healing

Smeared

The smears are a pretty common occurrence.

Slivers of chocolate fall from a crinkled piece of plastic holding my breakfast onto my pants. Oats and nuts crumble and the binding cocoa leaves little trails on my hands and my jeans as I drive in to work. If I move fast enough, I can lick up the evidence.

If not, like most mornings, I walk into the office with a little chocolate stain on my jacket or dark denim pants. Does breakfast count if it’s covered in chocolate? I like to think so. KIND bars probably does too.

I’ve been thinking about those smears and the lingering they represent. How a messy  bite of joy on a busy morning lingers, integrating itself into the fabric of my clothes, the upholstery in my car, and at times my husbands jacket as I reach to correct his uneven coat collar from the passenger seat.

Sure, we could look and just see a stain. A nuisance, a frustrating something I’ll have to clean again. Yet, the frequency of the marks have turned into something for me to ponder. I don’t want to live without the marks of joy for we move along to the next thing fast enough.

I woke this morning feeling sad. My gremlin arrived yesterday, hopping from granite counter top to the new ceramic backsplash my father-in-law so lovingly installed in our kitchen. With each application of gray, wet grout, the little grief monster bounced and caused me to remember, “Yes, here we go again. Making progress without him.”

Just before, we had removed the spacers placed to hold it all together. I took a metal trowel in my hand, dipping over and over again into the sludge of prepared cement and smeared the wet to fill in the intentionally designed gaps.

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Every time the trowel met the wall, my little grief monster bounced, calling me to remember, “Yes, here we go again. Making progress without him.”

When my in-laws left, I sat at the kitchen table looking at our project. Taking a deep breath I mumbled to my husband across the room, “These projects sure make me miss him.”

A few tears fell, smearing day-old mascara around my tired eyes.

The pigment left dribbles on my cheeks as they fell, once again, onto my jeans. Another perceived stain on skin and fabric meant to be cleaned up. I stood and stepped up soft stairs and went about writing an ordinary grocery list.

There are smears – of joy, of sadness, of instant gratitude in the crinkling requirements of life. I’ve used my fingers to caress away, wipe, and lick at the morsels that fall. There will always be something to clean.

What if we let the smear stay a little longer and ask ourselves to move a little slower? What could happen then?

I’m thankful for the beauty of chunks of dark chocolate mixing with fruit and nuts. Beauty in tired mascara as it meets salty tears. Beauty in remembering and the smear of anticipatory emotion. Beauty in the ache of wishing he, too, could use his artisan hands to create in my house. We took cement and smeared it over the kitchen sink where he broke a wine glass the last time we had dinner together.

The smears set. They are radiating beauty. Come on over to my kitchen. I’ll show you what I’m talking about.

No More Braces

A few weeks ago I found my notebook from January 2016.

In black ink, I had listed the things I was hoping for in the empty pages of a new year.

I had just started a dream job. There were 363 days to fill with goals and books and friends and growth opportunities.

In March of that year, my optimistic self was whacked to the knees with loss.

My world contracted and my goals mixed with tears in a confusing, sloshing slurry.

I threw out my resolutions and sat and stared at walls. 

Recently, I sat in my dark basement reading my old words, my heart ached for my younger self. Ambitious. Hopeful. Unscathed by the flickering cold flames of loss.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my previous positive outlook. Foolish for hoping in a hurting world.

‘Silly girl, you didn’t know what was coming,’ the bad voices said. I knew it was bad out there – it just wasn’t bad for me. Not yet.

I can now see I did, in fact, fill 2016 with books and I learned about my friendships and I grew tremendously – just not in the ways I expected. Grief tore things, and stretched, and re-arranged my definitions of success.

As the sun set and rose on repeat, I’ve welcomed four more January 1sts. At the start of each year, I’ve made lists to direct my efforts, and set goals to move myself into new places. I carried forth optimism and an appreciation for aesthetics. Yet, even with my devotion to hope, I moved with clenched fists and braced myself for more.

For resolutions were my buffers and achievements were my shields. Chinks in armor. If I do enough, then this won’t happen again.


When I was a toddler, I had to wear braces so I could learn to walk. I don’t remember much of the plastic structures that covered my ankles and went up my tiny calves into Keds sized large to accommodate the extra support. I have one blurry memory of blue gymnastic mats and afternoon light as I put heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe across the room towards the voice of a physical therapist.

The braces gave me support, structure, and a permanent bend in my big toes.

They also, eventually, got to come off.

In my grieving, my braces – preservation and structure – have looked and sounded like many things.

… isolation

… no-thank you’s to invitations

… doubts and fears and the I couldn’ts, I shouldn’ts because walking without leaves one wobbling

… I’m not ready, yets

Some were healthy. Others I’ve outgrown. As a result of the spiritual supports, I’ve got a permanent bend in me now – a wound – a wonder – a missing.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – SemiSonic

I sat under bad lighting at an oak kitchen table in a cabin in the woods as December turned to January in one minutes time. A decade slipped from one to the other in a split second.  There was no Ryan Seacrest and my young cousins had never heard of Dick Clark. No confetti. Just falling snow and the flick of a switch and we arrived.

Scrolling with my thumbs, I missed the moment the ball dropped. Two minutes into the new year I turned to kiss my husband on his forehead.

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Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

This year, I’m removing my braces of fear and of worry. I’m kicking aside the lie that accomplishment protects me from all that could be coming round the corner.

There’s a voice calling me to keep at it.

I’ll be seeking the magic and believing in the good.

I won’t be ashamed to hope. I’ve just learned to carry my humanity differently.

I’m moving heel to toe, heel to toe, tentatively in the new year, with my braces kicked to the side of the room. What a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Reach(ed)

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Photo by Slawek K on Unsplash

My word for 2019 was reach.

As the old dictionary says, there are many definitions and just as many applications of those five letters.

  • to make a stretch, as with the hand or arm.
  • to become outstretched, as the hand or arm.
  • to make a movement or effort as if to touch or seize something:to reach for a weapon.
  • to extend in operation or effect:power that reaches throughout the land.
  • to stretch in space; extend in direction, length, distance, etc.

This time last year I was hoping to put myself “out there” again. To stop retreating and re-enter the world in ways that would stretch me and help me touch new things, arrive in new places, and make bigger impacts.

With my word in mind, I started to live differently.

I walked into new networking meetings and said hellos.

I boarded planes to the mid-west and slept on plastic mattresses or in single hotel rooms as a solo traveler.

I led grieving individuals in workshops with words.

I asked for a desk chair.

I learned to put my own words to my needs with trembling hands.

I said yes more and swatted at my fears.

I stretched my stamina and extended my efforts and tried new things.

I had a good year.

What if, however, my reaching was instead grasping and my attempts to stretch were pushes (to press or urge to some action or course)? I was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, pushing myself to take up space, pushing myself to live again when parts of me still feel the pins and needles of coming awake after loss makes your limbs turn to dead weight.

My kind yoga instructor often walks around her studio and places her warm palms on my shoulders, reminding me to relax the shell of protection I’ve created as my muscles inch closer to my ears. As we move our limbs into the next posture, she returns, same palms on the small of my back inching me closer to the floor in a forward fold.

Pushing would suggest success. A clear tick mark in the empty box.

You can’t push past pain to get release. You have to ease into it.

In recovery programs, people repeat “progress, not perfection.”

This year, I made space, I stretched, and I extended.

I made progress. I did not arrive.

I reached.

Our society waits at the end of that sentence and in the pause asks, “For what?”

At the end of this year, I’m still not sure.

Awakening wasn’t found in my accomplishments. Emptiness still lingers in my limbs and my ever-tight hips suggest I still have work to do. Healing isn’t found in over-extension. I’m still easing into my pain.

Deep breaths expand my life force lungs. I learned in my reaching, I’m still here.

Push, grasp, reach.

Move, hope, release.

The journey continues. What a beautiful thing.

Six, Quarter-inch, Dark Blue Lines

Turning my head tenderly to the left, I glanced at them in the mirror through the steam.

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Six, quarter-inch, dark blue stitches are pulling my skin together.

The nylon threads forcefully merge two sides left from the removal of a minor something. A something, they said, that could be a bigger something if neglected.

I’m now missing a crescent of seemingly dangerous freckles transferred to my back with a kiss from the sun while coaching tennis in the summer months.

Skin pulled taught, knotted tendrils, and a wound remain.

The incision looks badass, sure, and more importantly has the power to make me woozy with the application of band-aids, vaseline, and tape. What we survive is nauseatingly awe-inspiring – how we breath through required work of tending our healing is beyond me.

I spent this weekend moving slowly, rising from chair, lowering to couch, and still lower to my bed. Each move felt tender and heavy, the pressure from pulling skin reminding me of the work it takes to bring things forever changed back together again.

In the days and months after losing my dad I wrote a lot about unraveling. I wrote about how a significant chord had been cut when he left this world.

Someone was perched at the edge, throwing my big ball of yarn I’d worked so hard to gather down the stairs without asking for my permission.

Bounce – there went our jobs.
Bounce – there went big relationships.
Bounce – there went holidays, and traditions, and the layer of security when both parents are accessible by phone.
So, I wrote about tapestries and embroidery and threads to help me finger the loss and the holes and the missing pieces. I snarled at the snaggles, and left the yarn running through my house without energy, limp, and ready to be played with by whomever treaded by. Who cares? It was all unraveled anyway.

I never gave much thought to the attempts at assembly we’ve been doing until I sat in a sterile room wearing a patterned robe with my back exposed and numb. In a quick out-patient procedure someone had poked me with a thread and a needle and literally sewed me back together again.

They finished the procedure, and I sat up. I asked for a glass of water and the nurse, noting my color, gave me a small can of orange juice instead.  I sipped and I listened and noted the irony found in the hopes of sugar used to calm my shaking hands.

“The best thing you can do is lay right on your back on the floor,” instructed the RN who was younger than me. “Perhaps lay on a bag of frozen peas.”

“Right on my back?” I asked with big eyes. “Isn’t that going to hurt?”

“At first,” she responded, “but the pressure will help you heal.”

In year one – I was entirely focused on the dark, oozing hole left from the quick snip of his exit.

In year two – there was immense pressure. I laid on my back for hours, staring at ceilings, at walls, at the spaces in between. The pain of grief is unbearable and confusing. You need Tylenol Extra Strength and tissues and healing ointment in various forms.

In year three – I’m learning something greater than me has started stitching again on my body, my heart, my life. With my participation, we’re bringing things together again to fuse what is left over the hole.

I’m approaching year four and I’m noticing … my scar is fucking huge.
But I am healing. What a beautiful thing.

Changed A Life This Year

I’m inviting you to stop and think about just one thing that changed your life for the better this year. When I sit and ponder here’s one that comes to mind for me.

In September, I boarded a plane after a nine hour delay to join 100 young grieving adults. I had the opportunity to lead a writing workshop with The Dinner Party, a national organization who builds community for 20 and 30 somethings and mostly, I was terrified.

If grief makes you uncomfortable feel free to skip ahead. (I’m going to ask for your help)

If not, keep going …

I was absolutely floored by the beautiful, brave people who showed up despite terrible things happening in their young adult lives. People read obituaries, shared funny stories, and built altars in honor of loved ones.  We drank wine and toasted and sang songs and I found myself, for the first time, in a group of twenty five others who lost their dads.
When I shared my experiences, I was met with affirming mhmms and head nods rather than blank stares. While I have been attending a grief support table for two years now, this was the first experience I had where I felt completely welcome in my grief. I’ve known in my head I wasn’t alone. These people helped me feel less alone in my heart. You can read more about my experience here.

If you jumped ahead, pick up here:
Welcome back. This year I’m increasing my fundraising goal for The Dinner Party and am hoping to help raise $1,000 as TDP continues to grow. From April to September the organization placed over 2,500 people at tables all across the country and they need your help.

With an ambitious goal of being as well known as AA for alcoholics, we hope to grow this phenomenon as a fabulous grief support option for young people all across the country and need your help.

Please consider giving what you can here: 

https://thedinnerparty.funraise.org/fundraiser/katie-huey

Give because you loved Roy
Give because there are thousands of young people are grappling with life after loss
Give because you love me
Give because you are craving a space to tell your story
Give because there is power in community
Give because connection makes a difference

I hope you’ll join me this year – thanks for reading – and if you know of other wonderful people who would be willing to donate, please pass along my note.
With so much love,

Katie

To believe this is possible.

Sixteen seasons. And the producers renewed for three more years.

“You still watch that crap?” people ask me.

Yes, yes I do.

“It’s not crap,” I say, sticking my tongue out in their general direction.

The wisdom and wonders found in the writing of Grey’s Anatomy have woven their sentences and story lines into my life, into my traumas, and into my recovery.

As the sixteenth season came to a close, Meredith encourages Jo through a dark time. Jo’s traumas are not mine. Not similar in any way.  But Meredith’s words touched a tender place in my heart.

Especially seconds 38 – 1:07.

 

“You’ve taken all this darkness and used it to help other people who are walking through the same,” says Meredith.

I hope so.

“You’ve turned the darkest experiences that life gave you and you turned it around and you turned it into light.”

Yes!

I’ve spent a few years soaking in my own grief process, writing things for strangers to read. I now seek an outside perspective, more tools to help me process, label and understand so I can continue transform my darkness.

This week I started therapy.

I tell you not to get your sympathy nor to get your pats on the shoulders. I tell you because this world is hard. I tell you because I’m not ashamed. I tell you because if I can do it, so too can you.

Being human is hard. Talking about our negative patterns, our dysfunctional relationships, our emotions, our traumas, our hopes, and our potential is hard. There are kind and compassionate professionals trained to help us with the scary process of facing ourselves. They are ready to welcome you onto the sofa when you are ready to walk in the door.

Today, I walked in the door. And I believe therapy will help me continue to turn my darkness into light.

To believe this transformation is possible, for me, and for you, and for all of us aching out there – what a beautiful thing.

This morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad, we miss you.


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