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.

 

When I Found Home & Healing

Surprise turn of events in more than one way. This seems to have happened within 2 weeks time and I did not foresee my life heading this way right now but that’s what happens when you give up the reins. I was approached by one of my dear friends from church about a residential mentor position. So, after applying that evening, getting a follow-up call that same week, interviewing the following week and then receiving the position 3 days after the interview, I will be jumping into this new experience. To add to this transition, my relationship of a year and a half has come to an end and while I am heartbroken, I’m trying to focus on this new course in the pursuit of growth.

This apartment….whew. When I moved here in the summer of 2015, I was not ready for such significant change and the depths to which I would experience growth here. This was my first apartment with a female roommate and not a boyfriend.

My bedroom floor? That’s where I would often find myself in a crying stupor, distraught over the loss of my mom and also terribly hurt by my coinciding breakup. I filled this room with my first bedroom set and new mattress. The mint green sheets I picked out from Target and couldn’t stop obsessing over. This room is where I hung the picture I painted on what would have been my mom’s birthday, the month she passed away. Finally, it was where I would fall to my knees in prayer, sadness, and depression at times. Crying out for peace, strength, and any other feeling except hurt. Did that happen? Eventually, yes. Did I wish it happened much quicker? Absolutely. Yet….if we rose so quickly after struggles, what would be the glory in rising after falling? That moment would just become another moment in a week in another series of days. So no, that part of the hurt and suffering is non-negotiable and I will never sugarcoat that pain. It was an awfully scary time but my people are good people so I owe a large part of my heart mending to them.

Let’s move on to the living room. It has some of my most favorite things. A short but sturdy bookshelf that weighs probably more than me, overflowing with books that I’m still searching to find room for or constantly sharing with others. The Papasan chair that I picked up just down the street from me. The couch where not only personal possessions have gotten lost (glad I found my iPod!), but people too. It was where I consoled my crying roommate as she told her break-up story that nearly mirrored mine and as she, like myself and my previous roommate, struggled to make our hearts whole again. Yes, this apartment has been a haven for those of us who were looking for a do-over, a new beginning after the tangled relationship web that was woven, and a reminder that we were not defined by those who broke us. It became a place to make those discoveries that had been lying within us. The lava needing the perfect temperature and circumstances before it could break through the cracks of the surface, destroying everything, including our old selves, in its wake. I had no intention of this place becoming the center of my healing. I thought it was simply a temporary stop before I landed elsewhere. I had no desire for anything resembling permanence, or semi-permanence for that matter because the idea of something lasting was nearly laughable. I had lost love and goodness from two figures I felt were going to be around forever. One left this world too soon and the other had no intention of building a life with me as promised. Permanence didn’t sound like what I wanted at all.

The kitchen is…..tiny. But tiny vessels can hold great memories too. Like when myself and two other young women moved my new-to-me dining room set consisting of 4 chairs, a large wooden base, and an equally large glass table top…..all by ourselves. It made it safely back from a 45-minute roundtrip excursion and I was so proud. That other time when our stove busted, followed by our dishwasher and then our stove once more (though not as badly but I am sensing a theme here). Or, not long ago, when I learned you can’t boil milk in a tea kettle on high because it will shoot right out of the spout, make a smelly disgusting mess, and leave you and your friends in fits of laughter. I’ve fed my friends here (and also been fed!), told stories over bottles of wine, and oh the dancing. The dancing has been one of my most favorite things to do in this apartment.

So yes, my apartment became more than I thought I would allow it to be. I feel I only knew the definition of home when I lived with my family and had yet to discover what that looked like on my own. Since moving out here, I have felt somewhat restless. Clearly, it was because some deep changes needed to take place in my life, such as letting go of that which was no longer bringing me happiness. And now, I can truly feel what a home can be. It can be permanent or not. Transient or ever-lasting. An apartment, trailer, or house. Small, large, or in between. A home allows for mistakes and messes. It lets you be your barest self in your search for grace. It doesn’t make you feel imperfect or unworthy but rather, it is a jumping point for something bigger. Maybe you glance down at the water below for a long, long time, debating if it’s right for you. Each time you discover something more about yourself, you step a little bit closer to the ledge. Then, finally, you close your eyes and jump. This is me, jumping off the ledge, with no certainty of where I’ll land but knowing I’ll be completely held in the process.

Allowing Space for Creativity

I hadn’t posted anything since the beginning of February. It had been an entire month and I was letting it get to me. I expressed my frustration to my boyfriend, saying how I really needed to get something written. His honest and innocent response of, “Why?” really threw me for a loop.

Why did I need to get something out there? Aside from the fact that I: a) was of course wanting to grow my blog and b) really needed to put in that writing time; was I really doing this for me? I have always been a big supporter of approaching tasks, goals, and dreams when the timing is right. You have to put in the work along the way, but by no means should you feel bad about where you’re at right now. And then I realized, that’s precisely what it was. I have been feeling stuck, lost and frazzled, simply moving from one task to the next. I was placing so much emphasis on my job title that I felt as if I wasn’t contributing according to some so-called standards. When in all honesty, I’m calling bull on that one because I know in my heart that I am doing great things every day, even if I can’t see it. I am a nanny to 2 amazing boys, whom I adore and care for with my whole heart. I am a server at a family-owned restaurant, where I have met some of the sweetest guests and co-workers. I am a mentor to a remarkable young lady. I am a volunteer in my community and church. I am also a writer.

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I’ve also been healing this year, taking the time to come back from the loss of my mother, as well as other cards I’ve been dealt in this hand. I take it day by day. Through this I found that for every tide that has washed away pieces of me or my story, it simply has been rewritten and I have gained tenfold during the course of it. My faith has strengthened, I’ve regained my confidence, new and wonderful people have appeared in my life, and though the loss of my mom will always hurt in some way, I have found thankfulness for the time we had and peace in knowing her suffering came to an end.

For the creative type, this all matters. We can be people-pleasing perfectionists (say that 3 times), always wanting to put out something great. But, what if we’re just doing it to go through the motions, instead of when it’s the right time? Can we really create greatness in those moments? When you’ve pushed yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to the brink of exhaustion, how can you want to create?

I came up with a mantra to remind myself of this:

MAKE SPACE FOR CREATIVITY.

I don’t mean an actual space consisting of the perfect desk and chair.  Rather, the space inside of you. Allow for failures and mistakes. Call security on that inner critic when he gets too rowdy. Make sure you are in a healthy mindset, as well as physically nurturing yourself. You wouldn’t go to work in rough shape, so why insist on settling when your creative work is just as important?

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Photo Credit: catkinswillow via Compfight cc

If we, the creators, are so striving to make something of lasting value, then we owe it to ourselves to nurture that part of us. We can still create in those moments of extreme emotion such as anger, sadness, or guilt. In fact, those times where we are just putting it all out there are often jumping points for future great works. But, don’t sell yourself short in terms of creativity. You are a beacon of light in what can sometimes be a seemingly endless, dark horizon. The sun beam that comes through your window just right. The first firefly, beckoning the beginning of summer.

You owe it to yourself to bring something of lasting value into this magnificent world. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or even the next, but I promise you that it will happen, perhaps when you are least expecting it to. Don’t box yourself in and most importantly, do not rush the process. I know that can often go against what is instilled in us but creativity should be about slowing down, not speeding forward. Make that space. Be that light. And always, always keep creating.

 

 

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.

Peace with Your Ending(s)

Hi friends!! It has been a crazy and hectic week of travel adventures (and unfortunately some headaches!). However, I’m settled back home in beautiful, snowy Washington and loving it. Even if it is freezing! Being away made me appreciate home so much more. Looking forward to sharing travel experiences in an upcoming post or two! Wishing you all a beautiful and bright 2016.                    -Heather

One of the nights while I was on vacation, I had a dream about my ex. I realize the holidays can make it difficult to sort out those feelings of the finality of a relationship so I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret it. It wasn’t even anything worth discussing but the image of him in my mind had startled me. It sounds silly and trivial but I immediately went into my place of overthinking. I do that sometimes.

Later on in the afternoon, I asked my friend to make sure his family was alright because they’re from Texas and a bunch of tornadoes had touched down there. I was actually quite proud of myself for not initiating the contact. That evening, I gave some advice to a different friend who had been having dreams about her ex as well. She was just wanting to get some good sleep and put it all to rest. (No pun intended…I think.) One of the comments one of her friends had left really clicked with me. She said she used to have dreams like that and she felt it was her brain’s way of letting go and working things out. Whoa. Awesome sauce. Gold gem. Bookmark it.

Here’s the thing: The world around us is so set on telling us to move on after a breakup and while I absolutely believe in setting boundaries during this time, we tend to forget that the ending of a relationship also requires a grieving process. And a serious one at that.

Every shiny and wonderful moment you thought you had coming in your relationship was suddenly destroyed. Poof. Maybe it was a quick break-up or perhaps it was drawn out. It might have even been mutual. Either way, it really fricken’ hurt. And you know what? You have every right to feel everything associated with that. Nobody should tell you otherwise. You want to drink wine and watch Netflix with your BFF? You go right ahead. You want to start playing the field again? Go for it. You need to get in your car and drive across the country for clarity? Hey, you do you. No matter what you decide or how you mend your heart, just remind yourself that it will eventually be whole again. It won’t feel like it, honestly, for a long time. But when it does? That’s the beautiful part of it. The magic after the mess.

Find peace in your own time and in your own way. Don’t feel you need to go it alone or justify your decisions. Of course, take care of yourself and keep those positive reminders and people around. You are a magical, magnificent person capable of spilling that love onto someone else when the time is right. Trust me, you’ll know when that time is.

I could physically feel my heart get lighter that day while I was away. I’m aware that sounds rather ridiculous but I don’t really care. The pain of my last relationship didn’t envelop me anymore and I felt my heart making room for more love. Let it happen. Let it go. Breathe. Trust me friends, making peace with your past will only bring you one step closer to happiness in your present.

 

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.