Over the last decade I have been privileged to contribute to a lot of wonderful publications, but very few are as respected and world-renown as Chicken Soup for the Soul. My five feel-good stories have appeared in seven different anthologies. And since it seems an appropriate time to share some virtual chicken soup with my followers, I thought I’d offer my first round-up post of ‘Soul Stories,’ as I’ll call them now.Continue reading
It’s been ten years since Mom died.
And as this first decade passes, it hits me that I have lived another half of that short portion of time. A brutal realization that, when ruminated upon, has the potential to really do a number on my spirit. But, Mom was never one to ruminate. She liked to think of each experience as a chance to learn. So, in the spirit of her courage, thirst for knowledge, and decade-old eulogy, I share with you the lessons I’ve learned in her absence, albeit not without her influence.
Life rarely ends up resembling the vision we’ve created for ourselves, but what do we really know in the grand scheme of things?
You should never fear being yourself. A bigger fear should always be inauthenticity.
Above all, to achieve your dreams you must be tenacious. Statistically speaking, things are bound to work out if you keep at them.
Although dreams should be pursued, it’s often the things you don’t think you need that end up being the most conducive to growth.
Success in life should not be measured by financial freedom, or other societal parameters. It should be measured by your ability to find value in your journey, especially when it seems inherently lost.
The grass often looks greener on the other side, but much of the time that’s just a trick of the light. In reality it’s greenest where it’s tended to best, so take care.
Sometimes the hardest conversations you can have, or the toughest actions you can take, are the only ones that’ll make anything better.
Live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Our time is simply a long series of moments woven together. If you wait until its finished to admire its intricacies, you’ll miss out on the process and much of the details.
No matter how alone you may feel, the fact is you’re not (you know, statistics and all). Someone out there understands and will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone either.
Life will never be without loss or pain, but that should not keep you from living. In fact, heartache is what allows us to see just how sweet the good times are.
I love you more today than I ever have before, Mom. Hope you’re taking good care of Mike, and the other newer arrivals. <3
It’s a funny thing, being a winner. Even saying it – the act alone leaves me with a heavy pit in my stomach. I spent such a large portion of my life honoring a very opposing schema, and to promote any other image of myself seems like a big, fat life.
Yet, five years ago (less a few weeks) I experienced one of my all-time favorite life experiences in which I was (momentarily) the ultimate winner. I had the chance to appear on CBS’s “Let’s Make a Deal.” And I won. I won big. Within a few seconds of the show beginning, I had been selected from the audience and – shockingly – presented with a brand, new car to take home with me! So, why is it that when the final showcase began (the segment when the biggest winners are given a chance to gamble away their prizes for potentially bigger prizes) did I eagerly give away the CAR that I had just won? I think that might be one of the most common questions I’ve ever received.
As I alluded before, if someone had asked me if I was a winner during my childhood, I would have likely responded, “Oh no, not at all.” Then my cheeks would have feverishly burned with embarrassment. My brother would have piped up and said, “I’m the winner. I win everything.” And he did. He always won any contest he entered. I often hid myself in his shadow so as not to face my fear of rejection. Now, as an adult, it’s undeniable to me that I am in fact a winner. I mean, who else can say they’ve won a car, concert tickets, writing contests, an in-home sauna, a high-resolution camera, household items, a high-end car seat, tons of baby paraphernalia, etc? Not many. And it makes the small portion of younger Amy that still exists blush even more, admitting that I’ve experienced all this good fortune in my adult life. But the question remains – what is the difference between adult me and child me?
Simple: as a child, I was a loser in the truest sense because I never even allowed myself to enter the race. I psyched myself out long before any attempt at success was made.
So, that day on “Let’s Make a Deal” I had hoped that I would win more – I mean, how often do you find yourself on the receiving end of a brand new car? For FREE? And if life is THAT crazy, why couldn’t I walk away with more? I mean, how often would I find myself in that same position? Probably never. So, I seized the opportunity while I had it. I put myself out there. And that, my friends and readers, is the reason I am a winner now. Walking away with a sauna, despite a massive drop in prize worth, was still amazing to me. I don’t think, “Shit, I could have had a car.” I think, “Wow. What an experience! I won a sauna.”
And life has a funny way of proving this to be true. Call it statistics, call it luck – its simply this: the more you put yourself out there, the higher the chance that you’ll win. “I never win anything.” I’ve heard that a million times. I’ve said it far more times than I can count. But I bet right after you proclaimed those self-defeating words, you decided not to enter the race/raffle/audience/whatever. Thus, the secret to winning, is simply allowing yourself to face the possibility of failure.
Performed on October 7th, 2016 in Silverlake, CA as part of the live stage show, “Expressing Motherhood”
As Mitch Albom once wrote, “There’s a story behind everything… But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”
Naturally, my story of motherhood begins with my mom’s. My father and mother were married relatively young and only a few years into their union, Dad cheated. He soon left her and abandoned us; I never grew up with a father figure of any type. In my household, Mom epitomized strength, perseverance, and love. She was a strong character who led by example and taught my brother and I the value of family, hard work, diligence, and honesty.
My brother began to exhibit signs of mental illness in his teen years. Mom did everything she could to get him help, but with a full-time job and two children to care for on her own, this task was nearly impossible. Thus, my brother’s condition worsened over the years. So did the consequent abuse Mom and I faced. He became an expert at funneling all his rage into an emotional warfare against Mom and I. She did a great deal to shield me from the pain and hurt of his violence, but Mom never stopped caring about him or doing everything in her power to help.
After a rather trying and tumultuous childhood, I went to college, and even though I lived at home, I was able to distance myself from the abuse. Time went on and as my brother regressed, I flourished. I can clearly remember an intimate moment I shared with Mom when I was around twenty-one. I had climbed into bed with her after a fraternity party. I snuggled into her (I was quite obviously the little spoon) and told her how much I loved her. I told her that she had been the topic of our drunken conversation at the fraternity house; my sorority sister had told me how much she had wished her own mother was like Mom. At that point, Mom started crying and sharing with me how much that meant to her. She allowed herself to be vulnerable for the first time in my life, and bared her soul to me. She expressed how hard our life together had been for her. She told me how excruciatingly difficult it was to believe in herself when she thought of herself as a failure. We talked all night. This would be one of my favorite memories of her ever; a few months later our ability to make anymore would be stolen.
On September 25th, 2007, three weeks after I graduated college, my brother murdered my mother. I came home to find her lying on the kitchen floor. My brother had escaped and then confessed everything to me over the phone. I should have known he had been telling the truth, but part of me was hoping this was just another one of his manipulative lies. Devastatingly, it was not. My life changed forever that night.
After her death, I floated through life. I had no ties to anyone or anything, and lost my value for everything. The person who had loved me more than life itself was absent, and thus I felt terribly unloved. In turn, I found it impossible to allow myself any type of love or happiness. As far as I knew, I deserved nothing of the sort.
Despite this, I met my husband-to-be a few months later. He accepted me and my flaws, even though I was figuratively scarred and beaten. Allowing myself to be loved was difficult, yet we still ended up on the fast track towards marriage. Eventually I became pregnant a couple years after our nuptials. My entrance to motherhood, despite being somewhat joyful, was extremely tainted. I was jealous of all my girlfriends who had their mother to guide them through the process. I felt alone and broken.
Then I had my daughter and life changed forever yet again. With her birth I was initiated into this – mostly – magical world of Motherhood. A world filled with infinite boo-boo kisses and bear hugs, side-splitting laughter, the most painful of tears, the ability to finally be the big spoon, (yay!) and a connection that transcends everything I’ve ever known up until now. Becoming a mother myself has allowed me to understand the unconditional love Mom felt for both Jesse and me. I had never quite understood how my mother put up with all that my brother dished out for us, but I am quickly learning. My hatred and anger has melted and morphed into acceptance. This acceptance has allowed me to find a semblance of peace and balance in my chaotic world.
As of now, Jesse is in maximum security prison, serving a sentence of fifteen years to life. I’d like to think he’s being rehabilitated, but over his last nine years in a correctional facility he’s added attempted murder to his rap sheet and tacked on a few more years to his time there. I do not speak to him, nor do I have the desire to. But over time that may change, just as everything else has.
Where does hatred come from?
I originally answered this question on my blog almost two years ago, but in honor of the many lives a shooter stole today, I thought I would repost it. This conversation MUST happen.
*A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?
I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.
I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now just over three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.
But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess.
This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”
So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. And then within a short amount of time, his violent attempts were re-directed at Mom and me (but mostly Mom).
In middle school, I watched these trials. I watched society tell Mom what was doing wrong. I watched society tell my brother how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. I watched them both fail over and over, and everyone around them show them how they were screaming up instead of offering help. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them to go through.
Their increasingly tenuous relationship forced Jesse to leave home for a bit. Unfortunately, his stint away delivered him into a volatile military career. It only took a few months before it came to a screeching halt and his mental illnesses became apparent; he had chosen to stop concealing them under the duress of boot camp. He somehow exited with honorable discharge, and still, very little mental health benefits. Upon his return home to Mom he felt even angrier and isolated.
And, to make an incredibly long and painful history shorter, after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom.
But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.
So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to restrict guns more. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting (although stricter laws on both cannot hurt our children more than the guns literally have).
This is about love. No matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Atheist, Greek Orthodox, Agnostic, Democratic, or Republican. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic level, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Amy Beth Chesler: a storyteller and lover of food, laughter, & adventure. I chose to title my blog “This House of Love” because Amy Beth can be loosely translated into that phrase. My mom assembled this name for me with the help of my then three year old brother because she wished for me a future occupied by a warm and loving family life.
I am a victim of domestic violence. I am also a survivor of it. My mother, however, is not. She was an incredibly strong, determined, warm, caring woman. She was a teacher who lived her mission of truth and aide in all arenas of her life. I will love and miss her with each fiber of my being every day until I die.
Thankfully, things are infinitely better now as I fulfill my own role as a wife and mother. I’ve found my niche in life; I was born to be Mommy. I knew this from the beginning.
What I didn’t know is how much poop and snot I’d have to deal with on a regular basis. Similarly, no one told me that some days I would laugh so hard I would cry, and others I would feel swallowed whole by my loneliness. Everyone neglected to tell me how terrifying, thrilling, isolating, eye-opening, and powerful parenthood is. They also didn’t mention just how awesome (in the truest sense of the word) it is to have your heart, a replica of you, walking around outside of your body, living their very own life. How dare they.
I am also a writer, although it’s scary to say so. It’s a profession that requires you to paint pictures with only words, a rich story or thought-provoking poem from just the depths of your mind. If your work isn’t well received, your writing is not the only entity receiving rejection.
But, just like my sentiments about motherhood, I knew I was meant for the writing world. As a child, reading was my escape from the harsh realities that were my life. I read books and wrote my own stories to enter alternate universes, ones filled with much less pain and isolation. As an adult, writing has allowed me to process my past and work towards arriving at my life’s destination: a house filled with an infinite amount of love. It’s the most heartwarming bonus knowing that my experiences have helped people guide themselves out of their own dark places.
Thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to do so wholeheartedly, and with abandon. It is in each our own honesties and truths that we find pieces of ourselves and overcome others. Much love always. 💓
as seen as “Prenatal Nocturne” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
“The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated.”
After my mother’s death in 2007, I dreamt of her quite frequently. Some evenings I spent hours telling her how life had been treating me, and other nights consisted of dreams in which her death had never taken place. No matter the content, each dream gave me solace. Sadly though, as time went on the dreams were fewer and farther between. Several years after her passing, her visits only came every few months.
Then, in late 2012, my husband and I found out that we were going to be parents the following June. Although I was thrilled, the idea of going through a pregnancy without my mother’s support made me anxious; I began to imagine all the milestones Mom would miss. My husband was supportive and as understanding as he could be, but my anxiety slowly turned back into grief. Still, I took the necessary actions to confirm our pregnancy test results.
The following week, the evening of our first doctor’s appointment, I fell into a deep sleep, filled with the warmth of seeing my baby for the first time. As my dream began to unfold, I found myself waking up in a hospital bed. I was alone in a sterile, dark room. A feeling of panic washed over me. Suddenly, the door opened and my mother entered. Her smile illuminated the tiny space. I couldn’t help but smile back at her. I tried to get up and give her a hug, but realized I was restricted by the IV attached to my arm. Mom motioned to me to stay on the bed, and she came to my side.
“Oh, I am so excited!” she began. She was glowing, but not because of some ethereal warmth. Happiness was simply oozing from her every pore. Mom pulled out a compact mirror, powdered her nose, and adjusted her hair.
“Where am I? What are we doing here?” I inquired.
“Silly, you just gave birth! The nurses have your beautiful baby in the other room, and I just can’t wait to meet my granddaughter,” she cooed.
“D-daughter?” I said, a tear coming to my eye. “But I don’t understand. I was just four weeks this morning.”
“Well, I can’t explain that, but it’s June 15th and you’ve just done a beautiful job delivering my grandchild. Oh honey, I’m so proud of you. Well, I’m off to meet my granddaughter!” With that she kissed my forehead and left the room as quickly and smoothly as she had entered, as if she was floating on a cloud.
My tears continued to flow, and as I woke up, my mother’s warmth seemed to fill every fiber in my body. I felt closer to her that night than I had felt for so long. Still, my sleep was fitful for the remainder of evening as I wondered whether I had been granted a true visit with Mom or not.
The next morning, I pried myself out of bed and got ready for work. My mind replayed the dream over and over again as I began my commute. I was jarred from my thoughts a little over a mile from my house when, a few feet from the freeway entrance, a bus cut in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. At first I cursed the driver, but then I noticed the number and destination on the digital screen above my head. “152,” it read, “No Longer in Service.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Mom was born in January of 1952, I knew in an instant this was yet another message from her. It was also confirmation that her visit the night before had been very real. “No Longer in Service.” I chuckled lightly at the euphemism and felt empowered once more. I knew in my heart my mother was there with me, with my baby, and she was most definitely part of the incredible biological process I was embarking upon.
It wasn’t until my twentieth week of pregnancy that my mother’s visit was validated once more; my husband and I found out that we were having a baby girl, just as my mother had shared with me four months earlier.
Not long ago I shared a post entitled When Death Means Something Different, and in it I explain how the loss of my father was vastly different than my mother’s death. He had been a tortured addict for decades, and this was his chance at finding a peace he couldn’t experience in life. But my grander point in that post was that with each situation in life, the greatest factor in our ability to cope becomes perspective.
It is with this perspective that I approach this newest piece. Societally, divorce has been said to induce the same sort of grief as death. It surely did that for my mom, who had been left by my father just as I was born. Dad abandoned us for a new life that was seemingly less complicated. Meanwhile, Mom’s new path was tainted by divorce from the get-go because for her it symbolized failure, heartbreak, and a loss of control.
My divorce has meant something much different though. I never intended to be divorced, but I also never intended to be unhappily married. In our marriage we had created habits that were detrimental to each other and to our children’s development, that much I could see as they got older. It seemed to only promote pieces of the cycle that I had escaped from before. Thus, with divorce we have found the space to curate balance and peace for our children, a calmer home life overall. With our separation and consequent divorce, our children have flourished in many ways. And through divorce I have found self-respect and an increased happiness that became impossible within the confines of our relationship habits.
Of course, it has not been without complication, but nothing largely transformative is ever terribly easy. So, to me, divorce does not have to equate to grief. Nothing automatically does. If we choose to allow it, divorce can equate to advocacy and hope. Almost anything can. It’s simply all about perspective.