loss

Grief Cookies – A Story of Resilience

I just turned it over onto the cutting board. The banana bread, that is, as my pinky fingers flexed to hold the hot glass bread pan over the corner. It bounced out of the pan. Success. No oozing. No repeat experience like this one. I am learning to follow the instructions and actually leave the gooey batter in the oven for the full time that the recipe calls for. It usually works, if you follow the directions.

I think that’s why I like baking. You take flour – yum – sugar – double yum – and butter -yes please – and can blend them into all kinds of beautiful things. Add the essence of cocoa, a bit of fruit, chunks of chocolate and the results get even better. I can follow a recipe and mix and blend and whisk and the outcome is usually pretty tasty. Sure, sometimes an extra bit of baking soda gets in, but that just adds fluff to the cookie. Fluff, cushion, softness, chew. A beautiful thing.

I wish there was a recipe for grief.

Er no, ha, not a recipe. All that requires is loss of something big or small.

I wish there was something like a baking manual for grief. A set of instructions that tell me to do this or that and put your emotions and anger, newly complicated family relationships, and friends who don’t “get you” anymore in an oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes and ding, you’re done. You’re free from this drastic change and ready to be enjoyed.

No such thing.

This week Dylan has been sick so I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied in the evenings as he rests on the couch. On Tuesday, after watching The Crown (we have to pace ourselves people. There’s only eight more episodes in Season Two!) I wanted to bake. I went searching in my pile of Cooking Light magazines. I had a specific one in mind.  I started with the March 2016 edition. No, that couldn’t be right. The April edition would have arrived by then.

Cooking Light April 2016.

I inhaled sharply.

That magazine sat on my counter top as I cooked the last meal my dad would ever eat. Its open pages got speckled with oil as we prepared the main meal. I had tagged the corner, folding the fragile paper over as I was waiting to make the cookies after they went home for the evening. On March 17, 2016 I made these cookies and they turned out perfectly. And then, the morning of March 18, 2016, my dad died.

I ate these cookies the morning of his funeral for breakfast. I chewed absent-mindedly on the chocolate chunks and sea salt as I stared out the window from our kitchen, moving my foot against my calves as my black tights bothered my legs. Then someone told me it was time to go.

Later, in the evening, I offered the cookies to my cousins who were visiting from out of town. They reached into the jar, fingering the morsels, looking at me cautiously as they took a bite.

Weeks later I put that magazine back in the pile and ignored it. For almost two years. It took that long for me to be able to flip through the pages and find the recipe. Tuesday night I texted my mom for support, got out my white mixing bowl and I baked.

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I mixed flour and sugar and honey and butter and chocolate. I rolled the dough into tiny little balls. Smooshed salt into them with my fingers. I waited while chemistry worked its magic in the oven. And after the cookies cooled, I sat on the kitchen floor and ate one. Or two. Ok, yes, two. Then I packed up a tupperware full of them and sent them to work with Dylan.

Grief cookies.

Bummer there is no set of instructions for getting over grief. Maybe I never will. But I will continue to get back my strength, choose resilience, and bake. The gift of beautiful baked goods lightens others hearts. Extra baking soda effervesces and softens mine.

 

 

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Nope. Not this year.

Thursday – A Rushed Morning

7:05 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.  Olive pounces on me as I reach from my comfy flannel sheets to read the message.

Dylan: Can you bring me my jacket?

Type type type.

Katie: Sure – do you need it this morning?

No response.

We’re up late. Rush out of bed.

8:02 am

Katie puts cushions in bathroom so the dog won’t eat them, shuts all doors, unplugs curling iron, grabs jacket and says a silent prayer that Olive won’t chomp on the unlit Christmas tree while away. Drive to Dylan’s work.

8:17 am

Katie’s phone buzzes.

Dylan: No – I don’t need it this morning. Just for later tonight.

Said coat sat on my drivers seat as I waited for a stop light to stamp out a reply.

8:18 am

Katie pulls into Dylan’s work parking lot.

Type Type Type

Katie: I’m in the parking lot. I have your coat.

Dylan came out to greet me, walking up to the driver side door. He said thanks, and then repeated he didn’t really need the coat until later that night.

Katie swallowed down emotion and said out loud, “Ok, I’m feeling frustrated.”

And then Katie promptly started crying.

In the parking lot, Dylan came round and sat in the car as Katie shed some tears, holding her hand.


I wept about how pissed I am at my dog for peeing in our house all the time. I wept about feeling like schedules need managing and tasks need completing, and dishwashers need unloading and like I need help. That’s what I told Dylan.

What I didn’t tell Dylan –

At 7:40 am I also got an email from The Dinner Party. This group hosts grief tables for 20 and 30 somethings who have experienced significant loss all around the country.  I’ve been on the waiting list since October. Waiting to get placed in a group of people who get it. Just how total suck-fest this thing called grief can be.

I’ve got lots of supportive people in my life, yet I still crave connection with people my age who can say, ‘yup – me too – I’ve lost someone big and their them-sized hole will never be filled.’

As I read the email, I think I stopped breathing a bit. The Dinner Partiers might have a spot for me soon. I hate that I can belong to this club. She ended her note, “I hope you’re finding ways to take care this holiday season.”

So there I was, in the parking lot, crying tears and blurring my mascara and trying not to calculate how late to work I would be. Sure, I was pissed at my dog and helping people get their needs met. More though, I was pissed that I’m not sure I have been taking care of myself this month as others have so wisely recommended.

We got through Thanksgiving with grace and smiles this year. We decorated for Christmas and I was doing just fine. And then I opened that gracious, hope-giving email, and I sank right into the hard truth that my dad isn’t with us this Christmas.

Damnit.

Worse, too, that I haven’t been giving myself space to expect the slide backwards. Because who want’s to expect that?

I wiped off my face and drove to work, finished out another week and started asking myself – how can I take better care of myself this Christmas season? A beautiful reminder that sometimes even strangers can nudge us towards the self-care we didn’t know we needed.

I’ve found freeing answers in unexpected spaces. The beauty in saying, “Nope, not this year.”

For example. This season I can’t bring myself to make Christmas cookies. I bought the ingredients to make peppermint shortbread for Dad and then I just couldn’t stop thinking – well where would I bring them?we don’t have a graveI certainly can’t eat them myself. And why would I give them away. They are Dad’s.

And Mom and I were going to make gingerbread snowflakes like always but really I just wanted to send my Christmas Cards instead. Our time got eaten up as the grief gremlin gnawed on my heart. Sneaking cookies from tins in the morning reminds me of him and so I just can’t do it. Not this year. The weight of grief has pressed pause on our cookie tradition. The red snowman tins shall remain empty til next year.

Today, as we Christmas shopped I bought a Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Cake Mix  . We came home after a lovely afternoon out downtown and I whipped up the batter in ten minutes. After thirty minutes my house smelled lovely. I cut a warm square that looked  beautiful my white plate, gummy ginger crystals still melted from the oven. I ate a piece while watching The Santa Clause and got choked up as Santa calls Charlie Sport. Dad always called me Sport too. More feelings of Damnit. Let’s put that word in caps shall we? D-A-M-N-I-T. Let’s YELL it at the mirror!

So this is what taking care of myself looks like. Saying no to tradition because tradition hurts like hell. Finding substitutes that make life easier – like cake mix. Asking for help with Olive and holding hands. Reading my Advent devotional and remembering Jesus is coming – bringing light and banishing darkness.

And saying hello to my grief gremlin friend as she waves her candy cane Christmas wand from my heart pocket. She’s here this season too.

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P.S. – I told Dylan all of this before I shared here. He’s in the know. You can be too.

P.P.S. – The Give Light Giveaway is still going on. Send me your entry soon!

We Didn’t Get the Baby – Guest Post From Becca

When Becca sent me an email asking to share her story I was touched. She told me she wanted to write about a different kind of loss – infertility. I thanked her for her honesty and for the way she chooses to look for beauty while moving towards acceptance. Thank you, Becca, for desiring to create connection, awareness, and strength for women experiencing infertility.

Here are her thoughts.

Author: Becca 

Her Website: Post IVF World

Her Mantra: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

To see the beautiful things in every day life is a very positive thing to do, although, sometimes I do find it hard. This is why I was so exited to do a post for Katie, not only will it (hopefully) be a good addition to her blog, it will also make me write about the positives I have found through my journey.  I experience really bad anxiety, mostly due to the lack of control I feel I have had over my life thus far. As a result I do have a tendency to overlook the positives.

Let me introduce myself, my name is Becca. I went through the Menopause at 15 and this has made life a little different for me. I have chosen to be open about my diagnosis with friends and family, where we talk about the way this change has effected me, us as a family, and my friendship group openly and honestly.

I consciously made the decision to speak about my experience in an attempt to make the process easier for everyone. I learned early on it isn’t just me going through the turmoil that can follow an infertility diagnosis at such a young age. My Mum, Dad, sister and wider family are still impacted too!

This openness has worked well for the most part, but sometimes I just don’t want to talk about this loss. My choice to remain quiet can be hard to explain to my support network.

I am not going to say that my journey has been all positive just because we are talking about ‘beautiful things’. My journey hasn’t been rosy all the time and I don’t want to paint an untrue picture of what it can be like to find out you are infertile, especially at such an early age.  If I am honest though, the diagnosis was the easy bit – that was just the beginning.

My partner and I have in recent years, had 3 failed IVF attempts, including 2 pregnancy losses and naturally they were hard times. These losses and the days following are ones which I don’t think I will ever fully recover from. I still think of those babies on a daily basis as ours, a potential future, a future that was taken from us.

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Photo by Claire Nolan on Unsplash

Saying all this though, I have for sure found some beauty in my journey. I have found how strong I am as a person, at times when I really thought life was battling against me. I fought through such gaping voids and I am still here.

IVF and infertility is hard on a couple. I’ve realized my partner and I are lucky in that we have been together since we were teens. It’s in our nature to be open and honest about our thoughts and feelings when it comes to our fertility journey.

I have known my partner, who is now my fiancé, since my school years. We were friends for a long time before we got together and because of that, my infertility was never an issue in our commitment to one another. We never had to have ‘that talk’. He quickly accepted this limitation it was just a part of me. We knew from day one of our relationship that it may be difficult to get pregnant and even then it was no sure thing.

Like any couple we have had bad times. We both dealt with IVF and the losses differently. We fought with each other, we shouted, we cried a lot.  We also had other things going on in life –  family loss and a failing business were surrounding us all at the same time as IVF. We struggled to keep our heads above water. Somehow, we managed.

It was touch and go many a time but our extended families were amazing with us. Sometimes we needed their support more than anything. Some days we didn’t want to see anyone at all and they took it all in their stride. What a beautiful gift it was that these members of our family let us take the lead and not pressuring us to ‘recover’ any sooner than we were able to!

Now, at age 28, I am proud to say we are moving forward. After finding out I was infertile at 15, being on an IVF waiting list for 7 years, and 3 and a half years of failure after failure, it makes me happy to be able to say things are better for us now. Today, we are a year out from the day we decided to end IVF. We didn’t get the baby we have always wanted but somewhere through the journey I think we both realized that it is first and foremost each other that matters. We are concentrating on that as much as possible!

My blog ‘www.postivfworld.wordpress.com‘ focuses on our lives after IVF, not dwelling on the past, but talking of the way things are now. This loss still lingers. I still struggle with my mental health issues.

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Yet, I’ve found new things that we live for like our new puppy Hector.

 

My blog has been an amazing solace for me, something that I can control, that is mine, that I can make what I want of it! The people I have met and the communities I am now part of as a result of this loss are way beyond anything I ever imagined. I wish I had found out about them years ago, a couple in particular are the Daisy Network (concentrates mostly on early menopause) and The Fertility Network UK who cover a much broader spectrum of infertility. I urge anyone who is struggling with infertility to get involved with some of these powerful organizations as it really does help one sort through the complex emotions associated with this reality. I am happy to direct you to the right places depending on your diagnosis or concerns!

So there it is, my story. A somewhat shortened version, but everyone has their own story, and everything is relative. I choose not to moan about what I have been through, nor am I here to make light of infertility and pregnancy loss.  I hope to raise awareness of infertility and direct people who may have similar experiences towards resources. I hope to reassure people that life can get better. Acceptance takes time, and recovery needs to be at your own pace, but rest assured, you are not alone!

 

Becca can be found on her blog 

Loss(t)

I told you I had good news.

Or hard news.

Or sad news.

I don’t know, I have lots of emotions today.

It’s good news. It’s good news.

For the last few months, I’ve been working on another version of my story. One that involves support groups, Jafar, and french fries. I think my dad would be proud of the end result as it went live today on Hello Humans.

I’m thankful for the absolutely beautiful opportunity to share my story. They don’t tell you how odd it is to see your dreams in print, your heart on the web, your past aches laid out for strangers to read. I’m into it, just emotional.

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Sam Lamott is a dream to work with. This platform that encourages real, honest, funny, gut-wrenching portrayals of real human life is so refreshing in a world that masks it all.

So take a glance, click here to read, and please share with anyone you know who may be grieving. Thanks for patting me on the back with reminders that bravery pulls off.

xo

So I…

This week was a heavy one. I’ve been thinking  about grief, and loss, and recovery, as these things seem to be themes in my life right now. I feel I make progress, then wham, terror on the national news breaks and I can’t help but think hundreds of others have now been pushed under the deep waves of grief. I’m enjoying community in my small group when a young teacher shares that her student lost her mom to suicide this week. I get pushed back under. I can’t watch CNN anymore, and I’m kinda nervous about my access to birth control, let alone how we would afford to have a baby on our perpetual IN 5 YEARS plan. GAH! Things can seem bleak. So I write.

Every single time I click the blue Publish button on WordPress my stomach lurches. Will people judge this process I’ve chosen to be so public about? Will people care? Do I turn others off because I should just be done already?

I dwell in that black space for a minute or two, and then I say screw it. I’ve got things to say, and I think there are people to read and hear those thoughts on this imperfect, beautiful mess we live in called life.

So I keep going.

I came across this image yesterday from Brian Andreas. I didn’t know he had a story called Beautiful Things. Just like me.

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The small print brought me to tears, right there in the tiny art gallery. “This is my purpose”, a little heart voice whispered, “and it may never be my 9-5 job, or make me very much money, but it matters, this pursuit of beautiful things.”

This is how worlds change.

So I whisper into the internet. I share my voice. Although, I’m starting to yell a bit more too.

Here are a few of my recent guest posts that kind, caring, hopeful people have chosen to allow me to share.

Cara Meredith’s Author Tuesday Post

www.52beautifulthings.com

This Glorious Life The Photo I’m Thankful For

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These beautiful things matter more now than they did a week ago, a month, or even five years.

So I wait. And connect with other people who think things could possibly, maybe get better, are better if we look for the good.

I also watch these videos, and listen, and find healing things to laugh about. I make pumpkin bread from a box, and I hug my husband tight.

What do you do?

 

 

ps. I have a VERY exciting announcement that goes live on Tuesday. Stay tuned.

A Tequila Toast

I stood at the edge of the stone pit, toes warming as flames licked the burning wood as it spat and sputtered to a start. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, the sounds of laughter rolling around behind me in the cold mountain air.

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Belly digesting rehearsal dinner food, I was having one of those moments where I felt full. Not just my stomach, my heart too. We had gathered for a wedding weekend for one of my oldest friends. All around me acquaintances chatted, laughter bubbling on the waves of pre-marital promise and bliss. I felt reminded of my roots, where I came from, and how these people shaped me at age thirteen, eighteen, twenty-two, twenty-five. Love for people with whom you have history.

I received a friendly slap on my back and I was invited into a loud conversation with my girlfriend’s dad. I used to spend weekends at his house, stealing Cokes and bobbing in the pool in his backyard. Summer afternoons on his ricksha, and movie nights in his basement. Time passed. I haven’t seen him in at least ten years.

With a big smile and a tip of his cowboy hat, he asked a perfectly normal question.

“How is your family?”

Oh…. shit… he doesn’t know. That question isn’t normal for me any more.

The warmth in my toes disappeared, and I shrank a bit into my puffy North Face jacket.

“Well,” I started, ” my mom is great. She’s working at a pre-school and my brother is still in town.”

Pause. How far do I go? Does he know? Gulp.

And then I jumped right in because I realize the burden of my grief often oozes out when I have to tell people who don’t know, over and over again, that we lost him.

“Not sure if your daughter told you,” I said, “but we lost my dad a year ago.”

Damnit.

I hadn’t had to say that stupid euphemism since I got a new job. I have exited the insurance agency, and the phone calls from his old clients stopped haunting me. I don’t remember how many of his clients had to hear the horrible news from me. Not many, but enough to make it no fun. A strength I didn’t even know I could possess, handling those calls.

The dad’s eyes softened. Chin dropped. Smile faded. He didn’t ask questions, and instead offered sympathy, jumping into his own story about the loss of his sister.

“Oh good,” my little, squeezing heart whispered to itself, “he kinda gets it.”

After mumbling a bit, said dad quickly bent over, grabbed a fancy glass bottle, and offered to toast to my dad. He poured the golden liquid. A couple fingers worth.

Strong, expensive tequila on ice in a styrofoam cup. Raised to you my papa, with other dads who wish they could still know you.

I drank it all down.

This is the space I’m living in now. A mix of integration, acceptance and painful memories. In being present in really happy moments, taking deep mountain breaths, and reconnecting with old friends. In telling people who don’t know and telling myself (who really ought to know by now) the damn truth. We lost him.

Yet, I haven’t lost these things:

  • I haven’t lost my friends. The ones who knew me when I was chubby and awkward with braces, who went to Prom with me, who stood by me when I got married, who I have had the privilege of watching walk down the aisle. They know me and they knew my dad and will continue to walk with me forward, out of this hell of sudden loss. Life long friends, a beautiful, beautiful gift.
  • The importance of laughter. Belly laughs. Make fun of yourself, dance, put on the cowboy boots. Show up. You will feel better when you get there.
  • The symbolism of toasts and celebration. Honoring memories with tequila makes sense. Standing and raising a glass to a friend of fifteen years as they make the biggest commitment of their life. A privilege.
  • Peace. It comes in waves and whispers and mountain breezes. A long hug. Fog rolling in, lapping your arms in cold, wet, kisses, the universe wants to bring me peace. If I am willing to accept help, people are there making me hot cocoa and offering an extra pair of socks.

Humans are funny, friendly, cheerful, present, and unsure. Death is inevitable and soul sucking for those left behind. Living in these real intersections of the choices to be in relationships and the quivering vulnerability that it can all go away – a beautiful thing.

 

 

Thursday Reflection

Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. Stop on Gold.

I saw this poem in my Facebook feed and just wanted to share it. I love it and I think it is thought provoking. Thinking deeply and critically can be beautiful things. What do you think?

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“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.”

Naomi Shihab Nye