Friday, January 27, 2017

Whatever Happened to Civility?

One’s political persuasion does not matter to me. However, accepting that each individual American has the right to his / her own opinion and the right of expression without vitriol does.

Have we all forgotten the premise that citizens can agree to disagree, accept that it is unlikely we will persuade others to believe as we do, accept our friends, family members and neighbors are not aliens from outer space and treat people with kindness and respect?

Whether one be a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, Socialist or Progressive don't we all owe our fellow human beings common courtesy?

The Bill of Rights gives citizens the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, the right to protest, the right to petition, the right to bear arms and the right to exercise freedom of religion. Peaceful protest and demonstrations such as the Womens’ kitty hat marches and the Right to Life march are protected by the US Constitution whether we disagree with those who demonstrate. 

What I find so unfathomably frustrating in 2017 is that rather than trying to understand and appreciate that we all have the right to hold different antithetical opinions, rather than respect for the differing opinions the discourse is obnoxious. 

Purported Christians, far right zealots and religious folks denigrate and treat moderates, libertarians, liberals, progressives and defenders of abortion rights, equal treatment under the law of all humans and those with differing opinions as heathens, sinners, evil, tree hugging, elitists  who have no clue how real Americans live. 

Progressives and liberals seem to chastise or portray conservatives, moderates and libertarian minded Americans as deplorable, uneducated, misogynist, racist, homophobic,  xenophobic, narrow-minded bible thumpers yearning for a world that no longer exists and  is stuck firmly  in the 19th Century.  

The average American is a centrist without an ideology that fits squarely into the narrow categories or boxes drawn by the media. 

What is abundantly clear, however, is that modern Americans seem to have rejected the premise that in civilized society one should act with civility or afford consideration and respect for our fellow human beings even when we strongly disagree with them. 

The institute for Civility defines the term thus:
“Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”

Consider this by Thomas Jefferson, who reconciled with his dearest friend and political opponent John Adams after years of estrangement:

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”  {4/22/1800 in a letter to William Hamilton}

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Grieving Process & A Glimpse Through the Fog

The first three weeks after my mother's death I existed as if in an alternative universe enveloped in fog. My brain was frozen and my emotions at the surface ready to plunge me into despair at the sounding of a note of music. The fissure at my very core was so deep that the very acts of getting out of bed, pouring a cup of coffee, turning on the computer for work or reading a document seemed an out of body experience.

It is a blessing for me that I have friends and coworkers who have walked this path before and joined the exclusive club that nobody wants to join - the club of individuals who have lost a parent. In particular the death of a mother wrenches the soul like no other loss - she who gave us life.

I've cried. I've tried to read books and articles regarding the grieving process. I've talked to others who have recently experienced the death of a parent. Yet, each of us deals with such a profound loss in a different way. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. There is just grief -  a feeling of unfathomable loss that permeates every molecule of one's being and threatens to tear asunder the very fabric of one's life.

My husband, friends and coworkers have provided support that I could never have anticipated.  Death brings out the best and worst in people and I've been fortunate enough to have experienced mostly the  extraordinary goodness and caring that humanity can offer.  Alternatively, sometimes death brings out the frozen inability of a soul to react. But I will not judge. I cannot judge because I do not know what issues linger of the psyche of any individual that causes him or her to react in a certain way. I only know that I appreciate the outpouring of love, appreciation, condolences and amazing stories shared by people who were touched by my mother. 

I am also grateful that my father is surrounded by family, friends, retired teachers, members of his community and church and fans of his news articles and radio program that will give him love, appreciation, support, a kind word, an offer of a ride to dinner or church, keep an eye on his house, share a drink or give him a hug when he needs it. What a testament to the contribution both of my parents have made to their communities!

So today I am able to uncurl myself from a fetal position, arise from my bed at the appropriate time, shower, dress, and log onto my work computer with the ability to concentrate and focus on emails, requests for guidance, and input on critical evaluations and strategies. Again, it is baby steps that I take with awareness that there will be times when I am frozen or cannot function. But it is progress!

As I had the good fortune to learn during my years of experience in Al Anon, I celebrate each step forward, appreciate even the smallest bit of progress, do not denigrate myself for being where I am at any given moment, and let go of any resentments. And yes, I've released my frustration with Mom for dying. I will most likely need to let go over and over; but, eventually I will let go and come to accept what is. Mama is here with me in spirit. I will continue to feel her presence in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the appearance of a cardinal or blue jay outside my window, in the spring flowers, in the aroma of a soft rain, and in my sacred memories of her voice, touch, smell, shared experiences and exuberance for life. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Feeling Lost & Adrift Following the Death of My Mother~

When my mother died the morning of December 29th I felt as if my very foundation crumbled, that my ballast had fallen overboard, my beacon of light in the darkness extinguished, and  a wide chasm of emptiness replace my heart and soul. Even though she was 86 and had endured a year of health problems that would have felled a lesser spirit six months earlier, I truly believed she was like the Energizer Bunny or a Timex Watch that would “take a licking and keep on ticking”. 

In 2016 she overcame 3 pelvic ring fractures and 2 sacral fractures and through dogged determination regained her mobility and was able  to ascend the stairs to sleep in her second story bedroom and drive her standard transmission Mustang convertible to her volunteer jobs.   
When she was shortly thereafter diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast which was the same Triple Negative Cancer she’d overcome in the right breast three years earlier, she underwent first a lumpectomy followed by a mastectomy, never accepting that should would not make a full recovery. She drove herself to all of her radiation treatments. She was frustrated that she was tired and needed naps. She did not see herself as elderly or geriatric and neither did any of us who knew her well. 

She and my father drove from Indiana to Virginia for Thanksgiving with Mom contributing her share of the driving. While she appeared more tired than usual my brother and I attributed that to her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. We truly expected her to live to be 100. If I’d had any inclination that would be the last time I would see her happy, healthy and able to talk and hug me, would I have held on longer when I embraced her good-bye? Begged them to stay an extra day? Expressed my love for her more fully? Taken more pictures? 

It never occurred to me that she wouldn’t see 2017. She had an indomitable spirit that inspired her family, her friends and people who’d never had the privilege to meet her but had heard of her zest for life, commitment to her faith and service to her community. She always said that old was 20 years older than she and never wavered in that belief. I am convinced that 13 years ago when my younger sister had a health crisis that Mom single handedly willed her to live through one precarious night. When she lit a candle for somebody at her  church, they got better. 

When we were younger she invested me and my siblings with the tools to become independent, successful adults with firm moral compasses. She did not protect us from falls or failures or the consequences of our actions. But once we reached adulthood there were a few occasions where she would pounce like a lioness if she believed we had suffered a significant injustice that her intervention could alleviate. She didn’t always like the choices we made, but she loved us unconditionally. 

My parents enjoyed a 62 year love story and I feel gratitude that I had the privilege and good fortune of having both parents healthy for so many years. I am grateful that my dad is weathering this immense loss with the support of his family, friends, community, church, and those my parents have touched through the years. 

I know that grieving is a process and that I am in the early stages. The first week I felt numb as if in an alternate universe. During the second week I returned to work, reached out to people, began the process of returning to a new normal, a world that no longer includes my mom’s laughter, funny texts, or reminders to send somebody a birthday or sympathy card. As Bill Murray’s character kept repeating in the movie “What About Bob?”, I’m taking baby steps…..