The Gift of Nana and Papa
In what was the first real post on this blog, a bit over two years ago, I wrote about safety and the healing I had done to that point. How fitting that on the two year anniversary of this blog, I am coming back to safety. Indeed, I posted this month's Carnival activity on safety—which will be published Saturday night. At the time, I did not think it was going to be terribly hard for me. Was I wrong!
I had no idea what to submit for my own contribution. The last couple of weeks have been enormously difficult, tumultuous, and confusing. I experienced some instability around the time I posted Hallelujah Piano Cover. But since then, I have experienced massive time warps, huge amounts of lost time, safety concerns, fundamental rifts in awareness and perception, as well as accomplishments that I thought were not possible anymore. The only point in telling this is that life has been too complicated to even contemplate how to capture safety in any way.
But, the ship was righted today. Almost precisely in the same way it was a month ago, except without needing to go into the hospital.
I decided that for my Carnival submission on safety, I would look through my photo galleries and try to collect images that are most safe for me.
There are many pictures of my daughters that show them as safe. Two, for example, taken when each was born, show them swaddled in the hospital blanket with the sock on their heads in the nursery crib. There are hundreds like that. All safe. And while I know I felt a huge sense of safety at the time, the images tell a story that the safety is really on their end. Plus, I did not want to imply that safety is only at infancy which, of course, is not even true for many.
So, I started looking for different images, going through each gallery to see which "spoke" safety to me. I quickly saw pictures of my now-deceased grandparents. Since I was extremely close to them and have often said that I have felt most safe with them, I knew I need to focus my attention there. But as I began gathering images to show, I started having an experience that is evolutionary for me. There are tears. But so much joy and so much awareness of safety.
We always did a lot as a family with my grandparents. There were the customary Sunday dinners, Christmas Eve with Santa Claus every year, our annual family apple picking trip, Papa teaching me how to do yard work and plant flowers, hanging out at Papa's barber shop, endless "silly banter" with my Nana, and, what I remember most, lots and lots of hugs and kisses.
When I was 22 and my life collapsed, I moved to the family home with my grandparents and parents. I was mentally very unwell. I tried to commit suicide, and nearly succeeded twice. And while life was nearly impossible for what felt like an eternity, I always felt a complete sense of safety with them that was unique for me. After a few years and a lot of treatment and effort, my life got much better and more stable. That was around 1994. I met my wife in 1995. Got engaged and bought our first house in 1996. Got married in 1997. Had our first daughter in 1998.
Those years were huge for me and my Nana and Papa. I had hundreds of dinners with them. We talked for hours. We laughed. I took up golfing with my Papa. We bowled together; he would take me to his weekly bowling league for a time. He had a 35mm Minolta camera that he did not know the first thing about. When I got into photography, I started teaching him and he would go with me to the local camera store. I taught him about different films, about lens filters, composition. He attentively listened. He took up art in his 80s; taking painting classes. At the time, I had no interest in making any art myself. I did not realize that now I would incorporate art—as well as photography—as important aspects of my healing.
While I was better, I was still severely internally partitioned. And while I told them I loved them a million times, I was really not able to see my relationship with them in a larger context. I was in the moment with them. All the time. I just knew it was love. I just knew it was safe.
But, on the day I got married, I gained perspective on what they meant to me. And this is a memory that I have tried very hard to learn more about, but could not. Until tonight.
We got married on a picturesque lake 6 hours by car from where we were living, in the town my wife grew up in. I remember that they were staying in a guest house with all my immediate family, including me. I was there a week before finalizing the wedding festivities with my then-fiance. My family came up a couple days before the wedding. It was all fun and relaxing.
On the night before the wedding, I think it was after the rehearsal dinner, I left them a card and a handwritten letter in their room. This is where the memory gets hazy. I remember I wrote something along the lines of "you saved my life" and also "you taught me what love is." But, aside from that I do not know what I said. And I do not remember their reaction, which was most certainly extremely emotional for all of us.
I think the writing of that letter was a transcendental experience for me. An aligning of sorts. Somehow, I was able to have perfect clarity and perspective on not only how much they meant to me, but also on what getting married to my wife meant in relation to my life history which included them. After, that perfect perspective went away. We partied at the reception and it just became a party, just as it was supposed to be.
When my daughters were born, they were a source of my grandparents' happiness. We only lived 30 minutes away and, so, we continued to see them all the time. Life changed for me in relation to them. It was no longer just me and my Nana and Papa. They died in March 2004 and January 2006 respectively.
Almost exactly two years after my Papa died, my healing journey changed course, and that is what this blog chronicles. My internal and external awareness blossomed like never before. I started using words like healing.
I like to think all these gains are closely connected to my Nana and Papa.
You see, I do not need to know what those words were in the letter I wrote to them when I got married. Because of the process of looking through their pictures, I now know precisely what I was feeling when I wrote it. And it is the feelings that are key.
I am having those feelings right now.
Of love. Of safety.
And that is why when they died, while I cried, I had absolutely no regrets. I told them everything I wanted to tell them. And they gave me everything they needed to give me.
I settled on three images of them. The first is my Papa outside on the patio posing—he was a ham—with my elder daughter. The second is of my Nana outside the hospital as her health was failing a little less than a year before she died. I was trying to cheer her up by taking a picture of her wearing my daughter's hat. She was not a ham like my Papa, but she reluctantly humored me. The third is most meaningful to me. It is a picture of my bedroom now. The chair was one of a pair that my Nana and Papa sat in every night in their own bedroom while watching television together. It is my safe chair. In the background are three paintings my Papa made. It is probably the safest spot on the planet.
That is their gift to me.