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Living with an unbearable loss

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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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Everything Is Waiting For You

The doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you. David Whyte

My 92-year-old mother lived on her own in the house I was born in until the day she died. During her final years, when she fell and broke her wrist or when she came home from the hospital, she would grudgingly agree to have Alga, her caregiver and friend, stay with her. But as soon as I left to return home to Sacramento, she would tell Alga that she didn’t need to spend the night or be there all day. My mother was fiercely independent, and she loved having time to herself to draw, to paint, to write, to read, to learn.

My mother was fearless in many ways. One year, when I was visiting for the holidays, she insisted on going with me while I ran at a local park, saying there had been incidents of teenagers and “hooligans” accosting joggers. She felt it was important to be there to protect me. My mother was 5’2″ and 105 pounds at her peak height and weight. I told her I would be fine. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

The park we went to had a one mile dirt loop course. My mother brought her binoculars and looked for birds while I ran four miles. As I was finishing my final mile, I stopped where she was bird watching so we could walk to the car together. Mom told me that while I was on the other side of the loop, a group of teenagers had encircled her, demanding to know if she had any money. She said, “I told them I didn’t have any money, and they should stop trying to harass an old woman and leave me alone.” Then she added in a confidential whisper, “I always tuck $5 in my binoculars case, just in case I need it, but I wasn’t going to tell them that ..”

My mother has shooed away pushy salespeople, confronted aggressive teenage trick-or-treaters and summarily dismissed overly eager proselytizers who dared to ring her doorbell. My father died in 2003 so Mom spent 12 years living alone in the house she loved so much. After she died, BJ, the neighbor across the street, told me that whenever her husband traveled, BJ would stay with her brother and his family. But your mother, she said, taught me that I didn’t have to be afraid to stay alone in my own house. She inspired me to be brave.

I am not as brave as my mother, especially when it comes to staying alone or confronting aggressive, pushy, demanding people. But she taught me well about the importance of opening the door to new adventures and taking chances. I might fail, be scared, make a mistake, stumble or say something stupid, but that was simply the price of admission for the chance to grow, to connect with a new friend, to learn something new, to find an undiscovered talent.

When a new door opens, you don’t know whether you will wind up being frightened or excited. Will life shatter your sense of safety and control or invite you to lean in to a new experience or opportunity? Jimmy’s diagnosis and death taught me that our worst nightmares can become a reality, and some days, I am scared a lot. But in the midst of the fear, I conjure up the “little woman in gray”, as my college roommate used to call my mom. I remember her ordinary bravery and quiet courage, the way she took chances, her willingness to fail, the way she embraced new people she met and the way she picked herself up when she fell and began again.

 

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