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.

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.

 

 

Fighting for Gratitude

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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.

 

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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