Well Mother's Day has passed, and for many single moms I know it is with a sigh of relief. I spoke with one of my closest friends yesterday who is a single mother to a sweet, little boy, and she was struggling with feelings of sadness and loneliness.
When the kids are little, it is usually the dad who initiates the appreciative gestures or gifts for Mom. So, it can be especially wrenching for moms when no one else steps up in that way to help alleviate the pain. Or even if someone does offer love and support, there can still be an emptiness that is difficult to deal with. Luckily, time does march on, and as the children develop they usually begin to offer their own versions of love and appreciation for their hard-working mamas! _
I wrote this piece The Coffee is Ready. Am I?
quite awhile ago, but I wanted to share it again today in solidarity with those single moms who do it all - often without fanfare or thought, but just because they love their children, unconditionally. And also to offer support that the job of parenting, single or otherwise, does get easier!
Do you hear the call? A call to action. A pulling toward something that you cannot explain, but that you cannot ignore. Do you know what I am talking about? I am speaking of the hero's journey, and the call that leads you to it.
The brilliant Joseph Campbell has written extensively about the hero's journey, and it “always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, 'Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.' And so it starts.”
I wonder if you hear the call? Sometimes it looks like something very dark and scary - for good reason; it is calling you to a necessary action that feels dangerous to your comfort and security. Sometimes, it hits like a bolt of lightening, and your entire body thrills with energy. Or maybe, it is more of a whisper that keeps repeating, until it is too loud or urgent to ignore.
I have experienced the call more than once in my life (or maybe it was the same call, just at a different time). I was called to return to school to complete my BA, and to confront the demons (real and imagined) that had caused me to drop out years before. Energized by the call, I enrolled in graduate school, which has led me to my research and doctoral dissertation on transformation.
To my horror and fear, I also heard the call to dismantle my family unit, and divorce my husband. This call pushed me to the outer edges of fear and confusion; not only about life, but also about who I was as a person, what I was capable of, and what my purpose in life was (outside of being a mother).
I existed in that frightening and lost place with a strange sense of dark comfort, because I knew there was no other choice. Rather than feeling trapped, I felt supported in a kind of embryonic state. And that is where I stayed until it was time for me to push through and out into the world in my new form.
The truth is, once you answer the call, you have to allow the process to work on you, while you work within it. It is that push and pull of the transformative process that you are being asked to hold the tension of.
Yes, answering the call can be painful, and terrifying; but imagine what beauty and energy awaits you on the other side!
Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01. iBooks.
I am not sure how it began exactly, my interest in death. My daughters tell me (in their snarky teenage way) that I am obsessed with death. I disagree. I donât consider my interest in death to be an obsession, merely a fascinating hobby, intensely diverting, and borne from a deep sense of personal loss. It is an interest I would describe as more compelling than obsessive. Death is present for me now in a way it has never been before; and I cannot look away, nor ignore its lingering stench. I am mesmerized, captured by deathâs downward pull.
You see I have never experienced death before. No one truly close to me has ever died, and I am chagrined to say that I have gone through my life quite oblivious to the suffering that occurs when someone or something important dies. In my case, the death of which I speak is not of a person, but of a thing - a concept, a practice, an institution - as well as an archetype. The death that grabbed me and wouldnât let me go, was the death of my family, not the actual members, but the structure of it, the unit itself, brought about by the all too common reality of divorce.
The realization that something had actually died rather than just gone missing, came upon me slowly but steadily. It was more of a feeling, a sense of an enormous loss that overtook me. In my pain I began a deep period of reflection, and over time I realized that I was internalizing the divorce not just as my own personal loss - that of my husband and partner - but also as the death of our family. This insight that I had lost more than a partner led me away from the experience of divorce as an event or situation, and more toward the felt sensations of death. I wanted to know not how others dealt with divorce necessarily, but how they dealt with death, and how families coped with the loss of their original structure. To my dismay, in my research, I discovered that most of the books available dealt with how divorce affected the wife, husband and/or children as individuals, but not the entire family unit. The difficulty of course, is that once parents divorce, very few men and women continue to see themselves as still remaining a family.
I think this topic is one that is not addressed enough in the current literature. Even if a remarriage occurs (either quickly or much later) the original family structure will never and can never be the same; in a sense a death has occurred. I am referring to the death of oneâs hopes and dreams of what that original family meant to him or her, and the resulting grief that occurs. That there may likely be grief around this peculiar nature of loss needs to be recognized in order to redefine and re-imagine the life you now have with the family structure that now exists. Regardless of whether or not the divorce led to a healthier relationship, the fact remains that the family dynamic and structure have been forever altered.
Deathâs shadow began following me. I saw it everywhere, my newly opened eyes sucking up deathâs darkness whenever I caught a glimpse. I began looking back on the times when friends or family members had lost someone close to them, and began realizing in a much more real way what they must have felt. Life began to take on new meaning. The suffering caused by death, loss, and grief, began to take on monumental importance in my psyche. Much of this was not conscious, but was more of an unconscious movement on my part, a movement away from the light of life, and toward a still darkness within me.
What I didnât understand then, but what has become clearer as time, that great healer, marches on, is that I am no longer the same person I was before I left my marriage. How can you be the same when you have been dismembered, disemboweled, and thrown into the wet, chthonic earth until you are nothing but a deep well of potentiality? Even if my family were to magically reunite, my former husband no longer a stranger, I would no longer fit into the family. It is true that I resembled the person I used to be on the outside, but internally even I could not recognize myself. I was undergoing a deep and profound transformation.
It had never consciously crossed my mind that I would be divorced. I assumed, like so many others who cross the marital threshold, I would be married until one of us turned to ash, so to speak. I had never experienced any kind of loss, never truly grieved, until my divorce and the grueling battle throughout. No one I was close to had ever died, not one single person. Certainly, I had experienced deep emotion and many hardships in my life, but the loss of my family was on an entirely new level of pain and suffering. This, despite the fact, that I was eventually awarded sole legal and physical custody of our girls after their dad abruptly moved 3000 miles away. My family as I knew it was gone, obliterated, the pieces spread far and wide. The girls and I were left alone, huddled in a sort of nuclear winter as I used my body to shelter them from the storm. We clung together out of love, fear, and sadness as we tried to understand the direction our lives had taken.
My divorce three years ago after a twelve-year marriage was the first major loss of my life. I lost not only my husband and father of my children, but also my family, both real and idealized, as well as the fantasy, hopes, dreams and expectations of what a family is. The fact that I asked for the divorce has in no way alleviated my sense of loss and grief, and I continue to be surprised at the depths it takes me to, and the length of time it takes to heal. This grief has given me a much greater compassion for others who have experienced major loss in their lives. I am interested in learning about the grief process and the transformation that often takes place when such a loss has been experienced. As a result, I am currently working on my Ph.D. in the area of grief, loss and transformation. My divorce destroyed our original family unit, but from the ashes my daughters and I have slowly and carefully carved out a new life and family for ourselves, transformed and stronger than ever.
**This piece was originally written in 2008.
I have been going on a lot more dates lately. Well, not exactly dates I guess, at least not with men (although that is happening more too). I have been going out with friends more, and enjoying myself just being out and about as an adult woman (not as so and so’s Mom). This might not sound that unusual to those of you who have lives outside of your children, but as any full-time single parent knows, these types of outings tend to increase along with the ages of your children. And as anyone who works from home (in whatever capacity) knows, being out and about in the community is essential for both survival and thrival. OK, so thrival is not a real word, but I kind of like it.
I am digressing though, the point I want to make is that I am throwing off the straight jacket of isolation that has enveloped my life in many ways, and am letting the fun and lightness of life reinvigorate my soul. As I have re-joined the land of the free and communal, I have felt my world expand and open up. There are times when I am overcome with the beauty and joy of human connection. The small kindnesses we pay one another on a daily basis. The compassion and empathy I see displayed as I observe and listen in to the conversations of others, and with my own friends as we discuss and embrace the sweetness of life, the thrival of our soul connections.
I imagine a marriage as a dance of expansion. As one partner grows and changes, the other must as well. And as both partners grow, so does the marriage itself. Expanding. Breathing in and exhaling out. A living breathing entity that grows with each breath, relaxes into itself with each exhalation. A marriage is sort of like this. Any relationship is really. Husband and wife. Straight or gay. Lover to lover. Dancing, twirling, sinking, swirling. Falling together in union, and pushing away in expansion. Coming back as one in a way that is bigger, more fulfilling. It is the push and pull that creates the expansion, two parts of a whole dancing to the song of dependence and independence. Without one, you cannot have the other. Is that where mine went wrong? My marriage? My gut tells me it is so.
I pushed but there was no pull back. I pulled where there was no push. At least not the kind I needed to expand. It was a pull back and push back, back to a smaller whole, a smaller me. They don’t tell you this as you take your vows - this necessity of being open to growth, to expansion, even when you don’t want to (especially when you don’t want to). Or maybe they do tell you, at least no one told me. No one told me what I know now, that the marriage is doomed if there is an unwillingness to bend, to move, to grow and dance with your partner. That the marriage takes on a life of its own, and that if you don’t pay attention, the life it takes on can become one that you don’t want to be a part of anymore, or you can’t be a part of any more. Maybe that is what it is about. Maybe you are willing to grow, but the direction the growth is taking is diametrically opposed to the direction you are growing, and an inevitable and irrevocable fracture occurs.
I don’t know. I have no answers, only thoughts and musings, as I reflect back on my own dance of expansion that led me away from my marriage, and toward a new relationship with myself. Time will tell if there is a partner waiting in the wings to dance a new dance with me, to a song that calls us both forth into an ever-widening expansion of love and understanding that can hold us both - loosely and securely as one.
My heart absorbed the pain of my children, not to mention my own agony, and a wound was created that feels as though it will never heal. The heart is not like the liver you see, it does not regenerate despite poison and contamination; the heart is precious and can only do its best to take in the blows of life as it continues its beating ways, until of course, the beating fades away or is abruptly stopped. I am speaking metaphorically of course, for when the heart stops beating we all know that a physical death occurs. Edinger (1994) makes clear the distinction between physical death and psychological death “The death of the ego, or the ego experiencing itself as dying, is very often the prelude to the birth of awareness of the Self.”
This ego death happens symbolically when someone experiences a profound loss and is suddenly pushed into the wickedly strange web of grief. The heart that once beat strongly becomes quiet as it tries to understand the enormity of emotion flooding through its ventricles. Over time, the heartbeat of the one who has lost and grieved changes its rhythm somehow to meet the needs of this new person who now inhabits the body.