Pink Flamingos in the Pool

I sat down at my computer two hours ago with the intent of completing some overdue work. I have a task I eagerly look forward to. One of those tasks that I am a little bit afraid of – a ‘just need to sit down and pump it out’ task that still isn’t finished.

I opened up my computer, clicked to open Word and got the rainbow wheel of death. You know what I’m talking about. The ever whirring wheel that taunts you saying, ‘just a sec…. let me just load this one thing.’ You sit on your hands and grit your teeth and hope that the machine you use every day will respond to your gentle caresses and coaxing.

No luck.

Open Microsoft Office support, let them log on remotely (that’s ok right? I feel like I’m signing away all of me when someone remotes into my computer) and here I sit, uninstalling over 70,000! files so I can reinstall my Microsoft Office suite.

My task remains unfinished. My brain, and maybe the universe, are telling me to switch gears. Here we are instead, blogging. A much better use of time than staring at the screen as my trash bin empties on my Mac.

I drift back in memory to the wonderful weekend I just spent in Scottsdale, Arizona with my cousin’s best friends.

Lew, as we affectionately call her, is three years older than me and was always the epitome of cool. We grew up living two hours apart and spent major holidays, vacations, and summer play dates together. In elementary school I was in awe of her competitive soccer team and would get excited when her traveling team would come up north for a weekend game. In junior high I envied her Abercrombie and Fitch clothing and group of best friends. When I was in high school she would invite me to come watch a movie at her house nearby as she was in college. I’d marvel her home full of all things college – sports paraphernalia and the cute boys from the ‘guy’s house’ across the street.

She stood as Maid of Honor for my wedding and in three weeks time I will stand as a bridesmaid in hers.

I was thrilled to fly to Arizona for a weekend girl’s trip for her bachelorette extravaganza. I was blessed with an opportunity to bask by a pool in the desert and to rest in a beautiful mansion. Blessed with many hours of conversation that were distinctly feminine. The conversations carried threads of hopes for marriages, our careers, their babies (no, no not me, just all of her friends).

Laughter bounced along the water ripples as one of us would occasionally jump off the diving board or fall in the pool after trying to balance on a floating flamingo.

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Lew and me on our floating creatures.

There is something powerful when women gather. Energy shifts, back rubs are given freely, tears are shed over iced glasses of rose wine. I didn’t know these women that well, and frankly, they have intimidated me all of my life. Looking up to a cluster of amazing women that have supported my cousin has often left me feeling jealous – why can’t I seem to foster decade long friendships with such ease?

The veil lifted, though, as I took time to speak with each of these ladies. My myths of glamorous girls formed into real people with real problems, hopes, dreams, and jokes. Lots of wonderful jokes. I started to feel like a part of them. And that is a beautiful thing.

Friendship with women can be hard. We form cliques, we gossip, we exclude – unintentionally, often in an effort to protect ourselves. Yet, if we can let down our own IMG_5081guard, and let people in a little bit, we can find a whole lot more of ourselves.

A social lubricant of three powerful margaritas sipped out of a penis-shaped straw may have helped. 

It felt wonderfully beautiful to be taken care of, to rest, to sleep in the sun.To share salads and crackers and bits of cheese. To float on flamingos, and unicorns, and swans.

Survived by….

Olive, our dog, got a new toy for Easter. Meet Cerdito (little piggy in Spanish) as we affectionately call him.

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Looks the same, but Olive’s is green. As I sit here, Olive is chewing and the little toy grunts away. It has this odd sound mechanism that makes me feel like I’m sharing my bedroom with a baby boar. Her zeal for this creature makes me laugh.

Sometimes it’s the little things that are enough to get you up and out of bed and writing.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

I was reading my dad’s obituary yesterday. It’s still online and when I miss him it can be helpful to look at the long list of memories that other people shared on his site. I stopped when I read the phrase, “… is survived by….” 

I wrote his obituary with my mom, an ugly obligation when you are the writers in the family. I remember being in her bedroom. Mom sat on her blue upholstered couch, I across the way perched slightly higher on her four poster-bed. With rounded shoulders and our chins in our hands we asked each other, “Do we have to include that phrase?”

“I hate that saying,” I’m pretty sure I murmured. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

I never used to understand that phrase. Survived by. I mean sure, that makes sense if we were all in a terrible accident. If the cause of death was a storm, or a bus, or a tragedy that we were all involved in. If we were the ones to get out of the car and walk away scratch free. I didn’t survive his heart attack. I didn’t survive anything in the few days, weeks, early months of loss.

We included the two words.

Roy is survived by his wife, Christine Christman; daughter, Katie (Dylan) Huey and son, Sam Christman.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito. Olive continues to chew away.

I think the impact of those two words makes sense to me now. Thirteen months out, I have begun to survive Dad’s death. My family has begun to survive loss.

As humans, all of us are going to have to at some point – sorry Charlie.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

I went to Good Friday service last Friday. This year the death part of the Easter story hit me differently. The pastor gracefully explained how deeply Jesus suffered on the cross – not in brutal, gory detail, but rather in focusing on the emotional exhaustion that comes from death.

Jesus experienced it too, hanging on the cross, crying out to God “Why have you forsaken me?” He experienced how breath becomes shallow, how head hangs low, how heart and spirit feel ripped away from the Creator of the Universe.  Jesus died. In dying, he felt the things that feel very much like grief.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

Grief can be unbelievable lonely, even when walking with people who lost the same person as you. On Friday, sitting in church in the dark, listening to Jesus’ final seven phrases, it hit me; Jesus has been through death too. This made me feel just a little bit better, a little closer to God, a little more hopeful, less lonely in the beginnings of survival.

On Sunday, I yelled “He is Risen” with enthusiasm. For Jesus rose again to take on our suffering, to walk with us through the dark, to say to ME “I get it. I’ve been there too.” This common ground never made sense to me until just this week. What a beautiful thing.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt, ” says Cerdito.

I think survival is an interesting concept. Day to day we, as humans, are surviving. By breathing air and eating food and drinking water we make choices to keep on going, despite hardship. Death can be hardship, so can a million other things.

Yet choosing to find joy as the thread that connects all of the horrible can be a beautiful thing.  I’ll end my thoughts this week with a list of the beautiful threads of joy that have helped me begin to be a survivor of death of a loved one.

It is a new identity I’m tentatively beginning to put on – one arm in the sleeve of a scratchy sweater, not yet worn enough to be soft on my skin.

Those silly grunts from a pig, and tears, and communion in individual plastic cups.

New jobs for my husband, and naps, and spaghetti.

In meals cooked by my brother, breakfasts at the lunch counter at The Silver Grill.

Afternoons spent at my in-laws.

In Easter baskets, and morning light, and endless text message threads.

In acknowledging that we all, at some point, are going to survive something.

“Grunt, grunt, grunt,” says Cerdito.

 

The Smell of Easter Lilies Makes Me Squirm

Right now, the smell of Easter Lilies makes me squirm. What once was such a welcomed fragrance turns my stomach over in memory of this time last year. I realized today, in a flood of grief-like fog, that Dad’s funeral was right at this time a year ago. No, not the actual date, but we had a hard time finding a church for the service because it was Holy Week. Churches are pretty booked in anticipation of the death of Christ. Not many openings for the death of a common man.

With Holy Week comes Easter Lilies. Beautiful flowers emitting a once-a -year scent. Those damn flowers are telling me to run the other way through grocery stores. So many people gave us beautiful lilies last year, but the timing of the gifts tainted my opinion of the blooms. I used to love those elegant flowers. This year, please keep the flowers and their symbolism away.

I wonder this if new revulsion may be similar to pregnancy – tastes and fragrances that once brought comfort are instead instantly turned into something else as we get ready to give birth to something new.

The metaphor is weak, I suppose, but I just keep thinking about how sometimes things we once loved change when you lose a loved one. And how maybe, just maybe, that process is ok. How through death I am being birthed into a new me. I am shedding skin of pre-death and even this first layer of post-death, like a snake, dropping layers and layers of unnecessary preferences. What remains is fresh skin. Raw skin that is a little bit sensitive to the light and indicators of time passing – like frickin’ seasonal Easter Lilies.

As I sat in church this weekend, I kept thinking about the comfort provided by the traditions of Holy Week. My dad was a minister when I was little and my parents used to hold huge Easter brunches in our backyard. Much of his congregation would attend. I remember matching dresses and egg hunts and little hats. I remember palms handed out on Palm Sunday and solemn trips to the Stations of the Cross – the crown of thorns, the smell of vinegar, nailing my sins scrawled on a notecard to a wooden cross. These experiences were so connected to who my dad was in his various roles at the church. They set the foundation for me to explore my own faith.

It has been eighteen years since my dad was in direct ministry, well nineteen now I suppose. As I approach another Holy Week, I find myself clinging to the memories of Dad in the church. Of his excitement as he passed out palms to the kids, the ceremonial seriousness he projected as he instructed the crowd to break bread in remembrance of Jesus. Have you noticed how on Good Friday, right around 2 or 3 pm, it always gets cloudy and dark? Dad would always point this out – the very real reminder that God still feels in his giving of his only son for us on the cross.

I also remember how last year my beautiful friend brought us a ham for Easter dinner, three short days after a funeral. I will never forget how that hunk of meat became a symbol of sustenance, hope, resurrection for our family in its newest, most raw and vulnerable form.

Thanks for hanging with me here – I’m not sure my thoughts are entirely connected. What I can say is there is beauty in the foundation of faith, in the way my father taught me to live through the history and truth of the Holy Week. Beauty in anticipating the death of Christ and the hope in his resurrection. Beauty in taking communion, in yelling “HE IS RISEN INDEED”, and in dwelling in the truth of Christ’s love for me. Beauty in remembering what brought you to this point and beauty in looking forward. Beauty in basking in the power of the cross.

Here – now you can yell it in Greek – just like Dad used to do.

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May Jesus meet you in unexpected ways this week.

Cut It Off

Have you heard of the guy who speaks to water molecules?

Dr. Masaru Emoto works on examining how the substance of water is intricately connected to our human consciousness. He has spent time studying the way language affects water’s chemical make up – its structure changes depending on the words used to title, label, or spiritually connect with the substance. Watch this video.

I find this research fascinating. It makes me question how I am choosing to label myself, what words I use to describe my experience. I wonder how snips of self-loathing are perhaps urging the little cells and molecules that make up me to morph and change.

I’m not sure if the same is true with hair follicles, but hang with me here.

As a hard-on-oneself perfectionist, I have been known to beat myself up a little bit on this bumpy road called life. My husband, mom and friends keep encouraging me to calm down, take it easy, rest. Friends send texts and magnets with euphemisms and articles like this one to remind me that life is a journey, not some point of arrival.

I think instead, maybe death is a point of arrival, but thats another exploration into something else entirely. The point is, I’m not the greatest at being kind to myself in my own little noggin. Pair that with learning to cope with grief, and the picture hasn’t been the prettiest.

I know that life can’t be pretty all the time. But over the past few weeks I kept thinking about that doctor, and those ice crystals, and the cells in my body and how they are reacting to my own self talk. And I got a little bit scared.

Now I do this thing in transitions – it’s an effort to have some semblance of control in this mad, mad world – where I chop off all my hair. It is not uncommon for females to go through spurts of rediscovery with their look, changing up length, color, cut for a renewed sense of self-love every once in awhile. My latest attempt at recreation though, was linked to something else entirely.

My hair has been getting long, really long. Over the past 13 months, I trimmed my hair once, instead appreciating the ease of pony tails, braids, simple buns. But I kept thinking to myself, what is happening in those hair follicles of mine? The ones that have endured a bit of suffering and stress? What do the little guys look like on a microscope? Can I transform their cellular sadness into something fresh?

No.

No, I thought. I cannot. And so I made an appointment with my hair stylist who has known me for years. Who, through God’s mysterious ways, has also lost a parent. On Saturday I sat down in her chair and she asked the standard question, “What are we doing with your hair today?”

I responded, “We are chopping the grief off Rachel,” and she smiled. Maybe, just maybe she knew what I meant.

With strong hands, silver scissors, and a loving heart she restyled my hair leaving a pile of messy, hurting cells on the floor as I wiped a few tears from my eyes. She blessed me with conversation, asking about my heart, and my family, and how it feels to be a year out from loss. She encouraged me knowing that the journey is long, but there are friends and beautiful people to walk through this process with you.

Another woman in the salon came along and swept up my hair from the floor, swiftly moving those nasty dead cells away from me. I could leave them behind and begin to grow fresh cells that morph beautifully in structure because I am going to be better to myself in how I talk, think, and process these challenging times.

She cut it off and that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Freedom

What do words mean to you?  I love spending time thinking about rhetoric, our language, our definitions that we use to explain our lives. It has been fun drawing words out too.

Thank you to Natasha Wing for contributing her word FREEDOM to the Beautiful Words Challenge.

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I am still accepting entires until March 31st. If you have a favorite beautiful word, let me know and follow the submission guidelines here.

 

Glee

Happy Friday ya’ll! Weather forecasters were calling for a nasty day here in Northern Colorado and as I look outside I see beautiful skies and 60 degrees. Jokes on them. Or on me when it dumps two feet of snow tomorrow, but for now, I’ll take the sunshine.

I’m happy to share another contribution to the beautiful word challenge.

What brings you glee on lovely Fridays such as these?

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Do you love words? Please consider sharing your favorite with me. Details on how to get your own custom image here. Accepting entries until March 31st.

 

Floral Arrangements

When we were planning my dad’s funeral, I remember my mom being so concerned that there would be no flowers at the service. She made my aunt go pick out a few nice arrangements at the local florist. It was a taxing decision at the end of a long list of taxing decisions. Some greenery, a bushel of something or other to go inside of his fishing creel. She slept only a little bit better knowing that my dad’s alter…. is that what you call it? Ugh. The table with all of the things to remember him by. That table. It would be decorated with a few things fresh and beautiful.

Yet….. When someone dies people show up and send flowers. Lots of flowers. Beautiful, big displays of color and fabulous scent.

My dad died the week before Easter and every room in my mom’s house was filled with the smell of Easter lilies. My aunt bought us trees. Actually, several people sent us trees. Things to stick into the earth to remember him by. People want to give life when a life comes to an end.

 

These floral arrangements, while lovely, also start to grow stale in old water. The blooms start wilting, petals turn brown and scum coats fancy vases no matter the shape or the size. You have to disassemble them. I think it’s kinda morose to give someone who just lost a loved one a mixture of things that are going to, in a few weeks time, wither and die.

I remember taking this photo and naming it Grief Disassembled. At this point, the family had left, the casseroles stopped showing up on our door steps, and it was me, my mom, and my brother disassembling numerous arrangements. Combing through branches and thorns and dried leaves to see which lilies would last another week or two.

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And then we took the remaining roses, daisies, marigolds, greens, and hung them on the stairs to dry. Reminders of the extension of love and support that came to us in the middle of March during the worst month of my life.

Reminders that even though things die, we can keep, treasure, and handle with care the essence of intentions that radiate love.

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Just a few weeks ago, my mom took these arrangements down.

We reached the first anniversary with tears and cheeseburgers and a trip to the bakery.

I wrote him a letter – three pages long.

Lots of you reached out with texts and cards and phone calls. I am so pleased to know that my dad touched your lives too. Sometimes I forget his reach was so broad, so big, so full of inquiry into who YOU are because my own loss of him lives with me in my heart pocket each day. To those of you who felt his void, I’m sorry you had to lose him too.

I was most touched, however, by the simple gesture that someone (two someones in fact) chose once again to send me flowers.

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I received this bouquet last week and spent a few days pondering what this little arrangement symbolizes for me. A remembrance of a man so spectacular yes, but also the beauty of surviving our first year without him. Of turning our heads to the light. Of reclaiming the scent of the Easter lily. Of looking for fresh beauty, fresh extensions of love, new beginnings.

This arrangement will die too. But disassembling these blooms won’t be nearly as painful. Healing can be found in the most wondrous of places. Today, I see the glimmer of hope bounce among the stems, reaching up in the unfolding tulip petals, dancing on babies breath.

And all that was given to me in the delivery of flowers, a beautiful thing.