When I was in graduate school, I learned I was very powerful.
People were scared of me and what I would do. They were afraid of the power I would wield and how I could choose to decimate entire civilizations. I learned that in order to keep people from making up stories about me and my power, that I had to be wildly transparent. I was in a cohort with people learning to be therapists and organizational change makers. You don’t get drawn to the work of healing unless you yourself are broken. So, I twisted my natural comfort to be a private person into being an open book.
Like all new powers, this one swung too far and while it made others comfortable, it had the affect of laying me bare more than I wanted to be. But, the gift in this newfound practice was that going into Andy’s cancer care, I was wildly transparent with what was happening.
I kept a CaringBridge journal with regular updates. They not only included the medical situation, but also our spirits and moods and what we needed for support. We had built around us a community of people who wanted to help and this was an easy way to stay transparent with them; to get the help we needed without having to be asked “How’s it going?” 200 times.
So, when Andy died, we all saw it coming. I wrote about it, prepped everyone for it, gave out tips on handling grief and supporting me and Ronan. From a community standpoint, our transition from cancer family to grieving family was seamless. Because I brought them all along for the terrible rollercoaster we were on.
That means that I have the gift of not being seen as “other.” I am other, but not in a scary, perilous sort of way. My otherness is not something to be feared, but rather a part of me. What makes me a good friend and family member is this otherness. Death is not a specter in my world, but something that I live with and manage every day like my toddler.
Because people see me managing it, they don’t avoid me. In fact, they lean into me. The transparency and authenticity is seen as refreshing in a world where you are asked to mask the scary parts. I mask nothing and as such, people come to me and match my authenticity. I know all of my friends’ insides and outsides. I know their fears and their dreams. I know what they want and what they love. I know that this happens because I don’t hide what I’m feeling or experiencing.
At first, the bareness was a harmful practice. I was with people who wanted to test how vulnerable I was. They were encouraged to weed out the soft parts so I would know where they were and could defend them or tend to them.
Now, my bareness is a gift I bring to everyone. It’s my wisdom and my love and my truth. It’s what people want and what I need to feel held.
In the midst of the pandemic, I have been talking to a lot of friends. When they are missing vital, essential pieces of self care like drinking water and going outside and sleeping enough, I remind them of their foundational humanness and how that needs to be tended. And sometimes they say, “You’re never wrong, so I should just listen to you.”
That’s the power of living wholly authentically and in the deepest integrity. People respect it, want to emulate it, it’s a power unto itself.
So, I’m not the witch in my fairy tale. Or I am, but not in the way we typically think. I bring a gift that while people don’t want it necessarily, they know it’s inevitable and watch my movements for their own edification. So when their time comes they know that my gingerbread house isn’t a trap to eat them, but actually full of treats and a warm fire and some tea. I am the quintessential hostess to my own grief and I am the quintessential hostess for others. I do this so I can get support, but also I do this because I have no other way of being. Those who don’t want my gifts and powers weeded themselves out a while ago.