Comfort

We aren’t doing enough.

I dreamt with him last night.

swingWe were at an amusement park and I was strapped in to one of those large swings for adults. The yellow bucket seat was cold on my legs and my sleeping self felt afraid of the lacking worn-nylon restraint. I could only see out, and down over the rolling hills and green grass, but I knew he was sitting in the swing behind me.

When the ride ended and we landed, we sat on a bench with people from all stages of my life. He handed me a white McDonald’s bag, the yellow arches pronounced on the front.

“Sorry I had to go” he said.

I woke with an adrenaline rush of sadness and a soft smile and I said to myself, “I bet that bag was full of burgers.”

Dad doesn’t come to me in dreams all that often. It’s a tortuous balance of comfort and despair upon waking. These glimpses of him spun in a storytelling of bizarre memories, recollections, and persistent reminders of the anxieties of where we are currently, living without him.

I keep thinking, as a nation, as a globe, we aren’t doing enough for new grievers. Our president isn’t saying sorry; no empathy drips from his lips. The online communities I’m a part of are trying –  touching on our triggers and sharing reluctant welcomes to the clubs none of us wanted to be a part of in the first place. While online tributes teach us how to facilitate a virtual funeral, few leaders are acknowledging emotional pain. Few news outlets are telling stories of the encounters, the painful goodbyes from screens, or sharing the connection between personalities and preferences of actual humans who make the numbers tick up, up, up.

All over the globe, thousands are taking their steps into the first weeks and months of mourning. Milestones are met without. We’re being reminded of the pervasiveness of loss daily, and still, very few are saying, “I’m so sorry you’re here. That our lack of response led to this painful unraveling and gaping whole you now live with.”

We aren’t doing enough to create space, to hold space, to allow such dark feelings, questions, and unfathomable realities.

Instead we are fighting on Twitter, and bickering about masks, and continuing to hope for less restriction and more connection.

I continue to pray, please not me, and still desire to help. I don’t have profound wisdom and my dad did not communicate anything wise to me about our current situation.

He just gave me a bag of supposed burgers in my semi-concious state. None of us are really sure what to do.

This week, I went to Starbucks for the first time in eight weeks. The drive-thru felt beautiful and as the signature green straw plunged into my plastic cup full of coveted vanilla latte, I sighed with gratitude. And then I washed my hands.

We are still here, in this pandemic, hoping, and wondering, and still being ourselves.

Part of myself, my journey, my searching, my purpose, is to help people in pain.

I can point fingers and blame and say the grand “THEY” aren’t doing enough.

And I can turn, once again, to where I have control. From my kitchen table, I choose to still use words to share pain, and hope, and comfort, and acceptance for the dark places in people’s lives.

I’m so sorry we’re here. That people are dying by the thousands and our culture doesn’t know how to talk about grief. That you’re here and you’re hurting and that this year will forever be one that changed your life.

Perhaps soon, your people will come to you in your dreams.

Until then, I recommend the drive-thru. Starbucks or McDonalds. What gives you comfort in cups, in memories, in connection. You’re feeling now and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

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.

October Favorite Things – 2019

I’m burnt out on pumpkin spice. The joy has been sucked away by commercialism and over-done everything. Why is it we have a tendency to squeeze potential out of things, drip by sugary drip?

This October I’m focused on turning inward a bit – asking new questions and preparing to lay down old stories with the falling of leaves.

Here are a few things I’m loving this month:

  1. Roasted chicken – fill the house with amazing aromas on a Saturday evening. Don’t burn your hand on the roasting pan like I did. 425 degrees means 425 degrees.
  2. One Hope Wine – I’m intrigued by their business model and am excited to raise money for a good cause. If you’re thinking about stocking up on tasty wine for the holidays, check this out.
  3. Candy corn. Still. Yes. It’s a classic. Once a year because we will never burn out on their perfect chew if we only consume the kernels for one month a year.

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  4. Classic T’s – Maybe I’ve got some latent grief begging to be honored by the donning of black clothes. Maybe I’m channeling my inner New Yorker. Maybe I’m just craving a simpler closet. I’ve been stocking up on comfy black t-shirts and getting back to the basics with my wardrobe. As we head in to the season of layering, add these gems to your staples pile.
  5. Rising Strong by Brene Brown – for when you need permission to accept life as it is and a gentle reminder that magic meets us when we’re face down in the ring.

What can you lay down this month? What is bringing you joy?

Continually Thrown Out of the Nest

Free cone day! Did you venture out to a Dairy Queen near you to celebrate their 75th anniversary with a free soft serve cone on Monday evening? I did. I love free things. I love ice cream. It was the perfect combination. I laughed when Dylan wanted his cone dipped in that cherry wax stuff. No, not laughing at Dylan, but laughing because the exhausted, teenage staff at Dairy Queen still charged for the mysteriously bright red, cherry flavored substance. We got dessert for two for thirty five cents. That, my friends is a bargain and bargains can be beautiful.

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I came across this image this week, and it struck a chord. If you read last’s weeks post you know I’ve been processing the end of a chapter in my life, and I thought Chodron’s words captured the reality of inner conflict so well. “To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” At first I thought this was referencing Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, and all I could remember was yams, yams, yams and freshman English class. Then I realized, wait, wrong guy, and started thinking about the implications of the above words. The concept of being willing to die feels foreign, and final, and makes me consider the absurd notion that I may be powerless to these deaths, big and little, that present themselves in order to create new life. Nature goes through seasons and cycles of death every year; is it easy for the whispers and quakes of Mother Earth to die on a continual basis? What deaths in your own life are easier to grapple with and which ones cause a lump in your throat? I want to be fully alive, yes, but thrown out of the nest? Can you maybe, just please, set me down gently? I’m thinking that’s not how it works, and I’m working on being grateful for the opportunity to flap those wings so stinking hard.

In an effort to be gentle to myself, if ok universe you feel like throwing me, I once again returned to grounding exercises. Oh you therapy you, rearing your wonderful head. What makes me feel safe in transition? I had a therapist once recommend that I create a basket of safe and comforting items to surround myself with when I was feeling anxious. I was 21 at the time, and a little offended at the notion of a grown up ‘transition  object.’ I was a big girl and didn’t need items to make me feel safe. Or did I? Now, I’m realizing that yes, I do want safe objects and comforting reminders that I can create my own peace in the world.

I don’t believe that inner peace fully connects to material items, but I do think they can aid in the process of reminding ourselves of who are when times are changing. This week I bought a new, nice smelling candle. I found some fun, funky note cards to write letters to my friends. I drank a glass of white wine and went to yoga, not once, but three times in one week. I’m carrying my huge, green backpack that I affectionately call my ‘turtle shell’ that I’ve used sense high school to work. Its many zipper compartments and history of academia bring me immense relief. Do you have a list of items that bring you comfort and help you settle back in to remind yourself of who you are when parts of your world have breathed their last breath?

I’m not depressed, in fact I’m feeling quite happy. However, I’m a strong feeler and my emotions often move through my body in ways that other people hardly think to notice. This can be a beautiful blessing, and a socially awkward curse. I’m thankful for my deep intuition and a tangible sense of comfort or anxiety that cue me to breathe deep, to return to myself, and to bring out that comfort basket, or my big girl equivalent. What would you put in your basket? What brings you peace when emotions get the better of you? Do you think death can be beautiful?

Essie Polish: borrowed my mom’s to do my toe nails before her birthday dinner. You know, fill the down time

Biscotti: No baking this week, but did make chocolate covered strawberries. Killer deal on fruit at King Soopers.

We are the Ones

Who has seen the movie Chocolat? The one with Johnny Depp where the gypsy woman comes to a conservative town and sets the world on a tilt by opening a sensual chocolate shop in the middle of Lent. The treats she concocts make your mouth water, and the need for a truffle, or hot chocolate has never manifested as much as it does when you are watching that film. It’s a great movie. It’s even better when that little chocolate shop, or perhaps a slightly less sensual version, plants itself into my town.

This weekend we tried Nuance Chocolate and had a lovely experience. I am never one to turn down an afternoon treat. Life is too demanding to not allow yourself little indulgences every once in awhile. So Saturday afternoon, we ventured down the street to try a new treat. Big windows and display cases filled with small morsels of chocolate invite you in. Rustic brick walls and wood floors invite you to take a seat and just settle in to watch and decide where to start. We invited our taste buds to experience the chili pepper dark bar. Let me just say, it has my vote. I think the little business perhaps has a way to go, but I am excited to stop by as winter afternoons approach and try some sipping chocolate, or a taster bar, or even, perhaps, a truffle should a bad day present itself. Sorry I didn’t take more photos, but you can follow the small business at @nuancechocolate.

Treats, my friend, are beautiful.

Too, in the midst of a world that seems to be crumbling, I was comforted by the words of author and activist Alice Walker this week. Our staff team at work rotates sharing positive encouragement to one another and this month it was my turn to share. I came across her series of essays, We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For – Inner Light in a Time of Darkness when a professor shared her writings in a commencement speech at my college graduation. Women’s Studies commencement of course. I bought that book several years ago, and still turn to this woman’s wise words for grounding and empathy in a complex and intricate world.  This is the bit that I chose to share with my colleagues this week.

“It was the poet June Jordan who wrote ‘We are the ones we have been waiting for’. Sweet Honey in the Rock turned those words into a song. Hearing this song, I have witnessed thousands of people rise to their feet in joyful recognition and affirmation. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors could see. This does not mean we believe, having seen the greater truth of how all oppression is connected, how pervasive and unrelenting, that we can ‘fix’ things. But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched and humiliated. Not willing to ignore starving and brutalized children. Not willing to let women be stoned or mutilated without protest. Not willing to stand quietly by as farmers are destroyed by people who have never farmed, and plants are engineered to self-destruct. Not willing to disappear into our flower gardens, Mercedes Benzes or sylvan lawns. We have wanted all our lives to know the Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her her creation. We are the ones” (Walker, pg 3).

I’m encouraged, and challenged and a little bit scared of how Walker enthusiastically calls us to action. The world may feel unmanageable and like it is falling to pieces, but we have a say in how we want to participate. What we want to feel passionate about. What we want to admit that we have connection to. There is beauty in responsibility, in accountability, and in examining where do I fit in this big, complex world. I like thinking critically, even when it seems insolvable. Do you ever think about these things? How about afternoon treats?

Swedish Fish for the Win

I can’t see my kitchen table again. Well I can see the table. I can’t see the surface of the table. I can’t explain it, but this time, this mess seems more enjoyable. It’s a mess of completion, accomplishment, and arrival at the finish line. Here are the things I’ve got going on within that surface.

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1) Clearly, Swedish Fish were the most popular candy evidenced by the fact that we are still drowning in Starbursts and Skittles. My favorite candy wins the popularity contest.

2) Our wedding centerpieces were beautiful – but made even more attractive with flowers in the blue bottles. The white box with holes doesn’t have quite the same charm. I must invest in some floral arrangement components soon.

3) I’ve got a long list of thank you notes to write. I also need to buy stamps.

4) I’m in the midst of a name change. It’s an odd middle to be existing in. The transition from one name to another leads to new hesitant introductions and insecure laughs when I state my name. Who is this person with a new identity? I feel I’m living my way into it a little bit. Now I get to go wait at the DMV to make it final.

5) Again I am washed over with love and blessings as we set out in this new beginning. Its rather freeing to say over and over again, ‘yup, we did it.’

My list isn’t anything out of the ordinary, but there is a lot laid out on this table. Small objects that symbolize a culmination and yet a wonderful beginning too. Forgive me, I reflect often.

This week was a busy one, with many adjustments and catching up to do. I did notice, though, the simplicity in a game of cards. Cribbage to be exact. Now let me back up here. Cribbage gets a bad reputation as ‘an old man’s game’. I guess I fail to see the problem with that reputation – personally I really like it. I was first taught how to play at a friends house in third grade. I was not good. Then later along the line, my dad brought me up to speed.  My dad is good. Not just good, really good. And he is competitive. Not in an out loud obnoxious, rude way. No, more in a passive, ‘I’m going to kick your butt and you know it so I will just sit here and smile’ way. He still helps me count my cards and make sure I’ve fully accounted for everything in my hand, but he will still win.

Friday night I got to play cribbage with my dad, at my grandma’s house, while Dylan was away. We had pizza, like they do every Friday these days, and it was a nice reminder that while significant events happen and life can change, I can still play cribbage with my dad. And yes, he still won.

Then, this week, at a meeting for work at the coffee shop nearby I walked in and noticed two older gentleman sitting at a small table near the window. Here come’s that reputation for the game. They were playing cribbage. Their cards were large faced and the numbers huge, and they used a shuffling machine to cut the deck. Oh man, did they warm my heart. I don’t know anything about these men, and I’m hoping they were friends, and that they are happy. What that observation reminded me is that there is comfort in a game of cards, comfort in connection, and comfort in continuing to look for beauty when life changes and you enter new territory.

What comforts you when you enter uncharted territory? When you look around at what is surrounding you what does that tell you about your life?