime and beyond. I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it was quality not quantity. Some adults still grapple with a deficit of love from a childhood overshadowed by it's absence, real or perceived. Their Mom may have been too busy, self-absorbed or just repeating the pattern of how she was raised. Though their Mom may still be alive, the uncertainty of where they stand in her love can cause a whole host of problems. There are many adults out there who still feel unloved, unwanted or in competition with others due to their insecurities, all stemming from lack of love from their Mom. I have to remember how blessed I am that this was never the case with Mom. She loved my brother and I, and my father too, with every fiber of her being and there was never any doubt how much she loved us. She loved us with a pure, non-judgmental love, and gave us enough love to last a lifetime. A love that we would never question and that no one can take away. A love so powerful and fierce, not even death could stop it. A love I still feel.
If it were not for Lindi's email and encouragement, I would have chalked the cup up to coincidence. No sooner was it in my hand than I was dismissing the potential meaning as me reading too much into it again. But what else could be more important than finding meaning in life, even if sometimes finding it is a stretch?
Either Mom had nothing to do with that cup being there, or she had something to do with it. If bringing the idea into focus that she could have played a role is comforting to me, then why not believe that? But what if it's not true? What if it's silly? My old self would ask. Does it matter, if being open to the possibility makes it more valuable? Not at all. That cup and saucer is worth a whole lot more to me than the $3 I paid for it. Really, it becomes invaluable in this light.
Do I really think Mom put the cup there? Not really. But why work so hard to shut down the possibility that it could be a sort of sign "from" her, like how we ended up in her hometown of Reading, England instead of Italy where we thought we were headed on our babymoon? After-all, her love was certainly powerful enough. She said she would give me a sign if she could, and any overt ones would either land me on TV or in the hospital, so maybe this is the most she can do, for now. And if I'm open to it, maybe there will more small reminders of her love in the years to come.