by Conlee Ricketts
Traditions all around me are crumbling to the ground: Weddings, funerals, birthdays, graduations, baby showers, gender reveal parties…
Currently I’m mourning the loss of “the graduation ceremony.” A ceremony that is steeped in so many institutional traditions that both students and parents anticipate what it will be like potentially years ahead of the event. I have attended many different graduation ceremonies across the school systems I’ve worked and the college I attended. I’ve come to a conclusion; the grander the production and deeper the traditions, the harder the emotional blow of this type of loss. The loss of a ceremony due to the need for social distancing, quarantines, and staying away from one another in order to protect one another.
It feels overwhelmingly terrible, sad, and hurtful. All the work done to help students feel celebrated is amazing. But it can’t really “fix” the sadness and feelings of loss. And it shouldn’t. I’m a firm believer in feeling the pain, acknowledging it exists and has a place in my personal journey, and therefore deserves some bit of honoring the very fact that it hurts so damn much.
Once I honor my pain, my “survivor-nature” kicks in and tries to figure out how to avoid this type of pain in the future. For that, I turn to my very basic-toddler level understanding of Buddhism. Being alive means I will feel pain and/or suffer; a lot of the pain I feel I am likely creating myself—typically by my nature of wanting things to be other than the way they are. So, to ease my pain and suffering I need to learn to detach from the outcomes I “demand” and “want” and accept things as they are.
Sounds pretty simple right? Hahaha….wait a minute while I stop rolling my damn eyes.
So, being fairly pragmatic I need to start making a list. My list of things I should start detaching myself from right now, so I can (maybe) prevent or at least, lessen the level of sorrow and grief I'm feeling right now.
My child will be starting her senior year of high school in August under what I can only imagine will be uncertain and/or unusual. Will there be Friday night football games for her marching band to perform at half-time? Will she get a Senior Night in the stadium under the lights? Will she finish out her senior year at home just like this year? Her summer band camp, parades, and street concerts have already been canceled so “the last time” to enjoy those already happened. We just didn’t know at the time it was “the last time.” She couldn’t wear the awesome dress we picked out for her Junior Prom; will there even be any dances or Senior Prom?
To prepare myself for the potential loss of these traditions by acknowledging that the loss may happen is the only way for me to detach from the outcome. Every year at Senior Night in the football stadium I would get teary-eyed and imagine my daughter surrounded by all of us celebrating her final year in Marching Band. It would be a lie to say that I can easily detach from this; I can’t. But, I need to have my list to emotionally prepare for the potential of all these “losses.”
My thoughts are that the list is helping me. I'm certain I will still be blindsided by some “loss” that didn’t make it on my list, but if I can tell myself today, “Yes, this may happen,” then I have already taken a single step toward detaching from the outcome.
My full heart goes out to everyone suffering any type of unexpected loss right now. Take time to feel this and take care of yourself. Just know that someone out there is thinking of you. -xoxo Conlee
Over the past three years I’ve entered a few essay contests. I haven’t won but on a personal level each is a huge victory.
This is another one of my losing essays. I proudly share them here basically for the same reason I write them—it makes me happy and it feels good. This particular prompt was to write about our most courageous moment—and once again my life doesn’t fit into the “all-or-nothing” experience.
I hope you enjoy.
As I look back over my life, it is marked by bravery. Each triumph is very different and more importantly no less brave than the triumph that lived before. I’m certain we each have such milestones. I am inclined to celebrate them equally.
In my first ten years I remember bravely grasping the handlebars of my shiny green bike, charging ahead, determined to ride over that enormous gravel pile left near the new house construction next door.
Bikes and gravel don’t mix—lesson learned.
Knees and palms bloody. I cried.
Ages ten to twenty I buried the secrets of abuse at the hands of people I had trusted. It followed me for years as I navigated life in silent torment.
I am a survivor—lesson learned.
Heart and soul betrayed. I cried.
Years twenty to thirty I watched my mother fight cancer. I sat with her as she spoke of her life, her dreams, and her wishes for my future.
Sometimes all you can do is be fully present for another human being as they retrace their past—lesson learned.
Inner child frightened and lonely. I cried.
Thirty to forty I watched my fifty-nine year old mother take her final breath and I sat for hours with my father in her presence as her soul lifted to heaven. I also had my first and only child six years later that she never got to meet. I was a motherless daughter wanting to call my Mommy and ask questions about my newborn.
Parenting is learn as you go, and you do the best that you can with what you have—lesson learned.
My heart filled with a new kind of love. I cried.
Forty to fifty I calmly watched my husband leave me, and I smiled every day in front of our six year old to show her that she would never have choose between her parents; that she could always be free to think of her Daddy as her Hero. Just like my Daddy is to me. I also left behind a twenty-three year teaching career to begin my own business. It’s not the spectacular success I dreamed it would be.
Sometimes the things you think are going to be so perfect turn out sad and disappointing—lesson learned.
My heart broken and my ego bruised. I cried.
Bravery or the price of being alive? Which is it? I can’t answer that without remembering something my Mom would say to me when I was little and things didn’t go my way, “Into each life some rain must fall,” and today I’m sitting in a torrential downpour. Hell, I’m feeling brave and impressed for just getting out of bed this morning.
Next year I will be fifty. Every day I wake up. I put my feet on the floor and I face the day. I smile as I pack a new 5th grader’s lunch. I know I need to find a new career—well any job really. I call my dad to say “I love you.” I talk to my Mom while I’m folding laundry. I forgive myself for abandoning my inner child, and for failing at a marriage and business. I still hate riding a bike.
Being alone in silence, learning life lessons, knowing when to cry, and knowing how to brush myself off and try again—these are the bravest things any one of us can do when we are given the beauty of another sunrise.
I think my mother was right; to be fully alive is the most courageous thing we do for our soul; rain or shine, but my favorite Longfellow poem this week is Loss and Gain because it is my anthem to bravery and to my decades of courageous living:
Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
For me mothering is a non-stop, learn-as-I-go adventure with no one to call for help. My mom died when she was 59. I was 32 and it would be another six years before my daughter Skye was born. I wish they had met.
I remember once sitting on my mom’s lap with my hands wrapped in hers—she looked down and said, “Oh God. These are my mother’s hands.” I didn’t understand the tone of her voice at the time. It was almost a mixture of matter-of-fact sorrow, resignation, and exhaustion. Nearly forty year later I finally understood—completely—as I stood flipping a pancake and there she was--her hand—holding my spatula.
My own reflection even surprises me these days. Sometimes I will pass a window and I will have to do a double take because I think my mom is staring back at me. It makes me laugh.
I am sad sometimes that my mom never got to meet my daughter, but I realize now that her hands have. It’s my mother’s hands I see holding Skye’s hand, or face, or brushing her hair. Folding her granddaughter’s clothes even; it makes me smile.
Mom died with typical regrets of not being a “better mother” no matter how much I would try to convince her otherwise. She did crazy little things that made me feel special. She sewed a box full of Barbie clothes, let me “run away” (to the basement), take apart my bed and put it on the floor, and leave my room a holy mess as long as I shut the door. She also taught me to finger paint on the glass top table, to bake, and how to enjoy summers on the patio.
I’m sorry Mom, but you aren’t remembered for putting me through college, although you did, or for the arguments we had during high school, or for any of those harsh words we may have spoken to each other. You will always be remembered as the woman who set up her own mother’s ancient sewing machine to make teeny tiny jackets, skirts, and dresses for my Barbie. It is all these little things that happened in the course of the days that are my lasting memories of “motherhood”.
Sometimes I even have a dream with my mom in it, and I get to watch her with her granddaughter; her face looks like the mom I had when I was ten—before grey hair, before cancer, before regrets.
As I hold my daughter’s hand I know my mom is here—I see it in my hands. She gets to be a part of Skye’s life by proxy. My hair is now turning grey, and I make mistakes, and Skye’s room is a holy mess, but I try not to have regrets. Thirty years from now, when my daughter notices her hands have started to look like mine, I pray she knows just as I have come to understand, that she has four generations of good hands holding her, guiding her, and loving her—always.
This article originally appeared on May 7, 2013 on The Brown Falcon and each year near Mother's Day it needs to be revisited by me, so here it is :-)