There is poignancy in grief.
Well duh, Captain Obvious. My work here is done!
Back on track…………………..The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines as poignant:
*painfully affecting the feelings
Grief. It’s expanding my working vocabulary if nothing else. It certainly isn’t helping my ability to express myself coherently.
I can’t pretend to comprehend all the layers of grief, as I suspect it’s a never-ending story, and while being the singular most intense process I’ve ever gone through, I can say without equivocation that its lessons also seem to be without measure.
A few weeks ago, sometime during the Christmas season, I read something by a friend of mine who has lost both parents. She was talking about how she was going through a box of one of her parents’ mementos and how overwhelming it was for her, still, after what had been a very long time since they both had passed, and she decided right then and there that maybe she wouldn’t be opening that box of memories again for a very long time as it was just too much for her. A couple of things struck me about her experience. First, it doesn’t matter one bit how long it’s been since someone’s been gone, feelings of grief can take you right back to that overwhelming sense of loss and no amount of reason or positive thoughts can whitewash it into something less cripplingly painful.
The other thing that struck me was her thought of just letting that box sit. She had opened it enough times and her wounds were still raw, her pain still too much to be able to move forward in a positive way. She was giving herself permission to just let that box sit unopened, maybe for the rest of her life. It doesn’t make her a less devoted daughter, or a less of the great person she is, it was just time for her to let the box remained closed for now, maybe forever.
Can we all just agree that it’s okay to not open the box of mementos for umpteenth time? It doesn’t mean we love(d) the person any less, it doesn’t mean we’re in denial about their place in our lives or about the hole the loss of them makes in our lives, it just means we can’t anymore. We can’t go back to that fetal position that the tsunami of pain leaves us in. Some would say I live in a giant box of grief as we live in my dad’s house, a house we once shared with him, as we work full time to move the faith based non-profit that he started (and that were once just an ancillary part of) forward, with gusto. My gusto has definitely been waxing and waning. Some might suggest that living in that giant box of grief might be asking too much of myself; too many reminders, too much pain, too much emptiness in the deepest recesses of my soul, my very being of who I am. I think through the wonderful powers of denial (I have a post doctorate degree in it) living there gives me solace, comfort, peace and even strength so I can move forward, even if on some days it’s only inches. I feel anchored. He had wanted us to move back home years ago, but we just couldn’t figure out the logistics. Twinges, no bludgeoning pains of regret and “I wish we could-haves”.
Like any self respecting driven, high energy Type A personality type, I’ve tried to do this grief thing very well (I mean we are being graded, right?). And then I’m completely bipolar about it, and I flip to not caring at all how broken I appear or how completely useless to anyone else on any given day I am because of all this. I answer to no one and I don’t care what any body thinks. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I think one of the over-arching principles in the confounding process that is grief is that it is not a linear process by any stretch. It’s a big giant circle, kind of like a Ferris wheel. A Ferris wheel on crack whirling through the universe at twice the speed of sound. With seats held down by broken bolts and no safety bars. In the middle of an epic thunderstorm. And while on this ride from the pits of hell you’re supposed to parent your children, pay the bills, and somehow be a member of polite society. How good we become at appearing to be perky and positive all the while struggling in the early morning hours for a reason to get out of bed, over-thinking every single aspect of our lives and second guessing every decision we’ve ever made. And then there are days where I am genuinely positive, I am okay and I am optimistic. I’m accepting life on life’s terms and I understand that my current situation is but a fleeting moment and I have much to be thankful for. I try to stay in that space.
My “box of grief” is actually many things; it’s his wallet that I have buried and hidden somewhere in the house that only I know about. I can barely look at it, but heaven forbid I should move it. It has to stay where it is, like some sort of touchstone, waiting for me when I can bear to be in its presence. While we run the organization from his desk, 95% of its contents remain his, a million little reminders of his way of doing things, his left-handed ness, his various “systems” that worked for him. His pocket address/calendar books that he’s kept for as long as I can remember are all filled with people and memories from my childhood; notes about my upcoming soccer games and band recitals, the week every summer he crossed out when we would go to family camp with our church, all of that security and comfort I’m not willing to part with yet (probably much to the consternation of my husband). It’s a box of grief I interact with everyday but yet somehow manage not to fall into the murky depths of its pain on most days. Maybe I’m getting accustomed to treading its waters without letting myself sink.
I guess my point in all this is that at some time or another we’re all going to have a box of grief. We’re probably going to have to face losing our “person”, whoever that may be. We’re not getting off this giant ball of matter hurtling through space without experiencing some level of loss. Your box of grief can bring you perspective, amazing and funny memories, feelings of gratefulness that you were in a relationship with that person (be it a friendship, a marriage, a sibling relationship, or a parent/child relationship), and true joy knowing that you’re a better person for having known your person. It’s your box, it’s there to bring a smile to your face, but it can sometimes be overwhelming, and maybe, for your sanity’s sake it’s perfectly okay to leave that box unopened if leaving it sealed helps you live the life you have left. It will be there when you’re ready for it.
365 Days of Miracles
As I’ve been reflecting on 2018 (read: I’ve been hoping and wishing it would disappear along with all of its epic drama and challenges) I’ve been thinking a lot about miracles.
2018 was a year of miracles. 2018 was a year. Boy was it a YEAR. I mean it was a humdinger of a year. And as much as the self-indulgent part of me, the oh-so-willing-drama-queen, would LOVE to beat you in a game of Misery Poker, the part of me that won’t go down without a fight keeps focusing on all the goodness that’s coming from our battles to stay sane, and one word that just keeps coming up for me is “miracle”.
So that got me thinking about miracles. You ever notice how miracles don’t usually come along when things are going just ducky? Like the other day in the next town over (true story, I promise) a man was just leaving the hospital parking lot after being with his wife and their newborn baby. He gets into his car and blammo! It’s on fire! Like real fire coming out from behind the dashboard. Uhhhh, that’s not good. But (and I have NO IDEA how he had the presence of mind to do this after his wife just gave birth) he had the clear mind to think, “If this car goes up in flames in this parking garage next to a bunch of other cars, then a bunch of other cars are probably going to go “POOF!”too……I’d better get this car out of here.” So against all the safety rules you learn in fourth grade, the guy drives his burning car out of the parking garage, gets out of the car safely, calls the fire department and they come out and put out the flames. The guy’s a total hero because he saved all those other cars from going up in flames too. The obvious miracle is that the guy wasn’t injured or really seriously hurt while he was driving his flaming Beemer out of there, but here’s the headline-grabbing miracle: a local Beemer dealership heard about the story right away and they gave him a replacement car. GAVE. HIM. A. CAR. Now, I don’t know for sure if it’s a new BMW, or a used one (and hopefully it’ll have functional turn signals, unlike most of the Beemers out there, wink, wink), but isn’t that a really cool miracle? Guy’s car is totally gutted due to some weird fire, he’s got a wife and a newborn baby to think about now and boom, now he’s got a replacement vehicle, all paid for. Wow.
So, our year was kind of like that; fire after fire after fire. So. Much. Angst. Beginning the second week of last January, and nearly every month of this past year there has been something going up in flames in our lives every month. Some sort of disaster either involving our kids, or our livelihood (the faith based non-profit we run) has slapped us silly every few weeks, including three visits from a plumber within the span of twelve days over the Christmas holiday (including Christmas Eve and two days after Christmas). But here’s the deal, with every single trial and trauma, we’ve had a miracle to go along with it; we’ve had friends step up to the plate and have been the voice of sanity and reason when EVERYTHING was going haywire (and I do mean EVERYTHING). We’ve made some really good trustworthy friends who have not only NOT judged us for the circumstances we’ve had to endure publicly, they’ve been compassionate and so understanding. We’ve gone through some significant rejection (and that’s been a huge them since moving back home three years ago), but in the midst of it, I’ve reconnected with someone who technically isn’t family, but who completely understands and has walked what we’ve experienced. She’s a gem of a person who is kind, honest, sincere and completely selfless. I love her dearly and she will ALWAYS be family to me (Pro Tip: if you’re reading this and either you’re hung up on the words “step” or “adopted” when it comes to siblings and parents, or you were raised by parents who always stipulated someone’s relationship with you with some sort of formal title that created emotional distance do yourself a favor and do whatever it takes right now to get over it. You could very well be missing out on some powerful and loving relationships that could very well make you a better person. I’m tempted to stay up on this soap box because the view is oh-so-good and I’m oh-so-short, but I’ll show some restraint). Maybe if everything had been going oh-so smoothly in that area of my life I would have missed reconnecting with her. I’ll take her in my corner over the alternative any day of the week. Another miracle.
You know what I think the key to miracles is? I think it’s time. I think the miracle is not only the miracle, I think the miracle also resides in the thing we call time. I don’t know about you but I want pain over with as soon as it starts. Do I want God to just wave His magic wand and make everything better before it’s permanently horrible? You BET!! A thousand times YES. YES I want God to save me instantly from every discordant phrase in my life, and you bet I don’t want my kids to go through stuff, even if it is of their own doing. Guess what? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob doesn’t work Iike that. The God who created time allows us to grow WITHIN that thing called time. We cannot fight against His creation. Well we can, I mean I’ve practically made a career out of it, but in the end fighting time doesn’t work in our favor. It doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t save us. It just prolongs whatever it is we’re supposed to learn, and may actually prevent the miracle from even taking place. I want everything neat and tidy. I don’t want the known universe knowing just what a flaming pit our lives have been. That’s so hard.
Time. God gives it to us so we can give it back to Him. 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. It’s a million opportunities to place our dumpster fire of a life in His hands in hopes that He can make something good of it.
We’ve literally had so many dumpster fires this year I’ve lost track, but I can never lose track of the miracles that have come up right as we’ve needed them. The year hasn’t been good or bad. It’s been a year. A segment of time in a dimension of the universe that is temporal and temporary. I have learned that nothing is permanent. I have learned that prayers don’t need to be fancy. Ever. I have learned I have nothing to offer to God, but that He has everything to offer to me, beginning with peace in my heart, no matter what’s going on. He is after all, “I am”. I have learned that there is victory in laughter. As in, I’m going to laugh every single day, not in a “I’m denying that I’m in crippling pain” kind of way, but in a “I am not going to let this insanity steal my joy” kind of way. I have learned that there is HUGE victory in hanging on, that staying in place is often the ONLY way to face the onslaught of life’s storms and that staying put is a form of victory. I have learned God’s plan for someone’s life doesn’t require my knowledge of the plan or approval of the plan. God is God whether I like it or not and whether I understand it or not. But there is huge joy in knowing that He is a God who provides relief and provision in the form of friends, sanity, puppies that come out of nowhere, home warranty plans, car insurance that covers everything when you get t-boned in a parking lot, and incremental growth in young people that can only happen with time.
Time to cry. Time to laugh. Time to sing. Time to mourn. Time to celebrate. Time to ponder. Time to wonder. Time to connect. Time to disconnect from that which is (or who is) not wiling to be part of the miracle. Time to hang on. Time to let go.
Goodbye 2018. I’m probably not anywhere near ready for 2019, but I hope I’m always ready for God to show up in a big way.
On this last day of Down Syndrome Awareness month I am reminded of how grateful I am for the kindness of strangers, on which we rely so very much.
Today H and I needed to go to an area hospital to drop off some hand knits at the NICU, only to find out when we had made our way through the incredible hospital-maze that the baby who was going to get the handknits was not at this hospital at all, but at another NICU just down the street from where we were.
I should back up a little and give you context: The Dude loves hospitals. The Dude loves doctor offices, clinics, and any place where he might find his favorite people on earth: doctors and nurses. Which I suppose, is a good problem to have. I mean if you’re gonna have a medically involved kid (H has had eleven major ear surgeries alone, not to mention a heart surgery and multiple exams under anesthesia), let’s hope they end up liking the people who have taken care of them. So there’s that. But with The Mister, his affection for the medical community borders on obsession. So when we got to the hospital and began our great quest for the NICU he was already 100% convinced that we there to see one of his doctors. After all, we had started our day at our chiropractor, whom he really really likes, so why not continue the day with more of his peeps?
So when we arrived at the NICU window (thankfully the doors to the actual NICU were locked shut, otherwise H would have been in there like a flash) he was in a lather, just determined to see a doctor. The nice nurse looked and looked and looked for our friends’ last name but couldn’t find it anywhere, and she suggested that maybe they were at another NICU. I didn’t even know our city had two NICU’s so that was news to me….but yes, I agreed, a small dim lightbulb going off in my atrophied brain, that was most likely the case. So back through the maze we had to trek, and boy was Mr Happy NOT happy at all.
When we reached the lobby (by now I’ve told myself I could definitely qualify as a contestant on “The Amazing Race”) I could see the front doors. We were almost “home free”. Almost. And then my biggest fear came true; just as we were approaching the front door H did one of his famous flops. His 107lb body became a bag of sodden cement and he would not budge. Me, being built like John Riggins, hoisted him up to his feet and told him to stand NOW. Ya, that went over like a lead balloon and he curled his legs up to his chin and fell back down to the floor in a heap.
I was filled with dread and a few tears. I wasn’t embarrassed or worried about what people would think of us as they were stepping over us and around us (I got over that a long time ago). What choked me up was the realization that during our entire time marching around the hospital H just couldn’t understand, BECUASE of the Down Syndrome, that we weren’t there for one of his appointments, we were there for someone else. He just couldn’t understand, even though I had signed it to him and explained it multiple times. He couldn’t understand, and chances are these scenarios would always be befuddling and frustrating for him. That made me sad. And it probably always will. A mother’s heart breaks.
But in that very moment of despair, not just for that moment, but also some dread for all the future frustrations, another miracle presented itself to us, like it always does, just in the nick in the time. As I’m standing over my guy threatening to call security on him (and Homey don’t make threats, so I was very willing to do whatever needed to be done to get us out of that hospital in this century), the nice lady at the front desk asked what she could do to help us. And it wasn’t the judgy, condescending “What can I do for you, you poor pathetic excuse for a mother” kind of thing. No, she was genuinely trying to help and she would do whatever it took (probably just to get this drama out of her front lobby). I asked if we could use a wheelchair and she quickly and enthusiastically obliged and told us we could take it to wherever we had parked in the parking garage.
We made it to the garage and up to the car where I deposited him into his seat, locked him in and then took the chair back to the elevators. I was spent. We were not going to make it to that other hospital, no doubt the correct NICU, today. I was running on zero food for the day and my brain was shutting down. I needed to find food and regroup mentally and emotionally. I was feeling defeated, but at the same time ever so grateful. Yet again, a stranger had shown us kindness and compassion. No judgements, no suggestions, no “fixes”. Just help.
Almost every time we leave the house and venture out into that great big world we are met with the spontaneous kindness of strangers; whether it’s the people in various dog functions who respond with favor and graciousness when The Dude breaks out in song, laughter or clapping (sometimes all three at the same time), or people standing in line with us at the grocery store who willingly comply when H reaches out for their hands and demands that they sing or clap with him (and singing always needs to have the appropriate hand gestures for the song). Being met right where you’re at with grace and gentleness is nothing short of miraculous, like little flickers of light on a dark part of the path through the woods.
(The blurry photo below was taken during my “Mom Time Out” after the hospital incident today when I needed to gather my wits and begin breathing again…….it’s not all about tiptoeing through the tulips on the wings of unicorns! But you can see that Mister was rebounding from his frustration just fine)I don’t know that I would be so in tune with my own need for grace if it weren’t for the gift of Down Syndrome. Having a child with special needs is not always the easiest road, but I have no doubt that we have been on the receiving end of countless miracles because of it.
I snapped a photo awhile back when I took my daughter shopping and she was trying on clothes in the dressing room. It was a photo of the dressing room door. Already, in that first sentence there are at least two miracles I’d like to highlight for you; one being that we were out shopping together. One of the last times we were out shopping together (at this exact store no less) things didn’t turn out so well. Like many moms and teenage daughters we had a difference of opinions as to what her “look” was going to be. The details aren’t super important, but I can tell you that things went sideways really fast once from that point and we ended up leaving the store shortly thereafter in quite a huff and we ultimately pulled over on the side of the road for an epic “chat”. I can count the number of our shopping excursions together since that day on one hand. But there were now: shopping together and having a really pleasant time for miracle number one, and then miracle number two was that she was in the dressing room, trying on clothes quite willingly and patiently, and I was fetching her new sizes as needed, and we were both totally calm and fine. So ya, a big WOW! and AMEN! to that! Don’t tell me miracles don’t happen.
So I’ve been thinking about that photo since then. At first I just thought about the photo with the door closed as a way to protect her privacy and not horrify her on social media that she was out shopping with her totally lame mom, but then I realized that a lot of miracles really do happen behind closed doors. And in this day and age of social media where if we don’t see an event or an announcement on Facebook we question whether it really happened or not, I think the closed door is symbolic in other ways.
The nitty-gritty details and drama of what’s gone on in our family behind the scenes can’t be shared publicly for a whole lot of good reasons, one of which is because it wouldn’t be fair to our kids, and really at this point the details aren’t super important. However, I can tell you it has been an INSANE 2018, to be sure. A couple of our friends know far too many of the gory details than they’d probably like to and they’re as stupified as we are. It’s just been nuts. Despite the insanity, there have been miracles. Boy have there been miracles.
The first miracle has been the connectedness we’ve experienced with trustworthy and caring people. I don’t know if it’s because of the fact that I’m an only child, or I’m an American where in our culture we encourage and applaud hyper-individuality, or maybe it’s stuff that’s happened recently where I was caught completely off-guard by some relationships that absolutely exploded in my face, or, maybe it’s a combination of all three. Regardless, being connected to others does not come naturally for me. My guard is up. My circle of trusted friends is small. But when our year started off with a huge unexpected “bang” I couldn’t and didn’t want to spend all the energy pretending everything was status quo. Fortunately for us, there were people in our lives who had some technical expertise in what we were going through and who had the character and grace to not only NOT judge us because of what we were going through, but who had genuine love for us and chose to walk through the insanity with us.
Another miracle that we’ve experienced is that the truth came out. It’s one thing to say “The truth always comes out”, and it’s definitely one of my favorite sayings, and indeed, prayers. But it’s a whole new ball of wax when hideous, horrible lies are told about you, lies that if they are believed by certain people, can have catastrophic and life-altering consequences for you and your family. It’s happened twice in the past six months that these lies have been told about us, and we’ve had to walk through the process of the truth being revealed. It didn’t happen overnight and we had to walk through some very uncertain days, which most of the time seemed to never end. We were transparent with the people we felt we could trust and they never flinched. We were flanked by some of the best people I could ever imagine and they stood with us and for us as we walked through a very dark corridor that most of the time seemed impossibly long and absolutely pitch-black. It’s extremely humbling to be surrounded by genuine love.
I’ve had a lot of time as a result of all the hub-bub going on to think about miracles. If you’ve ever spent any time at all with someone who knows and loves the game of baseball as I have, you’ve heard the phrase, “The game within the game”. Highly paraphrased it means that even if you think baseball is as boring as paint drying on a wall, there are a million riveting and totally engrossing subtle subtexts happening right in front of you, that you couldn’t possibly step away from the game for a refill of popcorn or soda (seriously, this is how baseball fanatics are, and I should know because I’m married to one).
So anyway……..the whole phrase, “The game within the game” has got me to thinking about “The miracle within the miracle”…….or more accurately put, “The miracles within the miracles”, because we’ve seen a lot of them. Or how about this, “The miracle within the NON-miracle”?
Let’s say you’ve been praying HARD for years and years and years about something in your life that you’d really like to see change. Could be a health condition you’ve been battling, or a loved one has been dealing with. Could be your son/daughter’s life has been permanently altered due to an accident or injury and you’ve been praying for the miracle that could change their lives for the positive. Could be you’re in a lousy marriage and you want your spouse to change so your lives together could get happier. Regardless, let’s just say that whatever it is you’ve been praying for, that one miracle that you really, really need, just isn’t happening.
Let’s look at the miracles within that time span that you’re patiently waiting through in the context of a couple of spiritual truths (regardless of your religious beliefs). The first is that God created us in HIS image. The second truth is that God created us FOR relationship, first of all to have relationship with Him first and foremost, but then with EACH OTHER. We are created to be IN relationship with one another. If God had waved His magic wand at the beginning of this post, or back in mid-January when our family began going through some serious stuff, I would have missed out on so many miracles. I had to let my guard and let some people in. That’s miracle number one. Miracle number two is that God strategically placed some pretty special people in my life who didn’t let me down. I don’t ever talk about this out loud to more than one or two people and I’ve never shared it here on my own blog, but I’ve been one raw exposed nerve for about three years and one month now. I can’t even articulate how everyday I feel like I am literally out there in the universe flying without a net, free falling in darkness since my dad left. There are just no words, only fresh hot tears that freely stream down my face in the middle of a busy coffee shop as I write this. But had not everything started going all wonky back in January and had I not confided in a few key people, I would not have experienced the tenderness and caring of those around me. People who really like me just for me, not for anything I can do for them or because I’m particularly special. I have come to realize that that’s been a miracle-within-the-miracle.
I’ve thought about all the tremendously difficult circumstances we’ve gone through with our children who have special needs. If God had just waved His magic wand when they were both born, removing the litany of challenges from both of their lives, I would have missed out on the innumerable miracles that they have partaken in and how I’ve seen people literally change their way of thinking as a result of getting to know my kids. God planted in both of them seeds of change. For us, their parents no doubt, but also for our world. If they were both middle-of-the-bell-curve “normal” others wouldn’t have had the opportunities to dig deeper within their own souls and value people at a soul level. People have literally thanked me for having these two special people because they feel they’re better humans for having known them. Wow.
I believe strongly that we can help people heal, even when the obvious healing isn’t happening. In the disability community I know many, many parents with children with traumatic brain injury, grievous conditions and progressive diseases. Often times the obvious miracle of their children being cured just doesn’t happen, for reasons I will never understand. But what I do see is people who reach out to each other in genuine friendship, going out of their way to make authentic connections. I see people praying for strength and grace for their fellow parents. I see kindness from strangers. I see organizations that exist in order to lighten the load of parents who carry so much. I have personally witnessed people welcoming us with open arms into places and they have revealed a generosity of heart I certainly didn’t possess before having a child who makes uninvited and often unexpected sounds at unexpected times (who am I kidding? It annoys me now at times!). Could that happen if God did the easy thing and just waved His magic wand way back when? I don’t think so.
I guess I’ve taken the incredibly circuitous route to encourage you, me, all of us, to look beyond the obvious, and through all the stuff we go through everyday. Life is not easy. People are suffering. People lose their jobs. Kids go off the deep end, despite having some pretty decent parents. Accidents happen. Marriages fail. But through it all, and mainly because I’ve been on the receiving end of so many of them, miracles do happen. As broken as we are as humans, our love for one another can bring healing. Our genuine care for one another can actually bridge the gap during tragedy. No man is an island, and though it may feel on most days like a free-fall, the miracles within the miracles can provide a soft landing if we can open our tear-stained eyes long enough to see them. Above it all and through it all, God is at work for us, and if we let Him, through us.
Why That Perfect Social Media Post Might Not Be Such A Lie Afterall, or How I Resigned My Job As Judgy McJudgerson
Haven’t we all seen those posts on social media where the mom and dad with the perfectly coiffed hair posing with their perfectly behaved children, all sporting million watt smiles standing on some perfect beach, or at the top of some mountain they’ve just climbed and have wanted to wretch? I mean “COME. ON. PEOPLE. Stop being so phony! Show me some real photos of your dirty dishes in the sink that you haven’t wanted to face for five days, or the sixteen loads of laundry that have completely overtaken the laundry room!” I’ve wanted to call people out in a big way.
So ya, I was getting super fed up with seeing everyone’s perfectly staged and perfectly lighted at just the right time of day with dew on the flowers, blah, blah, blah lives that were on display via social media until the unthinkable happened. My whole world came to a screeching halted, was turned upside down and inside out, and put in a blender at turbo speed all at once when my dad left this earth.
Since then though, and I’ve just recently realized this, if you were to look at my social media accounts (except here, where I haven’t been able to write a word) my life has probably looked pretty normal. My Instagram will NEVER looked staged, because ain’t nobody got time for that, but by and large you probably can’t tell by my photos how furious I’ve been paddling underneath.
But now my motivation is different, so I feel completely justified in the scores of photos I post where most of us are looking at the camera and our clothes are mostly on right side out. I’ve also completely let go of my judgy and stabby attitude toward many other social media accounts I see where everyone looks like everything is just hunky-spunky and they’re all very shiny and pretty (we’ll never be shiny and pretty, and that’s okay with me). I know better now. I know that after a devasting loss (as was my case) or a series of life events that turn you upside down on your ear (which pretty much describes our family’s first six months of 2018) those photos where you’re smiling aren’t so much photo opportunities as they are declarations that you’re not going under. Yet. Not today anyway.
I can tell you that every single thing we’ve done as a family since September 8, 2015 has been a declaration not to die, at least not that day.
Especially at the beginning, or at least the first two years, every smile I’ve sported, every event we’ve gone to, has been a battle cry that I’m fighting self pity and unspeakable grief with every ounce of energy I have. I want to create good memories. I want my kids to remember good family times, even though we’ve been hurting. And I think I’ve wanted to see if the impossible could be done; could creating happy and positive memories fill the Howitzer-size holes in each of our hearts? Could we possibly heal while learning how to enjoy life again?
Maybe you’re there now; going through a crisis with a child, going through a gut-wrenching divorce, experiencing the death of a best friend, a serious health issue for you or a loved one, or some other horrific and crushing loss. If smiling feels good, then keep on keepin’ on, continue the journey of healing. Smiling for the camera or going out with our friends doesn’t mean we’re in denial about the pain we’re in, it’s a statement that says, “despite the pain, I’m going to aim for some normalcy”, if only for a few minutes.
We can never choose our circumstances, we can only choose our responses. And maybe smiling for the camera while hugging our kids (who are mortified at our lameness) is a way to beat back the pain and declare ourselves as the fighters we are.
I’m glad I get to look at your fun photos doing really crazy and funny and spontaneous things with your friends and family (and your dogs. Always with the dogs). You give me hope and strength to fight on and to continue to believe in the healing process, no matter where it takes me.
Holding patterns. Aren’t they great? Nearly everyone us has been in one if we’ve traveled by air more than once in our lives. Have you ever seen people disembark from the plane after they’ve been in a holding pattern? Aren’t they all like, “Wow, that was such a great time up there-we were getting ready to land, but then the pilot came on the loudspeaker and told us that we were going to have to stay up in the air for about half an hour or maybe more, while they figured out something on the ground. I loved it….I mean it was so nice to think we were about to land only to find out we were going to have to stay up in the air for an undetermined amount of time.”, said NO ONE. EVURRRR.
Face it, holding patterns are just plain hard. Like when we’re about three miles back in a ten mile back up on the freeway: we don’t know why we’re stuck sucking in the fumes from the ten thousand other cars stopped with us, we don’t know when it’s going to let up, if ever, and all that makes us nervous. We fret over missed appointments, we silently (or not so silently) scold ourselves for having that last cup of coffee before we got in our vehicles, and we worry about our fates. Sometimes we even get……angry. Perish the thought!
But the Bible has something to say about holding patterns; specifically that you can be renewed and that you can actually GAIN strength while being in one, IF you’re waiting on the Lord. Whaaaaat? That’s just crazy talk. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Furthermore, you’ll end up soaring like an eagle, you’ll have crazy good stamina (staying power) and you won’t get tired. (Like 5 Hour Energy only better) Isaiah 40: 31 (ESV) but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. My knee-jerk reaction is often, if I’m being honest and not trying to wow you with my deep spirituality, is “Ya, right buddy. I’ll get right on that”. And yet David, in the book of Psalms says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” That means experience God. Dive in, TASTE the life, get into what God says. Test Him, surround yourself with what HE says. God wants us to see that He is true to His word, He will NOT let us down.
Not only do holding patterns feel uncomfortable to us, they can be deceiving to outsiders. Maybe nothing’s going on with your career right now, but you know that God has been telling you to just hang tight, He’s got something coming up for you, but to others who only know you casually, or to those who haven’t bothered to get to the know the real you it may look like you’re just “phoning it in” and not really living up to your potential. In our case right now, my husband and I have assumed leadership of my dad’s faith based non-profit ministry that he left for me to run after he died. I’ve been on the board of the directors since its inception thirty years ago, we’ve been involved in a variety of decisions and missions over the years, I’m intimately aware of my dad’s convictions regarding the direction of the ministry and he told me he wanted me to run it and grow it after he was gone. The timing of him leaving this earth still seems incredibly unreal on most levels and still leaves me breathless and dizzy on most days if I’m honest (grief is a giant gnarly monster that must be dealt with every single day and you don’t get to choose the time or the place, but that’s for a different post), but I am doing exactly what he wanted and what he spelled out for me. And yet on some very real levels there are some holding patterns going on as we take care of some necessary legal and administrative details. To people in my extended family (I’m an only child, so extended family is all I have, or had, as is now the case) it looks as if we’re doing absolutely nothing with it at all. Much to my shock, most of my family has taken a mind-boggling adversarial role in my life and are actively hating on me. The death of my father, who meant far more to me than any blog post can ever do justice to, is one thing. Losing the relationships I had with 99% of my cousins has been nearly as painful and incredibly confusing. I cherish the two or three people who are still on speaking terms with me.
But through all this God has been incredibly good. During this “holding pattern”, when it looks to the world like we’re not doing a darn good thing (or anything at all) with this ministry, we’re seeing deliverance. We’re seeing recovery from addictions. We’re getting work done on a building project (even if people can’t see it from the outside as they drive down the street). We are being faithful in the little things. We are seeking God in ALL things. The Lord has protected us from someone trying to steal the organization out from under us.
It’s actually been “good”. We are tasting God everyday and He’s coming up true and steadfast, just like He says. I truly believe when the circumstances of life are the most painful, that’s when God shows up with boat loads of mercy and grace. And miracles. Like the not-so-small miracle of being able to survive and thrive painful rejections. God’s got this and He’s bigger than all of life’s hurts combined.
They say that the number one rule in blogging is to not use it as a diary. A diary is a diary and a blog is a blog, never the two shall meet. I’ve been a horrible blogger and even worse at keeping any kind of a diary. Every time I think of writing (which in my defense is almost everyday because the running conversation in my head is always on full throttle), I just think that no one would want to read it, or what I would say would not be readable, entertaining, or intriguing on any level. All that to say, that’s why this space has been blank for so long.
Until today. Today is THE anniversary, and I feel the need to say something to mark the passage of time, although when I think about it, tomorrow is when I’ll probably feel the full impact of it. Late tonight when I may or may not be sleeping, will mark the day that my dad left one year ago. Throughout my entire life we had always been pretty good about checking in with each other regarding major decisions, but on this one, I was definitely out of the loop.
365 days. 52 weeks. 525,600 minutes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of time over the past few months. It’s a tool. It’s an instrument. Think about it: our universe could have been designed right down to our molecular level to be outside the construct of time, but nothing about our existence can escape the power of it. From the first second, no, from BEFORE the first second of fertilization and life beginning we need time and our very existence depends on, well, perfect timing. We need time in-utero to develop properly and in a coordinated fashion. Our cells need time to regenerate and heal when we sustain injuries or trauma. Every night we need time to be unconscious and horizontal so our bodies can rest at the cellular level and be healthy. Relationships take time to develop. We need time to learn new tasks and jobs. We need time to get into shape or back into shape. Everything about us, everything in our universe takes TIME.
Time of course does not possess any magical qualities. It does not heal all wounds. I actually don’t think it heals anything, but without time we would not have the space of perspective from which we could move forward or “on” with our lives. And on with our lives is exactly what we must do. Every single rotten day. Not every day is truly rotten of course, it’s just rotten that every day roughly 153,424 people die (according to the World Health Organization), and over one year’s time that equals 56 million people. If each of those 56 million people were loved and cherished by just two other people then that amounts to 112 million people who every year have to figure out how to get up, get dressed and function that day knowing they’ll never see their friend, husband, wife, father, mother, or significant person ever again. Time feels heavy.
The Miracle Of Time
Without time none of us would know that we could live through stuff. I’m in a really big club of people who have lived through their “unthinkable” scenario, and then of course there are the millions and millions of people who are experiencing tragedies (accidents, disease, unspeakable emotional and psychological trauma) who may not have a funeral but they’re fighting every bit as hard to get through. Millions of us have wanted to give up, but we haven’t. Yet. I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I’m happy about that.
I Give Up
I’m still not okay being alone, and just to clarify, I’m completely fine with that; the part about being fine with not being fine, I mean. I’m just more prone to long crying jags when I find myself alone in the house. Or in the car. Or writing at my laptop in a coffee shop. Or in the grocery store. Ya, “doing okay” is a long way off. Oh well. I had one of those moments a couple of weeks ago when I told God I was giving up, that I just couldn’t go on anymore. It’s not that I wanted to die and leave my kids and my husband, it’s just that I didn’t want to live this life without my dad anymore. And I’m okay with that too. And then I think if I were to ever utter that someone would say, “Uh, grow up!! You’re a grown flipping adult, it’s WEIRD that you’re missing your dad that much. Freak.” And then I immediately jump to the million reasons why my relationship with my dad was extraordinary, and really what the picture of what every parent/child relationship should be, the way God designed us.
The Truth In Time
I’ve seen some stuff during these past 364 days, some of its been pretty awesome and I probably wouldn’t have believed it had I not had to live through it. First and foremost is how my best friend and husband literally carried me through. Honestly though, you would know this about both of them the minute you met them, they’re both obviously incredible. On September 6 of last year I arrived back in the NW (where we had lived with my dad a few years ago) to see my dad through his upcoming scheduled heart surgery. What I walked into at the hospital can only be described as a full frontal emotional assault (I’ll spare you the details). Had my bff not been there to witness everything and stay there with me I would have lost my mind. She drove me to the hospital, or met me at the hospital when I drove, bought me food, brought me food, took me back to my dad’s house, helped me navigate what I was hearing from the doctors and then never left my side after I received the dreaded phone call. She was my oxygen and I am forever humbled by what she did for me. The hubs continues to serve me, and by extension my dad, in every possible way every single day. He’s grown out and stretched himself in a million different ways every day during this year, all the while hurting and aching like a man who lost a person he loved like a father because he did and he hurts deeply every single day. I’ve also seen people from what I thought was my closest sphere fall always from me, and that’s okay. I was fairly prepared for that inevitability as we had been through it before when we became a family with kids with special needs. And although I’ve always been a “collector” of people, not hearing one word from people I would have considered my friends since junior high was a good wake up call for me. They’ve told me a hundred times since that we’re not friends. Equally revealing and much more pleasant have been the few people in my periphery who have stepped up and have been in contact with me. I appreciate them using their time to reach out to me, no matter how brief or seemingly insignificant to the them the effort has been. We can all use time as a gift.
Time Is Cruel
I have nothing pithy or inspiring to close with (and I’m fine with that too). A couple of weeks ago I begged God to let me escape the pain. He didn’t. I’m not as overwhelmed as I was, so don’t worry. No need to call 911 or put me on suicide-watch (I’ve got too many knitting projects to get through first. Plus, who would groom Miss Fatty?). God has been with me every second of these over 525 thousand minutes. He hasn’t left me or abandoned me for one second. A popular bracelet asks, “What Wouldd Jesus Do?”. The Bible tells us that Jesus was deeply compassionate and He was moved to tears, and that He is seated at the right hand of the Father. I don’t doubt for one minute that He’s been weaping with me and for me. The book of Romans it says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray. I’ve been clueless for 365 days and I don’t know when that will end, so I’m counting on the Him to continue to carry me and to continue to inspire all my friends to walk with me.
261 days but who’s counting? That’s 375,840 minutes for those of you who are into that sort of thing. Obviously my compulsive tendencies take me right down that road, but all roads lead to the fact that my dad is still gone. This is one of the longer trips he’s taken in my life. Growing up he was gone away a lot on business (fixing massive computers in the dawn on the computer era, covering six western states in the U.S., puts you on the road a lot), and then after he became a full time missionary he frequently went abroad for a few weeks at a time, but this trip is definitely longer than those.
So while the battle rages within between the voice that says, “He’s just on a mission trip–he’ll be back next week” and the counter voice that says, “Hey Smarty Pants! Wake up and smell the coffee! He’s really gone. Like, gone, gone and you’re not going to see him ever again this side of heaven”, there have been some things my deep inner self has been awakening to. (I think that voice is a bit harsh too, but there she is, blunt as always) Here’s that list in no particular order:
The things I “get” now:
*How people go round the bend. Lose their minds. Start blending fantasy with reality. I get it. I now get how people can end up in a rocking chair for hours and hours, maybe days and just check out of reality.
*Ya know on tv when they’ll sometimes show someone who’s gone, suddenly appear to a loved one? Ya, I get that too. Turns out there is some reality in tv.
*How people never give/throw things away from someone who’s passed. At the same time I completely understand how people do get rid of things. There’s no timeline. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or concrete reason. I now get that. I might have fished some seemingly meaningless things out of the trash the other day. They’re not taking up much space and I can’t bear the thought of throwing them away.
*I get that sometimes you actually don’t believe that the person is gone. Like your brain just isn’t comprehending it all. Even 261 days and 375,840 minutes later. Is that some dark endless crevasse of denial? If so, I get it now.
*How people can walk around in a fog
*I get how you feel like a complete and total traitor, like you’re the worst person who ever lived because you continue to live. Because you have to live, because you have to pay bills, because you have to buy groceries, and go to the bank, and buy cat food. But I now get that inner war. The battle rages on.
*I get how using something someone wanted you to have makes you feel horrible and wonderful at the same time.
*What it means to cry “at the drop of a hat.” I live there now.
*I get that you don’t want to make plans for the future, certainly not anything enjoyable, because you can’t imagine ever enjoying anything ever again. And then I get that you feel ever so slightly guilty when you do enjoy yourself, as if you’re not supposed to, but you know deep in your heart of hearts you’re absolutely supposed to enjoy living and continue to live and continue to thrive. But at the same time you don’t even know if you have the strength to do it.
*I get that you can truly thank God for His timing, because it’s the ONLY thing you prayed for and at the same time be shattered by the reality of it.
*I get how doing just one or two “hard things” (going through paperwork, going through clothes, making hard phone calls, talking to attorneys or accountants, etc…..) in one day wipes you out.
*I get how you can only hang out with one or two people now. This is a completely foreign feeling to me as I’ve always been an extrovert who loves to be with lots and lots of people having lots and fun all the time. But now the thought of hoards of people isn’t so enticing. But I do love people, and I do still love meeting new people, just maybe not everyone all at once.
*I get how you can completely hopeful about your future but at the same time feel blank.
*I get that when a parent dies you feel like you’re six years old and a 106 all at the same time, every minute of the day.
*I get how you now look at people in your life who have lost loved ones years ago and you see how they’ve somehow survived, they’re living, they’re laughing, they’re doing fine and you want to believe it for yourself but there’s a part of you that just can’t imagine it.
*I get how people talk to their person who is now “gone” like they’re in the room with them. Like you’re totally losing your marbles but you just. Don’t. Care.
*Mainly I get that I’m not alone. I’ve joined a worldwide club with millions of reluctant members. I get that the world does go on…..260 days now, and it’ll probably go on tomorrow. I get that the human spirit is stronger than we think it is in the middle of our agony. I get that God really DOES comfort us and that we might be certifiably insane, but He still loves us and He IS seeing us through the stuff we think we’ll never survive.
Bittersweet Flashback Friday to four years ago: We were just about to leave our precious Berg-By-The-Sea in L.A.’s SouthBay to fulfill a request from the hubs’ parents to live closer to them (turned out to be living with them for awhile).
These photos are from our girl-child’s last adaptive soccer game she played, not two miles inland from the ocean sand, and The Dude, who watched from the sidelines because, “doncha think kicking the same ball over and over again is a little repetitive?”
We humans always claim we want to know what lies ahead on our journey, but really we can’t know, because unless it turns out to be unicorns and fairy dust most of us would hide under our beds and never come out. I know I would have.
What lay ahead for us was the discovery of unmanaged and unchecked mental illness and dementia in the hubs’ father, for which my hubs was immediately blamed but over which he had no control, and unfathomable judgements and attacks on us by his family, almost from our first day there. But even as we embarking on a stormy “Three Hour Tour”, we found an amazing church family who became the first body of believers who completely embraced our little tribe and adored our children and loved them without judgement. When my in-laws couldn’t be bothered to visit their awesome grandson in the hospital after major surgery only six months after we moved there, that church rallied around us, waited with us during the surgery, and cooked meals for us for days afterwards.
Someone who was in charge of some kind of baseball league practically forced us to sign our kids up two weeks after we got to town, even though we told her our son couldn’t catch a ball or run to save his life. More importantly, our daughter had just flat out refused to play on a team in one of the beach communities just a couple of miles from our house. At The Dude’s first at-bat he turned around to see a huge audience, walked up to the backstop fence and cheered for all of us and then clapped heartily for himself as he rounded the bases with his beautiful university softball athletes flanked on each side. All of us made friends through Challenger Baseball; a rec league that has changed our family forever.
I had to say goodbye to an amazing neighborhood knit shop just a block from our house in The Berg, filled with a wealth of technical know how and generous knitters who taught me so much in so little time, but I made room for new friends, one of whom is making her mark as an awesome indie dyer and for whom I have the deep honor of test knitting.
We had to say goodbye to the ocean air and our daily pilgrimages to the beach and I forced myself to bloom where I was planted taking hikes and making fun memories with my Sweet Girl.
Maybe one of the sweetest presents we got to unfold in OurTown was that the hubs finally got to bloom as one of the best minds in baseball as a high school coach and a committee member of The JUCO World Series. His players adored him and continue to reach out to him today and we spent some glorious days and nights watching hours and hours of college ball. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
It’s hard to believe that everything we went through after leaving our beautiful life by the sea was to prepare us for the hardest leg of our journey that we’re now feeling our way through, and that is, life without my dad. And of course nothing could adequately prepare me for that.
I haven’t written in months. My dad died in September. If you’ve ever been on this journey you know it feels like five minutes ago, or at least I do. It feels like I just found out this second and instantaneously I began my free fall into the total blackness of outer space, known as Grief, and I’m still out there in the abyss. I have no idea when I’m coming back (whatever that means) and I really don’t have a desire to. Until then it looks Grief is my buddy, the gift that keeps giving. Pass the Kleenex.
The main reason I haven’t posted anything about this hideous journey is that I didn’t want to come off sounding like, “Woe is me, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened in the history of the universe”. While I wish I could say I’m the only one who’s ever experienced this pain and all the involuntary behaviors that come with it; the the without-warning crying jags, the feeling of hopelessness and abject blackness in my soul, I know I’m not. I know there are thousands of people around the world, and maybe even hundreds of daddy’s-girls who know EXACTLY what I’m going through. So I didn’t want to come off like a whimpering princess. I AM a whimpering princess to be sure, I just didn’t have the nerve to announce it to the universe. Until now apparently.
Rather than go on about how I’ve been doing (you can just know that in general I kind of don’t want to be around anyone, unless I DO want to be around people. And I don’t really want to be alone, except then whenever I do want to be alone, and then I have crying jags, I beg my dad to come back at the very same time I thank God he’s not suffering and I’m thankful that he’s truly super happy where he is, and then I go back to sobbing. It’s quite sophisticated and classy). So rather than go into all THAT detail (you’re welcome by the way) I thought I’d just relate some of my observations about losing a loved one and the grief process in general.
- The people closest to the person (namely the family that’s nearby) can act REALLY weird when someone dies or the situation is dire (depending on how wonky your family is. And at times like this sometimes people surprise you, let me tell ya). Like showing up at the hospital, refusing to say a WORD to the person who’s hanging onto life by a thread and smugly gloating over their bedside. Yes, I saw you. You know who you are. Good luck with that.
- People can have expectations of the surviving family member(s) regarding what their demeanor should be or what they should be doing that far surpass what anybody can do emotionally, physically, psychologically, you name it. For instance it’s been 111 days and 18 hours (but who’s counting) and I’m still not really even back to cooking meals for my family. Macaroni & Cheese is somehow okay with me. I have no idea who I am anymore.
- My brain isn’t working. I’ve lost a couple of things, moderately important things that are going to be a hassle for me to replace and I have no idea how I did it, or how to recover the lost things. I think they’ve vanished into thin air.
- I’m procrastinating the “hard stuff” like nobody’s business. I’m pretty much the Procrastinating Queen, so sorry if I’ve dethroned any of you, but I can look at a pile of important paperwork all day and not do a thing about it. This is kind of worrisome and will probably complicate my life in the not so near future.
- Some days I’m not outwardly sad at all. I’m actually optimistic and in a pretty good mood (I’m trying really hard to always be pleasant even if it doesn’t seem like it). I feel like I’m splitting apart at the seams into two different people (don’t worry, there’s plenty of me to go around and my nickname in high school was Sybil).
- Grief crops up at weird, weird times. Like, it’s not bothering me right now as we have to move some of dad’s belongings to make room for our stuff (we’ve moved into his house), but then I’ll look at a dish I gave him when I was eight and I can replay the whole birthday scene in my head and it always ends in tears.
- On most days I’ve got myself pretty convinced he’s coming back. He’s just on a mission trip. No biggie. This worries me because there’s paperwork stuff I’m probably supposed to be doing, but I’m in la la land.
- I think he’s appearing to me in dreams. I’m carrying on conversations with him and I don’t want them to stop. I wonder if I’m losing my mind. I wonder if I should care. Right now I don’t care and that concerns me a little. I can totally get why some people go around the bend and just never come back. I’m looking at that bend longingly.
- We had a really nice Christmas here. We decorated the house, put up a rather beautiful tree, baked cookies and have been playing Christmas music non-stop for weeks. I was singularly focused on making sure the kids had a nice holiday and for the most part I have been truly happy. Except for when I’m not. I honestly don’t want my dad to suffer with the grave health issues he had, so of course I’m happy he’s not in pain anymore. And then I cry some more and feel guilty for not being miserable over Christmas. But I know for a fact he wouldn’t any of us to walk around all mopey and down. In fact he’d tell me to snap out of it and to stop feeling sorry for myself. So I don’t for the most part. And then I feel guilty for being happy over Christmas.
- I had no idea until all this happened how life changing and life giving it would be for people to reach out and say they were praying for me or thinking of me during this time. All of the good wishes and prayers have literally kept me afloat. Just knowing someone takes the two minutes to drop me a note to say they’re thinking of me bolsters my resolve for a few more hours. It’s amazing. We all need each other more than words can adequately describe and I will from here on out always try to be there for a friend.
- I’m amazed at how social media is cheering me up. Everybody rails against it as being faceless, shallow and how everyone is completely two faced in their postings. But checking in on my friends who have similar interests is doing a lot to keep me focused on positive things. It’s just so true that everyone out there is battling something. Social media is helping me not wallow.
- Grief is tricky. One minute I’m reasonably happy and optimistic and then the next minute I feel a crushing pressure on my chest and I can’t breathe.
- Life truly does go on. The sun came up the very next morning and it has every day since then. I have a tremendous number of things to be thankful for. God IS good. He IS seeing us through this, and certainly me. My job right now is to take care of my family and make sure they weather this season okay. And I want to be positive in someone else’s life too. I don’t want to be “Debbie Downer”, but I do want to be real. It’s very, very tricky and and I’m exhausted from it by the end of the day, but sleep eludes me.
- Despite all this, life is good. It really is. I have a lot to live for and much to be thankful for. Last week our daughter said she had a dream about building a plasma cutter (duh—isn’t that what all 15 year old girls dream about?) and so she built one. I see what you did there, Dad (insert big, hot ugly tears here). You did good. She is amazing and wonderful (she is, as she always been a mini you) and she is missing you far more than I can fathom. Please keep talking to her and encouraging her brilliance. You have always been her rudder. Now she needs you to be her wind.