Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden
Wave Hill, Riverdale in the Bronx

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Do this for me and...

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I have lived in this apartment for about five years. I believe my neighbors at the end of the hall moved in three years ago. In that entire time, I have only exchanged a few words with them. Tonight as I walked to the elevator, the husband is there. He says hi. I say hi. Nothing unusual there. "Are you going down to do the laundry?" he asks. "Yes" I say. "I've been procrastinating but pushed myself to do at least two loads." We ride the elevator down. Walk past the garbage room. When we got to the laundry room, I thought he would continue to exit the building. But he followed me inside and engaged me in conversation. My guard went up. But I was open. We chatted about the changes needed in the building. I found myself saying I was sick of New York. That I wanted a change. I found myself sharing about my caregiver experience. That Mom had passed away six months ago. He asked if I had a boyfriend. I said I had dated but never someone worth marrying. "It takes a certain kind of man to be with someone caring for her mother. But rather than meeting men who could see what that said about my character, I met the ones who gave me a hard time." Then he said something interesting. You will meet someone because now you know how to pick the ones that are worth it. I won't quote him because I was so stunned by his words. He said God often says, "Do this for me and..." But we never know what doing what God wants will get us. We just have to have faith that our lives will be enriched. This is exactly what I needed to hear tonight. As I prepare to volunteer for three weeks in Malawi, Africa to lead writing workshops for girls and women, God's message is loud and clear. "Do this for me and..."

The VoiceFlame team will blog about our experiences. Follow our cross cultural journey to Malawi here and share this post with your network.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Busting Me Loose

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe
I actually wrote this close to New Year's Eve. But something makes me want to share it here before I leave for Malawi

I don't know what it is that people see when i'm in a state of flow, laughing loud and talking with passion. Sometimes, my hands reach for warmth before I remember i'm not supposed to let my palms touch another's skin. My eyes twinkle and that wild, crazy laugh must be distinctive for often when I turn into the wind, I catch green cat eyes faced in my direction. I don't understand what it is they see, so I flash a smile then look away only to find those same pair of questioning eyes fixed on me. "Yeah that's right," I say to myself. "I'm in the middle of busting me loose."

A shot of Patron and I admit, I am burnt out from living inauthentically. Hours later, the salty sea comes in waves between gulps of air and I feel like i'm drowning. Bust me loose, I say to the mirror. Please, bust me loose! I cannot keep living a life of this or that but rather that and that and a little bit of that.

I've been collecting and planting seeds and growing trees with my questions and the discovery of the answers right there inside and sometimes, the sacred willows at Bay Pines lean in and whisper my name. The name no one knows and even I don't know all the letters, but the sound. I know the sound it makes when the willows say it. I recognize it when I tilt my head and raise just the left eyebrow.

Sometimes, I wonder if the woman I dreamt about busting loose has a shocking mass of kinky grey curls and maybe i'll grow my hair out just to see. Sometimes, I hear her laugh on those occasions I forget the Tonton Macoutes don't live in the Bronx, or do they, in the nightmares leftover from the ancestors and their children.

All the costume fittings, the prison terms that keep changing, the sentences that were unjustifiably true give me the chance to say, why not!? I'll have a shot. It will be my last drink of the year and in two days i'll decide if i'll need another, because busting me loose is the loveliest drink i'll ever get to taste and how fitting that the seams should feel too tight for my chest, the words racing to the edge of the cliff and 2014 is the year, I fear, they'll fly on their own and i'll have no choice but to buy a ticket to ride along with them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Inspiration for Healing House

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~ Siddartha Guatama Buddha

I have a foggy vision of manifesting something called Healing House. A place women come to heal. We write the story of our lives. We learn about healthy living. We support each other. We connect with our authentic selves. As I glance at my bookshelf, my eyes land on one of Mom's books, New Choices in Natural Healing. For as long as I can remember, she was always reading books, magazines and newsletters about living a healthy lifestyle. About alternative health. I am an experiential kind of learner. There is something here for me, I think.

What's on my mind is that I want to receive a scholarship to go somewhere to learn about living a lifestyle where it is the earth that offers healing. I would learn about food and vegetarian cooking. I would meditate with a Sangha of seekers. I would learn about the healing properties of plants, herbs & oils. I would write. I would facilitate writing workshops that incorporate mindfulness of all the six senses. I would walk in the woods, talk to the sky. It is crystal clear that I cannot stay here in NYC. I am too distracted. Expend too much energy blocking out the darkness all around me. I need light. I need to go somewhere I can channel my energy on having a healthy mind, body and spirit. Not just in theory. But in practice.

I know intuitively that I am this house of healing. I must build it. I must build Healing House from the inside. So I need some inspiration. Does this post spark any ideas? If anything at all comes to you, no matter how unrelated or trivial it may seem, please share. I would love to hear from you. Your comments might lead me to explore something I would have never considered. Thanks.

Friday, August 1, 2014

In This Moment

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

The life I lived before this moment and the experiences I clung to when I felt I had nothing to look forward to, got me to this moment. As I sit at Lenox Lounge waiting to read a piece by "Jean Nkwanda" featured in the VoiceFlame anthology, I pause to grieve for the woman I was. To honor her for her courage and resilience. I guess that's why Jean's words moved me so much when I chose her piece for the open mic reading at OPEN Expression in Harlem. Rather than reading my own work and in honor of my volunteer trip to help Malawian girls and women discover the strength of their voices through writing, I chose to bless the space with a Malawian voice.
Jean Nkwanda writes, "My blessings are that I have a happy family, and I have patience because the counsellers taught me that "good things come to people who are patient." They emphasized that "courage is contagious," so I should always be courageous, and "there is no room for cowards in heaven," so I should never be a coward because cowards die twice before their death.
As I sit in this moment, I know intuitively that the people who walked this road with me have moved on to chart their own course, as I am charting mine. I pause to honor who I am now. Because this moment is all I have to take me to wherever i'm going next. She is who matters now. The one who is stepping out on faith. On nothing more than faith.

Visit the VoiceFlame website to buy the anthology featuring the rest of Jean Nkwanda's piece and that of other Malawian and North American voices featured in it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I Just Need To Flee

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

This is a picture of me taken at my cousin's wedding a few days ago. While I had a good time and enjoyed gathering for a happy occasion, I was aware of a sense of a changing of the guard. The matriarch of my family is gone. My young cousins are off to college, starting their careers, getting married and building their lives. The question that had been on my mind for months, bubbled to the surface. What is here for me now? What now?

I thought I needed some time to heal and recover from the mental and emotional exhaustion of being a witness to my mom's frailty and the inevitable end of her life. So I left a great paying job with benefits and stability. I thought I needed a vacation to make up for all the years of vacations I never got to take. So I went to Mexico. To Greece. I thought I needed to finally pursue a writing and teaching life. So I trained as a creative writing workshop facilitator. But here's what I realized this morning. I just need to flee and this volunteer trip to help orphaned girls and village women discover their voices is about me having the courage to leave everything behind that is known and comfortable to look for an unknown life, in an unknown location. I am going to Malawi, Africa for me and through that others get to benefit from my talents. Others get to benefit from my presence. From my survivor's spirit. I am going away for three weeks to another continent as a practice run.
The road stretches out before me. I know I will encounter obstacles. The path will sometimes appear circuitous, or worse, perilous. I have fears. But still, I go. ~ The Way of the Traveler

It's not the road that terrifies me. It's the knowledge that I have chosen it wholeheartedly and will take it to wherever it goes no matter what. Because walking it is what I have been itching to do for as long as I can remember and I know I will not return to where I started.

I have been fundraising to take advantage of what feels like a life-changing opportunity. I have been vulnerable, risk-taking, courageous, resourceful, creative, honest, urgent, humble, grateful and committed. I'm not sure what else is needed in order for me to be able to raise the balance of $3363 by the 1st week in August. I don't know how it will happen. But I will keep trying until it works out.

If you are inspired by this journey and want to support me, here are some ideas.

Click here to make a donation of any amount.


If you're in NYC, click to sign-up for a creative writing workshop i'm doing as a fundraiser on 8/03 and share it with friends, family, colleagues and on social media networks. This is an exploration of the stories on the NYC Subway.


Please share this fundraising link with friends, family, colleagues and on social media networks. http://www.gofundme.com/2014-Malawi-Volunteer-PP

Please share this blog post with friends, family, colleagues and on social media networks.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Am a Woman. I Have a Voice.

I get to live an authentic, joyful life in between my tears of grief. ~ Patricia Philippe

I got an astrology reading in December and was told that writing, teaching and international travel was all over my chart. I was encouraged to teach writing abroad in the Summer and Fall. When I heard that, I laughed. It didn't seem likely. I was helping my sister take care of Mom. I had a full-time job. No money. But every action I have taken since December is what got me here now. I quit my job after Mom passed. I signed up for a training to be a creative writing workshop facilitator. I took chances. Lived life in between my tears.

Was it a coincidence that my teacher was Mary Tuchscherer, founder and CEO of VoiceFlame, a non-profit organization that is changing the world through writing and education, one voice at a time? Was it a coincidence that the astrologer encouraged me to follow whatever bread crumbs presented themselves? I don't think so. In September, I will volunteer with VoiceFlame to hold writing workshops with village women, train local teachers to hold classes that engage students in writing their stories and lead writing workshops for girls at the Jacaranda Foundation and School in Malawi, Africa. I have already raised $1740 and still need to raise $4260 by 8/01 in order to go.

You can help sponsor me by making a tax-deductible donation to VoiceFlame via PayPal. Please write SCHOLARSHIP for Patricia Philippe in the purpose field. You can also donate directly to me through my GoFundMe page.


Your contribution helps girls and women in Malawi, Africa discover they have a strong, unique voice that deserves to be heard. In return, you will also receive exclusive live updates, thoughts and reflections before, during and after the trip. Thanks so much for your support!

Friday, June 13, 2014

From Mother to Daughter

1st draft 6/13/14 Copyright 2014 Patricia Philippe


Let there be light on this day of beginnings and endings and roads that wind through the hills of New Zealand and the dusty trails that cling to you.

Let there be peace between the past and the future and days that glow with dreams lived and chances taken and questions that don't really need answering.

Let there be hope for the hands that reach to you for understanding and compassion and new beginnings imagined but now realized and they pay it forward and you extend another hand in the moment it's needed.

Let the world be a mirror that holds all that you are today and who you'll become and the thousand miles you walked in the sahara desert becomes a chapter in a book tucked safely away on a shelf.

These are my blessings to you, my child. Today, tomorrow and everyday, for I am here right beside you.

I graduated today! I am officially an Amherst Writers and Artists Affiliate, certified to facilitate creative writing workshops using the AWA Method. I felt sad Mom could not be there, but her spirit gave me this first draft of a poem.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo Day 3: Fluid Identity

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I notice that lately I have been taking lots of cooking classes, which is not typical for me because I hate to cook. That is up until now.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to stumble upon a Mexican cooking class at Patio Mexica in Zihuatanejo. Monica, the owner, taught us how to make poblano chiles stuffed with fresh cheese, homemade tortillas from scratch, refried black beans, an appetizer called Sopes and habanero peppers stuffed with tuna salad.

The experience made me think about my identity as being fluid. Who I thought I was yesterday may not be who I am today. This is especially poignant as I consider that I am no longer a caregiver.

After Mom passed, I had the experience of trying to resume my old life, only to find that the things I enjoyed, even the circumstances I had been willing to tolerate had changed. I changed. The new experiences I am allowing myself to have, support me in the discovery of myself at this point in life.

Lesson: Be willing to look at myself and my life with fresh eyes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo Day 1

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe


I'm in Mexico. My first trip out of the country for a few years. I used to travel abroad all the time, but once I began to notice my Mom's frailty, I didn't want to travel far. I was afraid she would die while I was away.

On this trip I opted for a smallish hotel in Ixtapa and today I did my favorite activity, walk on the beach and explore. Before my trip I read many hotel reviews that said the beach at my hotel was practically non-existent. And that's true, at least for those who want to sit on a lounge chair all day and bake in the sun.

But I'm an explorer by nature. I set off to see what I could find. Oh what a treat! I crossed a little bridge accessible by a rocky path. I hiked up my swim dress and waded across low tide to the other side where fishermen lay by their boats taking naps in the shade. I sat on the pier with a man selling shaved ice. I saw Mexican families and seaside restaurant shacks and kids laughing. I walked until I was tired, thrilled at realizing just how much I love my own company, something I couldn't say I felt just two years ago. I'm looking forward to many more days of exploration on this trip and in life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou and Me and Mom

"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back." ~ Maya Angelou

Wow! Maya Angelou has passed. This hurts! I "met" Maya at age 23 while trying to make sense of my life. Over the years I got to know her through her many memoirs. A statement from her family says "She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace." In many ways, she inspired me to write vulnerably and made a significant mark in my life through her words. This is the kind of writer I hope to be. One who heals and transforms lives through her powerful words.

But my tears for Maya Angelou are also about the legacy of my mother. Maya Angelou died at 86. Mom died at 86. They were both inspiring, powerful and resourceful women.

Yesterday, I was standing at the corner of Dyckman and Broadway waiting to cross the street. I remembered that when I was in high school, my mom had made a deal with a local clothing store. My sister and I would go in and pick out a few outfits and apparently mom would pay for them at the end of the month. I vaguely remembered one time when I went in and was worried about the fact that I seemed to be taking clothes without paying. "Don't worry." said Mr. Diaz. "Your Mom is a good woman. She will pay for these later."

Many times since mom's death, when I reflect on my life and the sacrifices she made for me, my heart overflows with gratitude at her generosity in every way. She was a kind, peaceful and loving woman who was charitable and supported many organizations. As a teenager, I remember the $10 checks she wrote to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. In spite of not having enough in the typical sense, she gave from a life philosophy of abundance and resourcefulness. Thanks for investing all your time, talents and treasures in me Mom. You made me the woman I am today!

Lesson: Who I am being in the world today has the potential to impact another's life in ways I may never know. Throw something back.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“Don't you find it odd," she continued, "that when you're a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you're older, somehow they act offended if you even try.” ~ ― Ethan Hawke, The Hottest State

When I was about 23, I applied for the Peace Corps. I knew I wanted to live a life of service abroad teaching English and in preparation volunteered as an English Conversation Partner and Grammar Tutor at the International Center in New York . But Bosnia was where they wanted to send me. Not only was I afraid, I couldn't leave Mom alone to care for Grandma.

As I watched the movie, I saw myself in the main character. I was overcome by tears thinking about my recent experience of applying for a Teach English in Spain program, only to learn I had to be under 35 years old.

In the movie, Walter Mitty had elaborate daydreams about the life he could be living. During those moments of being zoned out, he went somewhere. He was in the dream as if he was actually living it. After his second adventure to Afghanistan, the daydreams became less frequent. Walter became fully present and engaged in his life. The catalyst for change was the opportunity to find something important. His love interest and the famous photographer became advocates.

I can't get back the years of my life spent feeling invisible, being afraid or simply accepting my lot in life. My 20s are gone. My 30s are gone. But my 40s. Ahh my 40s. Whatever is left of them are all mine. Everything I have experienced until now has prepared me to jump off a cliff without a parachute. I have battle scars to prove it. There is no cushy safety net. No one is coming to rescue me. My life is 100% my responsibility and I have faith that I will land safely just like all the other times. Destination unknown.

Lesson: Stop dreaming. Start living. Today. On my own terms. In spite of the grief.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Middlescence

Life begins at forty. ~ Walter B. Pitkin

Middlescence. Oh! That's what it's called. At least that's the term that seems to have emerged in the late 60s to describe the middle-age period of life, a sometimes challenging life phase filled with readjustment. I was so busy taking care of Mom, I didn't realize that's what I had been experiencing.

I just started reading Painting the Walls Red. The Uninhibited Woman's Guide to a Fabulous Life After 40 by Judy Ford. In it, women of various ages and backgrounds share lessons learned during this messy, confusing and exciting time in their lives. Hormones gone wild, fluctuations in monthly menstruation cycles, joint pain, unexplained exhaustion and an overall feeling of not being happy but not knowing why, are some of the things that caught my attention in the first few pages of the book.

As I began skimming, I thought about the importance of having the right support at all phases of life. The first few of my caregiver years were pretty challenging. The word martyr comes to mind. I felt like I was doing it alone, was completely unprepared for the range of experiences and chose to suffer in silence rather than be vulnerable and ask for or accept support. As I face this new phase of life, I ask myself whether I have the right support. I know that unlike in the past, i'm open to receiving as well as giving it.

Do I have close women friends my age or older who I feel safe being vulnerable with? NO. When I do share that I feel like my youth is slipping away, do I feel understood? NO. In fact, people say I look so much younger. But it's not about my looks...at least that's not the main issue. It's about all the changes that I don't understand. Are there women my age or older in my current social circle that I can get to know better? OF COURSE! Am I excited about this period and all the possibilities? ABSOLUTELY! I am at the beginning of the book, but the title tells me all I need to know about this ride i'm on. Painting the Walls Red. Let's see what happens.

How about you? I would love to hear your stories. What are you doing? What support has helped you? What advice can you share with us here?

Lesson: Being in community with others at a similar life stage can be a source of mutual support.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What's Next?

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them. ~~Dalai Lama

For some time now, I have envisioned living a literary life where I spend my time writing, facilitating creative writing workshops, work as an Editor of a literary magazine and read books. Since 2010, I have been on a journey to find my creative voice and have been writing poetry, observational essays and blogging. In spite of my duties as a caregiver and having a full-time job as a healthcare marketer, I managed to push forward. When a friend started a literary magazine, I volunteered as Managing Editor. I participated in many writing communities, took many writing & poetry workshops, and even participated on a panel featuring Haitian Women Writers.

My writing journey has led to a great deal of healing in my own life, and I want to pay it forward by developing a variety of themed creative writing workshops that help others find their voice, heal, build confidence and discover their authentic selves. Now that i'm grieving the loss of mom and re-imagining a life without her, I might develop a workshop for former caregivers going through the grieving process. My personal philosophy has always been to take a few people with me as I climb, or as I heal, so here we go.

I have registered for a creative writing workshop facilitator training with the very well known Amherst Writers & Artists. They developed a method of facilitation that I was fortunate to benefit from in a supportive and nurturing environment with the Women of Color Writer's Workshop & Community in Brooklyn. The Amherst Method follows a simple philosophy. Every person is a writer, and every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft.

I'm off to Malibu for my first adventure! If anyone wishes to make a contribution of $25 or more to my training fund by 5/26, you will get a creative writing workshop from me in the Fall either in-person or via Skype/Google Hangout. Thanks!


Lesson: Now is the perfect time to explore and experiment with the things I always wanted to do. There is absolutely no excuse why I can't.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Full Expression

I want freedom for the full expression of my personality. ~ Mahatma Ghandi


Wow! After almost a decade, here I sit cleaning out my office and it feels unreal. Like I’m watching a movie in which I am the lead character. There are so many changes happening in my life all at once, some by choice. While I enjoyed many growth opportunities and learned so much personally and professionally, what strikes me in this moment is that the world has changed in a way that I hadn’t noticed until recently. It’s not about my professional identity. I have always prided myself on being focused on learning new things and keeping my skills fresh. In 2010, I realized that the world of Marketing was shifting from print to Digital Marketing and went back to school to get a Professional Certificate in Digital Media Marketing. When I realized that Social Media was an opportunity for companies to engage with their audiences in a different way, I volunteered to work on social media related projects at work and tested out my ideas through promotion of my Meetup group Ann Pale Kreyol.

There is a revolution taking place of which my decision to voluntarily leave my job seems to place me at the edge of it. It’s about authentic communication. Genuine interest. Compassion. An integration of personal and professional identities in a way that allows an individual to live a rich and joyful life that feels authentic to them. I want to do yoga during the day. I want to spend two hours in the morning on reflection, writing and meditation before I leave the house. I want to go for a walk in the park on a sunny day and just sit on a bench enjoying the sound of birds and of children’s laughter. I want to engage in work that fully utilizes my talents and enables me to turn my passions into a career.

In 2012 I went to a retreat at Kripalu and was stopped in my tracks by a quote I saw hanging on the wall. “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.” In many ways, that’s what the journey of showing up in my life since 2010 was all about. And now in 2014 I find myself at yet another turning point. Not only to show up, to have the freedom for the full expression of my personality, but to fully exercise my rights in every way possible and impossible to live a life of abundance. If I had to choose a theme for this next chapter of my life, healthy mind, body, spirit and community comes to mind.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Mother's Love - Ti Tricia

You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.



The day before Mom passed away, I was alone with her at the hospital. When I arrived, she motioned for me to come closer and said, I Love You. She looked in my eyes. Looked at my face. Looked at my hair, which I know she never liked. I Love You, she said again. I squeezed her hand because what I heard was - I Love You. I appreciate you. I accept you just as you are. I want you to know this before I go. Her eyes told me all I needed to know about the depth and complexity of a mother's love. In those words I heard that I will always be her "Ti Tricia."

The morning of the funeral, I was thinking of Mom laying in the casket holding the red rosary blessed by Pope John Paul II. I remember the moment my body knew she was really gone. We walked inside the church behind Mom's casket and the pallbearers carried her like she was royalty. Of course. She was royalty to us! As if the priests knew how we felt, they gently placed an ivory damask cloth embroidered with the seal of the Catholic Church in lavendar, pale green and gold silk thread over her casket. A bronze cross went on top. As soon as the cross touched the casket, I knew she was gone.

It's not Mom's death that hurts. It's remembering the life I shared with her and knowing that her spot is empty. I will draw from the well of happy memories that marked the life we shared together. Mom and I have been through alot. Not just through her illness but caring for Grandma, Granme Philippe. I remember. It gives me comfort to remember. I find the Gift of Finest Wheat comforting and soothing and often listen to the hymns played at the service.

Lesson: It's OK to find comfort in remembering, even when others find it too painful.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Who Knows?

My feelings of grief are about the realization that after spending the past 10+ years putting myself second in every way, I discover that not only is mom gone, the life I created is far from what I would have created had I figured out how to have both of us win.  There is something about this awareness that makes me feel even more confident about the choices I am making now.  Because rather than clinging to circumstances that I consider unpleasant out of fear, I choose to let go of whatever is not working in order to create the life I think I want and enjoy the process of discovery.  For now I am OK with uncertainty about the future.  Who knows?  Maybe there's a mother or screenwriter or professor hidden inside waiting for me to press the power button. 

Lesson: Be willing to sit with uncertainty.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Wish Someone Could Tell Me

Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice. ~ Wayne Dyer

Sharing how I feel with friends or family members has been an interesting experience. When I say that I feel sad or weepy or emotional or even angry, I usually get the same response. That's understandable. Your mother just died. It will take some time. Or, someone might say they feel for me. Sometimes, I might even admit that I feel a lack of motivation or enthusiasm. I get the same response. On the surface, I find these statements supportive. After all, I can understand that the bereavement process is different for everyone. Most people feel uncomfortable and just don't know what to say. After I hang up, I often feel slightly better than I did before. Still. There's so much about grief that I wish someone could tell me.

I wish someone could tell me:

How to feel better.
How long I am going to feel this way.
How to fill the hole in my heart.
What to say when my phone rings and I don't want to talk.
How to respond to texts that ask - How are you?
What to do when I don't feel like I have anything to be happy about.
What to do the moment I realize that I won't see mom's smile again.
What to do when I make plans but just don't feel like being with people.
What do I do for Mother's Day when there is no mother to celebrate?


Here's what feels right to me:

Cry. Cry. Cry. Cry. Cry.
Write. Write. Write. Write.
Allow space in my life to feel whatever I feel.
Ask for support even if i'm not sure what I need.
Tell the truth when someone asks how I am doing.
Comfort someone else going through hard times.
Be patient with myself and with others.
Go for a walk when I need it.
Laugh in between the tears.
Have my own transportation.
Write. Write. Write. Write.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I was not prepared for the shift in family dynamics after losing mom nor how I would spend the holidays. For years I chose to spend all the major holidays with mom no matter what. Christmas. New Year's. Easter. Thanksgiving. Sometimes mom and I got to spend a quiet holiday with dinner and an old movie. Other times it was a much larger gathering and included my sisters, nephew and cousins. Any pictures with mom were taken with her sitting in her recliner and we each took turns posing with her. Sometimes, we surrounded her chair.

This year as Easter approached, I started to feel especially weepy and emotional. Everything was off balance. Mom lived with my twin sister so most family gatherings took place there. My sister and I agreed that we weren't ready to have a get together at the house with mom's recliner being empty. So we chose to go to church together and bring flowers to the cemetery.

Earlier in the week, I asked my Facebook friends for advice about how to spend the first holiday without mom. I got many great suggestions. "Be with those who loved her." That answer completely resonated with my spirit. To me that also meant being with people who I could safely express my true feelings vs. wearing a mask. When the family member who kept everyone together is no longer around, and the family members who are left don't know how to be with each other in a way that supports everyone, it can be a sad, stressful and confusing time. This can also be an opportunity for rebuilding. In many ways, I am rebuilding the relationship with myself. I don't know how to do that and rebuild the familial structure. I acknowledge it. I'm honest with myself. I accept it without judgement.



Lesson: Be honest. Communicate. Be accepting.

Resource: I found this article, Family Reorganization After a Loss, particularly helpful.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sanity Is Kind of Patient

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

It's cold. Every single joint in my body aches. I'm feeling sorry for myself. I was supposed to be in bed by 10:30pm but got hijacked by a crying spell.

I used to be so disappointed when people invited me to events and I couldn't go because I was taking care of mom. But now, having hung a huge leave me alone, do not disturb sign around my neck, no one invites me to anything and even if they did, I wouldn't go. Sure. I'm OK keeping in touch virtually or even to connect with other writers or spend time with family. But I find it overwhelming to be around lots of people. It's been 8 weeks since mom passed and I can't stand the sound of laughter. I fluctuate between hi how are you let's connect for a cup of tea, to I changed my mind, I'm not ready to socialize, leave me alone.

Is that hail I hear falling on my air conditioner? Damn it,I have had enough of this cold and rainy weather! Too bad when I submitted my resignation last Friday I could not say, today is my last day. In accordance with HR policies, I gave 20 days notice. Had I been able to leave that same day, I would have gone home, booked a flight to Florida, and stayed with my older sister for a few weeks, until inevitably I wanted to leave after a few days because I can't drive and i'm trapped in a rural part of Florida with nowhere to go but the senior center. I'm 21 years too young to start calling myself a senior citizen. Can you see my dilemna?

Lesson: There is no predictable pattern of grieving. Sometimes you're OK, the next minute you're not. Accept all of it and be patient.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pope Francis vs. The Buddha

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ~~ May Sarton

On Palm Sunday, I went to mass at the same church where we had mom's funeral. I felt guilty because during the Eulogy, the priest talked about how mom had struggled financially to put us through Catholic School. That it was clear she wanted her daughters to have a good moral foundation. But the thing is, I hadn't been to church in some time. For the past six months, I have been doing a bit of "spiritual window shopping." Secretly, of course. There was no way I was going to tell my mom, or anyone in my family, that Catholicism no longer felt right and that I was exploring my spirituality.

As I sat in church, my mind wandered to mom's funeral. I wondered what kind of service Buddhists had, because Buddhism is the latest in my "spiritual window shopping" explorations. On some level, mom's passing has given me the freedom to explore whatever seems authentically me.

As this week is Holy Week, the sermon highlighted the need for all Catholics to confess their sins. Why do I need to confess my sins to a priest?, I thought. I can talk directly to God whenever I want. As I sat contemplating this, I remembered a poem I wrote in a poetry workshop offered by the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon. Hmm. I have notebooks upon notebooks of poems I wrote but never typed or edited. Since I haven't been socializing much, this is the perfect stay at home project. Here is the first edit to my poem, Pope Francis, first written in March 2013.

Pope Francis

Lace communion dresses
Acts of contrition
And ruby crusted crosses
proclaim Jesus Christ as savior

A clear moral path
Humility
And a parish priest’s tone
shuns modern temptations

Catholic Church
Black Onyx rings
And a broken, hungry soul
lights a match that gulps air

What’s wrong with me?
Pope Francis
I like to eat when I’m hungry
It comes from the saliva in my mouth

Hot fingertips press flesh
Electric palms caress indifference
I like the taste of a slightly burnt charcoal steak
What’s the church got to do with it?

I was a hostage
now I pray to the sky
fixed
confused

The pedophiles
haven’t spoken the truth
Have they?
Temptations locked away in coffins

Is God here?
In this church?
Does morality
really come from a man?

All I know is I’m hungry
So hungry
And no man can speak for God
Or the state of my soul

© 2014 Patricia Philippe

Friday, April 11, 2014

Time to Let Go and Sit Quietly

When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But, she had wings. ~ Dean Jackson
Painting by Karol Bak courtesy of Awakening Women Institute
I quit my job today. There's something about my mom's passing that made me realize how precious my life is and how blessed I am to be given the privelege to live it joyfully without restriction. My caregiver days really took a toll on me and now that mom is gone, I feel so exhausted and depleted. I feel sick every morning when I wake up. Sometimes, I know it's because I have been up all night either crying or dreaming about mom or just feeling anxious about how i'm going to meet the expectations at my job. This week I had a doctor's visit. As I explained the numerous symptoms, I wondered whether grief was causing these physical symptoms that mimicked illness. I'm also a bit of a hypochondriac and since mom's passing have been wondering whether I now have some sort of serious condition.

This morning as I was walking to the train, the air felt like it was charged with possibility. It was as if my mom's spirit was with me saying, "Go ahead honey. You've played it safe for so long. Do it! You need to take care of yourself now." After a particularly stressful meeting in which I was assigned five more high priority projects, I realized that I can't keep up the pace in my current state of grieving. On my way back to the office, I stopped at Central Park and sat on a bench to write in my journal. "This feeling in the pit of my stomach is about how I choose to spend my time." I wrote. It is about my days and nights being filled with replenishing and pleasurable activities. As I sat, I could feel the sun trying to break through the clouds. In many ways, this is symbolic of how I have been feeling of late. Now that I will have a lot more free time on my hands, I can just sit on a park bench and breathe without feeling the pressure of pushing myself beyond what I am capable in a given moment.

Lesson: Trust my instincts even if I am afraid of what they are telling me to do.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Disconnection

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

I feel strange. It's like something inside me has died. Almost as if the shell that's named Patricia is still there, but the Patricia who used to be inside is either silent or gone. I'm no longer a caregiver. I'm no longer a daughter. Who am I?

Saturday night my sister and I went out to celebrate our cousin's birthday. I was looking forward to it, but my spirit became unsettled the moment we entered the restaurant and found ourselves standing in front of a live Cuban band. After spending the morning picking out a tombstone for mom's grave, a Saturday night in a loud restaurant wasn't exactly what my spirit needed. I was also acutely aware how strange it felt for my sister and I to be out together, something we hadn't been able to do for years since one of us always had to be with mom.

I thought about staying home. But that would have meant another night crying alone. No. I had already done too much of that in between the therapy sessions, meditation sits and yoga classes. So I sat with 12 people and wrung my hands under the table, anxious that I wasn't being social enough. At some point, I heard a song that I liked and started to move from side to side. By the end of the night, I found myself making a joke or two in a half-hearted attempt to connect.

The next day, as I walked on Eastern Parkway toward the Brooklyn Museum after yoga class, I smiled when the sun hit my right cheek. The intention I had set for my yoga practice was to connect with myself. I realized that this feeling of being disconnected from my shell was a signal to engage in replenishing activities. And yoga gave me just what I needed.

Lesson: It's so important during this time of grieving the loss of mom to surround myself with people who love and accept me, however I show up.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Caregiver Years

There is another life that awaits us when we have the courage to walk through the open door. For it is when we are willing to take those first few steps toward discovery that we find our treasure. ~ Patricia Philippe

The most challenging of my caregiver years were an opportunity to get to know my mom better, heal from the past and develop the resilience that would get me here today. I spent many years grieving while she was alive because it was heart-wrenching to see a loved one decline and suffer due to illness. As I now reflect on my caregiver years and her passing in February, I realize I have no regrets. I would not have done it differently.

It seems fitting that I start this blog, After Losing Mom, by acknowledging that my caregiver years turned out to be a blessing. You can read about the most challenging of my caregiver years here. These posts from my previous blog highlight the journey of showing up in the world as an authentic, joyful and powerful woman while caring for a parent with dementia and reaching for a creative life as a Haitian-American writer.

Moving forward you can expect to read about my experiences as I navigate this unfamiliar territory of not being a caregiver. I will also share tips and resources that support me.