“You will burn and you will burn out, you will be healed and come back again.”
Amelia’s glimpse of spirit deals with difficult days. As you will read, she has been thru a lot over the past three years. The journey within and moments of transformation are often preceded by loss and grief, struggle and change. Sometimes we suffer and within that suffering, we glimpse our own spirit and the Spirit surrounding us in each moment. Amelia is a beautiful soul and a dear friend. Through these tough moments, she remained an amazing mother, daughter, wife, friend and pillar of her community. I am grateful for her honesty and willingness to share. “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” (Sigmund Freud)
This story begins as Amelia recalls her fortieth birthday and remembers how blessed she felt to have a beautiful family and friends in her life. She felt as if she was just hitting her stride and that life was gliding and flowing along. It was a rude awakening then when just a few years later the road took a sharp turn and became rocky, muddy and at times, hard to see at all.
Concerns about her mother’s health precipitated this change. Amelia’s Mom, who lived about 90 minutes away, began to have memory issues and multiple falls. Normally a sweet and social person, her Mom was also frequently becoming agitated and lashing out at her Father and family. Amelia is the youngest of five siblings and together they worked to discover what was going on. A few months later after much worry and medical testing, they received the difficult news that Amelia’s Mom was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
This diagnosis was painful for the entire family. Amelia’s Mom was the beloved matriarch of a close-knit family and the person everyone leaned on in times of stress. It was also hard to see her emotionally suffering with confusion and night terrors as her disease set in.
Amelia describes the situation with her Mom as the first of several upheavals during this time in her life. She was thrown by her shift in roles from daughter to caretaker and grieving the slow loss of her Mother. She also felt sandwiched between mothering her own four children, taking care of her aging parents and her own self-care. As a born helper, it is probably no surprise that self-care was the first thing to go.
That fall, after a summer of helping her Mom arrive at a diagnosis, the youngest of Amelia’s four children began kindergarten. As a dedicated stay at home mother since her oldest was born, she knew this was going to be a hard transition. However, the depth of loss she felt and her reaction against the silence in her home surprised her. Amelia avoided her quiet house during the day that fall by constantly keeping busy. She volunteered, worked out and helped on many committees. She also travelled twice a week to help her parents. In retrospect, Amelia even recalls how she filled quiet moments in the car with phone calls and music- “anything to avoid having to be alone with my thoughts.”
After a few months of this hectic pace, the universe swooped in and dealt Amelia another blow. She woke early one morning and noticed a dark shade obscuring her vision over one eye. Within five to ten minutes, her vision returned but these worrisome symptoms recurred the next morning and for many months afterwards. After multiple eye exams, an extensive medical work-up and even an MRI of the brain, a neurologist eventually diagnosed Amelia with an unusual type of retinal migraine and prescribed various medications.
The eye symptoms shifted over time from a dark shadow over one eye to tunnel vision and eventually to a blurred loss of focus. The side effects of the medications were also difficult. After months of these frightening symptoms and continued stress in her life, Amelia had a big realization. She asked herself, “Could this be stress manifesting in my physical being?” As if to answer her, the phone rang late one evening and her Dad began to tell Amelia how her Mom was acutely confused and trying to leave the house one freezing evening near Christmas. As he told the story, the vision symptoms immediately began again in her eye.
Amelia reports that initially she was upset she had not made this mind-body connection earlier. Stress was certainly adding to her symptoms and although the awareness of this helped, life was still plenty stressful. Looking back, Amelia now sees that she was grieving on many levels. There was just so much change occurring. It was time for her parents to sell their home and move into assisted living. When she helped packed up their home, Amelia also felt uprooted. The central gathering point and connection to her childhood home was now gone. Add to that her changing role at home, her ongoing health issues and the fact that she was feeling exhausted, worn down and fried- and you have the perfect ingredients for a break down or a break thru.
After packing up the homestead and getting her parents settled into assisted living, Amelia felt a call from deep within herself to shift gears. She had resisted this call over the past many months and now the time felt right to withdraw from the busy life she had created and begin a deep internal journey. This was a process and it meant Amelia had to make some big changes. A long time marathon runner, she says, “I have always had a tendency to push myself really hard, especially physically. A small, still voice inside was urging me to stop pushing myself that way and so I set down running and a strenuous early morning boot camp. I also began to say “no” to many different people and opportunities for the first time in a long time. I was simply fried on many levels. It just felt time to go inward and try to heal myself and boost my own energy.”
Even during her recent health issues, Amelia had noticed that time on her yoga mat had given her a reprieve from symptoms and so she enrolled in a Yoga study and teacher training program. Amelia had always been a prayer-filled person active in her church and in bible study groups. Meditation was stressed in her yoga study program and so she began to set aside time each morning for stillness in a new way. It took a long while to rid herself of static however. She found herself at first distracted and then caught up in what she calls “judge and victim conversations” in her head. As time passed and the static began to lift, she noticed that she was becoming angrier and angrier with God.
Amelia recalls one morning when this anger came to a boil while attempting to sit in morning meditation. After yelling at God for a few moments she gave up and went for a walk. The next morning, still feeling angry and defeated, she sat again.
This morning was different however. Amelia recalls, “I sat and instantly, I went to this very peaceful place. It was beautiful and one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I felt so calm and warm and held. I heard God’s voice whisper that he loved me and that everything was going to be ok. It was just amazing and then it ended as abruptly as it had began.” To add to that magical morning, the daily devotional she reads with her children reiterated the message in words to her that morning, “You are so hard on yourself. You judge yourself on how you look, behave and feel . . .I want you to know in your heart the Joy of being loved constantly and perfectly- today and every day.” That amazing glimpse gave Amelia the energy to continue her inner journey.
Around this time, Amelia’s Dad celebrated his 90th birthday and shortly afterwards, began to weaken from chronic leukemia. He died peacefully on a summer day after family had gathered to shower him with love and thanks. Amelia credits her “way back” to her Dad’s passing and the lessons she gleaned from it.
She recalls, “I was obviously sad but I knew he was tired and ready to go. Although he is gone physically, I feel so close to him now. I feel his presence on my right shoulder and it comforts me. My dad was a master gardener and one day my kids and I were visiting a community garden now named for him. A single dragonfly kept landing on our shoulders. It was persistent. At one point, it landed on a branch at eye level and just sat there. It felt like a simple and beautiful message of love from him.”
Amelia’s Dad was a writer and she found one quote he wrote shortly before he died that resonated and felt like a gift from him.
“Age I decided is a gift. I am now, probably for the first time in my life- without worries. I marvel at my amazing friends, my wonderful life and my loving family. I’ve become my own friend. Life does not come with a ribbon or a bow, but it is still a gift.” (Jack Kolb).
Amelia says, “This was his gift to me. No matter what happens each day, there are things and people to be grateful for. This simple gratitude shifted my thinking and helped me find my way back.
These days, Amelia feels balanced and happy. She finished her yoga study and now teaches classes at the Center in Eau Claire. She happily reports that her Mom is doing great in a Memory Care facility and that she still recognizes everyone. “She is like a sweet, loving and wise little kid.”
I asked Amelia if she had any advice to other women trying to “do it all” or perhaps to herself five years ago. After some thought she answered:
~Try to slow down enough to hear your heart’s beatings.
~Try not to become so caught up in what you think is expected of you from the outside world. Get more in touch with your inner world.
~All love begins with you. You have to love and nurture yourself in order to be able to share that love.
~ These days, I feel closest to God in nature and so I make more time for that in my life. As a kid, I feared God. Now, I think of him more as a friend. He is right in my heart. This perfect love is right there. I need to remember that again and again in order to share it.”
It is not lost on me that as she shares her beautiful story Amelia is wearing a t-shirt with a gilded birdcage opened to allow the bird to fly free. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” (e.e. Cummings)