We all define ourselves in many ways I think. We are children, parents, spouses and friends. We identify ourselves with our career path as well and I, if asked, would describe myself as a healthcare professional who works with older adults. And we describe ourselves in other ways based on our preferences and priorities, whether we’re people who love sports or the theatre or any number of other things. For me, one of the descriptions on that list would be that I am a writer and as a writer, one of things that I choose to do is write.
As a child, and not the easiest of children, I would get upset or frustrated and my mother would tell me to “write it all out.” And I did. After my mother died, I found a whole drawer in her dresser that was filled with notes and cards that went back years. The early, crayoned, misspelled notes and the ones that I wrote when older all reflected similar themes — either justifying why whatever rule or restriction I was opposing was unfair and ill-considered or an apology note for doing or saying something that had led to either upset or argument.
I think this history led me to journaling, which I have done sporadically, but more often than not, throughout my adult life. Words on paper in times of stress are an outlet and a comfort, a place where I can “dump” my emotions safely and without anyone else’s judgement. Words on paper at other times give me a chance to really think about things I don’t often think about, looking at the past and even, sometimes, connecting the dots.
That’s been my experience in recent weeks. With the anniversary of my mother’s death in June and my father’s in July, it’s no surprise to me that this has been on my mind but what has surprised me have been some of the questions that I’ve asked myself and some of the little “ah ha” or maybe “hmmm” moments that have arisen.
I have often described my parents in big, sweeping terms. I have said that my mother was an angel on earth, the woman who lived by the belief that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” I have, in similar fashion, said that my father was a man “who raised difficulty to the level of an art form.” Both of those statements are true, they’re my boiled down and condensed synopsis of two people I define through the lens of my childhood.
Yet as I take the time to put my life and theirs in perspective, I know that those definitions are overly simplistic and, while valid, are so much less than the full story. Connecting dots in their lives and mine has led me to understand things in ways that I hadn’t, some which are kinder and more understanding and others which are disturbing and disappointing.
One other way I describe myself is as the child of older parents, parents whose lives ended as my adult life was just beginning. Seeing this as I do today there are things I wish I had done and said and questions I wish I had asked.
It’s difficult to get that perspective until you have the time and opportunity to look back. I know that our overfilled over-committed lives often see us struggling just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But if you can find those moments of introspection in your life, if you can make room to wonder and even to ask the questions, how much richer your view will be and how much richer to pass along to future generations.