This is Where I Hold You

I walked into the spa that day in August, with the intent of purchasing a gift certificate for my roommate but leaving with more. You asked where I would be spending my vacation and as the topic of Michigan came up, I felt something wasn’t right. You barely knew me so crying in front of a stranger seemed impossible and yet you did. Would I judge you? Would I find the situation uncomfortable? The words kept bubbling out and between the subject change and tone of voice, I saw it unraveling. You had recently lost your dad and were visiting back home to attend his funeral or wrap up loose ends, the details too difficult to discuss.

As we went through the motions, I wanted to tell you more than I did and I’m sorry if my approach showed uncertainity. As I turned to leave I said, “I’m so sorry about your dad. I lost my mom to cancer a couple years ago. I know how hard it is, especially during the initial part of it all.” And in that sharing of grief, I was unsure. Everyone manages it uniquely and I wasn’t wanting to push too far. You walked out from behind the counter and….you hugged me. In your hurt you gave more, telling me I was a sweetheart and thanking me for stopping in. I felt the depth of your beautiful soul in that instance.

It wasn’t the right time but through all of this I wanted to let you know that it came full circle. You see, I was in the airport when I found out my mom had passed away while on the way to the hospital. I could hardly collect myself to purchase tissues from the airport store, with what felt like puddles of tears forming beneath me as I hurried away from the cashier asking me what was wrong. I didn’t want to talk. Or think. Or breathe. Or feel. The rug had been ripped from underneath me and how dare anyone try to make sense of that. And as I was standing in line to board the plane back home, she came over to me, with an intent so pure that I could only be kind. She asked if I needed a hug and in her simple inquiry as to why I was hurting, I poured out my story. About losing my mom and the cancer.

Did you know that she knew? That Anna Rose read the tears blending into the freckles as someone who needed a crutch, however briefly? For all the onlookers and strangers hurrying by, this one high-school aged girl traveling back to Washington gave me just enough strength for the plane ride home. It was March when I lost my mom and Anna had only lost her 13-year old sister to a car crash that December. She hugged me. She prayed for me and my family during the flight. And she waited for me when we deplaned, just to make sure I was alright. For every loss there is a lifting, someone who was placed in our lives as the tiniest glimmer of light in unending darkness.

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Age, sex, gender, religion – None of that matters when it comes to pain. We share those burdens, those that we wish we’d never been chosen to carry.

This is where I hold you. Where I carry your hurt inside of mine, reminding you that even though it isn’t going anywhere soon, time and kindness will assist in tucking it away. It will be secure and ever-present, the explanations to strangers becoming easier and perhaps, one day, you will walk someone else through a hurt of their own.

 

Blessed by Your Love: What I Found in Losing My Mom

I have put off writing this. All day I have wrestled internally with keeping it together so nobody knows the immense hurt that is bubbling to the surface inside. I have wanted to put off this “feelings” part altogether because the pain is unreal. Contrary to the hours, days and weeks we account for, grief is one aspect that cannot be measured. The loss of your presence in my life strikes abruptly. Tiny  moments and increments that sneak into my life. At a wedding when a mom looks at her daughter with more love than she could ever hope to convey. When I find something that reminds me of you. A holiday, birthday or anniversary.

I didn’t know the world would keep spinning. That time would creep on, ever so slowly, keeping us all in its steady rhythm. That my tears would flow less often but my heart would still bear a fault line, your name forever etched in. How certain memories might make me burst into a smile with thoughts of you, yet others would cause me to pause in the moment as I realize I can no longer reminisce with you. How different of a world this is than the one I had envisioned, the one where you were there.

A friend once told me that my mom isn’t really gone, that I can simply start talking wherever I am, out in nature or during my day. That she’s right there with me. I’d like to note that, even as a woman of faith, just how badly I wanted to call bull on that. How I have still spent these past two years hurting, harboring anger at times, and navigating the ways in which I can lighten this burden. But then, I thought, what if she’s right? What if this is part of the healing process? This hurting heart is searching for peace and despite how stubborn I can be, I’m willing to try.

Dear Mom,

I feel I never thanked you as much as I should have. That I am still mad at how life played out and a couple of years during college were wasted in anger. I am simply amazed by all I still learn from you, how much more sure I am of myself now and that I know you would be so proud of me. Your strength was remarkable and your unending love was displayed in your willingness to always put your children first. I’m the luckiest for being able to call you mom!

I found fun in everyday moments. I found courage to stand up for what is right and true. I found that family doesn’t always mean blood but as long as the love is strong and welcoming, none of that matters. We were able to mesh that which was familiar and that which was new to create something lasting. Families are NOT picture perfect and I am so sorry I felt they needed to be. You will forever be an incredible woman and mother to me. 

 

I found somebody who believed in me. Someone who watched me play the clarinet at festivals and concerts, supporting my love of music. My biggest fan at my school plays, laughing in all the right places. You gave so much of yourself that I often wonder if there was any room left over for you? I will never understand how you did it all. Working late hours each day, dinners often prepared for us ahead of time, and still attending our events. You held us up and you held us together. The hardest working woman I knew, hands down.

I’m just now beginning to see how extensively you shaped me. How your love is still reaching me even after you’re gone. And no matter how many times others may have said that to me in the past, it is only now starting to feel that way. So yes, maybe I did need to get out of my own way. Quit overthinking and drop my uncertainty. (I’m also learning that there are no rules in grief, more of a feeling things out as you go along.)

In reflecting over all that you were, you helped me to discover who I am. I am capable and gifted. I am strong and loving. I am able to give because you continually gave all. I am forever held up by you and that can never be taken away from me. The pieces of you that reside within me are cherished and shared with the world.

Instead of wishing for more time, I’m going to be praying for more grace and keep filling my life with as much love as I can. Undoubtedly, your love was the best gift of all. The one which allowed me to reach the pinnacle in order to view myself and our relationship with more clarity. Sweet, sweet love that keeps finding a way to open my heart a little more each day. 

I love you Mom.

 

 

 

A Year in Your Light: Life Without My Mom

March 8th marked a year since my mom passed away from ovarian cancer. (You can read more about it here.)  

I’ve loved you fiercely. I’ve wished for more time. I’ve had breakdowns in places I would never have imagined and been brought to my knees in grief. One of the hardest parts was not knowing what would trigger it or when it would happen. Whether I was reading a book or in the middle of the grocery store, emotions of this intensity don’t allow for any sort of logic.

My memories of you in your final moments have yet to escape me. There’s something about seeing those whom we would do anything for, especially you with your limitless strength, in such a fragile state. You were a wisp, so thin and so frail. I don’t know if that goes away. I just keep holding on, day by day.

I know now how hard it must have been for you to have me see you like that. You were so stubborn while raising us and you held on to that stubbornness, even while you were sick. I loved that fight in you because looking back on my childhood as an adult, I am thankful for all you gave. How badly I wanted to take away your pain when you were sick paralleled how strongly you had loved us our whole lives. No distance was too great and no battle too difficult. You were our rock. The keeper of our secrets from dad. The glue that held our family together. The woman who could do it all and then some. You amazed the hell out of me.

I wanted you to be old and gray with dad. To meet the newest addition we welcomed to the family 2 months ago, who would have been your first grandchild. To share in the memories we continue to make together. I wished and wanted and then….nothing happened. I came to the realization that all the wishing and wanting in the world could not bring you back. You were gone.

This has been, by far, the toughest loss I have had to come back from. I almost feel OK again, finding your strength in me when it seems unbearable. I could have turned away. I could have settled in the darkness and made myself content. I could have lost my faith and blamed it on God. For awhile, I did all of that. Yet, for every loss there is something to be found again, whether that is in ourselves or in the acceptance of both the fragility and beauty of life.

The process of grieving is unlike any other, looking different for each of us, yet still so the same. That’s why we can recognize it in others. Until you have walked through that isolated hopelessness and found peace somehow, even your closest friends and family can seem incredibly far away. I counted the tiniest milestones such as surviving the holidays, your birthday and not completely losing myself on the 8th of every month. The first 6 months were the most painful and while it didn’t seem like I was making any sort of progress, in some way I did. The darkest days, weeks, and months have allowed me to appreciate what time I did have with you. You physically left us, but my love for you continues to thrive.

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There is no way anybody is ever prepared for loss, even those that are imminent. If I could offer up anything in this, it’s that there is no quick-fix for the pain. No manual for how to heal. No words of encouragement, no matter how uplifting or inspirational, will make it right. And finally, time doesn’t make it better. It only lessens it, until the next holiday/photograph/pretty much anything brings memories flooding back. As I shaped my life around how I could best carry on, the loss became a part of me.

But, what also became a part of me was every good and wonderful feature you brought to this life. Every laugh. Every car ride where we listened to Elton John. Every moment you fought for us. Every single sacrifice. Life after loss relies not upon residing in that space of sadness, but in living out what you gave me. The greatest way I can honor you is by living my very best life. I will hope I do right by you in loving deeply and being kind. You will forever be one of the most important women in my life and I am eternally grateful for your unbounded love.

When Holidays Bring Heartache

Can I just start by saying, “Holy Christmas craziness.” There has been a lot going on these past couple of weeks my friends. Almost too much, if I do say so myself. I survived, but my writing went on the backburner and that makes me sad. Look for 2 posts this week!

The holidays can be hard for many of us. Surrounded by family and friends whom we are maybe not particularly fond of. Getting the stink eye from great-aunt Ethel when she asks the ever looming question, “So, are you still single?” Yes I am Ethel, because I enjoy watching TV with no pants on and eating ice cream straight out of the container. Just kidding, I’m sure Ethel is a lovely lady. Not to mention, we have to tell everybody our life story, from careers to our love lives and everything in between. When in all reality, you just want to drink a bottle of red (by yourself) and binge watch your newest Netflix series obsession. Oh, is that just me?

This year I am not particularly cheery whenever a holiday comes around. Ever since the loss of my mom, I find that the holiday season brings with it an immense sadness. A reminder of what I lost and what I’ll never have again. Ask any of my friends, I am depressing to be around somewhere within the 2 week period of any major holiday. That’s not counting her birthday or the hardest one of all, Mother’s Day.

If I’m being completely honest, I actually have no idea how to navigate this unknown territory. I have found that after such a major loss my life has been divided into two parts. My life with my mom and my life without her. This first year has been particularly painful and it will only ease with time, patience, acceptance and love. Grief can seem like a never-ending labyrinth that way. We wander around, hoping to find our way out, but instead encounter obstacles and wrong turns.

Holidays can be a double-edged sword. While I can feel completely alone, empty and so sad, I can also feel grateful and loved. Grateful for those friends and family I get to spend my time with and for all my mom taught me during her time on Earth. For now, I can recognize my feelings for what they are and remind myself she will always have a place in my heart.

While the holidays can be difficult, resist the urge to sink too deep into the sadness. Surround yourself with positive people who love you and let you be who you are. Don’t be too hard on yourself when those memories come back. Spend time volunteering. In fact, one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is when I volunteered to serve others who didn’t have anywhere to go during the holiday. It was a truly humbling experience.

The best I can do is remember that my best is ok. That I don’t need to tuck everything away because I experienced something that changed me forever. I can be sad because I know one day I will be me again, and I will step into the sunshine with joy in my heart. Until that day arrives, I’ll continue to find my way, a little at a time. And yes, while the holidays can bring unwanted feelings and reminders, they can also bring an atmosphere of gratitude and love when we need it the most.

 

Everything Starts Over or Yes, You Are Definitely a Majestic Evergreen

Between a week without power and a trip to Seattle, I will honestly admit that I fell a bit behind. But, we are back and at it again! Hope you all had the loveliest of Thanksgivings. 

I was watching the sun set over an outlook here in Spokane. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It wasn’t too long after my stepmom had passed away and I remember thinking how much this sucks, how much this hurts and how I felt the pain would never go away. The tears kept pouring out and then, in the middle of it all, there was stillness. Something had made me notice my surroundings. An inner voice, a thought, something bigger, call it what you will. But, I remember seeing a bird fly through the sky and I just knew then, it was going to be ok, eventually. This storm would pass and though she would never be forgotten, we would find a way to cope with her gone. It occurred to me in this moment that everything starts over. I used to find that notion incredibly sad. That holding onto something was the only way to appreciate it. But, that isn’t where the beauty lies because true essence lives on after it’s gone. We have the power to cultivate the love and goodness that those closest to us leave behind.

Maybe I never believed it or maybe I never felt it. Perhaps the loss of somebody so close to me has shifted my perspective on life and the role we play here. I can’t really say what caused the change. I do know that I felt an immense peace in this moment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had these feelings. They are rare and fleeting but each encounter has taught me a valuable lesson in life.

When I say everything starts over, I mean that we are part of the larger cycle of life. Nature keeps on going, no matter what. It finds a way to flourish and thrive.  Trees, plants, animals, it’s all around us. They start as these little seedlings with absolutely no idea of what a magnificent being they will become one day! (If trees could talk I mean, that is definitely what they would be thinking.) But isn’t that us too? Don’t we start out in this world, stumbling and learning as we go? We don’t know what we will become but then we wake up one day and bam! we’ve done all this amazing stuff in our lives. All the sudden we are this majestic evergreen and we are gonna show these little evergreens how it’s done.

I’ve digressed, but only a little bit. My point is, it used to make me uncomfortable and now, now I can appreciate it so much more. Our time here. What we’ve been given. All of it. Because I know it’s temporary and always changing, I can take the moment for what it is. Good or bad. It doesn’t last. And that is not meant in a pessimistic way at all. (If you’ve been following me, you know I’m quite the opposite.) Instead, it is meant matter of factly and also just in pure amazement of it all. When I begin to get too comfortable and think I can’t be surprised anymore, the Universe up and astounds me, reminding me that a comfort zone will never shape me into the magnificent and wonderful person I am on my way to becoming.

Bending Without Breaking: Finding Myself After Loss

Thirty days they said. You were speechless, angry, hurting and scared. It seemed unfathomable that an entire life of this beautiful human being was now being put into a measly number. This was not it. This was not how it was supposed to be.

You watched her body transform into someone you didn’t recognize. You took care of her during those last two weeks. You gave her one last hug and cocooned her in love before you left, knowing this was the last time. You got the phone call before boarding your plane home. The one you knew was coming. You felt every happy feeling you’ve ever had physically leave your body.

You spent countless nights bawling on your bedroom floor until you could hardly breathe, over not only the loss of your parent but also the loss of somebody you loved. The person that was supposed to be there during all of this. The one that was going to hold you until the pain subsided, at least for a little while. There were times you could hardly make it through your days at the office because the sadness of so much loss in so little time was too much to bear. I bet you remember, because you were there. That was you.

You didn’t think you could make it. Getting out of bed and just going through the motions of every day life seemed out of the question. The days, weeks, and months seemed endless. How long could this go on? When would I be able to breathe again? There is absolutely no way you can survive this.

Remember how alone you felt? Drowning in an ocean of grief that nobody around you could understand. But you persevered. You learned that even though the people around you might not have the same experience, they will listen, and that’s what you really needed. You just needed to know that somebody was there. They would be your buoys until you were strong enough to swim on your own.

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Photo Credit: beautifulxstruggle via Compfight cc

You didn’t believe you would be standing here one day. That you would be reflecting back on who that woman was, and the places she came back from. But look at you my beautiful butterfly, you are here, you are standing, and you are stronger than you ever dreamed you could be.