(Note: I wrote this column for UPI in 2007, the year my son turned 18, my mother died, and I wrote my first book Writing Down Your Soul. Five years and four books later, I still think this is the best thing I’ve ever written. It may be the best thing I’ll ever write. The “River of Life” Goodbye bBessing letter to my son is certainly the most important.)
This is my Goodbye Season. Endings abound. My son is eighteen; it’s time for him to leave this house. My mother is dying; it’s time for her to leave this planet. And when she does, I’ll also be saying goodbye to the town where I grew up. My parent’s names on a tombstone will be our family’s last address in Marshfield, Wisconsin. My professional life is changing, too. Endings abound.
Endings deserve attention — recognition that they are part of the cycle of existence. Endings are necessary and good, even when they are sad. Endings create the space for new life, new ideas, new experiences. The new is waiting, but first, there must be a blessing. Ancient fathers understood this. They put their hands on their son’s foreheads and pronounced a blessing. Without that blessing, the son would not — could not — leave. With the blessing, the son could step into the fray of life, knowing his family’s honor and love and inheritance are with him always.
And so it is for my son. He turned eighteen last week. I gave him an avant-garde block print from an edgy London artist, a little money (that he says he might spend on a tattoo), and a ticket to New York. I saved the best gift for last. My blessing. This is how I said goodbye and sent him into The River of Life.
Eighteen years ago today you entered life. For quite awhile prior we’d been having odd conversations, you and I, so you weren’t born on April 26th, it was just the first day we could see your perfect face. Your name till then was Alfie. As in, What’s it all about, Alfie?
And we were certainly trying to figure out what it was all about. Me, hosting a soul who had chosen a forty-year old woman for whom motherhood was a distant, tiny, and quickly fading possibility, and big Jer (who before you was the only Jerry), a forty-one-year-old man who had never anticipated marriage or fatherhood. You certainly swept us into a new branch of The River of Life! A branch we were not paddling toward — not consciously. Maybe our eyes were on some other fork, but our souls must have wanted to go here because suddenly, there we were in the Family River. Thanks to you. Thank you for choosing us.
In the end, despite the rapids and rain, I hope you’ll decide that you chose wisely. The trip has certainly been rich. You have been given powerful gifts by your father, gifts that you have taken, absorbed, and enriched. I’m confident he would be proud to say you stand on his shoulders and reach higher and deeper. If you decide to get that tattoo, you can put his insignia on your body and tell the world what it means: “A vote against boredom and mediocrity.” It’s clear that you are not going down the boredom river. You will not live a dull, safe, obedient life. I’m confident and proud of that. And mediocrity? No way. Originality? Yes. Intellectual inquiry? Yes. Imagination? Yes. Mediocrity? Definitely not.
This is a big birthday. Even if feels like just another day. It is, nevertheless, a milestone. Eighteen is big and important. Everything is changing. There may be more change in the next few months than at any other time in your life. You are stepping into manhood, choosing your college, leaving home, entering the world of work, and embarking on your first single-handed trek through Europe. In the next year, you’ll make new friends, find your way in a new city, study at a level you’ve never experienced before, be inspired by real professors, and at long last, find your verbal and intellectual peers — people who will challenge your every thought and word. It may not happen right away, but over time, you will find your people, your place, and your home.
You are ready. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel or shouldn’t feel scary. You are swimming out of the family branch of the river, and taking off down your own River Jerry. And, the truth is, you do not know what you will see or experience or feel. You don’t know what will happen in college, at work, or in life. You can’t see any further ahead than a few hundred yards. No one can. (Some people pretend they can, or convince themselves they can, but we are all equally blind to the vagaries and rocks ahead.) But the river knows, and its strong current is pulling you forward. And the urge to go is so much greater than the fear of the unknown. If it weren’t, you’d settle for safety, that mediocrity your father so abhorred. So, my job right now is to bless you and send you on your way. The river is waiting.
The best gift I can give you is the bits of wisdom I’ve acquired on my own rather tumultuous journey. Here’s what I’m sure of:
- You chose to be here; your soul has its reasons and those reasons will unfold.
- You are special, unique. There is no other G__ W__ K__ and no one else who can live your life or leave your footprints in the world. The world needs and wants and is waiting for you.
- It’s all going somewhere and makes sense at the end, but not at the moment you’re in it. Never at the moment you’re in it.
- Life is easier when you flow with it instead of fight it. This is simple to say and very difficult to do. It may be the reason we come.
- Bad things are good things. Twist them inside out and there’s good or wisdom or something that will fall out and make you say, “Aah.” But it does not follow that good things are bad. Good things are good. Because, in the end, it’s all good.
- Breathe. When all else fails, breathe.
- You are always blessed, protected, guided, and loved.
- I loved you before you were born, I love you today, and I will love you every day of my life. (And I’m pretty sure after, but we’ll have to wait and see about that.)
- I am always here for you, for support, love, a shoulder, an ear, a pocketbook. What I have, in the end, is yours.
Welcome, angel, to the second phase of your life. You are ready. And I am ready to let go. The River is waiting. Go. Go make a difference in the world.
And so he goes. Into his branch of The River. With a rich blessing on his head and in his heart. Although his father is no longer here to convey a blessing himself, I trust that I have spoken well for both of us.
As I watch my son drift away, I whisper, “Goodbye my darling boy, goodbye,” and turn my face toward Wisconsin to explore the next phase in my Goodbye Season — goodbye to the woman who can never really die; she lives in my DNA.
We all have our Goodbye Seasons. Some are more compressed. Some more dramatic. Some desperately painful. Some we resist. Some we embrace. But all changes are a death — a little death perhaps, but a death. All are a birth, too. Our job, I think, is not to struggle to figure the changes out. Our job is to bless the going and the coming.
Before I went to Montana for our July Soul Quest, I ordered a handmade journal from Mary Anne Radmacher. She makes a journal for each of my yearly soul-journs. I treasure her journals because they hold all the deep soul explorations that bubble up during the trip. This year, Mary Anne outdid herself. The cover, as always, evoked the heart and soul of the adventure. But this time, she added pouches on the inside covers. What fun I thought–special places to hold little treasures from the trip. I noticed there was something in the back cover pouch. I pulled it out. It was an angel card–“The Angel of Forgiveness.”
That should have been a clue.
I was, I confess, a little miffed. Oh please, I thought, I’ve had my big forgiveness experience. I’m a bloomin’ queen of forgiveness. I lead people in deep forgiveness experiences in my courses. Surely, I’m not going to Montana to deal with forgiveness! I took the card out of the pouch and stuck it somewhere it in my office.
My reaction should have been a clue.
On opening night at our Soul Quest, I told the group, “You do not really know why you’re here. You think you do, but trust me, you don’t. Make a note of why you think you’re here and then on closing night let’s see what actuallly unfolded. You may be in for quite a surprise.”
I should have listened to myself.
The next morning, we learned about power by working with horse. The following day we learned about the opposite un-power of fish as we attempted to cast for mysterious and elusive trout. Later that day, we floated down the Missouri River in an Avon raft. I recognized the raft. When I lived on a sailboat in Oakland, we had an Avon raft. My husband said they were the best.
Oh boy, lots more clues.
As the day on the river ended, I realized my husband would have loved this trip. He would have loved fly fishing, and riding, and sleeping in a log cabin. He would have loved floating down the river in an Avon raft under the watchful gaze of eagle.
Then, it dawned on me I was wearing the water shoes he gave me, the Tilley hat he insisted every sailor have, and schlepping everything in his treasured but weathered 1985 Ghurka tote bag. I was surprised to discover that I had unconsciously created an experience my husband would have loved.
That should have been a huge clue.
The next day we participated in a Chippewa-Cree sweat lodge conducted by a lovely woman named Lillian. In the lodge, she led us through four rounds of prayer. For each round, hot rocks were brought in and doused with water. In the rising steam. she led us in traditional songs and gave us the opportunity to say the names of people for whom we wished to pray. I spoke my son’s name in each round and many of my friends and partners. It was a beautiful experience and I felt honored to participate in such an ancient and holy form of prayer.
That night I woke with a start. “Oh my God! Her name was Lillian!” In that moment, I knew why I’d created this trip. And I’d come within a hair of missing it. It was not an accident that a woman named Lillian conducted our lodge. My husband, you see, was adopted. He was thirty-four when he found his birth sister and thirty-six when he spoke to his birth mother. They were unable to make peace and he died carrying a great wound around being given up for adoption. His birth mother died a few years later. And her name was Lillian.
Sitting up in bed in a log cabin in Wolf Creek Montana, I knew that I had been handed the opportunity to bring both their names into the sacred space of the sweat lodge and connect them in the grace of forgiveness. But I blew it. But then, I stopped crying and remembered the great teaching of the angels in Check the Box, the course that brings us back in time to hear our soul’s purpose. The course ended just days before we left for Montana. The angels said that we can revisit any experience in our lives and make different choices. When we do, we literally–not metaphorically–alter the vibration of that scene for all time–past, present, and future–and we alter it for all parties concerned.
I closed my eyes and went back to the lodge in my mind. When it was our turn to pray aloud, I spoke my husband’s name and his birth mother’s. The fourth and final round is all about forgiveness, and with tears dripping down my face, I brought their names and their spirits into the lodge and joined them in a total state of forgiveness. In peace, I fell back asleep.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
When I got back home, I had a toothache. A big bad toothache. My back molar had cracked, become infected, and had to be extracted. After the extraction, I felt exhausted. Even with 12 hours of sleep, I had no energy to work. On August 4, I turned to the Voice in my journal and demanded to know what my rotten tooth was about. In the next sentence I remembered that my husband had teeth problems his whole life. In deep soul writing I asked, “What needs to be completed, what else needs to be revisited like the sweat lodge?”
Suddenly I wrote this question: “What do I regret?”
Instantly, I knew. There is only one moment in my life that I regret. And oh, how I regret it. It was the night my husband died. He’d been in a coma in ICU for a week. The hospital called late that afternoon to say they were moving him. After dinner, our son asked to visit his dad and I said, they’re moving him tonight, let’s go tomorrow. The next morning at 6:30 we received a call that he had died. I have regretted not going to the hospital for nine years. OK, I wrote. I will go back and redo it. Just like the sweat lodge and just the way the angels taught. On the page in deep soul writing, I relived the evening of October 5, 2003. When my son said, “Let’s go see dad,” we drove to the hospital. At the hospital, we found his new room. We walked in and saw him on the bed. We stood close together beside the bed and prayed aloud thanking him for the good he’d brought us and promising to hold only the good in our hearts. When my son and I felt complete, I blew a kiss and whispered, God speed. The next morning, the phone still rang at 6:30 and we still got the news that he had died. But this time I felt no regret. I had said goodbye and given our son the space to say goodbye.
When I finished my Regret Redo, I felt a wave move through me. All the exhaustion and pain in my body and mouth flowed out of me and into the ground. I felt a burst of energy and for the first time since I got back from Montana, felt excited and energized. Suddenly, I had to hold Mary Anne’s angel card. It took me an hour to find it buried under a pile of books. The message on the card is: “I choose to forgive all those who have hurt me in the past.”
“Choose” is the operative word here. I have chosen over and over again to forgive, not only my husband, but anyone I think has harmed me. And thanks to heaven sending a woman named Lillian, I was able to bring two unrequited souls into the blessed place of forgiveness. And then, thanks to a broken tooth, I was given the opportunity to experience the next and even deeper piece in the fathomless journey of forgiveness: Regret Redo.
If reading about my Regret Redo experience is activating something inside of you, here are a few questions to ponder:
- Are there moments you wish you could relive?
- Are you willing to revisit them and choose differently?
- What do you think will happen?
- What do you regret?
- How is regret a living, if deeply buried, presence in your life?
- What impact is regret having on you, your relationships, your work, your creativity, your health?
- What do you think will happen if you consciously choose to forgive, and even redo, the past?
- Are you ready to enter into the profound state of Regret Redo? If not, why not?
I invite you to enter into divine dialogue and ask these and other deep questions on the page. Then trust the Voice as it leads you into the profound experience of Regret Redo. Then, I invite you to post your experience here. Your words may change someone’s life.
Blessings on you and all your experiences, yes, even those you regret.