Eighteen years ago today my mother shuffled off this mortal coil. While the sadness and longing for her still comes to me in waves, the indirect gifts of having her die have grown in direct proportion to the years of having to live without her. The lessons I’ve learned, not only from her passing, but from the consequences of living a “shadow life” once she was gone, are instilled in everything I do for myself, my friends, my family, and clients.
What does it mean to live a shadow life? Recently my friend and fellow coach, Deb Droz, asked me to to do an interview with her to share my experience of losing my mother so young. We discussed the fear of losing the one person I believed I could not live without and what shape my life took once I did lose her. In it we explore how once my mother died, I went into a kind of suspended animation – holding within me the tender heart of a seventeen-year-old girl whose worst fears are realized – while I continued physically aging and taking on a shroud of normalcy in my life.
I stayed in that place of stunted emotional growth for a long time. I didn’t know how to live a life exploiting my personal gifts and thought I needed permission and guidance on how to move forward. And because I had lost the one person who I believed could love me unconditionally – the only person who could ultimately understand my innate value as a human – I never learned how to love myself in that way or how to take care of my wants and needs in order to thrive versus survive.
So when did I stop living in suspended animation?
Shortly after my mother died, my siblings and I drove up to Western Massachusetts to scatter her ashes. We were sorting out the ceremony of the event when my brother-in-law interjected, “You know. Your mother isn’t really dead. She’s alive in Egypt.” This idea that my mother could still be alive, living in some far off, exotic country filled me with the lightness of hope. I started babbling about how cool that would be. Curious I asked him, “Why Egpyt?”. Confused, my brother-in-law replied, “Egypt?? I said she was alive in each of you.” I deflated when he said that; it was an empty and useless sentiment as far as I was concerned and I retreated back into the darkness.
Eighteen years later, I realize I stopped living in the shadows of her loss when I finally made a decision to do something that I yearned for and didn’t ask for permission or approval to do it.
It was when I…
… accepted my gifts and started using them.
… saw the beauty in shades of grey rather than needing the concreteness of black & white.
… learned that I had an inner guidance system called “wisdom” that came from trusting myself and the breadth and depth of my experience.
It was when I realized I no longer had to live in fear of being without my mother, because truly she is alive in Egypt.