The Two Words
December 5, 2018
Right there on my little phone’s. My mom’s signature.
I needed to make a call about something related to my mom. Something we had not gotten around to doing in the few crazy days between my mom’s death and my return home.
Thus my mom’s signature staring back at me.
It always felt powerful to me. Pretty, dainty, super feminine, not fully legible yet impactful. Quite a bit like my mom.
I remember its definitive power when I was in school and it would allow me to skip PE or confirm that I was indeed ill that day. Or would be absent for a week or two due to a family trip somewhere exotic. It excused. it made so. It ended conversations or questions.
There it was on the little screen.
I stared at it and could not fully grasp how it could still exist while she did not. While she had not existed for two full months, now.
But I had a job to do, a call to make.
My task was to call the number that hovered a few inches above The Signature then go through a tedious and necessary process .
I could do that.
A few taps on the phone, a few transfers to “the right person,” and there I was, talking with the man who was going to make it happen. First, he needed to verify a few things, and then he needed to confirm that my mom had indeed died.
And then he said the two words I have heard a few times in the last few weeks.
The first time I heard The Two Words was out of the mouths of the two shockingly young men in oversized dark suits who had wrapped my mom’s cooling body in a white cloth, doing their best not to drop her as they laid her on the stretcher (I remember wondering if they would be that careful on the other side, I would not be there to watch them, ready to pounce at the slightest breach). They had then maneuvered the small awkward hallway, made their way out of the house and towards the driveway where their white van was waiting.
They had opened the van’s back door, and I could see that there was room in there for two stretchers. I was immediately grateful that for her last ride, my mom would not have a roommate. I knew that she would not have liked to ride in the back of a white van with a dead person next to her. Crazy, I know.
Then, before closing the doors, these two men stood on each side of the van, their heads bowed and their hands clasped in a well practiced gesture which I think was supposed to represent solemnity. This was a notably different look from the way they had arrived thirty minutes before, laughing and joking has they had passed by the bedroom’s tinted windows. My nephew had immediately renamed them “the goons” and had made his way to the garden until they left.
The proper amount of time having passed, they unclasped their hands, lifted their heads, shut the back door, got in the front seats and forever took my mom away from me.
All the cool headedness I had been blessed / cursed with for the previous three weeks melted away in the rotation of a tire and I watched myself run after the van, submerged in the panic of a three year old left at daycare for the first time, knowing for sure that she would not pick me up at the end of the day.
The van halted at the stop sign, started again and made a right turn.
That was it. She was really gone.
But I digress. I was about to tell you about The Two Words and about the phone call. Let me get back on track.
The Two Words, first uttered to me by two young men in oversized dark suits as they were about to flip the page on a thick chapter of my life. These two words were “My Condolences.”
Two weird sounding words, the true meaning of which I could not grasp. Somehow, there was an energy mismatch. Even the “my” part felt weird and scratchy. What in this story, was theirs? Why were they telling me about them? I filed it away for later.
*Later* came when I was on the phone with the official guy (see, it’s all going to make sense, now) just a few days ago. Two months had passed and I had gone through some of the strange hills and valleys of my own brand of grief. I was okay. I was fine. I would make take care of things and then get on a coaching call.
The agent having verified the details necessary for the claim, The Two Words came out of his mouth and made their way to my ear once more: My Condolences. Quick, official and without any more energy than if he had wished me a nice day.
I heard them and my mind registered them as a niceness, my eye on the clock to make sure I would be ready for my coaching client. My heart however, started to do this weird thing, right there on the phone. It felt as though my heart was twisting its nose in an attempt to not sneeze. Futile attempt.
I breathed, I looked outside the window, trying to delay what I now sensed was the inevitable.
I did not know this man, we were almost done, I would be off the call in a minute. I had been doing just fine, even through Thanksgiving. I was not that close to my mom anyway. I had a call to tend to. Why now?
But no. It was coming and there was nothing to do but surrender.
Prompted by a stranger’s formality, I was ushered into one more of grief’s strange chambers and there was no looking back.
Business got done efficiently and I had been blessed with one more invitation to navigate this mapless, surprising territory.
When I finally got on the call with my client, I was deeply ready to hear about her life, mine having been sweetly cleansed.
As the days and weeks pass and I learn to live with this new piece, I become more and more convinced of something I had been suspecting for a while: that all the cracks in our hearts really do make us stronger and allow us to be more present, more compassionate. I really love this.
Today, I invite you to love your heart deeply. To trust it, to be kind to it and to know that it makes perfect sense.
I also invite you to consider that a chipped heart can do even better work than a whole heart. I invite you to get out there and allow it to touch others.
Finally, I want to share with you this quote from “The Book of Joy,” which I have been drinking up: “The way though the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” - the Dalai Lama
Wishing you a very sweet rest of the day.
“I sure wish I’d learned that in school!”
I have heard this phrase so many times when teaching classes or coaching clients.
And I agree.
When I think back about how much daily use I get from my French geography class, versus how many times a day I pull up one of the communication skills I have picked up over the last two decades, it seems clear to me that the earlier we could learn how to exist in the world, the better it would be.
Compassion. Patience. Curiosity.
Peace of Mind. Resilience. Kindness. Self Care.
And yes, a bit of Magic.
Every time someone tells me this, I think “that’s it. I am going to open a school and teach this stuff in some classroom setting.” And then life happens and I am back to leading Retreats - which I love - or working with someone one-on-one, or writing. Which I love also.
But what about “The School??” The school where the curriculum is based around Happiness and learning to get along better with ourselves and others? The school that does not require to fly across the world or pay a lot of money per hour? The … Happiness School?
A couple of months ago, while watching someone I love juggle more balls in the air than is healthy, I decided to go for it. I would create the Happiness School. I would teach one lesson at a time. I would make it super accessible. And cheap.
So here it is.
The Happiness School is ready to go.
One lesson per month, taught live online. Time for questions. A bit of homework. An online community for support for in between classes, too.
The curriculum will include anything that allows us to live life with more ease, more joy, and more confidence. We will talk about communication, relationships, creativity, peace of mind, and much more.
My students will learn skills that will allow them to become stronger and stronger in their ability to ride life’s waves with agility AND JOY. Together, we will grow our “mental immunity” so that life’s twists and turns will affect us much less and for a shorter amount of time. Little by little, the kind voices in our heads will become much louder than the mean ones. Our life will get sweeter, easier.
And then, the thing that for me is the biggest reason I do the work I do: we will be able to give so much more to the ones we love.
Because as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:
"The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you."
School will keep going for as long as we have things to talk about. My guess is it will be a good while. I am purty excited about this.
First day of class is January 4.
General application period opens this Monday, December 3. For a personal invitation to apply two days early, click here (the first 100 students will get a discount and pay only $29 per month).
It took a while, and sometimes that’s just how it works. I trust the that the timing is perfect and that this will be a blessing for many of us.
Wishing you much peace and fun for the rest of the week!
PS: Because we cannot always be available at a certain time, any lesson missed will be recorded.
A student shares with me about “Camp Grandma.”
Every year, she invites all of her “5-years old and older” grandchildren to spend one week at her home. She sets up an arrangement of tents all over the yard, as well as a huge canopy for “base camp.” They cook, they play, they do all kinds of great stuff, and when they leave, she sleeps for thirteen hours straight. She tells me that this is the only way for some of the kids to get to know their cousins. She tells me that her own grandma inspired her to do this, and so she does.
I think of my mom who did not know most of her grandkids’ birthdays and who had warned me, years before I had my first child that she had done enough for hers and would not be caring for mine. She did a good job of staying true to her word.
Having dinner with a close friend in Seattle, last week. He tells me about his dad whose brain has been changing dramatically and I hear once more that my friend has been the best of sons and companions. Then I hear about the gift of healing and the gift of family. My friend’s dad and his mom have been divorced for many years. When the older man needed a place to rest after surgery in the city where the mom lives, both he and my friend were welcome with open arms into her home. She cared for him as a cherished family member.
My heart soaked that up to the last drop.
As I get ready to welcome pieces of the eclectic puzzle of my own family into my home this week (and as I get ready to sorely miss some parts, also) I drink both of the stories in. Both stories of giving, of loving, of welcoming, and of letting our hearts guide us into making sure the people who matter to us know that they do.
We may sleep for thirteen hours when it’s all over, and it will be well worth it.
Whether you are surrounded by lots of faces or whether yours is a very calm holiday (these can be very sweet, too. Last year I was alone on top of a little medieval village in Southern Italy, and enjoyed my quiet inner gratitude) I wish you much love in your heart. And a deep knowledge that YOU MATTER.
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Essential Happiness Retreat
January 10 to 20, 2019
Guadeloupe, French Caribbean
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