Book Club: Inheritance

What a treat to have the pleasure of meeting author Dani Shapiro several weeks ago when she was in town to promote her new memoir, Inheritance. I’ve loved all of Dani’s books because she dives headfirst into the pain and shows us how crafting a narrative helps to get to the other side.

Inheritance is fantastic for me because there’s a lot about genetics and ethics in the book, along with some big philosophical questions like Who am I? In this video I explain the genetics behind how it was determined that Dani’s half sister was not actually her half sister. Plus I get into the Who am I question and how it might prompt some exploration in you.

If you are considering at home DNA testing for health, ancestry or any other reason it would behoove you to meet with a genetic counselor first. Find someone here. If you have specific questions about your test results, check out my friend Brianne’s site, Watershed DNA. She’s the absolute expert and my go-to for all of this.

Underwent testing and now have a story like Dani’s to tell? Reach out to me - I’d love to help you find meaning in the experience as you weave your new identify into your life.

I’ll be back next week with my second video on Inheritance .

Me with Dani Shapiro in Reston, VA. (queue heart eye emoji!)

Community is Worth the Search

I was sitting in a circle of about 40 people in the western mountains of Massachusetts. It was summertime with no air conditioning, but my Buffalo blood loved the lack of that frigid, fake air and felt comfortable in a sleeveless sundress. While there were a few women donning the trademark Lululemon insignias, it was mostly folks in label-free yoga wear or t-shirts and shorts. The clothes alone made me feel comfortable being there without knowing a soul. “Come as you are” would be the motto and these people would mean it.

We were instructed to write a one line response to, “Something you know to be true”. Our teacher gave us a beautiful example of the maple trees and smell of sap in Vermont. The first thing I wrote without thinking was, “I know how it feels to stand in a group of moms and feel utterly alone.”

I started to judge myself, thought about writing something else, something more positive, but I felt so at home with this group that I gently reminded myself to stop being critical and I shared it out loud. It was a deep personal truth that I had known for almost a decade, but never voiced to more than my closest circle.

We could analyze why I should or shouldn’t feel this way, but the point I want to convey to you today is that your people are out there, waiting for you to find them. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I think the reason this particular truth bubbled up was because I was realizing in that moment the contrast of how different it felt to feel at ease with a group.

Maybe you fit in seamlessly with all of the communities you find yourself in. Great! But maybe, you are like me and while there are a ton of nice, friendly people it’s taken a lot of time to find the ones who make you feel good inside and figure out how to act when you don’t. It can be draining.

Which is why it’s so crucial to find the people with whom you feel like you can completely be yourself. It’s one of the reasons I love running this business - the people who enroll in my programs are my people! I’m sure it’s one of the (subconscious) reasons I started Orchid Story in the first place.

If at times you feel like an odd duck, this is me encouraging you to branch out. I know it’s one of those memes that we’ve seen too many times (FInd your tribe!) but maybe that’s because it holds truth. You may have to drive a distance to find them. They may be online. It may be a support group. Keep yourself open to opportunities to find them.

Actively searching for and finding community last year was good for my soul. I’m convinced it helped me build resilience for major life challenges that came soon after. When I think about the writing retreat in the Berkshires I feel full of warmth and connection. Just knowing those people are out in the world makes me feel less resistance and more positivity in my life. I think that’s what it’s all about - the connection. We all need this, require it in order to find contentment and peace. Maybe that’s why you are here, reading this. Let’s keep building this together - a community of people who believe that our stories, no matter how challenging, are our strength.

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.

Grace for the Messy Middle

However you visualize your Heroine's Journey, (I've found it to be a helpful way to put things in perspective) the Dark Night of the Soul, aka the Messy Middle, is part of it. It's a human experience shared by all of us. In my role as a caregiver for my mom with dementia, I am smack dab in this place. It's kinda a tough spot. In case any of you are also here with me, I thought I'd share some things I've been thinking about. 

The Cocoon
Awhile ago I listened to an interview with Britta Bushnell, PhD on the Atomic Moms podcast. She talked about confronting the unknown by drawing upon the mythical story of Inanna, the Sumerian mother goddess of Heaven and Earth. It's essentially another version of the Hero's Journey, with a goddess as our guide. The messy middle is a big part of this story. Being in this place is critical to transformation. Eventually we will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. For right now though, 

🦋 The length of time is unpredictable. 

🦋 We are patient.

🦋 We surrender to the process.


Asking for help
For many of us, it's sooo hard to ask for help. Why? For me I think it's the fear of hearing "no" in response. Guess what? People do say "no". The kind-hearted, "Let me know how I can help!" people. Our brains like to turn this into a big deal: why should anyone help you? you're never going to get this worked out, you might as well give up. everyone is too busy to care about your problems. Sound familiar? The flipside is that if you get the courage to keep asking, there are people who say "Yes!" with the most generous, beautiful, compassion. Just last week I had a friend say no and a friend say yes. The yes was a big one - our neighbors used their airline miles to purchase flights for our family (!!). Still, my brain keeps returning to the no. We have to remind ourselves of the good around us, redirect our minds to focus on the positive. 
 

This little nugget popped into my head last week and I've been trying to keep it in the front of my mind:

Let me hold your story for awhile so you can rest. 


Doesn't that feel like fresh air? We can think of "me" as G-d or the Universe or the Divine or a friend, but I don't think it has to be a person. We all need the opportunity to set aside our burdens for a moment to catch our breath and look around. 

Summer series: Chronic Illness

The Bellevue Literary Review is a literary magazine published by the Department of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. The essays and poems examine how illness affects the human condition. These are super high quality pieces of writing that I think you would enjoy. One day I hope my work will be published on those pages.

I was looking for a piece to share with you that examined chronic illness and the one that struck me the most was from the point of view of the son of a man with multiple sclerosis (MS). This isn't lost on me - as the child of a mom with a chronic illness of her own, it's no surprise I landed upon this piece. The author examines his own adjustment to MS, which seems to color his entire existence. This is in contrast to his father's seeming nonchalance about his condition. Isn't this fascinating? That two people in the same family can live through the same experience and have a completely different response and outlook. This line jumped out at me:

I became, in short, his emotional shadow, feeling all those things it would have been understandable for him to feel, if he had been a different kind of person.

I often ask myself why things stick to me and weigh me down. Why I carry bricks of concern in my backpack while others shed their backpack altogether. I think that's why I enjoyed this piece so much.  I felt a connection to these words that sometimes seems hard to find in my world. 

I hope you enjoy it too. What about it resonates with you? Reply and let me know. I recorded an audio file of me reading the piece since it is on the longer side. 

Read "Cripple's Kid" by David Milofsky

Listen to "Cripple's Kid" by David Milofsky

You can't know if you don't ask.

Recently, on a ball field in my town, I was chatting with one of the dads. I hadn't seen his wife for while, which didn't seem unusual. Two working parents, two young kids, your typical busy family. I said to this man something so callous, like: "Where's your wife been hiding, I haven't seen her in forever?"

His response made my stomach churn. She hadn't been feeling well and they were having a hard time figuring out what was going on, despite involving numerous health care providers.

This possibility hadn't even crossed my mind. 

So often we are stuck in our own worlds to the degree that we don't even take notice of what's happening in the world around us. And I'm not talking about the bigger world and feeling bad about not being involved in social justice or the myriad of other causes we might choose to dedicate energy to. I'm talking about the people in our community, in our circles, on our streets. The ones we see without really seeing. 

We do need to take care of ourselves before we can serve others. And yet, people around us, people we see each week, are suffering and we don't even know it. There were many opportunities to ask about this mom, to notice that I hadn't seen her at all in weeks, before I did. 

We make the assumption that everyone else has everything figured out while we are still trying to get the laundry that was done five days ago back into the drawers. But it's simply not true. I don't care if that person drives one of those huge, extravagant SUVs or shows up for every school event with vegan cupcakes. Every single one of us is suffering in some way and sometimes people are going through difficult times right under our noses. If we don't ask how people are doing, we can't know. If we don't know, we can't help. 

This conversation on the baseball field reminded me of all this. When I'm suffering all I want is for someone to reach out and say: I see you, keep going, I have faith in you.

Let's do that for others too.