Community

Changed A Life This Year

I’m inviting you to stop and think about just one thing that changed your life for the better this year. When I sit and ponder here’s one that comes to mind for me.

In September, I boarded a plane after a nine hour delay to join 100 young grieving adults. I had the opportunity to lead a writing workshop with The Dinner Party, a national organization who builds community for 20 and 30 somethings and mostly, I was terrified.

If grief makes you uncomfortable feel free to skip ahead. (I’m going to ask for your help)

If not, keep going …

I was absolutely floored by the beautiful, brave people who showed up despite terrible things happening in their young adult lives. People read obituaries, shared funny stories, and built altars in honor of loved ones.  We drank wine and toasted and sang songs and I found myself, for the first time, in a group of twenty five others who lost their dads.
When I shared my experiences, I was met with affirming mhmms and head nods rather than blank stares. While I have been attending a grief support table for two years now, this was the first experience I had where I felt completely welcome in my grief. I’ve known in my head I wasn’t alone. These people helped me feel less alone in my heart. You can read more about my experience here.

If you jumped ahead, pick up here:
Welcome back. This year I’m increasing my fundraising goal for The Dinner Party and am hoping to help raise $1,000 as TDP continues to grow. From April to September the organization placed over 2,500 people at tables all across the country and they need your help.

With an ambitious goal of being as well known as AA for alcoholics, we hope to grow this phenomenon as a fabulous grief support option for young people all across the country and need your help.

Please consider giving what you can here: 

https://thedinnerparty.funraise.org/fundraiser/katie-huey

Give because you loved Roy
Give because there are thousands of young people are grappling with life after loss
Give because you love me
Give because you are craving a space to tell your story
Give because there is power in community
Give because connection makes a difference

I hope you’ll join me this year – thanks for reading – and if you know of other wonderful people who would be willing to donate, please pass along my note.
With so much love,

Katie

“It is always and only mine”

The outdoor light on the shed in the back kept turning on. With each gust of wind, branches would blow casting shadows across the small sensor inviting light to stream through the open window, fighting the dark with lightsaber-like beams.

An intended safety feature was overreacting, having negative affects on my sleep.

Much like my over-active brain which was playing loops on repeat.

After a few hours of restlessness and an unsuccessful attempt at taking an Advil to relax my clenching muscles, I grabbed my pillow and stepped quietly downstairs to lay on our big, blue couch.

“Well this seems fitting,” I thought to myself as I rested on my back, staring at the ceiling. “This is where it all started.”

Those cushions couched my grief from day one. During the first week, I burrowed in the corner, surrounding myself with blankets and boxes of tissues as I made phone calls to tell folks we lost him. I choked back sobs at two in the morning while my husband was upstairs sleeping. The foam absorbed my tears and the worn upholstery still remembers the shock waves reverberating through my body.

Three and a half years later, there I was again, laying on my back, staring at the ceiling, thinking about my grief. No intense tears, no shaking sobs, just clenching fists and racing thought patterns as I prepared to fly across the country to lead others in a writing workshop on how to bring words to their grief stories.

I was trying to be brave. Mostly, I was terrified.

I tossed and turned and when 4:30 am rolled around signaling it was time to wake for the airport, I rolled off the couch and into my outfit I previously set out for my adventure. Dylan drove me through the dark and I breathed deeply, as my therapist instructed, as I prepared my mind.

“Life,” they say, “begins on the other side of our comfort zones.”

I checked my monster of a bag at the curb, made it through security, found coffee and sat down at the gate. Not a minute later an email buzzed through on my phone.

My eyes began to blur as I read the words, “Your flight has been cancelled.”

“Shit!” I mumbled under my breath and stood, making my way to the long line appearing at the front of the gate.

I once read the universe likes to test our commitment to our own goals. Challenges arise when we are about to embark on something we hunger to accomplish. Situations outside of our control flirt with our efforts, daring us to take one more step we didn’t think we could.

When I pitched a proposal to lead a workshop at a bereavement camp for 20 and 30-somethings back in April, I thought I’d just throw my name in the hat and see what would happen. I put together speaker proposals at least once a week. I thought applying would be the risky part.

Then I got accepted and said yes, I’ll go to grief camp with a bunch of bereaved strangers – still feeling silly and insecure and fearful of other peoples’ pain. Then I bought a plane ticket. Then I had to actually get on the plane which was proving more difficult than I thought it would be.

I called Dylan to inform him of the change and swallowed down tears as I explained my choices to him. He encouraged me to figure out how to get where I needed to go. I ran between concourses, taking trains and talking to airline employees about options for my bag and my transportation. The man at the United counter was not helpful. A kind woman at Southwest helped me figure out another route.

After nine hours at DIA, a two-hour flight and a one-hour carpool with strangers who kindly picked me up in a rental car, I arrived at grief camp. There were over 100 other people my age who lost someone significant in their lives. What a beautiful thing.

I got checked in and as I hugged the coordinators I noticed an open bottle of wine with a welcome message sitting waiting for us late arrivals. A fellow traveler who also spent hours trying to arrive from Philadelphia pulled out the cork and took a giant swig of red. No time for glasses. Balancing nerves, delayed travel plans, and latent grief calls for soft tannins and flavors of grapes.

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Eventually, I found my way to my bunk, unfurled my sleeping back tucked in the bottom of my giant duffle, and tried to fall asleep as kind strangers snored below me. Another night on my back staring at the ceiling flooded with thoughts and fears. I learned 30 is maybe too old for communal sleeping arrangements with strangers.

Over the next 48 hours I led my session and participated in workshops where we explored our grieving and resilience through words, photos, sounds, and memory. I joined support sessions and sat in a room with at least 40 individuals who also lost their dads. We had a talent show. People freely read eulogies, poems for the departed, and  danced their emotions out to their brother’s favorite songs. There was a group altar full of pictures and favorite things – hats, and cookies, and cards, and cups of coffee for the departed. I finally had a place to lay his favorite things and kiss his picture and whisper how much I missed him.

With every session and every conversation I could feel in my very bones the truth: I am a part of something dark and beautiful, heavy and freeing. Other’s pain I was so afraid of brought me more comfort than I anticipated. Connecting stories from bios to real faces and human hearts helped me to realize all of us carrying loss stories are not to be feared.

Yes, I’m in the very worst club with the most beautifully brave people who are living with heavy piles of shit.

Please do not fear me because of my loss.

It’s in the places where we sit and listen, where we touch hands and honor wounds where we get to extend our wavering whispers of hope and connect with one another. I kept gasping in small breaths when others would say things I’ve been thinking for years. I lacked the sacred places to share my unmentionable thoughts.

No one was afraid of making others uncomfortable – we’re much too weary of surprising others with our unsettling thoughts. Here I am. Take me or leave me.

How could so many strangers take me when others whom I loved chose the later?

We sat in our pain, absorbing the horrible truth – we must move into a forever forward timeline without our people. The bereaved still welcomed and embraced the mysterious joy flowing from the life force of love left behind in the people we love.

I’ll be processing for awhile.

During the weekend’s closing session, the organizers asked for feedback.

I raised my hand and said,  “For a long time, I’ve known I’m not alone in this thing called loss in my head. This is the first time I’ve felt I’m not alone in my heart.”

What a beautiful thing.

I also met an Artist, Meredith Adelaide, who wrote this poem originally published in her book The Great Blue World an exploration of grief and loss through imagery and word. She helped me remember this precious grief of mine is precisely that – mine to own, mine to hold, mine to share, mine to love and honor. And while this grief is all my own, I am not alone.

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Let’s Get Pancakes

“Let’s get pancakes” I said. “It will be fun.” I said.

That was a few days ago when Snooze AM Eatery brilliantly marketed their National Pancake Day celebration on my Facebook feed. Those damn targeted ads. They work.

So when my phone buzzed at 6 am with one of my friends texting she was sick and wouldn’t make our breakfast date I almost rolled over and went back to sleep. Then I couldn’t find a comfortable spot in my bed and my alarm kept buzzing back from snooze singing to me, “It’s time to get up in the morning.”

I got out of bed. It was still dark out. Let me repeat. It was still DARK out. I never wake up when it’s dark out. Sorry folks, I just don’t.

I got dressed, kissed my sick husband on his feverish forehead and left the house.

As I walked to the garage I noticed a thread of bunny tracks in the snow across the driveway. A sign of life in the glistening powder that was gifted to us last night. Tiny animal prints reminding me that we share our yard with other little creatures.

I got in my car, turned on the heat, drove the twenty miles to get a delicious breakfast. Heat in my car. A beautiful thing on a frosty morning.

As I drove the sun came up, turning the sky from dark to pink to blue. Shivering trees brushed the sky, reaching up their branches into the promise of another appearance from the sun.

I never wake up early enough to see the sunrise. I should witness that beauty more.

We sat down to warm coffee with rising cream in those perfectly crafted yellow mugs  and placed our order.

And then our waitress brought us these.

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Giant.

Giant pancakes. We started laughing. I thought we ordered off the special flight menu for, you know, National Pancake Day.  The tiny pancakes. I guess I was wrong.

Beauty in abundance on my plate(s). In white flour and caramelized pears, in strawberry jam mixing with sausage, and white chocolate mixing with coconut flakes. Beauty in pools of syrup and perfectly weighted forks.

Beauty in enjoying time with friends. Beauty in feeling productive before 8 am. Beauty in frequenting local restaurants that give back to their communities.

And later, tonight as I thought about this post, I asked my friend, “Hey silly question, did you take a pic of all those pancakes this morning?”

Of course she did. It’s so great when you have friends who get you. Who snapchat their food and document culinary adventures so I can share them with you.

Today reminded me that it doesn’t take much to be delighted. Mix up your routine. Watch the sunrise. Order the pancake or two.

You can always take home the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.

 

Float with the Wind

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Here in this valley we chose to leave my father’s ashes. Today we let him float with the wind, remembering that he no longer needs his body, that the spirit is what remains in our hearts and our memories. The concept of spreading ashes is an uncomfortable one, painful in release and a very permanent concept. And yet, through the tears, we were surrounded by beautiful community. The friends and family who have held our hands and wiped our tears and sent messages of peace and joy and comfort. Today I am thankful for the list of these beautiful people who joined us this afternoon.

The Wylie Family: John, Karen, Lauren, Leah

The Courtway Family: John, Claudia, Katy, Rob, Jenny, Heidi

Shaun Hoag & Dakota Lorenz

Pam Moore

Ron Morgan

For if you can not hold the hands of those you love as you face life’s challenges, it can be difficult to remember the beauty found in moving forward.

Too, I share these beautiful verses as a reminder that our lives are so much bigger than our own bodies can contain. That our purpose will be glorified in heaven. That beauty is to be found in releasing my dad to the wind, to remember that he is now connected in heaven, and we, too, can be free.

New Bodies – 2 Corinthians 5: 1-9

Community Done Right

When you hear the word “community” what do you think?

– Neighborhoods – people borrowing cups of sugar, police officers, libraries, free recreation centers

– Bible studies – singles groups sharing meals and prayer requests on Tuesday nights or sanctuary on Sundays

– Friends at work – departments, structures of support, co-workers to joke with

– Friends with history – no religious connection, but maybe instead a love of beer, or the outdoors, or writing, or art

Does your heart relax into a safe space of comfort or understanding? Or maybe, perhaps you tense up and think I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced something like that?

I think for me, growing up in church environments and having chosen a career in human services, community is a buzz word that I perhaps take for granted. We talk about it so much that at times, it becomes abstract. Something we are always striving for, but not quite sure how to grasp. As a sociology major, the observations of demographics of any group situation overtake my brain, and I start to think, more often than not, about who is NOT sitting at the table, rather than who makes up the voices of our “community”. Community is imperfect, it’s messy, at times we hurt each other. It is throbbing with desires, and interests, and progress, and hope.

That’s what I love about authentic community. When all the ism’s and opportunity, or lack there of, melts away, hope and raw humanity remain. That’s what keeps me at my job, and what fuels my thoughts, and my efforts to make eye contact, or smile at people when I am uncomfortable. This can be challenging for my introverted self.

This week, my beautiful thing, is acknowledging the amazing work that the people at FOCO Cafe have accomplished. A new non-profit near me offers lunch to the community on a “pay as you can” model while offering healthy lunch options to the community at large. If you can contribute for your own meal, you pay your own way. If you need a meal and don’t have the means, you can volunteer your time to earn your lunch. Healthy, organic, delicious options. I know this concept is not unique as others across the nation have similar models. However, this little gem is new to us, and this lunch spot is near my work, an easy walk. My co-workers and I have enjoyed stopping by more than once.

After getting my soup, and paying what I could this week, I sat down to eat, and looked around in awe. Glossy wood floors and cheerful yellow walls welcome you in from the cold. The rustic brick makes you feel like you a part of some local history. By simply walking in the door, you get the choice to participate in something that is not there to indulge my needs, but to make me recognize I can choose to be part of something. At one table I recognized a local city council member eating his lunch. Across the room sat two other social workers clearly in thought and discussion about their day. At another table a family with an elderly woman sat and ate, and two homeless gentleman sat to get warm. My co-worker had her little one with us and his two year old smile connected with many others. This my friends, is a true representation of everyone at the table. The hard work of two brave visionaries created something wonderful. Something warm, and homey, and worth celebrating. Worthy of beauty and of recognition, and of your lunch hour.

Check it out, it will be worth your time. Well done my friends, well done.

New Years Resolution Update

Week One:

Biscotti Flavor – Chocolate Chip

Nail Polish Color – Bump up the Pumps by Essie

Hopes & Healing in Boxes

This time two years ago I moved out of my parents’ home for the first time. I was in a city with people I didn’t know, and spent many evenings during the week home alone, or with Dylan, reading books and wallowing in anxiety of how to even get this thing called life started. In December of 2012 I moved with anticipation and anxiety of what being an adult actually looks like – away from home, away from my friends. Towards what I wasn’t quite sure. All of my belongings could fit in the back of my SUV. One load.

In December 2013 I moved back to my hometown with a hope of a return to normal, to community, to a proper sense of grounding. This time, the move took three trips in a truck and I brought a man back with me. I was disappointed and shocked to find that while my hometown hadn’t changed too much, perhaps I had. I wasn’t the same Katie that walked those streets and halls and through the nostalgic memories. The realization that perhaps the job, or the location was not the problem, but rather was something within me took quite a bit of therapy to admit. This move gave me the opportunity to say yes to new opportunities in relationship and fully walk towards the promise and commitment of marriage. I had to come home to move forward.

Here we are in December of 2014, once again moving, with wedding gifts, and hopes, and compromises that come with having a life partner. This move required a U-haul. I’m not quite sure what will be next, but know that it is so wonderful to be moving towards things with another person at my side. Excuse the self promotion here, but I am thrilled by the healing that I have carried with me this year. Usually, the moving of my physical belongings, and the disruption of my connection to place throws me completely off my center. I know I probably wasn’t the most fun to be with over the last week – moving makes me really crabby. This time, though, the past few years experiences have made me realize I’m going to be ok. I already am ok. Perhaps I’m even grand. I’m not waking up with stomach gripping fear that literally makes me gag. I’m not losing weight from stress. I’m breathing and trusting, and healing. I’m healing. And I’m thankful.

Remember, that return to community that was so important to me in December of 2013? God has answered that prayer tenfold and I’ve found wonderful opportunities to reconnect with old friends. Friends who were traveling, friends who are in school, friends who have also found their way home, back to their roots. Friends who seek out groundedness and peace and giving and look at the world through a critical lens. Friends who come over to help move, or bring dinner to share, or tell me to wipe a tear from my eye. I am not sure where we will go as a group, as dreams take all individuals in a multitude of directions. For now, though, there is so much beauty in connection with others. Look at this motley crew of people who showed up to help us move, because they care about me and they care about Dylan and they invest in friendship. They breathe fresh hope for human connection into my heart. For all those friends not pictured here, you, too, know who you are.

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I’m ecstatic about the beauty of healing, of progress, and the opportunity to reflect about growth. You don’t know what blossoms in that painful experience of sprouting new shoots until the flower has bloomed. Have I bloomed? I’m not quite sure.

What gives you anxiety? How about affirmations of healing?