A few weeks ago I wrote about a woman who died in a horrific house fire. Today, as I write, her only child -- her daughter -- is getting married. She is walking down the aisle as I write these words: a beautiful young woman, 27 years old, in the gown she miraculously did not stow at her mother's house. It's possibly the nicest July day on record: blue skies, sun, warm temperatures with a breeze. Tonight, the guests will need light jackets. It's a perfect day.
There is no mother of the bride. And the mother of the groom is in the middle of chemotheraphy and had to miss the rehearsal dinner in order to save her strength for the day today.
Sometimes we wring our hands and ask, Why does this have to happen? Why couldn't things just be perfect...for a little while? Why can't we orchestrate things so that we can have happy times and, when we're feeling strong and in the emotional state to handle it, let in a supersized batch of the bad stuff and get it over with in one fell swoop? Why can't we compartmentalize life so that things feel better?
'Cause we can't. 'Cause we cannot dis-integrate what naturally belongs together. And life, I am starting to see, is an integrated experience, where sorrow sits alongside joy, and brides walk down the aisles and ache from the longing for their mothers, and people die and life goes on and someone honks their horn at you when you're daydreaming in the car and jolts you back on to the road.
'Cause that's how it works.
During the Passover seder we are instructed to give from our cornucopia of plenty to the stranger who has nothing, not even a table at which to sit. A strange pairing: plenty and paucity. Opposites.
Joy and grief. Gratefulness and bitterness. Happiness and sorrow. Pick your pair.
It helps me to think about the integration of feelings. I've spent the past four and a half years in therapy talking with my psychiatrist about the anger I feel towards my parents. And then the segue direct into the conversation about the guilt these feelings produce. How can I talk that way about my parents? Didn't they do the best they could? Didn't they love to the best of their abilities? Why the fuck am I so angry? I shouldn't be, I hear myself say.
Now that my parents are gone, I'm finally starting to get some clarity. Some might say, Oh, too late now. But no, never too late for understanding. Never too late for insight. And, never too late for love.
I love my parents. And I am angry at some of the things they did and didn't do. My father told me once that I am too fat to be attractive and therefore, being unattractive, I am never going to get married and I'll always be alone and I'll never share my life with anyone and always be unhappy. That was a horrible and stupid thing to say. I can finally look at that situation and say, Dad, you were wrong. I love you and you were wrong. I love you and I wish you hadn't said that. I love you and I wish you hadn't thought that. I love you and you weren't perfect. For the record, either am I.
My mother never hugged me, never kissed me, never touched me. She never held me when I cried. She never threw her arm around my shoulder and hugged me to her in solidarity or in love. My mother was physically as cold as stone. She never uttered the words "I love you" until she was a prisoner of her Alzheimer's.
(The irony. Alzheimer's is a horrible disease, no question. But it allowed my mother to let go of her fears and to tell us she loved us and even to kiss the nurses goodnight. I could cry at the thought of it. Alzheimer's also gave my mother the gift of insight. Free of the censor that would have silenced such feelings, my mother decided that her friends back in West Hartford, were, by and large, mean and selfish people who never respected her or treated her kindly. So they weren't invited to her funeral. Wow. Talk about clarity.)
Yes, I love my mother and I wish she had been demonstrative. I love her and I wish she had been affectionate. I love her and I wish she could have allowed herself to tell me that she loved me, too.
I am learning that these complicated feelings are the signs of health. Expressing them feels a bit "out there" -- I am exposing myself in boldly naked prose -- but that's what I set out to do with my writing. To be honest in all that I do. And that honesty becomes possible when the dis-integration stops. Or to be more clear, authenticity exists with integration; in the absence of integration, there can be no authenticity. Compartmentalization keeps myths in business.
I started by writing about a beautiful bride. It is probably one of the happiest days of her life today. And yet it is probably one of the saddest. Both statements are true.
When we live our lives in the knowledge that two opposing feelings can be legitimate, we open ourselves up to much richer, fuller, more authentic and more fulfilling lives.
I am grateful for all that I have in my life and I am lonely for more today. Both are true. I am both.
And it's okay.