Transition

And a Squirt of Whipped Cream

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Losing someone is rarely easy. While their spirits may seem to evaporate into the liminal space, people we love who move on leave a lot behind. I spent much of this weekend amongst my grandmother’s things. Cups and wooden salad bowls, serving platters made of milk glass, worn handmade blankets and quilts, dishes with the farm scenes painted on ceramic.

While they moved her to assisted living weeks ago, they only took the essentials. Her navy blue, floral couch was gone, but the drapes that hung in her house for my whole childhood stayed. The china cabinet may have been picked over, but the sturdy structure still stood, watching us move through half-empty rooms, selecting what we hoped for and reminiscing at the dining room table. We flipped through photo albums and I saw faded pictures of relatives I’d never met nor heard of. Legends of old uncles with problems during prohibition, or ties to old business, were stuck among crinkly cellophane, protecting both stories and their sepia-toned faces.

As I lay on the floor in the basement, I said “You know what I hate about dead people? They never come walking through the door when you want them to.”

I knew my grandmother was going to pass. She lived a long life, close to ninety years. And yet, when I found out her spirit had moved on, it still felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Maybe that’s what they do when they die – take the air with them into wherever comes next. It takes awhile to catch your breath.

This has been a summer of transition and shifting. We moved. We had a baby. We are growing into new roles and letting go of others. If all of your grandparents have passed, are you still a granddaughter? Or does that role now become my new daughter’s?

We’ll say good-bye in formal ways in a few weeks. And in the meantime, I’ll tuck a juice glass of her’s in my cupboard. In the morning, I’ll remember Lender’s bagels with blocks of cream cheese wrapped in foil, served on a small ceramic plate with a farm scene painted on top. I’ll remember Kraft singles, and dessert with Reddi-Wip out of a can. Because, as Grandma would say, life is better with a little squirt of whipped cream.

Being amongst her things, evoking memories, remembering stories, preparing to say good-bye, even when it hurts – all beautiful things.

Better Than When We Started

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Motherhood has taught me to speed up.

I push the cart at the grocery store a little faster, and walk briskly through Home Depot for fear of tears or fussiness. I gobble down meals because the baby always seems to need to eat right when we sit down.

Tending to my little one’s needs first requires putting my own rhythms on the back burner. Instead, I find pauses in ten minute intervals to eat a banana, respond to an email, wash my hair, or write a blog post before bed.

We moved this last weekend, and boxes are everywhere. Piles of ‘to be put away’, ‘to be hung on the wall’, and ‘to donate’ muddy the new white carpet. We step around gobs of brown, crumbled packing tape and whisper ‘Hey, where’s the toothpaste?’ when attempting a new bedtime routine.

I want to move quickly to find homes for our belongings, but the sense of urgency here is not serving me. I get interrupted with the need for a bottle, a diaper change, or breathing through a fear of what’s coming next. The desire to organize perfectly cripples me.

One of my to-do’s this week was to clean out the old house. I asked a friend to help, and she graciously said yes. When I dropped the baby at my mom’s, I was in a hurry. I wanted to scrub and vacuum, and turn over the keys. I wanted to be ready to leave behind the home we called ours for the last seven years.

However, when I walked in the door to do drop-off with the baby in her carseat, I burst into tears. The emotions from the last three months came bubbling up, no longer tolerating the stuffing down I’ve been attempting. I could no longer speed up this part of the process.

I texted my friend, ‘late again’, and when I was ready, she was in the driveway with her vacuum to help me suck up and wipe away our last marks in the house. I cried as I cleaned, and my friend nodded as witness. Endings are never easy for me. I have a lot of feelings.

However, I chose not to speed up this good-bye.

I inventoried the changes we had made. We painted every wall, built a laundry room, re-did the kitchen, updated the baseboards, landscaped, gardened, planted, and raked, and built bookshelves. In those walls, we lost a parent, trained a puppy, had over seven jobs between us, survived a pandemic, experienced pregnancy, and brought our baby to her first home. We made that house our home.

Walking from empty room to empty room, I vocalized my thanks for my happy memories, and touched my heart for the painful experiences the walls witnessed. I said thank you for housing us, for our growth, for the opportunity for two to become three.

As my friend swept the front porch before we closed the door, I shared the phrase repeating in my head – “Leave things better than when you found them.”

I can proudly say Dylan and I did just that.

Slowing down to say goodbye to our first home and leaving it better than when we started – beautiful things.

Filling Tiny Holes

In the small bathroom upstairs, Dylan removed the letters “G” “R” “A” “C” and “E” that had been hanging our towels. Grace – a simple phrase that accompanied our daily routines of cleansing, brushing, and wiping up gobs of toothpaste and lotion left behind in a hurry. Each letter left three holes to be filled.

When the spackle had dried, I stood in the bathroom, celebrating the time to shower with an infant in the house. Turning to look for a towel, the now blank wall pushed me back to a weekend in the early weeks after Dad died when we covered the walls with Monterey White. Holding the brush in my hand in the tiny room, I had wept. “I miss my Dad” I said, unsure of how the missing would grow as days turned into years.

It has been six years since we painted, and now, we are getting ready to move.

I don’t believe we ever fully heal from grief. We carry our people forward in our hearts and in our stories, and in the tears that come with transition. I’ve woken up every day for the last few weeks wishing I could call my dad for a pep talk, or have him come with us to drive by the new house. I’ve needed his advice and his expertise about insurance coverage, and his hands to hold my baby.

I am still missing him.

I make do with pictures, talking to his friends, and asking for hugs, and extra support from people who know the pain of progress without a parent.

The moving truck comes in a few days. For today, Dylan and I sit, with laptops on our thighs and a baby between us on the bedspread. The artwork is down, boxes sit waiting for tape, and I can’t find my power cords. I’m not sure what words will be witness to the next chapter of life we are walking towards.

But, the tiny holes we left in the walls where we lived are now filled. We are embracing transition and honoring our marks of progress. What beautiful things.

Waiting in Doorways

The night before I left for college, I sat in my parent’s basement and cried. I had said my good-byes to high school friends and found myself in the dark weeping. The next morning, while excited, I stuffed my belongings into the trunk and cried half-way across the country as my parents drove us through Idaho and Montana and into a small town in Washington where I thought my dreams would come true. I didn’t stop crying for four months.

Fast-forward to after college graduation. I was packing again to move out of my childhood bedroom and into a two-bedroom appointment with a boy I loved, but wasn’t yet ready to marry. I cried as I packed boxes and my mom sat on the floor with me while an eager young partner waited in the doorway to load my clothes up in his trunk, driving us an hour away.

When Dylan asked me to marry him, after saying yes, I was quiet for an hour. Not quite stunned. Perhaps unsure of what I committed to, ready to take steps forward and I buoyed myself in silence. Introspection suits me.

Tears tend to accompany transition. Grief of what was lingers in the shadows as I’ve walked through doors into each chapter of new unknowns. For years I beat myself up about those tears. I compared myself to the others who bounded into dorm rooms with confidence, or those who said yes to moving across the country without hesitation. I was enamored by young women ready to fully embrace walking down the aisle without a smidge of doubt.

Today, I’m 38 weeks pregnant. I question the women fully ready to embrace motherhood without fear of what they’d be giving up along the way. I’ve kept this change, this growing of life, quiet here. In transition, I tend to go inwards. What compassion training has taught me however, is that any gap between what we wish things to be and what is is a space for loving kindness to ourselves and others.

And I as I look around, at one of the deepest seasons of anticipation in my life so far, I’m realizing it’s ok to expect the tears. I’ll likely sit on floors and weep. I know I have people here to help me stand – trust me, hoisting a pregnant belly off the floor requires lots of grunting these days.

I’m not devastated. I’m overwhelmed in the goodness of all that will come.

I nod to the young woman who packed boxes in silence as people who love her watched and waited, perhaps already having stepped through the doorway a few steps ahead of her. I, however, get to do the work of bringing this baby into the world.

Grief taught me to be wary. At times, standing in doorways, clinging to what was, is a response of fear and self-preservation. I know what this room looks like, with its familiar carpet and the window that squeaks when you open the latch. Now there sits a bassinet, a rocking chair, and blankets, waiting to welcome a little soul with tiny toes and the power to expand our hearts in ways I’m sure I can’t quite yet understand.

Two weeks to go and I’m getting quiet. Our baby classes are done. We’ve made the lists, been gifted the things, created our birth preferences. I’m winding down at work. The to-do’s have been checked. And now, I wait. I’m wondering who I will become in this transition, and when baby will arrive. I’m saying hello to the tears and the fears, knowing they don’t get to drive.

I can’t control much. But, I can look back, embracing the woman who has learned how to sit, allowing emotion and wondering to wash over her. This time, I’m not pushing away the tears. Instead, I’m lingering in doorways, waiting for baby to pull me forward into motherhood. Anticipation can be a beautiful thing.

Old Linoleum

I received a text with the words “Here we go!” yesterday morning. The photo attached caused my heart to dip.

My mom’s having the downstairs bathroom remodeled in the house I grew up in. Gone are the blue vanity and wood-rimmed mirror I stood at each morning, curling my hair to get ready for high school. The traces of eye glitter from middle school swept away into a dumpster I imagined a contractor put in the driveway.

In the dip, I had the irrational thought, “Hey, Dad used that toilet! Now it’s gone!” Grief, ever present, is a constant saying of good-byes. Even to toilets.

While I wallowed the minimal loss linked to a bathroom remodel, threads started binding together from several recent conversations I’ve had with friends. One is contemplating a job change. The other, preparing to say good-bye to a co-worker who taught them valuable lessons about themselves. In both conversations, we came to a point of agreement – knowing familiar chaos is less scary than saying hello to something new and the accompanied uncertainties. We can handle the worn and tolerate the sloping floors. We’ve learned where to step so the boards don’t squeak and how to jiggle the faucet to make sure the drips stop.

As I look at the aged, patterned linoleum in the photo above, I’m reminded how we hang on to the old and grimy, for fear of what saying good-bye could cause us to feel.

When the pandemic started, I tried encouraging people to share their beautiful experiences with me each day. I probably made it 30 days in a row before the search got repetitive. Motivation to participate waned. Now, here we are, approaching year three, and many of us have been forced to say so many good-byes. To routines, to feelings of comfort, to jobs, and to people we love. But what of the good-byes we have a say in?

Where are you holding on to the grime, the grit, and bits of life that are ready for a refresh? What are you holding onto for fear of what unknowns could come next?

I remind myself, again, to let go of the idea that we have to keep everything, simply because someone we love used to use that toilet.

At the end of the day, Mom sent another photo of orange sub-floor going in. Whether the contractor ripped up the linoleum, or instead covered the old floor, the stage is set for shiny new tile to take its place. Memories of linoleum are better than the real thing.

Sometimes, beauty comes in the removal, the tossing into dumpsters, and the saying good-bye to worn familiarity no longer serving us. And sometimes, beauty comes in the hello; the brave choice to keep moving forward, one design choice at a time.

White Walls

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I recently participated in an online collective care workshop run by Becca Bernstein. Over two months, fifteen of us joined as strangers on Zoom to tap into possibilities of what it means to show up as fully human while tending to our needs, wants, and desires. How do we come together to help our healing?

This work, designed to nurture the human heart, lit a fire of hope within me. There are people craving connection, combatting loneliness, and equipping individuals to be an world in a more compassionate way. I get to be one of these beautiful humans, longing for different ways of being in the world.

Last night, in our closing session, one of the fellow participants shared how what she needs now is completely different than what she needed when we started gathering at the beginning of September.

Are needs allowed to fluctuate as such? Are humans allowed to adapt and evolve, constantly reassessing what we need at any given moment?

The myths of linear living I was fed as a student and young professional suggested otherwise. Figure out what you want to DO and all of your needs will be taken care of, right?

Wrong.

Whether we’re slowly chiseling away at the notion of arrival, or our clear roads have crumbled to dust as a result, of well, life, of course, our needs, wants, and desires have permission to change. They ought to.

Who wants to be the same person you were two months ago? Or even five years ago.

In April of 2016, Dylan and I stood in our tiny bathroom upstairs with paint rollers in our hands and a can of Monterey White at our feet. It was a Saturday a few weeks after we lost Dad, and I remember thinking we needed to do something. This was the first room we were going to tackle, covering up old paint in an effort to make our house our own. I stood with baref eet on cold tile, looked at Dylan and said, “I miss my dad.”

“I know” he said.

The missing, of course has grown, and shifted and changed and with the passing of time. So have my wants, and needs, and desires. Of course they have.

This weekend, Dylan again stood in the tiny bathroom, with a roller in hand and a can of White Veil paint at his feet. This time, instead of helping, I’m supervising.

While we’ve painted every room in the house since that year of loss, this return to the upstairs bathroom is different. This painting is a cleansing of sorts, but not of pain. It’s a scrubbing of old stains, and an attempt at refreshing for what’s coming next. Sprucing up in the spirit of improvement and possibility weighs differently than the covering of trauma and triggers.

As Dylan painted, I felt my grief gremlin climb out of my heart pocket to watch our original efforts get rolled over. She nibbled gently on the edges of worn fabric, wondering what was going to happen next.

“I miss my dad” I said to Dylan.

“I know” he said.

The missing hasn’t changed. The paint is one shade brighter. And what will come next remains to be unseen.

But the spirit in which we paint has changed and transformed. What I need is different. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Making Way

Standing at the back door, with a bit of wind blowing on my face, I turned to Dylan to say, “It’s happening!”

Seemingly overnight the trees in our backyard have begun to change colors. The tree with the little leaves always goes gold first, scattering quarter inch crunchies across the deck. The remnants track into the house with the dog, tuck themselves into outdoor couch cushions, and find themselves carried into the living room on stocking feet. The tiny ones are always the first to fall.

I asked Dylan when we went to Europe the other day. Three years ago this weekend we were in Paris, and I remember wishing, just slightly, that I wouldn’t miss our larger tree turning red in the backyard. The views of Parisian rooftops surely surpassed those in my backyard, but the nostalgia for the changing of the seasons lingered within me.

This is the second fall where we haven’t traveled. Our sources of excitement and stimulation have slowed to glacial pace, and I find myself staring out the back door, again waiting for magic to happen. We don’t have red leaves yet, but they are coming.

It’s easy to feel nostalgic as September turns to October. There are quotes and memes about letting the dead things go as our flowers wilt and sources of shade crisp and crunch. I’ve been talking to mentors and friends about the pruning in their own lives. Many feel purpose wilting, unsure of what will happen in the next season of hibernation. We thought we’d be over this by now, right?

I’ve spent the last five years writing about death and grief and loss. In these reflections, lessons of hope and wondering and recovery have unfolded, giving me, and hopefully others, comfort. As the days grow shorter, and I put my face upon cool glass.

Will this be another dark hole of a pandemic winter? Will looking for the light feel as difficult as it did last year?

In the pruning back, the raking up, and the setting to bed of our gardens, we get to choose what we will prepare to grow. Ann Voskamp once shared how she plants bulbs with her family this time of year, intentionally tucking something hopeful into the dirt to arrive in the spring.

I can relate to that wanting. To believe that good things will come, even as the dark days descend.

So for now, yes, enjoy the gold and the red and the mystical light reflecting off of trees and blue skies. Find your sweaters. Make a cup of tea. Rake and sift and shift the soil, knowing the work you are doing is sacred. Tuck a bulb in the dirt and wait. The preparation and making way, perhaps, are beautiful things.

Just How Lovely It Is

photo-6

I saw this picture today. Somebody posted it on Facebook. Is it a picture? It’s not quite a meme. I don’t know. It caught my attention. I’ve always been a lover of Fall. The pumpkin spice lattes, the crisp leaves, the perfect temperature with brisk mornings and sunny afternoons. October is my favorite month. I’ve got the pumpkin carving planned, and the chili in the crockpot even though it’s still over seventy five degrees. Stereotypical white girls get made fun of for their pursuit of coffee and scarves and boots and the delightful crisp air. No one really mentions death. Then I came across this picture. It speaks shocking truth. Sometimes, things have to die, and we have to let go, and that process is beautiful.

Ahh, here comes the extended nature metaphor. Really though, I’ve been thinking about change and how it sneaks up on us, and I’ve been reflecting on where we’ve been and where we are going. This week, I celebrated one year at my current job. One year of stability in location and yet, a year of amazing change in an organization. Good change, but at times emotional, and challenging, and questioning change. I can’t believe a year has passed since my tearful days of a nightmare job and extreme anxiety about what I was going to do with my life. I can’t believe I’ve been living back in my hometown almost eleven months. I can’t believe we planned a wedding, and I got married, and the single version of myself has died.

I’ve had to embrace the discomfort and I’ve found by letting go of what was, I can be more immersed in what is. What is continues to be good. It seems extreme to say that old ways of understanding my position in life have died – that word, death, has really strong connotations. It’s true though, isn’t it, how sometimes I have to let how things used to be die to become the next version of myself. That makes me sad, especially when how things used to be included some of my favorite people on earth, and a sense of self that I was very good at settling into. The end of a chapter, so to speak.

And rebirth, I believe, comes from the ability to say to myself, ‘Wow, I’m rather sad that chapter was over, that piece of my life complete, that death has occurred’, but isn’t that really where life lies? So complex and yet so simplistically true. What beauty lies in those flaming trees of color, in the promise of loveliness in such a tragic process.

From that mountain drive I mentioned last week

From that mountain drive I mentioned last week

This week, when I stopped to think about beautiful things, I was struggling to come up with one specific thing to write about. Except for the leaves of course, but honestly, I just came across that a few minutes ago. Here are some moments I enjoyed as well. I feel wrong leaving you to ponder beauty in death. Perhaps beauty in transition that sometimes requires us to admit that things end, chapters close, and life as you know it, may die. That doesn’t mean death has to be final. That seems more appropriate.

– My friend from college got married this weekend. What a joy it is to have a reunion with five girls so central to my life as supports in friendship and in prayer.

– I saw a bystander call an ambulance for a homeless man who was struggling. People do care about one another when you stop to take a look.

– Dylan bought me flowers for our one month anniversary. It was sweet. I like being a newlywed.

– I got my wedding pictures back. Holy schamoley, these things are gorgeous. If you need a wedding photographer, I strongly recommend Jamie Fischer, out of Boulder. Check her out here

What things are you having to let die to move on. Does this process feel excruciating, or maybe, just a little bit lovely?

Incomplete

I’m feeling insecure. Is the pursuit of beauty cliche? Does looking at leaves on a Saturday constitute as a hum drum, expected, yawn of a post? I could spend tonight writing about the Colorado Aspens in September. Or maybe, even, the beauty of access to cold medicine because my head has been stuffed to the brim with gook. It happened, the wedding melt down and stress let down led to a stuffy nose and a brain full of fog. It happens to me at the end of something big. I could count on it during the end of finals week in college, at the end of any major accomplishment. The bog of a cold snuck up on Thursday and hasn’t quite left. That doesn’t feel beautiful – actually quite the opposite.

Tonight, I suppose, I want to talk about the beauty of reclaiming unanswered situations. This is a theme I talk about because I think it helps my sanity. It helps me feel grounded, and makes me feel that I have some semblance of control in my life when change happens. Like I’ve said, I don’t like change. Dylan and I were talking at dinner about some next decisions we have to make, and we said maybe, as you grow up, you get more comfortable making decisions individually, without worrying about all of the pieces being in place. Get more comfortable, not get better at putting together the whole puzzle perfectly. Dang it, I wish it was the other way around.

I feel incomplete right now. My to do list at work seems to be growing rather than shrinking. There is ambiguity in a new job title, and new responsibilities, and the realization that having a job as an adult means having responsibilities where the buck stops at me. Thats new, and I don’t know how to completely fill that space. I feel incomplete in changing my name – there are so many pieces of an identity I have to get straightened out. I feel incomplete in knowing where we are going to live next year, and which commuter town we should go to to make life more fair for my spouse.  I feel incomplete in sharing money with a new person. I feel anxious that I have waves of acceptance that I’ll probably never feel complete either. I mean what does that mean, because like I predicted before, achieving one goal often leads to the opening of another door and new opportunity. Overall doesn’t this lend to a circle of ‘incompleteness?’

So tonight, I sit in this in between space, and reflect on this meditation, and know that God will continue to bring us good things. That maybe clarity will develop, and maybe it won’t, but we have been given the grace to make good decisions in the mean time. Meditations are beautiful and being nice to myself, even when feeling incomplete, is quite extraordinary.

CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS

written by Jon Kabat-Zin

1. The real meditation is how you live your life.

2. In order to live life fully, you have to be present for it.

3. To be present, purposefully bring awareness to your moments – otherwise you may miss many of them.

4. You do this by paying attention and non-judgment to whatever arises.

5. This requires a great deal of kindness toward yourself, which you deserve.

6. It helps to keep in mind that good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, the present moment is the only one in which you are alive. Therefore, it’s the only time to learn, grow, see what is really going on, find some degree of balance, feel and express emotions such as love and appreciation, and do what we need to do – even in the face of pain and suffering.

7. So it is a gentle love affair with the present moment.

8. We do that through learning to rest in awareness of what is happening inwardly and outwardly, moment by moment– “being” rather than “doing.”

9. Formal and informal meditation practices are specific ways in which you can ground, deepen, and accelerate this process.

10. Realize that this moment is already very special – because you are alive and awake in it.

11. You have a lot of moments so treat each one as a new beginning — there are always new moments to open up to if you miss some.

12. We do all this with a huge amount of self-compassion.

13. You are not your thoughts or opinions, your likes or dislikes. They are more like weather patterns in your mind that you can be aware of – like clouds moving across the sky – and so you don’t have to be imprisoned by them.

14. Befriending yourself in this way is the adventure of a lifetime.