Transitions

Summer is over. Not technically of course, but once school begins something in the air shifts even before the temperature drops.

We’re still adjusting here. My daughter to her new school, my son to his fuller schedule, and me, to longer stretches of time alone.

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First day of 3rd grade and pre-K

The first day of school, I sat at my desk and felt the emptiness of the house echo in my bones. My son was having his first full day, which meant, so was I. This was what I wanted, and yet I felt a pang of melancholy, and received a flash into the future when my children grow up and leave home.

Is it me, or does time seem to go faster the older we get? During our second annual vacation to Cape May in August, I tried to hold onto the hours and days, but it felt as futile as watching my son clutch a fistful of sand. The tighter the grip, the faster the flow.

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Now that we’re into the second week of school, I feel the beginning of a rhythm, though shaky. My natural impulse is to rush headlong into fall and not look back. I’m done with summer, I told my husband as we debated about going to the pool last week.

He looked surprised. I’m not, he said, and I suddenly realized I’m not either. My sadness about summer’s end is what makes me harden and give it the cold shoulder.

This is how I deal with change, with transition. When it’s uncomfortable – and it always is – my natural inclination is to hurry through it. I liken it to the Band-Aid metaphor: rip it off or peel back slowly.

I want to rip it off. I want to toss it in the trash and not look back. But my heart gently reminds me to care for my wounds, no matter how small they are, and what I really need to do in moments like these is feel. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

My mother’s death was the first time I truly understood the futility of hurrying through a transition. Grief is like a boulder. It’s not easily moved aside. You can fight and struggle against it, you can close your eyes, but it’s still there. Waiting for you.

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It’s similar when a person is struggling with their health or has a disease. There is no ignoring sickness. You feel it in your body. You’re reminded of it every day when you wake, every night when you go to sleep, and many hours in between.

Recently, I went for my annual physical and my doctor was concerned about the sound of my heart. She heard a murmur, the whooshing sound of blood going back and forth through one of the valves instead of just forward. To be on the safe side, she sent me for an echocardiogram.

Mostly, I was calm, but I felt a tiny sliver of fear. This is the heart we’re talking about, my heart. The life force of an organ that kept my mother alive even when everything else in her body was ready to quit. What if there is something wrong with my heart?

The (sort of) joke in my marriage is that I’m the healthy one. I don’t have allergies or celiac, I’m apparently immune to poison ivy, and I haven’t had the flu since childhood. I’m rarely sick. I think it surprised us both that something might be wrong with me.

My husband offered to take me to the appointment. I didn’t realize until we arrived at the hospital how grateful I was to have his company. He had already been to this hospital three times for his own tests, but this was my first.

The technician was kind and professional. She dimmed the lights and turned on music. Soft familiar strains of Enya floated through the invisible speakers. The gel was warm as she moved the instrument across my chest.

My head was turned away from the screen, but every now and then I caught a glimpse of the shadowy interior of my heart. I could hear it, too, the whooshing, and I was struck with how precarious life is, how fragile our bodies can be, and how miraculous.

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The Giant Heart at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia

In the days before getting the test results I mostly put it out of my mind, but the what if’s whispered on occasion. I thought about the research I did years ago for my MFA thesis, titled, The Night Side of Life: Illness in Fiction, which was inspired from a quote in Susan Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor.

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

We toe the line between well and sick every single day we are alive. At any moment, we can be pushed or thrown to the other side. My mother found this out when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 40. One day her life was moving along as expected, and then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

My test results came back normal. Relief. Gratitude. I’m off the center line, back on the safe side, for now.

I can’t help thinking about how my doctor described the murmur in my heart. The blood not moving in a straight line, but whooshing back and forth. That is how I live my life. Dipping back before going forward, and back again. It’s painful at times, yes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

***

I wonder how the transition into this new season has been for you. Do you also struggle to remain present inside discomfort? I’d love to hear from you in comments! I’ve missed you this summer, and now that school is back in session, I’ll be returning to my (mostly) regularly scheduled programming.

Also, as some of you know, I’ve spent many months preparing for my online journaling course, Crossing the River: Writing Through Grief, which is now scheduled to begin January 2017. 

If you’d like to be put on the mailing list for updates about the course, and the upcoming free (!) online seminar, click here

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[Please note, this course is NOT intended only for those suffering a loss from death, but ANY kind of grief. The scope or size does not matter, nor does how much time has passed.]

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16 thoughts on “Transitions

  1. “Whoosing back and forth.” I feel this way a lot too, right now. We’re in five months into our second pregnancy and I feel like we’re revisiting familiar territory–but it’s all incredibly new. I feel a lot further along right now (“I’m already *this* stretched out?”), but I feel like sometimes I’m retreading the same steps I’ve already taken. That’s a little comforting, but I know it’s also an illusion. This pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period will probably be incredibly different. But that doesn’t make me feel good! It makes me feel safer to see this time around at the same as last time. Thus, the treading back–even though we are moving forward. 🙂

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    • That makes so much sense, Sharon, to look at a second pregnancy with that back and forth momentum. I remember being in a daze much of my second pregnancy, in part b/c my daughter was recently diagnosed with celiac, but also b/c I was too busy with her to think much about my future baby. I look forward to reading more about your pregnancy and motherhood journey on your blog 🙂

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  2. I noticed just yesterday (not sure how it wasn’t more obvious) that I’m in a bit of a creative fog and it’s most likely because I know Jack is leaving for college soon. The countdown changes every day but we’re at 12 days. Then the kid I’ve been with almost every day for 19 years will be living IN ANOTHER STATE.

    Of course this is distracting. I want to give my mind and heart some grace and say I don’t NEED to be super-productive when it comes to work and writing right now. My “work” is getting him (and all of us, really) prepared. Both mentally and physically. I’m not sure it will be possible to be totally prepared (which is scary by itself) but I need to handle the basics.

    The rest will take time.

    So yes, I completely relate to your wanting to rush through something hard. A part of me wants this long, drawn-out goodbye over already so that we can start moving forward into our new normal. Does that make me a cold, unfeeling mother? I don’t think so. I feel it so much, in fact, I’m on hold, anticipating.

    Anyway. Your post resonated, if you couldn’t tell – ha! I wish you a wonderful end of summer and as peaceful a transition into fall as possible. Be gentle with yourself.

    With your heart.

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    • Julie, just reading your words “the kid I’ve been with almost every day for 19 years will be living in ANOTHER STATE” made me lightheaded. Oh my goodness, I know when it comes for me it’s going to swallow me up. Of course you can’t be productive, you’re in survival mode, and living through a heck of a transition. My heart (murmur and all!) is with you during this intense moment of change. I think it makes sense to want to rush through the tough moments of life. I know I do, but it’s owning that and staying anyway that deepens the heart (can’t stop using the word). Sending you and your family lots of love.

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  3. “This is how I live my life.” Learning how not to rush. To feel — even and especially when. The center line and dual passports. (And for the record, ditto for me — September is always bumpy). Also, I am going to have to tell Mani about the “Illness as Metaphor” book. As always — such beautifully reflective writing, Dana. I’m so glad you’re back in the saddle.
    xo

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    • Oh, I am curious what Mani will think. I haven’t read it in a decade, but will be revisiting it for my memoir. It was pivotal for my thesis, as was Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill. Thank you so much for reading my words and for your loving support. xo

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  4. Stunning Dana. “I feel the beginning of a rhythm, though shaky.” I know what you mean, but the rhythm in your writing, in your gorgeous sentences, how you paint the quiet and the grief on page is extraordinary. I relate to your stories of your mother, My mom has had Parkinson’s for 30 years, now in very advanced stage, but was already very advanced even before I had children. I still have her, though, and I’m grateful everytime I get to kiss her soft cheek. And I can only imagine the grief of not being able to do that one day.

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    • Julie, forgive me belated response. I remember reading this and thinking, I must respond, and then, well, my poor addled brain swallowed it up. Anyhow… thank you for these kind words, and for reading this essay with such empathy. I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s decline. 30 years is a LONG time. It’s ironic in a way, because my mother used to be so afraid of Parkinson’s, perhaps because it is considered terminal, and yet, her MS turned out to be fatal as well. This line, “I’m grateful every time I get to kiss her soft cheek.” Oh yes. That is love, deep abiding love.

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    • Me too, Nina, but yes, it doesn’t always work out that way. As you know. I think about your nephew a lot. And his mother (and your family in general). My heart goes out to all of you.

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  5. Lovely, lovely. And this: “Dipping back before going forward, and back again.” Gosh, yes! Cycles, seasons, the push and pull of kids maturing in fits and starts. We’ve been in school for nearly a month now, and I still feel so busy though I can’t figure out why. I guess it’s just life and logistics of 5th and 2nd graders and trying to maintain my own life amidst theirs and all that jazz. I’m so glad you’re well. xo

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