Relationships Never Die: The Secret Garden

{originally posted December 6, 2014}

 

Relationships never die.

 

This is a major epiphany for me.

 

There have been many relationships in my life that I wished would die; that I believed were already dead. It made sense to me at the time and went right along with my former erroneous belief that relationships die when one of the parties thereto passes away. That’s not true at all. I know this now.

 

I write a lot about grief. It’s kind of my thing.

 

Grieving has actually strengthened my relationships with those that have passed.

 

Believing relationships can die is what leads to neglect, the weakening of that relationship.

 

Admittedly, part of what sparked the epiphany for me stemmed from the blog I wrote about my brother and an insightful comment from a fellow INFJ that went like this:

 

“The attitudes and emotions behind this post seriously gave me goosebumps. The power of sibling relationship still baffles me today. What a journey I’ve been on in my own life trying to account for it. You’ve reminded me how precious that relationship is – like a flower you can hold in your hand for a short time, it eventually transforms into something new. It disintegrates into the soil. It joins the earth and nourishes new growth. The process is very painful. Our consumerism culture tells us to throw away withered flowers as if they are no longer Life. We have to go out and buy new flowers if we aren’t so lucky to have a garden. I’ve learned to appreciate the future of a blossomed flower. That momentary joy you experience in its beauty transforms into cycles of creation that flow through our earth, our home. A flower becomes a source of vitality for all living things. Relationships are no different. The imprint a person leaves on you resonates in the beauty and kindness you share with others, in your ability to transform yourself, in your ability to light up the world around you. Thanks so much for sharing this in all the difficulty that it presented to you. I hope it was cathartic. I hope it helped you shift into a space of receptivity so that you too could benefit from the vitality your brother shared with you.”

 

Thank you does not do justice to the gratitude in my heart for these words. Words are my favorite. I got lost in this garden The Child Philosopher created for me and just sat there for weeks… examining…taking inventory. I treasure these words. They lead me to the most beautiful and peaceful understanding: relationships never die.

 

I have been desperately trying to explain this concept to anyone who will listen to me for awhile now. So I made a YouTube video about it (click here to watch). I hope you can find peace in the message as well.

 

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Happy Holidays.

 

XO

~Rachel

PS: subscribe to The Child Philosopher!

Oh, Brother…

{originally published October 6, 2014}

 

I want to talk about my brother, Jody.

 

I call him my brother because he literally embodied the definition of the word for me at a time when I was very confused about its meaning.

 

Brother.

 

I always had them. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. Divorce and remarriage changed all that. In so many ways.

 

My oldest brother (by 5 years) did not speak to me from age 11 through 18. We never discussed why when we spoke from age 18 through 22 but it was always assumed that it was not my older brother’s fault at all, even though we lived in a small town of almost 2000 people. Even though I was just a little girl. I won’t ask him now, since he hasn’t spoken to me from age 22 through the present (age 32) and because I don’t care to hear the answer, I already know.

 

My other older brother (by 18 months) was the kind of best friend who, it was understood, would rather be with our older brother if he could, but since he can’t right at this particular moment, then we could be best friends as consolation. The kind of best friend who allows you to sit at his cool kids lunch table in high school but doesn’t say a word to you for that lunch hour every day for a year. WHY??? I don’t know, I always assumed it was because I was worthless, but I asked him recently and it seems to be simple high school survival behavior he deeply regrets.

 

The combination of the above two paragraphs left me in a weird spot in high school with regard to the word “brother.”

 

When I was 14 my mom and I went to go live with her boyfriend who later became my stepfather. My stepfather also had 2 sons and a youngest daughter, just like my family. Jody was 5 years older than me, like my brother Kevin, and I fell in love with him immediately. It was embarrassing. I knew we were now family, even though it would be 2 more years before our parents officially married each other; I knew it would not be appropriate to be IN LOVE with my future step-brother.

 

Sometimes I would make him food. He was so skinny. Unlike me or my brothers, Jody could eat anything and it never showed. He admitted to me a decade later that he always had to secretly throw away more than half of his plate that I prepared because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings that he couldn’t eat all of it.

 

He didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

 

I could tell. He was doing what I was doing: we were watching each other. He read, understood who I was, and he wanted to protect me. The more we got to know each other, the more clear it became that we truly understood and practiced loyalty.

 

Loyalty.

 

That word has always been among my top 5 personality traits. That word has also always haunted me. Why??? Because I was giving it and not getting it, the loyalty was not always reciprocal. I used to think that’s what drew Jody and I together: our understanding of, appreciation, and yearning for reciprocal loyalty.

 

I understand now that it’s much more than that.

 

I remember the last conversation Jody and I had together, 6 years ago now. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and he was skinnier than ever. He lit up when he saw me. I know he lit up because not only did I see it with my own eyes, but it also reflected back into me and I actually felt warm and loved.

 

He was telling me he received my wedding save the date. I rolled my eyes like: oh that old thing and told him all discouraged that I wanted it to have been much more creative but I’m not good at that stuff so my save the date is actually kind of boring compared to what I’ve been receiving in the mail from more artistically inclined friends. Blah Blah Blah. Boring.

 

Jody shook his head slightly, smiling, and told me he had never even seen a wedding save the date that was a magnet, he described how excited he was to open my mail and be reminded that I was going to marry Chris. How he loves to see it on his fridge every day. His sincerity was so calming to me; his support was palpable.

 

Jody was always a fan of Chris. I remember when Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving together at our first apartment in Buffalo. For a variety of reasons, that holiday meal was extremely stressful to prepare (I won’t go into that here) but, long story short, the combination of our divorced families and the tardiness of the meal resulted in a miscalculation of wine intake and a pass (out) on dinner.

 

What I’m saying is: by the time the food finally made it to the table, Chris had to excuse himself from the table and literally never came back; therefore, I hosted our divorced families for the first time by myself.

 

If you know me, you can look right at me and know what I’m thinking. My face is very expressive. Jody watched the tension in me rise to a boiling point. He smiled at me. He told me the food was excellent. He told me he was having a great time. It was right around his Birthday so I made him a cherry cheesecake pie, a new recipe. I had asked him what he wanted for his Birthday cake and was startled when he told me no one had ever asked him that before. Cheesecake. I had never made one, but I bake pies so I made that for him special and was so worried it would be a flop.

 

We sang Happy Birthday to Jody, his son blew out the candles and, even though he was so full from dinner, he ate his entire huge piece of cheesecake. His Birthday cake. He hugged me so hard. He loved his cake! I found my smile again.

 

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Before he left my apartment that evening Jody told me: don’t give Chris a hard time. I looked at Jody sideways, he never told me what to do before, but Jody just smiled at me until I smiled back and said: ok.

 

That really blew me away at the time because I was like, why shouldn’t I give him a hard time?! What’s the big deal, why do you care what happens to him? Because I know Jody, I already knew the answer. Just like me, Jody could read people, and, just like me, Jody decided immediately he loved Chris.

 

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This is the Christmas card Jody handed us just a couple weeks later. Jody was excellent at picking out greeting cards. They were never random. The card says:

 

“For You, Sister, and your family. Your home is a happy and welcoming place where there’s love in the air and a smile on each face…”

 

I cried when I opened this card. I cried because the one thing I have ever wanted my entire life was a family of my own and I knew Jody was right: me and Chris were a family now. I cried because Jody was being my brother and I needed it. I cried because Jody’s heart was so big.

 

Chris and I always talk about the time Jody lent us his boat. It was a disaster. Something happened and the boat kept filling up with water?! We were super concerned that we were going to sink his boat and that he would be angry thinking the boat was filling up with water because of something we may have done. When we got home, Jody just laughed and said: I’m sorry that happened! He was smiling while we explained how worried we were that we had done something wrong. Jody was not at all concerned. He shrugged and said it’s ok, he would fix it. No big deal.

 

Jody could fix any boat, he was a real genius at it. Most people would at least tease the person who almost sunk their boat, but not Jody. He was very careful with my emotions. Probably why he didn’t tease me and say: blah blah blah, when I shot down his compliment of my wedding save the date magnet.

 

9-19-09. That was my save the date. It used to haunt me. I mean, who sends out a save the date over a year in advance and then dares not to get married that day? Me. Some of my friends still have that magnet on their fridge and I used to look at it as a symbol of my failure and be like: why are you doing this to me, take that thing down at once!!!

 

I don’t see 9-19-09 like that anymore. Ever since I started to embrace the grieving process, I also started to see 9-19-09 as an inevitable part of my journey. That actually did have to happen that way. I didn’t make a mistake. Not at all.

 

Today I allow myself to say: I am that person who rescheduled their wedding date due to grief. If Jody wasn’t doing 9-19-09 then neither were we. I planned a totally different wedding that did take place on 5-8-10 because life happened and I adapted. I honor my body and I do what feels right when it feels right.

 

My brother Jody is with me all the time. Even so, I still feel his absence and I still mourn our connection on this earth. I wish we could spend this Thanksgiving together and our Birthdays and Christmas. Anything.

 

I’m not done talking about my brother Jody and I never will be.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

PS: Full Disclosure: while writing this blog, I cried the whole time…on a spectrum ranging from silent stream of tears to scream sobbing; I also used my shirt as a tissue after the box of Kleenex next to me ran out.

Amsterdam & Eating Disorders

{originally posted June 5, 2014}

 

It was not until October 2013 that I realized I had an eating disorder.

 

I was feeling a lot of anxiety when my pediatrician informed me our son could now eat the same things that we eat. Bottle feeding time was one of the more emotionally satisfying parts of my day…but I guess I saw this coming when we were spoon feeding him all those pureed fruits and vegetables.

 

The problem was, I usually skipped either breakfast or lunch, preferring to snack on something like peanut M&M’s and then ate whatever I wanted for dinner. I could tell this would not be appropriate for my son to mirror, as he seemed to be eating every two hours and I did not have a solid (food) plan.

 

So I made an appointment with a Nutritionist to learn how to feed my new toddler.

 

I LOVE her. She is really nice and her voice sounds exactly like my Aunt Renee’s, which I found fascinating and very comforting. We discussed the purpose of my visit and while I was explaining my ignorance on how to feed my son “real people” food it occurred to me that I was making no sense.

 

That’s harsh. I was making total sense, but I felt SUPER critical of the point I was trying to impress upon her because I am a lawyer, which means I have the ability to properly conduct my own research and apply my findings to my decision.

 

Not one time did I try to Google search how to feed my toddler before sitting down to that appointment. I realized in that moment that I knew how to feed my child, I just did not know how to continue blindly not feeding myself anymore. It had become apparent to me and now as a parent, I needed to make a change so that I could MODEL proper eating habits to my son.

 

When my nutritionist brought up the term eating disorder, the first thing I told her was that I thought I was not thin enough for that concern. The next few thoughts popped up simultaneously: I have never voluntarily thrown up in my life and I eat WHATEVER I want without feeling guilt.

 

But not whenever.

 

I could not eat WHENEVER I wanted.

 

Eating was part of a reward system. My own personal inner reward system I established long ago where I get to eat whatever I want but only when I say so.

 

When I deserve it.

 

When I am worthy.

 

How does that work?

 

Couldn’t really tell ya, I changed up the rules on myself all the time, really kept myself on my toes. I could eat the M&M’s if I got all my work done, but not if one thing went wrong. It was hard to keep up because I would become confused from dehydration and too fatigued to physically prepare healthy food.

 

eat·ing dis·or·der

noun

any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits.

 

My nutritionist advised me that ORDERED eating involves regularly feeding and hydrating your body because your body needs it. Ordered eating has nothing to do with deserving or worthiness or rewards.

 

Apparently, you are supposed to eat when you are hungry.

 

How did I not know this?

 

My nutritionist asked me if I would ever tell my son “no” if he asked me for food and I emphatically said that I would NEVER deny my hungry baby. She asked if I would be willing to love myself that much and I started to cry.

 

Why not?

 

My nutritionist recommended a book called Intuitive Eating for me and How to Get your Child to Eat But Not Too Much for my son.

 

Now I try to eat 5 times per day but it is very hard. My best meal times are together with my son, as I have no problem preparing healthy foods for us. My worst meal times are usually when I am alone. For a mom, alone time is pretty valuable and sometimes I feel like eating is a form of squandering that precious time. Then I realize that it is not squandering it because if I don’t eat I will have to lay down because my body literally NEEDS fuel to keep going. I am not a machine.

 

One thing that has helped me is identifying what it is specifically that can set me off and trying to just work around it. For example, handling raw chicken can be so disgusting to me that I can’t eat the meal when I’m done cooking it. Because my husband loves me and wants me to be healthy and eat, he now handles all the raw chicken in our household.

 

Also, when I am overwhelmed with other issues, I have a tough time deciding on WHAT to eat, which used to lead to eating NOTHING, but now I phone a friend. I designated certain supportive people in my life who were willing to at any moment make food suggestions to me in a kind and supportive manner (like: I think you should go get a smoothie right now and let me tell you with enthusiasm what foods sound good to me right now off the top of my head kind of friends). It helps.

 

Mostly, I just tell myself while I am eating: this is an act of loving my body.

 

Eating disorders have nothing to do with hating food. It’s a form of hating on yourself that needs to stop. I do not want my son to hate himself, therefore, at all costs, I will love myself. I do love myself. I model self love.

 

Seven months later I am telling this story because my friend Julia has been wanting me to for awhile now.

 

Today is Julia’s Birthday!

 

I met Julia in Law School but really got to know her well when we studied abroad together in Amsterdam. This is how I always remember Julia:

 

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We traveled in a pack of 4 and Julia always had the plan, the map and lead the way.

 

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I was SO thrilled to be in Amsterdam that I had no ambition to lead the way or make the plan, and there is no way I will ever pretend to look at a map. That’s not me. I would rather declare that where we ended up was my intent all along than try to navigate a map. I loved to travel behind Julia and take in the sights, no worries.

 

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Museums, shopping, landmarks, bike rides, oh and school.

 

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We walked at least 10 miles per day.

 

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I was in complete awe of Julia. Brilliant legal mind, confident, capable, quick witted, she was so funny.

 

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I would have let her lead me anywhere, map or no map.

 

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But I did find one thing odd.

 

Eating was NEVER on our agenda.

 

My friend Sarah and I had to fight for it at least twice a day. Hey, use that map to take us to food now ok?

 

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Soup. It was usually soup. Much of our conversation during the soup eating had to do with how much fatter we noticed we were as Americans compared to the Dutch women we were seeing. We were there for 5 weeks and not one of us got hit on one time by a local. When we were shopping a sales clerk laughed while Julia was trying on a skirt and said “oh no, that skirt is for little tiny French girl.” Julia was so small, I did not understand what was so funny. We literally just agreed with the clerk though and left.

 

Now I realize how much hating your body can distract you from simply feeding your body in an ordered manner. When you love your body, you feed it.

 

Losing Julia was very painful. Gaining Julia as a guardian angel has been very precious to me.

 

Per the recommendation of my dear friend, Shannon, every night I usually go to sleep listening to this YouTube guided meditation video called Lilian Eden Meet Your Spirit Guide. (Love you, Shannon!)

 

10 times out of 10 my spirit guide is my step-brother, Jody, but 3-4 nights per week Julia also shows up and reminds me about these eating epiphanies. I wake up and I know that Julia wants me to share my experience. So this is it, my friend.

 

Happy Birthday!

 

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Today there is a ceremony to dedicate a room in the Ronald MacDonald House in your name.

 

http://rmhcwny.org

 

I miss the sound of your voice.

 

I love you.

 

XO

 

~Rachel