Monday, December 29, 2014

A Ceremony of Gratitude

Since fall, 3 women who were pivotal in my life passed away. Two were in their mid 80s and my mother was 96. Vastly different women, but all gave me gifts that made me who I am today.
Alice passed away first. She was a mother of 5. Loved each child like a rock. Always had a pot of something good on the stove and made room for any extra folks that tagged along come dinner time. When I was in her presence, I felt loved as a part of her family. She was fun and playful, always had a sparkle in her eyes. She and her husband were a team and very much in love. I wanted to have a big heart like her. I wanted my children to know that I loved them like a rock. It was during a 4th of July party at her house that my former husband blew up at me an outed himself as an abuser. It was she who stood up to my spouse and protected me.
My mother passed away a few weeks after Alice did. She’d had a difficult early life and wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of mother. In spite of her pain, she focused on the good things in her life and was always quick to tell one of her funny life stories. I also learned from the sayings she was always quoting: You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. What ever you do— give it 100%. If someone doesn’t like you—kill them with kindness, you’ll either win them over or drive them crazy. She was the one who told me it is never okay for a man to hit a women—never. (That became my touchstone to what I’d put up with when it came to abuse. Now I know that abuse is much more than hitting.) She taught me to be kind to others. When I needed her most, she was there.
Helen was my sister-in-law’s step-mom. When my former husband took me away from my family, we moved to the area where Helen and her husband lived. She was stylish, feminine and strong. She managed a department of a store. Having been raised feeling I was mousy and unattractive and having a spouse who saw me as a millstone around his neck, my self image was in the dumpster. But Helen made me feel intelligent, beautiful and feminine. She saw things in me that no one else had ever recognized. Characteristics that I hoped I’d developed. She made me feel worthy.
Distance and timing of notification prevented me from attending the funerals of my dear friends. My mother, who had outlived her peers, had insisted that she didn’t want anything more than a graveside service. Thinking about these three women I needed more than a phone call or lowering of the casket into the ground. I needed a recognition ceremony, one that acknowledged their cherished place in my life. 
I gathered three candles together and set them on my prayer/meditation table. As I lit one for each of these unique women, I thanked God for them, for the lessons they’d taught me and especially for their love and encouragement at my most difficult times. I looked at pictures, remembering their gestures, smiles, laughs. Gratitude filled me. It was a holy moment.
It wasn’t much of a ceremony but it was enough to ease my heartache, acknowledge them and say goodbye. We often think ceremonies have to be overseen by a faith leader. They don’t. We can create our own.
Here on the cusp of a new year, I'm thinking a ceremony that celebrates the joys from 2014 and releases the sorrows. Maybe you'd like to join me in spending a quiet moment reflecting on all the blessings received this past year. Then spend time unpacking the painful stuff so we don't carry it into 2015.
I count you all among my cherished blessings. Wishing you a joy-filled 2015.

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