I was so wiped out last night. It wasn't because I stayed all the way up to 10:30 the night before. It wasn't because I walked three miles yesterday afternoon. [Three days walking in a row, woot!] It wasn't because I worked my fingers to the bone crafting Christmas cards for the grandchildren. [So cute and so easy – a Dymo label maker to spell out "MERRY CHRISTMAS," a photo of each sweet little face printed on a magnetic business card and a snowflake brad. Done!]
It was because the AA meeting I went to at the prison was beyond sad.
One of the inmates shared that she'd talked with her mother, whom she's seen only once in nine years, earlier this week, and she told her mom that next year she'd be straight and sober for Christmas. And Mom said, "I love you, baby, and I can't wait for that day."
Two days later her mother died.
As always happens when an emotional issue arises, the women took over with more comfort and wisdom than I could ever muster. The daughter was sad and angry and she wanted the world to stop. How dare we carry on with our lives [that's the editorial "our"] when her heart was broken?
Well, that meeting stopped for her, at least for a little bit.
Those of us who have lost a parent know "it gets easier" and "time heals." It's true. But I couldn't bring myself to say it to her, she was so very raw.
What I said – and what I've shared only with my husband, until last night and, now, with you – is that when my dad died, I wanted to die, too. I didn't see much reason for "keeping calm and carrying on." I just wanted to leave this world as quickly as possible so I could see him again. That may sound silly or maudlin or deranged, but it's how I felt, and if there's one thing you have to do when you're sober and grieving it's FEEL.
And boy, does it suck.
Her mother lived half the country away from southern West Virginia, and yes, the Bureau of Prisons granted the inmate a furlough to go the funeral. For two hours. And so she's not going. She felt it would be too hard on her children to see her for only two hours at their grandmother's funeral.
Already she's thinking of others instead of herself. Already she's thinking things through and making good decisions. Already she's healing.
So what are the gifts in this scenario, since this month's writing exercise is supposed to be all about the gift?
For me, it was seeing a hundred women wiping away sympathetic tears, offering their own experience, strength and hope, stopping time for that young woman, wrapping her in their collective arms. The humanity and compassion they showed their sister will stay with me long after this season's tree lights are put away and the wrapping paper has been tossed.
The gift of compassion is one we could all use a little more of, and one we could all give.
What other gifts am I missing?