Grief

Eating Salmon Instead

They’d have their things. We’d have ours.

They went to Europe.

We went to a baseball game.

They went to Burning Man.

We finished the details of planning my wedding.

That’s how it always was. My brave, adventurous brother, full of wander lust, would convince my mom to abandon her creature comforts and go on outings of epic proportions.

Dad and me? We’d stay home.

Watch old cowboy movies and eat cheeseburgers from Chili’s. Paint walls, organize things, eat breakfast at diners and make waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.

This week they’re going to Spain.

And I’m here, wishing you were too, because they went on an adventure and you went home to heaven instead.

I panicked slightly when my mom sent her last text on U.S. soil. Gulping loudly in the office, I told myself to breathe. Anxiety suppressed by therapist induced mantras – I am safe and nothing bad is going to happen while they are away and we can live full, beautiful lives in our own unique ways.

I still worry about where people are and the next time I’ll talk to them and when, by God, we all can just arrive safely in our beds.  I know it isn’t a good use of my mental energy – wondering if people are safe – and so this week I’m repeating over and over God, I turn my loved ones over to you.

This trusting, it feels hard, but it doesn’t have to be.

Tonight, I was planning on going to yoga and when working meetings went late I retreated home. I passed on watching a softball game and cooked a delicious dinner for myself instead. I poured a glass of wine – more anxiety suppression. And I sit now, eating my food, wondering how I’m supposed to acknowledge today’s National Cheeseburger Day and you were not here.

They’re in Spain. It’s National Cheeseburger Day. I’m eating salmon instead.

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So I write, sharing my story and hope you see my words just like others do. That you’re still here, in my heart and my memories and you’d be proud of the way I lined the pan with foil so the fish skin doesn’t stick to the metal.

I’ve got my own adventure planned – we leave soon – and we, too, will bravely chase our dreams into foreign cities.

You probably would have stayed home anyway.

New adventures … healthy dinners … white wine … missing you.

All beautiful things.

 

 

 

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I remember … and now I understand.

It’s September 11th. Seventeen years ago I was twelve when my dad was driving me to school. He was trying to chat my way out of my pre-teen morning grump with a joke when he paused.

“Turn up the radio,” he said.

I had no idea why he got so serious, so quickly.

I still remember what intersection we were at and I absorbed his somber energy.

I remember watching news footage over and over and over again that day.

I remember not understanding the severity of the day, but knowing that this horrific attack would influence us as a generation, as a world, forever.

Seventeen years of national grief.

This year, that same news footage has me thinking. Anniversaries of the death of loved ones are hard enough. I can’t imagine how it feels to have it being played out on t.v. on repeat.

I’m sad for those who lost loved ones that day. I’m sad for those still healing.

I remember and now, perhaps worse, I’m beginning to understand.

The gut wrenching feeling of loss. It sucks you into a hole and drags you into the darkness. All those clips of buildings crumbling, people falling, smoke consuming those who were trying to run away. Trauma lingers on the news, in our nation, seeping into our hearts.

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Go hug your loved ones – our time is short – make lists of beautiful things.

Here are #46 – in the Resistance of a Different Kind movement. Can you help us get to 1,000?

#46 and # 47 – 2 beautiful daughters – one for each
#48 A loving husband
#49 A roof over my head
#50 God who surrounds me with love each day

#46 – 50 Contributed by Elizabeth Timpe

#51 Silence after a long day
#52 My cat curling up in my lap and purring
#53 Having random moments of appreciation towards life
#54 Long sleep
#55 Cake

#51 – 55 Contributed by @lemonzandtea

#56 hugs
#57 fall colors
#58 crisp, cool air
#59 bike rides
#60 sunsets
#61 football games
#62 reading
#63 puppy breath & just puppies
#64 date night
#65 transitions (positively looking at change, trying to admire learning experiences & acknowledge the growth- easier said than done)

#56 – 65 Contributed by Donell Betts

#66 Buying a ticket to see a musical which is one of my most dear pleasures in all the world
#67 Calling my mom whenever I want and knowing she will listen to everything I have to say
#68 Feeling okay enough every day to do one thing to further my goals.
#69 Watering my plants and watching them grow. And talking to them until I feel more than a little crazy
#70 Sleeping until I wake up (on the weekends)
#71 Planning outfits for fall.
#72 Having good health and choosing to respect it.
#73 Cooking dinner for my friends.
#74 Writing my truth and sharing it with others.
#75 California avocados. I grew up in the Midwest, you know what I mean.

#66 – 75 Contributed by Meg Schmidt,
Writer and Executive Producer of Hello Humans

#76 Smelling something in the oven
#77 The first signs of fall
#78 Knowing a poem by heart
#79 Aspen trees
#80 Buttered toast
#81 Church bells ringing in the distance
#82 Freshly washed sheets
#83 Staying home when it rains
#84 Handwritten recipes
#85 Taking a step

#76 – 85 Contributed by Zoë Trout

#86 warm summer nights with fireflies in the trees
#87 sharing a spot on the front porch with a friend during a thunderstorm
#88 a warm fuzzy blanket
#89 being silly
#90 singing in the car at the top of my lungs
#91 a shared smile with a dear loved-one
#93 a new pen to write with
#94 dragonflies
#95 looking someone in the eye saying “don’t change a thing” … and meaning it

#86 – 95 Contributed by Carri Adcock

#96 We just jammed to Bohemian Rhapsody as a family in the car

#96 Contributed by Heather Anderson


When you’re ready to contribute your list, send me an email or leave a comment of your 5-10 beautiful things. Details about this movement are here – I can’t do it without you.

 

 

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Shout Hooray!

He chuckled as we sat around in a circle just outside of the kitchen. My knees kept bumping cold metal as they bounced nervously against the top of the table. I was anxious and I didn’t want to hear the truth in what he was laughing at.

“No month is safe,” he said.

“What do you mean?” my little heart whimpered, ” I thought we were heading out of the dark?”

He was years ahead of me in this journey of losing someone you love and while I nodded in agreement to his jovial nature, those four words sunk in deep.

Sitting around the table at grief group, my muscles tensed yet again, absorbing his chuckling blow.

A truth bomb.  Shit, I hate those.

This year we made it through the death-aversary, four birthdays, Father’s Day and even the 4th of July. We skipped our old family vacation and planned outdoor adventures. Summer, apparently, has come to a close.

It’s still August – although my brain keeps fast forwarding into the next calendar page and despite Starbuck’s efforts to launch fall preemptively, I’m craving September. I’m sitting in what I’d like to think is the safe season. July through September. Free of triggers and holidays, fewer milestones where the cut out of him missing isn’t supposed to be so obvious.

And yet, like he said, “there’s no safe month.”

For pre-season football has started, and we’re planning vacations, and their wedding anniversary lurks down the road, hiding two weeks before the Halloween decorations come out flailing their skeleton legs – thin, white, and wobbling about.

After that will come Thanksgiving and feasts at tables where he won’t sit and strained family relationships become more obvious.

No month is safe. Grief is an ever present partner that lingers. She’s big at times and smaller at others and in this respite time of early fall, she’s giving me one swift kick in the gut to say “Ha! I’m still here and if you look, he is too.”

I was at Target yesterday, stocking up on staples like soap and toothpaste (ps. Dr. Bronner’s toothpaste is silly expensive – but ya know…. the environment). As I was walking the aisles, wandering, hoping for sales racks, I happened upon two kids in their cart.

The older sister, probably five or six, sat in the front basket, her legs dangling between the cut-out holes as she showed her younger brother the hand gestures needed for this moment’s activities.

His hair was sticking up in the back and his tiny-toothed smile caught my eye as he repeated his sister, “If you’re happy and you know it, shout hooray!”

He threw his little hands in the air, arms shooting out of a dinosaur t-shirt into his mother’s space with enthusiasm.

Fits of giggles erupted and they started again.

“If you’re happy and you know it, shout hooray!”

Hooray!

Some days, I can’t fathom how it has been over two years since he died. Or that I hope to live 57 more years without him. Or that other people I love will kick the bucket too – I won’t know when or how and thank God for that.

What I do know, and what I can fathom, is I want to be like that little boy – tucked in a gentle embrace of a loving guide who shows me how to do the appropriate hand gestures in these never-safe months.

God and sure, Dad, are tapping on my shoulders, saying look around, there’s much to be happy for. Shout hooray!

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Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

So here’s to hooray for this weeks beautiful, beautiful things:

Target – I made it out of there with spending $96.48 – for those of you who know the Target rules – if you get a cart, plan to spend $100.

Sunsets at softball games

Clients who send you care packages just because

Other people who get it – the ones walking and wandering and hoping for reprieve.

Crunchy apples with almond butter,

Puppy breath,

Honest, authentic, brave sharers of personal truth,

Dr. Bronners,

and for carts with leg holes and the wisdom the little ones give.

Hooray!

 

 

 

 

Put Your Finger Here and See My Hands

Things at work have been quiet lately. With the majority of my team in Europe for three weeks I have been holding down the fort. I sip my coffee, play whatever music I want, send my emails, cross of my tasks, and think.

Without other voices and fewer phone calls my brain has been on over drive  – feeling the need to fill the spaces of vacant casual office conversations with measurements of accomplishment and tracking my goals.

I’m driven by productivity. All the personality tests tell me “efficiency” is one of my strengths.

And yet, this summer, the universe is telling me to shut off those dials I used to quantify life and sit instead, in quiet, with myself.

My husband has been playing softball two nights a week and gets home late.

My side hustle marketing job slowed to a trickle as my mentor also took a six week sabbatical.

My mom, much to my dismay, tells me she’s busy with dinner at friends, or on bike rides in Breckenridge, or at a movie with Martha who is the best movie theatre photographer you will ever meet. (pst… I didn’t forget)

Our bible study took a break and is perhaps falling apart forever.

I’m realizing kids go back to school this week (um what? I haven’t done any cool summer things besides climb a mountain) and summer is coming to a close.

I’ve found myself going from quiet office, to the gym with headphones on, to my house, where I cook and wait and read – voices of characters filling my head.

As an introvert, I proudly love to decompress with a book (I’ve got Hillary Clinton’s new one loading on my Kindle right now) and I politely turn down invitations to venture out into the world in favor of, um, my back porch and a glass of wine.

But I’m more comfortable there when my days are filled with tasks and to-do lists and deadlines.

This summer, I’ve had few deadlines and despite my best efforts, the ones I’ve created for myself have fizzled.

Quiet.

Two years ago, when Dad died, my mom was given the dark gift of time. She would sit and read hundreds of books by herself, flicking pages and wiping tears and I’d cook for her, angrily swatting at my grief gremlin, wondering when the hell would it be my turn to sit, and read, and cry?

The gremlin burrowed deeper into my pocket, nibbling as she went, saying she preferred to emerge in quiet.

I see why people are scared of silence.

We scramble to fill our time with other’s voices – of friends, of family, of bosses and self-help authors, and even literary characters. These outside forces demand a level of performance, perfection, and escape we can beat ourselves up until we attain.

This summer, others stopped talking and filling my time. My head got moving and my heart got gurgling and if I let them, both body parts pulled my grief gremlin up by the feathers on its head, out of my heart pocket, and into my hands.

“We’re ready” the head and the heart told the gremlin. They conspired to give me the quiet I needed.

This summer, while bosses were in Europe and mothers were out living again and husbands were out smacking softballs and swatting mosquitos, I sat and read and cried.

It was my turn. To sit and to process and let all of what I pushed down bubble up and ooze onto tissues while I ate dinner at the kitchen table by myself.

I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, but rather, perplexed by this huge open space. I’d shovel in stir-fry or noodles and look curiously at my heart holes. The voids of his missing mingling with all the remedies I’ve tried to use to fill my wound.

I keep thinking of Thomas in the Bible, when he doubts Jesus’ resurrection. I like to think Jesus takes Thomas’ hand and holds his fingers over his wounds.

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin,[a] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” – John 20:24-29

Jesus knows Thomas has to touch the scars to believe not only in the truth of Jesus’ power, but to have closure so he can move forward.

Jesus goes right in, tenderly saying to Thomas ‘I see how my pain caused you great pain. How my wounds have given you some too. The scars can heal. Touch them and see. And move forward.’

This summer, all this damn quiet has opened my wounds.

People are busy and instead the spirit is present.

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Photo by aaron staes on Unsplash

She holds my fingers over my scars, touching and tending and healing as I sit and read and cry.

Noise will come again. People return from Europe. Task lists and projects and deadlines will loom.

But for now, I sit quietly, smoothing beautiful skin and wiping my glistening eyes.

 

Isn’t Life Grand?

It was probably in the second month when we were in my clunky, blue car. I can’t remember where we were headed, but I was driving. Dylan was in the passenger seat and Mom sat in the back, folding her hunched shoulders over her knees. Her black rain coat covered her shrinking body and each time she sighed, the Gore-Tex material would crinkle along with her.

Waiting at the stop light at the intersection I glanced over my shoulder to look at her.

No tears in this moment, at least not yet.

“Claudia called today,” she mumbled.

“Oh yeah?” I responded, “What did she say?”

“Nothing much. There’s nothing to talk about with people. They keep asking me how it’s going and I just want to scream, ‘life sucks’. Nothing to talk about. Nothing to see.”

Her words were quick and full of bitterness. My muscles clenched.

“I get that,” I murmured.

The light turned green and we kept on going. Driving ourselves further into the muck of grief.

It gets worse before it gets better. And in our case, it got much, much worse.

Another three months later and she had a breakdown. In the king-sized bed with the plaid-checked comforter, where he used to lay next to her on vacation. Her tears would not stop. We brought in aunts and uncles and caring cousins and tried, half-heartedly to create a care plan.

Holistic practitioners scrawled solutions on pads of paper. Remedies of rest, tinctures and hemp oils to soothe a grieving heart. Nothing seemed to be working.

Brought in more medication. The western doctor said it best when he asked, “What helps the most?” and her answer, “red wine” got not a rebuff, but permission.

“Then drink a bit more of it” he said, “Right when you wake up.”

We hired a care-taker and continued to drive her around, always in the back seat, always in the rain coat. We’d stroke her hands and play soothing songs, tensing our aching hearts toward her when the songs prompted more tears, not less.

Sat in the dark. For months.

Watched the tears roll over and over down her cheeks. The drips of emotion puddling in worn jeans and wrinkles on her hands all the way down to her painted toes.

She knew she had to start moving those appendages. They were getting stiff.

Baby steps.

Two and a half years passed.

Some involving actual babies – a job at a daycare, a trip to Italy. Lots of therapy with said therapist.

Her black rain coat hangs in the closet now, above his hiking boots. It’s ready for the next storm, but no longer needed as a daily accessory.

She’s cooking again – real meals that taste good. Not just spaghetti with mush of tomatoes or toast with butter.  This time there’s lobster tails, and pasta with cream, and crunchy salads full of life.

Last night, we sat on the deck after dinner, and she relaxed back in her chair. Bending her torso back over the supportive seat, she ran her newly graying hair through her hands. She took a deep inhale – this one full of joy.

“Isn’t life grand?” she murmured.

The sauvignon blanc in her glass goblet glittered in the light, matching the twinkle in her eye. The one that returned.

 

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I wasn’t sure she would say such things again.

That life is grand.

Even without you.

That we are making it, and she is smiling, and we are no longer driving her around as she sits, waiting for something or someone, to move her out of the backseat.

 

August Favorite Things

There are hundreds of versions of this idea – what you put out into the universe is what you receive. I have a hard time with this concept. It feels too abstract for me. Then I think, ‘eesh, I don’t want to put abstract into the universe’ so I redirect. I want to radiate beauty, goodness, and kindness. I want to attract lifelong friends, lip smacking kisses and inspire viral blog posts into the universe.  I type those things here, and then I shrink. Hover over delete. It’s hard projecting what you want over the interwebs.

I’ve been reaching out to PR people and asking for money and contacting creators of podcasts and most of the time, I don’t hear back. That’s ok. I’ll keep trying. I believe when we share other’s brilliant work, they’ll lean in, give back, and be willing to share mine.

This month I’m sharing the work of some brave, creative people who are doing their thing. I’ve also got a tasty treat in the list, and a chance to give back to something bigger than you. Happy August.

August. Wow.

  1. Here for You Blog by Kellyn Shoecraft

I “met” Kellyn online when she bravely shared her work on the Modern Loss Facebook group board. She writes about her experience with loss, doodles brilliantly, and has found a way to channel her pain into helping others. I love her blog and her drawings which capture so perfectly the way I feel on my bad grief days. We’ve been emailing back and forth a bit about her post Angrief, which is so damn true. You can order Compassion Packages full of beautifully selected cards and gifts and a mix of practical things that are hard to buy for yourself when you are grieving. Think toilet paper, garbage bags, and gallon size freezer baggies for all of the breakfast burritos people send you when people die. A perfect gift for those of you who may be feeling “there are no words.”

2. Aaron Hill Photography

I met Aaron years ago when he was volunteering at the agency I worked for serving at-risk youth. His heart for the hurting led him to graduate school and he is now a social worker in the mental health field by day and takes photos by night. He has an eye for unique angles, golden-hour light, and magical moments in nature. We recently met up with him for a photo shoot and I can’t wait to see what he captured! If you are looking for an artist to work with to capture this stage of your life, he’s your guy. Why is he one of my favorites? He’s affordable, sensitive, sees people and believes we can change the world by how we treat one another. His work can be viewed here.

3. Dead Parent’s Society Podcast

You know what’s helpful? Knowing you are not alone! I came across this beautiful podcast on the Modern Loss Facebook Group post ( It’s helpful ok!) and I almost giggled in delight. One – there are enough people in this horrible club with me who have created a SOCIETY. Two- this group of WRITERS share their experience about loss in words, read their essays, and then talk about the work. I started listening to the episodes while I’m at the gym. Pounding my feet on treadmills and ellipticals I listen in to others words of loss, of hope, of recovery, of our the uncomfortable ache bubbling up when others speak of their dads freely. Pound. Pound. Pound. Yes. Yes. Yes. Grief is just as they describe. Listen in to this project out of Kelly Writers House and keep telling Jamie-Lee this project changes lives. It’s changed mine.
4. Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

Remember Nutella? This stuff is better! We filled up our backpacks with hiking treats back when we hiked a 14ner a few weeks ago and now I bought a stash of these packets for afternoon snacks. Spread the stuff on toast, eat with an apple, or just squeeze right into your mouth.

5. My brave friend Jenny

My brave, childhood friend Jenny Stoecker is working in Bangladesh with refugees with Medical Teams International. She’s been back and forth several times over the year and I am floored by the work she is called to. Every time I feel overwhelmed I think of the people she is living with, working with, walking with, and I’m brought back down – perspective makes a world of difference. The issues facing Bangladesh are large in scope, complex, and full of political implications. Helping people on a global scale is complicated. What’s not complicated? Giving what you can of your life to those in pain. Consider donating to her organization Medical Teams International here. 

I continue to be amazed by her willingness to travel, advocate, and show up for those hurting around the globe. Follow her gorgeous pictures here.

I know not all of us are called to global work. Some of us hear whispers of creativity, build buildings, or tell powerful stories to delight people in the towns we grew up in. You don’t have to cross the ocean to influence a life.

What matters most to me? What are you putting out into the universe? And how are you giving back? How is the universe showing up beautifully in your world?


P.S. – I’m in the middle of planning a trip to England and Paris – if you know of quaint, affordable places to stay please let me know!

A Very Merry Un-Birthday

“One’s unbirthday should not be confused with one’s half-birthday, which only occurs once a year.” – Wikipedia – Unbirthday

I had a roommate in college who cut hair. She wore dark clothes and lots of boots and was able to rock short hair in a way that would make my round head look, well, rounder. She dreamed of dropping out of our university to attend beauty school. Instead of studying she would spend nights in our co-ed house dying the hair of the boys who lived down the hall.

The boys would emerge from narrow hallways smelling of bleach. They’d strut towards us, proud of their new, burnt orange do’s while swooping their freshly cut bangs over their eyes with a vicious tilt of the head. Smooth.

I was dating one of those boys. He later became my husband.

I’d watch from the worn, scratchy couch across the way as this roommate would confidently wield her scissors, tucking clips in her layers of black, kind and sure of herself in a way I wished I could be. I was not sure of myself in college.

This roommate was also sure of celebrations and firmly believed in celebrating her half-birthday. ONLY her half-birthday. She and her mom would give halves of gifts and eat halves of cakes and celebrate making it another tilted trip around the sun. She hated her real birthday.

I liked this premise and tried to make it my own.

Over the next four years, I started acknowledging my half birthday too. I wasn’t ready to renounce my real birthday and chose to adopt another day of recognizing me. I’d shout to myself as my half-birthday approached and remind people I loved with text messages and emails. My loved ones didn’t get my obsessive need for celebration. Most ignored my cries for recognition – I’d survived another six months, so what? In most minds, my half-birthday was just another day. As Alice in Wonderland would say, just another un-birthday. We have 364 of them.

Not in my dad’s mind though. He was one of the only people who would follow my whims, get onboard my excited text message chains and holler “woo woo!” throwing a fist pump in the air as I urged others to come along.

Sometimes, I really just wanted to be seen.

He didn’t have to understand the why of my absurd claims, he would just start to play along.

Sunday was my half-birthday.

I texted my loved ones and whooped quietly in the morning and they responded limply. I ate half a muffin and would have tucked a candle in my homemade banana cake, but the waxy old sticks rolled missing in my drawers.

This year, in his absence, my half-birthday felt like an un-birthday and perhaps that’s ok.

I’ve been working on a running list of the many things we don’t do anymore as his bubble of absence grows and pops.

Half-birthdays turn to un-birthdays. Move air. Blow bubbles. Pop.

Vacation traditions fall flat.

Car caravans leave without our vehicles.

Lines fill at taco stands with feet in Chacos, not ours.

They’ll sleep in the valley, under the stars while we keep mending here instead.

Move air. Blow bubbles. Pop.

We no longer eat small bowls of vanilla ice cream.

I was in my garden this evening and saw this giant snail, carrying its home on its shoulders. My dog sniffed and sniffed, her breath blowing the cobwebs and dirt on this creature’s muddied shell.

I paused and I thought, “What is this snail carrying that protects, but no longer serves? What debris of home follows you, little snail, wherever you go? And what of me? The things I carry, my dirt, my dust, my joy turned to wispy webs of systems and traditions no longer serving a beautiful, bubble-filled heart.

A very merry unbirthday.

To me.