Grief

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

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.