Forgiveness

You’re looking for the explanation, the loophole, the bright twist in the dark tale that reverses your story’s course. But it won’t reverse – for me or for you or for anyone who has ever been wronged, which is everyone. Allow your acceptance for the universality of suffering to be a transformative experience. You do that by simply looking at what pains you squarely in the face and then moving on. You don’t have to move fast or far. You can just go an inch. You can mark your progress breath by breath.

Cheryl Strayed

Ever since I got into fitness, I’ve thought about how much it relates to real life, and this quote above explains both life and your workout. Working out hurts for EVERYONE! No matter how much you workout, or for how long, workouts will make anyone sore (if you’re doing it right). Life just like your workouts don’t get easier, you just get stronger. No one chooses pain, of course! But you have the power to choose how long you will suffer. Everyone is going to experience pain at some point in their lives. No matter your walk of life, we are all human beings and because of this we all hurt and we all love. Life, just like your workouts, you can only mark your progress breath by breath. You cannot workout for long if you’re not breathing just like you can’t be living for very long if you stop breathing. It’s so easy to see the negative when you’re hurting, it’s so easy to see all the places you’ve “failed” in life. “Failed” relationships, “failed” career attempts, I can go on. There are twenty-four hours in a day. That’s a long time you can spend focusing on all the things you can’t do, or don’t have, or will never have, how little you have, etc. “Worrying never changes the outcome.” The only thing that brings about change is action. Just like in life, you need to MOVE in order to bring about change in your physical body. You need clear and concise actions geared towards your success, both in the gym and in life. Your lifestyle needs to support your efforts in the gym, and your efforts in the gym need to support your lifestyle. That’s balance, that’s happiness. Everything is connected. Just like Lauryn Hill says, “everything is everything.” Now you might be thinking, what is she rambling on about?

Well, I realized this year that fitness has always been a guiding light for me. No matter how bad things got in my own life, I always knew just how much taking care of myself was important. Fitness taught me that. It taught me about the importance of taking care of myself. This is the greatest gift that God has ever given me. I’ve forgotten that for a bit while I was busy trying to figure out why God was punishing me so much. So busy wondering why I deserved the things that happened to me, but at the same time pretending that they didn’t cause me pain. Trying to be normal, happy, because I realized that no matter how much I tried, there was no one that I knew personally who could help me. And looking back, it’s unfair that I would expect that. How could anyone I knew personally help me? Most of them were going through the same things I was. They couldn’t possibly give me the things I needed because they were busy trying to figure it out for themselves. It’s no surprise that I found myself in this unhappy place earlier this year, or that I’m in the place of healing that I’m in right now. If I was so busy trying to help and take care of all the people around me, hoping that they will do the same for me, who was around actually taking care of me or my needs? Plenty of my loved ones have found the professional help that they needed, and they are where they are in their lives because they got the help they needed. It just took me a little bit longer. I had to tire myself out first by focusing on everyone else except myself; I can be a prideful stubborn little Bitch! Once I exhausted myself, I had no other choice but to put myself and my needs first. I needed to heal myself, I needed to take care of myself. I needed to go back to my roots and figure out what makes me, me. What speaks to my soul, what is my truth.

A big part of doing that, is letting go of my losses, and the stories I’ve told myself about those losses. These stories only created fear and unhappiness in my life. It’s hard to see your light when all you can see is darkness. You can’t possibly be genuinely happy until you learn how to accept your past, forgive, and move on. “When you recognize that you will thrive not in spite of your losses and sorrows, but because of them, that you would not have chosen the things that happened in your life, but you are grateful for them, that you will hold the empty bowls eternally in your hands, but you also have the capacity to fill them? The word for that is healing.” (Cheryl Strayed). I realized this year through finding professional help, that I needed to let go of my childhood. I needed to let go of the pain that my family had caused me, especially the pain from my Father’s side of the family. The thing is, the same people who caused me the greatest amount of pain, have also given me the greatest gifts. There was only a tremendous amount of pain because there was also a tremendous amount of love. I loved everyone who has caused me the greatest amount of pain, that’s how they were able to cause me such pain in the first place. These things still weighed heavily on my life because I was never able to really come to terms with the things that happened to me. I never understood them. I never understood why it happened? Why I deserved the things they did? The thing is, I may never fully understand what happened. I loved them, they loved me. In our own way we were doing our best to love one another. We are human, and we make mistakes, it hurts the most when these mistakes are so close to the heart. But it’s the fact that we are all human that I was able to find a way to forgive the people who’ve hurt me in the past. I had to remember that even though I loved them, they were human beings who are imperfect. They will make mistakes, and they will most definitely hurt us. They will hurt us when they themselves are hurting. When we are in pain, we end up causing others pain. Especially if we haven’t been able to find a healthy way of dealing with our pain. Denying your pain will only postpone the healing process. Eventually your pain will become unbearable. I know, because I’ve been there. I had to let my pain literally kick me down for me to realize that I can no longer pretend I’m okay. I needed to heal.

I learned about forgiveness as a child. Jesus taught forgiveness, and I was taught the teachings of Jesus growing up. However, there are examples of forgiveness all throughout my life. Life gets harder as we grow older, and so does forgiveness. The more we repeat the pain of our childhood, the harder we become, and the harder it is for us to forgive ourselves and others. A lot of the most powerful/influential people in our world teach forgiveness. Buddha, Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Beyoncé!!!! We put these people on a pedestal, as if they are an exception to the human race. They’re not human, they’re superhuman! But that’s not true. Beyoncé is a human being! An exceptional human being, no doubt. But she’s human. She gets hurt. I think that’s why so many people like to cut other people down. Especially people who seem to “have it better.” It seems like we enjoy reveling in the suffering of others, because for once someone else seems to be hurting more than us. However, that’s not how we should be treating ourselves and one another. If you want to find suffering it will find you! You will see it in other people’s lives because it exists in your life. Soon, your entire life will be surrounded by suffering. Other people who are suffering, who complain about their suffering and you won’t grow. You will shrink. You become small when you think small. Instead, think of the bigger picture. If Beyoncé can survive a very public and humiliating affair, and still find it in her heart to forgive the love of her life?! Well, that’s just beautiful. And it turned into some of the most beautiful works of art too. Like I said above, the greatest pain in our life comes from our greatest loves. That’s why it hurts so much. Jesus suffered and died on the cross out of his love for humanity. He loved us, and because of this he suffered. Some of us did not understand him or his message. Instead we caused him a long and painful death, however, he still found a way to forgive us! While he was dying he asked God to forgive us. We are all human beings, we are all made in the image of God. We all have God within us. We all have good within us. Remember that when you hurt the most. You are a good person, and bad things happen to everyone. The bad things that happened in your life don’t make you a bad person. You don’t need to continue to punish yourself anymore. You can do the best for yourself because you deserve the best. Show the people who hurt you the most compassion, and you will be able to give yourself the same. It is through the most trying times in our lives that show us what we’re made of. We’re made of love and if you can find that within yourself, you can find it in others.

YOU WILL LEARN A LOT FROM YOURSELF IF YOU STRETCH IN THE DIRECTION OF GOODNESS, OF BIGNESS, OF KINDNESS, OF FORGIVENESS, OF EMOTIONAL BRAVERY.

BE A WARRIOR FOR LOVE.

Cheryl Strayed

I became a warrior for love, for myself. Eventually this love for myself, grew to love those who’ve hurt me. One day my love will grow to more people outside of myself. The more I love myself, the more love I will have for others. That’s how it works. You only get what you give. It is the same in life as it is in fitness. The more you give to yourself, the more you will receive. Eventually you will have a surplus where you can then give to others without having to sacrifice yourself. That is the goal. Through the love that I was able to show myself so far this year helped me to see through my pain. It helped me to realize that my Father’s side of the family, even though they may have caused me the most pain, they gave me the greatest gift. They taught me the gift of taking care of myself. In more ways than one! My grandparents took a lot of pride in themselves. They always looked nice. My Grandfather used to dye his hair! I know where I got my vanity from LOL I’ve always admired him. He took care of himself first, so that he can then take care of his family. He’s worked out and has been highly active my entire life. He took care of his health and his body. He is turning 88 this September but you wouldn’t know. He has arthritus in his knee and a pace maker but he doesn’t have a cane. He still gardens, and goes for walks. He is the primary caretaker for my Grandmother who has dementia. I’m inspired by him every single day. He is a good person, who has a tremendous amount of love to give. I know that because he gave it to himself first, and then it spilled over into his life. He’s been living a long and healthy life because he took care of himself. If you take good care of yourself, you will be better able to enjoy life! And that’s really why we’ve all been so blessed to be on Earth! We were put on this Earth to enjoy this world and all it has to offer. The only way to do that is to love yourself, honour yourself everyday by doing good things for yourself, the more you do this, the better your quality of life. When I was writing the “Remembering Who You Are” pieces, I guess you could say this is the final chapter (for now). My past and the people in it have all contributed in a huge way to the person I am today. When you go through shit you learn how to either kill yourself or how to take care of yourself. So far, I’ve chosen to take care of myself. I chose love.

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Heroes

June and half of July has been a roller coaster for me. So many amazing things happened! I also learned a lot. I guess that’s why I wasn’t able to be as consistent with my blog writing this past month and a half. I was in the thick of life. I finally feel like I have processed enough of what happened so that I can sit down and write this next piece.  I’m calling this blog post heroes because I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a “hero.” I remember that I used to say “Oh God, please save me,” a lot. Up until very recently this would be a common reaction from me when I was stuck in a very awkward or uncomfortable situation. A situation where I felt that I had absolutely no control over. I’ve realized over this past year that the only thing that I actually have control over is myself, and my life. I have control over my choices, my thoughts, and my feelings. With the help of a higher power, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, you can achieve and do absolutely anything. For a lot of us that is very hard to believe. Especially when you feel trapped in a very dire situation. A situation that seems like there’s just no way out. It is very easy for us to be convinced of our limitations, rather than our powers.

This year, I set the intention that I wanted to rediscover my power. Everyday I’ve done my best to “save myself” from my own despair. Everyday I’ve done something good for myself. I’ve become my own hero. I’ve looked both within myself and to those around me for their wisdom and positivity. I realized that if I want to change my life for the better, I cannot assume that I have no power in the situation. I cannot continue to assume the role of the victim. There is nothing wrong with asking God for strength, but ultimately it is up to you to make a change. Throughout this year, I’ve been writing a lot about my past. Your past helps to inform you of the person you presently are. It does not however, inform you of your future. You do not need to repeat the past, and continue to live in a cycle of unhappiness if you don’t want to. Living in the past does bring unhappiness because it keeps you from the present, and you miss all the amazing things around you. It has been said that depression has you holding onto the past, and anxiety has you fretting about the future. They are two sides of the same coin. Either way you are not living in the present. I’ve been writing about my past and posting these stories on this blog as a way of letting go of the things that were keeping me from being present. The things that were preventing me from my own happiness. Once I hit my own bottom; I realized that I’ve been repressing these stories of my past and my feelings about them. I was doing my best to pretend that they either weren’t real, or that they weren’t as bad as they really made me feel. It is this denial, shame, and guilt that brought me to my knees. It was the most humbling experience of my entire life. It was then that I realized that I needed to surrender to my past. I needed to allow myself to actually feel my pain. To grieve for my losses, and let them go, so that I can make space in my heart for the love, and happiness that I deserve. I also needed to stop blaming myself for what happened in my life. I’m not a bad person, these things didn’t happen to me because I deserved them. Far from it. These things just happened, I didn’t choose it. However, holding on to this pain has you gravitating towards the familiar. It has you unconsciously choosing to relive this pain over and over again. It has you convinced that you deserve whatever happens to you because it keeps happening to you.

This is simply not true. You know that because through this process of healing, you are starting to see the role that you play in your life and the choices you’ve made in your life thus far. It is through your healing that you’ve begun to realize that all these “bad things” aren’t just happening to you. In fact, there are many people out there who know the pain you’ve experienced. It is comforting to know you’re not alone. It makes it easier for you to feel and express your pain openly and honestly. The more honest you are with yourself about the things that are happening in your life, the more aware you are of the “problems” the better you’ll be able to solve them. You can’t fix something that you’re not aware is broken. And you know what? Maybe I’m not broken after all! Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me, maybe my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions, are all completely normal reactions to the things that I’ve been through. I’m human just like everyone else, I just seem to have forgotten that fact. The most loving and genuine thing that I have been able to do for myself is to openly talk about my pain, it has allowed me to forgive myself for what happened, it has humbled and humanized me. Giving up my power in this way has slowly helped to align me closer with God, closer to real power.

I came to the realization that for the past six months I have been going through the grieving process. It wasn’t until yesterday that I fully realized that I haven’t properly grieved for my past losses. I have had some major losses, but I never gave myself the chance to fully embrace all of my emotions, thoughts, and feelings at the time of loss. Unfortunately, I have been conditioned to repress my feelings. I have always been an emotional person, and I have always been shamed for it. This never helped me to cry less. This never helped me move forward. This never made me become a healthier person. Being teased and made fun of for my emotions has been a regular practice my entire life, from my parents, to teachers, to my grandparents, and so on and so forth. Imagine being a child and never fully understanding your emotions and your feelings, so you cry because that’s all you know how to do, but at the same time you’re being told in many different ways to stop crying. That you’re a baby, you’re “sensitive.” As if there was something wrong with you. Now imagine internalizing that, telling yourself that you don’t need to cry. That everything is going to be okay, when it really doesn’t feel that way. Imagine repressing your anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and grief because you didn’t want to cry. Because you didn’t want to feel weak. You didn’t want other people to think you were weak, or that you can’t handle it, or that you’re not okay. Imagine convincing yourself that you’re fine, lying to yourself enough times that you began to believe it. Then one day, all of these feelings that you never had the chance to fully express and let go of come tumbling back? That’s exactly what happened to me. It was extremely overwhelming at first. When I broke down on New Years Eve, that’s exactly what happened. The flood gates opened and all my emotions came pouring out. I could no longer ignore it, I could see it coming too. My emotions were boiling over in December. I just did my best to keep them back, something I’ve been doing for years. However, the New Year came and I could no longer hold them back, and that was it. I finally surrendered and let myself feel things I haven’t felt in years. You could say that I had become comfortably numb, and disconnected from myself and my life.

My New Years Eve 2018 experience was a gift. I had no choice but to surrender and be honest with myself and my loved ones. I was not okay. I was hurting and I was in pain, and I’ve been in pain for a really long time. I just never really knew how to get rid of the pain, I just kept doing what I was taught. Repressing my emotions, and taking care of others. I had become very codependent. I was the classic “hero” and caretaker, because of this I was never fully able to grieve my grandmother’s death at eight years old. I do believe that’s when this whole codependent thing started. My Mom lost her last parent, and found out she was adopted all in one year. Crazy right?! Imagine how hard that would have been for her at the time. Imagine, how hard that would have been for my Father who is not very emotionally intelligent (most men of his generation aren’t) who felt helpless at my Mother’s time of need. He wanted to help her but had absolutely no idea how. Either way, no one could help her, grief is a process you have to go through on your own. I’m sure he could have been more supportive, but what’s the point of playing the blame game now? My parents did their best to process the death of Nonna Battaglia, and so did I, but my Mom did lean a lot on her children. I guess she felt as though we were all she had, and her soul’s purpose for living at that point. That’s a lot of pressure. I, only being eight at the time did not fully understand what was happening but I did know that I was needed. I was needed by my family, and that made me feel loved.

Ever since Nonna died I was given more responsibility, maybe more that an eight year old could handle? I don’t know, but growing up I definitely felt a sense of duty and responsibility towards my sisters. I had to help take care of them, look out for them, this was my responsibility. I also felt responsible for my parents, and to some extent I still do (it’s something I’m still working on). I could see the pain that they were in, and I wanted to do everything and anything I could do to help. Because of this, I don’t think I really got to process all of my feelings about what happened until I wrote my letter to my grandmother earlier this year. I finally let go. Looking out for my family, putting their needs before mine was a survival mechanism. If I kept my family happy then I would be happy. My family would be safe, and I would be safe. That was the logic. I never wanted anything to break my family apart, and so I did everything in my power to protect them and therefore myself. I don’t think I could handle my family falling apart, and trust me there were some scares growing up! I don’t think I would have become so codependent if there wasn’t a real threat to my family life, and my well being.

You see, once Nonna Battaglia died, my family on my dad’s side were the only blood family that we had left, and they definitely made sure that we knew it too. Family was used as a tool of guilt, manipulation, and emotional/verbal abuse by my Grandparents. My Mom was constantly reminded that she was adopted, that she had no one, and so on and so forth. She was made to feel unworthy. This was damaging to me, and my family. My Grandparent’s on my Dad’s side were very toxic. Not only did my Grandmother die at 8, everything I knew and loved about my Dad’s side of the family was beginning to fall apart. No matter how awful things have gotten between my aunt and grandparents on my dad’s side, I still love them. That’s what hurts the most. I loved them and yet they continued to hurt me. At first the anger, and mutual hatred stayed contained within the adults of the family, however, the grandchildren eventually took notice. That’s when I started to come to the defence of my mother and father. Almost every time we went to visit my dad’s side of the family or they came to visit us, I always felt as though I had to be on defence. Another survival tool. I felt like I had to fight for my family. I constantly put myself in the line of fire to protect my mother, to protect my family, and most importantly to protect myself. Because I was always speaking up for my family and for myself, this caused a big rift between myself and my Dad’s side of the family. It didn’t help that I am so much like my Mother either. My Dad’s side of the family for whatever reason never fully accepted my Mother. This conditioning has made me a very reactionary person. It’s not hard to get a reaction out of me, but this is not me. This is how I’ve been conditioned to be.

Looking back, I did a lot of fighting in the past, a lot of yelling, a lot of crying. I was living in a lot of fear, and the thing is, so was the rest of my family. We all became very dependent on each other. We needed one another. In a way I’m grateful. My family is so close and loving, but we’ve been through some real shit, and none of us could really help one another get through it all because we were all experiencing it at the same time! We were all being victimized by my Grandparent’s (mostly my Grandmother). My Grandmother unfortunately has always been a very negative and unhappy person. I’m not sure she had ever been able to realize just how much power she had being the matriarch of our family. Fear, guilt, and manipulation was how she kept us around for so long, but it is also the same thing that drove us all apart. The saddest thing is, we all wanted out. None of us were happy being apart of that family, including my aunt and cousin, but when the anger escalated on Christmas Eve to a major fight, the ending of our relationship with one another, I was blamed for the entire thing. How is that fair? I was born into this family, I did not choose it. The anger and hate between my parents, grandparents, and my aunt existed before I came into being. In fact, my cousin, sisters, and I are the real victims of what happened.

Yes, that Christmas Eve when my Aunt started laying into my Father the second we walked into the door, I quickly came to his defence. He did ask me prior to arriving to my Grandparent’s place to help him “deal” with his sister, and I agreed. I agreed because I felt an obligation to my Father, and I also felt like he couldn’t do it himself. I forgive my Father for asking me, and if I’m going to be completely honest I probably would have come to his defence whether her asked me to or not. I was in university when this all happened, and at that point I was at my limit when it came to the abuse. I had enough of putting up with their bullshit and being blamed for it. Once I came to my Father’s defence that night, I couldn’t stop! Insults flew out of my mouth like rapid fire. My anger flowed out of me like a volcano and there was no containing it.

I regret that it had to come to that, however, I’m not sorry. My relationship with her, and my grandparents was extremely toxic and it needed to end. For a few years after that I stopped speaking to my Dad’s side of the family. I was way too hurt by them. For my entire life I did everything I could to have them love me, to notice me, but nothing worked. No matter what I did I was never good enough, and then to eventually be told that because I look like my Mother I’m a hateful and awful person who destroyed the family? Well it was just too much for me to bare. I never realized how much this all affected me. My Dad was just trying to make it all go away. He wanted everyone to forgive one another and be a family again, and I think part of him still wants that. At the time, the fact that he would even ask me to see my Grandparents again was extremely hurtful to me. It was as if he didn’t recognize the amount of pain they had caused me. I started to feel like maybe I am fucked up? My sisters were able to see my Grandparents again with my Father. It was only my Mother and I who couldn’t bring ourselves to see them. Maybe they were right? Were we both hateful and awful people? It certainly felt that way at the time. We seemed to be the only ones still hurt and angry about what happened.

I never went to see my Grandparents again, until I realized that my Grandfather had to get a pacemaker, and my Grandmother was diagnosed with Dimentia. I made the choice to see them again because I knew their time on earth will be coming to an end soon, and I don’t want to still hate them when they leave this earth. When I went to see them, and every time since, the past was never brought up and they never apologized to my face for what happened. It was like it never happened. I never realized how much that hurt me until now. It was like my pain, my suffering wasn’t important. It was like I wasn’t important. It was only until recently that I realized how much this effected me. Thank God I found a therapist who made me feel normal. For the first time someone acknowledged my pain, and let me know that my responses to what happened was completely normal. All I needed to know was that I wasn’t a fucked up person and she let me know that. Such a relief! You have no idea. My entire life I was asked to put myself aside for the sake of the family. I can no longer do it anymore. I’m exhausted. I need healing. My entire life I’ve been fighting and trying to save everyone else, meanwhile, all I really wanted was someone to come and save me. I never knew until now that I can save my damn self and it feels so good! I’ve been saving myself this entire year. I’ve finally allowed myself the space to be with myself and my pain. I’ve asked my friends and family for space so that I can finally take care of myself the way I need. I’ve allowed myself to live my pain and express it in a way that was healthy and productive. I’ve grieved the loss of Nonna Battaglia, my abortion, my abusive ex boyfriend, my rape, the loss of my relationship with my Dad’s side of the family, it will never be the same, and now the loss of this old version of Alex that no longer serves me.

I’ve written letters to my Dad’s side of the family and burned them. This past month I’ve learned to let go of my anger towards them, and towards myself. I’ve learned to let go of the blame, shame, and guilt that I’ve been holding on to. I did the best I could with the knowledge that I had. I felt very threatened and I did whatever I could to protect myself. Now I realize that I no longer need to fight anymore. The fight is over, and I need to let it go. I’m sorry for what happened, but I don’t take any of my actions back. I forgive my Grandparents. They were in pain, we couldn’t help them, and for whatever reason they couldn’t help themselves. I forgive my aunt and my cousin. They were in pain and suffering too. None of us could be the best versions of ourselves with one another because we didn’t know how. I’m sorry that things turned out the way they did, but maybe it’s for the best. I’m sorry Alexandra Rinaldo. Your feelings matter. Your pain matters. You’ve been through a lot and it’s okay to be sad about it. I’m so proud of you for going through the grief process even before you realized that’s what you’re doing. I’m so glad that you found the help you needed, and now it very much feels like you’re on a new path. You know that you’ve become very codependent but now you’ve been given the tools to get yourself out of the codependent zone and into a healthier version of you. It feels so good to finally understand what happened to you and why you feel the way you do. It feels good to know that codependency was a survival tool for you, but now you no longer feel the need to survive. You want to thrive and I think that you’re well on your way to doing just that. Working on your codependent tendencies is the final frontier to a happier life. You’re the hero Alex in your own life’s story, you never needed anyone else to save you, you’ve saved yourself with help from God.

 


A letter to One of My Biggest Heroes; A Warrior for Love <3

 

Dear Nonna Battaglia,

I think this will be the last blog piece that I write in letter form (for now) and it’s to the most influential person in my life. I never fully understood just how powerful of a person you are for me, my Mom, and so many other people. As you know, I have been doing a lot of self-healing lately through various practices, music, meditation, yoga, journals; you know because you’ve been there with me the entire time. I don’t need to tell you, but I will anyway. Last Wednesday I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations Podcast with Cheryl Strayed. For some reason the title and description of this podcast struck me, and that’s how I started my day while I made breakfast. Last Wednesday also happened to be the anniversary of your death. Cheryl Strayed is a New York Times Best Selling Author who had lost her mother at a young age to cancer. My Mom also lost you at a very young age but I didn’t think too much about that when I decided to listen to her podcast with Oprah. While listening Cheryl said something that for me was so powerful, I had to pause the podcast because I was overcome with emotion. It was as if she was speaking to my soul when she said, “are you brave enough to break your own heart?” Immediately after I was finished listening to her podcast I decided that I needed to buy all three of her books that day, and that my mother had to listen to this podcast as well. That’s how moved I was. I called my mother in that moment and told her that on our way to the cemetary to visit you, we needed to stop by the bookstore so that I can buy some books. Coles Notes: once I got into the car with my mom at the train station I put the same podcast on and I made my mom listen to it, then we went to the bookstore where I bought the books Wild, Brave Enough and Tiny Beautiful Things. I gave the book Wild to my mother as a gift, and I kept the other two to myself.

When we arrived at the cemetery to see you, the mausoleum doors to your crypt were all locked. It was weird because it wasn’t closing time, but there was no one around so we got back in the car and went to my mother’s house. My client had canceled her session with me, so I decided to start reading Brave Enough and I was encouraging my mother strongly to read her book Wild. So much so, that eventually she got upset and said, “What? You want me to read this book because you think I have a problem?” Immediately I realized my own arrogance and I apologized, “Mom, I’m so sorry that I gave you that impression. I only want you to read the book because I was so moved by the author in the podcast. And I thought if Oprah who seems to ‘have it all’ can get something from this book, and Reese Witherspoon, who also seems to ‘have it all’ can make a movie about it because she loved it so much, then there must be something in it for us. Especially since the book is about this woman’s healing process after the death of her mother. I thought you would be able to relate to the author and therefore finally find a book you’d enjoy.” She agreed and we ended up watching the movie Wild that night on Netflix with my Dad. My mom even start reading the book too!

That day I started and finished the book Brave Enough and then I began reading Tiny Beautiful Things. However, ever since that day the words “are you brave enough to break your own heart?” Were burned into my brain, and I could not let them go. Something changed for me that day, because it is a big reason why I wrote my first heart breaking letter this past Saturday and it is a big reason why I have been reflecting and meditating on this letter as well. This letter is the heaviest for sure. I think after I send this out into the universe I will feel so very light, and I can ride that high during my entire birthday weekend. So here it goes, some painful heart breaking truths about your life, death, and the legacy that you’ve left behind.

First of all you knew that you were going to pass, you knew in your heart; because you said it to my mother many times in the coming days before your death. You knew that your younger sister was very sick, and you did NOT want to be around to watch her die. You made that very clear to my mother. You also attended someone’s else’s funeral two weeks before you died and you said to my mom at the funeral home, “I like it here. Bring me here when I die.” Obviously, my mom would respond just like how most people would respond to something like that, in complete disbelief that you would even think about something like that. Fast forward to the night you went to sleep and never woke up. Here’s a rendition of what happened that night written by my mother in her own words (I only fixed most grammar errors and spelling):

MY LAST CONSERVATION WITH MY BELOVED MOTHER!

So it was Thursday February 20, 1987 at 11:30 as ritual I would give a good night call to my mother.

My mother would often call myself during the day to check up on her grandchildren if they were fed, loved and taken care of. These things were extremely important to her.

That evening the phone rang are little longer than usual. Her tone was mean and angered as she was not feeling well! Every winter especially in February she would come down with a horrible cold due to the fact that she was highly subjected to bronchitis!

Knowing this ,I was always cautious and reminded her to be careful not to catch a cold.

She told me how rude & disrespectful I was for calling so late! She states that she was in a deep sleep and she is not feeling well!

I could sense something and not knowing well what I was sensing made me uncomfortable!

My mother asks me the following,

-what time is it?

-how are my babies? are they sleping?

-where is your husband Norm? 

My reply ,

-11:40 by now cause cp24 was doing the weather

-the kids are fine, they are sleeping

-norm is in bed- sleeping

now at this moment she instructs me the following:

Go be with your husband, your place is next to him! I will not need you anymore and don’t worry about me and just look after your kids!

I started to cry since I got frightened and uncomfortable! I told her I shall be over right after I drop off Alexandra at kindergarten! 

NO, DON’T BROTHER ! I’M NOT GOING TO NEED ANYTHING! 

GOODNIGHT!

our phone call was over by 11:45-11:50

the corner called the time of death around 11:45-midnight

That good night was GOOD BYE FOREVER!

You knew that your job as a mother was over, and so, you could leave this earth in peace and die in your sleep. You have been in a way training my mother for this day your entire life and you didn’t even know you were doing it until that day came. In a way you broke your own heart by realizing that truth. You broke your heart because you knew that your death would break your daughter’s heart. However, you had faith that in that process. She would become the woman you had always raised her to be. I do believe that the power of mothers can transcend generations, for better or worse. Your power as a mother has transcended generations and I’m going to explain how. Without you, my life wouldn’t exist. Not because you birthed my mother, but because you chose my mother and gave her a life she never dreamed possible. You and your husband immigrated to Canada and came to the harsh reality that you were not able, for whatever reason to bear your own children. I can only imagine the pain and guilt associated with that as a very traditional Italian woman. However, you decided to be brave. You knew your soul’s purpose was to be a mother, and so you became one anyway, and adopted my mother. You were your highest version when it came to being a mother to my Mom or at least you did your very best to be. You did your very best to love my mother with deep compassion, generosity, and integrity. The biggest secret that you ever kept from my mother was the fact that she was adopted. I’m sure that guilt must have weighed very heavy on your heart, and that cross became too heavy to bear the day you died. I’m sure you never wanted to tell my mom that she was adopted while you were alive, because you never wanted her to doubt that YOU were her mother. I’m here to tell you that she always had an idea that she was adopted and she may have questioned things, but in the end she always came back to the fact that you ARE in fact her mother. You’re the woman who raised her and made her into the strong woman that she is today. She honors you as her mother by holding on to all of your most prized possessions, all your lessons, your hand written recipes, and your memory.

My mother talks about you often. She talks about all the things you used to do for us, for her, and for our family. It was through your bravery that you inspired two other women in our family to become mothers as well through the process of adoption. It’s strange but for one of these women, their first adopted son just so happens to be born the same day you died. February 21st. This could mean nothing or it could mean everything. I definitely see this as a sign from the universe or the divine, and you Nonna are a part of the divine. You transcended into the divine when you died, and you became a guardian angel to my mother, and to me. I’m beginning to really understand our connection more now than ever before. Through your death my Mom realized who she always was. She realized the harsh truth that she was not really your daughter, but she was also very much your daughter at the same time. Even though this truth broke her heart, she decided to be brave and become the mother to her kids the way you taught her to be since day one. You taught her to be the type of independent woman who worked through out high school at a grocery store. Who learned to drive. Who bought herself a car. Who put herself through college, and who helped take care of you when your husband died (my mom was 21). She was also the type of woman who found her life partner, made her own family and became the best Mom she could be. ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! THANK YOU NONNA! GRAZIE PER TUTTI!!

In university, I found my lifelong friends. I found a family outside of blood relation and I would always say that family does not include only the people who are related to you by blood. In fact, your family is anyone who loves you unconditionally, and encourages you to be your highest version. Now I know that in reality, I first learned that lesson when you died. You taught me that lesson. Because when you died my mom learned about her adoption, but she also learned that, that doesn’t define her. In fact, you were her family. She knew in her heart that she was an Italian Canadian, and the family that surrounded her; all her cousins were her brothers and sisters. This was her tribe. This is where she has always belonged. I will never forget that. I know the importance of family, of finding your tribe, and blood relation has absolutely nothing to do with that! So THANK YOU for teaching me that!

Another indirect lesson that I’ve learned in the wake of your death, is the power of music. I’ve been raised Catholic, but to be honest my family almost never went to Church unless we had to. However, I realized that music was my religion, and it was music that was always the thing that brought me and my family together. Especially my sisters and I. Some of my happiest memories involve music and my sisters. We would scream sing lyrics in the car, we would have dance parties ALL THE TIME in our massive foyer. We would put on dance productions for my parents. All our lives we’ve shared music, and we will always have a passion for music. Now, let me make this clear, I do believe in God. However, I consider myself more spiritual than religious. Church never felt right to me. But I would always pray, and now I pray through meditation and music. You died on February 21st 1997 11 days before my 8th birthday on March 4th 1997. The Notorious B.I.G died 5 days after my birthday on March 9th 1997. Later that same year the song inspired by the death of Biggie Smalls, became the song that would ALWAYS remind me of you. That song is I’ll be missing you by Puff Daddy featuring Faith Evans and 112. EVERY SINGLE TIME I WOULD HEAR THAT SONG I WOULD CRY BECAUSE IT REMINDED ME OF YOU. It reminded me of the grief I felt, the grief my mom felt, the grief my sisters felt, even though my sisters and I were all too young to fully understand it. One of my favorite quotes from this song will always remind me of some of my fondest memories of us shopping on St. Clair Avenue in Little Italy, Toronto for dress shoes and clothes. “Us in the six, shopping for new clothes and kicks.” Whenever this song would come on I would sing it and cry. These past few days I listened to it over and over and over again until I was no longer crying. I know all the words to that song. In fact, I know a lot of the words to many, many songs, but none are as important to me as this one.

I love all types of music. I’m very open-minded, but nothing speaks to me more than hip hop. I LOVE hip hop and this song definitely ignited that passion for me. I now understand on so many levels why this song and this type of music means so much to me. Hip Hop has spiritual importance to me because it talks about pain, suffering, grief, sin, violence, and turns these negative things into art. Hip Hop artists, the ones who are most profound are the ones who can speak about their pain and suffering so candidly and not only make something out of it but inspire hope for a better future. A lot of hip hop also has many references to God, heaven, forgiveness, love, compassion, and generosity. They teach us to reach deep within ourselves to look past our pain, to see the lesson in our suffering, so that we may be able to become higher versions of ourselves. I know Nonna that you don’t particularly understand hip hop because you were of a different generation, but I do know you understand it’s importance to me and my healing. I’m grateful for this song, and for my love of music. Without it, I don’t think I would be the same person.

Lastly, I want to thank you Nonna for my Mother. Without her, there would be no me. You left a legacy in her that is now being passed down to me. I was in your presence for just about 8 years of my life and I learned so much from you. I learned about what it means to love. I also learned that being so much like my mother is an honor. My entire life I’ve been told how much I look like my mother, how much I act like my mother, how much I sound like my mother, I can go on. I used to get so frustrated by this, and I would try to deny it. Now, I know that you didn’t birth my mom, so I did not inherit my looks from you, but everything else was passed down from you onto her, and then onto me. My mother and I are both excellent cooks, and bakers because of you. We are both strong and independent women who are honored to be in the service of our loved ones because of you. I now know even more so than before, how important it is to honor where you come from because it informs us of who we might then become. I am a proud Italian Canadian but I never forget that my mom was adopted. That cross that you bore as a mother who could not bear children was passed down to my mother who found out she was adopted, but neither of you let that define you or stop you from following your soul’s purpose. One day I know that I will be ready for that call to be a mother and I do believe that is my ultimate purpose. I do believe that I will also build a career and a life for myself outside of motherhood, but being a mother speaks to my soul more than anything else in the world. It broke my heart to pieces when I came across the opportunity to be a mother, but I was not ready to answer the call. I had to break my heart and accept that it wasn’t the right time. I then understood that I had to kill the parts of Alex that were no longer serving me and my soul’s purpose of becoming a mother if I ever want that part of me to be realized. And so here I am. I know that I need to be able to become the highest version of myself and then strive to be that person everyday so that I then therefore be ready for the highest honor of motherhood. With your guidance and strength I know that I can be just that. I have seen it happen for two of my closest friends who have been through similar experiences, just like me, they have both been training to be mothers their entire lives. One of them has already realized this dream, and another will someday soon (she literally talks about her burning sensation to be a mom every time I see her). I don’t know when this will happen for me, but I do know that if I continue on this path of love, compassion, generosity, and gratitude my soul’s purpose will someday be realized. I know I have a purposed in fitness and wellness, as well as motherhood, and I do believe with all my heart that they are connected. If I hold the same values that a mother should hold to her child; love, understanding, generosity, compassion, and integrity to my clients and everyone I come across, then I would be able to create a truly holistic approach to health and wellness.

Thank you Nonna for absolutely everything. My life would not be my life if it wasn’t for you and the woman you raised to be my mother. Now I also know why my birthday has always meant so much to me. It’s because you would always make a big deal about our birthday. You would buy us our birthday dress. You and my mom would make all the food for the party. You and my mom would invite anyone who loved us to our party and make it a celebration to be remembered. My Mom continued these traditions in your honor. She bought us birthday outfits every year for our birthdays up until our early twenties. She would always make a big deal about our birthday, and make a point to celebrate it each year. I carry out this tradition as well. I never forget the birthdays of my loved ones and I do my best to honor their birthday just like you have always honored mine.

Love you and Thank you!

Alexandra Rinaldo

"Seven Year Old Girl's Family Birthday Photo"