Three Gifts Grief Gave Me

On the first anniversary of my dad's death we celebrated him

Six years ago today, at this time, I was running errands around town. I had cramps. That evening my dad came to take my son James to his guitar lesson, and when he brought him home again, I probably said, "Bye Dad! Love you!" A few hours after that, I stood in my dad's shed with my mom, a couple police officers, and an EMS guy or two. My dad sat there too, hunched over his work bench. He had slipped away. That is what the police officer in my parents' driveway told me when I arrived. Lights flashing on the ambulance in the road. Me hoping the quiet that greeted me meant everything was okay - no rushing, no emergency here.

How can it be that something that has been true for six years still seems like such a shock sometimes? So unreal. So NOT true?

Grief is full of surprises. It hasn't been shy about sharing its tricks with me. It also brought many gifts.

First, grief doesn't go away. There is no "getting over it". Grief beats in my chest like my heart. It is always there, even when I'm not aware of it. Sometimes, I am tuned in to my grief. On days like today, I deliberately, mindfully tap into it. I take its pulse. I listen in, wondering how powerful it is now - is it moving forcefully? Gently? Most of the time, I'm not thinking about it. I'm so used to my grief at this point that it is like any other part of me. My eyes, my nose, my grief. The truth is - it has always been there. I've been losing and grieving those losses since I first claimed anything as mine. My dad's death forced me to feel grief in ways I had never let myself feel before. And now, I cannot unknow my grief. I am grateful for its presence and the way it has allowed me to feel deeply, intensely, without censorship, judgment, or expectations that it will go away some day. It's so much less intimidating now. We work together.

Second, "until death do us part" is mere poetry. Love lives on, way past the time the body holding it expires. And the Spirit was never really contained to begin with. My dad's love is a constant, like grief, moving in me, around me, and through all the people and places my dad touched. And, also, through the people and places that touched my dad. It is in my children even if their Papaw is but a faint memory. It gives me so much comfort to know in every morsel of my being that even in the absence of his body, my dad's Spirit lives on. Eternally. Not that doesn't keep me from wanting one last hug. I'd still love to see his face. Hear his voice. And, at the same time, I feel his Spirit. I relish in the cardinals he sends to check in, the guitar picks he leaves in random places, and the pennies he sends us from heaven. He is all around.

And finally, I was wrong in the hours, days, months, and years I spent feeling all alone in the world. Feeling damaged and broken, unworthy. I was always wondering, waiting, needing, and wanting confirmation that I was being held in some way, by some one. I didn't know it but, I was (good) enough all along. I was wise. I was whole. I was loved from the moment I became but a twinkle in my mother's eye. I have never been alone. Nope. By virtue of my humanity, I am deeply rooted in Creation. Connected to the Source - our Creator - and all living things. I am of the dirt, the sun, the stars, the moon, the lakes, and the seas. I am in the wind and the rain. My ancestors who came before me hold me still. We are all part of a Collective. We are one. And as the Earth spins on its axis, so do I, a magnificent microcosm of all that is, was, or ever will be. What a relief. I am not alone. I am whole. I carry all I need to know within me. I always have. I always will. And, the same is true for you.

There's more. Grief gives its gifts freely. It has taught me at least 100 other lessons in these six years. And, there's still more to learn. There always will be. In all ways. On all levels. The learning never ends.

And so, I thank Grief for what it came to teach me. I still wish it had been another way, and I know that was never a possibility. My dad's death was an important part of his journey, his contract. I am forever grateful for his legacy and for his love, which remains in our midst.

Peace to all the grieving hearts, aware of the losses, that devastate and leave us wondering why. Peace to the grief that lives within us, teaching us what it means to feel. Peace to all. xo


My dad, my sister Sarah, and me

My parents and their grandchildren, except little Aedan who arrived later

One of my favorite photos of my dad

My dad's work boots, bandana, and gloves

You Are Held. For real.




Some Thoughts on Pain and Suffering (with love)

There are many stories I want to share about the surgery I had on July 27, but they aren't ready to be told. Among them though is this new, unexpected, sister story that I really do want to share. Now. Even though it may not be ready either.

It started a couple weeks after my surgery. Everything went well with the surgery and initially I felt great. Then my body (specifically my skin) moved ahead with its own agenda. 


I quickly developed wounds where my skin refused to cooperate. Two weeks ago I had a second procedure. My skin is stubborn. So now, this is how it goes once, usually twice each day: I work up the courage to change my dressings. I peel back the existing dressing on one side of my body. I peel back the existing dressing on the other side. I apply ointment to non-adhering transparent gauze and then place that gauze, ever so tenderly, over my wounds. I cover that with regular white gauze and adhere it to my body with surgical tape. Finally, I adhere a surgical pad over the gauze with more tape. I am very well padded.


There is wincing. And often tears. There is curiosity, wonder, doubt, fear, and occasionally regret.

I have restrictions. I cannot do the things I want or need to do and I've grown weary from asking other people to do them for me. I am walking a fine line between sustaining the strength I know I need to sustain to properly care for myself and withdrawing into my warm, cozy bed. Indefinitely. I cry a lot lately.

I miss the things I can't do now. The things that normally bring me comfort and joy. Bear hugs, bubble baths, and yoga to name a few. Believe it or not, I even miss my ability to do laundry - to carry heavy things.

And every single day I think about the other people. The people who have been doing something just like this for weeks, months or even years. For themselves or for someone they love dearly. I think about how those daily rituals affect these other people. I wonder how they keep going? If they keep going?

I often think about what goes on under our cleverly cloaked faces and bodies. The pain that resides beneath the surface is no stranger to me. I carry it frequently. I know anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and grief from all of it. It creeps up when I am not expecting it. I wonder who is in it with me - at the grocery store, at my son's soccer game, on Facebook. I know there are others. I feel for them.

And now I have a new understanding of another kind of pain that nobody can see. Wounds that are dressed and then dressed again for protection - and hiding. The wounds we don't discuss when we see friends around town. The wounds we carry all by ourselves. 

In these moments I think about the way we treat each other on this planet. I think about the ways we can be so quick to criticize one another. I think about the ways we so carelessly inflict pain on each other - with words, with our bodies, and with weapons. In our own homes, on the playground, in the board room, on the field, and all around town, we hurt each other. Often. It is usually on the defense. We want to protect ourselves from each other's choices, actions, and beliefs. We hope none of it is contagious. We don't want our kids to catch it. We lash out. And we have no clue about how the other person came to these choices, these actions, or these beliefs. And we don't even care. We lash out anyway.

These thoughts have been lurking in my head for days. I write to process things. These thoughts and this experience are things that need to be processed. I kinda don't want to process them though. They aren't easy for me to face. They are heavy. So why would I share them? Why today? Because this morning I woke up to learn that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. And I thought about all those people I know are out there suffering in silence and I wanted to tell them (you... us...) something...

You are not your experience. I am not mine. I am not my wounds, my pain, or my suffering and either are you. I don't care who you vote for or whether you vote at all. I don't care who you pray to or whether you pray at all. I don't care if you kneel before altars in churches or build your own altars on the beach or at home. I don't care if you use your when you mean you're. I don't care where you went to school, where you work, or where you live. I don't care what kind of car you drive or if you even drive at all. I don't care if you swear like a sailor or speak with the eloquence of the Dali Lama. I don't care if your body is covered in tattoos or moisturizer. None of that matters to me (although some of it is really interesting to me and I might want to talk more about it later... Without judgment.). The only thing I do care about is that you don't hurt yourself because of the stories - the lies - you've come to believe about your situation. And, I ask, please do not hurt others.

Ask for help, even if it is hard and you think you might have worn out your welcome.

I will too.

Sit with what you need to for as long as you need to, but please don't suffer alone in silence. It's not necessary.

I love you. God loves you. The Universe loves you. Mama Earth loves you. You are lovable and worthy of all the love you can imagine. It's true.

Heading to the doctor now... letting the tears flow. I'll be the one with the runny mascara. 

xoxo


Be gentle with yourself. 
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. 
In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. 
- Max Ehrmann


an old favorite


 

I'll Have What She's Having

Kindred Connection Workshop, 8/15
Photo courtesy of the lovely Heather Heffley of Heather Heffley Photography

Look at those smiling faces.

Sometimes, when I'm having an off day (for example) photos like these make me sad. I feel left out (even when it is completely irrational to feel that way). Sometimes, I am jealous of the women I see looking out at me. I wonder if I can have what they're having? I wonder if there is a place for me?

At this point in my life, I have come to accept my jealousy as a welcome messenger coming in for a landing. She says, it is perfectly okay to want what you think you see in that picture - sisterhood, community, a tribe of kindred spirits. My jealousy reminds me that there is a place for me and it is up to me and only me to own my place in the world, to stand in it, to occupy it.

Arriving at this point wasn't necessarily easy and I still struggle with being here sometimes. I hear the same is true for a lot of women. A lot of people. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere - in community with likeminded people. And when we see others who appear to belong, we can feel left out.

It is a gift to be seen by others. To feel understood. To be accepted despite my quirks and flaws and insecurities. It takes some courage to put myself out there - to show up, to be vulnerable, to risk being misunderstood, to risk being rejected.

Group Hug! Heart Connected Retreat 9/14

What I have found though, is that showing up is always worth the risk. Once I began to put myself out there, I learned there are other people whose hearts skip a beat when they walk into an art supply store. There are other people who go bananas for a cool new pen. There are other people hoarding journals and notebooks for art and writing. There are other people reading through self-help books as if the books were flashcards. There are other people like me. Seeking, growing, learning new tricks. I never would have found them had I not allowed myself to be seen.

Heart Connected Retreat, 9/14

Before I found the courage to go searching for my local people, I took online art classes. I started with the Brave Girls Club and the amazing women I met online in those classes led me to other teachers and other classes to explore. I attended retreats where I met some of the teachers in person and where I was inspired to start teaching myself. I discovered we are all teachers and students learning and growing together. We share our stories and see ourselves in each other's stories.

I am constantly blown away by the generous teachers out there sharing their work and the processes they use to create. It is beautiful.

Not too long ago I received a beautiful package from Brave Girls Club inviting me to join them as a teacher at their newest online offering - Brave Girl University. This, for a learning junkie like myself, is an epic opportunity to continue learning and, now, share some of what I've learned along the way via the courses I teach. I am THRILLED about all of it.

So, if you are curious, or craving a space to learn among kindred spirits, you must check out Brave Girl University! Not to be all bossy pants or anything, it is simply that exciting - command worthy.

This is an excellent opportunity to explore many interests - art, craft, spirit, personal development, meditation, and so much more. It's a place to do deep soul work and have fun while you're at it. For me, maybe most importantly, it is a place where I can continue to learn new things and to build and nurture community. It is a place where all of us can have what she's having. It is a place where we all belong.

School starts September 1st! I look forward to seeing you on campus! xo

Click here to reserve your spot!








Resources

Here are just a few of the books and websites I love the most (there are so many!). I broke them into three major categories, but once you start digging you will find that many of the topics covered in these resources could very easily be categorized under multiple headings. That happens a lot on these journeys. Making connections – that happens.

On Creativity


The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron


Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Brave Girls Club


On Life 

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Ordinary Courage (Brene Brown's blog)


Women Food and God by Geneen Roth


The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Haveby Mark Nepo


Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison


Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life by Judith Lasater, PhD, PT

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

For Inspiration

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O'Donohue

Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartful Life by Julia Cameron

A Little Bird Told Me: 30 Days of Beautiful Words and Beautiful Art for your Beautiful Soul by Melody Ross

Ordinary Sparkling Moments: Reflections on Success and Contentment by Christine Mason Miller

The Gift by Hafiz and Daniel Ladinsky

Rumi: The Big Red Book: The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love and Friendship by Coleman Barks


On Grief, Loss and Overcoming Challenges

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die by David Kessler

Walking in the Garden of Souls by George Anderson and Andrew Barone

Holiday Grace


May we all have compassion for ourselves, and for those around us.

That is what I pray for this time of year - compassion for myself and compassion for others. Over and over. It is actually more of a mantra than a prayer.

This time of year is so tricky for me, and I suspect it is tricky for a lot of other people too. Okay, I know it is tricky. It is so easy to fall prey to expectations - those that come from others and our own - of what we "should" be doing. What we should be planning, cooking, baking, eating, decorating, buying, selling, and how we should be doing it - gracefully, effortlessly, joyfully, gratefully, and with ease. Surrounded by loved ones.

I struggle enough with day to day life when it is not the holiday season. There is a pile of papers on my kitchen counter that is so tall, it could be dangerous. I don't know what to do with it so I move it from one place to another. I'm tempted to throw it all away. It overwhelms me. In the past several months I have missed appointments that I never thought I'd miss and forgotten to respond to a zillion different requests. My voice mailbox is full. I owe people money. My bedroom is a disaster. And, I have no idea what we're having for dinner.

I'm weary. It's only Monday. And, it's GO time. No rest for the weary here. On Thursday we're having Thanksgiving dinner at our house and Pierogi Day on Friday. Two days of crazy, busy, super messy fun.

These are fun days for sure, but they are exhausting days too, and in as much as it makes me happy to spend this time with my family during the holidays, it also makes me sad. When I look around the room at all the faces of those I love most, I am hyper-aware that certain other loved ones are missing. Their absence hits me when I least expect it. One minute I could be helping my husband whip the mashed potatoes and the next minute I am longing to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers because my dad isn't here to play his guitar and sing Amazing Grace before dinner.

You know the woman who just stole your parking spot? She might be grieving.

The man who cut in front of you in line at the grocery store? He might be wondering how he will pay his bill.

The friend who seems to be ignoring you? She might be fighting for her marriage.

That flaky mom from school who won't return your call? She could be waiting… waiting for test results… wondering what the future holds.

We just cannot know what is on another person's heart or mind. We cannot know what keeps her up at night or what keeps her from wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes we wonder, and yet we don't really need to know. Do we? Couldn't we all just drop the inquiry? What if we stopped speculating, comparing, and judging? What if we decided not to take things personally? What if we decided to take responsibility for ourselves, and to trust that others can do the same?

What if we stepped out of our own heads and hearts for just a moment to let love in - to make space for compassion?

What if we just loved each other? I think that would be so amazing.


Because this time of year is so very tricky and our hearts are tender and our minds are over-stressed, maybe we could start with a bit more compassion right now and give it a go through the end of December? Let's just try it. Shall we? What have we got to lose? We have so much to gain. So much.

I'll keep praying… I know you will too.

May we all have compassion for ourselves, and for those around us.
May we trust that we are all doing our best.
May we release judgment.
And, may we make way for love.
And so it is. Amen. Aho! xoxo

Happy Thanksgiving!