One morning, I was watching author Cheryl Strayed on Oprah and something she said struck me - “Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” I felt like she threw cold water in my face.
As I have been wandering around this new “after caregiving” world, I have been looking for who I used to be. Where did she go? For the past ten months I knew my Mother was gone, my children are adults, and I need to figure out who I am and where I fit. But until that moment, I didn’t realize that I do not have to fit where I used to be. The way forward is forward.
I thought about all the lessons my mother taught me during our time together. Practical ones like the secret to a great pie crust, how to fold towels so they are all “even” as if on a display in a store and the real life ones like compassion and empathy.
But one of the most important lessons she ever taught me was to follow your heart. Mom had this incredible way about her. She truly believed that everything would work out. “What’s the use of worrying? It’ll all be fine” was her mantra. Me? I am a bit of a worrier. I get that from my dad, but she would implore me not to worry.
When my father died and made my mother a widow at 56, she could have continued on the path as an Italian mother making Sunday Sauce and working as a hairdresser. Her children were long out of the house, except for 17-year-old senior in high school me. She could have just kept doing what she was doing and that would be that.
But in contrast, she recreated herself. Planned out a new life. What did SHE want now? Where did SHE see herself going now? Mom decided she would never marry again, and she didn’t. And that she would enjoy life to the fullest, she did.
Her love of dance started as a young child when her father played the accordion. Her eyes would light up when she told the story of how she would hear that music and dance around. That music. I could always tell she could feel it. It didn’t matter where we were or what we were doing. If she heard a song or even the beat of a song, she would start moving. She felt it in her soul and that’s what she followed. That was her joy.
She took that joy, found a man who also loved to dance, and they danced for over three decades together. I always gave her so much credit for forging a fresh path, especially because some of those around her judged her. After all, no one likes change, even if it has nothing to do with your own life.
But she followed what was in her heart and soul. She chose joy for herself. I always marveled at her ability to do that and told her so. In those rare moments of doubt, or when other opinions would vex her, I would say, “If you want to walk down the street naked, you do it. I have your back.”
When I was much older, I asked her about that time in her life. Was she afraid? Worried? Anxious? She looked at me and smiled. She said, “noooo, I was going to do what I felt was right for me, and I did.”