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Feeding the Good Wolf

Last year, I buried my maternal and paternal grandmothers just weeks apart.

One night, as I drove home from visiting with my unresponsive grandmother, I couldn’t help but shout over and over again, “I am not okay. I am not okay. I am not okay!”

It was the only thought I could muster, although the violent manner in which the words were spewing out of my mouth sounded like anything but a muster.

It’s not okay that they’re gone.

Just like it’s not okay that Richard’s dad, Emma’s dad, Julie’s son, my friend Mike Hughes, and the husbands of Charity, Katie, and Sheryl are all gone.

Not okay.

It was not okay to watch my grandmothers’ gorgeous clothes and belongings go into garbage bags for strangers to pick through at Goodwill. It’s not okay to know that I can no longer share my children’s milestones with them and watch their eyes light up in response. These women were not ordinary grandmothers: they were both second mothers to me. So it’s not okay that they’re no longer here to show me – by example – how to be a good mother,
a good wife, and a good human being.

Okay. I know none of this is helpful. Here’s the more helpful part.

We’ve all lost someone, and it’s horrible – beyond belief. So, I thought I’d share something that helped me through this ridiculously sad time in my life.

When someone we care about dies, it’s only natural to hurt, but we have to be careful about how far we let that hurt go. Because focusing on the hurt is not what our loved one would have wanted. A few months before she passed away, my paternal grandmother, Yvonne, sent an email to our family that included one of my grandfather’s favorite stories.

It goes like this:

An old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He explained, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, resentment, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, respect, dependability, kindness, empathy, generosity, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”

In our time of loss, we are not powerless. We can choose which wolf to feed. It’s easy to choose the sad, angry, frustrated wolf inside us that wanted more time with this remarkable human being – more family picnics, more one-on-one time, more emails, more love notes, and Thanksgivings.

It’s harder, but more rewarding, to feed the other wolf: the grateful and thankful wolf inside us that remembers and recognizes the legacy of our loved ones and the way they lit up our own lives every step of the way.

When I find myself feeding the angry wolf, I think about three things regarding my precious second mothers:

I loved them and they knew it.

They loved me and I knew it.

They did life right.

We should all be so lucky. And while I desperately wanted to ask for more – more time, more memories – I know in my heart that I have already received way more than my fair share.

So, when you find yourself feeding the evil wolf, try to imagine what your life will be like if that’s the wolf that wins. And then imagine the alternate reality: the one where the good wolf – the one that is generosity, kindness, and everything else you admire about the people you love – is the one that wins.

And, when they have to go and we have to say goodbye, here’s hoping it is – in the words of one of my favorite country music songs – “one hell of an Amen.” Alma and Yvonne, you were each one hell of a lady.

I’ll be forever grateful for your life and for your love and, in that honor, I promise to let the good wolf win.

Katherine Wintsch is a nationally recognized expert on modern motherhood, founder of The Mom Complex in Richmond, and author of “Slay Like a Mother.” The majority of her expertise comes from studying the passion and pain points of mothers around the world. The rest, she says, is accumulated from a little trial and a whole lot of error while raising her own two children, Layla and Alex.
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