I starting writing this piece on June 26, 2016. Well, not really writing it, I put the title down - I Am A Shadow Dweller. Because I was dwelling there then. And I added a photograph, not this one, but one of me. I'll include it at the end. It captures that shadow looking feeling that I am, today, going to try and capture in words. So the title and the picture and then I saved it. Because the words, they... well, they were hidden in the shadows and I could not see them clearly enough to put them out here in this bright light.
But this past weekend, I started thinking about this again. This shadow play place that I love so much. Loved so much. Because I do not love it so much anymore. I like it still. There is a familiarity in this shadowing place. A welcoming and a safeness that is provocative and inviting. So maybe love is the right word. But before there was also a beckoning and that does not happen so much anymore.
Perhaps this is why I am able to write about it now, because it is not the place I love the best.
When I loved the shadows most I loved them because I felt them the most. It was a time in my life - there were many times in my life - when I was sad. Deeply. And with that sadness came a loss of feeling most other feelings.
Yes, there were moments of joy and happiness. Moments I would see my children and love them deeply. Moments when a run in the woods with my dogs would fill my soul and still my heart. But these feelings were not ones that I was able to access at these times when sadness was my constant companion. And so I loved him. (He is a him) Sadness. I loved his darkness and his warmth. I loved his lush breath and the way that he enveloped me in a cocoon of softness.
I loved him because I felt him.
When I was sad - and was it really sad? - my days were days of deep depression, when the only feeling that I really felt was the feeling of him. And feeling him, this was so much better than feeling nothing. And so I would enter the shadows hungrily and I often did not want to leave. It felt good in here and I did not care that the light outside, she had gifts to offer me.
My shadow play was not always with me. He led me inside occasionally when I was growing up, but only held me in his arms once for any significant length of time back then. I was living in New York and dancing at Tisch at NYU. I was a dance major without the ability to dance having had surgery on a toe that was fractured and chose to disintegrate rather than heal. It was a defining moment in my journey as a dancer because I really did not want to be one anymore and so this injury, it was an opportunity to shift direction. Still it was sad - ah that sweet space of despair - and I sat in it for the entire time I lived in New York before heading back to Massachusetts to finish college.
And then there were no shadows for many years. Until postpartum nestled into my bones followed by a winter wonderland of seasonal depression that lasted fourteen long years of October-thru-April-I've-just-gotta-get-through-this-winter-and-things-will-be-fine and then two more long years of transition and introspection and self-discovering and growth that could only have happened within the shadows of my mind.
I got a lot done in this shadowy space. In this time spent in this place of darkness that is warm and knows me well. And that, coupled with the truth that the deep emotions that live in the shadows were my only emotions, well... why would I not want to sit here. In these shadows that held me gently.
And then the light crept in.
It was not like the shadow space was not still inviting. It was not like that feeling of sadness that offers an intensity of emotion was not still tempting to sit in. It was not that I did not sometimes - do not sometimes - still miss standing complete in shadow.
It is that it is lonely here. For when I stood in shadow I stood alone. For along with keeping out the light my shadow sentinel kept out all others.
And so we made an agreement.
As I write this I have this lovely image in my mind. When I was back east I took a walk on the Appalachian Trail. Not for long. Just a short bit of trail but the sunlight was strong though still low in the sky and the shadows played against the warmth of this light. It is this image that captures my shadow play now. An intermingling of light and dark. Of light and shadow. And I can play in the coolness for a moment or more but he will not be my only friend.
I think about writing about my mom. But then I don't. My first instinct is not to. I think I am not brave enough. But something is calling me now. For when I picture time having passed and writing about her later on I feel this feeling that I am missing something. That there is significance in writing now. That the vulnerability that comes with this writing of passage is important. That I cannot miss this even though I do not know what this is.
Because the feelings are hard and because my mom will read this. And my dad, too. And while these words are an honoring, they are also words of challenge and frustration and this is hard to share.
This most recent need to write about my mom comes on the heels of my visit last week. The culmination of a week with my mom ending with my reading aloud to my dad the writing my sister and I wrote about him created a lacking feeling. That my mom needed a writing, too. That this was this something I had to do.
And so on the plane on the way home I started this. I wanted it to be a writing that was light and joyous and honored all the good that is my mom. But instead what came out was fast and raw and I knew that this early writing six days before a writing was due was necessary because I needed time to sit on this. To reread and revisit and rewrite if need be. This one. It is hard.
You see, my mom has a form of dementia that makes her lose words as the language center of her brains dies. As I write that sentence it autocorrects to worlds. Lose worlds. Appropriate as she is losing worlds, too.
For along with language comes the loss of comprehension. And the loss of knowing. Names lose their meaning. Friends become unrecognizable. Events fall away and moments drift by and often times she is not quite sure.
And this is hard. As her daughter. For along with the loss of all these things and more that I am sure I still don’t know there is an accentuation of those things that have always challenged me as her daughter.
And then, yesterday, I read this beginning of this writing to my husband. I started writing about my mom but don't really want to/am worried about sharing it/maybe I shouldn't I said to him. And then I read it to him and he said it is beautiful and you need to finish this.
So here I am.
Mother/daughter angst is hard to explain. Not in the general sense but in that intimate way where the smaller nuance of expression can turn a daughter's head around but from the outside really, what is the big deal. But as the daughter, standing in this daughter place, the challenges are there, the triggers continually happen, the actions and reactions find that familiar rhythm that is as old as I am.
This past week with my parents was a beautiful week. Being with them is necessary. And it is important. And it is filled with love and joy and fun. Lots of fun. And along with this it is filled with the hard fact that my mom is struggling. A lot. And I am, too.
I am usually a better version of myself when I am with her. I am patient. But it is a sad patience because it sits in this place of detachment. A necessary coping because without it I cannot stand in compassion and caring.
This past week the place I created to support and love my mom as she journeys through this awful disease abandoned me and I stood in the rawness of having to respond without my boundaries on full alert. And I behaved badly.
I could not disengage and I could not be kind. I heard the edge in my voice as I answered her questions and felt my body pull back as she sought to encircle me in love. And each time I saw this, in the moment that I was in this, I spoke small words to myself to step back and regroup and remember that this is not about me at all, really and so step up as the best of myself so I can be the best me for her. And then the next interaction would happen and I was deep in it again in that dark way that is so not fair to her because it is so not how I want to show up for her.
I thought I did not care. My coping of my lacking was to tell myself that this was ok. That I had closure and completeness. That the lack of an emotional connection with my mom being this elusive thing was just what it was and was ok.
But then, I as write this, I see that this is not true. That there is grief and loss in this. That the disconnect, whether in this most recent interaction of impatience and frustration or even in the more accepting dynamic of caring and nurturing, still is a detachment from my mom. And so a loss of mother.
I did not see this until just this moment.
My mother-in- law died in December and we had her memorial service in January. I wrote a piece about her and read it aloud at the service. And, as I walked up to share my words, I started to cry. This surprised me. I did not think I felt the loss of her until I was there, standing in the loss of her.
This feeling I have, right at this moment, writing this writing, this is that same surprise. That there is loss here. That I miss my mom. Even as she is still here with me.
It is important and it is good that I see this now. I hope I can hold on to this.
I'm here with my sister, the little one. Not that she is little. She is an adult. Like me. And my other sister, too, who is the older sister and so the big sister. We are all adults. But this weekend we were little again. Even while we were not.
I am here with my little sister, as the big sister went home. She left yesterday and the little sister leaves today and then I leave tomorrow. We are leaving from our parent's home in Florida. This is the first year that they have spent at their new apartment that they just bought so that they could get away from the cold and the snow and the storms of the New England winter.
So my little sister and I are writing this together. Which we do sometimes when we are together. Because it is fun. And makes us laugh while we write some pretty awesome writings. We have very similar perspectives. And the same sense of humor. We write great together.
Ok, so let's get started.
We were going to talk about this door thing. We were going to name the writing A Door Metaphor, which is a really nifty rhyme and talk about why the wrong way is often the easier way. Like it's easier to eat badly, it's easier to not to exercise, it's easier to not work hard.
We started thinking about this when the sliding doors in my parents porch kinda place that looks out over the water got all twisted up. Now, these are not the kind of sliding doors you are thinking of. These are three panels on each side sliding door kinda things. And each door is on it's own track and each door can move. And so they can get all tangled even though they shouldn't because if you push to hard they easily move too far passed each other - which is the wrong way - and it's really hard to get them back.
So we asked.. why is it easier to move them the wrong way and have it be so hard to move them back the right way?
So let's talk about food and the fact that we had key lime pie every night. But we don't want to say that key lime pie is bad or that eating it every night is bad. It's not good to say that things are bad, it's just when you pair this with six baskets of bread and full meals, and some snacks during the day, let's just say we are feeling a bit sluggish this morning.
Ok, being little.
It was just the original five, the nuclear family that our parents created. I was coming down for my birthday and invited my sisters to come with me as my birthday present. So we could all be together without the focus veering off to our children or husbands or any other distractions that happen when the rest of life comes along, too.
It was nice like this.
We went to the beach like we did when we were little and our dad woke us up early - like 6Am early - to get to Jones Beach before the crowds and then we would leave at around noon to head back home and go to the local, community pool.
He did not wake us up that early this time. He wanted too but, though we were little, we are really still adults and we said no.
We sang in the car like we did when we were little. We sang show tunes. Fiddler on the Roof and Godspell. And listened to Hamilton because no-one but my little sister knew the words.
We played ball in the street like we did when we were little. With a Spalding. We don't like this spelling because we call the ball a spaldine, or spaldeen and so we think it should be spelled like this. We played catch and we played this game where we have to bounce the ball one more bounce each time we send it to the other person. So one bounce, then two, then three....
We hung out on beds - one on the floor because this place doesn't sleep more than four. So my little sister slept on this foam mattress thing that my dad's dog loved because he got to sleep on it, too.
We held hands as we walked around this really cool, old Florida neighborhood rather than the built up and mall-like stores and restaurants that line the highways now. We held hands as we walked and talked.
We went out for every meal (hence the key lime pie) and shared plates of food.
And we took lots of pictures of the five of us as we squeezed in for a selfie while we walked along the path outside my parent's home or jostled for space on the bed.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Rower, Runner, Dog and Cat lover.