recovery

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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

On This Side of Heaven

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

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

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

It just feels like shit.

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

Sometimes it just feels like there is so much darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

 

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

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

Now. Now. Now.

I’ve never been great at living in the now.

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My mom sent me this image this week as a subtle reminder to chill the heck out.

Now. Now. Now.

They say that’s all that matters. The NOW. And I want to believe them. But…

The giant BUT.

I find my over-eager brain jumping all over the place. A lot of time reflecting back to last year. To crisis. To loss. To memories of my dad. To what it felt like to be plunged underneath the churning waves of grief. To feelings of failure and uncertainty and just plain old awful.

Then I bounce back and arrive in the present again, eat my cereal, head to work. I go about my day, and today I got stuck in this moment, a memory.

Rewind six years and I’m sitting in a small theater on a college campus. Black robes swishing on a wooden chair, square cap on my head, chords of accomplishment round my neck. The tassles tickling my fingerprints as I anxiously await my turn across the stage.

A distinguished professor stood at a podium and read from Alice Walker’s book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. A passage from  Chapter 4. All Praises to the Pause; The Universal Moment of Reflection.

Alice Walker writes, “The moment when something major is accomplished and we are so relieved to finally be done with it that we are already rushing, at least mentally, into The Future. Wisdom, however, requests a pause. If we cannot give ourselves such a pause, the Universe will likely give it to us. In the form of illness, in the form of a massive mercury in retrograde, in the form of our car breaking down, our roof starting to leak, our garden starting to dry up. Our government collapsing. And we find ourselves required to stop, to sit down, to reflect. This is the time of “the pause,” the universal place of stopping. The universal moment of reflection.” 

The professor reminded us over-eager, naive, twenty-one year olds that life is going to hand you pauses. Big ones. Transitions between jobs, times of sickness, a move, or days when feelings too great prevent you from your greatest work, or from accomplishing anything productive at all.

Last year was darkness. Double job loss. Loss of a parent. Hours spent staring at walls wondering what to do. Loss of a hopeful political candidate. Loss of routine, of schedule, of income.

A big, fat, Pause with a capital P. A giant rippppp in my picturesque magazine cover. Horrible coming-of-age experiences where you start to realize those depictions in advertisements lie. Not everyone’s parents get to die in their sleep at the age of 92.

Ding. Back in today. I looked at my flipped through copy of Walker’s book and was drawn to the chapter titled “When life descends into the pit” – ha. Maybe I should reread that one too.

This week I also read The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  They spend 250 pages exploring the science and magic of moments. Why do we remember some for years, and easily let thousands of moments of our lives slip through our noodle brains and onto the floor? What qualities come together to delight and make us feel important, accomplished, worthy humans? Read the book. Their analysis is pretty sound.

I’ve thought of that commencement speech often, and have wondered why that one moment left such a big mark on my perspective of life. I’m sure the graceful academic was trying to subtly say to eager graduates, ‘Hey, cool your jets. It’s ok if you move home for a few months, or wait tables, or feel lost in this break.’ I’ve carried this moment with me, though,the bigger implication always in the back of my mind.

Things take time. They fall apart. We must pause. I’ve trusted this truth in my journey and shared the chapter with friends, and my husband, and other people feeling lost.  This passage gave me permission to accept and even expect the pause. As painful as they can be. Remembering, too, that we will be able to press play once again.

In the last Grey’s Anatomy episode (yes, I still watch that show) a doctor had a brain tumor removed. After the operation, she is frantic to see her latest brain scans, certain that something is still wrong. Her kind, patient friend brings instead, her tumor in a jar. “You’re looking for this,” he says (and I paraphrase here), “You’ve been waiting for the last shoe to drop for so long that it’s hard for you to believe that everything is ok. That the thing causing you pain and suffering is no longer yours. It’s gone.”

Her body was growing against her, her relationships suffered, she was most afraid to believe that maybe, just maybe, things are ok now that the mass has been removed. I turned to Dylan as we watched and I said, “I can relate to that.” To that feeling of expecting the worst because it is easier than placing hope in the shaky notion that maybe things are ok again. I have a hard time believing my pain can be gone.

Because when trauma happens, in whatever form, it takes a hell of a lot of time to trust the universe again. Grief is never gone, but its intensity lessens.

I’m no longer on pause. Dylan is working again and I’ve got a new full-time job I love. I’m doing side-work I feel makes a difference. I struggle to find time to write this blog post. My family is healing, slowly, but still, and we are working on creating moments that make us feel good, inspired, and worthy of celebration. We can create more positive moments. We can press play.

Moments worth mentioning?

– Family photos – our first professional session without dad – with a caring and empathetic artist who captured us beautifully.

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– A lunch date with my husband – we each drove ten minutes to have lunch together – why haven’t we done this more?

– Sopping up dog pee – poor puppy has issue with us being gone ten hours a day and has been peeing in our house, yipee. As Dylan says to me often, “well you couldn’t hold it that long either.” He’s right.

– Raking up leaves. A chore, but the beautiful crunch of leaves under your feet only comes round once a year.

– Made a haircut appointment, called the insurance agent, paid the mortgage. Basic to-do list items that took extraordinary effort and produced high anxiety this time last year. Progress. Not perfection.

– Made it to yoga. Check the exercise box. My teacher reminded us to wiggle and shout. Get energy moving through our blood. Release. Breathe on a mat.

– Filled a jar with Candy Corn and love how it sits on my desk. People stop by for a handful and a chat and the sugar connects us.

– Planned a girls weekend with old friends from high school. Scheduled a catch up call with an old girlfriend from college. Investing in relationships matters.

These moments aren’t grand in gesture, or spectacular in effort. Rather they reflect every day opportunities to live in the now. To invest in the people around me. To take care of my loved ones and myself.

In ten years I may not remember any of these moments. The ones in the Pause may be more pervasive in my thoughts, but here is my commitment to me and to you, to keep making moments beautiful. It’s our choice to glorify the ordinary moments and that is a beautiful thing. I hope Chip and Dan would agree.