Several months ago I started seeing heart shapes everywhere I looked. I couldn’t seem to get away from them. I’d see hearts in the clouds, grass, flowers…even the pavement. Then on one of my daily walks, I came across a tree that took my breath away.
The tree was beautiful. From its base firmly implanted in the ground, a big, strong, solid trunk reaches to the sky. A few feet up, the trunk divides, creating two massive extensions that separate, allowing branches to extend and grow in all directions. Then smaller branches and leaves converge, leaving a small gap at the top, forming a perfect heart shaped tree.
Over time, I’ve come to see this tree as a metaphor. The trunk represents the way we start, by creating a strong foundation within ourselves as individuals. And then, like the sturdy branches, we reach out in all directions, to experience other people, places and things, building on that foundation. Like the branches and leaves, emotions, thoughts and feelings fill in the space to complete the heart. Even the little empty patch at the top is a reminder that there’s always room for more love and compassion to fill our hearts. It’s a perfect tree.
On a recent walk, I turned the corner in a different part of our neighborhood and was surprised to find a branch from a tree had fallen, taking down a street lamp and crushing a car. Because there’d been no high winds, I wondered what had happened inside the tree that would cause such a large section to seemingly just break off? Now, with that big branch gone, the remaining part of the tree appeared uneven and unbalanced. Inside myself I felt bad for the tree, knowing how hard it must be working to find its new center. Or was that me?
Our younger son begins high school next week. Attending his orientation was very exciting…for me. Finding his locker, getting his class schedule, buying his PE clothes- it was so much fun! But our fully adolescent, show-no-emotion-son was less enthusiastic. My husband gently reminded me how hard it is for him (or anyone) to start somewhere new, how insecure kids are at this age (even when they don’t show it), and how attending orientation with his parents, of all people, isn’t how he’d prefer to spend his time. I found my way to compassion, but it took a beat. I just knew that this was the last time I’d get to share a high school orientation with our boys and it was hitting me hard.
On top of that, our older son is weeks away from leaving for college. He’s filled with anticipation, excitement and nerves as he counts down the days to his departure. I was doing an amazing job distracting myself until I saw that tree- the one with a chunk of it missing. With such a big part of it gone, how was it going to thrive? Could it find it’s balance and adapt to this new version of itself?
Yes, this was definitely about me.
Focusing on the details and logistics of sending our son off to college has been a wonderful distraction. But lately, I haven’t been able to escape the truth: OH MY GOLLY- once we get him moved in, I’m going to leave him there! My baby. I think about the moment when I have to say goodbye and I wonder if I’ll have the strength to remain vertical like the tree did as it lost its branch? I have visions of me lying in a puddle of tears.
Letting go, supporting him, and finding my new center- all of these things have been weighing heavily on me. As that thought crosses my mind, my hand brushes across my stomach and I’m aware that I’m actually, physically carrying additional weight. It seems my body is responding to this transition in its own way.
I’ve always been fascinated with our bodies and the wisdom they offer. I remember the surgery I had a few months after losing our daughter, where a very large cyst was removed. Reflecting back on the event, I found it interesting that the cyst was the size of a small grapefruit (or child) and the surgery occurred around our daughter’s due date. Was this my body’s way of dealing with the trauma of the loss?
Or the time I had my appendix removed after a week-long intensive lab that completed the first year of my studies in Spiritual Psychology. I released so much toxic material in that first year, it didn’t surprise me that my body responded this way.
Or the incredible learning I’ve received through my experience with breast cancer, as I came to understand the symbolism of losing my breasts. My body was sending me such a loud message that it was time to begin separating from our boys.
And now, as I approach the day I have to say goodbye to our older son at college, it seems my body is holding onto weight. I could point to the cancer meds or my overindulgence of ice cream this summer to justify the weight gain. But my training encourages me to explore the opportunities available to me and my sense is that the weight really represents a larger issue. So I turn my focus to considering what the weight may be offering me.
The extra weight is showing up in my stomach and my rear. I think about that tree and consider how a heavier object is more grounded and harder to tip over. And the weight may be an unconscious attempt to ground myself. Or maybe the weight represents the physical manifestation of my current (over)responsibilities. Like so many of us, I have a lot going on these days and find myself overwhelmed with all I’ve taken on. These things certainly resonate as truth, but I sense this is just a tiny part of why the weight is lingering. I understand that the learning surfaces as we’re able to process it and clarity comes with time. So for now, I’m willing to be patient. I hear a whisper encouraging me to slow down and give myself time to feel all the feelings.
When I do, all sorts of emotions surface. Fear takes the lead, showing up (coincidentally?) in my stomach. It feels like someone has scooped out my gut. I give myself some time to identify all the things that are scaring me. Once that’s complete, I picture my stomach surrounded with love. Then I notice that just beyond the fear is sadness, a mourning, as I consider how I will no longer have immediate access to our older son’s growth, like I have through every other stage of his life. I give into those feelings, allowing them full expression and then release them. I think about all the other Moms (and Dads) going through similar experiences as we separate from our children and am immediately overwhelmed with compassion for our shared experience.
In the past, I would’ve beat myself up about the weight gain. But experience has taught me that the pendulum swings to one side and then the other, but always settles in the middle. The learning will come and eventually the weight will be released and I will come back to center. I sense this period of adjustment calls for patience and gentleness.
As the summer days begin to fade and we head into Fall, I imagine a new branch will begin to stem from the trunk of the tree with the fallen branch. And with time, I’ll adjust and adapt, finding new opportunities with this new, vast space that is opening for me.
Until then, I’ll hug our boys extra tight, enjoy the extra jiggle I feel in my tush, and celebrate our beautiful, magnificent family. (Many) Tears will inevitably be shed as we leave our son to set off on his own, but inside myself I know the truth: he is loved, held, and ready for his new adventure. And like the heart tree, I’ll be filling in the patchy part with new, wonderful experiences and emotions. Because all sorts of magic and miracles await me in my continued, amazing journey of being a Mom.
If you need support through your midlife experience, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.