Fighting for Gratitude

gratitude

Gratitude has not come easy to me today. You have no idea how much I would love to have woken up this morning completely and totally happy and grateful and smiling. But. I didn’t. I woke up to a quiet, empty house. Sort of sad. Sort of lonely. Peaceful. Totally peaceful. But sort of just… not feeling festive and holiday-ish. I made my coffee, puttered around the kitchen. Fed the dog. Watched a little Scandal and DID give thanks that I don’t have Olivia Pope’s problems. Damn. Those are some big, big problems. All the while trying not to feel what I still feel so often: Broken.

And so I cried. And cried. And cried some more. I let myself feel the ugly, crappy, familiarity of it all. I talked to a few people who really love me so much– and I hated to be the downer in the conversation– because that’s not a role I enjoy. Ever. But they each reminded me of this: I am totally loved. I am totally supported. There is so much right even though sometimes it feels like there is still so much wrong. And that we are all broken in some way or another.

The tide comes in. The tide goes out.  And on holidays especially, it can feel like the tide always comes in. Good news though: It will go out again.

 


 

So if this is you at all today– if you, like me, are struggling with grief of any kind, it’s okay. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.  Allow yourself the chance to feel it and process it and find what’s true in it and what’s not. And then, use whatever self-care techniques work for you– and out of self-love, decide to bounce back. Because it IS a holiday, and despite not everything being exactly the way you’d like, there is still a lot of goodness. Tons. Tons and tons of goodness. So get up. Get dressed. Work out. Turn on happier music. Set a timer for 3 minutes and write down a rampage of everything you have to be grateful for. Pray. Meditate. Read something good.  Watch Scandal. Call or text the people you love and tell them so. It helps and it works and I’m doing it.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m thankful for you.

 

Bedtime, Wet Towels, and 9/11

clock-cute-fashion-girl-heart-pink-Favim.com-77191Every single night, I know it’s coming. Jammies are on. Teeth are brushed and flossed. Sister nonsense and shenanigans have fizzled out… It’s bedtime. And as the littlest one is climbing the ladder up to her loft bed, she’s already asking, in that uncertain and pleading tone, “Are you coming up?”

Big sigh. Am I coming up? I should. I definitely should. I know I should. But it’s 9:07. Already seven minutes past bedtime. And I’m just so freakin’ tired. But she asks again. And I can’t say no. Some nights I do. But most nights I don’t. Because time. Because childhood. Because I want to smush her with love. Because the ticking clock of life. Because guilt. Because. Because. Because.

Gah. It’s a lot. Isn’t it? This constant pressure to make every moment count. To be present. To be our best selves. To not miss a moment. To cherish every moment. To not disappoint our kids and ourselves and all of the people who only WISH they were tucking in children…Etc. Etc. Etc. Do you hear what I’m saying? It. Is. A. Lot.


After my first husband died, I went through this phase of loss where you think of all the things you’d do differently. If only you could go back. If only you had another chance. I used to think to myself, if I could only go back, I’d never bitch about wet towels on the floor again. He used to leave them everywhere and it drove me nuts. And in the disillusioned hindsight and rose colored glasses of grief, I actually thought if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t complain about wet towels. But as the years went by and my grief had dulled to a lower level of heartache, I revisited those thoughts. And now I disagree. I think I would. I’m afraid to say I think I would still probably bitch about wet towels.

Because here’s the thing: We’re still human. We can’t help it. We try. We do our best. But it seems we still cannot escape the dailyness of life that creates a rut that pretty much keeps us right where we’re at. We still get tired. We still get aggravated. We still feel stressed or depressed or disinterested. We are still selfish and self-centered and we forget. We just forget. Because we’re human. And honestly, in some ways, I think it’s okay.

It’s not entirely realistic or even enjoyable to live every present moment under the auspice of the Lifetime Ticking Clock.

A few weeks ago, I was driving the same littlest one to school, and as we were happily singing along to the radio, (because you know you have to be making good memories every second of the day, right? Kidding. Kidding) the jerk driver behind me didn’t care for my driving and pulled way up close and shouted, “Asshole!” And listen– my driving wouldn’t win any prizes— seriously. And I admit that. But I think screaming A-hole at me was a bit extreme. (And because I’m me, my feelings always get a little hurt by rude drivers. C’mon. I’m a lot of things. But not THAT.) And on top of it all, DIDN’T YOU SEE THE LITTLE GIRL SITTING HERE???

And as crazy as this sounds (and I know it sounds crazy), what I really wanted to yell back was, “Don’t you remember 9/11?!!! Did you forget?? That we’re all neighbors and Americans and supposed to be good to each other???”

Jerk probably took his flag down already, too.

But of course he did. Of course he forgot. Because he’s human. And because for whatever reason, we just can’t sustain that level of awareness long enough. Oh sure, some of us can, for some things. But not most of us. And not for everything. And so it seems we somehow always just ease back into being ourselves. Doing the best we know how and hoping it’s enough. Making tiny strides out of the ruts when we can. When we remember. Let it be enough, I think to myself. Please, let it be enough.

Just a Little Farther…

images-21When Mark and I first got married, he was in the Army and we were stationed on Fort Riley, Kansas. Mark was in great shape and totally fit from daily PT and all of the other physical rigors that accompany military life. I, however, was not. But I had run track in high school and wanted to start with running as a means to get back in shape. Mark wanted to run with me and I immediately disliked this idea. I knew running would be hard, and as a competitive person, I was not ready to suck in front of him. Sucking by myself would be easier to take. But he insisted it would be more fun to do it together. Begrudgingly, I agreed, and just as I had imagined, not long into our first run, I was ready to hit the wall.

{That competitive spirit is how I ended up with a tattoo. Mark thought I wasn’t tough enough to get one. Oh? Really? Is that so? Watch me. Um. So yeah. I don’t recommend that as a consistent way to make life decisions. But at 24, it felt totally legit}

So there we were, running along and Mark chatting away, acting as if it were no big deal (JERK!) while I am out of breath and ready to stop and walk. I’m sure I was ticked off and possibly being a poor sport. I was sucking in front of him! UGH! But just as I was starting to say I couldn’t go any farther, he looked over at my struggling self and said, “See that stop sign up ahead? You can make it to there.” I’m positive I rolled my eyes and inwardly whined that I was sure I couldn’t…But, indeed, I did make it to the stop sign. After all, it was only 100 yards away. Okay. Fine.

But Mark had a method now. As we neared the stop sign and I was mentally preparing to  collapse and take a break, he chimed in again. “See that fire hydrant up ahead? You can go just a little farther and make it to there.” This guy! What the heck! See? This is why I wanted to run by myself! Maybe it was my competitive nature, pride, or just aggravation, but I kept going. I DID make it to the fire hydrant. And then some. And as you might imagine, Mark continued to coach me this way through the rest of the run. And lo and behold, I made it to the end.

Only a few short years after that day, I am sitting in the dark. Staring at the clock. I have lost Mark. He is gone forever and not coming back. I am physically aching to be where he is. The grief is dark and thick and threatens to consume me. I am fully convinced I cannot go any further. And it is then that I faintly remember his coaching, whispering to me now in the night. I hear myself say out loud to the empty room, “It is 11:31. I can make it to 11:32. It is 11:32. I can make it to 11:33…”

I don’t know how long I sat there counting minutes, but I made it through that night and went on to use that coaching many, many nights after that. In fact, 20 years later, I still use it. And I have taught my kids to use it, too. Because you know what? It works. The truth is, you can pretty much always make it through another minute. And then another one. And another one. And the minutes turn into hours, and then into days and weeks and months. And before you know it, you are absolutely doing that which you swore you could not do.


I don’t know what it is you’re facing today that feels too hard. Maybe it’s learning to run, or maybe it’s grief or maybe it’s a hard marriage or parenting or a job you hate– or maybe– maybe it’s just life. Because life is freakin’ hard. Even when it’s good, it’s hard. But I’m pretty sure you can get through today. Take a deep breath and go just a little farther. You can do this.

{And Mark. I hope you are smiling.

And proud.

And…we will keep going…just a little farther… until we see you again someday}

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This is Why We Tell Our Stories

images-18Not long ago I received a call from a good friend in total distress. A young woman he knows had lost her husband suddenly and tragically. He didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. He was shaken and looking for direction. Knowing I had walked this road before, he called me first. With tears in my eyes, my heart was already silently breaking for what I knew lay ahead for this girl. I gave him some advice and then choked out the words I sort of dreaded to say: “When are the calling hours? I’ll go see her.”


 

Flashback to December 31, 1998: I have just been gifted with the American Flag from the United States Army on behalf of a grateful nation for my husband’s military service. With my little boy by my side, I am walking down the aisle of the church. I have just sat through my husband’s funeral service. I am numb, but not so numb that I don’t feel slightly annoyed and frustrated when someone pulls me to the side and says there’s someone I should meet. Seriously? Who could I possibly need to meet right now? Whoever it is, surely there is a better time than this. But then I see her. A child standing on either side of her, half-smiles cloaking their mild embarrassment and it’s as if I already know.

This woman. This stranger with whom I was prepared to be annoyed with, warmly grasps my hands in hers and tells me how sorry she is for my loss. And that she understands. That she knows this pain. A few years back, she lost her husband too. And honestly, after that, I don’t remember another word she said. But it doesn’t matter. Because in that very brief meeting that could not have been more than two minutes long, this is what my brain processed: “She survived this. She lived through this. Her kids are standing next to her. They are here. They are alive. They seem okay. One of them is even smiling. They survived. They are here. I am not alone. I may live through this. My children may be okay someday. We might recover. We might make it.”

To this day, I don’t know who that woman was. I never saw her again. I don’t know if I said thank you or just nodded my head or cried or what. But I know this– in the middle of my absolute hurricane of shock, grief and despair, a total stranger came to see me for two tiny minutes and do something extraordinary: Plant a seed. Give me strength.  Show me that I was not pioneering this road; That there were those who had gone before me and survived. It was barely perceptible that day, but it was there: Hope. Possibility. A future. I would look back on that meeting for years to come. When the way seemed too dark and too hard to navigate, I would think of her and remind myself, “People survive this.”


 

And so I hung up the phone with my friend and made plans to attend the wake, if only for a few minutes. Because this girl needed to see me. She needed to know what I already knew. There are those who have gone before us to pave the way and report back about giants in the land and roadblocks in the way. About the cracks where the light will shine through and the spaces where it is so dark you cannot see. But that there is a way through. That there is hope. And this is why we tell our stories.

What is it in your life? What part of your journey does another weary and wandering traveler need to hear? Have you run a marathon? Lost the last ten pounds? Finished your college education? Started your own business? Found freedom from an addiction? Learned to live with a chronic illness? Every single one of us has something we have made it through— and the proof is that we’re still here.

There’s healing in the telling and there’s hope in the listening. Tell your story. Because someone needs to hear it.

 

 

 

5 Things (it’s okay) to Tell a Struggling Friend

images-17When people we care about are struggling, it can be so hard knowing the right thing to say or do. And even though pain, grief and loss are such a universal part of the human experience, for some reason we suddenly feel so awkward on how to handle it. There are lots of WRONG things to say and you can find those here or here. But to be honest, the worst thing to say is NOTHING. To ignore it altogether. To pretend it didn’t happen or that you don’t know about it. That. is. the. worst. For the love. Don’t be that person– use one of these instead:

1.  I‘m so sorry you’re going through this.”

“I’m so sorry you have to walk through this.”

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I’m so sad for you.”

Any variation of “I’m sorry” is a good place to start. C’mon. You can say that. It’s not that hard. This is the universal sympathy phrase for a reason. It’s easy to get out of your mouth. You should use it. And please don’t ever qualify this with a “But…” As in, “But I don’t agree with your divorce.” (That must be so hard for you. Because I lose sleep at night over whether or not you agree with my situation.” Smile. I’m kidding. Obviously.) “But you deserve it.” or “But I told you so.” No. Stop. Don’t do it.

2. “That must be so hard.”

“That must be awful.”

“That would be so hurtful.”

Validation is a gift. People who are struggling often keep apologizing for all of their emotions when it’s probably all very normal. In the midst of chaos and pain, it’s a wonderful thing to be told, “It’s okay that you feel this way.” When you tell someone, “That sounds horrible”, it’s not a sudden revelation to them. They already KNOW it’s horrible. But what you’re really saying is, “I see what you’re going through and I can see why it’s so hard.” Do this.

Important side story~

When I lost my first husband, everyone thought it would be helpful if I attended some sort of support group. Except there weren’t any support groups for 26 year-old widows. (What I really needed was a support group for 26 year-olds who had to attend a support group) Ultimately I ended up attending a group filled with– wait for it– people over 65. I was mortified. It only continued to point out the rarity and devastatingly “bad luck” of my situation. Except for one unforgettable moment that night. Everyone had to tell their story; Who they had lost and why they were there. As I listened to tale after tale of people who had been married for 50 years, people who had to discontinue life support and feeding tubes, people who had needed Hospice, it was my turn. And as I told of my husband being killed in a car accident and leaving behind myself and our two small children, the elderly gentlemen sitting next to me grabbed my hand, looked in my eyes, and said, “You must be in hell.” I wept with relief.

Finally. Finally someone was acknowledging exactly what it felt like. How bad it was. How hard it was. Naming it for me. To finally NOT hear that God must have needed another angel (more than my kids needed their dad??) To NOT hear that I was so young– I would surely find someone else (as if the true problem was the vacancy and filling of the position of husband and father). To NOT hear that everything happens for a reason (because there is no reason thorough enough that would justify this loss). Finally. Validation of the hell I could not escape. I never went back to that support group. But I also never forgot the words of that man. It was a healing moment in my grief.

3. “I may not completely understand, but I can sit here and listen.”

Most struggling or grieving people have a need to talk. And talk. And talk. If not right away, eventually. External processing is a powerful way of understanding and sorting out the jumbled mess of emotions locked up inside. No one is looking for you to have any answers or come up with solutions. And really, don’t. All you need to do is sit and listen. And then get used to responding with simple phrases such as, “That’s awful.” or “That sounds so hard.” Or even, “Mmmmm.” There are very few requirements to be a good listener– a little bit of time, a compassionate heart, and gentleness. Lots of gentleness.

4.  “What would be helpful right now?”…And then offer something specific. Or just do it.

Most of the time, people will add, “Is there anything I can do?” And in the middle of grief, it can be very hard to answer. Ideally, if YOU can think of something thoughtful and helpful (as long as it doesn’t cross any major boundaries), just do it. Or offer something specific that requires a yes or no response. “Can I drop off dinner on Tuesday night?”, “Can I do all the driving for baseball this week?” If none of that seems right, stop by for 5 minutes with a coffee, muffins, beer, a new purse, shoes, anything with a bow on it…Wait. Sorry. That’s maybe only what I would like. But. You get the point.

Another important side note~

Sometimes when my girls are struggling or sad, I say to them, “What would make you feel taken care of right now?” The answer can be as simple as a cup of hot chocolate, a nap, snuggle time with me or a quick date somewhere. I especially like that this teaches them to recognize what they’re feeling and then ask for what they need. And it teaches me, too. I think women, especially, are bad at this. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m bad at this. But my girls won’t be. They will know how to ask for what they need.

5. “You are not alone.”

Grief and loss. Pain and struggle. It’s all very isolating. The rest of the world is moving on while yours has stopped. It’s a very lonely place to be. Depending on your relationship,  it’s such a relief to hear someone say, “You’re not alone. I’m with you in this. Text me or call me 24/7.” And then, even if you have to set a reminder in your phone, YOU text THEM every few days with some love and encouragement. A friend and I stumbled upon a little code– when one of us is feeling really low, or thinking about the other one, and we don’t really want to talk or don’t really know what to say, we will text  ” …” And it just means “I have no words. I’m here. I’m with you.”

And believe it or not, it helps. Easy. Small. Simple. Gentle. Kind. You can do it.

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5 Things You Should Not Tell Your Struggling Friend

images-151. Cheer Up

Really? Cheer up? Thanks. Because I never thought of just “cheering up”.

2. You shouldn’t feel that way

That’s so weird. Because I DO. So. One of us is wrong. Feelings are NOT wrong or right. They just are. It’s what we do with them and what actions they illicit or inspire that give them dynamics. You are allowed to feel what you feel. You have wide and varied reasons for feeling what you feel. You do not need to defend them or explain them. Period.

3. Here’s what you should do…

Big. Heavy. Sigh. Thanks. I know you mean well. Really. But your suggestions for fixing my life are unsolicited and not helpful. And, whether or not I’ve already considered your solution, it’s usually not that simple. And if you’re a Christian and you proceed to tell me what the Bible says when I am smack in the middle of my pain and my process…Lose my number. There might be a delicate time and place for that– this is not it.

4. You think THAT’S bad….

I know. I KNOW what you went through. I get it. I get that your situation is/was/will be ten times worse than mine. But pain is relative. Your pain doesn’t make mine better or worse and vice versa. Pain is pain. And it hurts.

5. I thought you were over this.

Great. Now I’m not even struggling right. My timing’s all off. Well I’m not over it.  And I wish I was more than YOU wish I was.  Sooooo….when I get over it, I guess that’s when we can be friends. If you don’t hear your phone ringing, that will be me. Not calling.

Believe it or not, I’m smiling as I type this. There’s no resting bitch face, there’s no animosity or bitterness regardless of how snarky I sound. (Um. Okay. Maybe just a teeny bit. Working on that…) I have been guilty of ALL of these and I hate myself for it– but I’m human. We all are. It’s just that I know so many people struggling right now who just get railroaded and corrected and shamed for their personal process of grief and recovery. Which is kinda like pouring salt in the wound. It hurts.

What would YOU add to this list?

Next Up: 5 Helpful Things to Tell a Struggling Friend

 

Running Through the Pain

This is not a post about running. I mean, it is. But it isn’t. Running is so metaphorical with life that it’s hard to avoid using it as a continual source of inspiration.  So many of my blogs formulate while I’m running that it can be hard to disconnect. Unfortunately, I  haven’t been running as much lately because I’ve been sidelined with a little injury known as Plantar Fasciitis. This is code for “super intense foot pain especially when you get out of bed in the morning.” If you’ve gone through PF, you feel me right now. Because you remember how totally sucky it is. Thank you for feeling bad. It helps. And so I have spent the past few months on a seesaw of trying to find the balance between resting and running.  Trying to manage the pain. Half-heartedly doing some of the prescribed therapies that supposedly help heal and lessen the symptoms of PF.  But it’s been super frustrating. I am a horrible patient. And my foot was seriously hurting even when I hadn’t run in over a week! I was getting discouraged. And feeling chubby. And feeling jealous  of other runners and runner friends working toward their goals while I sat out. And yet every time I got back out there, the run itself would feel so good–mentally, physically, emotionally–that I got to thinking: Maybe it’s time to just keep running through the pain.

Predictably, this got me thinking about life. And what it means to keep running through the pain. What it means to keep going when you want to quit; when everything feels too hard and hurts too much. And how tough it can be to find the balance between giving yourself tons of slack and tons of grace and time to heal from painful circumstances– or just forcing yourself to get up and get out there, kicking ass and taking names– knowing that life goes on. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into years.  Life is happening right now, whether or not you participate. 15 years ago when my first husband was killed in a car accident, the ocean of grief was deep and dark and frightening. Life with two small, now fatherless children seemed utterly insurmountable.  My first thought when I woke up every morning  and my last thought when I went to bed at night was that I wanted to die. That life was too hard. That I couldn’t face this kind of pain everyday and survive. A year later, that type of thinking  had taken its toll.  I was only 26. I had a whole lifetime yet to be lived. And so did my kids. Something had to change. This was still my life; this new normal. It made no difference whether or not I chose it, liked it, wanted it, loved it or hated it. I needed to learn to run through the pain.

And so here I am again. In life AND in running. It’s not exactly where I wanted or planned to be at this point. And now I’ve sat around with this injury for a while, really feeling bummed about it. Disappointed and sad. Crying. Lots and lots of crying. But truthfully, I hadn’t really followed the advice I was given BEFORE the injury– and then it took several more weeks and bouts of pain until I decided to follow the NEW advice I was given to heal the injury. (I’m a slow learner. I like to take my time with my mistakes and make them repeatedly. You know, just to be sure.) But when I was out there running today, feeling like a rock star in 45 degrees and sunshine, I decided, once again,  it’s time to run through the pain.

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