The misery of merriment…

Christmas morning started like any other.

My 30-year-old brother allowed me to sleep until 9 am (some kind of record, I’m sure) before decreeing that it was present time. Presents opened, I made Christmas scones and we munched happily while the roast was prepped and went into the oven. Then comes the lull, that time between the flurry of activity in the morning and the mad dash to get Christmas dinner on the table. In a bit, I’ll need to pull my china out of storage and wash it. There will be potatoes to mash, crudités to cut up, and veggies to roast. I’ll get swept up in the rush and the beautiful adrenaline of the holidays will lift my spirits.

But right this moment, I’m sad.

Maybe because there is a great big personality missing. Maybe because the second year is so much harder than the first. Maybe because the weather is unseasonably warm and rainy. Maybe because a small part of my heart is on an island in the middle of the Pacific. Maybe because there seems to be no peace on earth. Whatever the reason, the ennui is real.

I hope this holiday finds you wrapped in warmth and love. If, instead (or additionally,) it finds you feeling a bit sad, my heart goes out to you. Remember, always, that God’s grace is sufficient. He will carry you through this difficult season and hold you up when you lack strength. He is greater than your pain and your sorrow.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

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One Year.

It’s been a year since my dad died. 365 days.

One year ago, on the night he died, I wrote down what I was feeling. I’ve been reluctant to publish these thoughts, but it seems right, it seems fitting to share them now, 365 days later. I hope you’ll indulge me.

I’m publishing this as written. I’ve made no edits, so please forgive any awkward syntax or repetition.


My dad died today.  More accurately, it’s 3:30 in the morning and my dad died yesterday, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me the semantics.

My dad died.  Even now as the words flow from my fingertips they don’t seem real.  This is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not to me.  If you know anything about me, you know that my dad and I had a tumultuous relationship; too much pride and stubbornness and not enough grace.  There is lots of blame to be doled out for the way that our relationship ended up, something I’m sure I’ll be working through in my mind for weeks and months and years to come.  I loved my dad, though.  I’ll never have those “daddy’s little girl” stories that some girls do, but I loved my dad.  In all that has happened in the last few hours, that fact has never been closer to my heart.  I loved him.  I loved him. I loved him.  I loved a man that was broken and damaged and hurting and suffering and fighting a battle he would eventually lose.  I loved him despite his weakness and his selfishness and despite his sometimes inability to express his feelings in a positive way.  I loved him for the man I knew he was, the man I knew he could be.  I loved him.

I know that in days and weeks to come, I am going to absolutely drown in pity.  I’m going to be inundated with well-meaning friends who bring love and help and food and the eternal question – how are you doing?

I’m not sure what I’m going to feel when the sun rises, or once I get some sleep.  But I can’t help but think that what I feel right now, this moment, is really, really important.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it isn’t.  But this is what I’m feeling.

I’m feeling numb.
I’m feeling angry.
I’m feeling incredulous.
I’m scared to go to sleep, worried that I’ll wake up tomorrow and this won’t be a dream.
I feel guilty, like I should have noticed something was wrong, done something different.
I feel the pain of loss.
I feel worried about the future.
I feel grateful that I’m not going through this on my own.
I feel for my mom, who never expected or deserved to be a widow at the age of 59.
I feel like I’m falling.
I feel overwhelmed.
I feel blessed to have the two most amazing neighbors in the world: one to take care of things, and one to take care of me.
I feel nervous about the calls I have to make tomorrow.
I feel tired, oh so tired.
I feel ashamed.


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Suckerpunch Memories | The Guerrilla Warfare of Grief

Here’s the thing about grief: if you could schedule it, it wouldn’t be so bad. Hour-long sessions of remorse and pain sprinkled throughout the work week would be tolerable if you knew that when the bell dinged, you’d be done and on to the next task. Grief would join the ranks of exercise and laundry; unpleasant but necessary parts of life.

But grief is kind of a jerk.

It sneaks up on you when you weren’t expecting it, when your guard isn’t up, when you are showing your soft underbelly. It is vicious and unrelenting; it takes no prisoners and pulls no punches.

Like when you’re standing in front of your church body, preparing to launch into a praise set with your team. You scan the crowd of faces in front of you when, out of the corner of your eye, you see a ghost.

A friend of mine recently had the same spine surgery that my dad did right before he died. The recovery requires the patient to wear a hard plastic collar to stabilize the head an neck until they heal. He wore that collar for the last month of his life. He was wearing it when he died. Here it was, the same collar, around the neck of a man who bares a striking resemblance to my father, smiling in the second row.

Grief, you sneaky son of a tater tot.

I wish I could say that I handled it well. I wish I had some kind of 5 step list to handing the sudden onslaught of pain that accompanies guerrilla style grief. Honestly, I cried like a baby. By the grace of God and the power of adrenaline, I made it through the set, only to collapse into the arms of a close friend as soon as I was clear of expectant faces.

I thought I had my pain under control. I guess not. Damn.

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A Little Less Lost | Nine Months

It took nine months for me to miss my dad.

There were flashes; I remember the first time I saw something funny happen and knew that he would be the only person as amused as I was. I actually picked up the phone and started to dial before remembering that there was no one on the other end of that call. Sitting at lunch with a friend, I told a funny story about my childhood and the pang of loss rippled through me like the lingering aftershocks of a notable seismic event.  But the moments were always short-lived and often poisoned by the anger and confusion that his death caused.

DaddyFinally, though, I miss my dad. I miss his laugh. I miss the funny faces he would make when you tried to take a picture of him, and the ridiculous pose he’d strike as he facetiously challenged an aggressor with the interogative, “You wanna fight?” I miss the smell of waking up on Saturday morning to waffles and gravy and the exasperation of finding that he’d used every dish in the kitchen. I miss the sound of his heartbeat as I laid my head on his chest while watching a movie. I’d convince my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime, though I think they knew that I’d fall asleep halfway through and bedtime would be preserved.

I miss baby-fives, the only thing that was truly ours. He had big, strong hands that dwarfed my own even as I entered adulthood. When I was a child, he would gather his fingers together, the small grouping just the right size to match my tiny fingers. It became our symbol, something sacred for just us.

I miss the way he smelled. He wore the same cologne for years (except for that horrible Old Spice phase, but we try to forget about that). Brut, in the green bottle. It doesn’t smell the same when it’s not mixed with his body chemistry, but I’ll recognize that scent for the rest of my life.

It’s good, this pain of missing him. There is a homesickness for an earlier, simpler time. A time before I understood just how strong I could be. A time before I bore the weight of my dad’s actions. The pain is similar to the exhaustion of a hard day’s work; it hurts, but it means that progress has been made. I’ve been living in a haze of numbness for months, unable to feel much of anything.

So I guess this is a start…

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Monday Musings: of therapy, becoming better, and a tribute…

1) So I’m seeing someone. Not like that. I’ve started seeing a therapist.

But Simone, you’ve handled everything so well!!

Counselling and SupportHonestly, no, I haven’t. I’ve pretended to handle it. I am an exceptionally skilled manipulator of the truth. I know all the right things to say and all the right things to do. I’m a student, you see. I’ve studied psychology and grief and I know what the stages are “supposed” to look like. So I put on a brave face and I do what has to be done to make everyone else feel better about what I’m going through. Looking inside has been too painful.

It has to stop. It’s time to focus on me, which is terrifying. It’s time, though. It’s time to stop worrying about how I seem and start focusing on how I am.

Yikes.

2) In the spirit of becoming a better person, I’ve embarked on a 30 day planking challenge and a new daily (or almost daily) workout routine.

Can I just tell you how much pain I’m in? Ohmygoodness, these legs, they’s a-burnin’.

My workout routine starts with 80 Jumping Jacks to get the heart racing, followed by 20 pushups and 40 sit ups. I haven’t been able to do a proper sit up since high school, so I’ve adapted. Here’s my move:

Lay on your back with arms and legs extended (think of making yourself as tall as possible). Lift arms and legs 6″ off the ground. Exhale and draw knees to chest, while crunching up with abs and raising shoulders to meet the knees, arms extending to touch the sides of your feet. Contract abs. Release and extend limbs back out, keeping them 6″ off the floor.

Then round out with 50 squats, 20 lunges (each leg) and a 60 second wall sit and the routine is under 15 minutes. I can’t walk correctly without my legs reminding me that I’m out of shape – details, details.

stock-footage-single-flower3) Speaking of things that are painful. In my last post (which was the most popular post in a good long while, oddly), I referenced a sweet woman I’ve known a long time who had entered hospice care. In what is being viewed as a bittersweet blessing, she went home to be with the Lord on Saturday night. Her family and friends are relieved that she is no longer in pain, but they are grieving this incredible loss.

Debbie was a loving mother, wife, sister, friend, and grandmother. She was a tiny woman, but her smile was radiant. Even through all of her treatment, she was always joyful and positive. She has left behind and incredible legacy of beauty and kindness and a wonderful family to carry these traits on into the world.

Hard is hard.

About a year ago, I was introduced to a TED talk given by Ash Beckham. While Beckham and I have almost comically different political leanings, her talk about finding the courage to have hard conversations really resonated with me. She reminded me that everyone has something that they are hiding, some secret pain.

…here’s the thing: Hard is not relative. Hard is hard. Who can tell me that explaining to someone you’ve just declared bankruptcy is harder than telling someone you just cheated on them? Who can tell me that his coming out story is harder than telling your five-year-old you’re getting a divorce? There is no harder, there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard. – Ash Beckham

A beautiful, amazing, sweet, kind woman I’ve known since I was a child has entered hospice care. She has been battling brain cancer for a couple years and she isn’t winning. She has three daughters, three sons-in-law, and four beautiful grandchildren who will have to grow up without her. Who can tell me that watching your mom slip away over two years is harder or less hard than losing your dad suddenly, without warning? Is is easier to know, to prepare, or to live in blissful ignorance until it’s too late?

tumblr_n4rjybD7qc1s7sbgzo1_500Is a break up less difficult than a death? Sticking to your diet easier than curbing your tongue? Battling addiction worse than recovering from surgery?

The point I’m trying to make, dear ones, is that life is full of mountains. The climb is difficult. The decent is slippery and dangerous. The valleys are dark and lonely. It’s more than enough to storm the blockade, let alone feel guilty for crying out because your trial doesn’t measure up.

Whether you are trying to lose 100 lbs to save your life, picking up the pieces after you’ve lost “the one”, or facing the disappointment of a failed business venture, you are under no obligation to justify your struggle.

Hard is hard.

We’ve only just begun…

Today would have been my parents’ 39th anniversary.

Mom and Dad WeddingOn an unseasonably warm day in February, 1976, she finally finished hemming her wedding dress before standing with him in front of their family and friends and declaring to love, honor, and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. They exchanged rings, yellow gold for him, antiqued white gold for her, and she forgot to retrieve her bouquet from her Matron of Honor, so my Aunt Marlene had to wrestle two huge sprays back down the aisle (they were enormous, no joke). As a little girl, I flipped through the pages of their wedding album, coveting their happiness.

When my dad died, I felt as if the ground under my feet gave way; nothing seemed real, nothing seemed permanent. I wondered if I’d ever really known my dad, or if he’d just been this stranger with whom I coexisted for a couple of decades.  There are so many questions I have for him, so many things I’ll never really understand.

Here’s something I do know: my parents’ marriage was real. My father was a hurting and broken man, but his love for my mom was absolute.

After his funeral, we took home a box of extra programs, papers, and cards from flower arrangements, along with random notions from the funeral home. At the bottom of the box was a small, black, draw-string bag that contained that same gold band he slipped on in 1976. It called out to me, a beacon of hope in a world that made no sense  — their love was real.

I wear that gold band on the middle finger of my left hand. Every time I see it, I’m reminded that in a world of things that seem unstable, there are absolute truths: the grace of God, the pain of stepping on a Lego, and the love of a young couple in a Methodist church in Fairmont, WV, 39 years ago.

Star Light, Star Bright…

I’m about to get super nerdy on you for a second, but then it’ll get poetic. Bear with me, I beg of you.

According to the most popular theory, solar systems form when a cloud of gas collapses on itself until enough heat and pressure builds up to spark nuclear fusion, which marks the birth of a star. This gas cloud starts out spinning very slightly, but as it contracts, it speeds up to maintain its angular momentum. The smaller it gets, the faster it spins (think an ice skater who pulls her arms in). In fact, it contracts so much that if it tried to hold on to all the momentum, it would eventually spin itself apart.

No man is an islandInstead, it transfers momentum to small globs of material, which eventually form planets.  Literally, the star cannot live without its companions.  Though they are minuscule in comparative size, these tiny bodies keep the star from coming apart at the seams.

It’s kind of beautiful, no?

I’ve found that the same is true of people. My INFJ personality means that I try to be my own, planet-less star, in favor of taking on the momentum of others. Refusing to let people get close to me results in the constant feeling that I’m spinning so fast I might spin apart at any moment. In recent months, with trauma and loss, I’ve finally given over to the inevitability that I am not, in fact, and island.  There is freedom in allowing others to share the burden. It builds new bonds and strengthens old ones, allows those around you to feel helpful and important, and relieves some of the stress of going at it alone.

On a recent weeknight, my friends Debbie and Ed had me over for dinner to fulfill a promise made months ago.  After my dad died, Debbie, a long time nurse, came to me with a proposition.  She knew that as I worked through my grief, there would come a day when I just needed to explode and she offered to be the bomb range when that time came. I found such freedom in discussing both the good and bad in a safe space.

Not everyone is worthy to be your companion, so discernment is key. Your star companions may even surprise you. The payoff for finding them, however, is worth the search.

Happy Tuesday!

Three Months.

So here we are.  It’s been 91 days since my dad died. 91 extraordinarily painful days.

But that isn’t the whole story.  In the last 91 days, I made a friend who is my inspiration to make the 120 mile round trip to class twice a week, especially when it’s raining.  I took on 5 new students, each of whom brings me joy in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.  I met A and the affection I feel for him makes me unconscionably happy.

And so I’ve struggled.  How can these be simultaneously the best and worst days of my life?

Then tonight I was sitting in choir practice next to my dad’s best friend.  Around us, talk had turned to the Christmas Eve church service and the role of the bell choir, of which I am a member. Mike (the friend) leaned over to me and this conversation happened:

Mike: Make sure you have your clappers.
Me: My copper clappers?
Mike: Where do you keep them?
Me: In the closet.
Mike: Are they clean?
Me: Cleaning woman Clara cleans my copper clappers.

Now, if you were/are a fan of Johnny Carson, you might get the reference. If not, please to enjoy:

I was born 20 years after this sketch aired, but I’ve watched it roughly 7,927,162 times.  My dad loved this clip. He loved that Carson couldn’t keep a straight face, but when Jack Webb almost breaks at the end, it was his undoing. He would chuckle until he’d erupt into an enormous belly laugh that left him shaking, tears rolling down his face and his mouth gaped wide, gasping for breath.

I got my sense of humor from my dad and I’m exceedingly grateful that I did.  He also gave me my musical talent, my attention span, and my tendency to be a bit of a dreamer. He was sensitive and emotional and creative, all traits he passed on to his little girl. I also look more like him than I ever realized.

My dad wasn’t a perfect man, but he wasn’t a villain either.  He’s gone now, but I carry parts of him with me.

I’ll tell you this though, next time I see him, I’ll clobber him.

I [couldn’t possibly] know exactly how you feel…

The facts are these:  I’m going through a season of grief.  This is not news. However, there are so many people who seem completely at a loss for what to say/do around me during this time, AND I’m in a unique position to be able to tell you what a person going through this might be feeling, so I thought I would develop a little semi-comprehensive list of the Do’s and Don’ts.  Sound fun? Delightful.

*Disclaimer* Everyone is different and experiences grief in a different way.  The following list is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease and should be taken at face value and exercised with caution.

In no particular order:
DO acknowledge the loss.  Especially in the first few days, it’s so hard to keep saying those words over and over. If you don’t say anything, is it ignorance or are you just trying to respect privacy? Effusiveness is not required (or appreciated, honestly), but a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss,” goes a long way.

DON’T be afraid to ask questions, but DON’T push.  If you’re interested in the details of my situation, I’m more than willing to tell you what happened, but I won’t be engaging in a post game play-by-play.  There are some people who don’t want to share at all, so tread lightly, and starting out with a blanket, “If you don’t want to talk about it, I completely understand,” is always nice.

DO offer to help, but be specific.  Few things are more daunting than a chorus of, “if you need anything, call me.” I’m sorry, but that Broken cardboard heart with staples isolated on white backgroundcall won’t come.  If you are serious about helping, offer something specific (Can I watch your kids while you make arrangements? Can I make calls for you? Can I clean your bathrooms?) Otherwise, you end up like my sainted friend, Carrie, who all but insisted that I give her something to do and wound up in my flowerbeds pulling weeds. An angel, that girl.

DON’T start any sentence with, “You should,” or “You need to,” or “You must be feeling.” You’re just trying to help, but leave it alone.

DO follow up. The first few days, or even weeks are a flurry of activity and it’s easy to hide in the logistics.  When the dust settles and everyone goes home and all that is left is a house that now seems entirely too big, the real pain starts.  That’s when your friendship is needed most. However…

DO call first.  You’re just checking in.  It’s very sweet and honestly so appreciated.  But entertaining is also taxing, so give a ring before you show up unexpectedly.  Otherwise you might stumble upon a truly world class meltdown, or a session of sobbing that makes middle school look like an exercise in puritanical stoicism.

DON’T expect comfort. This one’s harsh, and more than a little selfish.  You might be hurting too, but your hurting friend probably doesn’t have the strength to support you in your grief as well as bear the weight of their own.

DON’T be an Eeyore.  Put away your sad eyes and pitiful tone.  You cry, I cry, Jack.  Got it? Try to act as normal as possible, it really does help. Human beings are capable of amazing things and ought not be treated like porcelain dolls.  Along those same lines, DON’T keep asking how I am.  It’s a habit, or maybe a conditioned response, but honestly, how do you think I’m doing?  If you are really worried, ask someone who probably has insight on the matter.  They’ll be in a better place to field your questions.

DO be willing to listen, but DON’T judge.  You never know when a grieving person is going to want to talk, but if they do, just listen.  Recognize that one of the stages of grief is anger, though, and the words that come out of their mouth may not be all sunshine and roses.  Expect repetition and less than logical thought patterns.  Try to be patient and simply listen without trying to fix anything.

DO be okay with silence, too.  Sometimes people just need to know you’re there.

DON’T be surprised by a sudden change in priorities or new fixations.  In a life upended by turmoil, some things may seem incredibly important now that weren’t before and vice versa.  Unless it’s something dangerous (in which case, DO intervene immediately) just let it ride.  Everything will probably go back to normal in time.

Anyone have one to add or think I’m way off base?