I went to Egypt on a sort of a work trip recently, with TikTok of all companies.
I say “sort of a work trip” because I was there in my capacity as a journalist – the only Western one, at that – but it was called a Digital Wellness Summit and we mostly talked about our mental health. (Which is funny, considering who brought us there, and what people are accusing them of)
I made some art, if you could call it that. I poured paint on a canvas and swirled it around. And you haven't experienced a trust circle until you’ve sat in one conducted entirely in Arabic with 25 Egyptian journalists pouring their heart out.
I couldn’t understand a word they said, but I felt everything.
The whole excursion was like that.
I felt everything.
When we landed in Cairo and gathered outside the airport waiting for our minibus, all of a sudden one of our group was hugging an older woman who appeared on the sidewalk. She turned to us and yelled happily: “This is my mother!”
The woman had braved Cairo’s insane traffic just so she could hug her Dubai-residing daughter before she boarded a bus to travel two hours to Ain Al Soukhna, a resort town on the Suez Canal. That’s it – the entire visit was three minutes, tops. It was the loveliest thing to witness, but I was overcome with longing for a hug like that of my own.
One of the journalists brought her quite-frail mom along, and at breakfast one morning I looked on as she repeatedly got up to help her take sips of a cappuccino. Each time, the journalist rested her hand on the back of the older woman’s neck, so gently it made my throat ache.
As I sat in that trust circle, listening to 25 people share their feelings in a language I couldn't understand, I started thinking about how much I missed my mom, and how much of a kick she’d get out of Egypt, how much she’d get a kick out of everything about the trip, and then I realized that it was her birthday and I’d forgotten all about it.
I tried to remember the last one. Did we have cake? We were sitting at the kitchen table, I think.
I think we took a video too, but none of us can watch it because she had that look in her eyes dying people get that’s too hard to think about, let alone see. Tears started to form in my eyes and thank goodness it was dusk because soon I couldn't stop them from rolling down my face. And then I realized that I probably had spent enough time there, beyond a polite amount, considering the language gap, and so I slipped away back to my hotel room and had a very good long cry. And then a cup of tea, because that’s what you make yourself when you miss your mom.
At least that’s what I do.
It's been 25 years since she died, this November, and when I miss her I miss her like she was just here yesterday and now she's gone.
When I was a little girl, I used to find her crying in August, the month her mom died when she was 19. I'd ask her what was wrong and she'd say “I miss my mom”. It was so foreign to me, that after decades she would be that sad. I was just was struck in my mid-20s, when I watched my boyfriend-at-the-time’s normally jolly father sobbing while carrying his own mother's coffin after she died in her late 90s. I was just taken aback. I guess in my naive way, I figured he would have been ready for it, at his age, at hers. These are the thoughts of people who haven’t lost a parent, of course; they just can’t know.
I was 27 when my mom died at 53 and almost everyone around me seemed to have forgotten about it a few weeks after it happened. I walked around a gaping wound of confusion and loss for years, feeling minus a touchstone, a compass and a part of me. The worst was that I kept telling myself things like: why are you so broken? What’s wrong with you? Everyone loses their parents, other people have bigger losses; this is supposed to happen. I was ashamed to be so impacted, to be so lost at the death of my own mother.
I felt like that for years, and it made it all so much worse. If I felt that then, so young, I cannot imagine how hard it is to grieve in midlife, when it really is “supposed to” happen. When it really is happening now, to all of us.
I miss my mom, and I always have, and I always will, and somehow I do more than ever now, but only sometimes. I keep her old ugly 1970s glasses on a shelf in my kitchen because I can’t bear to throw them away and also, I like to see them there. I keep a scrapbook she made for me when I graduated from journalism school beside my bed and it’s what I would grab in a fire and the line I turn to over and over for comfort is when she wrote: “I could not love you more.”
I didn’t tell very many people how sad I was, the week of the anniversary of her death. It just felt silly to say ‘my mom died 25 years ago and I still can’t believe it’.
We’re not allowed to grieve our parents and that is wrong. And it holds us back.
Whatever the relationship, our parents are usually the first people we see when we arrive in this world and it is nothing short of devastating when they are gone. This is true no matter how old or mature or responsible or self-sufficient we are supposed to be. So let’s acknowledge that losing a parent or having lost a parent is hardest thing ever. Let’s let ourselves – and everyone going through this around us – lean into what is actually supposed to happen, and be lost at the loss.
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Quote from a menopause book I’m reading:
"Denying that it's happening or not giving this big event in your life its due never works. You will fail in your attempt to uncouple your body from your mind. It's an act of mental gymnastics that takes up too much energy in the end, and it isn't worth it. Let it go. One act – embracing menopause – will free up more compassion for yourself and allow you to offer your best self to the people around you."
- From Menopause Boot Camp by Dr Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz
Unintentionally hilarious old menopause books pt 1
This week on the podcast: Esther Blum is an integrative dietitian and lifestyle coach based in New York City. She’s a five-time author and has been on a number of the top US shows including Dr Oz and the Goop Podcast. In her latest book, See You Later, Ovulator, she draws on 27+ years in nutritional counseling as well as her own personal experience to give women the resources they need to find the exact treatment, testing and follow up they need to start feeling like themselves again. (This is a woman who used to research how to get over hangovers, so she doesn’t expect you to live like a monk.) We cover everything from ‘rampant negligence’ about menopause in medicine, why and when we need carbs, testing before HRT, and a lot more. She’s pretty damn inspiring throughout, but especially near the end. Check it out.
My new obsession is…
… the Energy Balance podcast. Hearing independent researchers Jay Feldman and Mike Fave talk about all the ways to maximize our cellular energy – and all the things that work to prevent and even sabotage that, leading to almost every problem we have, even in peri/menopause – is both riveting and relaxing. Nothing has made more sense to me than their explanation of how our bodies function and what is happening when they don’t, and it’s transforming the way I eat and how I feel. It’s not a diet or a plan. They don’t follow anyone and they don’t have an agenda. It’s just two guys talking about basic biology, deconstructing how some of the most often-quoted studies were conducted and questioning some of their findings – with calm common sense. It’s also changing the way I think about food and exercise, and I’ll talk about that more in upcoming issues.
Click, watch, read + follow
• This article in The Cut – How menopause is turning celebrities into CEOs – reminds me a bit of one I wrote six weeks before: Why are celebrities putting their money on menopause? Stacy London thinks we won’t have our own section of peri/menopause products anytime soon and this is why: “We’re not ready for that aisle because I guarantee you, the menopausal population isn’t ready to ask where the vaginal-dryness products are.”
• Tips to help couples navigate menopause – together The Irish News
• The growing menopause-at-work market Axios
• Writer and runner Kamm Prong’s Menopause 200: Crucial conversations series addresses changing the way you look at menopause (for example, choosing a doctor the way you would a running partner) so you can handle the fact that you are in it Ultra Running Magazine
• Menopausal people in Britain’s National Health Service are allowed to work from home while unions across Australia are calling for menstrual and menopause leave
• Half The Population Has A Clitoris, Yet It’s Alarmingly Ignored By The Medical Community Suggest
• Over in India, gynecologist Dr Nozer Sheriar and macrobiotic nutritionist Shonali Sabherwal have written a book about menopause challenges and solutions called Finding Your Balance. Mid-day
• Samantha Brick is the kind of legend I do not want to be seated beside at a wedding: I’m sick of this HRT mania because my menopause was great Daily Mail
A couple of people got upset on Instagram this week when I mentioned my guest Esther Blum was on Dr Oz and the Goop Podcast. I live in the Middle East so I forget, but in some parts of the world just hearing the term “Dr Oz” or “goop” makes a few people lose it. (These kinds of people are very loud about it on social media, so it seems like more than it is) My position is, we should be able to hear things we don’t agree with by now, if any time, and still be ok. As I wrote in my comment to the upset people, I’m as committed to metabolic flexibility as I am intellectual flexibility. And hearing things we don’t agree with is a very good start. AMx
Ooh this really resonated with me today ! I’ve just been helping to care for my amazing mother in law who died from cancer last month - I was privileged to be with her those last few weeks of her life and share memories and the daily crossword - while my husband had to remain mostly in Dubai
But ! It really unfolded huge emotion too - my own mother died when I was also 27 and she was 54 ! Not only did this bring up my own Mother loss grief - but made me appreciate how important the end of life saying goodbye is - and how robbed I felt of that !
Time is the most precious thing - that of course we have no control over x
Oh honey. I'm so sorry for your loss.
My mother passed only 2 years ago. She was a young mom, and I was already/only 45 when she died.
I'm not sure if I'm comforted or alarmed that you miss her with such intensity 25 years later. I still feel like the hole is freshly torn - but maybe that's just the way it will always feel.
Yes, I feel like we are supposed to measure how sad we "should" be based on weird as measures:
how quick did death come upon them?
how old were they when they died?
what took their life?
how old are you now as you experience it?
do you still have your other parent?
As if they answers to questions like these will inform the level of grief that is weighted appropriately.
Hmmm - I've never quiet had this thought crystalise before now. Thank you for the nudge to reflect.