recovery

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.

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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.

Loss(t)

I told you I had good news.

Or hard news.

Or sad news.

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

It’s good news. It’s good news.

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

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

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

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

xo

Floral Arrangements

When we were planning my dad’s funeral, I remember my mom being so concerned that there would be no flowers at the service. She made my aunt go pick out a few nice arrangements at the local florist. It was a taxing decision at the end of a long list of taxing decisions. Some greenery, a bushel of something or other to go inside of his fishing creel. She slept only a little bit better knowing that my dad’s alter…. is that what you call it? Ugh. The table with all of the things to remember him by. That table. It would be decorated with a few things fresh and beautiful.

Yet….. When someone dies people show up and send flowers. Lots of flowers. Beautiful, big displays of color and fabulous scent.

My dad died the week before Easter and every room in my mom’s house was filled with the smell of Easter lilies. My aunt bought us trees. Actually, several people sent us trees. Things to stick into the earth to remember him by. People want to give life when a life comes to an end.

 

These floral arrangements, while lovely, also start to grow stale in old water. The blooms start wilting, petals turn brown and scum coats fancy vases no matter the shape or the size. You have to disassemble them. I think it’s kinda morose to give someone who just lost a loved one a mixture of things that are going to, in a few weeks time, wither and die.

I remember taking this photo and naming it Grief Disassembled. At this point, the family had left, the casseroles stopped showing up on our door steps, and it was me, my mom, and my brother disassembling numerous arrangements. Combing through branches and thorns and dried leaves to see which lilies would last another week or two.

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And then we took the remaining roses, daisies, marigolds, greens, and hung them on the stairs to dry. Reminders of the extension of love and support that came to us in the middle of March during the worst month of my life.

Reminders that even though things die, we can keep, treasure, and handle with care the essence of intentions that radiate love.

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Just a few weeks ago, my mom took these arrangements down.

We reached the first anniversary with tears and cheeseburgers and a trip to the bakery.

I wrote him a letter – three pages long.

Lots of you reached out with texts and cards and phone calls. I am so pleased to know that my dad touched your lives too. Sometimes I forget his reach was so broad, so big, so full of inquiry into who YOU are because my own loss of him lives with me in my heart pocket each day. To those of you who felt his void, I’m sorry you had to lose him too.

I was most touched, however, by the simple gesture that someone (two someones in fact) chose once again to send me flowers.

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I received this bouquet last week and spent a few days pondering what this little arrangement symbolizes for me. A remembrance of a man so spectacular yes, but also the beauty of surviving our first year without him. Of turning our heads to the light. Of reclaiming the scent of the Easter lily. Of looking for fresh beauty, fresh extensions of love, new beginnings.

This arrangement will die too. But disassembling these blooms won’t be nearly as painful. Healing can be found in the most wondrous of places. Today, I see the glimmer of hope bounce among the stems, reaching up in the unfolding tulip petals, dancing on babies breath.

And all that was given to me in the delivery of flowers, a beautiful thing.