loss

Pocket the Ash

Rummaging through the blue bin of snow clothes, I grabbed gloves and a hat before stepping into the backyard. Leaves demanded attention before flurries of snow arrived according to winter weather warnings.

Red rakes sat in the shed, waiting to be pulled from the pile of worn wooden handles still warm from lingering unseasonal, summer-like heat. I wrestled with tines of tools, ready to tuck the garden into its rustling bed of leaves.

Muscling orange and red matter into piles took three hours yesterday. Using rakes and shovels, I pulled towards my center, mixtures of grass and sticks and tired life. With each scrape of the earth, up swirled too, tiny puffs of black lifted and landed. Wisps of crisped needles and incinerated pines lifted into the air, into my nose, making me sneeze and weep. Despite our best efforts, the air demands we inhale what’s left, leaving traces of particles in our lungs.

Remnants of burned wild flowers and earth mixed with city maples and aspen leaf imposters. Wildfires burn nature’s backyard – the setting of my wild adventures of youth and family traditions forever changed by the swat of loss. Can memories burn as sense of place is destroyed?

Someone posted a few days ago about the sacredness of these ashes settling our concrete patios and smearing white streaks on our windshields. May we not disconnect the black piles of soot and grit from the immense loss up canyon roads.

As Dylan increased pressure on the leaf blower, blackened piles swirled up into mini plumes of darkened ash. Moving forward, he used his tool to blow the left over bits across the driveway and into the street. I watched the as the mess moved, mirroring the magnificent blooms of smoke seen from airplanes, thousands of miles up into plum purple skies.

It’s insensitive, perhaps, to have hope in the hurting so soon. My body feels the magnitude of life and livelihood turning to vapor among flames. Having experienced significant unraveling, I ask, what beauty is found in the sweeping of what’s left into tiny piles? May the act of smearing the grit on our fingers be a beautiful thing?

I felt my father’s ashes land on my toes. I watched his grit swirl with the wind and land, eventually, on cracked, dry earth. I witnessed urns burning in controlled fires as a summer ink sky turn speckled with stars.

The destruction is horrifying. The longing for what could have been, pervasive.

The honoring and remembering? Sacred.

Sweep what’s left into piles. Place the white and black smears on your altars of hope. In the wonderings of what’s next and how will we ever recovers, know this to be true – What was will never return.

We weep for this truth.

Using your fingers to pile, gather, pull towards you the mix of earth and sticks and dead things crisped. Move among the ash.

What will be is still left to be seen.

Today, snow falls in tiny flakes blanketing heat in white. I pray the moisture douses the flames and the burning will cease. And that we all may create space, with the tender embrace, for the gaping. Stand witness. Sweep up what’s left. Pocket the ash. Honor the scar. Hard, beautiful things.

Turned Inside Out

After six months at home with limited social interactions, I didn’t think I could look much further inward.

Inward is where I’ve been living – perhaps for the last four years. Grief turned me so inward, I turned inside out.  Insides exposed – skin raw, even still. Prickling with the constant bombardment of suffering, of loss, of what it means to have tugging skin as your wounds heal and re-arrange. After four years, I was ready to get out into the world again. And then a pandemic hit.

With news cycles imploding on the hour, and violence bursting across our country, I’m tempted to turn off my phone and close my eyes.

Tuning out is privilege. Turning things off is a choice.

I thought about changing my Facebook cover photo to this Fauci quote earlier this week.

care

I stopped myself because I don’t feel social media is the place to change minds. Perhaps blogs posts aren’t either. We’re pretty set in our ways and discourse fails in comment threads, when we can’t make eye contact, or place a warm hand of understanding on the fingers of someone we disagree with. Most of the time, our friends nod in agreement when we share our thoughts on how the world could be and for whom.

But, as I continually click reload on news browsers and watch brave protestors, athletes, artists, and individuals address the hurt and pain of others across the nation, Fauci’s quote keeps giving me pause.

How do we knock on closed-off hearts? How do we whisper to those living in extremism? How do we share kindness to people who are different than us?

I have a hard time feeling angry with wealthy people who choose not to share their resources. I live in a working class neighborhood. With every Trump flag popping up on lawns across the street, I hesitate to display my proudly purchased Biden-Kamala sticker. My Christian roots bristle at Evangelical narratives,  withdrawing to find different sources of spiritual thirst quenching. I struggle to embrace the differing opinions of relatives spread across the country.

I said I wouldn’t get political and well, here we are. Everything feels political. Our clashing values create rifts like canyons – pulling us apart from where we used to stand in agreement.

We’re living in fear of those who are different than us. Fear of those who think or look or value different things. Fear of expressing what we really think. Fear of having something taken, or distributed differently, fear of lack of control. Fear of, once again, being unseen.

And somehow, we’ve gotten so sidetracked, that caring for a human life feels radical.

So, I pick up a pen and write postcards to old friends. I text the people who seem to have forgotten me in the course of loss. I go to my garden and I water the plants growing in my tiny patch of dirt. I give money. I pray. I set down the phone. I circle back to my tiny sphere and I keep at the searching for good. I cheer for the protestors. I buy local and support small business owners. I wear a mask. I get ready to vote. I stay home and I keep looking inward.

Maybe, as a nation, we’re getting turned inside out?

How do we remind each other we need to care? Do you care deeply about our impact on the planet, our country, our neighborhood, our streets, on the children who look different than you? What about those who have lived and lost and are hurting? What about those without support networks? What about those whose kids are in literal cages? What about those innocent ones getting shot in the street?

We need to care. And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Not Much to Report

bank-phrom-Tzm3Oyu_6sk-unsplash

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

By the end of the week, it’s easy to ignore the nudging whisper my creative spirit sends to my fingers. “You haven’t used your powers,” she echoes, “to use your words for something other than emails.”

My energy gets absorbed into the little keys for things demanding attention all week long. Any extra, left-over effort wonders how to type or draft or craft to contribute during this time.  Many attempts to focus on the good feel aimless – like little helicopters that fall from maple leaves in autumn. I keep throwing the whirls into the air and they spin and spin. No matter how many times I throw them up, they fall and continue to land at my feet, just like last time.

Will the cadence of my pushing fingers stringing words together echo out beyond this tiny home office? Will one whirly-gig plant catch wind and travel beyond my back yard?

I didn’t write last week because I felt I had nothing much to report.

Writer Mari Andrew reminded me, in an Instagram featured interview, how lucky I am for this statement to be true. Nothing to report means my people are healthy, we’re employed, we’re spending our days on Zoom meetings and wondering when we can venture out.

Nothing to report means we’re a little bored.

What a privilege it is to be a little bored.

I take a deep breath and lion’s breath away the urge to type CNN.com into my browser because I know the world isn’t in such a state.

There’s too much to report.

Brave journalists continue to unpack the truth and challenge the lies or contradictions we’re being fed. Asinine politicians keep making horrific decisions leaving us every-day contributors in a constant state of worry.

Once again it feels a bit self-indulgent to be focusing on the small things, when the big things the world reports are so-damn-heavy.

With nothing to report here and lots to report out there, I wonder what chemical reaction can occur when we mix ordinary gratitude with catastrophic loss and the magnitude of complex decision making.

How will the flakes of salt I’ve sprinkled on home-grown tomatoes influence the healing of the sick, or change minds of stubborn folks stuck in their individualistic, out-dated methodologies? I’m not sure.

Can the aromatics of fresh pizza dough encourage billionaires to use their resources to alleviate suffering? Unlikely.

I do believe, however, when we choose to seek the beautiful, we raise the energy within our little spaces. When we lift the watering can once more or lick the chocolate from the spoon, we challenge the darkness with just a little bit of light.

Every decision we make has the ability to influence another; yes, even in this Groundhog Day like existence.

While the essential workers scrub and treat and heal and feed, I’ll muster a bit of battery juice into my tired fingers. We must remember to report the good.

The smell of crisp edges of a homemade waffle.

The crunch of hiking boots on a sandy mountain trail.

The smears of tears left on cheeks when it all feels like too much. THIS IS TOO MUCH.

A handprint left behind on a window wave.

A sunset captured in a smart phone camera.

Episodes of Downton Abbey previously unwatched.

Pages of cookbooks splattered with oil.

Laughter at inside jokes.

If we don’t report the good stuff, the bad stuff wins. If the extraordinary boring things go unnoticed, we give too much weight to the dark.

Go on … start a chemical reaction. Make some wind. Blow your good whirly-gig seeds all over the place.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

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.”

rug

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.

This is not ok.

katsia-jazwinska-ZIXIMHafhaE-unsplash

Photo by Katsia Jazwinska on Unsplash

I remember standing at the high kitchen counter. My back was facing the big sliding door as the sun started to set and I was leaning against the worn wicker chair. My tear streamed face was turned down and I was looking at my fingers. 

“It’s going to be ok,” I kept saying to no one in particular.

My dad had died earlier that day and we had gathered in the kitchen as family started to show up.

“It’s going to be ok.”

At the time, my brain was spouting words of comfort while stuck in a spinning cycle of thoughts. I hadn’t gotten to the What-the-actual-F*** part yet. I was just trying to soothe the immediate blow.

There have been millions of posts about the world right now. Memes swish in cyberspace and hearts are broken on Facebook and with every It’s-going-to-be-ok sentiment exists a person leaning against chairs in the midst of confusion and swirling thoughts.

If you’re paying attention, your brain and your body are trying to self-soothe.

I don’t remember anyone responding to my five word phrase that day. No one was acknowledging my need to make things ok.

This was not ok. Someone I loved had died.

All over the world, people have died and their losses are broadcast on the news, turned into cautionary tales, used to make other folks terrified. Shame creeps in as the media lurks and warns and flashes as we silently pray, “Please not my people.”

In his book, Joe Biden estimates that for every person we lose, six people are intimately grieving that loss. The US lost over 20,000 people this month. Multiply that by six and realize the number of folks now plunged into grief. Add on the ones who already lost someone and the number of those impacted grows substantially. We’re triggered, we’re sad, we’re wondering and I’m hoping, staying the heck home.

This is not ok.

I’ve been at home for a month now. I know people who have gotten sick and my heart aches when I see posts of people who have died. No one is untouched by this experience.

I flashback to the kitchen and the white wicker bar stool and I whisper to my younger self, “No, this isn’t ok.”

I wish someone had said that to me.

This isn’t ok.

I’ve learned, in the last four years, when we call out the truth of our horrible experiences they lose the tight grips on our hearts and our worried brains.

There’s no going back.

I’m more compassionate to myself. I’m less tolerant of the things our world tells us are important. My molecules have rearranged and my perspectives have softened. I’m quicker to anger at injustice and ache for connection. Scars of loneliness get special attention and I type into the void with calm fingers wishing people could listen – all of our not-ok-ness is valid. We deserve a place to put our not ok stories.

This is not ok.

Let us weep and rest and extend grace to others as we make new choices from what remains. We will stand and move out of the rubble of the worlds we once knew. Donate money. Throw things safely.

Call out the not-ok-ness. I promise these four words are beautiful things.

 

 

 

For Sarver

I went to a show last night. We entered a big dark room filled with eager fans. I shuffled to claim my space and looked up to see rows of massive speakers suspended overhead. Lucky for me, my friends were keen to lean against the grubby wall with torn purple wall paper. How do you know you’re old at a concert? You wear tennis shoes for support and seek out hidden spaces to rest your legs already aching from eight hours at a standing desk.

As the singer screamed with passion, I nodded along in the back hiding from the rays of yellow flickering from the wands of light on stage.
It felt good to be in that room.

As the musicians emoted and the twenty-somethings jumped to the beat, I stood with my feet planted to the concrete floor. I swung my arms and let the intensity pulse through my body causing my knees to bend and shake. With each drum beat I absorbed the reverberations and welcomed, over and over again, the pounding reminder – I am beautifully alive.

There were times the audience’s screams of admiration caused me to plug my ears and I felt, once again, embarrassed to be an introvert in a loud space. I reminded myself it’s a radical act to care for oneself and while I left my ear plugs in the car, I pushed my hands to my head and my fingers in my ears. Sometimes, the noise and the darkness became too much.

While the band may not have been my first choice, they are my husband’s old favorite and I knew he was standing behind me, screaming well-known lyrics and smiling ear to ear.

This morning, my ears are ringing to prove it. I’ll never again get return to yesterday’s base level of hearing capabilities.

And this morning, I woke up and scrolled through my Facebook feed and found out again someone we knew, someone my brother loved, has died.

There is too much darkness haunting our young people. Hurting kids are turning to the wrong things to help ease their pain. And I swear to God it never gets easier to hear the truth that people we love will leave us. That one kind, searching kid just did.

Peace be with us.

We stand in darkness, there are flickering rays of light, and we bend and shake with the magnitude of our choices. We can lean on walls, hold hands, show up to support the ones we love. We can shake our heads and scream and pound and let the pulse move through us. And we can weep when people hurt.

A swirling mess of fog and noise and joy created in big, emotive sounds exists – this is what the world asks of us. I want to be affected. I refuse to go numb.

For we are still alive and we can choose to move toward the light.

If you know someone who is struggling, reach out.

If you are fighting demons, get help.

I want the pulse and the verve to continue on through me and through you. Lean on walls if you must. I want your ears to continue to hear the beautiful music. Please continue to live loudly. To see beauty. To run towards the flickering light mixing with the screeching feedback. Get on stage and help find your voice to sing.  I’ll be with you to help plug your ears when it all feels to much.

In Denial

I got an email from Nordstrom Rack this week. A classic promotion and the subject line read, “Which type is your dad?”

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 9.49.53 PM.png

A dead one – I thought to myself.

Oy

I wanted to send of a snarky reply but I didn’t.

Sometimes it’s easier to keep those little remarks to yourself. Advertisers are not often in the business of being sensitive to these kind of pain points.

Here we are. Another calendar year rolled by and I find myself clicking delete on promotions in my email, in the accounts I manage, and ignoring blatant ads on social media.

These Father’s Day triggers are everywhere.

After reading some of the pieces I published last year on the holiday I realized I’m at year number four, not three, of this holiday without him.

Four seems so much bigger than three.

You can ask the toddlers who have become bigger children in his absence.

I’m in Father’s Day denial. I was hoping to keep it at an arms distance.

But Nordstrom and Macy’s and Apple and even Starbucks are telling me I better prepare.

Sigh. Deeeeeeeeep sighs.

I’m missing him and breathing in his scent found in the hot popcorn popped fresh at the hardware store. I finger his sweatshirts hanging in my closet, next to my work blazers reminding me of how his fibers felt when brushed against him as I rushed out the door.

I’m in denial this year and so I turn my attention here. To the …

White walls painted fresh in a completed basement.

Slices of crisp dill pickle on dry crumbly bread.

Ham spread with mayo, no Minnesota butter to be found.

Small floating bubbles in spritzer.

Peas sprouting up in the garden.

Translucent squirts of lemon juice easing their way down into glasses full of cool water.

Coffee beans grinding.

Fitness instructors reminding me to tend to my back.

Encouragement from bosses.

Kisses on the cheek with an old friend. The ones who knew him too.

Red lipstick marks on coffee cups.

Baby Opal just one miraculous week old.

Maintained eye brows.

Dinners with grandmas and aunts and mother-in-laws.

Lottery tickets scratched clean.

These are the beautiful things this week is made of. And I’m focusing on them instead.

 

Rising Waters – You Can Help

I met Heather when I was 23. I sat next to her in a big leather booth drinking cocktails at a girls gathering we liked to call “Philoso-tini”.

We’d discuss life and the women older than me discussed their kids and careers and the mystery that is faith.

Heather looked right at me that night as I was lamenting about my next job decision and she said, “Honey, it’s just a job. You don’t have to take it so seriously.”

It’s taken me five years to realize she was right.

She lost her dad a year before me and while we weren’t close at the time, I watched her handle the complete suckage of cancer with grace and honesty. She met with me at high top tables and was one of the first people to nod along as I started practicing processing my grief.

Heather is funny and hopeful and optimistic and has a big heart. And over Memorial Day her childhood home was flooded in Oklahoma. Her parents and her family need some assistance as they navigate insurance, adjusters, travel in flooded areas, and getting basic supplies in an area destroyed by rising waters.

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 7.33.07 PM.png

Today, dear friends, I ask you to help my friend Heather and her family. They are hoping to raise $6,000 to cover the costs of the following things:

– mitigation costs (clean up, dumpsters, haul off, drying, air purifying, etc.)
– supplies (masks, boxes, gloves, etc.)
– assist with payment of insurance deductible
– cost of accommodations when couches and spare rooms are not available (insurance doesn’t pay a dime)
– help offset costs when people host
– food (no food storage available)
– fuel and travel costs (driving back and forth to the house from wherever sleep happened; helping a daughter get there to help)
– storage costs for items that are salvageable
– eventual rebuilding
*while we don’t know what the insurance claim will be classified as, regardless, nearly all furniture was lost. there isn’t a couch to sit on or a table to eat at. even while clean up is happening.
– a little bit of help with travel costs (daughters trying to rotate through to help – flights, rental cars, time away from jobs)

Please consider giving financially here.

 

heather.jpg

I’d also like to collect gift cards to support her family still in Colorado. She has two kiddos and a husband who also need to eat and be cared for while she is away. If you can donate a gift certificate to King Soopers, restaurants, Target, or Amazon to provide for the family while she is back in Oklahoma, please let me know by Wednesday, June 5th.

Here’s a chance folks. To reach out and give and serve someone I know who is very much deserving.

Learn more about Heather’s family story and how to donate by clicking here. Please spread the word.

Let’s rally in support and give big. One of my favorite beautiful things.

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.

dimas-aditya-546509-unsplash.jpg

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.