Today I turn 48. I’ve always seen birthdays as a day to celebrate all of the accomplishments from the year before. I find great joy in birthdays; feeling special on my own and doing what I can to make others feel special on theirs. They are a day for remembering and pondering over the year, sifting through memories to see what should be carried over into the new one. They are a day to honor ourselves and allow others to reach out to us with love and joy. They are a day to open ourselves up to receive and simply rest in the comfort that we’ve made it through another year.
My birthday is also a time that I look forward into a new year of living. Even more than the beginning of a new calendar year, it is the time that I set intentions for a new year in my life. It is a time (that usually encompasses many more days than just my actual birthday) that I think about what I want to embrace and what I need to let go of. It is a time for naming and claiming who I am and who I want to be. It is a time for taking the first steps into new adventures and playing just a little bit more.
This week in Florida has been an amazing gift and I feel so very blessed to be spending the week of my birthday at an ocean, on a beach, surrounded by family, playing with my kids. The place I have always felt the most peaceful, the most able to tap into joy and love is at the beach. My heart lightens with the sand in between my toes, the crash of the waves in my ears, the smell of the sand and salt water, the endless blue of the ocean as far as my eyes can see. Every single time I am on a beach I spend hours brainstorming how I can make this a daily reality for myself. If I ever won the lottery I would move to the beach in a blink of an eye. There is nowhere else that I feel as much lightness of being as I do when I sit on a beach with the ocean stretched out before me.
This week has also been one of great poignancy for me. Russell and I first connected because of our love for the ocean and beaches. The very first thing I remember hearing him say when I met him in our Feminist Theology class in graduate school was that he had a beach spirituality. Now mind you, when we met he was studying to become a priest. But when he said that my ears perked up and I knew I had to get to know him. Thus began a friendship that grew into love that led us to creating the family and the life that I now have.
Being here in Florida without him has been much harder than I had thought it would. be. Oh I knew it would have many challenges, but I had honestly been feeling pretty strong and well on my way to healing and wholeness again. I’ve been walking more confidently forward, able to have conversations about Russell with friends without immediately feeling choked up, and just able to move through my daily life with more ease. Pfftt, I forgot that the reality of vacation is a releasing of the tight hold I often have on myself and on my life. I move through my days finding the ways to keep functioning. I don’t avoid dealing with things but I have many tools to get through each day without breaking down all of the time.
But on vacation, I am able to relax and simply stay in whatever the moment can bring. This week that has meant allowing myself the time and space to feel it all. I am having great moments of joyous playfulness. Yesterday sliding down the slide off of the pontoon boat into the ocean was awesome and very playful. Playing cards, napping, being silly, crazy shopping experiences, bloody marys all day if I want, walking across the street to the beach, all joyous times!
I am also, in the midst of these joyous times, missing Russell so very, very much. Tears well up and pour out of me often this week. He would have loved every single minute of this vacation. It was on vacations that both he and I could relax enough to let go of all our work concerns and simply be with one another and our kids again. We were always happiest together when we were in Florida. It was always as if our hearts would open and sing to one another again. And oh what a beautiful song we could sing together when we let go of all of the blockages and barriers and worries that living a busy life can do to us all. As I relax and allow myself to just be in every moment this week, with no focus on working and new endeavors ahead, my heart sings a sad song of longing and missing and wishing that Russell could really be here. While I do feel his presence, it isn’t the same as him being here with us in the flesh.
It continues to be the most fascinating part of this journey for me, that I walk in this in between place. I walk between joy and sorrow; light and darkness, endings and amazing new beginnings. This week, when I don’t have to focus at all on work (thank you my amazing Avalon community), I can allow myself to feel it all in every moment. I am allowing myself to be more open and vulnerable because I can. I don’t have to be the responsible one. I imagine I will return to Illinois a little more raw; in some ways a little more healed and in other ways a little more in need of new healing. And that is okay.
So I find myself settling into this new definition of myself that I carry forth into my new year of living; a definition I have avoided writing or even speaking out loud very much. My name is Lara and I am the widow of Russell Peterson. I am the widow whose task it is to help myself and our children heal and step strongly into lives that we don’t know the way through. I am the widow who wants to remember Russell with joy and love and light and keep his memory alive for others to know him. I the widow who wants to live her life filled with and focused on the joys in her life as this is the very best way that I can honor Russell’s memory. I am the widow who walks in the middle of paths of darkness and light, sadness and joy, confusion and clarity. This is not the only definition I have of myself, but it is the newest and I walk slowly, ever so slowly, into what it means for me.
From the beginning of this cuckoo luckoo time I have done all I can to remain as honest with myself about what I need for myself and for my children. I refuse to walk this part of my journey with anything but openness to what it is I need to do in each moment to handle my grief in the way that is best for me. Grief is a bizarre thing in that even though there are obviously common elements of grieving for everyone, the way in which we grieve is so uniquely our own. Being honest and direct about what we need in every given moment is, I believe, essential. For some, never talking about it is good. For others talking about it a lot is good. Some people need to share their journey with others and some need to have it be as private as they can make it. All of it is okay.
I share my journey through my writings because it is what I feel compelled to do, It gets it out of me and one of my deepest hopes is that my words may somehow, in some tiny way be healing for others. I write for me because the need to write rises up in me like the dragon needing to fly. There is no other thing I can often do in those moments I feel called to write. I simply have to get it all out. And I share that writing because I do believe we are all connected and the sharing of my story helps others understand my journey and might help someone feel not quite so alone in their own journey.
I wish I could stay here near the sand and the surf that heals my entire being. But since I can’t stay I will simply embrace every last moment of joy I can in these last few days we are here. I am beyond thankful that I get to spend my birthday here in a place I love and that Russell loved. He would have been so happy to celebrate with me. So I will just celebrate extra hard for both of us.
In this time and in this moment, I am happy that I will be walking soon on the beach with a bloody mary in my hand, listening to the laughter of my kids playing in the ocean. I am happy that it is sunny with gorgeous blue skies. I am happy that I will be eating crab legs for dinner tonight. I am happy that my family and friends love me in all of the aspects of myself. I am happy that we have a silly, adorable, wonderful puppy here to play with us. I am happy that we will play on go carts (we hope) later today. I am happy for this day of hearing from folks that they are thinking of me and that I am loved. I am happy that writing is a joy for me. I am happy to have survived this past year. I am happy for the beginning of a new year that promises to have lots of new adventures as I awaken into a new understanding of who I am and what I am about.