In my now (lifelong) journey to being ok, I take great pleasure in meeting new people.
Those who knew me “before” can oftentimes project an expectation that I must somehow “return to normal”. I know that none of this is intentional, but comments like “It is so good to see you smiling again” or “It must be nice to finally feel happy”, or “it is nice to see the Old Barb again” can be incredibly triggering.
For the Old Barb to exist there would have to be a 19-year-old Molly living in her skin somewhere earthside. “Old Barb” had not lost her 13-year-old daughter. Heck, true Old Barb had not lost a 21-year teaching career helping someone she thought was a friend. I suppose this could go on all the way to “The Birth of Barb” but I think you get my gist.
Trauma changes us.
In the days, weeks and months after my job loss in 2011 my electronics were silent. My removal from the school district silenced everyone. Co-workers, friends, acquaintances were all nonexistent. Gracie and Molly were befuddled at how sad I was. I recently found a post-it note that Gracie wrote that simply said, “Make Mommy Happy”. I cry typing this as the memory of how sad she was watching me try to survive those awful days washes over me. In that time of isolation, my emotional dependence on Roy, the person I had helped, became extremely unhealthy. He once told me if I became involved with him, I would lose everything. I remember being puzzled by that statement at the time and him then reassuring me he would stay by my side forever. That particular forever ended a long time ago now, actually, it has ended several times. That is a story for another time.
I reinvented myself after that and in many ways the Old Barb did in fact rise from the ashes. It was clear though, that I would be forever colored by that loss and all the press that followed. Every new accomplishment I made was tainted somehow.
In the days, weeks and months after Molly’s death everything stopped. My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I have to say the support I (and all of us really) received was tremendous. We were given such love and grace. As time went along, however, there were those who became distant, those who urged us to “feel better “, and “don’t think about it so much”. There were some who admonished that “Molly would want you to be happy”. And there were those who outright disappeared. Roy was unbelievably supportive for about six weeks. Once June rolled around, he made it clear that he had “waited long enough” and “how long was I going to be sad”. This too is a story for another time, but he had a new relationship by mid-July, 10 weeks after Molly’s death. I became invisible. That was a very short forever.
In rebuilding my life, I have gravitated toward my grief groups. I get such love and support from my “angel moms”. I can say things like “this is the worst, I want to die too!” and 60 responses later I have 60 versions of love, understanding and empathy. Not one bit of judgment or criticism. I can also say “I am feeling so happy and joyful today!” and get the same kind of response. We all know better than to try and dictate the journey of grief. These groups are the first people who only know me as an angel mom. They have no expectation that I ever return to my former self.
As I navigated the creation of Jack and the removal of three brain tumors, I met the next round of those who only knew This Barb. The doctors, nurses and others involved in all that this two-and-a-half-year journey entailed have a complete love and understanding for ME. Yes, they wish happiness upon me, but there is no expectation attached to it, no barometer against which it is measured. They just see me.
All of the TV crew in Utah and the folks from Montefiore-Einstein Medical Center see This Barb, Today Barb as sufficient. There is no waiting for some other part of me to return. All of who I am is right here. They do not know the parts that are gone. No one in my “after Molly” life does and that’s where their ability to accept who and what I am lives.
I should be patient then with those who knew me before. They may have loved the parts of me that disappeared. This can all make me feel old. This can make me feel like forever is a long time.
This is where Picasso’s quote comes in.
In my podcast journey I have met some amazing women. While I have the articulately loquacious gift of gab, I am not naturally entrepreneurial. Perhaps it is a “lack of self-worth” thing. I have sought out online courses and women’s groups. I have met some amazing people. Some of them, like me, have experienced severe trauma and loss. Others have endured illness. Still others have cleared abusive relationships. All of these women are positive, enthusiastic and supportive. All of them have found the ability to use their suffering for the betterment of themselves and others.
All of them know me as the This Barb.
I was at a gathering of women called 28Carrots, a group for female entrepreneurs. I was surrounded by women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Their skills varied. Their likes diverse. Their hearts open. What stood out to me the most was how youthful and almost childlike they were in the execution of their talents and enthusiasm in their journeys.
A 90-year-old woman named Susan sang to me and gleefully described her sculptures and photography. Another named Linda talked about how infusing love and strength into her work made it always enjoyable even in times of struggle. Lisa, the one who hosted the event, was almost giddy in her interactions with everyone there. She flitted about making sure everyone had the food they wanted and a glass of wine.
Everyone I met had a story to tell as well as an ear for mine.
I have developed a friendship with a woman named Susan from that night. She is enthusiastically open to exploring the beauty of life. She jumps into the water off high rocks, she lets the ocean waves crash into her. She walks in the woods. She mentors young people and maintains longtime friendships. She has fun! We have met for “coffee” a few Sundays now. Our conversations are always interesting and fun. She is up for anything and willing to try new things. Yesterday she brought temporary tattoos to the coffee shop. A wide variety of hummingbirds. I noticed them right away on her leg. So right there in the middle of a crowded cafe we put tattoos on my leg and took pictures.
I suddenly thought of crackerjacks, and the toys that were often in cereal boxes. I giggled. I thanked her for providing a chance for me to feel young. She was grateful for the thanks. She likes to have fun too. Why should our age define how “old” we are, I declared. And she responded with Picasso’s quote.
“It takes a long time to become young”
As I went inside to throw away my trash a very refined looking woman remarked how enjoyable it had been to listen to our conversation and watch the tattoo application process. She thanked me for making her visit pleasurable. I am just a wrinkly kid, I responded, with a giggle and shrug, and perhaps for a moment, a little bit of Old Barb.
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