“I didn’t want to go but I’m glad I did.”
Bella Mahaya Carter’s title for her early December email caught my attention, probably because so many times I didn’t want to go but I was glad I went.
Here’s what Bella wrote:
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are enjoying the holiday season!
Today’s post is
about showing up for ourselves and for each other.
Monday night, I did not want to attend Forest Lawn’s annual
“Lights of Remembrance: An Evening of Honoring the Memories of Your Loved
Ones.” I was tired (hadn’t slept well the night before) and felt like I was
getting sick. I also didn’t want to drive twenty miles at night to a place I’d
never been, or go alone (my husband was too tired and my friend declined). I
wanted to stay home, lounge by the fireplace, and watch The Crown.
I also did not want to kick off my holiday season with sadness. I did not want to do the grief dance. (My mom died seven years ago, in December.) I did not want to be reminded about the ways I’d failed her.
But Melissa Gould was the guest speaker. I had to go. Melissa is a former student of mine, whose memoir Widow. . . ish, is being published by Little A books next year. Witnessing her journey has been remarkable.
When she first
showed up in my class, Melissa had recently lost her husband and was grieving.
An award-winning screenwriter, Melissa’s inclination was to write fiction, but
she needed to tell her own story. She didn’t yet understand
the value her personal narrative held, nor the healing that would come as a
result of sharing it. But she showed up in a big way (even
when it was scary).
She began her process by writing simple exercises from class prompts, which over time became seeds from which essays sprung about her life as a young widow. Her essays have since been published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Girlfriend by AARP, Buzzfeed, and elsewhere.
In addition to all the other reasons I didn’t want to go, I told myself it would be better if I got dressed up. I thought the event was happening at a sanctuary, which made it feel like an occasion, but the last thing I felt like doing was putting on heels or makeup.
But then I realized that all had to do was show up. I set aside the need to “dress” and instead put on comfy leggings, boots, a sweater, hat, and scarf. No make-up.
When I arrived, I discovered the event was being held outdoors, and saw other people dressed casually.
A choir sang, Melissa read her poignant work, poems were shared, and then Melissa led a “silent reflection,” a guided meditation in which she invited the audience to close our eyes and imagine ourselves in a room with a deceased loved one.
I was with my mom in New York, in our old living room.
“Can you forgive me?” I asked.
“For what?” she said.
“For not being more present in your life, especially as you aged.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” she said.
I felt the truth of that statement.
Then I heard, “You were there for me in countless ways, large and small. You were a wonderful daughter.”
I realized that we all do the best we can, given our consciousness and circumstances—and that this applies to me as well as anybody else. It also occurred to me that I’d been weaving (and believing) a “not-good-enough” story in my role as her daughter, and was finally able to release it.
Tuesday morning I put the candle from Monday night’s ceremony on my altar, placed an empty chair beside it, and invited my mother to join my meditation. During the journal writing that followed, I wrote her a long letter. And she “wrote” back. I heard her voice and wrote what she said.
Since then I have felt her presence strongly, but instead of feeling familiar sadness, regret, and shame, I am filled with love and joy! What a sweet way to kick off the holiday season!
I keep thinking how I didn’t want to go to the event and the one thing that dragged me out of the house was that I wanted to show up for Melissa. She had demonstrated incredible tenacity, courage, persistence, and faith. This is worth celebrating.
I was also grateful to receive an email from her saying that she was moved to see me there and that my presence had been a gift. She told me how writing continues to heal her and is yet another gift.
What strikes me is that gift-giving is fluid and creative, and we sometimes don’t even realize what we’re giving—when or to whom. But also, we never know when we’ll receive a gift.
I showed up for Melissa, and she showed up
for me—and for everyone gathered to honor memories
of loved ones. The gift I received from her was both unexpected and priceless.
This is what’s possible when we show up for ourselves and for each other.
Stories nourish, heal, and uplift us all. Monday night reminded me that we rarely know the power of our own stories—until we share them!
If you have a story you’d like to share, or if you’d like to explore what’s possible for you through writing, check out Bella’s upcoming writing circles. Start the new year (and decade!) with the gift of creative expression and healing.
Blessings and gratitude, Bella
Bella Mahaya Carter is an author, creative writing teacher, and empowerment coach, who helps writers (and others) experience greater freedom, joy, and peace of mind. Her winter writing circles (online and on-site) begin January 29, and are filling up fast! Grab your seat while there are still openings. Bella is be happy to speak with you to answer any questions you may have.
Bella believes in the power of writing to heal and transform lives.
Note from Marlene: I also believe you can use your writing to heal.