My daughter Maria is in her third year of nursing school at the University of Portland and a while back I called her on the phone while I was walking my dog Bella at Wyakin Park, a nature park down the street from our house. I called her mainly because I was creeped out by a guy walking a ways behind me on the same path. I told her this and she immediately said “MOM! Why don’t you call dad? I’m pretty far away to be able to help you.”
“Your dad is always warning me to not walk in Wyakin Park alone so I don’t want to get a lecture. Just know that if I go silent call dad and tell him to call 911 and then drive here super fast because I’m most likely either killed or abducted and he needs to get Bella. I don’t want anything to happen to her.”
We kept on with our chatting while I walked the park, the creeper long disappeared, so it was probably nothing, though it’s good to be more safe than sound I always say. The subject of her needing to conduct a two part interview with someone about suffering came up.
“Well, you can interview my uterus, it’s suffering right now. Why is it that every time you come home for the summer my path to finally completing my year long adventure toward menopause is disrupted? Now my plans for a party are screwed up. I was TWO MONTHS away from official menopause day. I feel kind of mad at you and your alpha she-wolf hormones for messing me up. I’m too old for this crap.”
She laughed and we chatted about how crazy hormones were and other female topics that I think we both crave as the only two girls in a family of eight. Then we talked about possible people she could interview that we know have suffered a lot and whether or not it would be weird for her to reach out to them and finally decided she would interview me (not my uterus). I had gone through a rather rough patch of time when I lost three loved ones: my grandma, my mom and my friend Libby all within a seven year span, and all the experiences leading up to and after those difficult days created all kinds of suffering. I felt enough time had passed that I would be able to give a good interview on the subject of suffering. We scheduled the first interview and I put it on my calendar when Bella and I arrived home unscathed from our walk.
Now, I have never been a fan of FaceTime which was the required method for Maria’s interview, unless she could do it live and Portland is an awfully long drive from Spokane. So I was a little worried about that part. I am always distracted by the little box at the top with MY face in it. Do I have boogers? How does my hair look? Do I have the phone positioned so I don’t have a double chin and my big boobs don’t steal the show? Also, the image of me I’m looking at is a reflection of the reflection I see in the mirror every day so it’s a mind bend seeing how other people might see me everyday. The thought makes me want to part my hair the opposite direction and turn my head to the right when I am face to face with people, which is my bad side but actually shows THEM my good side. It’s so confusing. And extremely self absorbed.
So with that in mind, enter interview number one. I made sure my hair was done nice and I put makeup on so I would not be distracted by wishing I HAD done that. And then there was Maria, on my phone, who had clearly done the same. Her hair had grown longer since I last saw her, making her look older, more grown up and OH my FILLED UP HEART so beautiful. I felt this deep sense of awe that this delightful woman came partly from me and I was distracted from my own face in the corner which was good. We made some giggly small talk about how good we both looked and then got into the interview.
I was fully prepared to just coast through the questions and as is my way, try and make it lighthearted and fun. I feel like I am pretty together and practical about suffering: it’s a human condition that is hard to avoid but I myself have lived through it thus far and relatively unscathed. What I was NOT prepared for was how meaningful the interview was for me and how my daughter shined with empathy and poise that had things spilling out of me that I did not at all expect, including tears and some amazing ‘a-ha!’ moments including the realization that I have pushed down a little bit of anger about the death of my mother, because I didn’t really want to talk about that part of my suffering. She should still be here.
Now granted, I’m a talker. I have never had trouble talking or writing about almost any subject, including what my heart feels at the moment. It’s how I’m wired. But I have learned to keep some of my deepest things closely guarded, namely because people just don’t want to hear about suffering, at least not all the time. But also, it has been important to me as a mother that my kids don’t worry about me, at least not on a grand scale like I did my own mother for so much of my life. So it was a little bit unnerving actually being given permission to talk about my personal suffering, especially by my daughter in what felt like a professional counseling session.
We ended the first interview and I found myself excited for the next one but worried that I had worried her.
We were both less concerned with how we looked on the second interview and got into it pretty quickly. She had some follow up questions for me that were hard to answer because they were very thought provoking. These are the ones that stood out to me:
- What support was missing for you during that time?
- What have you learned about yourself through suffering?
- How did suffering affect your faith?
- What gives you a sense of hope when you are in pain? What IS hope in your mind, what does it look like?
Lots of big questions and I found myself meandering a bit with my words in search of what the answers were which was cathartic in and of itself. But here are a few answers I discovered:
I know that I have never lacked support because I have learned how to ask for it from the people who I know are willing and able to give of themselves when it is most important. What I do know is that it’s not always the same person I turn to and that each person in my core has a different way of supporting and loving. Three words from the men in my life can sometimes be as powerful and soothing as hours of wailing with a soul sister. Different love languages for different types of suffering.
I have learned to understand that suffering is a gift when I look at what it would mean NOT to suffer which is one of two things: I’m dead or I do not love.
My faith has been altered but not shaken from suffering. I have had a few fights with God along with a more expansive and less defined by ritual understanding of who my maker is. I’m still pondering this one a bit but my spirituality as a whole hasn’t wavered much. I figure if I’m yelling at God, it means I’m a believer. Or crazy. Maybe both.
But looking into my daughter’s eyes as we dove into our deep and powerful conversation, I realized with a most profound and solid certainty that she and her brothers are the very definition of what hope is for me. My children, each with their unique gifts and personalities, will absolutely make the world better, long after I am gone. What could be more hopeful (and soul soothing) than this?
I got to witness first hand Maria’s healing gifts and know with certainty she has chosen the right path for her life “You should be a geriatric psychiatric nurse. Is that a thing? Old people need to talk this shit out before they die! You are amazing!” I said, wiping happy sad tears from my eyes. “I wish I could have had this kind of talk with my mom. That would have been amazing. This is priceless stuff. You’re welcome by the way.”
“Ahhhh…” said my daughter “there she is!”