recovery

Crying in Church

I’ve only heard God speak to me once before.

Seven words imprinted on my soul as I sat in a big stone church in Tacoma, Washington where I couldn’t stop crying. I was eighteen and had spent three months trying to adjust to my freshman year of college.

You are coming home for a reason, he whispered.

I didn’t know then what the heck that meant. I only knew I felt I had made a horrible choice in going to school so far away from home. I knew I wouldn’t stay and I hated the Pacific Northwest, and the rain wouldn’t stop, and I was ready for my mom to come and get me.

A few days later, I dropped out of the picturesque private school and my mom arrived with boxes to move me back across the country. I tried.

God told me I was coming home.

Years passed and I went to college an hour away from where I grew up. I spent time with my family and met a boy and as you know, the rest is history.

And then we lost him.

And things got murky.

And I began to wonder, ‘Is this the reason God was telling me about all those years ago?’

I like to think yes, yes that’s what God meant. I came home to bend and to grow, to meet my husband, to learn about family. Mostly, I wonder if he meant I came home to spend time with Dad.

This weekend I sat in a quirky auditorium and listened to denim-wearing hipsters with big beards play beautiful worship music on well-worn guitars. The building was much different than the stone church a few hundred miles north that I sat in years ago.

I joke I know worship songs created up until 2011, when my church-going became more sporadic. My friend told me she often doesn’t recognize the songs because the worship band writes the lyrics themselves. No wonder I didn’t recognize the tunes.

As they sang of God turning ashes into new life, and sorrow to joy, I felt it again.

God talking directly to me.

This I will do for you.

Despite my best attempts to swallow up emotion, tears started slowly rolling down my face. In a dark auditorium I wiped at my eyes and smeared my tears on my sleeves, turning my chin down so people I just met wouldn’t see.

I’m having trouble believing transformation is possible.  I want this whisper to be true.  The sorrow we carry will morph, lift and change, and the ashes we’ve spread will turn to joy.

I’m not sure I believe him, but I heard God again. Whispering loudly to me.

I was crying in church. What a beautiful thing.

Frisee and Calloused Skin

I’ve been sitting on my hands. Have you ever tried to walk forward while your arms are pinned under your seat? It’s impossible. In order for your butt to literally move forward, you have to have your hands at your side.

For the last three years, my fists have been clenched. They’ve stayed under me, or in my lap, warped fingers holding in the hurt of grief and the negative self-talk of not-quite-good enough to get over this enormous thing that happened to us.

While caring people have been helping me unfurl my fingers wound tight, I’ve been sitting, still on pause. Waiting for news, waiting for opportunity for my husband, waiting for the next shoe to drop. If my hands are balled tight, I can punch the next bout of pain away.

While poised to punch, I’ve been missing out. I know, last month I wrote a long list of steps I’ve planned and the lists of living accomplishments I’m hoping to step into this year. It’s easy to run away and retreat in the mountains and to seek companionship with crashing waves and old friends over steaming mugs and stormy skies.

What’s been harder for me is learning how to be me in my community – the one I grew up in, the one that shaped me, the one where we lost him and I still remain.

I started my career in nonprofit development. I’ve learned, oddly enough, I love raising money. I’m good at making funds flow in by telling stories to tug heart strings and change lives. Social work matters to me. And since Dad’s death, I had to step away from philanthropy. This morning, after three years out of that scene, I drove to a fundraising luncheon with the ladies who lunch. I read a book in my car as I waited – I had arrived fifteen minutes early. Chit-chat be damned – I was hiding as long as I could.

The minutes ticked as I turned pages and finally, I put on red lipstick matching my heels and walked into the grand ballroom. I scanned the crowd behind my big sunglasses and searched for my “before people” – the ones who knew me pre-death. I avoided eye contact with a few and found a comfortable seat with old friends in the distance.

I asked the networking questions and I ate my plate of greens (Really people, frisee should be forbidden from public lunches. How do you get all those loose fronds in your mouth without looking like a fool?)

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I watched as the videos scrolled and participants shared their stories of change. I got out my checkbook and I made a donation. I felt my fingers move from under my booty to my sides – thankful for my current job and it’s ability to give me a few extra dollars to donate to cause I believe in.

I felt a part of something bigger than me.

This question of fit has been with me for awhile now, taunting asks of ‘How do I stay and grow in a place I’ve lived in for thirty years when I feel and act so differently?’ When I posed this question to my mom, she responded, “Katie, I’ve had four lives in the 30 years we’ve lived here. You can be new here too.”

One need not move across the country to step into freshly grown skin.

Grief rips up your carefully calloused skin. The questions you ask and the tears you cry scrub away dead layers of you-ness previously known to others. In this excruciating process you grow beautifully precious and painfully raw skin.

I’m out in public again, giving money rather than raising it. I’m protective of this fragile layer of self-defense and take care to honor my newness. I’m trying re-entry and writing checks. When I catch myself clenching, I smile and relax my hands, putting them once again at my side.

I face my palms open, ready to receive, pause and then I stand.

What a beautiful thing.

Coming Back

I’ve been practicing telling my grief story out loud. To people using their ears and their eyes.

It’s easier for me to type my story. I’m more comfortable when you’re just reading what I write.

I’m dreaming of new ways to bring my speaking voice to my experience and sent an email ask to Shelby Forsythia if she would be willing to host me on her podcast Coming Back.  She lost her mom when she was in college, and dove right in to learning more about grief, healing, and the power of owning one’s experience.

Shelby describes herself as an intuitive grief guide and works with people struggling with grief and loss. In her interviews with others, she offers refreshing perspectives on the way our culture handles grief, and focuses on real experiences with real humans as we continue to live with loss.

Her tagline, “because even through grief we are growing” pinched my heart and said, ‘pay attention to this’ – she’s on to something.

I’m thrilled to share our conversation here and am very thankful to be in her group of people growing with grief. We talk about introversion, a little bit of Jesus, and how searching for beautiful things informs my process with loss.

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Shelby is also looking for new folks to interview on her podcast for her FIFTH(!) season.  If you are interested in sharing your experience with grief, send her an email and tell her I sent you.

Happy listening.

I remember … and now I understand.

It’s September 11th. Seventeen years ago I was twelve when my dad was driving me to school. He was trying to chat my way out of my pre-teen morning grump with a joke when he paused.

“Turn up the radio,” he said.

I had no idea why he got so serious, so quickly.

I still remember what intersection we were at and I absorbed his somber energy.

I remember watching news footage over and over and over again that day.

I remember not understanding the severity of the day, but knowing that this horrific attack would influence us as a generation, as a world, forever.

Seventeen years of national grief.

This year, that same news footage has me thinking. Anniversaries of the death of loved ones are hard enough. I can’t imagine how it feels to have it being played out on t.v. on repeat.

I’m sad for those who lost loved ones that day. I’m sad for those still healing.

I remember and now, perhaps worse, I’m beginning to understand.

The gut wrenching feeling of loss. It sucks you into a hole and drags you into the darkness. All those clips of buildings crumbling, people falling, smoke consuming those who were trying to run away. Trauma lingers on the news, in our nation, seeping into our hearts.

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Go hug your loved ones – our time is short – make lists of beautiful things.

Here are #46 – in the Resistance of a Different Kind movement. Can you help us get to 1,000?

#46 and # 47 – 2 beautiful daughters – one for each
#48 A loving husband
#49 A roof over my head
#50 God who surrounds me with love each day

#46 – 50 Contributed by Elizabeth Timpe

#51 Silence after a long day
#52 My cat curling up in my lap and purring
#53 Having random moments of appreciation towards life
#54 Long sleep
#55 Cake

#51 – 55 Contributed by @lemonzandtea

#56 hugs
#57 fall colors
#58 crisp, cool air
#59 bike rides
#60 sunsets
#61 football games
#62 reading
#63 puppy breath & just puppies
#64 date night
#65 transitions (positively looking at change, trying to admire learning experiences & acknowledge the growth- easier said than done)

#56 – 65 Contributed by Donell Betts

#66 Buying a ticket to see a musical which is one of my most dear pleasures in all the world
#67 Calling my mom whenever I want and knowing she will listen to everything I have to say
#68 Feeling okay enough every day to do one thing to further my goals.
#69 Watering my plants and watching them grow. And talking to them until I feel more than a little crazy
#70 Sleeping until I wake up (on the weekends)
#71 Planning outfits for fall.
#72 Having good health and choosing to respect it.
#73 Cooking dinner for my friends.
#74 Writing my truth and sharing it with others.
#75 California avocados. I grew up in the Midwest, you know what I mean.

#66 – 75 Contributed by Meg Schmidt,
Writer and Executive Producer of Hello Humans

#76 Smelling something in the oven
#77 The first signs of fall
#78 Knowing a poem by heart
#79 Aspen trees
#80 Buttered toast
#81 Church bells ringing in the distance
#82 Freshly washed sheets
#83 Staying home when it rains
#84 Handwritten recipes
#85 Taking a step

#76 – 85 Contributed by Zoë Trout

#86 warm summer nights with fireflies in the trees
#87 sharing a spot on the front porch with a friend during a thunderstorm
#88 a warm fuzzy blanket
#89 being silly
#90 singing in the car at the top of my lungs
#91 a shared smile with a dear loved-one
#93 a new pen to write with
#94 dragonflies
#95 looking someone in the eye saying “don’t change a thing” … and meaning it

#86 – 95 Contributed by Carri Adcock

#96 We just jammed to Bohemian Rhapsody as a family in the car

#96 Contributed by Heather Anderson


When you’re ready to contribute your list, send me an email or leave a comment of your 5-10 beautiful things. Details about this movement are here – I can’t do it without you.

 

 

Isn’t Life Grand?

It was probably in the second month when we were in my clunky, blue car. I can’t remember where we were headed, but I was driving. Dylan was in the passenger seat and Mom sat in the back, folding her hunched shoulders over her knees. Her black rain coat covered her shrinking body and each time she sighed, the Gore-Tex material would crinkle along with her.

Waiting at the stop light at the intersection I glanced over my shoulder to look at her.

No tears in this moment, at least not yet.

“Claudia called today,” she mumbled.

“Oh yeah?” I responded, “What did she say?”

“Nothing much. There’s nothing to talk about with people. They keep asking me how it’s going and I just want to scream, ‘life sucks’. Nothing to talk about. Nothing to see.”

Her words were quick and full of bitterness. My muscles clenched.

“I get that,” I murmured.

The light turned green and we kept on going. Driving ourselves further into the muck of grief.

It gets worse before it gets better. And in our case, it got much, much worse.

Another three months later and she had a breakdown. In the king-sized bed with the plaid-checked comforter, where he used to lay next to her on vacation. Her tears would not stop. We brought in aunts and uncles and caring cousins and tried, half-heartedly to create a care plan.

Holistic practitioners scrawled solutions on pads of paper. Remedies of rest, tinctures and hemp oils to soothe a grieving heart. Nothing seemed to be working.

Brought in more medication. The western doctor said it best when he asked, “What helps the most?” and her answer, “red wine” got not a rebuff, but permission.

“Then drink a bit more of it” he said, “Right when you wake up.”

We hired a care-taker and continued to drive her around, always in the back seat, always in the rain coat. We’d stroke her hands and play soothing songs, tensing our aching hearts toward her when the songs prompted more tears, not less.

Sat in the dark. For months.

Watched the tears roll over and over down her cheeks. The drips of emotion puddling in worn jeans and wrinkles on her hands all the way down to her painted toes.

She knew she had to start moving those appendages. They were getting stiff.

Baby steps.

Two and a half years passed.

Some involving actual babies – a job at a daycare, a trip to Italy. Lots of therapy with said therapist.

Her black rain coat hangs in the closet now, above his hiking boots. It’s ready for the next storm, but no longer needed as a daily accessory.

She’s cooking again – real meals that taste good. Not just spaghetti with mush of tomatoes or toast with butter.  This time there’s lobster tails, and pasta with cream, and crunchy salads full of life.

Last night, we sat on the deck after dinner, and she relaxed back in her chair. Bending her torso back over the supportive seat, she ran her newly graying hair through her hands. She took a deep inhale – this one full of joy.

“Isn’t life grand?” she murmured.

The sauvignon blanc in her glass goblet glittered in the light, matching the twinkle in her eye. The one that returned.

 

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I wasn’t sure she would say such things again.

That life is grand.

Even without you.

That we are making it, and she is smiling, and we are no longer driving her around as she sits, waiting for something or someone, to move her out of the backseat.

 

In These Ordinary Sparkles

Read a book. Hiked a mini mountain. Two over easy eggs oozed over shredded potatoes.

Beer courted lemonade.

Words worked this afternoon.

Sore legs pulsed.

Cold water cascaded, kissing scalps while mixing with shampoo bubbles.

Sleep tickled eyelids.

Weekend.

Sometimes the ordinary feels magical.

In the sparkles, I feel unbearably grateful for peace.

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Photo by Fred Heap on Unsplash

Sunday nights can be challenging for my grief. It’s as if the world pauses before launching in to another week and I miss him. Sunday night dinners forever changed. This week was National Doughnut Day and I ate my plain cake doughnut with chocolate sprinkles (Thanks Jana!) and with every swallow wished I could text Dad to say,  “Look what I’m eating.” Instead, I pinched the last morsel of my treat and licked my fingers, saying a silent hello to him at the counter in our workplace kitchen.

Yet, tonight, on this cloudy cool evening with my dog at my feet and my husband fixing our fence I am so grateful I could cry.

Happy tears. Peaceful tears. Nostalgic tears.

Deep breaths. Sigh. Whisper thank you. Repeat.

These ordinary sparkles. They glitter and dance shaping this new version of me. Different body, strengthened heart, gold filling the cracks.

We’re moving forward with strength into the second half of another year.

Time for sleep.

Listen to this before you go to bed.

She’s won my heart.

Growing Joy

It has been a few weeks. I haven’t been writing.  The end of May is approaching and I’ve been swirling between the weekly grind, remembering birthdays, softball games, late night dinners, and ukulele lessons. We are filling up our days and nights. When I lift my head I inhale a smile and think, “We did it. We are living again.”

This weekend we focused on our backyard. The sunshines strong rays threatened my sensitive skin and ants bit my legs. From under our deck we dragged outdoor furniture into the light. Didn’t we just put this stuff away? How did six months of hibernation pass so quickly?

Filthy, mucky water sat stinking and stagnant, pooling on the tarp covering my two-seater lounge chair.  While meant to protect our seasonal seats, the synthetic material wasn’t able to do its job. Instead the water soaked through, warping wood, causing paint to fleck, and chip. The original surface exposed.

Got out the hose. Found a sponge and some soap and changed my shoes to sandals.  Washed off the muck. More paint chips fell to the lawn growing at my feet. Clean water kissed my toes.

Our attention shifted towards our garden plot, four bags of dirt anxiously waiting for something to grow on its center. Poured fertilizer, placed water lines, tucked seeds in rows with potential one inch under the ground. Sweat poured off our faces and into the dirt. We rubbed each other’s backs and sat down to rest. Grass tickled my legs and held me close – grounded me as my skin graced the Earth.

She whispered, “See, I’ve got you. Look how far you’ve come”

Two years ago, the summer after Dad died, we would go to my mom’s house and sit in her backyard. We’d lay in the grass and feel Mother Earth, and squint as the sun glinted off our tears mingling with dirt on our cheeks. Many, many days laying in grass because nothing else seemed manageable.

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I can’t believe how far we’ve come.

Dad’s 61st birthday was two weeks ago.  It felt awful and funny and sad. I posted this on Instagram.

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This birthday felt like under the surface, seeds planted long ago were growing.

Seeds of joy. God planted them in our darkness – tiny little buttons composed of Dad’s memories and life and love for us – organic materials.

They told me this would happen.

That grief would soften to joy.

I didn’t believe them.

Yet, if someone told me flowers were growing under all that dirt in my back yard and I’d never seen blossoms before, I probably wouldn’t believe them either.

It’s true.

Under all that dirt. Washing off muck, and flecks of paint that cover the pain, we are still here. Our original selves.

Without him.

Growing joy.

A beautiful thing.