lessons

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!

 

 

 

 

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The Office Phone Rang

The office phone rang yesterday. Once. Twice. Glance at the caller ID.

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Photo by Davidson Luna

I picked up the black office phone, untangled the snaggled cord, and tucked the receiver (oh dear, that is what it’s called right) between my raised shoulder and my left ear.

“American Family Insurance, this is Katie how can I help you?”

How many times have I repeated that phrase? I started when I was sixteen, working in my Dad’s office. And now, after his death, have spent over 365 days living out his legacy, still with the company, working for a different agent.

“Hi, this is …… and I’m calling to let you know that my husband died this past weekend.”

I paused. Death sucks your breath out of your bones, even when you don’t know the person who has passed.

“Oh no, ” I am sure I said “I am so sorry.”

I didn’t know this customer and I didn’t know her husband. I do know just how jolting death can be for the living. The ones left behind.

We continued the conversation.

I began to notice, in this customer call, there lived signs of personal progress.

My stomach didn’t drop. Huh. That’s different.

For the last year anytime someone told me another person left this planet my stomach would crumple. My body would sweat, my heart would drop deep into my already aching gut. Empathetic wavelengths would extend like squid, squeezing remnants of emotional energy I didn’t have to spare out to other people.

This didn’t happen yesterday.

We proceeded to talk logistics and I was shocked by this woman’s resolve. Her ability to speak coherently, to share her concern. “He used to handle these things,” she said, “how am I supposed to now know what’s best?”

I hmm’d along empathetically, flashing back to many conversations with my own mom who instantly acquired the title ‘widow’. We spent a better part of a year rebuilding, coaching, working together on learning again to know what’s best. You certainly can’t know in the first few days. Sure you can take action, make decisions, pick a song for a funeral. But what’s best? Baby, that takes a really long time.

I clicked through our computer system and managed to rework this woman’s policies. New options saved her money on her monthly premium. Changing coverage, that’s easy.

I gracefully offered to remove her husband’s name from her policies. Erasing a person from a policy, that’s harder.

Robotically, I clicked an “x” into the Deceased box next to her husbands name, and changed her marital status to widowed.

How quickly our society allows you to mark a box, change a status, erase a name on a billing account. The process of grief is no where near this simple. I still hate this word – deceased. I hate knowing that my dad falls into that category. One simply does not erase a loved one from your own being.

I never once mentioned my own loss in that conversation. I learned quickly that saying, ‘Oh yes, I lost someone too’ doesn’t bring comfort. Instead it brings awkwardness and an urgency to change the subject. I listened and asked if she had someone nearby to help her with these decisions. Support remains vital.

As I hung up that black office phone I felt strong and empowered. For the first time, I noticed how Dad’s death had purpose in changing ME. I was empathetic, calm, and collected when absorbing other people’s stories. I could offer support, problem solve, listen and see, just for ten minutes, her situation and perspective. Her pain was separate from my pain.

This is new. This is healing.

We keep saying in our household just how true it is that people die. People die. This doesn’t remove emotion, downplay trauma, or remove loving connection. These words just make it easier for me to live with the truth of death.

This phone call brought beautiful awareness. A gift from my job that can bring comfort and pain at the same time. A deeper understanding of how Dad once worked with customers. The realization that my approach to the world has forever changed with this pulsing absence of Dad. An American Family insurance agent for almost twenty years.

 

ps. Do you know hard it is to find stock photos of office phones? Ha! No one takes pictures of these anymore. Maybe the use of an old office phone is also a beautiful thing.