Thursday, December 31, 2015

the story comes later

these pictures are part of a blog post I am currently working on writing.  I am just putting the pictures on here ahead of time.  Please check back soon to read the story that goes with them.  Thanks.





Sunday, December 13, 2015

an "un"tale

I want to tell you a story.  It's a story that reads like a Hollywood movie script about a boy, a girl, and how they get to walk off into the sunset together. Unhappily, though, the character I want to focus on isn't the girl holding hands with the boy at the end of the tale. The girl I want to tell you about is the cast-off, the forgotten, the plot-device used to get the main characters where they need to go.
Let me give you her back story so you might see how she fits in to the plot.
Once upon a time, shortly after turning seventeen years old, this girl tragically lost her beloved Father to an untimely end. And, as legends often go, in the wake of this heartbreak, the girl met a boy with whom she instantly felt connected.  They were a comfortable fit, her first real boyfriend, and he inserted himself into her life and her family like he had always belonged. For almost two and a half years they kept their romance going as this girl had to transition and turn her whole life upside down while her family learned to adjust to the new normal of losing a husband and father.  It is a quest that should be wished on no one. Courageously and valiantly they sojourned into new territory and, after a while, the girl was settled into her new kingdom. This boy put a ring on her finger and traveled distant lands to live in the valley near her until their betrothal. This was supposed to be their happily ever after as they went about making plans and talking about their future.  Slowly the grief of losing her father was turning into hope. She was on a journey of a heroine in the making, with (what she thought was) her knight in shining armor by her side.
            But there were was an unforeseeable story-arch at play and sadly, this poor girl was about to learn she was not even a protagonist in her own engagement. There was something sinister lurking.  A shadowy presence in the background ever gaining clarity.  In some fantasies this would be what tries to tear our couple apart, but only succeeds in making them stronger.  Alas, that is not how our story is going to end, dear reader.  Maybe there were some signs (seen only in hindsight) that all was not as smooth as it ought to be, but this girl was trusting and sure of her course.  After all, promises were given and plans were being made. Plus, she’d already come through the worst that could possibly happen.  And So, on that fateful, black day when storm clouds loomed and the boy told her he did not want to be with her anymore, she was blindsided by a dragon she could not slay.  His explanation lacked substance and seemed fabricated, further adding to her despair.  The girl’s defenses began to crumble.   A dragon’s talons cut deep and wide and the knight was nowhere to be seen or heard from in her story again.
            We leave her there, for now, broken and bleeding with no more lines in this supposed fairytale.  Because, despite his insistence otherwise, it soon became apparent that there was someone else the boy desired to play the girl’s part and she had already been given the role. And Hollywood would have you believe that this new couple had now overcome all obstacles to stay the course and finally be together. The screen writers would have us rooting for the new pair as they walk off hand-in-hand. It is like it was always meant to be; the boy moved far away for one reason only to find the one with whom he was truly meant to be. It’s a tale as old as time and we gobble it up. Cue sappy ballad and the end credits. Ain't the movies grand?
But, wait!!  What about the girl that was left wounded and unable to save herself? In the movies they would make her cruel or controlling so that it is satisfying to see her get what she deserves.  After her final scene, no one would think twice about where she ended up and what became of her story.  It isn’t part of the enchantment. 
Therefore, to the new girl who thinks that all it took was patience to win over this boy who was always meant to be hers – I will tell you this: the first girl is kind, and she is good, and she never did anything negative to you. She helped you move into your apartment and tried to be your friend. And while you project this image of a pro-woman, feminist heroine in your story, you certainly had no trouble throwing one of your own under the bus when it came to your own happiness and pleasure.  Maybe you’ve waved your wand and given the other girl a hairy wart, poison apples, or other antagonistic attributes and that helps you justify his necessary rescue.  Then there is no need for you to see what you’ve really done and who she really is.  Nevertheless, I hope that you see her scarred and bandaged face under your boot each step you take down your yellow-brick road.  You should remember her story and the part she played in yours, that way, when the time comes, those are the images that will come back to haunt you when the same thing happens to you.  Because I am quite certain that your tale will end the way it began, with him broken, lying, cheating, and pretending to be something he is not. That is his genre, the only temperament his character was made to play.
Enjoy your happily ever after.

The End

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

a ghost story



When something comes to a terrifying, abrupt halt your mind keeps moving forward as if some sort of cruel mental inertia is at play.  What do you do with all that residual momentum?  The information still in your brain that keeps taking you in a direction other than the brick wall you’ve just hit?  There are leftovers that linger.
We have ghosts that live in our Yahtzee game-box who like to prey on those leftovers.  I don’t mean ghosts like actual entities haunting us, more like an unwelcome knot in the pit of your stomach brought on by a sudden, unexpected reminder of a future that was supposed to be.  The unforeseen wave of nostalgia hits so hard; it is like a tangible manifestation and its presence grips you with hands you can feel.  Seeing those names at the top of old scorecards is shocking and heartbreaking.  They taunt and tease, shrieking and mocking your discomfort.  Just when you’ve stopped checking the other lane of traffic, hoping and yet dreading a glimpse, just when you’ve deleted all the pictures and messages off your phone.  Just when you’ve begun to accept, to move on, to heal.  You let your guard down only for a moment.  And BOO!  Those damn ghosts. 
Games go on and eventually, someday, new names will be scribbled on a fresh pad of scorecards.  We leave some of those beings in the box because we can ultimately find comfort in their presence.  Reminders of a happier time when games were played and memories of smiles gone by, before cancer, before loss.  Those are ghosts that become a lot less scary.
Certain papers we crumple and tearfully discard, knowing that some things just won’t ever be okay.  Some ghosts are meant to haunt. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

to my kids

     I recently saw a touching interview on the Stephan Colbert show where he spoke with Joe Biden, two men I admire very much. One of the topics they discussed was the tragic loss of Biden’s son, Beau.  Vice President Biden talked about his reluctance to run for President in the face of his ongoing, overwhelming grief.  This also brought up the story of how Colbert lost his Dad and two of his brothers at the age of ten.  The men discussed their shared experience of grief. Biden talked about his incredible support system in family and faith when he lost his first-wife and daughter in a car accident many years ago and then the recent loss of Beau. When Biden related his grief to Colbert’s Mom, wondering how people get up and put one foot in front of the other after facing such a tragic loss, Colbert was honest and said that she did it because she had other kids to care for.  But, also, that they were there for each other, it was a mutual dependency and in many ways, he had to “raise his mom” as she learned to face the new normal.  Biden said that his boys did the same for him after losing their mom in the years of grief that followed. 
   It was an incredibly emotional interview for me to watch as I related so much to what these men were saying.  Colbert said that his mother was "non compos mentis" for years after her loss.  It selfishly validated my grief by knowing that it isn't just me who cannot get over things or let them go.   But more importantly, it left me feeling that I had no choice but to stop everything that I am doing this instant and take time recognize the sacrifice and bravery that it takes for my kids to “raise” me in the aftermath of their father’s death.  This blog post isn't enough, nothing is enough, but I need to take this time and admit that they are truly everything that's 'right' about me in this moment.  I was so lost, and I still very much am, in who I am supposed to be now.  I’m needy and angry like I never was before.  And so sad, I'm still so very sad.  My kids go out of their way to make sure that I am okay, many times taking on responsibilities and roles well beyond their years and often times giving up much of their time as kids to adjust to this new and scary role they have had thrust upon them.  Often times, though I know they are sad, they put those emotions aside to first make sure that I am okay.  And though caregiving is not every minute of everyday, the effort that they put in takes a toll on them.  It wears on their emotions and their own relationships.  This isn’t how it's supposed to be for them and I wish we weren’t mutually parenting one another.  Sarah, who took on the role of my greatest confidant, has definitely risen above, especially in the loss of her recent engagement, as a key player in keeping our family running smoothly.  I am sure that it wasn’t ALL to do with me, but I know that taking on this new expanded role just as she’s coming of age definitely hindered her relationship and probably contributed to its downfall.  Noah, who became man of the house at the age of 13 can’t even be a normal, angsty teenager because I am not emotionally stable enough to deal with anything, and while he could push - he absolutely does not.  He is a steadfast source of strength and comfort.  He also works very hard to learn, mostly from his Grandpa, how to take care of our house and yard taking on many of the traditional 'Dad' roles.  Micah, who has not only had to deal with the loss of his Dad, but also have me completely preoccupied with my own grief and full-time schooling at an age when I should be volunteering to go on field trips with his class – or better yet still homeschooling him -  tries to take it all in stride.  He is so good about keeping track of all our schedules, permission slips, and reminders of items needed. He is also so kind when my scattered brain forgets something, yet again.
    All three kids do very well in school and work so hard to help around the house as well as all their many, many extra-curricular activities. No one really has a road map as to how this is supposed to work for us.  Every time we think we've got it figured out there's a new hurdle, another conflict, more chaos.... but the kids balance things out and help me carry the weight instead of adding to it.  Sure, sure, they've each had their moments to freak out and give-in to madness, but it is never as bad as I make it out to be and often they're the ones who right themselves first and calm me down in the wake of any misbehavior.  
   During the interview, Joe Biden mentioned an expression his father used to say, ‘A Father knows he’s a success when he turns and looks at his son or daughter and knows that they turned out better than he did’.  Biden said he knew he was a hell’ve a success because of who his kids were. 
      I couldn’t agree more, and so, even though I feel like a failure at almost every turn, I watch my kids in all that they do, in the kindness they show everyone, in the care that they take to look after me, and in the effort they put into all they’re involved in and I know that I am successful. 
   I love you kids.  Thank you.  I would be incapable of anything without you.

And I’m sorry for your loss.     

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

the Maple tree


There is an enormous Maple tree in my backyard.  It's branches reach up to the sky as wide as they are tall, a sort of grandfather protecting and observing everything we do.  In spring the blooms appeared early as if in expectant anticipation of the positive changes that were happening and the promise of the year to come.  But, as the thick and strong leaves shaded summer celebrations the tree looked on with sadness as plans came to a standstill and were replaced with shock and heartache.  The foliage reluctantly changed in late autumn, as though it was hesitant to admit time was moving on.  Now the tree stands empty, devoid, the branches bare and wanting.  All its covering bagged up and carted away, the last remaining witnesses to a year almost over.  How delicate a balance  between the time that moves on and the memories that remain.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

truth behind a cliché


"So forget this cruel world where I belong.  I'll just sit and wait and sing my song.  And, if one day you should see me in the crowd, lend a hand and lift me to your place in the cloud"  - Nick Drake "Cello Song"

       I do not put any stock in the supernatural - except for the occasional entertainment value it provides in different FICTIONAL mediums.  I don't believe in ghosts, or that Rob is sitting up in heaven looking down (that's just not Biblically accurate), or that people become guardian angels. This being the case, I'm not one to read too much into dreams either. 
       But, I had this dream the other night about some leftover issues I am having surrounding the anger and hurt I feel over what my daughter is going through.  It was one of those dreams from which you wake and have to spend the first few minutes of foggy wakefulness assuring yourself that it didn't really happen. I 've had a hard time shaking the ugliness that went along with that dream.  I started thinking about dreams and how weird and random they are.  I was wondering why, why, why I had that dream and why I never dream about Rob, for good or bad.  I've taken my generals and learned from psych 101 that most often you dream where your mind was before you went to sleep.  Well, not lying, my mind is constantly on Rob - and not just the tragic ending, but on all the pieces that intertwined our life of more than 20 years together. I don't think that theory holds much truth.  In some small way I guess I've thought the lack of dreams might be God protecting me, because I dwell enough already - if I had to have vivid dreams that stayed with me for days I don't know if I could function.  But, this haunting dream from a few days ago got me wondering.  
   I *think* (in my uneducated opinion) it might have something to do with the whole "unresolvedness" surrounding certain situations for me. There was nothing left unsaid between my husband and me.  Sure, there are things I wish I could tell him now, things I'd like to ask his opinion about, or just hear his voice on the other end of the phone line.   Sure.  But, it's different than having a nagging sensation of things left unfinished.  I don't need any answers, and that peace is priceless.  I've seen - all my life - so many, many, many of those meant-to-be uplifting sayings that encourage you to tell those around you that you love them because tomorrow is not promised.  'Say your sorry, express your concern, don't wait' ...  so-much-so that we become desensitized to the real benefit behind such statements. 
    I'd like nothing more than to tell Rob that I love him one more time and to hear his voice reciprocate.  But, the truth is, I don't really need that because I know that he knew and in return I know that I was so loved.  We got to say things before it was too late.  We weren't always so expressive, but Cancer makes you stare those things down.  
And I can tell you that it matters. 
 It matters that my kids know, beyond anything, how loved they were by him.  It matters they heard it in their father's voice and each have a letter that he wrote to them - it matters that it's not me assuring them.  It makes a difference that I have a conclusion and no unanswered questions.  I'm still messed up, but it could be worse - 
  
 It matters - those things we say to one another to help each other understand.  Speaking love, or apologizing. It makes a difference - the comfort or the hurt that we can be.  Those things matter.  And, as cliche as you might think it is - tomorrow isn't promised.  
   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

my word's but a whisper, your deafness a shout

·  Grief doesn’t change who you are, it becomes who you are
· •There’s no wrong way to grieve
· There’s no time limit to your grief    

These are the mantras that play over and over daily in my head as I cope.  These are the things I tell myself so that I know I’m okay, even if I am still so lost in sadness.
   But, now I think I have to add one more.

   Grief changes the way you grieve.

   Because becoming one with your grief changes the way you are able to process emotion for everything else that follows
           – maybe forever, I don’t know, I’m only 1,112 days into this.  There’s a lot I don’t know.-   

But, what I do know is that it doesn’t matter how you arrive at this point – my grief isn’t “more” or “longer” because I lost a spouse.  It is what it is because of how it affected me and how my brain processes it.  You can’t tell me to get over it any quicker than you can tell someone who’s had a fight with their best friend, lost a pet, or lost a child.  I know that grief comes in all shapes and sizes and some people can process and accept – and some times the loss of your favorite pencil might send you off the deep end.  Grief has broken people just as often as it’s made them crusaders for a cause.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but what I have learned is that loss is loss, and it becomes a part of you. 
    Becoming this person of grief, I have already experienced how it effects daily life and witnessed the survivor’s guilt that numbs any joy and happiness.  Grief mars the simplest of pleasures. I’ve had good moments, but even then…. I am different and they are muted. 
  Recently, my family went through another loss of a sort and it’s only after experiencing those events that I’ve come to realize the next page I have to add to my grief textbook:  Grief changes the way you grieve. 
This is huge to know.  Let me explain.
     When my kids do something “stupid’ (like forget an assignment that was due, lose something important, etc.) I always tell them to stop getting so upset over the ‘why did this have to happen’ and focus on the ‘what can I do about it now’.  They work themselves up because they are so upset with themselves it ends up making the situation all the more stressful. 
“Stop making yourself sick over the fact that this happened, learn from it, do what you can to fix it, and them move on,” I tell them. 
      It is the same for me with sadness in watching my daughter hurt.  I should be there with a cup of tea, a fuzzy blanket, and a horror movie.  I should be the one nodding as she rants or hugging her as she cries.  AND, I have done all those things – but I’ve also felt her pain and her sadness much more than I should.  I’ve dwelt and nearly made myself crazy with vial thoughts and unforgiveness.  Then, realizing that I was spending far too much time and effort being upset over this, I made myself sick with thoughts like, “what is WRONG with me that I can’t let this go?”  “Why am I letting this effect me to the point of obsession?”  (okay, maybe obsessed is a bit strong, but I felt a bit insane at the time)
       I started to write.  I started to make lists.  I talked to my trusted confidants.  They said things I didn’t want to listen to – things like, if Rob were still here I wouldn’t have been able to work myself up into this much of a tizzy.  And, they’re right –but through writing and praying, I’ve come to realize that it’s more than that.  Being a person of grief and having a brain that isn’t totally recovered, I can’t just get over things.  I can’t stop that I turn everything into another reason why Rob should still be here.  (and yes, I have gone to pieces over losing my favorite pencil since Rob died, that was me). 
     So, my first step is to take my own advice and stop making a hard situation harder by reprimanding myself for being sad.  I can be sad, I SHOULD be – it was a heartbreaking situation and my poor daughter is still trying to pick up the pieces.  Should I be this damaged by it? 
No, absolutely not.  I should have been an appropriate amount of dignified anger/sadness and then the model of forgiveness and recovery, I suppose. 
But, honey, that just isn’t who I am anymore.  Grief is messy.  And it messes with your head.
I’m going to give myself that freedom and start from there.  Maybe tomorrow will be better. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

the change jar


How do you let go of hurt and anger toward someone who has so completely misused your child? 
     Every day it’s like my daughter comes home with another handful of coins in her pocket, it is the change made up of the remainders of hurt, anger, and unresolvedness that she’s picked up throughout the day.  She carries it around and takes it all on herself.  She has not lashed out, been vengeful, or vindictive, but just carries the weight of each new burden until she can come home.  And then I listen, pray, and cry - picking up the handfuls as she lays them down.  
But, each day she picks up more, and my pockets are getting full. 
This is a different knot in my stomach than the grief we’ve all shared.  Though that grief is deeper, it is a shared grief.  It is a sadness that we all participate in and help each other through.  This is my daughter’s grief alone and I am helpless on the sidelines with nothing comforting to share except that dreaded word, “time”.  I do not wish to give this person power over me any longer by dwelling on unanswered questions and unresolved anger. So, while I will continue to hold my daughter’s hand, to buy more tissues, and to patiently wait for her to be ready to heal, I am also going to speak my piece on this blog, I'm going to empty my pockets. Because this is my space and I owe no apologies. 

An Open Letter to that boy
          Tucked away in a corner of my basement amongst boxes of unused picture frames and toys long since outgrown sits a box of Christmas lights.  When we bought the lights last year, I was apprehensive.  You reassured me that you would help hang them along the outside of my house and take them down when the season was over.  You promised that you would come back for as many holidays to hang them up again.
          The lights won’t get hung this year.  They will stay in the box, untouched, just another broken promise. 
            Not too long ago I spent the morning at the seamstresses while Sarah had her last fitting on the wedding dress she picked out.  When you unapologetically walked away from the wedding, the dress had already been purchased and cuts had been made to the fabric in order to alter it into her dream dress. The only way to complete the project was to have the bride-not-to-be try on the dress since it was being designed to perfectly contour her shape.  She had to stand, still and stuck, in that dress, in a room full of mirrors while adjustments were made.  So, while you have moved on with a brand new Facebook that completely erases any sort of involvement you had with our family and you have gone on to a new relationship (when you swore up and down that there was no one else. It’s a small town, voices carry), things have not been so easy for Sarah.
        With the recent announcement of your brothers’ engagement, your family gets to plan and prepare for a different wedding. It's almost as though these last two years didn't have to exist for you. 
But, for Sarah, it's not so easy.
          There was a registry at a department store that she forgot the two of you created which sent her a reminder saying a while back saying, "your wedding is one month away, time to update your registry" or there were the decorations for the tables that arrived a couple days after you disappeared without explanation, just more souvenirs of your disregard. These are just moments of the called-off wedding, but the hurt and anger that lingers is strengthened with each different reminder.  It tosses her back into the inexplicable loss making it nearly impossible for her to go forward. It hasn't been easy.   Not easy at all.  
           I saw you the other day, your truck followed me to a grocery store parking lot, you didn’t recognize the different car I’m driving now and so, you did not see me.  It was the Monday after the wedding date came and went, and I was so angry at you in that moment.  Angry that you’re still in this town and that you looked just fine.  I suppose you’re allowed to go on, your reasons your own.  I suppose you’re allowed to shop and drive and exist. To date and to have a life.  To present yourself as healthy, whole, and a democrat. I suppose you can just think yourself blameless (even though Sarah is not the first you’ve abandoned like this.  She’s, sadly, not even the second).  I suppose.  I just needed you to know – it hasn’t been as easy for Sarah.  Not easy at all. 

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