“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” Carl Jung
There are many people that leave a mark on us throughout our lives. Some influence us in profound ways, too complex to fully grasp with our conscious mind. Those people are our caretakers, for most people – their parents. Even their absence speaks volumes and change us. Constantly reflecting back on the experiences I had, stories engrained in my mind, and discovering pieces of recollections that I’m puzzling back together, I keep having new realizations of how my mom influenced me and how she continues to do so through my memory of her. Although she passed away in 2016, my perceptions of her change as I change and learn new things about myself.
My mom and I were bonded most by the relentless dreaming and hoping that life will be different for us one day. We dreamed of a better future and that imaginary life was what got us through when we often felt lost. I learned to live in anticipation of a better life and with hope that no gloomy days last forever. This blind faith and striving towards the future were life saving for both of us.
I was my mom’s confidant and therapist. Like many wounded healers, I received my first training right there in my family of origin, way before my official schooling began. Not until adulthood did I realized that many of the things my mom confided in me were too big and painful for me to understand and bear as my own burdens. But I did. I felt all of her feelings. I felt her fear, anger, hatred, hopes, and dreams. I knew when she was unhappy, hurt, tired, and lonely. I thought it was my job to remove those discomforts from her.
Although we were always very close, as a young adult, I grew more and more angry at her submissiveness and compliance. Staying in a marriage that felt constricting created a growing bitterness and rage inside of her as she felt that she didn’t have a say in her own life. I overtly encouraged her to leave the marriage and couldn’t bear knowing how discontent she felt and how deeply she yearned for a better life. Long after I left the family home, we discussed and replayed the regrets she had in her life. She told me about the time she went to her parents hinting that she wanted to leave her marriage, and they (very kind hearted and gentle people) refused to let her come home with two kids because it would be a huge shame for them in the village. Their conservative views made them more concerned with What will people say? That was a big guiding force for my mom as well, but so was the lack of financial stability and support. She felt alone in her fears and desires.
Years after both my sister and I left the family home, and about a year after I moved to the U.S. my mom told me she finally left my dad. She took on a job to work as an in-home caretaker in Germany and was saving money and bought a house in the village. It was an old and rundown place, but this house was her freedom, pride, and success. Now looking back at this, I am in awe of the courage she had to make this step. I know that she was terrified, but what strikes me the most is the mental strength and perseverance to go against every norm and conditioning she was fed with her entire life. I have no words for the admiration I have for her, for forging her own path when she had no examples in front of her, no support, and no promise that things will actually work out in her favor.
Almost every morning when I woke up, I would skype with her while sipping my morning coffee, her in Serbia, me in Austin. One day while we were on a skype call, she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, we were hopeful that the treatment would work, but we had no idea what life had in store. The following several years were full of ups and downs, but eventually it turned out that the disease was discovered too late and ultimately progressed. In her last days, she was grateful that she was able to spend her days in her house that, against all odds, provided her with a sense of accomplishment and independence.
Her boldness and refusal to settle was inside of her all along. That’s what lights me up and inspires me when I think about my mom. Plunging from comfort that is too restrictive, into the blind faith that something better awaits on the other side. That’s what keeps me going - the refusal to settle and to believe what others say is possible in this one lifetime. She did not TELL me how to be in the world and what’s possible, she SHOWED me!
By Judith Kroll
Of course they are empty shells, without hope of animation.
Of course they are artifacts.
Even if my sister and I should wear some,
or if we give others away,
they will always be your clothes without you,
as we will always be your daughters without you.
I’ve just turned 35 and now that I am considered an adult, one of the things that gives me the sense (or illusion) that I am indeed in control of my life is making my own choices. To me, that is the true meaning of freedom: the ability to alter the course of our own life though the choices we make. I take pride in the belief that I make pretty solid decisions most of the time.
When I was younger, one thing I always longed for was guidance and direction. I so desperately wanted to be told what I should do, what’s the right path for me, how I should approach things, and how not to fail. But I did fail, I learned my lessons, and took some sharp turns along the way, but ‘tis life.
As much as I want to believe that I am actually deciding on what the next best step for me is in a given moment, I have to acknowledge that most of my life-changing moments and choices, didn’t quite feel like choices. Rather, they felt like effortless responses to where life was nudging me towards and responses to what needed to take place in my life.
These intuitive responses are what truly shaped the course of my life.
One night, while I was still living and working in Serbia, my friend and I went to have a drink at the café where a mutual friend worked. He told us that he was preparing to go work on a cruise ship. I was 22 at the time, never left my country, didn’t even have a passport. Heck, I don’t even know if I had sent an email before that. But I just knew inside “I want that too. I’m going to work on a cruise ship.” Before I knew it, it was April 2008. I was at the airport for the first time in my life, en route to Cape Canaveral, and saying goodbye to my mom like there is no tomorrow.
Being so far away from everything that was known to me was life-changing.
Yes, there are people around you, and you are not lonely, but you are truly on your own. Feeling completely alone is a unique experience that subtly changes a person. Having a glimpse of a different life changes a person. Until then, a script for what life could be for me was pretty short and involved only several potential roles, none of which felt quite fitting. But this glimpse into a variety of options expanded my vision of what life has to offer and how big and full of opportunities it can be.
After my first contract, I returned to my village in Serbia for a two-month vacation before my next contract was about to start. I knew right away that I was not going to stay in Serbia. I didn’t have a plan, other than returning to my next contract (which I got fired from; one of the best things that happened to me, but a story for another time). I didn’t know what, how, or when, but I knew that my story wasn’t meant to continue there.
By my fourth contract, working on a cruise ship felt draining and it lost its magic and excitement. I was tired of living in a shoe box and felt like it was time for a new chapter. I dreamt about going to college and settling down and grew more frustrated and anxious with where I was in life. A fleeting decision I entertained for a while was to move to Dubai and work as a flight attendant. But this was an idea based on what seemed realistic, not on what I desired.
A few months before my contract ended, I met my boyfriend, now husband. This happened to be his last contract as well, as he was moving to Austin, Texas to pursue a master’s degree in jazz performance. You probably see where this is going ;) Over a random lunch in Italy, he mentioned that I could come to Austin and go to school there. That sounded like a wonderful idea! That was it - that was my next chapter. The two of us often look back in disbelief about how little thought either of us put into moving forward with that idea. But here we are - 10 years later!
What I noticed in these instances was that when I responded to moments of opportunities and chances without controlling, pushing, and putting so much effort, life unfolded in the best possible way. Oftentimes when we find ourselves at the fork in a road, we put so much emphasis on thinking and forcing, but most of the time there is already a choice that just feels right. The choice that’s not about “shoulds” and “musts.”
If we live our life by the shoulds, there will be resistance to what we do. Things will feel heavy and draining and we will have to work really hard to justify them and explain them away with coherent responses that will appeal to our logical mind. This choice can make us feel like we’re living in someone else’s story, feeling stuck and powerless.
All the distress, anxiety, overwhelm, and pain is asking us to stop, listen, and respond. It will keep showing up until we respond in a way that honors our next becoming.
I believe that all of these “symptoms” are a way of life nudging us towards growth and is showing us that what we’re giving energy to no longer has a meaning for us. It’s showing us that we’re becoming someone a little different. Sometimes we’re not ready to hear what wants to happen, and we’re not ready to let go of the life we have because of the familiarity and comfort it gives us.
Self-awareness and introspection are your best friends when it comes to listening to what needs to happen in your life. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
“Life is about growth and change, and when you are no longer doing either, you’ve received your first whisper. Pay attention to what makes you feel energized, connected, and stimulated. Follow your intuition, do what you love, and you will do more than succeed. You will soar.” Oprah