Death

63 Random Acts

63 random acts

It’s his birthday tomorrow. It bothers me that I have to sit down and do the math to remember the number of years he would have acquired. The days don’t matter so much, but the forever stuck at 58 continues to be odd to me.

We would have gone to a baseball game, a new tradition started by the survivors three years ago. Except the MLB is on pause and hot dogs don’t taste as good when you aren’t in the stands.

We would have eaten a burger joint and let grease down our hands as we sipped beers in frosty mugs or dipped fries in milkshakes.

We would have licked on cones of cinnamon ice cream or made fun of him how he ate his ice cream from a cup with a spoon.

He would have eaten pizza with a fork.

He would have splurged on a tall cup of Pikes Place coffee and let it beep in the microwave all day long.

He would have steak and salad for dinner.

We would have done all sorts of things.

Grief throws a wrench in things. Add on a pandemic and anniversaries and birthdays and milestones seem to melt into something murky and weird with a few sprinkles thrown in.

63.

He would have been 63.

So this year, I’m hoping to inspire another sort of list and hoping you can help. I am wondering how many random acts of kindness we can accomplish in honor of Roy on May 15th, 2020.

Drop some cookies at a neighbors. Pay for the people behind you in the drive-thru line. Bring flowers to a friend. Draw some chalk on a driveway. Send a love note. Tip a delivery driver more than you usually would. Donate to a charity.

I want to get a list of 63 ways to care for the world in honor of my dad tomorrow. Send me a pic or a note of your random act, and I’ll see how many we can get. Gestures don’t have to be big to make a difference.

Join me in remembering and celebrating my dad. In helping others. In celebrating while we are far away and from behind screens and windows and walls.

Let’s get to 63. You can start today.

Bread of Life

“You and everyone else,” she said through her little square box framing her face on the Zoom call.

“It’s delicious. I have plenty of time to practice the craft.” I said to my friend from college through the computer connecting us.

On Sunday last, I spent an hour talking to six women who walked through college with me. We haven’t connected as a group in four years. A pandemic brought us together as schedules opened and boredom crept in. From screens on kitchen tables in Denver, in Brooklyn, and in Spokane, we spent an hour catching up during the oddest life pause we’ve experienced.

She was making fun of me and the seemingly thousands of others in quarantine who have discovered the joy of making homemade bread kitchens world wide.

Starting bread is simple. Flour, water, salt. Cover in dampness and let the air do its magic.

Mix.

Let it breathe.

Add heat and watch it crisp and bubble and morph into sustenance.

Three weeks ago, I was given a jar of white goo from a friend who had kept her starter alive for decades. The building block has grown and multiplied over the years and by miracles of community and connection, parts of the original landed on my doorstep in small glass mason jar.

In my dark kitchen on an unremarkable week night, I pressed connect to launch another video call. My mom walked me through the steps to make a scraggily dough. I called again after the overnight rise for guidance on amounts of flour, moisture, and time required to make something edible.

I’ve followed the steps on my own four times now. Bread is in the oven as I type.

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This week, a friend received another jar of the same white goo from the same legendary start. On another unremarkable week night, she called me via video chat to walk through the same steps my mom taught me just days prior.

The dough, and the love, are multiplying.

My friend sent pictures of her process. My incorrect direction to add extra flour caused her mason jar to overflow. Excess bubbled over and marking her counters with sticky residue.

In my small community, we’ve been texting recipes and getting on video calls and cheering from our kitchens far away.

This bread is connecting people.


Last night, Jesus ate the Last Supper of bread and wine.

Flour. Salt. Water. Grapes.

Simple ingredients connecting us through history.

They tell me Jesus is the Bread of Life.

While I slept and my dough rose, Jesus knew what was coming. Prophecies of betrayal and sacrifice and death led us here to Good Friday. Things we fear and want to avoid came to fruition.

From my home, I’ll sit down and watch a church service online. Maybe dim the lights to get the theatrical effect mega-churches seem to have mastered so well over the years.

“It is finished,” he’ll scream this afternoon and I’ll break my bread in remembrance of Him. I’ll sip my wine and feel the tannins gloss my throat as I swallow down the pain.

We must wait three days until everything changes.

Things feel finished. I feel sad and broken and scared for the ones I love. I know this is going to take more than three days to resolve.

And yet, what is finished in death rises on Sunday.  Even in quarantine.

I can’t help but thinking there’s something to this powerful resurgence of sourdough.

Dough rises. It’s connecting us.

This mix of simple things give rise to something powerful. New life with a crusty chew.

Beautiful things.

 

Here’s to the ones

To the ones who pick up the phone, send the texts, check in and ask how you’re doing.

To the ones who whisper and tell us on repeat, “We are ok. We don’t have to accomplish anything.”

To the ones who are seeking validation and a space to share your story.

To the ones aching for community.

To the ones who want more, better, beauty.

To the compassionate ones crying in your cubicles.

Our world makes you small when your heart beats so big you don’t know how to handle it.

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To the ones listening and leaning in.

To the ones who are haunted and hoping and hurting and here.

To the ones who bend and smell the roses and fill your arms with blooms in the garden, sorting weeds from the tiny blossoms of potential.

To the ones who buy themselves the peonies and bring their friends bread.

Caring for ourselves and our friends is a radical act.

To the ones who sit on blue benches whispering this just sucks.

To the ones who have loved and lost and to those who are waiting.

To the ones swirling to make sense of things.

To those who want to be seen.

Tonight, you are beautiful to me.

This morning

A friend from high school now leads a Lutheran congregation in Alaska. She posted this poem on her Facebook yesterday.

The pains of the world:
There are many.
The joys of the world:
There are a multitude.
To hold one while avoiding the other:
A human struggle of distraction.
Both are vital.
Give both the attention they request.
Your soul demands tending of both.

This is what I’ve been doing. Tending both.

Today, it has been three years since I was introduced to sorrow so deep. Three years since he died. Man, it still sucks typing those words.

In the last 365 days I’ve been flirting with joy, allowing it to tickle my toes and tempt my heart as we begin to believe that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get used to this pain.

This morning I will write a letter to my father and I may weep. I’ll head to work and have my people on speed dial should panic attacks decide to knock on my office door.

I’ll breath deeply and drink Pike’s Place coffee and mostly, this morning, I’ll remember. The sparkle in his eyes. The badly dancing hips, the sound of his laugh. The way he would get out of bed on Saturday mornings when I was in high school, making room for me to chill with my mom. I’ll remember waffles, his Einstein hair, plaid pajamas and encouraging texts and bad jokes from yahoo. I’ll remember how it got worse before it got better and how far we have come. And I’ll listen to this song by JJ Heller on repeat.

Thank you to all who have walked with us this far.

Dad, we miss you.


I see the tears sitting on your cheeks
I know you’re tired, fall now to sleep
Stop fighting so hard, it’s time to surrender
Raise your white flag and always remember
Your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning
It’s been a long day, and you did your best
Let go of the past, it’s time now to rest
The weight of the world is getting too heavy
Give it to Jesus, His arms are steady
And your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning
Close your lovely eyes
Can you feel the sunrise
Your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well
And your heart will feel lighter
Everything will be brighter
Find peace in knowing
That all will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning
In the morning
All will be well
All will be well in the morning

 

Coming Back

I’ve been practicing telling my grief story out loud. To people using their ears and their eyes.

It’s easier for me to type my story. I’m more comfortable when you’re just reading what I write.

I’m dreaming of new ways to bring my speaking voice to my experience and sent an email ask to Shelby Forsythia if she would be willing to host me on her podcast Coming Back.  She lost her mom when she was in college, and dove right in to learning more about grief, healing, and the power of owning one’s experience.

Shelby describes herself as an intuitive grief guide and works with people struggling with grief and loss. In her interviews with others, she offers refreshing perspectives on the way our culture handles grief, and focuses on real experiences with real humans as we continue to live with loss.

Her tagline, “because even through grief we are growing” pinched my heart and said, ‘pay attention to this’ – she’s on to something.

I’m thrilled to share our conversation here and am very thankful to be in her group of people growing with grief. We talk about introversion, a little bit of Jesus, and how searching for beautiful things informs my process with loss.

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Shelby is also looking for new folks to interview on her podcast for her FIFTH(!) season.  If you are interested in sharing your experience with grief, send her an email and tell her I sent you.

Happy listening.

Roll With It

Tonight, I walked in the door to snow covering my living room floor.

Flakes the size of paper towels mixed with fibers of carpet.

Wait. No. Not snow. Just paper towels. Shredded. All over two stories of my house.

This has happened before, as once Dylan and I forgot to pick up the paper towel roll from the floor that we use to clean up after our damn dog.

She did it again.

Snow. Covering the whole living room.

In that moment, as in most, I had two choices.

  1. Get mad and yell at the dog.
  2. Roll with it.

I chose to roll with it. I stuck her outside and headed up stairs, unloaded my stuff, sat and stared at the mess. I called a friend, she didn’t answer so I left a voicemail instead.

And then I opened up my inbox to attend to an exiting offer I’ve been procrastinating on because I’m scared. Called that phone number, left another message.

Then I went to my kitchen, got a huge garbage sack, and picked up all the snow… er, paper towels. Shreds.

People keep offering advice on how to combat our dog’s anxiety. Doggy day-care, Rover, CBD treats, take her to work. I’ve got a reason most of those won’t work. What do I do instead? I roll with it.

Somethings don’t need immediate fixing.

roll

I haven’t been writing much here because I’ve been processing in my head. Two weekends ago, I lived through another anniversary of Dad’s death. I wonder if it will be like this every year – waking and wondering who will text me that day. Some folks I thought for sure would speak up stayed quiet. Odd how such a significant day can go unmarked for so many people I know who lost him too.

Other surprising me people asked if we have traditions to mark the day? No traditions yet, we’re only on year two. I think it takes at least three years of doing something to make it a tradition. They knew I was dreading that day.

The 18th.

Ugh.

I woke on Sunday, March 18th and Psalm 118:24 came into my head.

This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

It was not March 18, 2016. That day sucked. It was now March 18, 2018. This day did not have to suck. I wondered how to go about marking the day, honoring Dad, and living in the present.

I had choices.

  1. Sit, grieve, feel sad and somber.
  2. Get outside, live, do things in remembrance of him. Roll with it.

Honestly, I did a little bit of both.

Without a plan, and a little less pain than the previous year, I didn’t have an agenda when I woke up. I wanted to feel good and alive. I needed to feel like I was rolling with the huge, sucker-stomach punch that I was faced with when Dad left this world.

I sat and felt sad for an hour. I wrote him a letter with tears streaming down my face. I drank my coffee and I felt his absence and smiled when a friend sent me flowers. Again. Then I got up and we left the house.

I made Dylan go to Dunkin’ Donuts with me and we bought three. One for me, one for him, one for Dad. We went to a park nearby – the one where Dad taught me to ice-skate, and we played trolls, and the one he could see from his office window in the last few years of his life.

I sat on a bench eating my chocolate glazed with sprinkles, hoping for a break in the crowds. Dylan poked me in the side, whispering, “Go!” and I scurried under the branches, donut in hand.

I left an Old-Fashioned cake tucked in the mouth of that alligator statue, where Dad would have looked when he usually walked by.

I hate vandalism and public littering and breaking all rules. I felt like the branch I hit my head on when running back to Dylan was a bit of karma. I felt good and I smiled. Dad would love this. He’d laugh. And he’d probably say, “Well that was a waste of a perfectly good donut.”

We went to dinner later that night, at the house I grew up in. My grief-molded family moved in our new forms and made big ol’ bacon burgers and beans. We sat at this old table and chewed sacredly, quietly without him.

We laughed and were proud of our choices that led us to this second year date.

A constant, patience testing, grace-filled, beautiful choice. To roll with it.

 

The Office Phone Rang

The office phone rang yesterday. Once. Twice. Glance at the caller ID.

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Photo by Davidson Luna

I picked up the black office phone, untangled the snaggled cord, and tucked the receiver (oh dear, that is what it’s called right) between my raised shoulder and my left ear.

“American Family Insurance, this is Katie how can I help you?”

How many times have I repeated that phrase? I started when I was sixteen, working in my Dad’s office. And now, after his death, have spent over 365 days living out his legacy, still with the company, working for a different agent.

“Hi, this is …… and I’m calling to let you know that my husband died this past weekend.”

I paused. Death sucks your breath out of your bones, even when you don’t know the person who has passed.

“Oh no, ” I am sure I said “I am so sorry.”

I didn’t know this customer and I didn’t know her husband. I do know just how jolting death can be for the living. The ones left behind.

We continued the conversation.

I began to notice, in this customer call, there lived signs of personal progress.

My stomach didn’t drop. Huh. That’s different.

For the last year anytime someone told me another person left this planet my stomach would crumple. My body would sweat, my heart would drop deep into my already aching gut. Empathetic wavelengths would extend like squid, squeezing remnants of emotional energy I didn’t have to spare out to other people.

This didn’t happen yesterday.

We proceeded to talk logistics and I was shocked by this woman’s resolve. Her ability to speak coherently, to share her concern. “He used to handle these things,” she said, “how am I supposed to now know what’s best?”

I hmm’d along empathetically, flashing back to many conversations with my own mom who instantly acquired the title ‘widow’. We spent a better part of a year rebuilding, coaching, working together on learning again to know what’s best. You certainly can’t know in the first few days. Sure you can take action, make decisions, pick a song for a funeral. But what’s best? Baby, that takes a really long time.

I clicked through our computer system and managed to rework this woman’s policies. New options saved her money on her monthly premium. Changing coverage, that’s easy.

I gracefully offered to remove her husband’s name from her policies. Erasing a person from a policy, that’s harder.

Robotically, I clicked an “x” into the Deceased box next to her husbands name, and changed her marital status to widowed.

How quickly our society allows you to mark a box, change a status, erase a name on a billing account. The process of grief is no where near this simple. I still hate this word – deceased. I hate knowing that my dad falls into that category. One simply does not erase a loved one from your own being.

I never once mentioned my own loss in that conversation. I learned quickly that saying, ‘Oh yes, I lost someone too’ doesn’t bring comfort. Instead it brings awkwardness and an urgency to change the subject. I listened and asked if she had someone nearby to help her with these decisions. Support remains vital.

As I hung up that black office phone I felt strong and empowered. For the first time, I noticed how Dad’s death had purpose in changing ME. I was empathetic, calm, and collected when absorbing other people’s stories. I could offer support, problem solve, listen and see, just for ten minutes, her situation and perspective. Her pain was separate from my pain.

This is new. This is healing.

We keep saying in our household just how true it is that people die. People die. This doesn’t remove emotion, downplay trauma, or remove loving connection. These words just make it easier for me to live with the truth of death.

This phone call brought beautiful awareness. A gift from my job that can bring comfort and pain at the same time. A deeper understanding of how Dad once worked with customers. The realization that my approach to the world has forever changed with this pulsing absence of Dad. An American Family insurance agent for almost twenty years.

 

ps. Do you know hard it is to find stock photos of office phones? Ha! No one takes pictures of these anymore. Maybe the use of an old office phone is also a beautiful thing.