What Do You Do?

I spent last week at a training. I was early to a session so sat with my crochet basket watching people (developing characters, of course). An older man introduced himself, shook my hand, asked me what I did. Understandable in a work environment.

He was the keynote speaker. And he talked for a couple hours about leadership, about how to change energy at work, about how we focus on what we do rather than who we are and what our stories are. Once he mentioned stories I started paying attention.

Afterwards, I pointed out that his speech had been about who people are and asked him why, then, when he’d introduced himself to me, the first thing he asked me was what I do.

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I’m a mother

Granted, as I told him, if some stranger had asked me ‘who are you’ or asked me to tell them a story about myself, a big defensive wall would have immediately come up. Because it’s not normal in society to ask who we are. It is normal to ask what we do, and to judge and label and assume based on what that label is. On what we do.

Which really, has nothing to do with who we are.

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I’m a wife

He told me I was observant (of course, that’s what storytellers do, and it was smart of him to compliment his audience), and said I was right about how people would react.

If stranger said, ‘tell me about yourself, tell me about who you are, tell me a story about you,’ how would you react? What would you tell them? Would you be able to answer immediately or would you have to pause and think? Not only because it wouldn’t be something you expected, but because maybe you also label yourself by what you do.

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I’m a friend (who makes friends work)

Honestly, it’s also about words. If a stranger said to me ‘tell me about yourself’ I might feel my personal space encroached upon (in spite of this public blog, I am a private person). But I wouldn’t feel as defensive as if the stranger said to me ‘who are you?’.

But the two questions ask the same thing, don’t they?

He also asked us during the session to tell the person seated next to us what gave us joy, and to think about if the thing that gave us joy, that was our passion, aligned with what we did.

Does it?

Tell me a story about who you are.

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And I’m so much more

From a Mother

There has been such an overwhelming response to my earlier post about grieving, and so many kind comments. Buried in those comments are the words of a grieving mother. Rather than leaving her there, unseen, I wanted to share with all of you what I hope others need to hear. Please pause for a moment and listen to my dearest friend and Sam’s mother.

‘For the past month I have been feeling the anxiety building as the first anniversary of Sam’s death approaches. I cry more easily. I imagine his death with a depth that makes me uncomfortable. I find that all of the ways I have carefully kept myself insulated from the deepest pain associated with his death are less effective now, this too seems part of the process of accepting that he is well and truly gone from the world.

His spirit has been a strongly motivating force this past year. I have pondered my reason for being, made drastic life changes (one of those things that you’re not supposed to do, sorry but it’s been really good for me, I am financially poorer but richer in all other ways) and am trying hard to leave some good in my neck of the world.

I have also been making some art, which is far more therapeutic than I ever knew. I’m carving lino blocks for printmaking, most recently one with his kayak, one that says ‘for Sam’ which I will put under the other blocks I have made that say ‘shine’ and ‘love’.

I made some prayer flags and will block print them and those who attend the one year anniversary get together can write messages and then the flags will hang around his kayak. His dad and I have plans to go to the rapids where he died and hang some there as well. It’s a difficult place to get to, by land, by water and also emotionally.

I thank you so much Lisa for continuing the conversation about the grief associated with his death. For saying his name, for not letting this whole thing slip into the past. My biggest fear is the erasure of time and as long as I live I have to keep him here close by.’

As she says here, we say his name lest we forget. We say his name in order to allow others to grieve with us. For all of those grieving, never be afraid to speak their names, or to speak up about what you need as you grieve. There are many on that path with you who will understand.

Struggles

When I started this blog a few years ago I thought it would be about writing. That I would share my journey as I learned and struggled with stories and words. Those early posts are stilted and uncomfortable when I read them now.

Slowly, other stories started filtering onto the page in spite of myself. I struggled to find the balance, to keep the focus on writing, to not turn a public forum into a personal diary. But when I gave up trying to be writerly and professional and just started chatting, my friends gathered around.

I’ve struggled for almost a year to not turn this blog into a journey of grief. I come here and chat with friends, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, some stories sink back into loss.

We near the first year anniversary of our Sam’s death and here I am, laying grief down in words again.

I struggle with wondering what he was doing a year ago today. Living his life fully, dealing with good and bad, stress and joy, friends and work, loving his family, just like we all do. And of course in his case, living fully as a river spirit. He knew what he did was dangerous but I doubt he had premonitions or hesitations or doubt in those last days.

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I struggle with thoughts about how I would live my life if I knew I had only days. We all ask ourselves that question at some point. But seriously, pause for a minute, move past the cliché of that question, and think about it.

I struggle with how to be around those who love him. Not ‘loved’ him. Their love for him didn’t end when he died. I want to dive deep into that dark well of grief with them, and yet life is all around us. We laugh and share and love each other’s company. And if in the midst of that, we fall into silence, or tears suddenly rise, it’s not awkward because we see and we know and we feel. There’s complete freedom in their company.

And so we look warily at the coming date knowing it is going to be so incredibly hard. And yet there will be a river float and once again all the kayaks will be bright flowers on the water. Afterwards there will be food and laughter, family and friends, in our mountains.

And stories.

I’ve never struggled in the safe cup of stories.

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