To Ronan’s Mom from Mary Rapp (Emily’s mom)
I don’t do facebook, twitter, text, or “blog”. Also, I’m not a writer (although in seventh grade I was awarded a wristwatch as first prize for my paper on Rock Hudson, entitled “Don’t knock the Rock”). However, I have decided to step out of my comfort zone and offer a “guest post”. I realize this is very risky as so many of your readers are great writers, but as the guest writer colleague in one of your classes that I attended recently in Santa Fe said, “Writing does not have to be perfect, just good enough.” So here’s to “good enough!”.
We’ve shared a lot of experiences as mother and daughter (some probably best left “unblogged!”), and made some great memories that I will store up for my nursing home days: strolling the streets of Dublin and Trinity College campus, driving through the hillsides of Ireland with the side mirrors missing on the rental car because I didn’t have the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road and hit a few things on the way, driving cross country from Wyoming to Cape Cod with an 80 pound geriatric dog riding on top of the suitcases in the back seat who even though he was almost toothless and blind in one eye managed to sniff out a day old scone, devour it and vomit all over the inside of the car on the first leg of the trip, hearing you read for the first time as a “fellow” at the James Michener Center in Austin, Texas, driving into a small dusty town in TX that made the scenery from “No Country for Old Men” seem like paradise, then sitting in a stuffy, overcrowded county courtroom filled with men and women in orange jail suits complete with chains on their ankles and wrists as sweat dripped off of everyone’s faces as we waited for the judge to declare the legal end of a painful marriage, hosting your reception in West Hollywood after your reading of your first book (Poster Child), sitting in a gas station in Craig, Colorado listening to you talk for an hour about this guy that you had just met who was really smart and made you laugh, salvaging through the boxes for my wedding dress and shocked when you actually wanted to wear it, being in Los Angeles when Ronan was born and watching you embrace motherhood with such zest and compassion.
But lately I don’t seem to communicate with you very well. It has been five months since Ronan’s diagnosis and I still can’t find the right words. I feel that in the past I’ve always been able to say something that helped or brought you comfort in difficult times in your life. But this seems so different, so unreal, something I can’t seem to wrap my head around. So, I say things that aren’t really helpful, or that you no longer believe, or that just annoy you!
But, as Oprah says, “some things I know for sure”.. And so on this day, I want to try and share some thoughts with you about a few subjects I have been thinking about.
Most people my age are not strangers to this five letter word. I lost my mother when I was 24 years old. I thought the emptiness as a result of her passing would never go away. You asked me once if I still remembered her after all these years (43 this August). And I told you, “Yes, people you love are always a part of your soul”. We all know that grief comes in stages and waves. But experiencing the grief related to Ronan is like grief on steroids! It has such power!! It kicks me in the stomach and leaves me in a heap on the floor. This grief has no manners, intruding and interrupting life, sometimes at the worst moments. Like when I was excited to select Ronan’s first birthday cared only to find that every card I opened and read talked about the things he would be doing in the next year; but I knew none of those words were true. I felt the emotion overcome me and I hustled off to a corner of the store and did deep breathing until I was calm enough to walk out of the store to the safety of my car.
This grief is the worst bully, because it is persistently and relentlessly defying all the resilience and survival skills that I think I have acquired in my lifetime.
This grief has no boundaries. It invades my life so that some days I feel like I am walking in cement. It causes me to forget birthdays, anniversaries, lose keys, lack focus, even misplace my “to do” list!
This grief is mean as sometimes I say things or at least think things that are better off left alone!
When dad graduated from seminary we were given a pamphlet titled “Running through the Thistles.” It had to do with change and loss. I guess they were preparing us for the many moves that clergy families might make in the lifetime of their ministry. I didn’t give it much thought as a young bride, but I have come to understand the wisdom of that little pamphlet because that is what I believe grief and loss are really about. You have to go through the pain and the prickles to get to the other side. You know it is going to hurt like hell, but that with time some peace and sense will come to your universe.
I grew up in a home where generosity was modeled as a way of life. No one ever talked about what it was or what it meant, my Mennonite grandparents just simply lived it daily. I’ve watched my brother exemplify this in his life style and our family have all been recipients of his generosity.
You, Rick, and Ronan have had such an outpouring of generosity demonstrated by people all over the world. I have been amazed and ever so thankful for your family and friends and for the consistent support they have been to you. They have left their families and jobs and traveled miles to be with you and Rick and to meet Ronan and spend time with all of you. It is a testimony to the relationships you have built in your short lifetime.
We have also experienced much generosity from people we have never met until you moved to Santa Fe: R and L and their family, N and J and J, all who opened their homes to us so we could come and help you, yet all have some space and respite. And of course the support and love that dad and I have felt from our friends and family. I fine it truly amazing!!
When you were a baby, I would rock you to sleep while singing the old hymn “Count You Blessings”.
When upon life’s burdens you are tempest tossed
when you are discouraged thinking all is lost
Count your blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done
I sang that song as much for myself as for you. I needed those words because they comforted me and gave me hope.
I have had a difficult time with hope these past months! It seemed to elude me, dancing in the shadows, only catching glimpses of it in friends or families’ comforting words or gestures. I cannot live without hope! So, I began naming three things I was grateful for each day. Yes, this is certainly an exercise presented in all kinds of self help books out there. Therapists recommend it; small groups praise its power. I resisted, thinking it was probably just another silly exercise.
BUT, it did have power, realizing that even in the worst of circumstances we can be grateful for something. (Even if it is as mundane as the wind not blowing in Cheyenne today!). And I am always so grateful for Ronan and his chubby little body and infectious smile, and what joy he has brought to our lives.
Finally, I know that there are other mothers whose daughters are healing from a painful divorce. or estranged from the family, or dealing with other difficult problems, and they are asking the same questions that I am asking. Wanting to be supportive but maybe not sure how. I am not alone in this dilemma. I am not unique. I am just like other mothers trying to find my way in uncharted waters wanting to be there for my daughter.
Recently, a friend suggested that I approach this unknown journey we are embarking on with Ronan by learning to “sit with it.” I was confused and very skeptical. After all, I make “to do” lists, have a schedule, and love a plan! How do you “sit” with something as difficult as this? For me, it was accepting that I cannot change this horrific reality. I cannot “fix” it (although that is what I always want to do for you), and the worst reality is that I cannot take away or shield you from the pain that only you as Ronan’s mom will endure. So I am praying for courage and Herculean strength. No miracles or unrealistic expectations. I am “sitting with it”.
Several years ago I bought a framed Story People picture by Brian Andreas that hung in your office. It reads:
There has never been a day when I have not been proud of you, I said to my daughter. Though some days I’m louder about other stuff so it’s easy to miss that.
So today I am writing because I do not want you to miss that!!! I am so very proud of you!! YOU are a great Ronan’s mom! You have shown the strength, persistence, and perseverance that you have always possessed, only this time with unstoppable passion. Keep that up! I am coming right along beside you because now I know what “sitting with it” means. I am learning it from you and Rick!
Mary Rapp is a retired school nurse who has spent a significant part of her career working with special needs students and their families.