I remember every time before major special family days, I would talk to my Mom and ask if there was anything I could bring for the upcoming holiday. Invariably, she would answer, "The only thing I need is for you to help me make everyone happy, just for this one day. Let's just pray everyone has a good time and gets along."
How many of you have had everyone in your family be happy all at the same time?
That is like asking everyone to be aligned to the planets in the same moment singing "We are the World!"....
Yet, that was my task for each and every family gathering and all the drama in between gatherings. Please do not misunderstand.
I do not begrudge my Mom....I do not begrudge my brothers or their families, but at the end of the day,
the individual happiness of every single person in my family is way too heavy of a burden for any one person to handle.
I am only one. I am frail..I am weak. There is no way I could carry the entire happiness for my whole family on my very human and flawed shoulders. And I do not believe my Mom meant to burden me unjustly. She was hoping for the impossible...the dream of every Mom, that all of her children, for one brief moment, would appreciate each other and celebrate the joy that was within them....Family. The Norman Rockwell picture had to stay on the mantle!
I have struggled with this task many a night, many a day. What can I do to help my family, for that one moment in time, to be singularly and communally, Happy?
Well, after all of these years, and more family gatherings than I care to remember, I have had to admit defeat.
There is no way I can control the inner workings of the marital dynamics of my brothers, or their children, or my children, their work situations, etc., etc. The game ended when my precious mother passed away. One of her dearest friends told me Mom's biggest worry was that I would take on all the burdens of the family. (Ha! Wonder what gave her that idea?) This wise woman said, "Sally, it is time you let go and live your life. It is what your mother has always wanted." We both cried in each other's arms and I left the conversation with much to think about. How could I change a lifetime of facilitating happiness in a raucous and rowdy family of Irish-Native American descent? How could I reframe what I believed was my role? I really believed I had some single handed authority to peace-make, to rectify, to heal...I needed a complete overhaul!!
It was the beginning of the end of my idealistic belief I that I had anything to do with controlling others and their own happiness. A painful journey to wellness and healing always begins with the first step....admitting the problem.
From there, I began a wonderful journey of self discovery and growth I never knew existed. With each passing day, I learned over and over again how little control I had over life in general and my loved ones in particular. The more I experienced life, the more I recognized I am much more authentic without my Super Woman cape!
And that is not such a bad thing....
To admit that I am not in control....is so freeing, so healthy. I don't have to feel guilty or responsible if my family members are unhappy, even with me! One of my dearest friends told me recently, "You didn't cause this....and you are not responsible.Love them by letting it go." Woo Hoo!
I am certainly prone to slip back into my old routine of trying to "help" ,trying to problem solve in the middle of the night, but I am so so much better than I was! Progress is a beautiful thing.
And here it is, Thanksgiving... I am so very grateful that the only person's happiness I am responsible for is my own, and that frees me to reach out and love on others with no ulterior motive other than Love. When I finally released the worry, anxiety, and yes, somehow, the responsibility I carried for family members and even friends who were unhappy or disgruntled, it was like the skies parted and I could hear the angels sing! My mom is probably in heaven looking down at me and saying, "Sweet Girl, I never meant for you to take this so seriously!" But, I did and I have for most of my life.
Interestingly enough, I would like to say I am also grateful for this unrequested burden. Sometimes life offers us gifts and opportunities dressed up as burdens and heartaches. I believe this is what happened with me. Unknowingly, my mother was helping to hone the gifts of mediating and problem solving, of actively listening for the melody and not necessarily the words spoken to understand what others were saying. She taught me how to make people feel welcome and loved. She unknowingly led me to my chosen field of first, teaching, and then counseling. Thanks, Mom.
Because of your unselfish belief that family was everything and being together and having a wonderful time was essential, you helped mold me. My heart overflows and I am grateful.