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ATONEMENT October 3, 2014

UnionPrayerBook(Oct2014)“We cast into the depths of the sea
Our sins, and failures, and regrets.
Reflections of our imperfect selves
Flow away.
What can we bear,
With what can we part?
We upturn the darkness,
Bring what is buried to light.
What hurts still lodge,
What wounds have yet to heal?
We empty our hands,
Release the remnants of shame,
Let go fear and despair
That have dug their home in us.
Open hands,
Opening heart –
The year flows in,
The year flows out.”
~ Marcia Falk

+ + + + +

This poem was part of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services I attended with my father in Nashville nine days ago. And today marks the final 24 hours of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins at sunset.

The intensity of this poem truly captures the depth of inner work that Jews approach each year at this time. The new year comes first, then a ritual of casting away obstacles, then a period of forgiveness – offered and requested – and finally, Yom Kippur. Tonight’s and tomorrows prayers, reflections and fasting bring us to neutral, gift us with a blank slate. We step forward with healthy, peaceful, loving intentions after having done our best at releasing past transgressions – committed by and against us.

Phew! Like I said: intense. In 12-Step Recovery, there is a similar process. And in many spiritual traditions, there are processes of examining our behaviors, discovering their roots/motivations, making amends, and, forgiving ourselves and others.

SOMETIMES, THE GREATEST AMENDS AND THE DEEPEST FORGIVENESS ARE OWED TO OUR SELVES…

For me, this was one of those years. Yes, I made mistakes in my actions toward others; and I did my best to process, understand, take action about them. There is a bit more work to be done there; and it will be done promptly.

However, reflections this week have led me to a certain “blueness.” Not depression, not remorse. But grief. Grief of years lost to unhealthy, toxic, harmful and self-destructive behavior. This fall – right now – marks the 25th anniversary of my darkest descent into alcoholism’s painful grip…25 years ago, I was in the midst of the worst time of my life. It’s heartbreaking to recall how much I harm I did to myself, how little honor I had for life, how badly I wanted to die.

No details. Not here. Not yet…

So today, I am reflecting back and also standing right here, in this present moment. After September’s Yoga Class Focus of GROWTH…well, I’d say that I have grown a lot this past month! And as I prepare for Yom Kippur’s 24-hour rally, I am setting the following Sankalpa (an intention of deep resolve and purpose, stated as if it is already happening):

I DEEPLY LOVE AND FORGIVE MYSELF.

Because today, 25 years after not even knowing the meaning of these words, I truly do love and forgive myself.

I wish this for you, too.

THANK YOU for being a part of this beautiful life. You help me know that I am loved, accepted, understood, supported and cared for.

LOVE TO ALL. ShalOM Shanti.
(Book was a gift from my dad – one of my family’s original prayer books for the High Holy Days.)

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My Father Is My Super Hero June 13, 2014

DadHighSchoolHunk(June2014)

High School Hunk And Super Hero In Training

My mother is my Guru.  And my father is my Super Hero.

You may have read my blog about Mom being my greatest teacher.  I’ve re-posted it on her birthday, her death anniversary and Mother’s Day…

Why have I not celebrated Dad in a blog?  The man has supported me – carried me, really – through so many things. Our bond is deep, and our love is strong. Particularly now…

It’s time.

*  *  *

Memory #1: I’m just a little kid, transitioning from taking baths, and learning how to take showers. I’m terrified of getting water in my eyes, and extremely sensitive to the cold. Our hot water heater is small; so short showers are essential – as is not using hot water elsewhere in the house while someone’s in the shower (i.e. doing laundry, washing dishes, simultaneously showering in another bathroom). It’s winter. I’m alone in the shower, and the water goes cold. I howl out in pain. Somewhere out in the house, I hear my father yelling at someone. Then the bathroom door opens – Dad to the rescue! He wraps me in a dryer-warmed, fluffy towel and sits me next to the heater, which he’s cranked-up to high. He leaves, shuts the door to keep in the warmth, and goes out to yell some more.

Memory #2: It’s summer. I’m probably about, oh, 8 or 9 years old. Dad and I are in the back yard, by the gazebo that he is building by hand, from scratch. He’s trying to get a nasty knot out of a piece of tangled rope. He’s failing and extremely frustrated. He growls, “Damn it,” throws down the rope, and stomps inside the house. Holly to the rescue! I pick up the rope, patiently un-do the knot, and take it to my father.

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Memory #3: As a pre-teen, I start to sense my father’s immense frustration with my mom’s alcoholism. And, having witnessed Dad’s grief when his sister – my beloved Aunt Jeannie – died from cirrhosis of the liver, I try to make my mom stop drinking. It’s Friday evening. The family is getting ready to go to synagogue for Sabbath services. My mom makes a gin martini to take with her in the car. I spill it out in the kitchen sink. She slaps my face. I sit next to my father in silence for the rest of the night.

Memory #4: In very early childhood, I overhear my parents arguing about money. My father says that, if I had not been born, they would not have financial problems. I would not recall this event – plus the fact that I was an unplanned child – until adulthood, during therapy. For most of my life, this “core wound” had subconsciously shaped my negative self-image as an unwanted problem, plus, engrained my own financial problems. My father is not at fault; he is not a bad person. Such fights are normal between parents under great stress of hardship. My father spoke out of frustration; and he didn’t know I could hear. The kicker? For decades during my own active alcoholism and through tough times in sobriety, my father would give me money (adding up to a great amount in total) – ignoring his own limitations, enabling my pattern of financial instability and reinforcing my “core wound.” Again – nobody’s the bad guy in this unfortunate twist of family dysfunction. The outcome? A bittersweet emotional and financial dependence that would leave both my father and me depleted…

DadHollyNashville(June2013)

Dad & Me, Nashville, Father’s Day 2013

Memory #5: June, 2013. I find out that my father has serious financial challenges. Having accepted so much from him over the years, I immediately blame myself. Although one of my sisters assures me that it’s not my fault, and encourages me not to take the blame, I still feel partially responsible. That Father’s Day, I visit Nashville to observe how Dad’s doing in general, and discover that his dementia is worsening. I decide that if my DC job search continues to yield rejections, I will move closer to help Dad with his finances and his life until he passes on. I move to Nashville in September – without savings, and without a job. I live on loans from friends while trying to secure work. Nothing materializes. While I spend time managing and improving my father’s finances, my own are crushing me with worry. Family dysfunction rears its ugly head, and due to irrational decisions beyond my control, I am legally removed from my father’s affairs. I return to DC to start from scratch…celebrating some victories on behalf of my dad, but completely broken, inside and out – and, heartbroken at leaving my beloved father.

These scenarios sum up Dad’s and my relationship – two people trying to save each other, amid a backdrop of historical family dysfunction, hardship and stress. Not the healthiest dynamic, we know.

Still, we love each other more than anything in the world. And love is rich with mistakes and forgiveness, imperfection and acceptance. Dad’s and my love is messy, for certain – but it’s our mess.

*  *  *

My father is my Super Hero.

He once blamed me for the family’s money problems. He enabled me financially for decades. And through his enabling, he rescued me from dying.

On Easter Day 1990, I floated around the French Quarter in a soul-shining haze of gratitude for life. Days before, I’d stumbled around my New Orleans neighborhood in a drug-induced haze from a botched suicide attempt – my 2nd in one week.

I’d become unemployable, and was spending most of my days in the same pattern: Wake up with a stranger and drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my dad’s Exxon credit card. Make my way to the French Quarter, buying a quart of cheap tequila on the way. Sit on a curb, eat 7-11 sandwiches, drink out of a paper bag and listen to street musicians. At the end of the day, go drinking with the street musicians. Take one home. Wake up the next morning and start over.

Little did he know…my father was financing this debauchery. Had he not, I’d probably be dead. Despite living dangerously, I had my own apartment, control over its key, and, a car with gas in it and a phone in the case of emergencies. I had money for food, and money for booze. I didn’t have to ask strangers for help, and I didn’t have to live on the streets.

Still, I was clearly lost. And compulsively stuffing a lifetime of unaddressed trauma  (results of family hardship and addiction-related events) into a tequila bottle did not remedy the internal self-loathing and defeatist thoughts. So I decided to give up. Twice in one week, I combined as many substances as I could buy and steal, and went to sleep hoping to not wake up – yielding failure both times. Apparently, suicide was not meant to be. The 2nd time, I resigned to stick around and spent the next 12 years seeking the desire to live. I would still drink alcoholically; I would still depend on my father’s money; I would still leave jobs, men, friendships; I would still jump all over the map trying to run from myself; I would still end up living at home at times; I would still battle with my internal negatives.

Simultaneously, new influences started to chip away at my self-reliance, avoidance and denial.

On October 22, 2002, at age 37, 12.5 years after that Easter awakening and six months after my mother died from complications related to alcoholism, I crawled into the rooms of 12-step recovery. I started to pick up the pieces of 26 years of active addiction, and began my current journey of holistic healing through yoga, recovery, therapy and other wonderful resources, responsible living, and, amends for past mistakes.

I called my dad that afternoon. “I just went to my first meeting,” I told him. “Good,” he answered, exhaling, with a tone of relief in his voice.

He did know.

*  *  *

Moving to Nashville meant the chance to pay a great debt to my father. Or so I thought.

Despite what happened – the financial ruin, family conflict and emotional depletion – I am grateful for those seven months (what I now call a “successful fact-finding mission”). In fact – due to all that happened, I had the opportunity to see the big picture clearly, to face the facts of my relationships with my siblings, to discover the reality of my father’s financial patterns, to redefine my relationship with him, to enjoy a major emotional breakthrough, and, to embrace a new way of thinking.

Those negative stories associated with my “core wound?” False. I am not an unwanted problem. The happy ending to this story? IT’S NOT MY FAULT.

Hitting my own financial, emotional and spiritual bottom during my attempt to “save my dad” actually saved me. So again, in a roundabout way, Dad rescued me. Had I never gone to Nashville to face his and my financial realities, patterns and mistakes, I would have never been freed of that debilitating “core wound.”

Amazingly, since planning my move from Nashville back to DC, I am no longer paralyzed by negative thoughts when trying to apply for jobs. I no longer feel a shameful, guilt-ridden debt toward my father. I know what I owe him – and that is LOVE.

Liberated, I have moved into a fresh, new phase, uninhibited by false beliefs that used to paralyze me and squash any chance for adult development. I am embracing life with more passion than ever, rediscovering true connections with friends, cultivating community in my beloved hometown…and…working my ass off!

Dad has always been my consistent source of encouragement, faith and unconditional acceptance. He’s been my champion, my cheerleader. I can’t tell you how many times he’s said, “Don’t let it get you down!” when the hard knocks hit. He has always, constantly told me how much he loves me, how much he believes in me. So now, when I call him to consistently report good news about work and life, he is thrilled.

I’m finally growing up.

*  *  *

Let me tell you how much one grows up while spending the prime years of adulthood drinking reality away: Not at all. Addiction leaves no room for personal and emotional growth. Today, at nearly 12 years sober, I’m still undoing old patterns, making up for past mistakes…and…committing new ones. The difference now? I am aware, accountable and willing to take action to change.

I typically don’t spend a lot of time defending myself, because I have faith in my character. Still, I will say this:

Some may believe that my father’s current state of financial woes and related issues is all my fault. Those people can have their blame game, their misdirected anger and their battles. I’ll take no part. I know exactly how I contributed to my father’s current condition; and I now know the other factors at play. I am not the problem. I am a daughter that shows up, that accepts responsibility, that would do anything for her father – just as he did for me. Over many years of feeling that I “owe him” for giving to me so freely, I’ve taken action to serve him however possible – by sharing life with him, cleaning and cooking during visits, spending quality time, and, showing my love for him in many ways.

I have grown to feel completely at peace with my sincere efforts, and plan to continue them, along with direct financial amends, as soon as I am able. I’m saying this here, now, with all as my witness.

And that, my friends, is the end of my explanation and defensiveness about this issue. Let’s move on…

*  *  *

DadCereal

The Man Today, Relaxing, After 80+ Years Of Leaping Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

Have you ever noticed that, when the Super Hero swoops in to rescue the distressed victims, she or he never asks: “So, what happened, guys? Why are you in so much trouble?” That selfless hero just plucks ‘em up, no questions asked.

Over and over, my dad jumped into fires, hot water and quicksand to pull me out. He saved me – whether or not I deserved to be saved, and whether or not it was healthy for me…or him.

Someday I will tell you more about how my father positively influenced my life, my diverse cultural yearnings, my commitment to good health, my career direction and more. How he’s the guy behind my percussion talents, my yoga class music choices and my love for Washington, DC.

But the most notable way my father influenced my life? He once regretted my birth; and then he saved me from dying. And most recently – after seven months of tough truths, humbling honesty, stressful interaction and unconditional love…after coming full circle in our relationship and shedding old stories that no longer serve us – he reawakened my passion for life. Finally, I can absorb all those years that – in addition to supporting me financially – he heroically scooped me up, kept me warm and held me high.

I love you, Dad. More than I can express. You are, and always will be, my Super Hero.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all. OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Peace, Peace, Peace.

*  *  *

(Note: I read this piece to my father before publishing it; and we cried together out of love and respect. He approved publication. Also Note: Whenever I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even historically, way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)

 

 

 

I Didn’t Expect To Cry Today September 11, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,mental health,News,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 8:40 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I figured, “Eleven years…I probably won’t cry this time around.”

But here I am, an hour away from teaching a noon corporate class, weeping as if it were 2003.  Wait – weeping as if it were 2003?  But 9/11 happened in 2001.

*  *  *

I am not going to recount every moment of my 9/11 morning.  To summarize – it hit hard.  I did cry.  A lot.  Here in DC, we were in utter chaos.  For me, fear was not a great factor.  I would say I was too shocked to feel much at all.  And my worry for others was through the roof.

Especially for Michael.

Michael Rodriquez was special to me.  He was a New York musician, gifted in the folkloric music of Cuba and the sacred music of Santeria.  When he visited DC, my life would fire up with an energy beyond my own.  After 9/11, he started calling me every afternoon.  He felt sick, he needed to drink more wine, he was paranoid, he was afraid to seek help.  Michael had worked at one of the Wall Street banks; and on that horrible day, instead of running away from Ground Zero, he stood paralyzed, watching people jump to their deaths from the Towers.

On October 1st, 2001, his mother called to say that he was dead.  After a trip to the hospital for a myriad of ailments, Michael had died from heart failure while sleeping.  He was 23 years old.

When I got off the phone, I howled with pain.  When I called my gal friends to tell them what happened, I screamed my tears.  Yes, indeed – I cried.  And then I stopped.

At the viewing that day, I was perfectly composed.  I drove from DC to NY; I showed up for everyone else; I recommended breathing techniques, meditations and Bach Flower Remedies.  I ritualized Michael’s death, gracefully honoring him with chants and prayers.

And then I shut my feelings off.

*  *  *

Today I know this as “spiritual bypass.”  Meaning, instead of healthily processing the loss, I skipped forward to a seemingly spiritual solution.

Over the next seven months after 9/11, 2001:

  • another musician friend would die in a freak accident, days before Christmas;
  • the woman who trained me to take over her job at Discovery en Español would commit suicide in March;
  • my father would encounter his 1st major illness, also in March;
  • and on April 13th, 2002, my mother would die.

And each time, I cried at first, turned the situation into a big “spiritual” ceremony – and then turned off my emotions.

I was well-practiced at this habit!  About a decade (or so) before, in Spring of 1990, I’d hit a very serious physical, emotional and spiritual bottom.  At that time, I was drinking morning, noon and night.  Simply – the conditions and challenges of my life had led me to that pattern.  I should have died.  I wanted to die.  I tried to die.  But I did not die.

In a frustrated fit of resignation (NOT surrender, folks – sheer resignation), I decided that if I had to stick around on this earth, I needed to feel better.  So I would control my drinking.  And my emotions.  And my spirituality.

Over the next 12 years, I: drank less; ate a fairly natural/clean diet; practiced yoga; saw a therapist; tried pretty a variety of spiritual or religious ways of life; associated with people who seemed to feel and act how I wanted to feel and act.  I also: moved around the country, from DC to New Orleans to Austin to Florida to DC to Arizona to DC; moved from group house to apartment to group house to apartment in each city; changed jobs numerous times; broke hearts; got my heart broken; almost go my jaw broken; and so on.

You get the picture.

I remained lost – these efforts were desperate and immature, and my insides were not changing.  By September of 2001, life had become more and more about me being in control.  I had taken the reigns.  Spirituality became me “praying for” (aka demanding) what I wanted.  Difficult or uncomfortable feelings were stuffed.  Although I was not drinking morning, noon and night as in the years before 1990, I was increasingly turning to alcohol and emotional shut-down during tough times.

After 9/11 and Michael’s death, I did not drink.  After Heather’s pre-Christmas death, I did not drink.  Yet.  After New Year’s Eve, I started buying beer to drink at home.  When Barbara killed herself, I had some wine.  When my father became ill, I bought two bottles of wine to share with my sister and polished off most of it.  But when my mom died in April 2002, I did not drink.

My mom died of alcoholism.

Over that summer, I drank very infrequently.  On 9/11, 2002, I planned to go to a sports bar to watch the Yankees game and memorial ceremony.  I would just have dinner.  I would not drink.  I felt it would be dishonorable, given the occasion.  Watching the broadcast, I became emotional.

I ordered a beer and stopped crying.

The next day, I felt remorse – my truest intention was to stay sober.  And at that point, my body was sending me signals that alcohol had taken its toll in those previous years – even when I drank one beer, my pancreas screamed in pain.  I yearned to stop completely, but I could not.  Worst of all, I wanted to change my life.  I wanted to be honorable.  I wanted to be responsible.  I wanted to be stable.  Yet I kept falling into the same unhealthy physical, emotional and spiritual patterns.

*  *  *

On October 22nd, 2002, I had what I hope was my last drink.  I finally surrendered.  I accepted help, and with that help, I have stayed sober nearly 10 years.  With that change came the resolution to not drown or stuff or avoid emotions.

So on 9/11, 2003 – my 1st sober anniversary of the event – I cried.  And cried.  And cried.

I did not drink away the pain.  I did not stuff the feelings.  I began learning how to grieve healthily.  And I started to process that season of losses – from 9/11 and Michael, to my friends’ and mom’s deaths – with the honor and emotion they deserved.  With the humanness and acceptance that I deserved.

*  *  *

Today – 9/11, 2012 – I am weeping as if it were 2003.  I will allow the grief to surface, and soften, and surface, and soften.  I will pray, meditate, practice.  I will honor this process healthily.

And I will not drink.

I dedicate my day, my practice and my heart to the memory of Michael Rodriguez.  If I could have a fraction of the fire, passion, “joie de vivre” and outright silliness that Michael had in his life – and brought to mine – I would be a lucky gal.  I love you, Michael.

In addition, I dedicate my day, practice and heart to all of the loves and losses of my life.  After all –

What is life,
What is love,
What is loss?
One and the same.
Onward.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

My Mother is My Guru November 2, 2011

Mom’s been on my mind a lot lately.

And y’know, it makes sense.  I’ve been singing a lot (my mother taught me to sing).  It’s Autumn (October 2nd would have been her 81st birthday).  Thanksgiving is approaching (my family celebrated our last holiday season with Mom 10 years ago).  And I recently celebrated my 9th year clean and sober (my mom died as a result of long-term alcoholism).

I miss her.  I miss her right now.

Nearly a decade after her death, she still taps me on the shoulder at times.  She taps me when I’m playing percussion with bands, chanting devotional prayers at Kirtans, singing Gospel standards at open mics and lighting the Chanukah candles.  She taps me when my yoga instructor asks me to think of my most important life teacher.  She tapped me this morning while I was meditating.  She taps me when I’m pruning plants or arranging flowers.  She taps me when I’m decorating my home.  She taps me when I’m cooking a soup.

There are times when I reach out to tap her, too.  To hear her opinion.  To ask for her embrace.  To thank her for my life.  To apologize for any harm I did to her.  To grieve the pain of her life.  To send her the love she deserves.

I didn’t always love my mom the way I came to love her later in my life…later in her life…and then after she died.

*  *  *

I’m about to tell you some very personal and difficult stories.  Some are smiling and shiny; some are gritty and rough.  All are bittersweet.  I’ve selected these stories because they specifically prove that, indeed, my mother is the greatest Guru ever.  For me.

When I was young I hated my mother for being an alcoholic.  As an adult, I would learn more about the disease of alcoholism and honor the tragedy of her life.  But while growing up, I simply resented how drunk she got.   I was constantly afraid that my friends and the community would see her drunk; and because they frequently saw her, I was frequently embarrassed.  One time I spilled out the drink that she intended to take in the car on our way to Shabbat services – and she slapped me.  It was a gin martini.  To this day, I cannot stomach the smell of gin.

There were times when she came through as a great mother.  She was a hard worker, had full-time jobs, and did not drink during the day.  She truly wanted to show up, and when she could, she did.   But what I understand now is that her efforts to parent were overshadowed by the neglect.  In the end, alcohol always won her attention and became her priority.  Spill it out, and you became a threat.  So I learned to keep a distance.

*  *  *

During my college years, I grew to appreciate my mother.  My attitude shifted after I took my family to see a friend’s concert.  The next day at lunch, my friend said, “It was great to meet your mom.  For the longest time, I thought she’d died before we met.  You always talked about your dad – you never mentioned your mom.”  Whoa.  I had no idea I’d erased her so completely.  And then my friend said, “Y’know, you get a lot from her.”  I was so pissed off!  I argued, “No way, I have nothing in common with her!”  So he stated the obvious, judging by what I had told him in the rare instances of speaking about my mom, and his impression the night before.  She grew up singing; music is her passion; she gravitates toward soul music; she loves talking with other musicians; and, she was so comfortable backstage – it was the most natural place she could be.

That day, I surrendered my resentment and admitted that my mother had been an ally and soul-mate all along.  Clearly, I got a lot from her!  The passion for music, for soulful cultures, for gardening, for cooking, for interior design, for spirituality.  My mother taught me to sing, primarily through chanting the Sh’ma, a Jewish prayer, in harmony.

My mother did so much to inspire and encourage creativity.  Every morning, she’d have her coffee and cigarette while listening to WMAL-AM, when it was a jazz station.  Over breakfast I was exposed to the music that my mom had sung in talent shows and concerts – great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and more.  Although a blue eyed farm girl from the capitol of country music, my mom gravitated toward jazz and gospel.  In fact, I have her 1948 song book of Negro Spirituals.  This immersion in soulful music influenced me to write my own songs and perform them at my parents’ frequent parties.  Mom enrolled me in voice lessons.  On beach trips, she’d blast the radio and we’d all sing along.  She invited my high school New Wave band to hold a house concert.  When I was a little older, my drummer boyfriend invited me to tour California with his band – Dad said a firm “no” but Mom fought for me.  (I went to Cali.)  And so on.

At the same time, many opportunities were missed.  For example, there was a lot of self-taught musicianship and talent that was never deepened with consistent instruction or plans for ongoing development.  I do regret this and often feel that music education might have been my best choice for college.  Looking back, I don’t blame my mom for any of this, because I am certain she would have guided me in that direction if she could have.  I blame the disease of alcoholism.

*  *  *

As my mom became progressively ill, my love for her grew immensely.  Alcoholism and related troubles continued to take its toll in more serious ways.  In her 60s, Mom had cancer three times.  On the outside, she remained the strong-willed woman who could get through anything.  She continued planting gardens, harvesting herbs, cooking from scratch, building an art studio in her bedroom, doing crafts, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, drinking gin.

But there were points where I witnessed her heartbreaking vulnerability.  With each cancer, my mother never completely healed – more and more complications arose.  She became scared.  I once heard her crying in bed the night before one of her many surgeries.  When she was diagnosed with emphysema, she quit smoking and remarked with self-disgust, “I could have done that a long time ago.”  She would willingly try my yoga and diet suggestions, but was so sick that she’d end up feeling worse.  Toward the end, I remember laying next to her tired body on yet another day that she woke up with a “bug” that left her vomiting and weakened.  I will never forget the terror in her eyes when I urged her to go to the hospital.  Perhaps she knew she was dying and wanted to stay at home as long as possible.

That was Thanksgiving, 10 years ago.  I think the family dinner included Mom, Dad, two of my sisters, three of their kids and me.  That night, in my mom’s art studio, I drew an abstract of the scene.  My mother and father were angels at the heads of the table – Mom’s garden spade and a green vine enveloped us on one side; Dad’s cigar and its smoke on the other.  To me, both the vine and the smoke represented protection.  I sensed it was Mom’s last Thanksgiving.  I was right.

*  *  *

After my mom died, I developed a deep, knowing compassion for her.  Interestingly enough, I got sober six months after her death.  I’d started drinking at age 11, to calm the childhood chaos and hush the deep resentments.  Twenty five years later, as I came to understand the cunning, baffling and powerful disease that nearly killed me, I also came to understand the disease that succeeded in killing my mom.  Listening to other recovering alcoholics’ speak, I heard my mom’s story.  I saw how the disease had destroyed her life and consequently affected mine.  And I loved her even more.

My greatest awakening about my mom’s life came about four years ago.  By complete surprise, I found out that she had a child before meeting my father.  Stories said that she’d been hanging out with musicians in her native Nashville, might have been drinking, might have been raped…and ended up pregnant.  Her parents sent her away, to a “home for women” in DC.  The home arranged the birth and subsequent adoption.  They say that Mom was so angry, she never forgave her parents.  And so I found yet another thing that my mother and I had in common – we both drank to kill life’s pain and drown our resentments.

The biggest difference is: I got lucky and got sober; she did not.  I take that very, very seriously.

*  *  *

So yes, my mother is my Guru.  Throughout all the phases of my relationship with her – dead and alive – she has been my most influential teacher.  She teaches me with the light, and she teaches me from the darkness.  She teaches me through what she did, and what she would/could/did not do.  Her influence drives my passions and my purpose.

I love everything about her.  The singing lessons, the slaps, the strong will, the vulnerability.  She is the ultimate model of the perfectly imperfect human that I strive to be.

It’s taken me a day to write this.  I started when I finished meditating this morning.  I stopped and started and stopped and started again.  I cried my heart out.  There’s so much more than what you’ve read above, so many more experiences and stories, so much more grief and love.

*  *  *

Back in 2009, I went on tour with a folk-pop band and I took along a photo of my mom.  I’ve heard that the picture was taken in DC, at the women’s home, some time after she had the baby. She is beautiful and glamorous; she is too thin and her eyes look cold; she stands tall and her hands fumble with each other self-consciously. So I wanted to take this version of her on this exciting musical journey. Every night before I went to sleep, I lit a candle and thanked my mom.  I now play percussion and sing sacred chants in an all-female Kirtan group.  I’ve noticed that Kirtan leaders and spiritual teachers typically create an altar with a picture of their Guru.  Coming full circle, I can think of no one more perfect to place on my altar than the woman who sang Hebrew prayers with me, every night at bedtime.

Good night, Mom.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Oh Death April 15, 2010

“Well what is this that I can’t see, with ice-cold hands takin’ hold of me?”  – Traditional Folk Song

I’ve got Ralph Stanley’s rendition of “Oh Death” in one ear and cheesy music-on-hold in the other, as I wait for a Southwest Airlines phone agent.  I’m wondering if I can make it to a funeral in Nashville ASAP.  My Uncle Bill passed away yesterday.  On the 8th anniversary of my mom’s – his sister’s – death.

The automated voice says I have 22 to 35 minutes to wait for an SWA agent.  So I guess I’ll continue listening to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and write a blog.

(And as always, I promise to connect this story to yoga when Max Strom makes an important appearance further down the page.)

Bill was Mom’s favorite brother and my favorite uncle.  When my mom died in Nashville on April 13, 2002, Bill (and most of the Farley family) showed up without fail.  In fact, Bill was always there for my mother – in heroic ways at times…even when most of the siblings became estranged from Mom after she became pregnant out-of-wedlock in her early 20s.  That’s how she ended up in DC – my Grandma Farley sent Mom off to the Crittenden Home for Women in Washington for shelter until the birth.  Uncle Bill and wife Nita drove his silent and resentful sister, Peggy, up north.

Peggy Farley gave birth to a son and was instructed to give him up for adoption.  And she vowed to never return to Tennessee nor see her family again.

Somewhere out there, I have a half-brother who would be nearing 60 years old now.  I wonder if he does yoga.

Since Mom’s death back in 2002, Uncle Bill has been there for me, too, revealing more and more about his sister than I ever knew.  Through his stories and photos, I came to embrace how alike my mom and I are.  She was a singer from childhood, was entered in vocal contests, and – once her brothers and sisters vacated the home base for their own family lives and military assignments – branched out to perform in talent shows and hang out with Nashville musicians.

Unlike most female Nashville singers of her era, Mom preferred jazz and Negro spirituals to country and folk music.  I have a newspaper clip announcing her performance of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” in the 1950 “Shield Shenanigans” review.  I also have her music lesson books, full of traditional gospel songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”  While my three sisters and I were growing up in the DC area in the 1960s, Mom would start each day with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a dose of WMAL AM-630, whose morning programs played only jazz vocals and big band music.  Thus began my musical education.

Mom met my dad in the bohemian Dupont Circle neighborhood where they lived.  Peggy Farley married Irvin Meyers and began her transition from Church of Christ to Judaism.  She enrolled in Temple Sinai’s program and converted before my eldest sister was born.  I have a hunch that part of my mother’s willingness to convert came from resentment toward her family’s religion.  But she didn’t completely shun her childhood roots.  Her Celtic/Pagan ancestry was apparent in her passion for adorning our home with seasonal decorations from nature – wildflowers in the spring, cat tails in the summer, milk pods in the fall, evergreen in the winter.  A farmer’s daughter, gardening became a spiritual practice later in her life.  Hands in the earth.  Growing and eating your own food.  And I am drawn to Farmer’s Markets and nature-based ritual.  Imagine that.

Now the story gets a little heavier.  Forgive me…

Aside from soulful musical preferences, artistic life and earthy spirituality, Mom and I had something else in common – we both started drinking alcohol very early on.  Sadly, she abused it through elder-hood and died with complications from alcoholism at age 71.  Bless her heart.  Her struggle with the disease of alcoholism was long and horribly destructive.  Just six months after Mom died, I was lucky to have a moment of clarity and accept support to recover from alcohol’s cunning, baffling and powerful grip on me.  One day at a time, I now live the life of a musician, yoga teacher, writer and regular old human being – without the compulsion to drink.

And for that I am grateful.

I am also deeply grateful to my mom for all that she was, all that she did, all that she shared.  But I’d never realized this until last weekend, during West Coast yoga instructor Max Strom’s workshops here in DC.  (Thanks to Caroline Weaver for the recommendation.)  Max is a big bear of a man whose firm and motivational tone is what the Voice of God might sound like.  At least, in my imagination.  After a vigorous heart-/breath-centric flow, we had a nice deep relaxation leading into the deepest silent meditation I’ve ever experienced.

Then, the Voice from Above (aka Max) said, “Bring to mind the person…

(dramatic pause)

or being or thing…

(another pause)

to whom you owe the most gratitude.”

And PING, my mom popped into my mind.

Immediately I inwardly battled, “Mom?  No.  Then who?  What?  Huh?  Shouldn’t it be a Higher Power?  Or…or…or…”

And then the Voice from Above said, “Choose the first being that popped into your mind.”

And I started sobbing.  Of course.  My mom.  I am grateful for her creativity, passion for music, talent in singing, active energy in gardening.  For her encouragement of and alliance with me regarding creativity, singing, drumming, having musician boyfriends, traveling with musicians, touring as a musician.  For her strength (although self-reliant and destructive at times), her perseverance, her work ethic.  For her beautiful blue eyes, perfectly penciled brows, stylish outfits.  And finally, for her humanness, her fragile self, her past, her pain, her resentments, her love, her illness, her silliness, her anger, her entire being.  I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until I was snotty and puffy and drained.  Finally the Big Bear rang the meditation bells, I gathered my wits about me and life moved on.

Between Uncle Bill’s stories and Max Strom’s transformational yoga I am finally able to recognize my mom as my greatest life teacher – and the learning continues long after her death.

It’s been way more than 22 to 35 minutes and I now know that no airlines offer “bereavement discounts” as in the past.  But I owe it to my Uncle Bill to show up, just like he did – for his family, for my mom and for me.  So tomorrow morning, I’m off to Nashville.

In one particular visit with Bill after my mother’s death, he also told me more about himself than I’d ever known.  Woefully, he shared about his guilt and remorse about leaving Peggy in DC, his absence during her teenage years while he served in the military, his lack of familiarity with her backstage life and her experimentation with alcohol.  In addition, he spoke of his gratitude for the way my dad took care of Mom during their 46-year marriage.

Despite the remorse about his sister, Bill was a man of great faith who must’ve realized that we cannot control what’s beyond us.  People, places, things, time, history.  Imagine what would have happened if Mom had NOT come to DC.  I might not have been born!  I hope Uncle Bill realized that he was always the apple of Mom’s eye, that my Dad really loved and respected him, and that I adored him to no end.  I still have the Jew’s Harp that he mailed me when I was about eight years old – in the original box, addressed to “Miss Holly Meyers.”

I think I’ll take it out right now and jam along with the Soggy Bottom Boys.

Thanks for listening, y’all.  OM Shanti.

(P.S.  Appreciation to tonight’s yoga class at Past Tense, who spent their Yoga Nidra with a little Irish music – Damien Rice’s “Older Chests” – in honor of my Uncle Bill Farley.)

(P.S. again – With all due respect to the entire Farley family; I only have the pieces of Mom’s and Bill’s stories that my sisters, dad and Bill shared.  Please forgive me if something is inaccurate.)