life

My Apple Cart / Soap Box Rant

I’m bending down and dragging out the medium-sized apple cart. The old wood scratches on the cement, screeching along as I place the little pedestal in front of me.

Clomp. Clomp.

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Photo by dimas aditya on Unsplash

My feet stand confidently on this wooden box, supporting me as I take a deep breath.

Here it is folks.

My apple cart / soap box rant.

It’s Father’s Day. My third one with out him. The first year this loss was fresh, fresh, fresh. Teeth had sunk in and crunched away a giant part of me. I texted my friend who had lost her dad three years prior and I asked, “Um. What the hell am I supposed to do on this day?”

She responded, ” My first year I stayed off social media, got in bed and waited for it to pass.”

She granted me permission to do just that.

Last year we spent the day putting new mulch in our front yard. Ate pizza with my father-in-law and I’m sure I cried privately. I still stayed off social media.

This year, I’ve been working very hard on finding a community of people who understand and can relate to these swimming feelings of loss. I’ve whispered prayers for friends who can walk through this with me.

To my surprise, I found a lot of support on the internet.

I signed up for a Father’s Day gift exchange through Modern Loss. I write on the private group boards and think of the ol’ AOL chat room days. I ponder how these strangers behind their computer screens bravely share their pain and frustration and joy.

I submitted my answers to Father’s Day questions posed by The Dinner Party – a grief group specific for 20-30 somethings who have lost important people in their lives. They were going to pick 24 stories to highlight – one each hour today – and were overwhelmed when over 150 people responded to their prompts. I received the email with this round-up of powerful pieces at work. I scrolled through this list and tears filled my eyes while a sense community filled my heart. They included every single submission.

Unfortunately …. beautifully … I am not alone.

 

 

I get it now. I’m in the Dead Dads Club. A lifetime membership to the suckiest group.

New members join every day.

I think of the line they start every Al-Anon Meeting with – We’re sorry for what brought you here, but we’re glad you’ve found your way. 

This year, I believe in the power of my story and I’m using my voice. I’m scrolling on Facebook and won’t be staying in bed. I’m putting up pictures and writing poems and high-fiving with those who get it.

If you need to stay in bed and sip white wine that’s fine too.

Because there are SO many people who get it.

These people not be my intimate friends, but they, my fellow members, have brought me support and nodded “uh-huh” and wiped away tears from across the country. All on the internet.

 

I see Dad today – in the places he’s missing – but also in the places where we are living.

Cheers to the dads throwing ball, changing diapers, grilling steaks today. The ones who throw their kids in the air, teach tots to ride trikes, those working to pay the bills and put bread on the table. Cheers to the dads who are hurting. Those struggling with depression, or unemployment, or grief of their own. Cheers to the men who have no blood relation. Those who care deeply about the development of others. The ones who are bosses. The ones who are putting others before themselves. Cheers to the dads who are expecting. Those watching their wives bellies grow. The dads who are dreaming.

Cheers to the dads who are living.

Cheers to the dads who have died.

I wrote this poem for my dad and Hello Humans was gracious to publish it.

Happy Father’s Day.

Clomp. Clomp.

Stepping down.

Dragging my apple cart back into the garage.

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On This Side of Heaven

I haven’t seen her in probably ten years. Facebook keeps me updated on the good stuff, although most recently, she has been bravely sharing updates from her family. Tough stuff. The agonizing process of saying good-bye.

Her family sits tonight, holding hands, because her dad just died.

I don’t know the intimate details and I don’t know how they are feeling – although I can take a gut-wrenching guess. Her dad died.

It just feels like shit.

I lit a candle for them tonight and send love and light because sometimes that’s what feels best.  Flames flicker burning brightly across the darkness.

Sometimes it just feels like there is so much darkness.

I had coffee with a dear friend this afternoon who is doing amazing work with refugees in Bangladesh. A crisis. It’s a crisis of magnificent proportion over there. She writes about her perspective training volunteers and bravely engaging in things most of us prefer to ignore. Her career has been in development work, traveling with students and caring hearts – people eager to make a difference in third world countries. She is used to seeing poverty on a global scale, yet nothing prepared her for the suffering she saw in that place.

I asked how the weight of this work is affecting her faith over a five dollar chai. She responded with many wise words, but this sentence struck me. Jenny, forgive me as I’m going to paraphrase.

She said, ” In the midst of all this suffering, I’ve come to realize, not all healing will be done on this side of heaven.”

The wisest thing anyone has said to me about grief, about suffering, about the mysterious questions we yell at God in our pain.

So much darkness, and yet so much hope. It’s a pendulum, I’ve learned, as I’ve leaned into my own suffering. Sometimes we go deep, deep into the darkness and sit there and scratch and ache and hurt.

Time passes and we can start to swing back to the other side. Hope that in heaven these so heavy pains will be healed.

We breath again, and see speckles of light in the shadows. Friends hold your hands and stroke your hair and invite you into fresh air if only for a brief, glinting moment. And you realize that somethings will never return to the way they once were.

I remember the moment I realized that other people were simply living their lives on March 18, 2016 – the day my dad died. The day life as I knew it stopped.

It was a year and a half later when I was reading Lauren Graham’s book Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between). Those famous actors and crew filmed the last episode of the Gilmore Girls revival the day my dad died. I was crying and staring and stopping and shocked while they filmed the last episode of my favorite t.v. show. They were living in joy, accomplishment, celebration, and success. I hadn’t even stopped to consider that other people were just doing their thing when all of my things came crumbling down.

And this afternoon, I was drinking chai and shopping and driving home while my friend’s dad died. That’s how it works on this side of heaven. While you are feeling joy, others are suffering. While you suffer, others feel joy.

Even more reason for us to be gentle in this great big ol’ world.

Oh, how I wonder what it looks like on the other side.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

 

If you’re feeling joy, light, and brightness I invite you to share your good. Send me a brief description of the good in your world, and I’ll share it here. Details on the Give Light Giveaway can be found here.

If you’re suffering, know that there is grace in the darkness, and a hand to be held. We see you. We light a candle for you. We share our light.

“Grace always bats last.”

*Vulnerability alert – choosing to share my sticky emotions because they too have a place for beauty. Continue reading if you so desire.*

 

I am getting ready to celebrate my birthday this week. We went to a play with my mom and my brother on Friday evening. It was a lovely performance full of live music and dancing and emotion. Pure passion put on stage with a mixture of honesty, struggle, heart. Just what art should do for us. My dad was not with us, just as he won’t be with us for the rest of my life. And friends, it makes my heart ache.

We are getting closer to the year anniversary of his death, and they say that as you move through all of the monumental dates in the first year without your loved one, a weight can be lifted. I hope what they say is true.

I am taking time to honor the beautiful tears that come when you acknowledge loss, the waves of deep sadness that come right along side the desire to celebrate, to move on, to be cheerful.

I am scared to turn another year older without him.

And then, just today, I came across this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott and remembered that ‘oh yes, I am so very far from being alone.’ I’m cheating a little and sharing the words of another. Beautiful, beautiful words.

Anne Lamott writes,

When people we can’t live without die, everyone likes to quote John Donne, “Death be not proud.” Yeah yeah yeah, thank you for sharing. My father died of brain cancer when he was seven years younger than I am now. He was my closest person. I did not love it. My best friend died years ago, leaving behind an 18 month old daughter. She was my closest person. I did not love it, or agree to it, and just barely survived it.

My darling friend Ann Brebner passed away early Friday. (You were so incredibly generous to donate to the fund for her home-care. Your generosity has given me such huge abiding hope in Goodness and miracles. We were down to almost no money. She accidentally spent her life creating and directing plays, loving us crazily, laughing and listening to music, giving to charity, instead of investing.)

Maybe this passing seems less death-y, as she was 93. But believe me, she had done the dying part, the closing-up-shop part, the leaving-us part, just like everyone has to do. It’s death 101 for everyone here on the incarnational side of things: we do it with no owner’s manual (Death for Dummies?) , and at the end, alone. If I were God’s West Coast representative, I would have a different system in place, i.e. less mysterioso Ouija board enigma. More grok-able My grandson stood nearby her at church as she sometimes painstakingly got out of our car. He always called her Ann Brevner, one word. “Hi, Annbrevner!” I told him Friday night that she had passed, and his mouth dropped open. “AnnBREVNER died?” he asked. Then, “I wonder what that’s like? Dying?”

So I thought I would tell you what I know, because this thing, this aspect of reality, this weird scary aspect of life, can just wreck everything if you don’t figure out at some point that it is what makes life so profound, meaningful, rich, complex, wild. If you try to outrun this existential truth, with manic achievement and people-pleasing and exotic distractions, it begins to argue a wasted life. Everyone we love–and I am just going to add, in a whisper, even our children and nieces and nephews–will die. They will no longer be here, on this side of eternity. We Christians see death as just being a fairly significant change of address, but still, our most cherished people will no longer be here, to have and to hold, or reach by phone.

This can kind of ruin everything. When my son was little, he asked if we would die at the exact same moment. When I said, No, probably not, he wept, and then said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

Do you want to have instant meaning and incentive and almost heartbreaking appreciation in your life? Live, starting now–as if you have three months left. At some point, this will true. Tick tock.

But won’t death be scary? Annbrevner’s wasn’t. Just weird. Her death, like every passing I have witnessed, was beautiful, gentle, sometimes hard and confusing, and completely doable. At some point, for almost everyone, it is like being in labor. Especially if, like me, dilated 7 centimeters after 24 hours of labor, you realized you didn’t like children. But in both cases, birth and death, something beautiful is coming. Ram Dass said death would be like FINALLY getting to take off the too-small shoes we had been wearing our entire lives. Think of that. Getting to rub those sore arches and wiggle those baby toes, after all these year feeling cramped, like Chinese foot bound women, tiptoeing to minimize the pain.

But back to my grandson’s question, of what dying will be like, and why, I don’t think you need to be afraid:

So many people will surround you, your dearest family and friends, both the quick and the death–Ann’s father, who died fifty years ago was with her; her son who died last year was with her. And we were with her, encouraging and allowing her to be real, to share her deepest thoughts and and fears about what was happening to her, and how annoying liFe (and we) could be. The most important you can do if someone is dying? Show up; listen; nod.

And maybe even more important, we shared with each other our worries, memories, sorrow, impatience, and anxiety about the process, how much more, and much sooner, we could have done this or that. We showed up, we listened to each other, we told others how much we hated everything, and how much we loved each other, we listened some more, we nodded, and put the kettle on for tea.

We let each other complain and not know what we were doing. We tried to remember what we DID know: that the great cosmic Something had always been there before. That the Divine It had brought us and our beloved ones through ghastly loss, disappointment, and failure, against all odds. That crying and grieving heal us, cleanse us, baptize us, moisturize us, water the seeds hidden deep in the ground at our feet.

Our pastor came to anoint her the day before she died, not knowing if Ann’s home-going was an hour or a month away. Hospice was on hand to help with the pain. (If you know your person is dying, call Hospice. Once Hospice is on board, almost everything will sort itself out, I promise you–everything. Secret of life.

Every single person I have loved and lost had us around–their most beloved–and had Hospice, had the richest most astonishing love and sense of safety at the end. They had peace, like a river. Even if their death was sudden, Grace always bats last. They got to take off the tight shoes. They got their Get Out of Jail Free card.

Death? Be as proud as you want: bore me later, because Love is sovereign here. Life never ends. Joy comes in the morning. Glory hallelujah. And let it be so.

 

joy

Yes, even grief can be beautiful. And people who show up to wipe your tears and honor your loss are beautiful as well. Joy comes in the morning. The sun will still rise, God will still be present, we can still choose to get to living. After all, this thing called death is a part of it.

Psalms 34:18 is also beautiful too.

A Brief Split Second

A cocktail with cucumber and ginger beer. A shot of tequila. A beer from Odell Brewing Company. Sunday afternoon drinks are beautiful things.

Those were the beverages I consumed as as we sat on the patio at The Farmhouse at Jessup Farms on Sunday afternoon. This quaint little restaurant (which I previously wrote about here ) knocked it out of the park again, delighting my heart and the senses.  I love community fundraisers, fried chicken, and live music, and this restaurant fantastically combined the three to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Vibrant sunflower arrangements danced in the sunlight. We sat at long, wooden picnic tables while a blue grass band played on in the background.

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What was more beautiful was how this experience was grounding and helped me return to feeling like myself, even if just for a few hours. How healing it can be to sit in the sun, watch the rays of light streak through the clouds, and remember that we are a part of our community.

This week I also came across Sheryl Sandberg’s brilliant commencement speech that she gave at UC Berkeley this year. She bravely shared her lessons learned from the loss of her own husband,  and I found myself weeping as I read. I was struck by many of her comments and thought her poignant description at an attempt to return to routine was spot on.

Sandberg said, “So ten days after Dave died, they went back to school and I went back to work. I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a deep, deep haze. All I could think was, “What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?” But then I got drawn into the discussion and for a second—a brief split second—I forgot about death. That brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family were so loving and they carried us— quite literally at times.”

For a second… a brief split second… This is where my heart landed. We are in the process of recovery, and with that comes the ever present dance between hurting and healing. Sunday night, and our time at Jessup Farm, was my brief interlude this week where I could forget about death. I laughed, I ate chicken, I drank, and I began to feel alive again.

There have been, of course, other moments of life over the last nine weeks, but this one felt significant. We were out in the sun, basking in the good. I agree with Sheryl and have to seek the other things in my life that are not awful. Things like our dog, and my in-laws, and foot-long hotdogs at Rockies games. Things like boxed brownie mix, planning vacations, and handwritten letters, and phone calls from friends. Like shorts weather and gardens sprouting, and friends who send you pictures of puppies in pajamas.

These are the moments that breathe in life. What are your moments?