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It's Worth Celebrating

I was so shy when I was a child that I used to hide behind my dad's legs when he introduced me to someone new.

I wanted nothing more than to stay hidden in the safety of what I knew.

A little over four years ago my dad died, and everything I thought I knew was called to question. I didn't feel safe. Nothing helped me to feel safe.

I had friends who had lost loved ones and yet we rarely talked about it. I always knew that someday when I experienced a similar loss it would be awful, but I never knew how awful. Until it happened. Even knowing that there were others like me, I imagined I was all alone.

This is a truth about grief - that even though there are many of us trying to make sense of the world after a significant loss, we still feel so alone, and we don't talk about it. Each of us will experience loss in a different way - in our own unique way, and at the same time we can relate to each other. I have experienced that understanding - the connection that comes from acknowledging a shared story between two - and while there is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone, instead of feeling better, I usually end up feeling sorry for both of us.

After my dad's death I wrote a lot to help me try to make sense of it all - of life and loss and what comes next for both the living and the lost. Writing about things is the way I've always tried to make sense of them. As I wrote and made discoveries, I felt called to share what I found along the way. That is how I came to this place in my life - a place of creating and sharing. Sharing is rarely easy for me, but I keep doing it because I know there is a chance that something I say or write or make could help someone else feel less alone. As much as I would have liked to stay hidden, I had to come out from behind my dad's legs...

As soon as my dad departed and the funeral had passed and our friends and family went back to their everyday lives, I was left wondering "WHAT THE HELL? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?" As I continue to move away from my dad's departure there are still no answers to my questions. There is no way to know whether it is normal to get pissed four years after a loss because all of a sudden I remember that my dad isn't coming back.

After a life altering incident, you hear a lot about the "new normal" and for some people maybe that makes sense. Maybe the promise of a new normal is comforting to them. Some of us, however, were okay with the previous version of normal. We dig our heels in and refuse to accept this new version of life as normal. It will never be "normal". What I now know is that there is no normal - new or otherwise. The unexpected surges of grief, the anger, the sadness, the joy in memories that come to mind - none of it is normal or abnormal, it just is.

I try to deal with whatever comes up as it surfaces. The gift in that is that I get to decide what to do with it. I can write my own guide book on a daily basis.

My parents would have celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary today. My mom and I are together with my family in northern Michigan and we talked a bit about whether a widow could still celebrate her anniversary, even though her husband has passed. We decided she can. And, she should.

She dipped her feet in a fountain…

We toasted love and its legacy over a beautiful lunch with our sweet friend Suzanne...

We did some shopping, and my mom even picked out a beautiful turquoise ring as an anniversary gift! Here she is pointing to our location on a map of Michigan…

And we topped it all off with some ice cream…

Isn't she the cutest?!?! Look at her beautiful new ring!

I have actually come to love the fact that so few of the answers I sought were available to me after my dad's death. It gave me an opportunity to look within, and to decide what was true for me and what was not. As I trusted in my own authority, I was liberated - bound only by my own self-imposed limitations. 

My mom and I could have decided that it isn't necessary for a widow to celebrate her anniversary once her husband has passed, and that would have been fine too. Even without my dad though, June 30, 1972 marked the beginning of something that continues to be worth celebrating. I am so grateful we chose to celebrate it.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Cheers! xoxo

Reflections on Making Art, Turning 40, and Living Life with the Man of My Dreams

Yesterday was Dan's 40th birthday (Dan is my husband). Dan is one of those guys who doesn't sit around and wait for his birthday for gifts. If he wants something, he will usually figure out a way to get it. This is great for him, but makes it really hard for the rest of us who like to give him gifts. We have a pile of papers from a few of his grandfather's businesses and I thought it would be really cool to incorporate them into a collage for Dan for his birthday. I knew he was going to love it!

Dan is a car guy, and his grandpa was too. Once I had the paperwork assembled, I searched for some vintage car ads online. Then I decided I needed some pictures. I didn't know where I was heading with this project, but I was having fun so I didn't think too much about the outcome.

Ready to roll...

An opportunity to be present in the moment and to not worry about the outcome - that is what I love about the kind of art I do. I spent most of my life worried about the outcome of EVERYTHING. I knew it would be lovely to live in the moment, but I didn't always allow myself that pleasure as I was worried about where the moment might lead. Or, not lead. What if the moment is leading nowhere? God forbid.

Honestly, when I'm cutting and arranging and gluing, and creating layers of color and texture and mixed media goodness, I don't think much at all. I am playing like my five year-old daughter plays make believe. She is IN THE MOMENT. Hours could pass her by and she probably wouldn't even notice. She. Plays. That. Is. All.

When I finished Dan's birthday gift it looked like this:

I loved it. And, I was mortified.

I loved this photo of Dan and his parents and the '55 Chevy that Dan adored when he was a kid.

I love this stamp - it is the word "celebrate" and the definition, but you would really have to be looking to see it. It's hidden.

I love this picture of our family on a beach in Maui. We took it on our last day in Hawaii this Spring. Actually, right before we headed to the airport to come home.

I was really excited when I found these vintage car ads online. These two dudes look so happy in their convertible.

I love Grandpa Joe's stationery and receipts in the background. I think this is such a neat way to enjoy a keepsake.

I love this little Spartan football guy playing the piano! This is from the cover of a football game program. Dan and I met at Michigan State and he is a die hard Spartan fan so it was only natural to include some Sparty love in his gift. This was perfect.

I could have gone nuts, trying to incorporate pictures of every significant person in Dan's life, but I was on a bit of a deadline, so I just made sure to include his grandparents. 40 is such a milestone birthday. It's kind of like a launching pad into real adulthood. Technically, we've been adults for a while, but I think the first 40 years were just a repeating pattern of being an infant, a toddler, a school-aged, child, and a young adult. As soon as you near the point of real adulthood, say around 18, you go back to being an infant again. You need to learn to talk, walk, and navigate life all over again, from an adult perspective, even though you're really still a baby! At 40 you can relax into adulthood. But you can never forget how you got there, or where you came from. Our grandparents are the links to that origin.

Grandma Mary

Grandpa Joe

Grandpa Jim and Grandma Pat

This is a piece of an old book. The start of Chapter IV to be exact. I thought it was fitting.

I love this little boy, investigating things, and I had an old date tag where I could stamp May 15 - Dan's birthday. I love assembling all these little pieces of Dan's heritage - where he came from, where he is, and where he might be headed... In creating this piece, I was having my own personal celebration of Dan.

One of the things I noticed right away about Dan when I met him was that he loved quotes - just like me! He also kept a journal. And, he was an artist. He was THE artist until recently, but that is a different story. I love how grounded Dan is in what he believes and in how he lives his life. One of my first favorite quotes, when I first started taking note of these things in my quote journal (I am a nerd and I am okay with that), was "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." -Henry David Thoreau. I remember being thrilled when I found out Dan loved that quote too. We came from very simple backgrounds. We didn't always have it easy, and so I love the image of us as young kids, living our separate lives, and both embracing the idea that our dreams were worth pursuing. 

So, of course I had to include this quote, and I think it is really the central theme of this birthday gift - the affirmation that in the course of pursuing his dreams with resolution, Dan has succeeded in ways he never could have imagined. I mean, look at the wife he scored! (only partially kidding) I never want to burden my children with the job of living the life I never had, or anything like that, but I do think there is something to be said for expanding your family's horizons. Dan has certainly done that, and I imagine his grandparents and parents are so proud of him for going beyond what he knew to pursue his dreams.

I love this picture of Dan looking out into the sky. I took it in Sedona, Arizona this winter. Nothing but red rocks and blue sky for miles. It was beautiful.

At this point, reflecting on all the love I poured into this baby, I can't even believe how mortified I was when it was finished. I couldn't breathe! It looked like a big, crazy mess to me! I was so afraid that after all that he wouldn't like it. I questioned my whole getting lost in the process approach and began to wonder if Grandma Mary was in the wrong place? Was that really Dan in that picture? Was Sophia going to grow up and be pissed that her face is covered? For the record, if she is, it's her own fault. And so on... 

I am a recovering perfectionist, you see, and sometimes those tendencies creep back into my head to torment me. Making art is my escape from all that though. Usually. I love the kind of art I do because there is no room for perfection. There is no right or wrong. It is all about the process. With all that in mind, how did I find myself in a place of true mortification?

As one of my friends mentioned, I'm sure it had something to do with feeling vulnerable. When I pour my whole heart into something I intend to share, I feel exposed. I really wanted Dan to love it, and I knew there was no way to know whether or not he loved it until he returned from a long day of meetings at work. It turns out, he did love it. I was so relieved. As he looked closely at it, I could sense his appreciation of where he stood in that moment, at 40, and where he had been, and where he was going. And as another friend said, it wasn't made in China. I know he appreciated that.

For me, gosh, what another great lesson about the importance of "trusting in the process." That will be something I say that I'm sure my kids will roll their eyes at eventually. The 11 year-old may already be rolling his eyes at that one. It's so true though, that I can spend a ridiculous amount of time worrying about something that will most likely never happen. I love that making art keeps me in the moment, or in the flow of my creation. There is no space for worry or fear or doubt. It's such a great way to practice that, so I can try to apply it in other areas of my life. The "messes" I see in my art mirror life in so many ways. The layers and textures are just like the joys and struggles I experience each day. They are all part of the great big, delicious whole. It's not always neat, and nowhere near perfect, but it is colorful and meaningful and real. 

With Dan, I look forward to seeing what life after 40 brings, and I do hope it won't be much longer before I can completely relax into it... 

Happy Birthday Dan O.!