Grief

Sleeping. Bag.

Two words. Packing. List.

I clicked on the link and scrolled, seeing all the usual suspects. Toothbrush, pajamas, jeans, clothes for yoga.

Then I stopped.

Two more words.

Sleeping bag.

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Photo by Spring Fed Images on Unsplash

Of course. One sleeps in a sleeping bag when they head to camp.

I never went to sleep away camp as a kid.

I went to week-long church camps and slept in cabins and bunk beds. I roasted s’mores, sang songs, and hated the group games.

Never, though, have I flown to another part of the country for a summer away.

I was too shy, too much of a home body, too little like Lindsey Lohan in the Parent Trap.

That’s going to change next week when I launch myself out of my comfort zone to head to Camp TDP – a camp experience specifically for grieving young adults. I should probably watch Hallie Parker and Annie James to prepare.

I’ll be leading a writing workshop using wordplay and other writers’ wisdom to bring words to our grief stories.

Me – standing in front of people – experimenting as I turn my pain into purpose to help other people tell their stories.

In conversations this week, people have been asking me where I’m going.

“I’m not really sure,” I respond. “I’m getting on a bus at the airport with other brilliant bereaved people and they’re taking me there.”

Yes, I have the address and the appropriate phone numbers and emergency contacts in my phone. Mostly, I’m trusting the process and willing myself to be an eager introvert in a typically extroverted space. In shaking hiking boots.

I also scanned the agenda seeking out other introverted activities. I keep imagining myself standing in the woods, nodding inward to my chubby inner eleven year old self. When I lift up my head, I’m 30 and competent and brave. I’ll bring my jeans, a Colorado flannel shirt, my Chacos and puffy vest for protection. And bug spray. Lots of bug spray.

Last week, I ran a dry-run of the workshop with a few friends here in my community. Walking them through exercises and listening to feedback made me nervous. Sharing our grief stories is tough work. It was also empowering – connection building makes my heart leap.

Inviting people into their pain requires vulnerability and risk. And I think….. I think…. I’m ready.

I’m ready to share my story out loud. I’m ready to use my talents to help others tune into their experiences. I’m ready to make awkward jokes, stumble over my words, and try something new. I need not be a polished professional to make an impact. What a beautiful thing.

Now to find the sleeping bag. Will that fit in a carry on?

Honey Bear Witness

We had a big weekend. The Buffs beat the Huskers and I screamed until my throat was as red as the sea of opponent fans sitting all around me.

Excuse me, who let the rivals into the CU section?

I painted again – another layer of fresh, clean, chalky white over the dark cabinet doors. Home improvement projects are not for the faint of heart.

Band practice filled our basement with loud beats and vibrating floors.

It was ordinary. Normal. Full of things we wanted to do and plans we put into place.

I sat to rest in our worn Lazy-Boy lounger on Sunday evening, and as the thunderclouds rolled in, I started to weep.

In the regular moments, at the end of busy days, the grief and fear and uncertainty of what comes next creep in.

In the stillness, his absence is there.

My overactive mind fills the space with what-ifs and how-to’s and qualifiers of my own doubt and the tiny tears fall.

And as the thunder clapped over my needing-replaced roof, I turned to my mess of a half-done kitchen.

I pulled on the paint-splattered bed sheet, tucking my renovation project in for the night.

I took out a cutting board and placed it on the granite. I palmed six green pears and moved their lizard-rough skin from one side of the kitchen to the other.

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One by one, I took a blade, slit the fruit open and transformed what was once one into two. Using a soup spoon, I dipped metal into the grainy flesh, carving out the seeds. Placed all six halves in a prepared baking pan and turned to take the honey bear from the cupboard.

As I drizzled the golden liquid onto the vulnerable fruit, I thought to myself, sometimes we have to be torn apart in order to transform.

Put the pears in the hot oven and baked for ten minutes. Structure softened. Heat broke down rigid boundaries and skin peeled.

After letting the fruit cool and honey pool, I stuffed the holes where the seeds once lived with gorgonzola cheese, letting the creamy blue melt with ease from the wafts of air leaving the pan.

Knives cut, innards scooped out, and golden nectar served witness to the transformation.

I’ve been cut, innards scooped out leaving so much room for beautiful things to bear witness. May I be full of things to help me transition with ease.

It may be silly to compare the preparation of pears and cheese to my growth as a human. But here it is.

I’ll keep letting the tears come, honoring the blade, and turning to the kitchen. My beautiful things.

Different than Paint on Plaster

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Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Searching through the piles of dirtied towels, blocks of sandpaper, and used Clorox wipes, I finally grasp the small metal paint key. I place its tiny lip into the rim of the quart sized can. With a flick of my wrist and a pop, off comes the lid. I place it on the old, yellowing bed-sheet splayed across the cool kitchen counter.

The thick white liquid sits in the quart sized can, bubbling up at me after being shaken in its tiny vessel. My movements blended and mixed the pigment meant to cover up dark cherry stain.

I catch myself staring as I stand at the small entrance to our kitchen, hips leaning sideways against the center island.

In just ten seconds, thoughts and memories bounce through my brain.

This is the same kitchen where we unpacked wedding gifts wrapped in parchment paper along with our young-married hopes and dreams. The same kitchen where we prepared my dad’s last meal – blood-red steak and garden salad and steaming baked potatoes with melty butter. He broke a red wine glass that evening – promised to buy me another one to complete the set.

There sit three goblet glasses still, the empty space signifying his presence in my same kitchen.

The same kitchen were I bake grief cookies and our friends and family gather for homemade pasta in remembrance of him. Other evenings we lift gin and tonics to the memory of our European adventures where we reclaimed pieces of ourselves on London’s city streets and in fields simmering with Spain’s sunshine.

The same kitchen where I’ll spoon feed a baby mashed carrots or pick up spaghetti thrown onto the floor by a child who has my dad’s eyes or curly hair.

This is a space not marked with trauma, but with comfort. With life-giving sustenance and floors with crumbs of recovery and laughter and places to lean when on the phone, chopping carrots or peeling back the layers of an onion. Paper plates and Crate and Barrel china and candles changing scents with the seasons.

I grab the wooden handle of the paintbrush off of the black granite and run the brushes bristles over my palms. Soft and soothing, a few strokes back and forth bring me back to the present.

I dip the bristles into the white and turn my wrist against the can’s rim, just like dad taught me, to remove the excess. I turn to face the wooden cabinets recently cleaned of layers of oil and grime and dust.

As I press my brush to the surface of the cabinet door I hear Dad whisper, “Remember to let your tools do the work for you.”

Moving paint on wood has a different feel than paint on plaster.

I’m not covering these doors up in the same way I did the basement.

This project is different.

Each stroke is empowering – I have a say and power in creating a space where I can be comforted and nourish others. I will delight in the light dancing off white cupboards. No more absorbing light into dark cherry stain.

What a beautiful thing.

Still Exposed

I sat in the cold office and stared at the posters on the wall across from me. I could feel wisps of cool air on my shoulders, ivory skin poking through the open-backed gown as I waited for an ordinary nurse to come and do an ordinary procedure.

A knock at the door brought my eyes back into focus and I traced my toes, still in socks, across the tile floor.

In walked a tall woman with kind eyes, her blond hair gathered tall on top of her elegant head.

She started asking me ordinary questions and then it happened again.

“Does this run in your family?” she asked with open eyes, her chin tilted up towards me.

“Yes,” I responded “but I can’t remember which kind.”

“Mhmm,” murmured the nurse “Well, it’s pretty common for dad’s not to share their medical histories with their kids.”

I paused. I had choices in this moment.

“More common for the dead ones not to share,” I thought to myself as I dug my gripping hands into my plastic chair.

“Yup, probably true,” I said, looking the nurse straight in the eyes.

Mouth shut, I could feel my jaw clench.

Poor girl – she doesn’t know. Better keep this one to myself. Breathe.

Boom!

Another grief bomb exploded at my feet and I gathered scratchy fabric around my thighs as I turned my face back towards the wall.

“Ready?” she asked.

I said yes and she began.

Shouldn’t they put this kind of information in your charts?

Dad dead. No father references please.

But that’s not how the medical system works and his blood and his health history influences mine.

So we move on. We go about our days.

This last week was full of birthday celebrations. The month of August is a big one for Huey men.

I planned dinners and boiled big pots of salted water to cook refrigerated ravioli.

Mom put candles in cannoli dribbled with chocolate chips and we sang along.

I hid gifts and revealed surprises inviting beautiful smiles of delight and excitement.

We walked through plazas holding hands and wiped at strawberry ice cream dribbling  out of their cones and onto our chins.

We took in a baseball game and bought new fan gear.

Ducked our heads into bars and sat to listen to the woman with radical hair and high-wasted pants sing tunes with soul.

We celebrated and we kept going about our days.

This is how it is now.

A beautiful mix of joy and celebration and plenty of encounters with clueless people who say seemingly innocent things because they don’t know.

I’m still exposed.

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Photo by Hadis Safari on Unsplash

I may never have it any other way.

Is that a beautiful thing?

For Sarver

I went to a show last night. We entered a big dark room filled with eager fans. I shuffled to claim my space and looked up to see rows of massive speakers suspended overhead. Lucky for me, my friends were keen to lean against the grubby wall with torn purple wall paper. How do you know you’re old at a concert? You wear tennis shoes for support and seek out hidden spaces to rest your legs already aching from eight hours at a standing desk.

As the singer screamed with passion, I nodded along in the back hiding from the rays of yellow flickering from the wands of light on stage.
It felt good to be in that room.

As the musicians emoted and the twenty-somethings jumped to the beat, I stood with my feet planted to the concrete floor. I swung my arms and let the intensity pulse through my body causing my knees to bend and shake. With each drum beat I absorbed the reverberations and welcomed, over and over again, the pounding reminder – I am beautifully alive.

There were times the audience’s screams of admiration caused me to plug my ears and I felt, once again, embarrassed to be an introvert in a loud space. I reminded myself it’s a radical act to care for oneself and while I left my ear plugs in the car, I pushed my hands to my head and my fingers in my ears. Sometimes, the noise and the darkness became too much.

While the band may not have been my first choice, they are my husband’s old favorite and I knew he was standing behind me, screaming well-known lyrics and smiling ear to ear.

This morning, my ears are ringing to prove it. I’ll never again get return to yesterday’s base level of hearing capabilities.

And this morning, I woke up and scrolled through my Facebook feed and found out again someone we knew, someone my brother loved, has died.

There is too much darkness haunting our young people. Hurting kids are turning to the wrong things to help ease their pain. And I swear to God it never gets easier to hear the truth that people we love will leave us. That one kind, searching kid just did.

Peace be with us.

We stand in darkness, there are flickering rays of light, and we bend and shake with the magnitude of our choices. We can lean on walls, hold hands, show up to support the ones we love. We can shake our heads and scream and pound and let the pulse move through us. And we can weep when people hurt.

A swirling mess of fog and noise and joy created in big, emotive sounds exists – this is what the world asks of us. I want to be affected. I refuse to go numb.

For we are still alive and we can choose to move toward the light.

If you know someone who is struggling, reach out.

If you are fighting demons, get help.

I want the pulse and the verve to continue on through me and through you. Lean on walls if you must. I want your ears to continue to hear the beautiful music. Please continue to live loudly. To see beauty. To run towards the flickering light mixing with the screeching feedback. Get on stage and help find your voice to sing.  I’ll be with you to help plug your ears when it all feels to much.

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.

In Denial

I got an email from Nordstrom Rack this week. A classic promotion and the subject line read, “Which type is your dad?”

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A dead one – I thought to myself.

Oy

I wanted to send of a snarky reply but I didn’t.

Sometimes it’s easier to keep those little remarks to yourself. Advertisers are not often in the business of being sensitive to these kind of pain points.

Here we are. Another calendar year rolled by and I find myself clicking delete on promotions in my email, in the accounts I manage, and ignoring blatant ads on social media.

These Father’s Day triggers are everywhere.

After reading some of the pieces I published last year on the holiday I realized I’m at year number four, not three, of this holiday without him.

Four seems so much bigger than three.

You can ask the toddlers who have become bigger children in his absence.

I’m in Father’s Day denial. I was hoping to keep it at an arms distance.

But Nordstrom and Macy’s and Apple and even Starbucks are telling me I better prepare.

Sigh. Deeeeeeeeep sighs.

I’m missing him and breathing in his scent found in the hot popcorn popped fresh at the hardware store. I finger his sweatshirts hanging in my closet, next to my work blazers reminding me of how his fibers felt when brushed against him as I rushed out the door.

I’m in denial this year and so I turn my attention here. To the …

White walls painted fresh in a completed basement.

Slices of crisp dill pickle on dry crumbly bread.

Ham spread with mayo, no Minnesota butter to be found.

Small floating bubbles in spritzer.

Peas sprouting up in the garden.

Translucent squirts of lemon juice easing their way down into glasses full of cool water.

Coffee beans grinding.

Fitness instructors reminding me to tend to my back.

Encouragement from bosses.

Kisses on the cheek with an old friend. The ones who knew him too.

Red lipstick marks on coffee cups.

Baby Opal just one miraculous week old.

Maintained eye brows.

Dinners with grandmas and aunts and mother-in-laws.

Lottery tickets scratched clean.

These are the beautiful things this week is made of. And I’m focusing on them instead.