Grief

Frisee and Calloused Skin

I’ve been sitting on my hands. Have you ever tried to walk forward while your arms are pinned under your seat? It’s impossible. In order for your butt to literally move forward, you have to have your hands at your side.

For the last three years, my fists have been clenched. They’ve stayed under me, or in my lap, warped fingers holding in the hurt of grief and the negative self-talk of not-quite-good enough to get over this enormous thing that happened to us.

While caring people have been helping me unfurl my fingers wound tight, I’ve been sitting, still on pause. Waiting for news, waiting for opportunity for my husband, waiting for the next shoe to drop. If my hands are balled tight, I can punch the next bout of pain away.

While poised to punch, I’ve been missing out. I know, last month I wrote a long list of steps I’ve planned and the lists of living accomplishments I’m hoping to step into this year. It’s easy to run away and retreat in the mountains and to seek companionship with crashing waves and old friends over steaming mugs and stormy skies.

What’s been harder for me is learning how to be me in my community – the one I grew up in, the one that shaped me, the one where we lost him and I still remain.

I started my career in nonprofit development. I’ve learned, oddly enough, I love raising money. I’m good at making funds flow in by telling stories to tug heart strings and change lives. Social work matters to me. And since Dad’s death, I had to step away from philanthropy. This morning, after three years out of that scene, I drove to a fundraising luncheon with the ladies who lunch. I read a book in my car as I waited – I had arrived fifteen minutes early. Chit-chat be damned – I was hiding as long as I could.

The minutes ticked as I turned pages and finally, I put on red lipstick matching my heels and walked into the grand ballroom. I scanned the crowd behind my big sunglasses and searched for my “before people” – the ones who knew me pre-death. I avoided eye contact with a few and found a comfortable seat with old friends in the distance.

I asked the networking questions and I ate my plate of greens (Really people, frisee should be forbidden from public lunches. How do you get all those loose fronds in your mouth without looking like a fool?)

peter-feghali-110596-unsplash.jpg

I watched as the videos scrolled and participants shared their stories of change. I got out my checkbook and I made a donation. I felt my fingers move from under my booty to my sides – thankful for my current job and it’s ability to give me a few extra dollars to donate to cause I believe in.

I felt a part of something bigger than me.

This question of fit has been with me for awhile now, taunting asks of ‘How do I stay and grow in a place I’ve lived in for thirty years when I feel and act so differently?’ When I posed this question to my mom, she responded, “Katie, I’ve had four lives in the 30 years we’ve lived here. You can be new here too.”

One need not move across the country to step into freshly grown skin.

Grief rips up your carefully calloused skin. The questions you ask and the tears you cry scrub away dead layers of you-ness previously known to others. In this excruciating process you grow beautifully precious and painfully raw skin.

I’m out in public again, giving money rather than raising it. I’m protective of this fragile layer of self-defense and take care to honor my newness. I’m trying re-entry and writing checks. When I catch myself clenching, I smile and relax my hands, putting them once again at my side.

I face my palms open, ready to receive, pause and then I stand.

What a beautiful thing.

Advertisements

Twenty Things I Learned in My Twenties

charles-etoroma-374017-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

Today I turn 30. The ‘big birthday.’ When I started this blog I was 23, unmarried, and unanchored. A lot has changed in the last seven years and I’m eager to see what the next decade brings. Thank you, dear readers, for watching me grow up.

Reflection brings its own kind of wisdom and before I dance into the next new decade, I’m sharing my love letter of lessons I’ve learned about myself in the last ten years. Enjoy.

  1. Career may not fulfill your soul.
    I spent my early twenties bouncing from job to job searching for the perfect fit. I had nine jobs in ten years. There will be conflict at work. There will be days that feel tedious and boring. It is important to find people you can learn from and environments to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s ok to make a switch, and ok to fail. At least you tried. There’s more to your worth than what you do from 9-5.
  2. Ask for that raise sooner than later. 
    You’re worth it. Practice negotiating and communicating how your skills bring organizations different value. It takes practice and it pays off. The least they can say is no, not right now.
  3. New paint makes a big difference.
    Make your spaces your own. Your house can be a reflection of you. Paint is affordable and it takes just a few hours to reclaim space for rest and rejuvenation.
  4. Planning a wedding is fun. Planning for marriage is improbable.
    I got engaged at the age of twenty three and walked down the aisle at age twenty five. That was young. We did marriage counseling, had dated for six years, and talked about many things. We weren’t prepared for how unemployment, unexpected death, and financial uncertainty would change and shape our young marriage. You can’t plan for all of the scenarios. You can, however, pick a partner who will fight for you and hold your hand when things fall apart.
  5. Pick up those shoes.
    Really, I leave them all over the house. Weekly shoe round-ups should be a thing. I’m messy. Tough.
  6. People will die.
    Yes, your people. They will die. Before your heart is ready with things left unchecked on bucket lists and words left unsaid. This is the worst truth of the universe. Surviving the death of my dad has rearranged me leaving gaps for compassion, empathy, and tears. Death sucks. Grief sucks. People die. It sucks so frickin’ bad.
  7. Say I love you every chance you get.
    The last time I saw my dad, he left my house without me saying good-bye. I just assumed I’d see him the next day. I didn’t say ‘I love you’ and I regret that. Life is short. Tell people how much you love them every chance you get.
  8. Friendships change.
    As you grow and change, so will your friends. Give others grace, stand up at weddings, cheer when they announce they are going to have a baby. Honor the space of sadness when the people you could always count on don’t respond as much as you’d like. Hold space for new relationships. Be the friend you want to have.
  9. Metabolism slows.
    Damn. Buy bigger-sized pants. Eat a few less french fries. Get back to the gym and love your body.
  10. Stop resisting when they offer to do the dishes.
    For a long time, I’d be mortified when my mother-in-law would do my dishes. It made me feel like a horrible host. She’s not silently commenting on the state of the kitchen. She’s instead using her gifts and sharing her time. People will show you their love in all kinds of ways. Stop resisting and say thank you.
  11. Having a dog is beneficial.
    They’ll pee on the carpet and destroy a few of your favorite things. But the little creature will warm your heart, absorb your tears, and take up space on the bed when you’re cold. Eye contact with an animal will soften your soul.
  12. Get a few stamps in your passport.
    Planning a trip and traveling abroad will give you confidence and joy in unimaginable ways. Gelato in Paris is delicious. Kidney pie in London is not.
  13. Graduate from an amaretto sour.
    Try different alcoholic drinks and explore how your tastes evolve. Know a few classic cocktails to ask for in a bar. When you order a shot of Fireball with your brother’s friends, they will laugh at you. Don’t let shame shape your choices. It’s ok to like what you like.
  14. Softball is not fun.
    I’d just rather not spend my summer evenings on the ball field. Practice saying no to the things that don’t bring you joy so you can say yes to the things that make your heart beat a little faster.
  15. I’m sensitive. So be it.
    My awareness of others suffering is a gift, not a weakness. Refuse to let others squash the sensitivity out of you. Continue to give the homeless woman a granola bar, make donations to charity, and cry at the news.
  16. People want to read these words.
    I must believe this every time I click publish. Your voice matters and you have every right to share your thoughts. Not everyone will resonate and likes and comments don’t qualify my words as worthy. Keep typing. It doesn’t have to make you money … though that would be nice.
  17. Family is complicated.
    It gets tricky when pain trickles through long-standing relationships. Keep trying. Keep praying. God’s grace can fix holes in family tapestries. Where we come from matters. Hold onto the good stuff, let go of the crap.
  18. You can take care of yourself.
    Of course I want others to take care of me. Bring me soup, vacuum the dirty carpet, offer tissues for the mountains of snot grief creates – yes please. More empowering though? Learning how to care for myself. Take space to sit and be sad. Invest in good shoes, honor your body with clothes that fit, and pay for a therapist to help process. Accepting help is self-care. Putting things in place to meet my own needs – even better.
  19. Money is a tool – let it flow.
    While I prefer to sit on my savings account for fear of not enough, I’m learning money is a tool for joy. Using funds responsibly can create positive, life-changing experiences. Travel. Save for the car. Get a haircut. Sponsor a child. Trust you have the capability to make more money and believe God provides.
  20. Hope lives in the relentless search for beauty.
    The gifts God gives are in the small and ordinary. Keep seeking good and you will find beauty. Clean water, fresh flowers, a kiss on the nose. Bubbles in sparkling wine, puppy breath, baby toes. Suffering and beauty co-exist. We won’t live in a world without both.

It Started with Stand-Up

It started with a stand-up comedy routine. This one to be exact.

We’ve been watching it on repeat at our house. Sarah’s routine sparked important conversation for Dylan and me. After watching a few times, I found myself wondering, ‘Yeah! Do I contribute to the problem of men feeling like they’re losing their voice?’ There needs to be space for men to make plans and pay for dinner.

This is a BIG feminist discussion and I don’t have an answer to the mystery of emasculation in our culture. I tend to think it’s not q.u.i.t.e. my problem if men who’ve historically made bad decisions are feeling crushed by powerful women.

Both men and women have different strengths. I believe feminine and masculine traits live in all of us. How these traits are lived out has a lot to do with our culture, and the media, and the muddied messages of chivalry, independence, patriarchy, and equality.

It is my problem, however, when my husband is holding back because I overpower his voice and poo-poo his plans.

So, on Friday night, after starting a text thread asking how he wanted to spend our evening, I had to consider my silencing. He suggested, ‘let’s go out, get a drink, listen to some jazz.’ I stifled the urge to say ‘shoot, I was hoping for Mrs. Maisel and a glass of white wine while wearing pajamas.’

He had made a plan.

I shushed my impulse to lounge and instead I blew dry my hair, put on some red lipstick, and set out for an evening of saxophone and cocktails.

As we walked down the stairs to the basement bar, I whispered to myself, ‘I’m tired of being afraid of living.’ I think we both are. We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for a while – waiting on news, waiting on opportunities, living in the just-a-little-longers. Grief tends to rip the plans right out of you.

So for this year, I’m going about living boldly and holding space for the rising tides bringing us back to shore again. I’ve booked a birthday trip to the mountains, am headed to Portland to see an old friend, and am carving out space to fashion a book out of these posts. He’s going to fix up a car, draft some buildings and learn new software. Together we’ll tackle our ugly basement, paint some cabinets, and build a website.

We’re going to get up off the couch and hold hands as we step into jazz clubs, letting brushes on drums and stand-up bass bolster us up.

We’re making plans again. What a beautiful thing.

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.

Screen Shot 2019-01-06 at 6.46.41 PM.png

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.

In Two Places at Once

I live about an hour and a half from the state border. If I wanted to, I could get in my car and drive north up to the big state sign and pull over to park. After zipping up my jacket and protecting my ears, I could exit the car and stand right next to the highway marker where miles are named zero.  I could turn to the west and widen my stance and strategically place one foot proudly in Colorado while the other foot could stamp down and stake claim territory in Wyoming.

co

One could be in two places at once.

This is holiday season number three without Dad and I’m finding myself in there – in two places all at the same time.

I’m living with more joy. I eagerly completed my Christmas card and mailed them this week (I’ve got ten left if you want one). I bought spontaneous tickets to White Christmas at the Performing Arts Center. We made penguin cookies with frosted snow and sparkle dust.  I’m going to The Nutcracker, making lists for gifts, and decorating the house cheerfully.

In each of these traditions and activities, though, exists the sting of grief, the remnants of loss, and the gluing back together of the places that broke when he died.

For Christmas cards, how do you address an envelope? With peoples names who live in that household, leaving one very important one out because he doesn’t live there anymore? It’s safer to lump and title the envelope ‘the xxx family’.

In a dark performance hall you notice the stranger sitting next to you and as his arm brushes your shoulder you think, ‘huh that fabric is scratchier than dad’s coat.’ If you lean your head on this man’s shoulder, you’re gonna get an uncomfortable look and a talking to.

Dylan stands on the ladder helping wrap the garlands at Mom’s house rather than Dad. Pecan crescents are missing from the fridge because really those are gross and no one would eat them but Dad.

I’m present and happy and festive. I’m also sad and aching and have room for the light that Christ promises he brings during this advent season.

I’m in two places at once and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

PS – don’t forget to enter the Give Light Giveaway. This year, it’s super easy to enter.

November 2018 – Favorite Things

We’ve raked leaves the past few weekends and we have two feet of the little guys crunching down into our garden bed for winter. My hands have blisters, we’ve taken trips to Lowes, and our new leaf blower is getting a work out. I fear I will have to rake again this weekend. Halloween is over and Starbucks releases their infamous Red Cups tomorrow.  Notice how I mark the passing of time with Starbucks beverages? Apparently, I’m not the only one as I came across this countdown yesterday.

I feel ready to think about the holidays, perhaps earlier than my usual self, and am starting to dream of snow, hot cocoa, and seasonal things. I usually wait until Thanksgiving to indulge in festivities, but this year feels different.

As we wait for December, here are some favorite things that are taking up space in my heart and my closet.

  1. Jag Jeans

When I first saw these pull-on jeans I started laughing. On the rack, they look like maternity pants. However, after a friends recommendation, I tried some on and on me, a person, they became the most comfortable pants I now own. So take them off the hanger, or just take my word for it, and buy a pair of black, comfort jeans in your size.

2. Pink Lipstick

I bought some frosty pink lipstick for my Halloween costume – Samantha from Sixteen Candles – and I actually kinda like it. The 80’s are coming back right? Can I wear it to work?

3. Hot Apple Cider with Brandy in it.

As the nights get colder, it’s nice to sit and sip by the fire. If you want to get fancy you can add spices, like this recipe here, but honestly I just mix the two simple ingredients. Serve in mugs like this.

4.  We were GIFTED a dishwasher.

Sometimes God answers prayers in mysterious ways. I have been praying to see God’s provision in my life because most of the time I have a hard time trusting it’s going to come. And then, boooooom, we were gifted a brand new (ok, two year old, but still) dishwasher.

God is present, listening, comforting, active, joy.

I had a conversation with a friend who told me, “God always comes in joy and peace.” Not shame, not fear, not feelings of inadequacy. Joy. and. Peace.

And dishwashers.

5. This blurb someone posted on Facebook.

I always fall asleep during Lord of the Rings, but this metaphor makes sense to me. I dream of turning into Pippin and Merry.

“My mother once told me that trauma is like Lord of the Rings. You go through this crazy, life-altering thing that almost kills you (like say having to drop the one ring into Mount Doom), and that thing by definition cannot possibly be understood by someone who hasn’t gone through it. They can sympathize sure, but they’ll never really know, and more than likely they’ll expect you to move on from the thing fairly quickly. And they can’t be blamed, people are just like that, but that’s not how it works.

Some lucky people are like Sam. They can go straight home, get married, have a whole bunch of curly headed Hobbit babies and pick up their gardening right where they left off, content to forget the whole thing and live out their days in peace. Lots of people however, are like Frodo, and they don’t come home the same person they were when they left, and everything is more horrible and more hard then it ever was before. The old wounds sting and the ghost of the weight of the one ring still weighs heavy on their minds, and they don’t fit in at home anymore, so they get on boats go sailing away to the Undying West to look for the sort of peace that can only come from within. Frodos can’t cope, and most of us are Frodos when we start out.

But if we move past the urge to hide or lash out, my mother always told me, we can become Pippin and Merry. They never ignored what had happened to them, but they were malleable and receptive to change. They became civic leaders and great storytellers; they we able to turn all that fear and anger and grief into narratives that others could delight in and learn from, and they used the skills they had learned in battle to protect their homeland. They were fortified by what had happened to them, they wore it like armor and used it to their advantage.

It is our trauma that turns us into guardians, my mother told me, it is suffering that strengthens our skin and softens our hearts, and if we learn to live with the ghosts of what had been done to us, we just may be able to save others from the same fate.”

S.T. Gibson

In an effort to turn my grief into narrative, or at least take away the stigma, I’ve joined The Dinner Party to raise money for their end of year campaign. Can you help me reach my goal of $500 to support grief groups for 20-30 somethings who have experienced loss? People like me?

All funds raised go towards their goal of $75,000 to match hundreds of folks to tables across the country as well as awareness events and public campaigns.

Donate here and spread the word.

 

Just a little more sparkly …

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about my experience with my mountain top metaphor. I’m a Colorado girl so the physical overcoming of rocks and stones makes a lot of sense when we connect the image to our challenges in life.

For snobby, Colorado me, the metaphor feels a bit, well, overdone. I get it. The smell of the pines, the crunching stones on a dirt trail – idyllic – but I’ve lived the mountain ups and downs for a long time. I haven’t lived the ‘shouting from rooftops’ metaphor or the ‘view from the top of church staircases’ or ‘tripping on cobblestone’ or ‘lessons found when getting lost in London’s alleys’ metaphors.

I’m not a very big risk taker and the hills and valleys in my backyard were spiritually working for a long time. Until they weren’t.

Deep breath – here it is – I’m tired of mountains. I needed a change of scenery.

This year, the bravest thing I’ve done was plan a two week vacation to places I’ve wanted to go since I was a teenager. I knew I needed respite and took baby steps to see if maybe, magically, we could make a dream come true. I made lists and price comparisons, read blogs about places to see and interviewed seasoned traveler friends for their advice.

I asked my boss for two weeks out of the office. He agreed.

Then, I bought plane tickets.

Then, I waited for weeks.

Dare I take another courageous step? Did I believe I could invest in me and the universe wouldn’t retaliate?

With each planning step my palms would sweat. Every time I clicked purchase on a hotel reservation, or a show I wanted to attend, my heart beat loudly in my nervous chest. I wrote about my fears and my doubts and all the reasons why chasing this dream could be halted. I was sure, if I left, someone else would die or need me back at home. An unhealthy pattern, yes. A pattern that my friends in grief group nod along to when I voice – ‘I’m just scared of who is going to go next.’

Time passed. I prayed. I planned. I clicked purchase. I made an itinerary on Google and copies of our passports. We bought luggage, we packed, and eventually we boarded a plane.

Nine hours later, a conversation with a nice lady at Passport control, and we walked out the airport doors and into the English air.

A dream came true and we made it happen. A beautiful thing.

I have lots of stories about our trip and much like Dylan is editing the 700 photos he took on his DSLR, I’m still processing the lessons I learned over there. I’ve waited to share here because one little post seemed inadequate to capture the joy found in exploring museums, churches, magical places with cones of rose-shaped gelato in our hands.

So here goes.

There are a lot of stairs in Paris. Stairs in the subway stations, in the art galleries, in the lines of the tourist destinations. They seemed to be everywhere. Just like the stairs of life. Sometimes, we fall down them. Then we get back up and keep asking, ‘what can I see at the top?’

On a Thursday night, Dylan and I climbed stairs to the 6th floor of a big building hoping to see some modern art. We went to late night hours and found ourselves gazing out at this view instead. A little different the tops of mountains I’m used to.

The things we’ve overcome to stand on this rooftop! I was moved to tears.

IMG_7128

Beautiful tears for the past, for the new memories made we won’t share with my dad as we debrief at home, for the pure joy that comes from believing my own dreams are worth pursuing. Beauty found in the power of listening to the little voice inside my heart that said, ‘you are worth it, go explore. These people you love will be ok.’

The people I love, they were ok. We were too. More than ok.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

– 1 Peter 5:10

From under the lights of the Paris skyline, to the sides of the Thames river my heart soared in places unfamiliar. I kept saying to Dylan, “I feel so ALIVE here.”

Every time we walked in a plaza, sat in a beautiful garden, slurped onion soup at a sidewalk cafe, I would whisper thanks. In Europe, 7,000 miles from home, I couldn’t believe how far we had come in our restoration journey. God brought us there, at the steps of these famous, picturesque places. With my ability to trust and release my paranoid control of the lives of my loved ones, I stood at the foot of Notre Dame, saw the London Eye, visited Queen Elizabeth’s home, and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle up from the top of a building, dazzling in glow of Parisian light.

Travel was balm to big wounds, the scabby heart ones still grazing my grasping fingers each day. I’ve been home two weeks and continue to integrate these new experiences. I’m realizing all over again I can heal and hurt and delight all at once.

Perspective from any kind of higher ground is a beautiful thing. The metaphor is just a little more sparkly in Paris.