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.

 

And Then We Watched the Sunset

I started writing this post last spring, when it had been one year without my mom. While it is very personal to me, I felt it was time to share. I know Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for some but a mother’s love is forever. Be sure to squeeze your people tight while you can. And don’t spend too much time in that place of hurt. It’s more than acceptable to grieve and feel but take time to remind yourself of all the goodness that still surrounds you. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there. You do the greatest work known to mankind.

I wanted to watch the sunset with you today. So, I went to the prettiest spot I know here. Where you can look down into Latah Valley and see it all. Trees, the first signs of spring. Life moving forward. Even if it I felt as if it stopped, I knew that wasn’t true for everybody else.

I wanted to watch the sunset alone, except for you of course. We listened to Elton John because I know how much you love him. It was a little bit chilly outside but I didn’t care. Being with you that day was really all that mattered.

I wanted to watch the sunset because I knew I’d find you in the moment where everything becomes still. When the hues of yellow, blue, orange and pink all blend together on the pallet of sky, finally disappearing into complete darkness.

I wanted to watch the sunset because things needed to feel real. I didn’t want sympathetic looks from strangers or the “I’m sorry’s.” They mean well and heck, I’m sure I’d do the same, but gazing at the sky with you finally brought back some normalcy into this life.

 

I wanted to watch the sunset, not to be reminded of everything I’ll miss, but of what I still carry with me. The concerts and plays where I found you in the stands. Silly moments and arguments. Cooking lessons where I spent more time with my nose in a book than actually learning how to cook. Christmas mornings and holidays where we didn’t have a single place to be except together.

I wanted to watch the sunset but also I didn’t. Because of what that would mean, of what I would feel. Of the tears flowing too easily. For what I would learn in this shared quiet moment between you and I. In the way the memories flood back, making it difficult to catch my breath. So for a bit I could forget the unfairness of it all, shrinking away from the tragedies that form our stories.

I wanted to watch the sunset because to say I needed a place to visit you sounds so cliche but yet, I did. To glimpse past the veil that seems to separate us at times, between those who are here and who have left. To see more in the stillness than we generally allow. To recognize that the love is greater than the loss.

I wanted to watch the sunset. So we did. It wasn’t perfect but it was beautiful. It was the point where bliss and hurt coincide. The sharpness of the pain meets up against your unbroken love. We hurt, we heal, we start again. In it all, we never stop loving. In the sunset that day, though I felt my foundation was shaky, I found assuredness in you. In each gift you’ve given. In each smile. In every moment I saw your heart. And wouldn’t you know it, the sun keeps rising and setting. Just like that glorious circle, your love reminds me to rise and to rest. To cover all I can with my own love and warmth.

Thank you for so very many of my best days and for the strength to make the rest of my days as beautiful as those I spent with you. I love you mom.

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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.

 

 

 

The Woman Beyond “Mom”

My second Mother’s Day without my stepmom is here. It is one of the busiest days of the year at the restaurant I work at and after losing Lou to ovarian cancer last year, it is one of the hardest days to get through personally. I found myself recently telling friends that it hurts but I think I’ll be OK. As it drew nearer, however, I found myself feeling differently. I found myself missing her and tears filling my eyes. I found myself restless and searching for distractions. I won’t be OK. And, I don’t have to be. Grief is a turbulent, reoccurring storm that leaves damage in its wake. But, over time, you learn to protect yourself in little ways. You put up safeguards in order to prepare for when the storm actually arrives. It still hurts, maybe less or maybe more, but you ride it out.

I was rather young when we moved out to Montana. At the age of 6, I was starting over in a new town, new state, and new school. I loved my stepmom dearly and am filled with beautiful memories of camping trips, car rides, and just moments of togetherness. Approaching junior high and high school though, there was a shift. I felt myself withdrawing. After I left for college, we went through a rough patch for a couple of years. Of course, I will always wish for it to have gone differently. Looking back, I was yearning for some different version of my stepmom, instead of seeing everything she already was. It took quite some time to realize that a mom can be many things and you can even have more than one. A mother is simply one who takes it upon themselves to raise a child. A mother is somebody who carries children for somebody who may be unable to. A mother may even have to give their child up in order to give them the best life possible. The definition of a mother is difficult to pinpoint because it covers so much, more than I had ever thought about before.

As I was reflecting on the past with both my stepmom and birth mom, I began to notice that I had placed my moms on pedestals. They were untouchable and unreachable, bound by terms and conditions of what I believed a mother should be. Until, one day, I made the choice to accept them both as they were and for all they had given me. Our relationships weren’t perfect but each was unique and I knew that the path of gratitude was the one I would follow. A heart of love and acceptance allowed me to see my mothers as they really are, instead of what I had envisioned they should be.

A mother is not perfect, nor would you want her to be. Her madness in the mess makes life so much more fun and magical.

A mother is not superwoman, though she makes it look like it right? She has her doubts, fears, and insecurities just like the rest of us.

A mother is not indestructible. She will break and falter at times. Words can do so much, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

And yet, she is still perfect and indestructible.  And yes, she’s even superwoman. Because for everything that she isn’t, she is still more. I wish that I had realized all of this sooner, before it was too late. That I hadn’t missed out on a couple years with her because of my pride. I’m not a mom, but I’ve been lucky enough to have two moms in this life. One of which brought me into this world, and the other whom I watched depart from here too soon.

Some of the greatest gifts, personality traits, and memories are because of my mothers. For that I will be eternally grateful. I’m blessed to have known my mothers beyond the “mom” that I know them as. To have learned their stories and absorbed their wisdom. The biggest takeaway I can offer in all of this is: Give your mom credit. Not just today but everyday. She’s done more for you in this life than you’ll ever know. Never take this time for granted that you have with her because you can’t get it back. Listen to what she teaches you. Care for her when she’s in need. And never take that love for granted, even if it isn’t how you had pictured it.

Happy Mother’s Day friends.

How Lucky Am I to Have Known Such Love?

“If I know what love is, it is because of you.”

                                -Herman Hesse

With the arrival of Mother’s Day a couple weekends ago, I would like to tell the story of a woman who has always inspired me.  She was a woman of immense courage and strength. She taught me a great deal about life through her actions and hard work during her time on this Earth. I would have posted this earlier but I didn’t realize just how hard this would be to write. (And, so you know, it is a little lengthier than my usual posts.) Though it’s been hard these past couple of months not having her here, I know that she is never really gone. I only have to recall a moment or memory of her to keep her near to my heart.

I did not grow up in a traditional household, as my parents divorced when I was young. They split not that long after my younger sister was born. I would say right around the time I was a little over 2 years old. Then, a few years down the road, my sister and I went to live with my dad and stepmom in Montana. It was a change and an adjustment but we settled into our new life.

I miss this amazing woman

I miss this amazing woman

My parents owned a bar in the teeny, tiny town we grew up in located in Eastern Montana. And I mean tiny. As in under 1,000 people in the whole town. But, it was my tiny town and I loved it. My stepmom worked every single shift at the bar and still made sure we had dinner at night. She would get up around 8 or 9 in the morning to clean the bar (after making sure we were sent off to school). Then, she would do chores around the house, prepare dinner for the evening, go to work, come home late when the bar closed and then do it all over again. She still made time for every concert, play and track meet that my sister and I were at. She was superwoman and after all these years I still have no idea how she did it all.

I will never forgot the summer of 2012 when I found out about her diagnosis. It was ovarian cancer, something that you often hear is pretty hard to beat. Hearing that somebody you love has cancer is an incredibly scary feeling. You want to do so much for them but feel so powerless at the same time. Nothing seems to make sense and everything you thought you knew looks completely different. Then, you reach deep down into a place inside you and somehow find a way to keep going. It becomes a part of your life and while you still go through the motions each day, it is always in the back of your mind. At least, this is how it was for me. I did a lot of praying and questioning. I was angry at the Universe, at God. “Why would something so terrible happen to somebody so amazing?”  That’s how we usually think when bad things happen. Maybe it sounds selfish, but it’s our nature to want to know the why and the how when something goes wrong.

Vegas in August 2014

Vegas in August 2014

Parents love their kids so deeply that no matter what they are facing, they will try to protect us. They don’t want us to know the harshness and cruelty of the world, at any age. No matter how she was feeling or how her day had gone, my stepmom was an incredibly strong woman. Even up until a few days before she passed away, whenever friends or family would call she would always tell them that she was doing great. Though I could tell just how hard this was on her body and just going out into the living room was a struggle for her, she didn’t care. Her strength is something I will always carry with me and whenever I feel overwhelmed or as if I can’t go on, I just remember all that she did and how hard she fought. I know I can take on anything.

She went through the surgeries, chemo and radiation but after almost 3 years her body couldn’t go on any longer. I don’t want to go into the details because that is not what I remember most about her. Cancer is scary and it sucks. I was lucky enough to spend the last 2 weeks of my stepmom’s life with her. It was hard to see her like that but I also knew that there was nobody else she would rather have taking care of her than her daughters. Even though I will never be able to repay her for everything she did for me through my life, I am glad I could have at least given her my time and love during her final moments.

She was the reason I started this journey on my blog, devoting a year to myself. I heard once, “It’s not that life is so short but that it’s so precious.”  Going through all of this with my family for the past 3 years has made me realize just how true those words are. I was inspired by her love and caring for people around her. For her willingness to raise us as her own children. For her support and love throughout the 20 years I had with her. This is why I am grateful and feel blessed every day. How lucky am I to have had somebody who loves me so much? Not everybody is able to experience that, which is why I believe in spreading love and kindness wherever you go.

"How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?" -A.A. Milne

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”
-A.A. Milne

Friends, embrace today and relish every moment. Take a mental picture of the flowers blooming outside your favorite coffee shop. Notice something new on your city block. Say hi to your neighbor. Feel the rain on your skin. Act like a kid again. And if you love somebody, tell them. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and take life for granted. I’m guilty of it too. But maybe, just take a few minutes to do one or two of those things. Start small and I promise it will become a routine and pretty soon you will find that joy bursting inside of you. Remind yourself of how lucky you are and cherish this incredibly precious life.

Dedicated to Lou. An amazing woman, mother, wife and friend. I feel your warmth and light surrounding me every day. I miss you and I love you. Keep shining.