Coping mechanisms are a funny thing. I have always thought of myself as a tough cookie, I think the jury is still out on that, but I know that we all develop healthy, not so healthy, and basic survival coping mechanisms. Through the years I have seen people use controlling mechanisms such as OCD, eating disorders, alcohol and other behaviors to cope with depression, anxiety, and I have watched them struggle to change those coping mechanisms. To make matters more complicated, these coping mechanisms are just symptoms, a result of our own genetic coding, that causes our closest and dearest to have the proclivity to depression, mood disorders, ADHD etc.
I realize now as a parent, you cannot outrun your genetics, you can hope to teach healthy coping mechanisms and you can give your children and loved one resources to help. I used to say we have to use the hand we’ve been dealt. You cannot choose the family you are born into and you can’t choose the genetic issues you are born with. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could? Like you are sitting there with God and you’re like, “I’ll take poor tooth enamel and bunions. Please hold the depression, the lazy eye, and the hunch back.
Some coping mechanisms aren’t so straightforward. My coping mechanism for this Christmas has been to have my head in the clouds. Pop psychology will call this disassociation. Wiki describes dissociation as a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of reality. This has a wide range and I am talking more about the type that psychologists describe as a coping mechanism that is a way of protection from emotional stress. This has always been one of my superpowers. I recently discussed my abilities with my grief counselor but I honestly am not sure that’s all that’s going on here.
My friend that lost her adult daughter a few years earlier, asked me if I felt like I had one foot in this world and one foot in the spirit world. I am so glad she asked that. It describes exactly how I have been feeling for many months now. The feeling is like being lost in deep thought. The truth is I am seeing the world in a different light right now.
Last month as I sat by the pool in Mexico, before I became violently ill, I remember staring up at these amazing clouds. Clouds like I have never seen before. A Christian author and a public speaker, Kat Kerr, talks about how we can see reflections of Heaven in the clouds. I am an open-minded person, a Christian and a lover of science, none of these three things mesh well together, but I found myself in wonder and lost in these images I had never noticed before.
Since returning home, I find myself looking and observing the cloud formations. There isn’t always something fascinating, sometimes I am just appreciating the light of a sunrise. Just this morning as my two youngest walked out the door yelling at each other I heard myself say, “but look at the beautiful sunrise!” They both stopped for a heartbeat and drove away. They probably rocked, paper, scissored who will get to take care of their crazy mom.
Another place I have been losing my grief has been in my crafting. I have been perfecting my paper heart angel wings. Sitting and punching out little paper hearts out of sentimental sheet music or a copy of a favorite story for myself and for others has been somewhat cathartic. It feels meaningful as I sit and just create. I cannot stress enough how this has brought me through the last month. My thoughts can wander and I can listen to music. When your hands are busy building and creating your heart hurts less. When you are making something of sentimental value for someone else it lightens a load of sadness off your own back.
In my search for meaning and crafting this Christmas, I created a Harry Potter tree in memory for my daughter and the books she adored. I crafted flying keys, snitches, and book ornaments. I painted a Diagon alley sign near the tree and the scene was set except I felt it was missing deer. Derr was the memory or patronus of Harry’s mother and in past blogs, I have written about the deer that showed up the moment I stood where my daughter passed and the deer that twice looked in the window the exact moment my oldest daughter started crying about her sister at the counselor’s office. (Deer don’t usually walk up and look in windows here in Oregon FYI.)
I looked on the internet for deer, they seemed pretty expensive. I decided I was going to have to paint something and I put it on the backburner and headed the next morning to my favorite thrift store for shadow boxes for my paper hearts. As I walked in I had that similar feeling. My head in the clouds, and very connected to my daughter and her memories. I walked over to the picture frames and immediately found two shadow boxes. I usually never see them there. It was the senior day at the thrift store, so I grabbed them quick. The words bric-a-brac came to mind, they have a section called that. I kind of laughed at myself. Who even knows what that means anymore? I turned around towards the area known as “Bric-a-brac” or miscellaneous, I spun around to four huge and beautiful deer. Two silver and two gold. They had tags on the bottom for $128 a piece. They were marked $7 a piece. I grabbed them.
It was an amazing haul considering it’s a tiny thrift store. I decided to wander through the other aisles, feeling so connected to my girl. A few moments later I am looking down at a gigantic Mickey pillow. One of her nicknames was Mickey. Wandering a few more minutes, I see brand new spa socks, still with the tags on it, in purple, with a Britney Spears reference. (Britney Spears was from her and my oldest daughter’s era.) The last time my oldest and I went out a few months ago for a special occasion, I had heard Britney Spears at work, then in the restaurant with my daughter, then again that night in the theater while we were getting drinks. I grabbed the socks with my deer and shadow boxes feeling a little hug from heaven.
When I returned home I actually looked at the shadow box I had grabbed. I was in a hurry so I had planned on ripping out what was inside for my paper hearts. What I found was a gift from and daughter to a mother telling her mother she loved her even if she didn’t say it enough. You can say all of that is a coincidence, but statistically, in one small thrift store finding the deer, the letters to the mom, the Mickey, and the Britney socks is on the low side in my opinion.
This Christmas I wander among the clouds, I craft and create, I remember and I love. Call it disassociation or coping or whatever you want. I am moving forward in my own slow motion. I know it is the only thing keeping me sane and able to celebrate the holidays with my family. I was told I needed to be grounded by a friend, but I am ok right now with only one foot on the ground and one in the air. I will get done the daily chores begrudgingly. I will be insanely focused at work. The Christmas rat race I have run for 21 years has come to a screaching halt. I have purchased a few presents online, I will grab a few things at the mall before Christmas, but I have not made cards, or spent days making cookies. I do what feels ok, what doesn’t make my heart ache. I create, I give, I think, I pray and every so often I stare up at the sky.