When We Look Back


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Years ago when the ink was barely dry on my heart wrenching divorce, I was in the very necessary stage of moping around the house and crying. A friend who had apparently grown weary of my lament, sent me a picture of a quadriplegic wounded warrior, lying in the crib with his new baby.

Ouch. Okay. I got it. I got the point. I understood the whole “I felt bad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

Dry your tears. Count your blessings. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

But the thing is, I needed that time. I needed to feel sad and grieve my loss. I needed to putter around and feel the heartbreak of everything I had lost. I wasn’t going to live in that space forever, but I needed to pass through it to get to the other side.

The other side is where I would find the gift of perspective. Perspective would show me how much better and beautiful life could still turn out to be– something I couldn’t see just yet.

Perspective is the gift of time and experience. 

Last week my daughter, along with thousands of other high school seniors across the country, found out that school is officially canceled for the rest of the year. While we suspected this might be the case, we were just barely holding onto the tiniest thread of hope that maybe… just maybe… things would end differently.

We weren’t ready for it to be over. She wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

I intentionally keep saying “we” and “us”, because it has occured to me over and over again that while this is primarily her loss, it’s my loss too.  She is my youngest. The baby.  I’ve championed her (and two other kids) through these years and dreamed of her success and accomplishments right alongside her. It’s the end of an era for her, but it’s the end of an era for me, too.

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One day she woke up and went to school, like it was any other day, never realizing it was actually her last day of high school forever.  It has left everything so unfinshed. Undone. Wanting. It feels like we’ve been reading this fantastic adventure about her life and suddenly the pages go blank. What happens? Where’s the rest of the story? Where are the pictures of Prom? The senior picnic? Signing yearbooks? What about hearing her name called and watching as she walks across the stage at graduation…the victorious culmination of all these years? Parts of the story are missing now and we’re trying to figure out how to write the ending. Somehow, a closing chapter needs to be written.

 


 

If it sounds dramatic, I’m okay with that.

It feels dramatic. 

For my daughter and others like her, the depth of time is much shallower in youth.  Each day, week, and month carry a lot more weight when there’s only been 17 or 18 years of living. There’s a post going around social media reminding us that boys barely out of high school left to go off to the Vietnam war and that’s how their senior year ended. It feels as though it’s meant to shame some sense into our modern-day seniors. And while I understand what’s trying to be said, I have to imagine those boys did not march off to war galantly that very day. Only perspective years later could show them the honor and value in their sacrifice.


So for today, as we navigate these tricky waters together, I steer clear talking of silver linings. She knows things could be worse.  And we’re all beyond grateful we have our health. But also, we are sad. There is loss. It is hard.

Someday, when we look back, when she looks back, I already have so much anticipation to hear what gifts time and experience will deliver. I think about her sitting in job interviews or talking to her own kids about perseverance, optimism, and making the best of a bad situation. After all, she’s part of the Class of 2020. The Year of the Quarantine.

Missing out on the second half of senior year will always sting a little, of course, and not yet, but someday it’s going to make her life richer in ways she can’t know today. It’s going to make her stronger in ways she won’t see tomorrow. It’s going to make her wiser in ways she can’t understand right now.

It’s also going to make for one hell of a story for the rest of her life. Take it from me, kid. I’ve got the time and experience and someday, you will too.

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Post Script for Emery Patricia~ You have been the best quarantine buddy a girl could ever ask for. You have braved these weird, scary, uncertain times with courage, stability, and humor that has us laughing every single day. You already knew how to do hard things, but now you can add “Canceled and Quarantined Senior Year” to the list.

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can”~

You have. And you will. And now you’re off to go finish writing the rest of your story! Congratulations, Emery!

 

Will it Always Feel Like This?

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This past year, a lifelong friend experienced an unbelievable tragedy. She’s carrying all of that fresh, raw grief right into her first Christmas season with it, and it’s heavy. So very heavy. She recently reached out to ask me if she’ll ever be able to listen to Christmas music again without crying; if she’ll always feel like this.

Oh.

Oh dear.

Should I be honest? Do I tell her that my favorite Christmas station on Spotify is called A Comfortable Melancholy Christmas? I can’t help it. It’s exactly as it sounds. Comfortable. Easy on the heart. Not so shiny. Melancholy.

In The Fault in our Stars, Author John Green once said, “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I am still trying to figure out how that might be.”

So this is my life.

And this is what I tell her.

That my life is the most beautiful and heart-breaking story I ever would’ve imagined. It is both. That I am still one of the happiest people I know. That everything– including Christmas– feels both happy and sad. That grief has made me the softest version of myself. I cry easy and often. A lot of the tears are happy tears because I cannot get over all the goodness in my life, in spite of the rest. I cry easily because there is so much joy in my life when I’m really paying attention. Everything feels meaningful. Everything feels overly special. And there are easy and often tears of grief, too. For the empty spaces. For the losses. For all of the longing in my heart that has no answer.

But I laugh easily too. And a lot. Because the rest of life–everything unrelated to grief is so good. And there’s so much to laugh about.

And yet grief is always the underside of my joy and the line between the two can be so very thin.

I tell my friend that grief has made me the toughest version of myself. Because life is hard and this is what it has required of me. As a woman. As a mom. It’s hard to ruffle me. It’s hard for me to imagine something I can’t handle. I’ve stood in front of my husband’s casket while my brothers held me up on either side so I wouldn’t collapse. I’ve swam in the depths with my children and their own grief.  I have carried it with them and for them. What is “hard” is suddenly very relative.  But what is not hard is also very clear: Traffic. Running late. A rude cashier. Long lines. These things are not hard.


I bristle at comments and quotes that hint at the “gifts of grief”, but only because in my heart of hearts, they ring true. Grief itself is like a black hole. But these gifts within grief  have made me who I am today. And I really like who I am.

Please understand, there are so many different kinds of grief. We talk a lot about grief related to death, but it’s more than that. It’s divorce. It’s a break up. It’s broken relationships. Addiction. Troubled kids. Illness. Chronic Pain. Chronic emptiness. Chronic…Life. There are, sadly, many different ways to have a broken heart.

So my friend, will you always feel the way you do right now?

Yes and no. Understand you will carry this grief with you forever. First, like an elephant on your chest, making it impossible to think clearly and somedays, even breathe. Then eventually, like heavy baggage chained to your ankle. You’re walking around with it, you’re doing it, you’re living, but it’s hard. You feel the weight of it all the time. It refuses to be ignored. And then years later, like a stone in your pocket. You’ll run your fingers over it, smooth and cool, checking to see if it’s still there. And it will be. It won’t always make you feel everything. But it will always makes you feel something. You will not forget it’s there.

If you befriend your grief…

If you learn to understand the tide comes in and the tide goes out…

If you lean into it and let it be whatever it is…

If you weave it into the fabric of your life and let it be part of who you are now…

You will have a life that is both happy and sad. Soft and tough. Tears and laugher. It’s not the life you would’ve chosen, but it’s more beautiful and meaningful than you ever could’ve imagined.


For more reading like this… Even When it is So Dark I Cannot See, You Are There {Healing from Grief} This Is Why.You Don’t Have to Love Christmas {And other truths about December}

Moving Out and Moving On

We stood there awkwardly while a little boy danced around in the doorway, waiting for his parents to come solve the mystery of who these strangers were, standing on his new front porch.

My daughter and I looked at each other sheepishly as we heard faint commotion coming from inside the house and footsteps finally approaching.

“Hi!” I said as brightly as possible, with a jug of cider and box of donuts extended outward. “We’re your new neighbors from right next door!”

My higher-than-normal pitched voice and shiny demeanor were completely betraying my real feelings in this moment, but it wouldn’t be the first time, right? Here I was, trying to do the right thing.

You see, one of my dearest and best friends used to live in that house. She moved out a few months earlier, taking the next step in her life to join lives and households with her longtime boyfriend. And while I can only be happy for her and want every last single good thing for her in this world, let me be clear: I did not want her to move.

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As weird fate would have it, she moved in 7 years ago on the exact day my ex-husband was moving out. And as the world inside my beloved home was crashing and burning down around me, I could not have known a whole new world was about to open up right next door to me.

She too, was a divorced single mom. She was strong and hilarious. Irreverent. Brave. Smart and spicy in all the best ways. Lots of PG-13 lingo and zero fucks to give. We loved her outrageously and she loved us back the exact same way. We became fast friends, and there was soon a well-worn path between our two homes. We laughed like crazy with our single-girl shenanigans. And we cried a lot, too. Broken marriages. Broken homes. Broken dreams. Some broken kids along the way. We battled mice and snakes and birds and flooded basements. And new boyfriends. Together. We would mow our lawns and have a beer after, with a continuous flow of never-ending girl chat.  You don’t make a lot of new “best” friends in your forties, and I had struck gold. I was living the grown up version of “when we get older we’ll live next door to each other…”

So the day she tenderly broke the news that she and her love were looking at houses, I fell apart. As time passed and they eventually found their new home, I struggled desperately to be happy for her, but one night, at the end of a very emotionally charged conversation, I finally blurted out through sobs, “I’m mad at you for leaving me.” (Cue abandonment issues!) And that was the truth. I was mad. I was sad. And I was grieving what would be the end of two soul friends living next door to each other. Her life was moving on in a way that mine was not. And I didn’t want it to be true.

Several weeks passed in a sad silence until one night, neither of us could take it anymore. We talked. We cried. We wept. For what we had. For what we would lose. And then we made plans for how we would adjust. And we have.

For a few months, her house sat empty, which was fine by me. If it was empty, I could almost pretend nothing had changed. I was dreading the day I would see unfamiliar new cars in the driveway and hear strange new voices echoing in the back yard. But now the day was here, which is how I ended up standing bravely on her old front porch with cider and donuts. I had cried in my car on the way home from work that day. I didn’t want new neighbors. I wanted her. And so going over there wasn’t even about them. It was about closure for me. Turning the page. Starting a new chapter.

It honestly wasn’t a great introduction. The husband was overly friendly and the wife, not so much. I texted my friend that night to let her know that my new neighbors were not going to be my new best friends. That much was clear.

But as I walked back across the lawn between our two houses, toward the home I love so much, I couldn’t help but exhale and smile to myself. I hadn’t really fixed anything and there was nothing I could change, but I figure you can stay sad and stuck or you can decide to show up with cider and donuts and move on.

Somehow, Sunday Always Comes

It’s around noon on Easter Sunday. I’m at my kitchen table with a Bloody Mary waiting for my beloved Carrot Souffle to come out of the oven. In an hour or so, I’ll be sitting around my parents’ dining room table, blessed to still have both my mom and dad. My brother and his wife will be there, and happily, this year I’ll be joined by my son, my youngest daughter and my boyfriend (which still always feels weird to say at the age of 45…) My older daughter is in another state with her grandma, having her own Easter.

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I’ve been thinking all morning about the ways my parents’ dining room table has changed over the past 20 years or so. About the way it is different every year, every holiday. I’m thinking of all the times there were both empty seats and a full kids table. All the memories. The silent tears and heartaches around the table. The laughs. The new life. The new people who have only passed through and those who have stayed.  At some point or another, almost all of us were either widowed, divorced, or sat there with and without our kids. We’ve mourned spouses, grandparents, and kids and babies who should be here.

It’s amazing to me. Life is amazing to me. The way families and relationships and life changes over the years. There are years I sat at that table afraid to speak or I would cry. Years I drank a little too much so I didn’t have to think about being the lone single person there, with or without my kids.  Life is just so fragile and so beautiful and I see it so clearly around the dining room table.

I don’t know what Easter means to you, but on this Easter Sunday, I think about how Sunday always comes. Historically speaking, Good Friday was the darkest day in human history. And Saturday– the time and space between Friday and Sunday– seemed dark. So very dark. Sad. Quiet. Hopeless. And as if it would last forever.

But Sunday came. It did. Somehow, Sunday always comes. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s not how we ever pictured it, Sunday comes. And in its own way, it is new and beautiful and it is okay. I feel grateful today. Sunday is here. It is hardly what I pictured. But there will be eating and drinking and laughing and celebrating. It is sunny and new and somehow, it’s still going to be beautiful.

You Don’t Have to Love Christmas {And other truths about December}

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It’s the most… complicated time of the year. For plenty of people I know, Christmas time, the holidays, New Year’s… They can be a tidal wave of emotion, reflection, regret and just plain sadness.

The toughest things I’ve ever been through have almost all happened in the month of December. A baby on the 23rd when I was just the tiny age of 19. The loss of my first husband in a car accident on December 28th when we were both just 26. (Only to bury him on New Year’s Eve. If you’re really feeling festive, you can read more about that here  or here. ) And then the final undoing of my second marriage on the darkest Christmas Eve in my history, when we finally could not un-ring the bell.

And all of this among a few other losses and if-onlys and what-ifs.

But enough about me.  There is a pressure to love December and Christmas and all things holly jolly like no other time of year.  You can say you hate summer or the 4th of July or Labor Day, but what kind of a jerk doesn’t like Christmas?  There’s a shame attached to it that’s unmistakable.  Months in advance we’re impressed with how we’re supposed to feel about the holidays. There’s an anticipation that begins around Halloween and doesn’t relent until the final carol has been sung. You’re supposed to be happy. You’re supposed to feel joy. You’re supposed to feel lighthearted and whimsical and ready to party and celebrate and exchange food and gifts and time and affection. So when you don’t feel all these things, the only reasonable conclusion is that there must be something wrong with you.

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But the truth is, holiday depression is a real thing and more people feel this way than are willing to admit. For so many, the dramatic emphasis on love, cheer and goodwill only reflects the lack of it in their own lives. Any other time of year, we know how to deal–but December’s over the top expectations have us staring a little too hard and long at all the spaces in our lives that fall short and feel empty.

Just think of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge– both infamous for their dislike of December 25th.  (Although  truthfully, the Grinch never really hated Christmas. He hated people, which is fair.)

If you want cold hard facts, one North American survey reports that 45% of Americans dread the holiday season.  Ouch. Pass the eggnog.

Here’s the good news: December is just another month. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one bringing brand new chances and opportunities for peace and happiness. And although it seems to loom for weeks, Christmas is only one single day. If it turns out to be a good one, hooray for you! But if it ends up going off the rails, clock out early, crawl into bed and wake up renewed on the 26th and move on with your life.

You don’t have to love December. You don’t have to love Christmas. You don’t have to be or do or feel a certain way. About anything. Ever. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a sad person, or a less-than person. It makes you a real person.  And there’s nothing better than being real about yourself, where you’re truly at in life and how things are actually going. If you’re not feeling strong enough to celebrate and socialize, don’t feel bad about telling the people around you, “Thanks, but I’m just not up for that right now.” With no apologies. On the flip side, sometimes getting out of your own head and being with people is exactly what you need if your sadness has you turned a little too far internally.

But the best part? You get to choose.


This is my happiest December in decades. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel the heaviness I’m usually carrying this time of year. I feel peaceful and grateful and actually, a little bit Christmas-y. But I never forget about my friends who are not. And I still don’t love December or Christmas. Accepting that and not judging myself for it has been, well, a gift.

Cheers to January, friends. We’re almost there.

A Thank You Letter to my Toughest Kid

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I never thought I’d write you, of all people, a thank you note. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, for what on earth do I have to thank you? If there’s a debt of gratitude here, isn’t it from you to me?

But I’m reading “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life- A Search for the Soul of Kindness,” by Marc Ian Barasch, and like any book worth the paper it’s printed on, with every page I am propelled into an emotional tug of war.

“Soren Kierkegaard said we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, “reminiscent,” he says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.” Instead, he turns the whole thing on its head: “No, the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!”

Was Kierkegaard onto something? Is it I who owes you for the privilege it has been to love you? For the way that love has transformed me? Shaped me? Whittled me down to the core of my personhood? Dared me to look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am– flaws and imperfections included– so that I could fully understand who YOU really are and all the ways we are more or less the same? So I could see how similar our struggles really are? So I could humbly take note of all the things I want to change about you- that I pray you outgrow- and clearly see they are the very things I hope and pray for myself?

Like a hurricane, you have torn through my life at times, upsetting all that was so meticulously thought out and designed for my comfort and enjoyment. My ease. You force me to regroup. Re-think. Re-configure. Your selfishness forces my hand to be more generous in word and in deed. Your frequent lack of concern for my feelings forces me to see all the ways I, too, am selfish and self-centered and want the universe to revolve around me.

Your strong-willed spirit requires so much more from me than I knew I had.  Your absolute insistence to do things your way instead of mine constantly reminds me that I do not own you. You belong to yourself and you need to live in a way that makes sense to you, even when I don’t understand, even when it would never work for me.

You would not let me be a lazy mom (if such a thing exists). You’ve demanded I be present. Involved. Aware. Creative. Much more thoughtful. Smarter. Clever. Strategizing and learning to cope with what I, in my piety, have deemed a difficult person.

For all the circumstances you dragged me into involuntarily that required me to get over myself; That obligated me to learn how to circle the wagons in loyalty even when my heart was breaking in humility, thank you. For compelling me to dig deeper and become the best version of myself as a mom, a woman, person, just by being who you are, thank you.  Because of you, I’ve seen the very worst and very best of what I’m able to be. Do. Overcome. Persevere through in order to give you more. More. More. More. Thank you.

You see, the other children are easy. Rule followers. Quick to listen. Quick to act. Wanting to please. They require so little of me, really. I can relax around them.  But not you. Your struggles. Your needs. Your unwillingness to just do things my way, dammit will not let me rest. They have driven me crazy with anger and frustration and grief and made me search. Search, search, search.

You have kept me awake at night, gripped with fear. Whispering prayers in desperation. Prayers for you, prayers for me. Holy utterings that one of us will somehow get this right. This growing. This learning. This becoming. And somehow, even though I am the parent and you are the child, it’s happening together. It’s happening to both of us at once. While I am trying to teach you, you are teaching me. And though I would not have chosen it to be like this– while I would have rather taken the easy road, it’s the difficulties here that are refining both of us.

And I have finally accepted that the toughest chapters of my life have always. Always. Always been followed by the best chapters of my life.  And that includes the pages with your name on them. And your name is on all of them.

I’ve always believed each child should secretly suspect they are their mother’s favorite; That I’ve done such a thorough job favoring each one of you, NONE of you would believe this is about you.

So if you’re reading this and do imagine it to be you? Thanks, kid. I owe you.

 

{Looking for another Mother’s Day read? Check out The Mosaic of Motherhood from a few years back.}

 

This Is Why.

 

_DSC4050-2It’s been 17 years today. Seventeen very long years. Sometimes they feel haunted. And you would think. One would think. I mean, really. What else is there to say or think or write? Have the memories not faded? You were so young. Are there not…new thoughts to be thought? New memories to be made? How is there sadness all these years later. Is…something wrong with you? Will you ever be over this? How come you’re not?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

All of the above.

But this is what I do know: When you lose someone, it’s possible to spend the rest of your life- no matter how good or bad that life is- wondering what it would be like. What it could’ve been like. If they were still here.

And the dangerous part of this is, I know, that every single idea you construct is purely imagination. You don’t know. You can’t know. But somehow you imagine things would somehow be so much different. And better. And easier. Probably, this is not true. But perhaps it is. I want to think that it is. But I’ll never know.

I miss the future I was supposed to have with you.

And it’s such a beautiful indulgence to imagine the way life may have turned out if you were still here. And somehow, in some way, there is still an ache inside me for the life I never got to have with you. It won’t go away. Some days, there is no place I can go to escape from the longing.

Somehow, I still want it.

I think about who I would be. Better. Happier. Easier. Lighter. Not so fucking complicated.

Maybe.

I think about who our kids would be. They would not carry The Empty Space. The heartache of living a life–an entire life– without their dad. I would not also be carrying it for them.

Maybe.

The Big Life Events pass by, the road inevitably paved by loss and a heavier weight than seems fair. But mainly, it’s the dailyness of you I miss for them. For me.

Logically, my brain understands. It may not have been easier. Or better. Or beautiful. Maybe it would’ve been worse? But I’ll never know. And it’s all the not knowing. All the not knowing all these years that won’t let go. And when I’m not being careful, grief is an unrelenting taskmaster.

I still imagine. I’m still left only to imagine and miss what might have been. I don’t need to be reminded that perhaps I’m missing out on what could be. I understand that. I know that. I do.

Tomorrow, I’ll do better.

But for today, I still wonder. And I still miss you. And what might’ve been. 10580065_740205752781930_7690649221112900995_n

Post Script~ When I have big feelings, I write about them. And without fail, people message me to say thank you. And they message me to say, “me too.” And that’s why I write. I know this post is sad. But I don’t write for sympathy. I write about what feels true today. I write for you to read it and feel relief in knowing that if you’ve felt this way too, you’re not alone.