loss

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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Air Laced with Love

There’s a storm rolling over us right now.

God, does it sound gorgeous.

At my feet my little dog sits, her eyes slowly drifting to sleep, eyelids heavy and half open.

Rain smacks against our roof. Thunder claps.

The birds still keep tweeting.

I’ve got the windows open, despite the storm, and my little family basks in the dewey light of spring. Toes splayed out on our worn comforter we sit with devices on our laps. These are the things gratitude is made of.

Inhale deeply.

Social media is full of messages of motherhood today. I know the national holiday holds significance for women all over the country. I’m touched and feel tender from the shift happening on the internet.

The shift towards real.

So many of these posts exclaim an appreciation and understanding of how holidays, while meant to celebrate, can also exclude.  For the women longing to be mothers, those estranged from their mothers or their own children. For those who kissed weary lashes and watched last breaths exit those beautiful bodies ready to be done.

Today, some men and women and children wonder and hurt and pray crying out, “F Mother’s Day”.

Thankful to those who see those who are yelling or are perhaps banging their fists silently against their own hearts.

I spent Mother’s Day weekend with my grandma and my mom in a hospital room. Grandma’s fine – had to have a few procedures done and was released earlier today. Our plans of champagne and hollandaise got replaced with jello and apple juice in small plastic cups.

I showed up. I sat in the blue chair with plastic that crinkled each time I moved my legs. From the corner I watched as caring nurses attentively gave their time and talents to Grandma. We ate cookies from plastic sandwich bags and listened to beeping screens. We breathed in the sacred air. Air laced with love tinged with concern and the miracle of modern medicine.

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Down the hall, in the ICU, families waited and breathed slowly and slept on couches in waiting rooms. I did not have to celebrate in that space. Not yet. That space holds a heavier kind of pain.

Losing someone has heightened my awareness and piqued my ears up towards all the ways our culture tells us we should be celebrating.

Today, I do not dread, but I know my time is coming. Father’s Day lurks quietly around June’s approaching corner. Soon start the advertisements for ties, barbecue grills, beer and outdoor adventures. Lowes and Home Depot will taunt me. My dad didn’t like many of those things anyway and he already had so many ties.

I’ll swerve and veer and navigate my own loss as we move towards another national day of recognition.

So today, here I sit, with toes splayed out, resting in the delicious balance of rain, of unknowns, of love. I say thanks for imperfection and for storms and for nurses. For those who have mothered me in a million trillion ways. And for another beautiful opportunity to remember those who live – in hospital rooms, in text messages, in our hearts and our dreams.

 

 

My phone did a bad thing.

My phone did a bad thing.

The past few days my Apple device has been acting up when I text. The little micro machine always telling me my storage is full, and I don’t have the space capacity needed for the new iOS update. As a result, I can’t log into my bank app and my camera shuts down frequently.

First world problems. Yes.

I take too many pictures on my micro machine. This micro machine is also a time machine. On it lives very important memories.

Treasured ones. His voice. His pictures. His words. Dad’s.

I carry pieces of who he was in my phone which means he’s always in my purse, on my desk, on my bedside table.

This morning, to remedy the odd text message problem, I pressed the center button and the other one – you know the small one on the right. The combination of my pressing prompted a computer reset.

I needed my micro machine working properly – ready to respond to my every communication demand.

I used my fingerprint touch id (the future is now) to log back in after the reset and I promptly received three texts in the correct order. I scanned my family’s messages and set my phone down. Fixed.

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Wait, something’s not right.

All of my previous message conversations ……… gone. The ones from when we got engaged, group celebrations, and family archives. Missing in the line up.

Also missing are two text threads I had with Dad. One, a joking joint conversation with my brother – the three of us discussing mac and cheese options for brother’s birthday dinner. The other, a long standing thread of individual texts with Dad.

Our conversations. Stopped abruptly by his stupid early departure from this planet.

And today, when I reset my phone, the conversation went missing.

“Shit, shit, shit,” I said to myself as I started to panic at my desk. Around me, my co-workers reviewed reports and I was supposed to be doing data entry.  My eyes started watering.

I muttered some other choice words and quickly texted Dylan asking what I could do to back up my phone.

“Google it, ” he said.

Everyone’s damn answer is Google it. 

I don’t think I backed up my phone and I’ll have to log on to explore iCloud and text recovery and all these IT language things I’m not sure I understand.

What I do get, however, is that sometimes life rudely takes things away from you before you were ready. 

Another thing Dylan suggested was to try to send a text to the number and see if it would bring up the thread. That number has been out of service for over a year and a half. Is it more painful to text a number he certainly won’t answer, or to risk never seeing that thread again?

Although memorized, Dad’s personal contact with office, home and cell numbers still lives in my phone. I couldn’t delete it because our jokes and check-ins still sat in my messages. Sometime, I said, I’d write them all down. I was waiting for when I was ready.

I bravely deleted Dad from my favorites in my phone about nine months ago. I made a choice to take that step. We already let go of his ashes, some of his clothes, his crap in the garage and in the storage room we affectionately called his “study”. I could let go of him being a favorite caller in my phone.

I wasn’t ready to let go of those texts. Shit.

This morning, before the dreaded reset, I logged on to Facebook and saw that a friend from high school just lost her friend to brain cancer. Age 30. This woman was taken too soon. Cancer took her before my friend was ready. Before any of her family, or friends, or co-workers were ready. I don’t know this woman, and I rarely talk to this high school acquaintance but I got goosebumps this morning – for that family, that beautiful woman, the husband now widowed at my age. Tears for what was taken abruptly from them.

Everywhere we look things are getting taken from us.

But.

But.

Every single day things are given to us too.

 This weekend I threw a baby shower for a friend I’ve known for fifteen years. It’s miraculous to watch your friends prepare for parenthood. To bless them with onesies and diapers and things that suck snot out of their children’s noses. Yup, that’s a thing.

Investing in dear friends as they go big through transitions is a beautiful gift.

Tulips are popping up through the cold ground without direction – loved into being by instinct and sunshine that God provides.

The weather is warming and trees are blooming. The promise of spring lingers.

More texts do come in on my phone, though none from him.

So, tonight, I’ll try to find those texts and trust God that maybe He knew I don’t need to be carrying that weight around in my purse, on my desk, or my bedside table.

Open some storage space. Ouch.

Let new, beautiful things – photos, voices, and words – flood in.

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Art by Gracelaced

 

 

Update – later this evening, thanks to that same, frustrating IT, I was able to locate the conversations I was looking for. All praise to the Cloud. The Jesus one and Apple too.

Katie’s Felt Board

I asked on Instagram on January 29th:

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Look what I got! Collecting beautiful quotes, clean jokes, and positive musings to put a smile faces. Send me a suggestion. I’ll share it on my board. 
#katiesfeltboard #beautifulthings#tinymessages #playalong

You answered.

Thanks for sharing to the following folks on Instagram:

@unabridged_me  – @schwebacharts @picturingloss – @savvysavagseavig – Mike Huey – and @momo_live_laugh_love_books


Today, I heard of an at-risk teenager lost too soon. A friend from college posted that she lost her dad to a year long disease.  More trauma from the shootings in Florida and heard from another grieving gal just a few years older than me. This world aches with loss and reels in the after-math of things outside our control or understanding.

Today daffodils also bloomed on my kitchen table. A baby was born. The third one this week from my friends and family. New, fresh, tiny humans waiting to make this world a more beautiful place. Babies keep being born. Life continues to sprout through the dirt and petals unfold to the sun.

We exist in both of these spaces. In the dark and the light and the shadows and glitter in between.

Think on that and read these quotes reflecting on beauty. We need it in this aching, hurting, blooming world.

 

“Always,” said Snape.

I just got done watching the last Harry Potter movie. We spread out part one and two over the weekend and I sit here, on my big blue couch, letting big waves of sad wash all over me.

Pulse. Wave. Sad. Pulse. Wave. Breath. Sad.

My dad loved those books.

When Harry Potter was eleven, I was eleven. Those stories a staple in my childhood and my adolescence.

Rewind six hours today and I’m standing, for the first time, in the oddest bookstore in town. In a small closet my ankle boots anchor me in front of a tall set of shelves. Big, wooden ones tucked away from the other rows of scattered books. On one shelf, at eye level, sit stacks and stacks of the series. Copies of all seven stories are accounted for. Five or six of each part of the grand story.

Piles of red books with gold lettering on worn spines. They’re all there. The first one – purple spine. The Chamber of Secrets. And on the shelf below piles of blue spines with the same gold lettering. The Half Blood Prince. And the green spine. And the orange. All the stories there. On shelves.

Reminding me of pages once loved and frantic flipping of paper to figure out what would happen next to our epic heroes.

Whoosh.

I’m eighteen years old.

Dad driving me to the midnight showing of the newest film after my senior appreciation dinner. I was wearing a blue hoodie and my Varsity tennis sweatpants. I sat with friends against the wall in the theater, feeling on top of the world. Invincible. I had accomplished so much.

Woosh.

It’s summer vacation and the two of us are sitting in a small cabin, each holding a copy of The Deathly Hallows across from each other, racing to read faster. Both in flannel pajamas. Staying up too late, drinking cocoa out of blue speckled metal mugs.

We always bought two copies when the new books were released because we couldn’t wait for our own turn. We had to read together. Who could get through the cliffhanger faster? He usually won. And the next morning we’d sit on the tiny wooden porch in the sun, debriefing the story, gasping at who the last casualty was to fall to he-who-shall-not-be-named.

Memories in story as we flipped page together. That gangly Harry Potter and his heroic crew weaving his fictional life with mine. With Dad’s.

That’s what good books do – they become an inseparable part of your story.

Woosh.

And tonight, I miss him. And I miss Harry. And the beautiful gold lettering. And those worn, well-loved spines.

Now the books just sit beautifully, in stacks, on shelves in used-book stores and studies that he no longer enters.

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But both of their stories linger in my heart and my fingers and my memories. Touch the spines, finger the gold letters, breath.

Pulse. Wave. Breath. Sad.

In other news, I had fun writing this guest post for More Native Than the Natives. I like living in Colorado and am proud to be from this beautiful state. It ain’t all bad folks. Feel the wave. Breathe. Move again in the morning.

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.

 

 

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!