family, mental health, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…How Do You Sing Your Song?

Any mention of the date September 11th triggers memories of the moment our lives were forever changed. Certainly, for my generation, it was our day that will live in infamy.

I vividly remember the night of 9/11 and the days that followed. The waves of fear that rolled through every attempt to reach family and friends who were potentially in the air that morning, or who were undeniably in New York, DC or stranded abroad, had us holding our breath through those disturbing unchartered waters.

Once we learned “our people” were safe, we were entombed with empathetic grief for so many that wondered, worried, feared and knew.

After what was, admittedly, a completely inappropriate amount of time, I asked my husband how this might impact our planned vacation to Disney World that was to take place in three weeks time.

After a more appropriate amount of time (two days) Pat called the Disney resort and was told they would offer us a full refund or allow us to rebook anytime without penalty. As planes were returning to the air, we struggled to decide what to do.

I talked about our quandary with a friend who also happens to be an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. I shared with him my concern and worry. He replied by saying, “Katie, you need to live your life as if it is a song to G-d.”

(He actually said the word “God” but in deference to the Jewish tradition of utmost respect, I’m typing it the way he would.)

He continued saying, “Every day, you must sing your song in the very best way you can. I knew of a man who was afraid to travel to Israel for the High Holidays because of the unrest in the region, so, instead, he was sitting at his desk in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit.”

He implored me to take an active role in my destiny and to, “Live your life as if it was a song to G-d, every single day.”

So, despite offers of full refunds, Pat and I hopped on a plane with our girls to the Magic Kingdom where we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Mickey and Minnie were on a first name basis with Maddie and Clare by the end of the long weekend.

October 5, 2001, in the eerie middle of Main Street USA. Disney World was a ghost town

That memory and the life lesson associated with it — living your life as if it were a song to God — has been in the forefront of my mind over the past few months.

Am I doing that?  Living my life as if it is a song to God? What about the people I love? Are they? And, if so, what are the lyrics of our songs saying about who we are and what is important to us?

Earlier this year, I realized my song had taken on a much more melancholy tune and, try as I might, I couldn’t shake it. My life is blessed with family and friends who I know would do anything for me…as I would for them. I have so much for which I am grateful, and yet, I couldn’t unshackle myself from this pervading gloom. So I turned to a doctor for help; much like I would have if my symptoms were elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels. And as a result of her care, I feel as though, once again, my song is one of hope and happiness, curiosity and contentment.

I thought about this very thing when I learned of Kate Spade’s suicide, and now Anthony Bourdain. How did their songs become so dark and painful that they could no longer manage the burden?

So much is written about the mental health crisis in our nation. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. The CDC reported yesterday that US suicide rates have increased more than 25% since 1999.

The loss of these bright lights and so many others whose deaths may not have captured headlines have left behind loved ones with immeasurable pain rooted in the depths of their hearts.   And they have left everyone wondering what can be done.

The article linked here from the Huffington Post offers great direction about how to talk about suicide in a way that is actually helpful.

And, while it may sound trite to some, we can listen to my Rabbi’s advice. Live your life as if it is a song to God. If your song has taken on an atypical dark and bluesy tone that is impacting how you look at the world, then that is a sign it’s time to reach out for help to change the melody or rework the lyrics.

We also must continue to be more aware of changes to the songs others are singing. When that happens, as it has many times over the course of my brother’s life, we search for a new song with counselors as composers and psychiatrists as lyricists…whatever it takes to just keep singing.

2,997 lives were lost on September 11th in an act of terrorism that changed our lives forever. In 2016, there were 44,965 deaths by suicide. Read that number again. 44,965 excruciating acts of desperation that should also change our lives forever. We should, through our words and deeds, aim to ensure that the legacy of those lives lost to suicide is one of hope and peace, honest discourse aimed at ending stigma, inviting comfort and living our lives as if they were a song to God.

We are stronger together. And so is our song.

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family, Uncategorized

The Working Title is…What’s My Noun?

Last night, I watched a television show where the characters were discussing their gender neutral, genderfluid, nonbinary self-identification and the pronouns with which they associate.

My head was swimming just watching the scene, and I was comforted by the fact that the lead actor’s lines were reflective of how I was feeling…attempting to be respectful but utterly confused.

When I turned off the tv, my thoughts went much the same way of that scene; totally focused on self. Except for my attempt at self-definition didn’t dig deep enough into the grammatical categories to even hit pronoun. I’m stuck on noun. And I’m reminded of that every year on the second Sunday of May.

When I entered the world, a doctor presumably announced my noun as girl to a woman, or maybe a teenager, who made the selfless decision to place me up for adoption. For the next six months, my noun was foster child until I was welcomed into my parents’ home and my noun became daughter and sister.

Two and a half decades later, my noun also became wife. And four months before I was to give my Mom the opportunity to claim the noun grandmother, she died. Suddenly and unexpectedly, so much of how I defined myself was gone as well.

As my girls grew up, I always noted that when they would ask about my childhood, they would refer to “Grandpa and your Mom” as my Mom never took on the proper noun of Grandma. And if there were anyone in this world who would have savored that proper noun and all that comes with it, it would have been Mary Anne Barthel.

The last picture I took with my Mom. I’m four months pregnant with Maddie. My mom died four weeks later.

In the years that followed my mom’s death, the second weekend in May was heartbreaking for me. I would stand in the Mother’s Day section of the Hallmark store holding back tears with varying degrees of success. I would mourn not only the loss of her words of wisdom, her contagious giggle or the safety of her warm, healing, empowering hugs, but also, and even perhaps more painful, I mourned all the joy on which she was missing out; what she would have done with that proper noun and the impact it would have had on my world.

I was daughter first. I was daughter for such a long time. It was so much of how I defined myself. And it took my husband to point out to me that my overwhelming grief, while real and understandable, was not fair to my children who, much like I did, savor their definition as daughters.

And, thus became the tradition of the Mother’s Day nap. It was my fifth Mother’s Day that Pat put me to bed after brunch and said, “It’s ok to be sad, but don’t let it take away from their joy of celebrating you.” So I would wallow for about an hour, and invariably, during that time, I would end up counting my blessings.

The blessing of having a great mom, albeit for far too short a time. The blessing of having a great dad who tried admirably to fill the gap and provide love enough for both of them. The blessing of a great husband who also happened to be my best friend. The blessing of his family who welcomed me as one of their own. And the blessing of two healthy, happy, exceptional daughters who have given my life joy and meaning through the most wonderful noun, mother.

On Sunday, I will pray for the women who also struggle with grief…the grief of losing a mother or the unimaginable grief of losing a child.

I will pray for the women who are desperate to accept the noun of mother yet life’s circumstances hold that at bay.

I will pray for the courageous, selfless women who know in their hearts that they are not equipped to accept the noun of mother, and so they show their love by embracing the noun birth mother and charting another path for the life they brought into this world.

I will pray for women estranged from their mother or daughter or sister or friend to find the courage to take the first step if repair to the relationship is possible.

And I will pray with tremendous thanksgiving for the mothers and daughters who, through their love and kindness, embrace all the nouns I identify as today.   I will focus on gratitude, counting my blessings and letting joy soothe my grief.

A few years after the nap tradition began, I was visiting Syracuse and went to the cemetery with my Dad and my daughters to plant flowers at my Mom’s gravesite. As my Dad walked away to fill up the watering can, I turned to see my older daughter, Maddie, with her head bowed and hands folded in prayer. I was moved to tears, and could only imagine what my Mom was thinking looking down from heaven on this blessed scene. Certainly, she was sharing in the great pride I was feeling over my obvious exceptional parenting skills.

And then I turned to see my youngest, Clare, probably five at the time, perched atop the headstone and tracing the letters carved into the stone. She looked up at me, her face somehow covered in potting soil and said, “Hey, what’s the dead girl’s name again?” I could hear heavenly peals of laughter as I lifted her down and said, “Ummm, you mean Grandma?”

What can a noun radiate?

Laughter. Wisdom. Patience. Kindness. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Encouragement. Love.

xoxo Happy Mother’s Day xoxo

kmp

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