Life After Loss

All Matters of Perspective

An email came through this morning from the public library. Like receiving a note from an old friend, I smiled when the familiar subject line showed up in my inbox.

“Reminder from the Poudre River Library District” – the note sat for just a minute and then I sighed. Remember the library? The travel guide book I had checked out at the beginning of March is due tomorrow. I wanted to get tips about traveling to Canada.

I haven’t gone to the library in months. I won’t be going to Canada – not this year. The time has come to return the book filled with notes on wonderful other places to its shelves.

Instead, last night I sat cross-legged with my laptop nestled in the tiny pocket of skin and carpet and scrolled Overdrive for new Kindle picks. Maybe this static place of scenery – aka my living room – will be where I stay to travel to different places as I read from home this year. I picked out three new titles and clicked download.

The reminders of the life we wish we could live tend to linger. Grief taught me this. The moments where the ache of what could have been needs tending. The holes need breathing into.

I remember, a few months after Dad died, I was texting a friend who also lost her dad and I said, “How do you ever get through this?”

“You don’t.” She said. “For awhile, you walk around the gaping hole, present in everything you do. Then, after a bit, a beautiful rug covers the hole, and the gap changes shape and size, and you walk around it more easily. But you know, no matter what covers it, that hole is still there.”

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The pandemic is stealing time from us, it’s stealing people and travel, and places we once loved. We need to honor the gaping.

We also need to nestle in and we get to choose how we tend to the holes presented to us.

Last night, on our walk around the neighborhood, we approached the last two houses on the block and was greeted by one of our youngest neighbors. A little boy with floppy brown hair stood up against the white porch railing. Wearing miniature rain boots, he swirled his legs deep in the grass and kept talking to the older gentleman leaning across his porch, leaving six feet of space.

As we got closer, the little boy looked to the street and exclaimed, “John! They have a dog, just like you!”

The old man raised his eyes to us and winked from behind his spectacles.

“Hi!” waved the little boy. “I like your dog!”

“Thanks!” I replied with a smile. “Our dog kinda looks like the dog on your shirt.”

The little boy paused, looked down, and quickly retorted, “Yeah, well that’s not a dog. That’s a tiger.”

“Oh,” I said, still smiling. “He looked like a dog to me.”

Nothing like being corrected by a three year old.

We kept walking and the two kept their conversation going.

Grief and loss.

Hurting and hope.

Wishing and acceptance.

Travel and exploring from home.

Dog and tiger.

All matters of perspective.

Beautiful things to me.

 

Because of you.

Yesterday I woke and wept. Just a little bit. I miss him.

I made his favorite coffee and shuffled down the five steps into my ground level office to work. I wondered if others would think of him and tried to remember the way he started his birthdays.

Quiet. Like most mornings.

So I started that way too.

Through out the day these acts of kindness buzzed into my phone and I’m forever grateful for the people who did something kind in remembrance of Roy. There’s still time.

Because of you, the following energy and acts of goodness entered the world.

#1. A donation was made in his name to the Rhett Syndrome Foundation

#2. A neighbor was brought fresh scones

#3. Another family was given hand-me down clothes

#4. A woman left a Starbucks gift card on a car parked in spot # 63

#5. A friend received potted flowers in a homemade arrangement

#6. A friend who just lost his dad to COVID received zucchini muffins and a listening ear

#7. Two kids were read to online

#8. A teacher stayed online just a bit longer because she could tell he needed to chat

#9. A friend was gifted a t-shirt

#10. Coffee and doughnuts were delivered to two Bay area hospitals. Special request for Pikes Place

#11. Cheerios and bagels were brought to the Food Bank in Milliken

#12. A neighbor’s sprinkler was fixed

#13. A brother brought the Corvette into the garage

#14. A friend downloaded and made pretty an online planner for a surprise gift

#15. Cupcakes were brought to a boyfriend’s best friend’s wife

#16. Fresh cookies were given to the delivery guy

#17. A friend gave out snacks and water to a homeless person

#18. Cookies were dropped on an aunt’s porch

Thank you for helping me remember. Thank you for being kind. If you feel inspired, keep up the random acts of kindness and send them my way.

We aren’t doing enough.

I dreamt with him last night.

swingWe were at an amusement park and I was strapped in to one of those large swings for adults. The yellow bucket seat was cold on my legs and my sleeping self felt afraid of the lacking worn-nylon restraint. I could only see out, and down over the rolling hills and green grass, but I knew he was sitting in the swing behind me.

When the ride ended and we landed, we sat on a bench with people from all stages of my life. He handed me a white McDonald’s bag, the yellow arches pronounced on the front.

“Sorry I had to go” he said.

I woke with an adrenaline rush of sadness and a soft smile and I said to myself, “I bet that bag was full of burgers.”

Dad doesn’t come to me in dreams all that often. It’s a tortuous balance of comfort and despair upon waking. These glimpses of him spun in a storytelling of bizarre memories, recollections, and persistent reminders of the anxieties of where we are currently, living without him.

I keep thinking, as a nation, as a globe, we aren’t doing enough for new grievers. Our president isn’t saying sorry; no empathy drips from his lips. The online communities I’m a part of are trying –  touching on our triggers and sharing reluctant welcomes to the clubs none of us wanted to be a part of in the first place. While online tributes teach us how to facilitate a virtual funeral, few leaders are acknowledging emotional pain. Few news outlets are telling stories of the encounters, the painful goodbyes from screens, or sharing the connection between personalities and preferences of actual humans who make the numbers tick up, up, up.

All over the globe, thousands are taking their steps into the first weeks and months of mourning. Milestones are met without. We’re being reminded of the pervasiveness of loss daily, and still, very few are saying, “I’m so sorry you’re here. That our lack of response led to this painful unraveling and gaping whole you now live with.”

We aren’t doing enough to create space, to hold space, to allow such dark feelings, questions, and unfathomable realities.

Instead we are fighting on Twitter, and bickering about masks, and continuing to hope for less restriction and more connection.

I continue to pray, please not me, and still desire to help. I don’t have profound wisdom and my dad did not communicate anything wise to me about our current situation.

He just gave me a bag of supposed burgers in my semi-concious state. None of us are really sure what to do.

This week, I went to Starbucks for the first time in eight weeks. The drive-thru felt beautiful and as the signature green straw plunged into my plastic cup full of coveted vanilla latte, I sighed with gratitude. And then I washed my hands.

We are still here, in this pandemic, hoping, and wondering, and still being ourselves.

Part of myself, my journey, my searching, my purpose, is to help people in pain.

I can point fingers and blame and say the grand “THEY” aren’t doing enough.

And I can turn, once again, to where I have control. From my kitchen table, I choose to still use words to share pain, and hope, and comfort, and acceptance for the dark places in people’s lives.

I’m so sorry we’re here. That people are dying by the thousands and our culture doesn’t know how to talk about grief. That you’re here and you’re hurting and that this year will forever be one that changed your life.

Perhaps soon, your people will come to you in your dreams.

Until then, I recommend the drive-thru. Starbucks or McDonalds. What gives you comfort in cups, in memories, in connection. You’re feeling now and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Real

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I sent a text pleading today. Standing on the fading back porch, I typed with tears in my eyes.

“I already lost a parent, I don’t want to lose you too.”

The black letters clicked as my fingers pressed into the digital screen.

My thumbs seemed numb, typing heavily as emotion welled in my chest.

I could have picked up the phone, but hiding behind typing and screens felt safer.

Grief slipped between my sentences as I passed my Covid anxiety from my gut to the pocket where his cell phone lingered.

Crying in the kitchen, Dylan hugged me this afternoon and I whimpered, “I just don’t want to lose anyone else.”

On Instagram, and blogs, and videos across the world grief experts are sharing comfort, perspective, and expertise for those new to loss. Coping mechanisms creep up in posts and in video chats and healthy ways to channel our triggers seem to zip in the spaces connecting us on the internet. As someone who writes extensively about my experience with life after loss, I’ve been wondering and waiting for epiphanies to come.

What wisdom can I share to help the newly bereaved? The same lessons apply to the panicked, the hurting, the newly unemployed? What responsibility do I have as an “influencer” who is using personal pain to help guide others?

I’ve stayed quiet because I don’t have much.

I return to the basics and I encourage myself and others to find comfort.

Soothe yourself with warm blankets and cups of tea. Splurge for the brand-name tissues as you wipe your eyes. Light a candle. Nourish yourself. Take a slow walk around your neighborhood. Wear a mask.

And today, when my own imagined panic crept in like fog moving over the mountains, I let the wave consume me. I felt the overflow of emotion leak up out from my chest and onto the laminate floor.

My grief wounds drip fresh with the fear of loss not yet real.

I imagine thousands around the world are feeling the same.

Rather than whisper antidotes and remedies, tonight I give permission.

I’m not an influencer. I’m a human living an experience of life after loss. I finger my scars and I breathe deeply and remember I am human, prone to loss and intense experiences in an aching world.

I give myself beautiful permission to live in this uncomfortable, seemingly horrible space.

I give you permission to ask for a hug. To send pleading text messages and grace for the tears sure to fall. I welcome the beauty found in the permission to accept a warm embrace, even if the arms wrapped around your shoulders are your own.

Pandemic life is scary and hard. The fog licks our fingers and faces and leaves a chill in our bones.

Give yourself the beautiful permission to feel all of this. To weep in the kitchen. To send the texts and express your love and ask for what you need.

At the end of the day, I only want to influence real.

Real is beautiful.

Pivot Forward

Yesterday, I was every bit of a capitalist consumer. I spent the afternoon searching for  key pieces for an upcoming trip and bopped into a few shops, heading straight for the sale rack towards the back of the stores.

Each time I checked out, the cashiers I interacted with said something along the lines of, “Enjoy the sun while it lasts. Snow is coming tomorrow.”

I was ready for big flakes, fluffy blankets, and savory food warming in the oven.

When I checked the weather before bed last night, I was disappointed. Our anticipated snow day had gone from a sure thing to a 30% chance of flurries for just a few hours. When I woke this morning, no snow had fallen. The ground was dry. The light was grey.

In Colorado, this change of weather and threatening inconsistency is nothing new. I’m used to being told to wear layers to prepare for multiple scenarios.

I have been trained to prepare to be flexible.

Like a toddler pushing the limits, I frequently go in to work on blue sky mornings wearing polka-dot flats only to come outside at five wishing I had worn socks as sharp little ice drops bite at the tops of my feet. If I’m going to get cold, I’ll do so on my own terms.

We wounded wonderers are masters at pivoting.

Turn for the needs of others. Turn for the wallops of pain. Turn for the things we didn’t see coming. I’m used to pivoting to protect myself, to mask disappointment, and to forge forward telling my spirit, “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.” when really, the situations are anything but.

Yes, the soft landings of snow flakes are missing today. In the grey sky surrounds I sit and I wonder, “How can I teach myself to pivot differently? What if I moved, not away-from but towards the things I want? Can preservation be channeled into motivation instead?”

This week I walked into the gym and climbed onto the elliptical stationed in front of the big t.v. showing the Food Network. The absurdity of watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives while attempting to burn off calories does not escape me. The choice, however, was better than the ever-present terror unfolding on CNN, NBC, and ABC after work hours.

I spent thirty minutes pedaling backward and the lights on the whirring machine began to flash.

Pedal forward. Pedal forward. Pedal forward. 

The green words blinked at me across the digital keypad.

It was time, again to pivot. To change my legs and my weight and move forward with my movements even though I was going nowhere at all.

March is coming and with it birthdays and anniversaries of death. In my head I’m pivoting between how it was then and where I am now and what it feels like to sit in the grey.  Four years have passed and I’ve found myself forgetting the electricity of shocking loss in my veins. The memories are softer now, still cold and wet and powerful in congregation with their fellow flakes.

I want snow and protection and warm food and calories to cushion me.

Machines are beeping, I am weeping, and conversations with encouraging strangers are telling me, “Now. It’s time. Pedal forward. Pivot towards the places you want to be. Create your work – the world needs you just as you are. ”

March is coming. Maybe this year, pivoting forward can be a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

My Mountain Metaphor

I’m a seasoned ‘church camper.’ As a teenager, for at least a week each summer, I’d pile into a fifteen passenger van with sweaty boys and anxious girls and venture to the Colorado mountains for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and torture … er, mountain biking.

Each night, after facing our fears and relying on God’s mercy to survive hormones, and crushes, and camp food, we’d hunker down to listen to sermons from a pastor underneath a picnic shelter with flames flickering behind him.

The bible is full of references to mountains. How we ought to look to them, how God moves them, how they melt in his presence, or shake in his glory. God speaks to people on mountain tops, bushes burn, internal battles are fought. Tectonic plates are holy ground.

Wise, college aged mentors would french braid my hair as I sat between their knees. I felt safe, loved, and seen. The mountains I was climbing in that season of my life involved grades, crushes, and college applications. All age appropriate, and yes, privileged.  I’d have my mountain top experience, head back down the hill and return to normal life.

Ten years passed and I still hadn’t climbed all the way to the top of one of Colorado’s beckoning peaks.

This past weekend we rallied with our cousins to trek to the top of a 14,000 foot mountain. We picked an “easy” one. Never you mind that easy still means you’re climbing an f’in MOUNTAIN.

It was not an easy experience for me.

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At the end of the meadow stretch, full of waving wildflowers, I could look up the steep trail and see people moving in front of me where I was headed. Like ants, we fell in line and moved slowly up, up, up.

“Our faith can move mountains” – Matthew 17:20

But could it move me?

We stopped every 200 yards to catch our breath. All the blogs told me this was a normal part of the process. I’d keep looking up, and see people ahead, and I’d ask, “how am I going to get up there?!”

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord – maker of heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121: 1-2

The answer was adjust my blinders. I had to focus on the ten feet in front of me, and then the next ten, and the next, to keep moving along. Any time I looked to the top of the peak, I’d falter. Mentally challenged and physically tired my cousin offered me his trekking pole so I could stop stumbling.

 

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As we approached the summit, solid ground gave way to piles of boulders. Big rocks stacked over one another. Why would something so massive be made up of hundreds of moving parts?

The last 200 yards I was using my hands to pull myself up and over big chunks of stone. Why did God design mountains that way? Heavy, precariously balanced stones for us master?

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I made it to the top. I sat and caught my breath and inhaled God’s fresh air. He whispered to me, “look how far you’ve come.”

In this season, my mountains have matured. Accepting the loss of a parent is not meant for almost thirty year olds. Finding employment after job loss. Navigating marriage. Coming into our own skins with confidence and learning how to soothe broken hearts. Those were bigger boulders found when a previous foundation fell apart – the aftermath forming new piles in our way. Rubble. Crumbly, heavy, hurting chunks of stone.

We’ve moved these last two and a half years, holding hands, five feet at a time up, up, and up to this new summit. The view is beautiful, holy, and aching. For Dad is closer to the heavens than back at the trailhead, and he wasn’t waiting for me to return at home.

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“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” – Isaiah 54:10

It’s peaceful up there on piles of stone. Hearts soar and God speaks.

And then you have to come down.

Spiritually, I’m afraid of coming down for I know new mountains will form for me to climb. I don’t want to hurt nor do I want to find new footing.

We want the summit. We don’t want the work. Unfortunately, beautifully, you can’t have one without the other. 

As we trekked down and our knees screamed, God brought this song back to me from camp years ago.

The artist wrote this song from a mountain near where we spread Dad’s ashes. Funny how our stories connect. Funny how boulders mix with pebbles to create beautiful trails racking our lungs and pounding our hearts.

I’m offering up my broken cup. Keep climbing up. Willing to come down.

Keep stepping the next ten beautiful feet in front of me.