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9/11, Depression, and the Meaning of Life


Many people are remembering 9/11 today. It's hard not to remember. So many of us can recall exactly what we were doing when we first heard the devastating news - for me it was that a plane crashed into a building in New York City. I remember a group of students gathered around a TV screen in one of the Social Work buildings. It was one of our first day of classes. I wasn't sure what they were watching, but I cruised right by already late to class.

We moved our desks into a circle. There were a few people frantically pushing numbers on their cell phones. The instructor had the affect of someone trying to maintain calm. It turned out that several of my classmates' families were in New York and my classmates were trying to reach them. As the beginnings of the story of 9/11 unfolded, we exchanged looks of shock. Our professor asked that we stay for the full 2.5 hours of class. We thought she was crazy.

I remember going home and watching the news all day long. I remember going to bed terrified. I couldn't snuggle in close enough to my husband and I finally fell asleep wondering what kind of world I was bringing my firstborn into as I thought about him sprouting from a little seed inside my belly. Earlier in the day I had wondered if our new insurance plan would cover my pregnancy - we had just moved to Michigan from Arlington, Virginia. That seemed like a non-issue at bedtime. I couldn't stop thinking about how I had driven past the Pentagon every day on my way to work when we lived in Arlington. I couldn't begin to make sense of what had happened in our country - the land of the free and home of the brave - that day. Nobody could.

It is National Suicide Prevention Week. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday about a group call To Write Love On Her Arms. According to their mission statement, this is a  "movement is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide..."

Yesterday's call was to write the word "LOVE" on your arm to help raise awareness. So I did that, knowing that finding hope and help for these issues specifically is a cause that I hold close to my heart.


When I woke this morning to stories of 9/11 and LOVE on my arm, I began to think about graduate school and how I had diagnosed myself with almost every mood disorder I learned about in class. It was actually quite liberating to learn that there was an entire vocabulary for the feelings I had struggled with my entire life.

In a different Facebook post yesterday, someone I know shared a picture of LOVE on her arm. She included a note to her dad - I gathered he had committed suicide. I thought about my dad's sudden death about 3.5 years ago. He didn't commit suicide, but before we knew the cause of his death, the possibility that he did commit suicide wasn't out of the question. With drugs and alcohol, he certainly found other less severe ways to escape the pain he felt in his life.

After his death, I pretty much fell apart. With three little people to care for and my husband back at work, I knew I needed help. I decided to take anti-anxiety medication. While my grief intensified my anxiety and symptoms of depression, it is true that living with anxiety was something I had been doing my whole life. I didn't have words for the constant feeling that something could go wrong at any second until I learned more about anxiety and depression in graduate school. I thought I was "too sensitive" while the truth was I felt things really deeply. Maybe more deeply than other people. When the pain was too much bear, I looked for ways to hide it or dull it. 

When I finally decided to take medication for my anxiety it was in part because I remembered a friend saying to me "Anna, you don't have to live this way" referring to my constant state of anxiety. I never wanted to take medication, but at that point - after my dad died - I didn't think I had time for therapy and I knew from my studies that it would help me. It was a very small dose, just enough to take the edge off and not enough to keep me from crying my way through a year's worth of contacts in way less than a year's time.

The thing about living with anxiety and depression that is so hard, and can be debilitating even, is that you feel so alone. So hopeless. So isolated. And on top of all that, you can feel ashamed of feeling that way. You think the only way out of the pain is to stop it. People try stopping the pain in all kinds of ways.

I would never, ever tell anyone that the key to happiness is to take medication. That is a choice you have to make for yourself based on your own history and your own present situation. What I would do is to say what my friend said to me - "You don't have to live like this." You have options.

See, I have come to realize that while there is immense pain and suffering in this world - and while I am not immune to any of it - we are not here on Earth to suffer. We are here to enjoy our lives and to live them peacefully. I don't know what that means for everyone, but I know that it is true. I don't have any proof, you'll just have to trust me.

Sometimes I wish my medication would numb me to the pain I feel, and that's when I know that it is time to take it up a notch in other areas of my life. When I want to escape what I'm feeling, I have found that writing helps me to feel more grounded. Yoga reminds me to breathe and helps me to stay present. Meditation helps me to quiet my "monkey mind" - the what-ifs that can spin out of control if I don't stop them. Being outside soothes my soul. Taking walks and running (or trying to run...) helps me to clear my mind. Spending time with people I love helps me remember who I am - not a condition, but a soul doing its best to enjoy this human experience. When I can return to myself and what is most important to me, I can better handle whatever life throws my way. 

For me, art is a cure-all. Creating connects me to my core, the Creator, and all things created. I try to create something every single day. Sometimes it's just dinner (usually it's not dinner...). I have been keeping a Blessings journal for a while now and I love it because I can do just a little bit of creating very easily every day AND reflect on the things and people for which I am grateful. 







Yoga, art, and meditation are some of the tools I use to get to break away from the every day and get back to what matters most to me. 

We all have those tools - those things that can help us to slow down and re-focus on what matters. For a lot of people prayer will do the trick. No matter how much pain you are in, you must remember that life is not about the pain. Life is about JOY and you have the right to live in peace.

So, how do we get back there? What will it take to get you back to the peace? Here are a few steps you can try to take...
  1. Breathe
  2. Think of one thing that brings you peace
  3. Take one step, make one stroke, write one word, recall one memory, or reach out to one friend at a time - whatever it is that will take you to peace
  4. Keep breathing
  5. Keep going
  6. Get there

The only way through anything is to go through it. Seriously. Sit in it for as long as you need to. Feel what comes up for you. Yell, scream, cry, stomp your feet. Get as angry or as sad as you need to be. 

And then remember that you don't have to live there. You don't have to stay in the darkness. Let it - whatever it is - flow through you, then you too can go with the flow. You can move through whatever it is. It might take hours or days or even years. Choose one thing that brings you joy or peace and take one little step in that direction whenever you can. You will make your way out of it. And, know you're not alone. If you need help, reach out for it. It's okay to ask for help.

This world - one where true heroes sacrifice their lives to save others, where slowly we are raising our voices around issues like depression and suicide, where communities come together in times of despair to help one another, and where we recognize that we are all connected - this is the world I brought my now eleven year-old son into. It is a world filled with war and hate and hunger and pain and suffering, and it is a world filled with beauty and peace and joy. We have to learn to live with the good and the bad. It's not an either/or proposition. 

When you are suffering, you don't have to stay there. You don't have to live like that. You have options. My hope is that we all choose PEACE and JOY and do whatever it takes to get there.

With all kinds of love and big Anna hugs... xoxoxo

Oooh La La!


Here is Alexander, my 7 year-old son, holding the most recent addition to our art collection. This kid is a magician. He has the power to both mortify and charm a girl at the very same time. He used to surprise me with his worldly wisdom, but now I've grown to expect something profound to exit his lips every few days. When it's not profound, it makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong as a mother... Let's just say he is no stranger to profanity. Yes, he is seven.

So enough about children who rock my world with the power to both break and build my heart... A week or so ago I posted this picture of Alexander on Facebook.


I am an avid iphontographer. Meaning I take pictures with my iPhone. All. The. Time. It is amazing what one can do with an iPhone and some cool software these days. Photography is an art that has always left me in awe. Back in the day the process of taking a photo, finishing a roll of film, dropping it off at the drugstore, and waiting, usually impatiently, to take ownership of an entire stack of beautiful new photos - that process was magical to me. I loved plowing through that stack of photos reliving every precious moment captured on film. Hoping I had actually captured the precious moment. Celebrating when I had, and trying not to be disappointed when I hadn't. Let's face it, some moments, the most hard to capture moments, like the sunset, a sleeping baby, and the Red Rocks in Sedona must be lived and appreciated fully in the moment. The pictures are simply a reminder of that moment.

I spent years carefully placing my photos in albums - remember those magnetic pages with the sticky stuff on them? I made my own scrapbooks, and felt as if I had died and gone to heaven when I learned there was an entire world that existed around what I had been doing in my own way for years - scrapbooking! I loved it all. The entire process. And as much as I love the instant gratification we experience now with digital photography, a part of me misses the rush I'd get when I'd finally get to see the product of my work after waiting with anticipation through an entire process.

Now I get a taste of that high through software like PicMonkey. It's not exactly the same, but I really enjoy my new process of clicking "Apply" and seeing my photos change right before my eyes. I enjoy seeing the many ways a photo can change with a simple click - adding "clarity" or a vintage look. Playing with the filters is really so much fun, and anyone can do it.

I still appreciate the art of photography and I sit in awe of the professionals. Seeing the ways they work their magic is inspiring. I guess the software is much like the magic kit I received as a gift as a child. I'm doing tricks with my software for sure, but it is play in comparison to the transformation that takes place at the hands of a real live magician.

Finally, we have arrived to the point of my post. If you love to play with pictures and even words, like I do, AND you are in the market for some meaningful art for your home, please consider this... I snapped that picture of my son and used PicMonkey to play with the filters and add a poem I found by Mary Oliver that fit both the image and the boy in it - within minutes. I uploaded it to Snapfish and within a week I have a brand new piece of art on canvas. I LOVE it! I love it so much, I just had to share it with you. I didn't anticipate you'd get an entire story to go with it, but that happens with me sometimes.

Go... Make some magic! Enjoy! xo

Signs



There are a few things that are begging me to be shared. I know, it's not like I have a gazillion readers, but I feel like I need to share these things because someone out there needs to hear them. Maybe I will have a gazillion readers someday and that someone will find exactly what she needed to hear in the Heart Connected archives? You just never know. So, I must follow these urges.

It is really that simple. What I need to share in a nutshell is simply that you must follow your urges
YOU MUST (in my most convincing Mom voice with pursed lips and squinty eyes).

Some people call them heart whispers. Some people call it your gut. They come in many forms with many names but in their simplest form, these urges, or callings even, are little (or big) signs directing you on your path.

The tricky thing is that sometimes when you see these signs, you might think "Hmmm...was that for real? Or, did I just make that up?" In the course of a fully developed practice of not following those urges, all the signs begin to look like this one:





What felt so right that it made you light up inside when you first thought of it begins to look a little risky. And the warning sign goes up: CAUTION! STEEP SLOPE - DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT.

There are lots of reasons for warning signs. Sometimes they are even warranted, and we can be thankful for them, but much of the time the warning signs are a scare tactic. Real signs, the ones that feel right they come from Source - the Universe, God, Goddess, our CREATOR, your divine self...They are the signs that whisper in your ear while you're minding your own business in an art class and say things like, "Anna, you could do this. You could help people to heal and grow with art..."

Then the ego mind starts with its scare tactics and says, "NO WAY! Who do you think you are? DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT."

It scares me to share this because for many years I was all ears when the CAUTION signs went up. Rarely did I go beyond this point. So even in writing this a little caution sign is rearing its ugly head, telling me that I am on a steep slope and there could be a landslide at any time. 

Thank you caution sign. Thank you for protecting me for all these years. 
I am grateful for your service. 
The thing is, someone needs to know that it is okay to follow 
the urge she had to day - the urge she had to quit her soul sucking job,
or to pursue a dream,
or to reach out to a friend,
 or something. 
I'll keep writing...

The honest truth is that when you do decide to listen to what your very own heart is telling you to do, the signs often look like this:



CURVY ROAD AHEAD

You will need to know that the curves are coming. You might not know how to handle them. It's okay, the important thing is to keep going.

When I first began my Heart Connected journey it was mostly because it felt right. It had very little to do with feeling prepared or equipped or qualified. It just felt like something I had to do. So I did it. I jumped in. I made business cards, a website, a blog, and a whole lot of other things. There have been several moments of sheer doubt where I have decided to just stop with the whole putting myself out there thing already. I don't know what the future holds. The only thing I know for sure is that there will be curves in the road. Things don't always go the way I hoped they would go. There are curves. I am learning to embrace them. And sometimes, the curves aren't so bad. In fact, sometimes what is around the bend in the road is downright DELIGHTFUL!

What I'm learning is that as I keep my commitment to show up, the road rises up to meet me. There are all kinds of new signs popping up in my life. Signs I've never seen before that tell me I am on the right path. And again, in all honesty, when I see these signs I'm not always sure I am worthy - I still think "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!!" It feels like magic, really. The more I put myself out there, the more I show up, the more I open to receiving these magical signs, the more they appear as affirmations that I am on the right path.

I was recently invited to participate in a bazaar at my favorite yoga center. As I was getting ready for the event I posted a picture on Facebook of some of the creations I planned to bring to the bazaar. That night I received a message asking me to participate in an incredibly inspiring yoga event on Sunday - YogaLove Detroit. WITH MY ART. YogaLove Detroit is an all-day offering of yoga intended to raise money for Gleaner's Food Bank. This is a dream come true for me - to be involved with helping my community doing something that I love to do! I am so grateful for this opportunity. I am SO grateful that I kept putting myself out there. So, so, SO grateful.

Moral of the story: follow the signs that light you up inside. 

Open to the possibilities that await you. Thank the caution signs - they got you this far, but you don't need to rely on the stories they tell you anymore. Listen closely to your truest, most deeply held stories - the stories in your heart. You've already got your wings baby - it is time to fly!



 xoxo






He's in the Shed



We turned onto their road, the only road I ever knew as their road. They lived in the same house for 37 years. It was out in the boondocks, as we used to say, the boonies, way out in the country. Years earlier, after my future husband Dan and I visited my parents together at their house for the first time, Dan told me that he had been nervous on the drive. Webberdale Road, flanked by two neat rows of once identical ranch style houses, seemed to appear out of nowhere after a series of winding, hilly, dirt roads. On that first trip there together, Dan wondered where I was taking him. He wondered if it was legit. By this night, some 17 years later, Dan could have navigated those roads with his eyes closed. He knew where to let up on the gas pedal because the hills were steep, where to look out for cars coming the opposite way because the road narrowed to almost one lane, and where the road twisted around so sharply, it was possible to drive right into the swamp if he did not turn carefully.

It was raining and probably had been for days. Potholes covered Webberdale like chicken pox. Every few bumps, I felt my stomach lurch up into my throat. I remembered driving those roads when I was pregnant, anxious that if Dan wasn’t more careful, I might go into labor. I looked back at our three sleeping children in the backseat. Dan gave me three options after he told me that my mom had called while I was out. After he told me that my mom found my dad in the shed. After he told me that she thought he was dead. She was a nurse. If he were dead when she found him, I knew she would know it. My options were: 1) He could go to my parents’ house; 2) I could go to my parents’ house; or 3) We could wake the kids up and take them to my parents’ house. I hated the thought of waking the kids, and ordinarily I wouldn’t have chosen that option, but this didn’t seem like an ordinary situation. It was dark, it was raining, and I was on the verge of hysteria. I couldn’t imagine myself driving safely to my destination. I needed Dan. I couldn’t imagine hearing the worst news I had ever heard without him by my side. I couldn’t imagine facing the loss of my dad without the knowledge that I had to be okay because I was a mom now. In a strange and selfish way, I also needed my kids.

My parents’ house is halfway down the street. As we approached, I saw an ambulance. The lights were flashing and the back doors were flung wide open, but there wasn’t anyone around. The driveway was filled with my mom’s Subaru, my dad’s gray Ford pick-up truck, and a police car. I decided to go check things out while Dan waited in the car with our sleeping beauties. When I stepped out of the car, I sank in mud. I hated the dirt roads when I was a kid, I abhorred them as a teenager, and I wasn’t a big fan as an adult. The mud rose up around my feet to greet me as if it held a grudge for all my years of hatred. My parents’ driveway could barely fit the width of a car, and I struggled to walk around the cars that were there. I had my head down, trying to keep the rain out of my eyes. I heard a man’s voice in the dark.

“Are you the daughter?” he asked.

I looked up, searching for his face, but it took me a second to register his question. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’m the daughter.” I replied.

“Your mom is in the house, and the MSP is in the back with your dad.”

The MSP was in the back with my dad. “Oh. So, is he okay then?” I pictured him in the shed telling jokes to the MSP, whoever that was.

“Um, I hate to be the one to tell you this, ma’am, but your dad slipped away.” The man’s voice trailed off, it too slipped away. His words hit me like a punch in the gut. The blow blasted through my trunk, leaving a hole in my heart.

“Oh.” I said, trying to swallow the boulder forming in my throat. I can picture the expression on his tired face. He looked unsure, maybe even a little fearful of how I might respond to him. He didn’t know what I would do next. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know my dad, and yet he was the one who told me, even though he hated to, that my dad was gone. I looked down at the car next to me. I was using it to keep my balance. It said Michigan State Police across the side. “Oh,” I said again. I was catching on. “And the MSP is the Michigan State Police?”

“Right,” he said softly. “Do you need help?”

Nothing seemed certain from that point forward, but one thing I knew was that I did not need help. I did not want help. The man who told me that my dad slipped away headed out to the road, and I made my way to the house. I opened the front door and yelled for my mom. The smell of my parents’ house swallowed me whole. It still smelled a little like woodstove to me, even though many years passed since my dad took the woodstove out of the house. And it smelled like my dad. He had an earthy, musky scent. His smell was everywhere. The house was dark, except for a light glowing dimly in the kitchen. The entry way was cluttered with my dad’s boots and my parents’ slippers. A hat rack stood next to the doorway with a funny-looking hat from my dad’s collection on each branch. I sometimes thought his hats were funny looking, but they were simply unique, like my dad. There were books and remnants of collections and projects piled on tables and on the floor. I sighed, wondering how my parents found their way through their clutter. Wishing, like I had so many times as a little girl in this very same house, for a clear path out of there. I searched the whole house yelling for my mom, but my mom never answered.

I opened the sliding glass door in the back of the house and saw flashlights and what looked like people crowded in the door of my dad’s shed. Woody’s World. He carved a sign out of wood and hung it on the door to his shed. His nickname for many years was Woody and the shed was Woody’s World. Truly, the shed is a work of art to me now, but then and in the years leading up to that moment, I thought it was ridiculous. It started as a little gazebo type building kit. Then my dad added on to it. Then, I think he added on to it again. In the end, it appeared to be almost as big as the house. Almost anytime I called to talk to my mom and asked what my dad was doing, she would say, “He’s in the shed.”

I yelled out the door, “MOM?”

“ANNA! Oh Anna....” my mom wailed in a voice I never once heard in 18 years of living with her, and 37 years of knowing her. I tried to make my way to the shed as quickly as possible, but I kept hitting patches of ice and slipping into the mud surrounding them. It was March 11, 2010 in Michigan and we were between the deep freeze of winter and the promise of a thaw in spring. The ice was starting to melt due to the recent rain, but in the dark I couldn’t tell the difference between ice or mud or solid ground. It was still raining, my mom was wailing, I was slipping, and flashlights were shining in my face. It felt more like an episode of CSI than it did my own life in my parents’ backyard. The men surrounding my mom formed a line to help me to the shed. It seemed like there were hundreds of them, but really there were about four. One by one they grabbed my elbow and guided me forward.

The last man in the row stood in the doorway of the shed. He had been shining his flashlight down to light my path, and he stepped back so I could step into the shed. It was very crowded. My mom stood next to a police officer that looked just like my cousin Greg, and my dad sat peacefully at his workbench.

My dad was hunched over with his eyes closed, and he looked very ordinary, like he had fallen asleep on my couch, waiting for my mom to gather her stuff so they could leave my house. The book that he was reading was on the floor next to him. He must have dropped it. His long, soft, shiny white hair was pulled back into a ponytail and other than a few extra layers of clothing that he must have added when he got home, he looked no different than he did hours ago when he really did leave my house. He didn’t look dead to me, but he did look as if he had slipped away. He looked like he had slipped away from his body, like a snail when it dies and leaves its shell behind. The shell becomes but a souvenir, a remnant of the life lived inside it. It seemed as if my dad did that too. Maybe I should have been grateful that my dad left his Earthly body and moved on. I couldn’t look for long. I had to look away. I wanted to hug and hold my sobbing mother.

By that time Officer Greg had gently suggested that I take my mom inside the house. Again, nothing seemed sure then, and I really had no idea what would be the right thing to do, but I knew that nobody could make my mom go into the house if she didn’t want to go into the house. Officer Greg didn’t know whom he was dealing with. Just to be nice, and possibly to avoid being arrested for disobeying an officer, I asked my mom to go inside with me. She said no. I wasn’t surprised.

I turned my attention to the shed around me. My dad had hung parts of his collection of antique saws from the ceiling. He had posted a few notes on the walls of the shed. One of the notes said something about the edge of darkness. I felt like I was on the edge of darkness. It was as if my dad had left that note for us. My eyes shot around, trying to process the darkness of the night, the saws hanging from the ceiling, and the notes my dad left behind. I tried to keep it all together. I was traumatized. I knew this moment would leave a scar on my life. I knew my path from childhood to adulthood had ended. Abruptly. From then on, I would be my mom’s primary caretaker. Never again could I melt down in her arms like a child, as I had so many times. But still, even though I stood in my dad’s shed as a grown woman, a wife and a mother of three, a childlike voice inside me wondered what these men thought of my dad and his shed. I wondered if the saws hanging from the ceiling made them uneasy. I wondered if the scene looked suspicious to their discerning eyes.

“Mom, you can stay as long as you need to, but I can’t stay here with you. Dan and the kids are in the car. I need to tell them what’s going on.” I looked at her, trying to read her, and she looked at me and nodded. She wanted me to do what I needed to do. One of the men gave me his flashlight, and I slowly made my way back to the road where my family waited. I told my husband that my dad was dead.

I knew my dad would die someday, of course, but I never expected it to happen so soon. In fact, I had more or less determined that he would be in his 80’s when he died. I imagined him at graduations and weddings. I imagined him continuing his bond with James, my oldest son. I knew they would have a long future together discussing aliens and outer space. I knew James had many years ahead of him attending guitar lessons, maybe even with my dad taking him, and most definitely with my dad reminding him to trim his fingernails before he left for the lesson. I knew no matter how much James practiced his guitar, it wouldn’t seem like enough to my dad. And usually it wasn’t enough. It never occurred to me that my children would lose a grandfather while they were still kids. I never imagined that all the dreams I dreamt for my children and parents wouldn’t come true. I was happy to see that all three of them were still asleep when I went back to the car. Dan held me as I sobbed into his shoulder as the rain fell around me and all over me. Dan took our children home, and I walked back into my parents’ house.

It wasn’t long before my mom joined me. She didn’t want to leave my dad, even though Officer Greg had assured her that he would stay there with him until the coroner arrived and that he would keep my dad safe. While I believed in my heart that Officer Greg and his cohorts would gladly have given my mom what she desired, to stay as long as she needed to, I also knew they had work to do. It was cold, rainy, and dark where that work was to be done. There were saws hanging over their heads and words taped to the walls. They needed my mom out of the shed to do that work, and as frightening as that seemed to me, I understood their motives.

Later my mom shared that she had asked Officer Greg if he would make his own mother leave his father in a situation like that. Greg shared that his mother had no choice but to leave his dad when he passed away because she had small children to care for. Greg was one of those small children. I pictured a young woman, a mother, finding her husband dead in their home with no choice but to leave his side. The ache in my heart grew as I pictured her returning to her children. How did she face them? What did she say? How did she possibly go on? And yet, here Officer Greg stood, living proof that even after the most unimaginable tragedies, people live on. I was being initiated into a new society, reaching a new milestone in my life. I joined the ranks of children who lost a parent. I graduated to a new level of understanding life and death that night, even though there was still so much left to try to understand. The image of Officer Greg’s mother leaving her dead husband’s side to care for her small children haunts me. It wasn’t long before we counted the fact that my mom’s own children were grown when she lost her husband among the many blessings for which we were grateful.

Before my mom came into the house she prayed with my dad. This quiet moment with him allowed her to make peace with needing to leave his side. I recently listened in as she told my oldest son what happened the night his Papaw died. James was dubbed “Mr. Questions” within minutes of arriving at our hotel at the start of one of our vacations. He asks a lot of questions. We like it when we have answers. My mom told James she thought my dad was sleeping. She said, “Shields? Did you fall asleep?” She began CPR as soon as she realized that he was not sleeping. She made her way back into the house to call 911, my sister, and me, and then she went back to his side. I can hardly allow myself to imagine what that must have been like for her. Waiting, in the house, for her husband to come in to share the dinner he left on the stove while he ran out to his shed. Waiting, wondering, when would he come in? He had to know she was home by then. Then, making her way out to the shed – in the rain, through the mud and the ice, thinking he might be sleeping and finding that he was dead. Trying to bring him back, all the while knowing that he was gone. After all that, the time she spent in prayer with him was essential to beginning the long, impossible process of letting him go.

When she came inside, I was sitting on a beautiful old green fainting couch that my parents had inherited from my Baba, my dad’s mother. It was my favorite napping spot when I was a little girl visiting Baba, and really my favorite piece of furniture at her house. The fainting couch and I went through a lot together over the years. We conspired in acting out very dramatic fake fainting spells right into my teenage years. The beautiful green couch was there, first at Baba’s house, and then at my parents’ to comfort me when I needed comforting. When I was too old to run to the arms of my grandmother or my parents, I went to her, the fainting couch. The green slope cradled me like a huge soft arm. It felt right to return to her then, and to let that old, green lady couch cradle me in her arm again. Eventually my mom and I sat there together, side by side, but facing each other, looking at each other, neither one of us quite sure what to do. I held a pillow embroidered with Santa Claus in my lap. Never mind that it was March and in most houses Santa had made his way back to storage. I can still picture my mom’s face in that moment. A dullish gray tone had taken over her sparkly blue eyes. She looked frightened and tired, and old. She had never looked old to me. She said, “Anna, you girls think I’m so strong, but I’m not. I got all my strength from your dad.”

I was horrified. My mom is a very private person, but what I knew of her life was that it wasn’t always easy. It was rarely easy. Despite the challenges she faced, at every stage of her life, she persevered. She kept going, living wholly and even with an open heart at times.  I am quite confident that she is by far the strongest woman I have ever known. I didn’t believe her, but I was afraid of what might happen if she was right. I was afraid of the possibility that somehow I had missed her bluff and that all these years she really was getting all her strength from my dad. But I knew in my heart that wasn’t true because there were times when my dad wasn’t even there to give her strength and she persevered through those times in the same ways that she continues to persevere now. I think my mom was making an advance plea for forgiveness. She needed me to know that she couldn’t be strong. She needed me to know that she could not be strong then, that she wasn’t feeling strong at all, and that she didn’t foresee feeling strong anytime soon.

Another officer came inside and asked us if we needed anything. He did not look anything like Officer Greg. He surprised us with his question. We glanced at each other. My mom and I didn’t know what we needed.  “What do people normally need in this situation?” I asked.

“Well, some people request a priest. Something like that...” The other officer meant well, but his good intentions were lost on us. We looked at each other, dumbfounded. We both knew we didn’t want a priest. My dad wouldn’t have wanted a priest. I thought of something.

“We haven’t been able to reach my sister,” I told him. He seemed relieved to be able to help us and told us that he would send a state trooper to her home in Ann Arbor. I pictured Sarah riding to my parents’ house in the back of a police car. I was so desperate to reach her that I was relieved to learn there might be a way to get through to her. She and her husband didn’t have a landline at their house. As her older, less tech-savvy sister, I thought that was really irresponsible and was often frustrated with her lackadaisical attitude about missing my calls. “Oh sorry, my phone was off.” she would say in her singsong voice with a maple sugary giggle that usually took my frustration away as it moved through the room. I was beside myself with all different kinds of emotions resulting from not being able to reach her, and I knew she had to be reached. Officer Not Greg was on the job. When she finally called us she asked whether she should come to the house. An unfamiliar voice spoke to me, telling me that I couldn’t answer that question for her. I should have just said, “YES!” Instead I told her that was up to her, knowing that she knew she wanted to be there but not knowing that she needed some type of affirmation that we wanted her there. It was an awful experience for her and her husband to find a state trooper pounding on their door so late at night, shining his flashlight into the window. It was another horrifying, surreal scene straight from CSI.

Sarah really wanted to see my dad before the coroner took him away, but we were running out of time. I looked over my mom’s shoulder, from the living room where we stood, to the backyard and the shed where my dad’s body and all that surrounded it were being examined. Flashes from the coroner’s camera lit the dark, rainy night, and a slight wave of panic washed over me. We didn’t know what caused my dad to die. This was an unexpected realization. Of course, nothing that happened that night could have been expected, but anytime I stopped to consider the circumstances of the night, my only conclusion was that it was all so unusual. The one thing that made sense to me was that my dad died in his shed. It made perfect sense to me. He built that crazy shed with plywood and 2x4 boards and his own two hands. His shed and his silver-grey Ford F10 pick-up truck were probably the places where he spent most of his time. As ominous as the shed seemed to me that night, I knew it was my dad’s escape from the outside world and that he loved it for that. The shed was a clubhouse for one in a forest of trees. It seemed so appropriate that my dad slipped away from inside his shed. I don’t think he would have had it any other way. In that same conversation with James, my mom said she wished she had been with my dad when he died. James said, “Maybe Papaw got a message that he was supposed to die alone.” It might be true that wiser words were never said.

As the coroner’s camera flashed, I wondered briefly whether my mom was a suspect in my dad’s murder. A fear that he may have committed suicide crept through my mind. There had been a space heater in the shed with my dad, and we wondered if it malfunctioned and poisoned him. The people I knew who had died, did so in accidents or in hospital beds. I couldn’t recall a story where someone had died in his or her home like my dad did. The dynamics of this type of death struck me as odd. It reminded me of my son Alexander’s birth. He was very sick when he was born and was whisked away by nurses and doctors shortly after he arrived. Days later, Dan and I held him for the first time. Even though he was ours, he wasn’t really ours. It felt like he belonged to the hospital. I felt so powerless and completely at the mercy of the doctors and nurses who so swiftly and competently (thank God) cared for him. I felt powerless again the night my dad died, as the police officers urged my mom to leave my dad and the coroner stood in the shed with him taking pictures of his body and the space that surrounded him. I would love to know what he captured that night. I wonder what he was thinking and what became of the pictures he took. It is strange, yet a little refreshing, to think that to the coroner this might have been just another night on the job.

Officer Greg knew that we wanted Sarah to have the opportunity to see my dad before he left. The coroner had been running late already and was anxious to leave once he finished his job. It was getting really late on a cold, dreary night and there was the aftermath of a bad traffic accident he needed to tend to. Minutes after Sarah arrived at the house with her husband and baby daughter, we stood on the front porch as a stretcher moved from the backyard to the driveway. On the stretcher laid a large body bag and even though I knew what was happening, I could not wrap my head around the reality that it was my dad’s body in that bag. In the same way that Alexander had been mine at birth, but not mine to hold, my dad was ours, but no longer ours to hold. Never again would I feel safe in the hold of his long, strong arms. I kept trying to remind myself that the body, my dad’s body, wasn’t really him. Even with this understanding, I was developing a deep attachment to my dad’s body. I didn’t want to let it go. Officer Greg convinced the coroner to open the bag so that Sarah could see my dad. There he was, still looking so peaceful. We each touched his face and wished him well on his journey. Then they took him away.


***
That's the bad news. The good news is after all that, and a whole bunch of other stuff, losing my dad woke me up to the opportunity to live a more meaningful life. It is indeed a process, but it is well underway. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I appreciate it.



***

It's been three years since I saw you last... I miss you every day Dad. I miss your voice and your hugs and the ways you loved my children. I miss your sense of humor and your passion for life and for your art in all the forms it took. I miss your music. I miss seeing your face. I miss your Carhartts and work boots. I miss your flannel shirts. I miss the mess you left behind when you made coffee. And all your hats. I miss it all. I hope the lives we're living here on Earth are enough to make you smile. It's really hard to keep going sometimes. We're trying. I love you, Dad. 
xoxo love, Anna

Trust

This morning I tackled a collection of piles I've been keeping in my bedroom. Every little piece of laundry put away and everything else relocated. I'm so proud of myself, I don't know what to do next! The day is flying by now and I'm feeling a little lost in the wind.

My eyes keep wandering back a little project I just finished, so I decided to tell you about it.

I have been practicing yoga on and off for years at a wonderful yoga studio in my town. The studio is run by one of the loveliest women in the world. When I first shared some of my art with her, not long ago, she graciously invited me to try selling a few things in the yoga center's boutique! I was completely blown away by the idea. Then, before we had even placed everything on the shelves, someone bought this sweet little piece...


I was so amazed that someone would buy something I created. I am still amazed. It is the most incredible feeling to know that something I made touched another person. I am trying to think of a good word to describe that feeling. I keep coming back to, surprise surprise... CONNECTED.

So, I didn't realize it at the time, but that same lovely someone contacted me the other day and asked me to do two custom pieces for her. Again, I was amazed. Then, scared. To. Death. As she told me what she wanted, I nodded and visions danced around in my head and slowly, I became so afraid of screwing it all up. I didn't want to disappoint her. I wanted her to love it. She seemed so confident in me though, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe she was right, and maybe, just maybe, I could pull it off. Then, she said she wanted me to incorporate the symbol for OM.

UM...

I didn't think I could do that.

But, guess what? I did.

 I started with a red background...



Then I used a stamp to embellish the background.

Eventually, I painted that OM sign! Painted. P-a-i-n-t-e-d. 



I know, right? I can't believe it either. I practiced quite a few times before I actually tried to paint it. I still can't believe I did it. Crazy.

And, now, it's all finished! Custom made art for a woman named Anna (great name, huh?)


I added some extra angel love, just for her. I hope she likes it!

Art is such a great metaphor for life. Art provides endless opportunities to try new things. To practice when you don't get it right the first time. To start over. To trust that IT, whatever IT is, is not about the outcome, but the process. Life is art, really. I do believe that. It's part of what I need to believe in order to support my belief that we are all artists. 

A year ago, I was still drawing the same stick people I began drawing when I was in kindergarten. No joke. Now, I'm painting angels. I'm excited thinking about how my angels might evolve, wondering what they might look like in another year, hoping they will reach out and touch even more people with their messages of love and hope and glitter, and all the while... I am trusting in the process.

xoxo