bravery

What My Grief Gremlin Taught Me About Pandemics

 

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Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

March may be the worst. Historically, the turning pages of the longest month ever continue to bring bad news to my doorstep. Four years ago, we lost my dad unexpectedly smack dab in the middle of the month. On that day, a grief gremlin took up permanent residence in my front pocket. She waves her ugly wings and tattered feathers on anniversaries, the start of football season, or when I see a man over 60 in Starbucks. She also flaps and flitters in the middle of a pandemic.

Bad news comes in threes, they say, and in 2016, our three rounded out with two more job losses before April.

All of our supposed-to-be doings came to a screeching halt. To cope, we gathered around the worn kitchen table in the home I grew up in and stared. Our eyes glazed over at blank walls then would drift to the floor. I’d make note of the raspberry color of my shoes and watch the puddles of tears dribbling onto the mesh just below my ankles. I’d lift my head and smear the remainder of tears on my t-shirt sleeves.

Grief is a powerful force – she takes what you once knew and shreds what was to bits.

Two weeks ago, life all around the United States came to the same screeching halt. We packed up our desks and set up spaces at home. We went to work remotely and just when the desk was looking beautiful, we found out the dream job we just landed crumbled into dust.

People are dying and communities are slowing. All of our supposed-to-be doings have come to a halt. It’s March and people are hurting again.

In our homes and at hospitals, we sit staring at walls. At screens. At puddles of tears dribbling down our faces and onto tile floors. Tears smear on sleeves. We can’t gather around the kitchen table because we aren’t allowed to be together. We can’t hug or touch or greet.

The pain is broadcast on the news, captured in memes, and thrown angrily at others in tweets and mad dashes to grab the last package of toilet paper off the shelves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from the loss of a parent and how, if I let them, the lessons grief continues to massage into my heart can serve me during a global pandemic.

Writing to you from the same basement where I heard the news my dad had left us, I hug myself and realize grief can be a teacher in times of duress. My gremlin has taught me how to cope with the squeezing, the panic, the uncertainty, and the pain.

Here are her three lessons that prepared me for a pandemic:

1. I was never in control – I’m not now. I can choose my responses. 

Elizabeth Gilbert recently posted on her Instagram this quote, “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control. You never had control, all you had was anxiety.”

After experiencing unexpected loss, my anxiety came into sharp focus. It hasn’t eased in four years. I’ve accepted the anxious little bug living – roommates with gremlin – in my front pocket as she accompanies me everywhere I go. I worry about getting texts, not getting texts, and the ten pm phone calls. I worry about hospitals, and diagnoses, and imagined accidents.

I worry about who will go next, and where I will be, and if I said I love you enough because you just never know.

This week, we’ve all been reminded we just never know. With all that never knowing comes immense anxiety. Bank accounts are examined. Rice is rationed. YouTube distracts.

As humans, we think we have a say in how things are going to work. I realized in my mid-twenties, this is a lie. We have influence. We have preference. We have choice. We don’t have much control.

This truth has allowed me to live more deeply and experience the ordinary in a richer way. Seizing the day doesn’t take away the anxiety. Believing I have a choice in how to respond to the things outside of my control changes my perspective. I don’t have control of global markets, government relief, or the small company I wanted my husband to work at indefinitely. I do get to choose to stay home, to connect with loved ones, and to weep in the basement.

2. Find Comfort

The best advice I got when I lost my dad was, “Find comfort.” Surround yourself with things that bring delight, warmth, light, and tenderness into your space. Make a list of at least five things you can draw upon when the unknown feels too much. My pile has ground coffee beans, a white blanket, my mom’s number on speed dial, knowing where my dog is, and sweatshirt of my husband’s.

What’s in your pile?

Be careful of what you consume. You know yourself. Moderate unhealthy substances and be wary of who and what messaging you are letting into your space. Now is the time to be diligent about boundaries, turning off the news, and asking for help.

Self-medication isn’t always negative. What positive things can you allow to bring you comfort right now?

3. It’s going to be ok. 

I share those five words with immense empathy. It never feels ok when we lose something or someone we love. My life will never be capital O-K, because my dad will not be a part of it in the way I had hoped. But my family is doing ok in the way we’ve adapted. We hurt, relationships are still strained, things are far from perfect. And yet, we’re still here.

When we come out of this pandemic, which I believe will happen, things will not be capital O-K. Lives are being drastically altered. Grief is seeping in and taking up residence in thousands of heart pockets. Our hopes have changed permanent shape. We will have to adapt. Our resilient spirits will get to choose to lift their chins and answer the question, “How can I make what I have lowercase o-k enough?” You need not push the gremlin away.

Weep, release the tension in your hands, stare at walls. Yes.

And wait and see what is yet to unfold.

What we make with the things that remain can be beautiful.

Why do you think that is?

“I haven’t been as regular in posting,” I said to the man on the other end of a Skype connection.

“Why do you think that is?” he asked kindly.

I was in the middle of a podcast interview last weekend and his question gave me pause.

My answer centered on my desire to turn this project into a book and how with each new post I ask myself, “Is this the last one before I stop?”

There is truth in that sentiment and when I take off my interviewee hat and listen to my heart I hear this too.

I am getting tired of risking my vulnerability here.

Not in an exasperated way. It’s not that I’m over it – not in the least.

Rather, sharing my search for good and beautiful things has left me open and raw and seeking connection with other brave peace warriors. Sometimes this internet space is not as fulfilling as Instagram tells me it will be.

I talk about grief and joy and feelings and fewer want to engage with these truths than with work-out routines and make-up tips and how to make the perfect soufflé.

This practice, my friends, takes time and emotional fortitude and sometimes I wonder if I’ve still got what it takes. Whatever “it” is.

All the doubts creatives have start trickling in and I question – Is this really the best place for me to process my way through the world?

And then, I read this tweet by Jon Acuff:

“You can hold your breath and pretend your perfect, shoving those fears back into a quiet corner or you can be vulnerable and brave enough to ignore the handful of people who will mock your vulnerability because they are terrified of their own. You get to choose each day.” 

I let out the breath I’ve been holding and climbed out of my dark corner. My fingers began to twitch with the need to keep typing tales of my life and the beauty found here.

I am not terrified of my vulnerability – only in how you will receive my expressions – and the difference there is much more about you than me.


This week I’ve been sick, coughing until abs I did not know I had in my body are sore. I’m constantly sucking on Ricola, the Swiss sweets soothing my scratchy throat.

I slept for eleven hours thanks to the help of Tylenol PM.

My body is recovering and in my resting I’m making lists of the beautiful while my body shakes from gack in my chest.

Here’s the beautiful things surrounding me as I start again:

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Big bowls of bright red cherries – bursting with juice

Rolling thunderstorms clouds and quaking thunder claps

Butterflies with patterned wings

Lemon Mint cough drops

Peanut M&Ms

Influencers tweeting

Stretchy pants

Drives to the airport with accents

An ounce of bravery for tough conversations

Warm cups of tea

There’s so much beauty and good and holy things around me, even when I feel raw, achy and sore.

Why do you think that is?

 

I’m Inviting You

I have the day off. For most folks in Colorado, sunny trails and crunching snow beckon on days gifted outside of the office. I see your pictures, your snow shoes, your athletic pants.

Here’s the thing. It’s cold out, there’s no snow in my neighborhood, and I don’t see myself leaving the house.

Instead, I’ve spent the morning reading Bob Goff’s book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World

I kept my butt in the chair and my fingers clicked the pages – next, next, next. I devoured his stories and my heart beat quicker with the amazing possibilities he bravely steped into in his life.

If God makes ordinary people move, why can’t God move Bob? Bob kept saying yes.

Why can’t God move me too?

Or you?

I’ve been a little disheartened this season as only one person has told me what gives them hope in the Give Light Giveaway. I find myself asking, ‘Are we so battered and tired, sitting slumped against walls that nothing feels hopeful?’ I’ve been there.

Or are we so busy and bustling we don’t have a quick second to answer the question, ‘What keeps us going despite all this mess?’

Maybe you’re in a better headspace than me and living anxiety-free comes easier to you.  Maybe you live boldly with ease and march into new spaces and sit at all the tables with confidence.

I’m unlearning the practice of waiting to be invited to participate.

Bob’s book invited me to be brave.

I’m inviting you to be hopeful. 

The Give Light Giveaway runs through Monday night. I hope to hear what gives you hope, wherever you sit, with whatever reverberates in your heart this season.

Here’s a reminder on how to share your answer to the question, ‘ what gives you hope?’

Favorite Things – August

August is a big month at my house. My husband and my father-in-law celebrate their birthdays one day apart (well one day and 30 years apart) and the whole month turns into a celebration of Huey men. I’m excited to approach these milestones with them!

As I mix celebration with continued healing, I share this list of my favorite things.

Here are a few things that are worth a mention, a glance, or an impulse buy this month.

  1. The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss by Sandra Marinella

I was given this beautiful book to review and I loved the way Sandra encourages writers of all experience levels to get their stories out and on a page. She walks you through various writing exercises, shares her personal story with cancer, and encourages readers that healing can be found by writing your truth. All sentiments I can get behind. I strongly recommend this book!

2. Essie nail polish

My days as Receptionist at the Natural Nail Care Clinic forever left an impression on me and my medicine cabinet. I am still loyal to Essie products developed for your natural nail. I am loving this new color that was part of the Spring 2017 season. Come on, make your fingers feel pretty!

3. Ansel Adams Artwork

We finally painted our room! Our new, fresh, green walls anxiously await some art work. I’m planning on hanging some work by Ansel Adams like the piece below. My dad loved this artist’s ability to capture nature and peace. Photography and memory – beautiful things.

4. Be Brave T Shirt

Living life authentically takes bravery, compassion, and self-love. I like this t-shirt because it reminds me to embrace all of these things. Wear your mantras. Why not? I promise the women’s styles are more flattering.

5. Sprinkles

Everything worth celebrating is worth celebrating with sprinkles. Let the month of birthdays begin!

PS. I tried searching for manly sprinkles – Amazon tells me this doesn’t exist.

“Where Your Heart Is”

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. About our need for it, our hesitance towards it, how freeing it can be, and how scary it is to love all at the same time.

About how we say to love our neighbors, love our enemies, love ourselves. Why, oh why, does loving seem to be so challenging when at our core it is what we are designed to experience?

As protesters hold signs with phrases about its power and aisles at Target fill up with pink, chocolate, and candy hearts, our world inundates us with the perplexing notion of what it means to love and be loved.

As I got lost in my own thoughts this week, I kept drifting back to these questions. I spent a few hours searching for quotes or profound statements, phrases, poems that have catchy truths about that little four letter word.

Like the poem read aloud at the end of “10 Things I Hate About You” or the bible verses read at weddings as we commit to love one another for our entire lives.

As I scrolled and scrolled, I stopped on this quote.

“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you´ll find your treasure.”

– The Alchemist, Paulo Cohelo –

And so, in the next ten days leading up to the United States’ most commercialized day of expressed love, I’m asking you to do something.

Help me to understand just how beneficial love is. Why we need it, why we choose it, why we believe in it. Help me to understand how you find your heart treasure.

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I invite you to participate in the “Where Your Heart is Challenge” by completing one of the following tasks and sending me your thoughts. The world needs more love right now, and I’m asking you to help spread it.

Here are your choices:

  1. Write a love letter to your favorite person of choice. Stick it in the mail or deliver it in person.
  2. Write a love poem. It can be about a person, a season of life, the good and beautiful things that enrich you right now.
  3. Make a list of your treasures.  What treasures are dwelling within a space of love that enrich and enhance your life.

At the foundation of this little challenge, I believe time spent on this exercise will make you feel better about your own situation. If you choose to keep this to yourself, honor the time you spend reflecting on love.

I hope, ever so much, that you will want to be brave and share what you have come up with and I can repost it here. Send me a picture of the list, type up a reflection, let me know how you have been inspired to pay it forward and bask in the force that connects all of us.

Email me the details at (52beautifulthings at gmail dot com) of your experience and I will be honored to share your story.

Ten days of spreading the love. I hope you will join me.

xoxo

Squirrel Tail

Affirmations. Positive associations to words and activities that you want to bring into your life. You’ve seen the memes, and the quotes mashed over beautiful images that float through our home pages, Pinterest boards, and streaming Twitter feeds.

The thing is, in this time of growth, I am choosing to surround myself with these beautiful images that make my heart swell and remind me to breathe.

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This one, posted on the Facebook Page, Raising Ecstasy, seemed delightful to me this week as I choose to venture among new waves. And waves there have been as I juggle new responsibilities, and realize that with these new responsibilities comes new schedules and routines, and the letting go of what once was.

I know, I know, I’ve been using this space as an outlet for my process – thank you for those are still choosing to join me in my journey in career exploration. Some of you may want me to sugar coat the process of my job transition and neglect to share the true colors of the overwhelming swells of new. I feel to do so would be unfair to the process. Swells also have moments where the waves are calm, and I rest here.

I hope that for all of you readers who are embarking on your dreams, you can remember that the switch to pursuit of a dream come true isn’t fantastically easy over night. Or over, well, a few weeks. It takes time, and self-love and the ability to work a few extra hours in the hopes that the next morning may be a little bit easier to handle.  I stand on my ship and breathe in bravery – leaning over, and leaning in, one day at a time.

 

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This past week I dabbled between overwhelmed and incredibly amazed at the beautiful potential unfolding before me. When Friday rolled around, I was ready for dinner with friends.  As six sets of hands picked at a massive pan of nachos resting on my kitchen table, I smiled a sigh of satisfied relief. I do have people that choose to invest in me – even if they live far away and we don’t hang out every week.

I also feel I conquered a major choice in our home ownership. When we moved in, our lower den was painted a shockingly bright, lemon yellow. Paired with an accent wall of sky blue, the colors didn’t exactly scream, “Come sit and relax.” When you put our dark blue couch and red lounge chair in the mix, the achieved rainbow effect was shocking to say the least. This weekend, with Dylan’s tasteful guidance, we transformed our den with coats of soothing gray and an accent wall to boot. Even though the paint was named, “Squirrel Tail” (eww, who wants squirrel on their wall?) I do find the achieved effect to be much more desirable. Ahh, I may be able to rest and breathe in this space too.

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If you want to reflect on imperfection, though, as the purpose of this blog suggests, I have to laugh that the lower portion of the walls perimeter remain in their shockingly bright, original hues. We have plans for wainscoting, but have to wait until next month to budget accordingly. Our banisters remain down, and the ladder sits poised in our living room, anxiously waiting the second coat of cutting in.

One step forward. Pause. Two steps forward. Pause.

This too, shall pass.

This transition, this covering of old, this beautiful evolution of a house into our home, shall become a reality.

What other affirmations do you find to be useful in times of self-doubt? How about when things feel under control, manageable, delightful and enjoyable? Do you whisper small statements of truth to bring you good and beautiful things?