Family Thanksgiving

I feel connected and complete. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I spent time with my aunt and two cousins whom I have not seen in over 40 years. And I saw my brother and sister. The occasion was attending the memorial for my uncle who transitioned in September. Uncle Proctor and Aunt Patsy lived in Wilmington, Ohio. This is roughly one hour north of Cincinnati which is on the border of Kentucky. The Cincinnati, CVG, airport is in Hebron, Kentucky.

Awakening at 1:30am on Thanksgiving morning to catch the 2:15am shuttle to Phoenix for the 6am flight was the start of my weekend adventure. When I made the reservations in October, I puzzled over the expensive airfare into CVG. I found cheaper flights on the Thursday before December 1, not realizing until two weeks later that it was Thanksgiving Day. The airports were not busy, and I had no problems with the flight, the car rental or the drive to the nursing home where I joined my cousins Sue and Nan, Aunt Patsy and Susan’s son, Matt, for a takeout Thanksgiving dinner. We ate in a small apartment that the nursing home provided for visiting family members. No microwave so the food was not hot, but it was yummy. I shared how my diet had changed after being vegan for 4½ years.

Sue, Nan and I shared primarily about our current life situations and what concerns we have regarding our adult children and aging mothers. Our mothers are both 88 and have dementia. Susan has been a widow for 17 years and is currently dealing with breast cancer which has metastasized to her bones although it is still breast cancer. She is on chemotherapy for two weeks and then off for one week. On the Wednesday before I traveled, I got my hair cut and my hairdresser gave me Shirley Temple ringlets. I was wearing my glasses on Thanksgiving and explained to everyone that this was not what I looked like. The next day when I wore my contacts and had fixed my hair and Susan spent time with me without her wig, we agreed that we were now our real selves.

Our mothers were best friends in high school. That is how my mom met my dad. Susan is 3 months older than me so they were pregnant at the same time with us. Aunt Patsy was especially close to my father, Jack. Their birth mother died when my dad was 6 and Aunt Patsy was 3. Sue and Nan gave us a set of old pictures which included pictures of our parents and Uncle Bill’s birth mother, Gertrude. She bares a striking resemblance to my older daughter, Nicole.

My brother, John flew in from Vermont on Saturday and within a short time we picked up our sister Maggie who flew in from Wisconsin. They both have children who are 12 and/or 13 and were relishing traveling solo. At dinner on Saturday night the cousins and Matt (sans Aunt Patsy) all shared about the relationships we had with our parents and about the times we remembered spending time together. My siblings and I shared about the pain we experienced as a result of our mother’s mental illness and her brutality. In the early 80’s our father came out to us as gay. His absence during our childhood had contributed to the sense of abandonment the three of us shared and dealt with us as adults. It was a bonding experience and I am grateful for it.

The next day was Sunday and the memorial. It was at Wilmington College, the Quaker college where my uncle taught Mathematics and MIS for many years. Music played and Sue, Matt and Nan shared about my uncle. He was one of five professors that were very good friends and whose families grew up together. Three children of these professors shared about growing up being a part of group and how welcome they had always felt at the Deans. People had come from out of town to attend the memorial including the adult children that shared. It was a lovely event. Aunt Patsy told Nan that she understood that the memorial was for Proctor and that she misses him. She told me that too and I agreed that I miss him and miss my father, Jack.

Spending time with Maggie and John was great fun. We shared a hotel room and lay in bed Saturday night laughing and talking about our children. We each have three and relate that to being one of three. Monday morning the adventure continued as I arose at 3:30am to travel back home to become immediately engulfed in my work life.

The surreal experience of re-establishing family ties comforted me at a basic level. I have texted with Matt and know that our connection will include more phone calls and visits. This feels especially important considering our aging parents and Susan’s illness. I appreciate the opportunity to process this through writing this newsletter article. Thank you, for allowing me to share this with you.

— Marya Wheeler

Choosing Positive (Yes, I know that’s grammatically incorrect)

“There is nothing good or bad in the world, but thinking makes it so.”
(William Shakespeare Hamlet Act II scene II)

I have stopped being surprised at the synchronicity between what I decide to do and how the world shows up to support my decision. I had decided on the topic of this article Saturday, and smiled as I realized the substance of Rev. Janis’ talk this week was the same. All things do, indeed, work together.

I have a saying taped up in my kitchen that I read several times a day. I displayed it in my classroom over 20 years ago, and have long forgotten where or when I first encountered it. It resonates each time I read it, staying fresh and vital in my mind because I know the truth of it:

LIFE IS NOT WHAT IT IS “SUPPOSED TO BE.” IT IS WHAT IT IS.
THE WAY WE CHOOSE DEAL WITH IT IS WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.”

One important lesson we have all had the opportunity to learn (if we are older than 12) is the harder the situation, the more valuable it becomes as we figure out what we have learned from it. My family moved from Arizona to Texas when I was in the tenth grade. I had never had to make friends before because I was raised in the area where my parents and grandparents were born and had lived since they were children. I made myself (and my parents) miserable for a year while I decided how to navigate the newness of living in Texas. I have never forgotten that time in my life, and later as I went to college, married a man whose job required us to move every four years, and then, later, as a widow moving to Tucson on my own, I knew I could make friends and where I had to go to find them.

I laughed often when Rev. Donald shared the analogy of the young child who opened a door and found piles of horse manure piled everywhere. The child exclaims, “Yahoo!! I know there must be a pony in here somewhere!!”

Like everyone else, I have navigated many life struggles: the suicide of my young brother-in-law; the death of my parents; the long illness and death of my husband, John; the sudden illness and abrupt death of my husband, Phil, have each forged an understanding in me of what is truly important. Grieving is hard work, and as I have gotten through that process so many times, I have very little energy or will to get upset over things that really do not matter in the long run.

I know we experience the world through the filters we create based on our belief about the world. Years ago I had a student say to me, “This world is so F–ed.” I said, “My world isn’t.” She really heard that, began to change her attitude about her world and as a result changed her life. She got sober, studied hard and earned a Ph.D in molecular biology. Today she is a teaching professor at a medical school in Colorado.

People with positive attitudes experience their world in a positive way, and the opposite is true. The Universe supports whatever we believe about the world and our place in it without bias or judgment.

Someone recently said to me, “You lead such a charmed life.” I thought about that and realized I change that statement (in my mind) to “I create such a charmed life” because I act on my belief that the world is, indeed, a positive place.

–Pat Masters

On Grieving

I lost both my brother in law and my only sister within 60 days of each other. I was present for both of their deaths. It has pretty much devastated me, so I have been thinking a lot about death and the grieving that follows. These are two subjects that are generally avoided in western culture.

One of the things about grieving is that it is exhausting. At first I seem to have had too much energy, so much so that I am unable to sleep all night, followed by oscillating waves of high energy and weariness. I find my balance of rest and activity isn’t working very well.

One of the reasons the death of someone close so profoundly shaking for me is that it holds up a mirror to me that says “This happens to you, too”. Sometimes it seems a welcome prospect to join my loved ones, especially when my aversion to life without them is great.

What I realize is that my whole system has sustained this major loss, and it will take some time for my psyche and body to adjust to the new alignments that await me. Perhaps only when I can rest in knowing that their passing was in perfect order in the Universe, that healing will eventually take place. The best memorial I can give to them is to live my own life fully, one day at a time.

Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity; it is the price we pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. And live life to the fullest we are capable at each moment.

Ernest Holmes on grief and loss (The Science of Mind 387.3 – 388.1)

It is human to grieve the loss of dear ones. We love them and cannot help missing them, but a true realization of the immortality and continuity of the individual soul, will rob our grief of hopelessness. We shall realize that they are in God’s keeping, and they are safe. We shall know that loving friends have met them, and that their life flows on with the currents of eternity. We shall (eventually) feel that we have not lost them, they have only gone before. So we shall view eternity from the highest standpoint, as a continuity of time, forever and ever expanding, until time as we now experience it, shall be no more. …. Time heals all wound, adjusts conditions, explains facts; and time alone satisfies the expanding soul, reconciling the visible with the invisible. We are born of eternal day, and the Spiritual Sun shall never set upon the glory of the soul, for it is the coming forth of God into self-expression.

–Janie Hooper