Holding My Story With Tenderness

Holding My Story With Tenderness

The day after our beloved cat Neo was euthanized I immersed myself in writing. I committed that writing would be my way of honoring her life and all the gifts she gave me. She literally dropped out of a tree and landed at my feet on a very auspicious day of my life. Instantly, I declared she was my gift of life.

As I poured out my grief in Google Docs day after day, I tried to come to terms with her untimely death. I blamed myself. I failed her. I was guilty about my own role in agreeing to euthanasia. The more I grieved, the more I wrote, the more I discovered I was unraveling my own story of grief, guilt, and loss.

My story is one of hiding and running away. I sense this started when, at the age of three or four,  I was run away from. My mother always threatened she’d leave me whenever I had a tantrum or demanded something of her or failed to obey her. The wooden spoon came out. One day she did leave me. She picked up her handbag and walked out the front door leaving her words behind: “You are a disobedient ungrateful bad girl. You don’t deserve a mother.” That day was the beginning of the rest of my life. Somehow, that young girl resolved that she would never have that happen again. If there was ever any running away from in the future, it would be she who did the running.

How did that first experience of abandonment shape the story of my life? What future experiences strengthened that original story? I lived into it. I nurtured it whenever disappointment or fear of losing control loomed. The power of those early words played over and over:

“You are an ungrateful, naughty little girl.”
“You are to be seen and not heard.”
“Don’t you dare embarrass me ever again!”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

The Old Narrative

This awareness of running away as a narrative had grown over the years. Yet, the intensity of my grieving the untimely death of my Neo was my epiphany. I couldn’t speak her name without my throat tightening and my face distorting. When I felt the pain rising in me, I hid in the bathroom and howled. Seeing my contorted face in the mirror, red and wet with tears and mucus, it came to me over time that my grieving Neo was really about grieving me.

Discovering myself through writing is the legacy of Neo. She keeps giving. She’s helping me untangle my story of family shame. I’m finding there’s a flicker within that wants to face the flaming stories that I have denied.  I want to discover who I am. Through writing, I am exposing the parts of my life that I have been ashamed of. I’m facing up to the patterns that have shaped my choices. I’m surrendering to the vulnerability of truth. I can let go of those fabricated, fictional stories I created. I can welcome in the real, lived, tender, raw, painful stories that I have been too ashamed to acknowledge.

Through the experience of writing about my grief, I can welcome memories tenderly and with forgiveness. I seek to understand and hold my stories with kindness, just as I would encourage a friend who entrusts me with their stories. With this new perspective, I’m cautiously celebrating my story - the whole of it. This unraveling is coming from a place of tenderness, rather than judgment.

In bringing my story to life, I’m working at stopping the shame of not pleasing others, and all the I’m not-enough-stuff. That was the story I was dealt. They were the stories others told me right from the earliest years: not grateful enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough.  I lived into other people's stories and admit I was a co-creator of those realities for more than sixty years.

At last, I am living into the belief that I am the narrator of my own story. I have known that cognitively but emotionally, I’ve struggled against it. While I can’t change what was imprinted into my being from the earliest years and shaped who I have become, I can make meaning of it in a whole new loving way.

My beloved Neo's gift of life continues. In writing her story, I am discovering my own story, with tenderness.