Gratitude

This one’s for my sister.


Every inch of my body screamed, "I can't do this again. I need to leave. I can’t handle One. More. Moment.” I felt agitation running through my veins, anxiety rising in my chest. Resentment and anger came bubbling up as I thought of all the families sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinners while I found myself in a room alone with my mom, inside of the assisted living facility we had moved her into two weeks prior. She was downright refusing to get dressed and come with me to join the rest of our family for the meal. Or maybe it was her disease, the PCA, that was refusing to come.

I took a step back and tried to breathe to stop myself from yelling. I wanted to yell all the time, at anything and anyone. At the squirrels who got in my way on the sidewalk, at the aide who should’ve had my mom dressed already, at my kids to put their shoes on. In that moment I wanted to yell at my mom. Then my sister, Dani. “It isn’t fair that you get healthy grandparents”, I would scream. “You get to leave for the holiday and go on date nights with free babysitters and have someone cook for you while here I am, stuck in this room.”

The thing was, I really couldn’t convince my mom to come with me. While I was seeing red inside of my reptilian fight or flight brain, I knew enough to know that I was not mentally in a place where I was going to be able to connect with my mom, get on her level, empathize. Get her dressed so I could be with the rest of my family who were already together, waiting on us. So I called Dani.

Isn’t this what we do as siblings? I would do this to no one else on earth (well, except maybe my husband - sorry babe). I’m so resentful in this moment, I’m letting my emotions get the best of me by attacking my sister in my mind, I know she already feels horribly guilty about leaving me alone to deal with the situation, and I decide to call her?

And, you know what? She answered.

Thinking back on it now, I have tears in my eyes. Tears of deep gratitude for Dani. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. After months of crisis, I mean crisis every damn day for weeks on end where you are pulled from meetings at work and bedtime with the kids to take care of our mom. Off to the neurologist, the psychiatrist, the ENT. Off to the emergency room. Off to a meeting you’ve been called to with the director of the facility. It is only us. Her and I. We moved her here away from her village and so it is us and only us who are responsible. Dani has finally gotten an opportunity to take a moment to breathe. A few days where she can be with her two little kids and focus on them with her full attention because she knows that even if she gets called she can’t physically come. It’s a huge weight lifted for a few precious days. And I evidently wanted to sabotage it for her.

Not only did she answer the phone, but she answered it free of hostility, even though she had to know it was an SOS call from me before she picked up. We had been answering each other’s calls with, “What happened?” for the past two months. But on Thanksgiving she sounded happy and peaceful when she said hello. Immediately upon hearing her voice I started to relax. I put her on speaker and she spoke to our mom in the way that I wasn’t able. She soothed and listened and comforted. After we hung up, I got mom dressed and off we went. 

For years people have told me, “It’s good that you have your sister.” For a long time, I wanted to respond by saying that having a sister doesn’t make the pain go away, you know. It’s still the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. “You’re reminding me of my sister because you want to create distance between yourself and this hardship I’m in; it’s easier to sugarcoat it with my sister rather than acknowledge the pain, isn’t it?” I wanted to say.

This year though, a deeper level of gratitude than I have ever felt before, came into my life. We have walked through the hardest days together, Dani and I. Facing the depth of this disease together, the stripping away of the woman we both love dearly has bound us together in the most beautiful way. We have chosen, time and again, not to scream at each other. Not to take our pain out on each other. But to support. To be the other person’s person. To love.

Now when people tell me how lucky I am to have my sister I close my eyes and say a prayer. Thank you for Dani. Please keep her safe. Please protect her energy and bring her peace.

Getting There

I opened my email and saw a word I'd never seen before: Kripalu. It was an email from a student of mine, someone who saw my heart as I saw hers without the need to talk much about it. I scrolled down and then saw this more familiar term "narrative medicine". I felt my shoulders straighten because that's my jam and because that's the graduate program my sister in law completed at Columbia.

This email was about a workshop, a retreat. Where was Kripalu and how did you even pronounce that word? The description jumped off the page at me. Writing, self-discovery, psychology, storytelling. Healing. The workshop was long, almost a week, and it was far away. It was also coming up quickly so obviously there was no way to plan and make arrangements. I responded to my student, "This would be perfect for me... Maybe in the next couple of years when the kids get a bit older." I closed my laptop and went on with my day, Kripalu, however you say it, shrinking away as quickly as it came.

Two days later, same place, same laptop, same email account. In my inbox I saw that funny word again, "Kripalu". I clicked it thinking it was a reply from the same student. Nope. This was the same Kripalu email about the Narrative Medicine retreat, but forwarded from a different student of mine. Another student with whom I had truly connected in the past year.

This time I got a tingle up my neck. My immediate response was: I need to take this more seriously. When the universe, G-d, inspiration, your muse, or whatever you name it comes to you twice, it's time to listen. 

Several weeks later I packed up as if for summer camp and drove eight hours to Kripalu, nestled in the Bershires in Western Massachusetts. It was one of the most life-affirming weeks of my life. I found my people (people like you, my dear reader). The morale here is that listening to the little whispers, the knowings in our heart, can lead us to the experiences in life where we feel most at home, most like ourselves, most happy. Don't ignore them even when it's inconvenient and hard.

Writing prompt: When was a time when you followed your intuition and what happened when you did?  

ps Swami Kripalu was a yoga master. You can read a little more about him here. (I'm no expert but this is how I'm pronouncing it: krĭ-PAW-lu.) xoxo