Monday, January 16, 2012

In the Softness

Underneath the hardness there is fear
Underneath the fear there is sadness
In the sadness there is softness
In the softness is the vast blue sky

–Unknown

This poem describes my life. Lately, the last line has been floating in my spirit like a fluffy cloud on a balmy day. I wrote recently about feeling regret over how I handled my early parenting years. Even bigger than the regret is the sadness, the deep spirit sadness of ungrieved grief.

When my son James was a baby, he was so beautiful. Everything seemed possible. Over time, it was clear to everyone but me that something was different about him, something to be concerned about. But I saw only magical uniqueness. Even when he was diagnosed with autism, I failed to acknowledge or to accept the loss of my dreams. I failed to see him for, yes, the truly magically unique child he was. I denied the impact on my heart and on my life, and set out to force happy normalcy on us all. The alternative was simply more than I thought I could bear.

My heart formed a hard crust like a geode, hiding in darkness whatever feelings might dwell within. Maintaining my fantasy world required an enormous amount of energy. And it was not without a price, in lost relationships, health, and most important, in my ability to accept my son as he was. I spent the first part of his life trying to make him someone else.

One day, as I passed the partially open bathroom door, I heard James exclaim as he made faces at himself in the mirror, “It’s great to be James!” I realized then that the problem that needed to be fixed was mine, not his.

In time, my energy was exhausted and cracks began to appear in the hardness. On the outside my life looked fine. I had a lovely home, a great job, and another child. But inside I was coming apart, and what was pushing through the cracks was fear. Terror. What was I so afraid of? I think I was afraid of feeling all the feelings I had. I thought if all that grief and anger got free, I would be swallowed up in a tidal wave and swirled around in the dark water until I drowned.

But I didn’t. I survived. And when the water receded there was sadness, yes, but also joy. Life went on. And got better. Three more children came into my life, one with autism. I learned to accept all my children as they are. And to accept myself as I am. (Well, most of the time!)

With the arrival of my grandson Jaden, a brown skinned, dark eyed baby who reminds me so much of James when he was a baby, memories of James’s early years have resurfaced. And with those memories, some of the feelings have resurfaced, too. This time, however, I am not afraid. Feelings that I rejected before are now welcomed. Sadness is tenderly cradled.

In that sadness there is softness. A sweet softness. I took James out to dinner last night. Mia and Jaden came along, too. I looked from Jaden’s laughing baby face to James’s laughing grown up face, and thought of all the years, all the years of loving James so much, of hurting so much, of wanting so much. All the years of being so afraid.

I marveled at the cosmic wisdom of timing. What seemed so terrifying all those years ago seems strangely comfortable now. What I tried to hide in shame is now precious. And what I felt so angry about I am now profoundly grateful for. Of all my children, James broke my crusty heart open. Inside the dull geode shell sparkled brilliant rainbow beauty.

There will always be a raw tenderness in my heart for James, a place sensitive to touch. A place of quiet grieving. And that’s okay. The grief I denied all those years ago is now free. I breathe into the softness of it, trusting in the basic goodness of the universe, the perfection of it all, the sunny brightness of the vast blue sky.

The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. –Joanna Macy

Related posts: Cradling Our Feelings, The Joy of Sadness

52 comments:

  1. Oh my, early parenting regrets sounds like such similar paths we have been on. Different life situations...but the haunting regrets that whisper through my daily life, as I now look back with eyes that see from a place of higher wisdom.

    Thank you for your post.

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    1. "haunting regrets that whisper through my daily life"--beautifully said. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. Oh my.

    Friend, this post broke my heart into a million tiny pieces for a dozen different reasons.

    Thank you for always being so... so... YOU. I needed this story today. Thank you.

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    1. Chrissy--I laughed at the delightful compliment about being so me! Thank you!

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  3. "Even bigger than the regret is the sadness, the deep spirit sadness of ungrieved grief."
    This statement resonates hugely with me. I have been thinking about my ungrieved griefs a great deal late lately... maybe the time has come for me to write about that darkness.

    Thank you, Galen

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    1. Alexia, It's not easy, is it? It is still hard for me to write about this. Thanks for your comment, and I hope you will share your writing if you want to.

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  4. "he heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. –Joanna Macy"

    wow... thanks, Galen. great post.

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  5. My heart is so full. For all parents with children who have exceptionalities, there is an excruciating surrender of expectations. So thankful that you have taken that on fully and come through to the other side where there await so many new and beautiful expectations.

    My godson has autism and I have seen my sister's struggles, despair, and victories. I work with young children who have special needs, so I try to just listen and be supportive with parents who are coming to grips with different obstacles and challenges. The fact is, there is so much that we don't know about the capacity of the human mind. If we are patient and take each child as he comes, we can follow where he leads -- and find it's a good place.

    I am so glad you are finding peace in this cycle. Not an easy task for any parent.

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    1. Angelle, Autism is so epidemic now, at least in the US, it's hard to find someone who is not affected by it directly or indirectly. Thanks for your kind and encouraging words.

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  6. You're right, I get it! I don't think I ever understood grief before.

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  7. Oh my goodness Galen... this is a beautiful post that sent chills up my back... thank you for sharing something so personal with all of us!

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  8. Hi Galen,
    You have described this well.....reminds me of the four seasons of Life.
    be good to yourself
    David

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    1. David, Yes, it does have a sense of seasons. I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. I've been vacillating between "not looking back", staying present....and looking back to sort things out. Beautiful description of this part of your path.

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    1. One of the teachings in A Course in Miracles is that the past is not here. And yet shadows of the past float in and out of the present, at least for me. Seeing them clearly seems like a necessary step in releasing them. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. The regrets of our parenting. I have them too, for two normal sons adopted as infants. I look at them now and think how I could have done it differently. Even though they appear to be living lives well suited to them, they're different from what I expected. I hope one day that will be just fine, really!

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    1. Linda, All my kids are adopted or permanent foster kids. James, however, was my only infant. One daughter was adopted as a toddler. The other three came to me as teenagers. Each one has surprised me with choices and directions in their lives. Those expectations....ha! Most of the time now, it is just fine, really!

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  11. Galen, thank you so much for being so open...I always learn so much from you and am inspired by your candor.

    joy and blessings,
    Alida

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  12. Hi Galen,

    That is a beautiful story. Each time you tell it, it gets better. :)

    I always liked that line, "It's great to be James." What could be better than such complete acceptance of oneself? It makes one question what and who is really normal. Are we truly normal when there is so much of ourselves that we reject and deny? Are we truly normal for having so much hang ups about ourselves where we use our right hand to fight our left hand?

    On hindsight, everything seems to work out well. But it is the getting there, the choices and actions that we make that really matter. All you have today was the result of the choices you made. The end result is good.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

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    1. Irving, That is a great line. I can go months not remembering it, and then it will come back to me. My idea of what is normal has certainly changed over the years. One thing I realized is that we, as parents, want our kids to be happy with themselves. In that sense, James is a big success! So many ways to look at things. Thanks for your comment.

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  13. Good morning Galen....THIS my friend was a marvelous post. It is so hard for us to accept WHAT IS....we struggle and struggle trying to change things....and what really needs to change is the eyes through which we see things.

    xo

    Jo

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    1. Jo, I love your phrasing about changing the eyes through which we see things. I'll remember that. Thanks for your kind words.

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  14. I read and I remembered my own sadness, this feeling of being submerged by fear. My godson who passed away last year was different too, he had a mental and physical illness. I remember each time I was visiting, each time I would do as if anything was normal, as if I was strong to carry on. No tears, No sadness.
    Each one of your words brought me back to him, and I let it go. In my heart normality do have a different definition, he was unique to me.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a beautiful way. Take care

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    1. Marie, I'm so sorry about your godson. We all are touched by grief and loss in our lives. It is part of our connection to each other. Thanks for your comment.

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  15. What a beautiful post about love and acceptance. Thank you so much for sharing your truths with us.

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  16. Ah the heart that breaks open - stunning

    I held close Jennifer James words when I was parenting: " I am doing the best I know how to do and I am a person who will learn to do it better"

    I too had to remind myself that I am a kind and loving person.

    My "special needs" child (actually they all are) taught me so many more lessons in love and living; I am profoundly grateful

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    1. Patricia, There is a book titled The Good Enough Parent. We are indeed all doing the best we can. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. Oh how I could learn from James...how many times have I looked in the mirror with scorn instead of acceptance...awesome writing Galen...thank you for sharing...my heart was touched by your honesty and openness

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    1. Rhonda, I've learned a lot from James, and that was one of the biggest lessons. Thanks for your kind words.

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  18. What a truly beautiful posting!! I've missed reading your blog, Galen, and promise to try and do so more regularly. I'm always rewarded when I do!! Thank you for being you!

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    1. Therese, Glad you stopped by. Always a pleasure. And thanks for the kind words.

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  19. Galen - Your honesty touches me....And I was deeply moved by James' statement 'It's great to be James' - some of us never get to that place in life. He is truly a blessed child and I'm sure God knew what He was about when He trusted him with you. ♥

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    1. Corinne, Over the years James has shown much wisdom in his magically unique spirit. Thanks for commenting.

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  20. Heartfelt post with an awakening I feel just reading the words. Very touching Galen!

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    1. Thank you, Cynthia, for the kind words.

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  21. Comment from Nancy Shields, who, like many of us, is having trouble posting through Internet Explorer right now. She asked me to post this for her.

    Beautifully said my friend Galen! Oh the regrets of life that can be turned into beautiful pillows of white clouds - floating away to another dimension.

    You are at a wonderful place now - how fortunate you are!

    James knew the whole time - I AM James.....

    My best to you,
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy, Thanks for being persistent about the comments. And thank you so much for the kind words. I love what you said about "I AM James." Yes, he is.

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  22. Wow, Galen, you got some really good responses here. I'm afraid mine is going to seem cheesy, but I've often worried I wasn't being the parent my kids deserved. I am committed to my family and I love my kids, but my patience has often left something to be desired. I don't want to spend my life in regret over not seeing my kids for the precious gifts they are.

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    1. Bryan, There is a great book titled The Good Enough Mother. It applies just as well to dads. You might like it. We all do our best, don't we? And in the end we give our kids not a model of perfection which they could never live up to, but a model of humanness that can inspire them and reassure them. Thanks for your comment.

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  23. wow, feelings and emotions within experiences past, I recognize that uncertainty, always gnawing at the back of my mind as I take the steps to lead and walk with my kids.
    The best reward is always a child's confidence.

    You've written an emotion-provoking post.

    Helen

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    1. Helen, Children are great models of trust and love, aren't they? Watching my daughter now learning to be a mom and worrying about every little thing is sweet. Thanks for your comment.

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  24. hi
    I'm new reader of ur blog,really enjoyed this emotional post.

    ghazal

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  25. This is a great post Galen. I know that when we are able openly share our pain and experience with others real healing takes place. It is as if a million birds drop down to carry your burden far far away. And maybe those birds are the resonating hearts of others.

    Maybe autistic children come to us for own healing. We have to feel the pain, the grief and the shame in order to feel the joy. We can't compartmentalize our feelings and pick and choose. But of course, you get all this.

    Here's to a million birds
    Nicole~

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