I put my second child, my daughter Victoria, on a plane yesterday. Today, I grapple with waves of sadness and grief. Why? Because I like her. Because we had a beautiful, loving, close, grounded, and fun time together during her visit for reading week. A veritable retreat from everyday life, and an oasis from the hustle of both our worlds.
Having four children has taught me more about life and the people in it than anything I could have learned in the psychology degree I have always regretted not finishing. This week’s lesson is one of being the observer instead of the fixer.
It’s not easy to go from the mom making sure your kid eats their vegetables to the mom of an adult who buys their own groceries and orders their own Uber and chooses whether to drop a class they are struggling with in University. It was my plan all along to raise a self-sufficient adult, and Victoria was the most reluctant of all my children to stand up to my suggestions and make her own decisions which made her independence that much more pride-inducing.
She’s grown up. She’s smart and funny and caring. She’s the type of person I’d actually want to be friends with if I were 20 years old too. How amazing is it as a parent to say, “I like my child!” because, let’s be honest, there are times when we are raising our children that despite a deep-seated innate love we don’t really like them all that much.
And now the grief.
I have decided that I am going to start writing about the grief of motherhood on a regular basis. There is no way that for the amount of love a mother has for her children that she doesn’t grieve to an equal extent the losses that inevitably show up in our lives. From the last time they ask you to read them a bedtime story, to the heartache of not being able to take away the pain of unrequited love, to the empty nest and all the challenges in between, motherhood is one long exploration of the grieving process.
My tears yesterday were about Victoria leaving for University after a great visit as much as they were for the loss of her childhood. I miss having her easy nature around in my everyday life. I miss her relationship with her younger brothers. I miss being the one she told all her sorrows and celebrations to every day before she left for school.
I often wondered why so many people were resistant to change in their life and now I see that change and growth are very closely related with loss. It doesn’t mean that something great doesn’t come in its place. I look forward to watching Victoria become a professional who has an impact in the world of mental health. I look forward to witnessing her having her own family one day. And, having lived through these lessons with her and her sister and brothers, I can be there for her own day as she grieves the losses that motherhood will bestow upon her life.
Not long after the ultimately humbling experience of going through a divorce at 29 years old and winding up a single mom of a two and four-year-old, I found myself out shopping in a very busy department store. I had not regained my self-confidence. I felt like a failure. No one goes into a marriage thinking it would someday end. I am sure my state of mind showed in my body language in that store. An older lady with deep wrinkles in her cinnamon colored skin made her way around me between clothes racks and I promptly said, “Sorry.”
She spun around and faced me and looked me squarely in the eyes and replied, “You have every right to be standing here. Do not apologize for existing. Own your place in this world.”
Wow. I have to say that was the first time in my life I was given explicit permission to exist. I often refer to myself as a recovering approval addict, and that stranger was the catalyst for my recovery.
How many times do we as women apologize in our everyday life when we have no culpability in what we are apologizing for?
If I leave my home in plenty of time to make it to an appointment and an unfortunate accident causes me to be late, why do I say, “I’m sorry I’m late!” when I didn’t cause the accident? Because women have been conditioned to be nice and self-effacing in the name of manners. It is so much more empowering and just as polite to say, “Thank you for waiting, there was an accident on the highway.”
Where else in your daily life can you catch yourself saying sorry when you mean to say thank you, or no thank you. Where else in your life do you need to stand in your power and own the space you stand in?
Not long after writing this post a friend of mine sent me this video, may it inspire you to say Not Sorry.
Limiting beliefs and Money Mindset are words that get thrown around a lot in business. They mean something different when you sit back and really take in the life lessons you have faced when it comes to money, and it would benefit all people, not only those in business, to have a good look at their money beliefs.
Just like the rags to riches archetype, I grew up in a working-class family that moved a lot from one rental to another, which means my parents changed jobs a lot and never benefited from the working-class pension-plan dream for retirement. I, however, studied nursing and became a professional and owned my own house by the age of 27. I had more financial security at that age, and more so ever since, than both my parents and my sister.
My biggest limiting belief, encouraged and nurtured by my family of origin, is that I am bad for making more money than my family. I am on a high horse, a rich bitch who thinks she’s better than everyone else. That kind of belief very quickly gets into the way of creating a profitable business and sabotages success.
Ironically, my husband grew up in a middle-class family that owned their home and had a pension, and though we are financially surpassing his family of origin he would never in a million years consider us wealthy or rich. It drives him crazy when my family makes those comments. It’s all relative.
My first years of being in business were a struggle financially, like with most start-ups. But even when it was time for my company to be profitable (because I had laid down the foundation, was known in my circles and had an amazing service) I always just broke even. It took working with my business mentor Lisa Larter and having her model a healthy money mindset for me to see where I was leading myself astray. There was absolutely nothing wrong with making money.
Having worked with Lisa for over four years now I have gotten to know her to be an authentic, caring person. When my mom passed away, she checked in on me more often than my closest family and friends. Despite having more money than I do, she does not live on a high horse or think that she is better than anyone else. I don’t think money has made her a bad person if anything it has afforded her to do more for her self-development and to be in a position to help others.
And that is where my mindset changed. I can choose to play small to appease the feelings of my family or I can play big and offer my children better opportunities, work on my self-development to be a better citizen of the World, and help those who are disenfranchised by no choice of their own. Choice is a very important word here, because as Maya Angelou so wisely said when you know better you do better. I know hard work pays off so I do the hard work, and very often that hard work is taking a hard look at yourself and seeing what you need to change in you.
What is your money story? Is it possibly holding you back from greatness?
On July 13th, my friend Heidi gifted me with a hike in the mountains in honour of my mom passing. At the age of 17, Heidi lost her mom when she’d been murdered by her father. She understood my loss. Heidi asked me to choose a hike I had never been on before. I chose Ha Ling Peak because I have never hiked to a peak and so desperately wanted the accomplishment of reaching the top of the world. I knew Heidi was athletic enough to push me to complete a hike that was double the elevation I had ever climbed. We were joined by her friend Kari and my friend Susan who knew the trail very well having hiked it 88 times before because this was the hike where she has mourned the loss of her brother for the last nine years. These friends understood grief.
The climb is a relentless elevation with no reprieve or flat spots. We stop frequently to allow my heart rate to come down and stop the ringing in my ears. I’m exhausted a quarter of the way up. But I have a goal in mind, I push through the pain in my thighs, the burning in my calves, and the chaffing on my heels. I can smell my mom, and the birds are singing all around me like they did the morning she died. I know she is with me here on this path. Keep pushing, Tammy. I’m convinced that if I can just keep pushing to the scree and see the summit I will find the energy to complete the trek.
My friends are the perfect hiking buddies and amazing cheerleaders. They make sure I’m safe and hydrated and going at a pace I can sustain. As we start again after a short rest Susan says, “You can do it, with grace.” At least, I think that’s what she said. All I really hear is grace echoing through my brain. My business coach used the same word last week when I was setting an audacious goal. “Give yourself a grace period.”
Staring at the ground in front of me. One step. Another Step. What does grace mean? Why am I being told to surrender to grace twice in one week? My heart answers my questions. When are you going to do what you need to do for yourself? You can’t push past the grief. You can’t just take a cry break and then pretend that everything is okay. It’s time to stop trying to impress others and time to stop being the strong one. Don’t hide your grief to shelter the ones you love.
My body quits so I rest and then get back up to try again. But it won’t go. It betrays my mental plan of pushing through. I have a goal in mind, a summit to reach, an end in sight. Literally, I can see the end. But my body just won’t go. And then my mind catches up. And then my soul screams at me that I am meant to stop here.
I made it to the scree. I can see the peak. And I stop. I send the three others on without me and I sit at the base of the last three trees where the treeline ends. I meditate on the mountain side with the loud roar of the wind in my ears and the sun drying my sweat to a salty powder on my face. I open my eyes to see how far up I have climbed. Priceless. Something I don’t get to do every day. I look around and am filled with gratitude for the bee visiting the flower at my feet and the chipmunk that crosses the path just a foot away from me. What an absolute gift to be in the present moment and see this view of the world.
I learned so much on this journey. I learned that, according to my Fitbit, I can climb 183 flights of stairs up and back down again. I learned the gift of stopping and looking around. And, I learned that I can’t rush through grief, there is no end date, there is no summit, and I am not done.
I am grieving the loss of my mother who died suddenly and unexpectantly on May 26th. This is my truth when it comes to allowing myself to grieve while drawing inspiration from the mountains, and from the book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.
What do we know about the mountains? There are peaks and there are valleys. High highs and low lows. Just like life. I absolutely love the mountains. I also love to hike in the mountains. I love the climb, the exhilaration and the success of reaching the top of the trail I’m on.
But right now, I am lying on my back visiting the cold dark ground of the valley. And it’s time to stay here.
In her book, Glennon describes a time when her husband of something like 12 years told her he had cheated on her their whole marriage. She was devastated. Looking for ways to cope, she saw a therapist and turned to yoga. On a particularly bad day, she went to yoga and her regular teacher’s class was full so she had to go to Hot Yoga. She set the intention to stay on her mat in a hot room for 90 minutes no matter what, and she did, crying for every pain and loss she had ever felt. This is what a valley looks like. This is what it looks like to be brave enough to live with pain and to live with grief and to see the good here in the valley. Glennon calls it the way of the warrior–the Love Warrior.
You see the problem for me and for so many of us women is that today’s lifestyle offers us a thousand ways to numb out the valley, and to avoid the pain. Glennon calls it our Easy Buttons that take us away from dealing with life. I can pretend that everything is okay by staying busy with work, or by scrolling through Facebook, or by shopping for new clothes, or by having that second or third glass of wine, or by getting a prescription to dull the pain, or by gossiping with a bunch of friends, or by binge watching Netflix, or by, and my personal favorite, intellectualizing. But none of that works for very long, and at some point, when I least expect it the pain of the valley comes to sit next to me and holds my hand and looks into my eyes and whispers, “Remember how much your mom truly loved you.”
Grief is the receipt to prove we paid the price for love.
I am an artist. My art is the written word. The first purpose of art is to make us feel. We watch scary movies to feel fear, we listen to sad songs to make us cry, we read romance novels to feel love. It is imperative as an artist and a creative to feel so that we can translate those feelings to others. I am also a healer, and I heal with coaching. Feelings are what makes us human, and a good coach crouches to meet our client where they are at, often in fear of change and paralyzed with doubt and stays there with them while holding the vision of what’s possible pointing towards the path out when they are ready to resume the climb.
What a gift it is for me to be in this pain. What spectacular writing and coaching will come from this rawness. In my chapter in When Women Talk, Stories than stain and stories that serve, I wrote about my lesson from my own life story and the hundreds I have witnessed. What I have learned is that you have to stand in your story and be with the emotions of it, then stand beside it, and eventually stand on your story and use it to move on and serve your life.
Right now, I am at the Stand In your story stage.
The good in the valley is that fertile ground surrounds me. Wildflowers and deep green moss surround me. By sitting with my pain, I find the lessons that I can pass on to my children, I can be reminded of the emotions that I write about when I write, I can be a mirror for my clients when they face this level of pain. I am a full human being with a full whole range of life by sitting down on the ground of this valley.
And now I ask you. Where is there pain in your life? Stop running away from it! Stay on your yoga mat! Sit with it, hold it, and ask it how it will be of service to you when you are ready to stand up and walk away and start climbing the mountain again?
There’s something about the month of January and the New Year that has us all setting goals and new intentions for our health, our careers, and our relationships. Some call it resolutions, others say it’s a lifestyle change. Call it what you will, you will need two elements to make it happen: Commitment and a beginner’s mind.
Here I am, on my yoga mat unable to even touch my toes. Again. Huffing and puffing halfway through my second sun salutation makes it hard to believe that fifteen years ago, I would do 4 hours a day of yoga at an ashram. My inner dialogue is quickly taken over by my inner itty-bitty-shitty-committee. “You’re getting too old for this. Look around you everyone here is gracefully sliding through to the next pose. It’s been ten minutes and you can barely breathe, obviously it’s time to quit. Maybe, if you weren’t two-ton Sally and a size zero like the rest of them you’d be able to actually stay in down dog and not have to collapse into child’s pose instead. This is embarrassing, you are embarrassing. Just give up already.”
Have you ever heard that critical voice in your own head?
It happens to all of us and in a variety of different situations. Cutting out sugar from your diet will make a donut literally talk to you. Choosing to get up earlier to run before work makes 5 am darker and colder than it ever was before. The self-doubt as you sit in front of your keyboard ready to write that book you’ve been meaning to write for years can immobilize your fingers and freeze your thoughts into a block of jumbled words. These are the things that stop us dead in our tracks when it comes to resolutions and lifestyle changes. So how do we mere mortals overcome that inner critic that lives inside every human being on the planet?
The beginner’s mind
It can be very humbling as a grown adult who has the rest of their “stuff” together to find themselves in the start position. You can be very successful in other areas of your life like leading a team at work, running a business, or managing a household with children and a spouse’s schedule to maintain. And suddenly there you are fumbling around without a clue.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to say to my children, “If you would just do what I suggested the first time you never would’ve gotten into this mess.” Preventing a mistake is easy when you know all the steps and have practiced them a thousand times before, but the whole point of learning (for our children and ourselves) is to actually make the mistake. Adults don’t like to make mistakes.
Part of the reason we quit on resolutions and change is that we want to get it perfect right away. We don’t want to take the time to learn and we don’t want to look stupid or clumsy while we’re learning. But if we could just embrace that innocent curiosity of a toddler exploring the world and allow ourselves the time and mistakes we can see the beautiful dance unfolding in our inability to march in step with the experts.
It’s been said by many a great motivational speaker, “Are you just interested in (fill in the blank) or are you committed?” I have to admit, I’m interested in learning to mountain climb. Me, who is afraid of heights and can’t breathe through two sun salutations. I would love to scale those majestical beasts here in the Canadian Rockies and take pictures of the vistas from the top of the world… But am I committed to purchasing all of the climbing gear, including harnesses, climbing shoes, helmets, ropes, and carabiners? Am I committed to climbing in the bitter cold? Am I ready to let go of my other hobbies and focus my time and attention on learning this new skill? Not really, not at this point in time. I’m not saying never, just not now.
What are you committed to? What do you want so bad that you can taste it? That you can see yourself in it that you can feel the emotions it will create? The best way I have found to stay committed to something is to know WHY I want it in the first place.
Here’s a great commitment exercise
(which, by the way, you can do on any day of the year multiple times of the year not only on January 1st)
Take a journal and write out the goal you want to achieve
Write out why you want that goal. What purpose does it serve? Who will you be when you reach that goal? What will be different in your life and/or in the world?
What do you have to do or say Yes to in order to reach that goal? What do you have to stop doing or say No to in order to reach that goal?
Take a piece of masking tape and laying down in a door’s threshold or lay a broom handle on the ground. Read what you wrote in your journal out loud to yourself or a trusted friend or partner and then cross the line. Just like jumping the broomstick in the African and Celtic cultures you will be married and committed to your goal.
Here I am again, on my yoga mat pushing through my shortness of breath inching closer to touching my toes allowing myself to be a beginner and embracing my commitment to my health and wellbeing. Who knows, maybe a year of practicing mountain pose will lead to a commitment to climb a mountain one day.
Are you looking for a little extra support to reach your goals this year? Drop me an email and I would be happy to offer you a complimentary discovery call to see if coaching with me will get you there.