Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

It was a Good Year

By most measures, this was not a stellar year. In 2014, my marriage turned rocky, my brother had a stroke, I had a heart event, and now my mother has died.

Death, ill health and relationship struggles dominated, yet I feel fondly toward 2014. “Wasn’t that a nice year,” I find myself thinking. “I hope 2015 is as good.”

Really? From the outside, this doesn’t look like it was such a great year. Heck, I didn’t even lose weight. I’m still hovering at the 150 mark, which is about 15 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. How can I feel optimistic about THIS year?

The thing is, for all its sorrows, 2014 brought significant emotional growth. I am more content and peaceful than I’ve ever been, and it was the challenging events of this year that provided the jet fuel for my rapid progress. (That, and being in my fifties. Did you know that happiness increases dramatically beginning in this decade? I’ll talk about this in another post, but for all you youngsters – it turns out aging is something to look forward to on a LOT of levels.)

ertswed1313I’ve been pretty close-mouthed about my relationship woes. I’ll admit, it’s been a pride thing. I hate providing fodder for all the I-told-you-so’ers, who rolled their eyes when I married a much younger man, whispering behind their hands that it wouldn’t last. (Yes, your comments DID get back to me. Gossips gossip.)

Despite my best intentions, when B and I married, I drifted into some of the same old poor relationship habits. He did the same. As a result, in March we made an almost complete emotional break. We’ve moved to different homes. But over the ensuing months, we’ve discovered that this relationship – whatever it will be – is worth working on. Changing for. We’ve both been doing hard work on ourselves, to be the people we want to be in this and ANY relationship.

I don’t know what ‘we’ will look like when we’re finished. If there will be a ‘we’. But I’m not looking ahead, I’m doggedly focusing on now. Let the future take care of itself. I’ve wasted too many nows worrying about thens. This year, thanks to our relationship crisis, I finally learned to live in the present. Turns out, I am much happier concentrating only on NOW. I have so much more emotional energy for the present when I’m not angsting about the past and anxious about the future.

mikecorinnaIn June, my brother had a stroke. I immediately moved in with Mike & my sis-in-law Corinna, to help and (let’s be honest) to hover. When Michael came home from the hospital, it looked pretty grim. He depended heavily on a walker. He couldn’t hold objects in his left hand. His face drooped. When I left a month later, Mike was walking over a mile a day without assistance – no walker, no cane! His face was symmetrical. He’d lost significant weight, thanks to new, healthy eating habits. He was even recovered enough to do some photography work for me.

I didn’t participate in a tragedy, I witnessed a miracle. I watched Michael take charge of his life; make changes that were needed; show determination and optimism in the face of a terrifying physical event. We can ALWAYS make a new start. It’s never ‘too late’. Our dreams and our life lie ever before us.

Even more importantly, through this event, my brother and I reconnected. We’ve always loved one another, but we’d drifted off into our own busy lives, and hadn’t been close in decades. This brought us back together – Mike, Corinna and me. It rekindled our delight in one another. We rediscovered true family. Became a strong, cohesive team.

mom webWe needed all of that new-found closeness to work cooperatively in helping Mom, who was showing signs of mental decline. We worked together to move her from her house and into an independent living apartment. She went from a life of isolation into one of community. For the first time in years, Mom had regular interaction with others. A social life. Friends.

Then Mom died in a freak accident. How would we have endured if we hadn’t re-established strong ties? But we did, and it’s made ALL the difference. We text and call daily. “How are you doing?” we ask one another. “I love you. I need you. I just wanted you to know.” Our closeness holds us together through this grief. It is a blessing.

My heart event came as a result of years of maintaining ridiculous cortisol levels as I worked too hard, too long, took on more than any reasonable person could possibly manage – in other words, led the typical Amerian life. Then came a kicker event: in October, a job that I thought was going to provide tremendous income for me and for the family members and friends with whom I’d contracted, looked as though it were going to tank. All these people were depending upon me, I thought, and it looked like I was going to let them down.

BOOM. My heart called a time-out. I spent a month wondering if I would need to revise the almost four decades of life I envisioned yet spooled out before me. Would I have mere months or years? Would I have to let go the dreams of 500 mile walking pilgrimages? Of travel to foreign lands? Did I have a future at all?

The tests came back negative. My heart is strong. Chances of another event verge on zero. But I am not immortal, and I do NOT want to spend what hours, days, or decades remain focused on unfulfilling tasks.

So, since October, I’ve published my first book. I’ve started an art project that mixes Spirit and photography. I’ve moved to the helm, rather than the decks, of the exciting new venture that melds ministry and business. And I daily embrace my friends and my family. It’s a good life. It was a good year.

And next year, I’ll get those fifteen pounds off. No, really.


Eulogy for Mom

07atiyeh 48web

Mom & Me, 2007

Mom died on December 7, 2014. She slipped in the shower, hit her temple, and passed immediately. A freak accident. A totally unexpected loss. My last parent – gone.

We held services this Monday, December 15, 2014. My daughter, a Lutheran seminarian, gifted us with lovely liturgical service at the cemetery in the morning, while my brother’s church poured out their love with a beautiful praise service in the afternoon. Nicholas sang at both, and Gabriel and Hanna provided scripture readings. I gave the eulogy. It was a family affair – which is just how Mom would have wanted it.

Here is the eulogy:

“We’ve all seen families torn apart by greed after a family death. Otherwise loving people turn ugly when it comes time for inheritance. Not my brother. As we sat together in Mom’s living room on that terrible day of her passing, his eyes wandered slowly around, and then he spoke. “Cherie, I know that you’ve always wanted it, so it’s yours…

…you can have Mom’s dustbuster.”

Anyone who knew Mom more than five minutes knows that she had a penchant for ‘clean’. One might even gently, and with great love, call it an obsession. And yes, this quirk could be exasperating. But we all have quirks. What Mom also had was a huge heart filled with love for everyone. She expressed it through true Syrian hospitality – which meant that every person who walked through her door was automatically ‘family.’ Welcome. Loved. And expected to eat, and eat a lot.

She was a woman who loved to laugh. She had a great sense of humor (my brother inherited it from her.)  I loved to make her laugh, and did so the last time I talked with her. After I hung up the phone, I told Bryan, “I guess when it comes to our mothers, we never grow up. Robin Williams became a comedian because when he was a little boy, he made his mom laugh, and he wanted to do it again and again. He craved his mother’s approval. And so do I. Still. At age 57, making my mom laugh matters more to me than almost anything else.” It made my day, and I think it made hers, too. I’m glad that’s my last memory of Mom.

Mom was a voracious reader. She especially loved romance novels. She, her sister Lyn and my daughter Ariel traded them around like baseball cards. It was a hobby that drew them close. Mom liked her family to be close. Most of her life centered around family. She loved her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren, and talked often of them. She believed that she was the one who nicknamed Isabelle ‘Izzy’. It tickled her to believe so.


Mom & Me 2008

Speaking of grandchildren. Some of you know that Mom had some mild dementia in the past couple of years. Thinking back, I realize it must have manifested far earlier than I realized: about the time the grandchildren came along. You see, things that were REALLY important to her when Mike & I were growing up suddenly slipped her mind when it came to the grandkids.

For example, when I was a child, I had to have the contents of the refrigerator memorized, because I had about 1.2 seconds to open, grab, and close the door. Any longer, and Mom would be unhappy with me – and she could hear that door from ANY part of the house.

But I remember the day when my youngest, Nicholas, toddled into the kitchen with his cousin, David. They told Grandma they were hungry. She walked them to the refrigerator and opened the door.

“What would you like?” she asked.

“I no know,” Nick replied.

They proceeded to point to EVERY container in that refrigerator. “Whatsat?” they asked. And Mom patiently told them. Over and over. The door was open for at least two minutes. At the time, I wondered who this person was, and what she’d done with my Mom.

On another occasion, David & Eric were terribly ill – vomiting & diarrhea. Corinna was exhausted and ill herself. Mom called, and when she discovered what was going on, she & Dad went over there, packed the up kids, and brought them back to her home – brought these ultimate mess machines into her tidy home – and cared for them until they – and Corinna – were well.

Mom 2014

Mom 2014

So, either an alien abduction/swap thing happened, or Mom was a bit confused even back then. Or I suppose it could have been her extravagant love for her grandchildren.

Mom was a very organized person. She worked as a bookkeeper for United Grocers for many years. She helped me with my filing and books when I first started my photography studio. I also asked her to write my thank-you notes to my clients, because her hand writing was beautiful. I think it was a peek into the artistic person that lived inside.

I was far into adulthood before I saw much of that side of my mother. I learned that she was a bit of a rebel in her teen years. For example, in the mid-1950’s, cashmere sweaters were ‘the’ fashion statement, but my grandparents were very thrifty people, and didn’t approval of frivolous spending. Mom was undeterred. She would buy a new sweater, leave it in the bottom of her drawer for a month, and then wear it.

“Is that a new sweater?” my grandmother would ask.

“No, Mom,” she would reply. “I’ve had it for a long time.” She didn’t lie to her parents, but she was creative!

Some of you may not know that Dad was not my biological father. My mom eloped with a sailor at age 17 (he was barely 18.) I found a copy of the marriage certificate – she lied about her age! The witnesses were two of her best high school friends. I occasionally heard stories about the antics of these three girls, but this was their most madcap adventure.

Mom & Dad's wedding day

Mom & Dad’s wedding day

Like many adventures, it was ill-advised. She returned to my grandparent’s home two or three years later with me in tow. Then she met Dad, who bore a striking resemblance to a Marlboro man, married him, had another child, and happily lived her life.

Dad adored Mom. He loved this sometimes irascible, exotic beauty. To the day of his death, he treated her like his own fairy princess. When Dad died, a big part of Mom died, too. I don’t think she ever really recovered.

Her passing is way too soon. My family is extraordinarily long-lived, and I expected another decade or two to enjoy her. It reminds me to appreciate everyone now, in this moment, because there is no guarantee of future moments. I loved my mom, and I know you all did, too. I will miss her. Oh, how I will miss her.”

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