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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day 4 – Monday Musings: my bundle of joy, and the end of an era…

1) So I undertook an…undertaking…no. That can’t be right. I embarked on a journey. Still wrong.

Stupid fancy words. Whatever. I planted a garden.

Traditionally, I can’t even keep a house plant alive. The only reason I’m allowed to have a cat is because he cries when he’s out of food so I remember not to starve him. I didn’t have crazy high hopes, especially since we were using seeds instead of seedlings. However, I’m pleased to announce:

A thing

I am the proud mother to a dozen tiny plants, with more popping up each day. No fruit, just yet, but in a couple of months I’ll be begging friends to take some of my tomatoes. Don’t worry, this won’t be the last you hear of the garden. In the coming weeks, I’m sure I’ll refer to them ad nauseam.  Kate Middleton, eat your heart out.

2) After almost two months, I’ve come to the end of my time in therapy. I’m exceedingly grateful for my therapist and the work we’ve done. I’ve learned so much. Most notably:

  1. Feel Every Emotion – When grief or heartbreak or sadness comes, there are so many emotions. I wish I could say that the stages of grief hit exactly once each, in order, and for a short duration. Unfortunately, that’s just not the way it is. Avoiding emotions may delay them, but they just come back later, usually at the least convenient time. Dealing with each feeling as it hits can be painful in the short-term, but there is an incredible amount of freedom on the other side of the wave.
  2. You can’t make everyone happy – you are not a jar of Nutella. Seriously.

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The EveryGirl’s Guide to Therapy

My concerns over starting therapy ran the full gamut. From my anxiety about meeting new people to my (totally legit) concern that my therapist would tell me something I didn’t want to hear, I went to my first session with trepidation in my heart. In a manner that should no longer surprise me, but really, really does, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

In the event that you are considering wading into the water of counselling, I’d like to debunk some misconceptions and give you a fighting chance to be less spastic than I was.

couch_360Expectation: I’ll lie down on a couch while a therapist sits uncomfortably close in a nearby chair.

Reality: I had a chair, she had a chair, personal boundaries were maintained.

Expectation: 45 minutes, 1 time per week, and I’m done.

Reality: Homework. Whether it’s making a list of personal goals or changing my behavior in incremented steps, there is work to be done once I leave the office.

Expectation: “How does that make you feel?” “How does that make you feel?” “How does that make you feel?” (*low growl*)

Reality: “Okay, talk more about ______.” “What goes through your mind when you _____?” “How does _______ impact your life/relationships/work/family?” “How do you usually deal with ______?”

ExpectationShe’s just going to use psychological jargon and make me feel bad about the past.

Reality: Having a therapist is like hiring a guide when scaling Mt. Everest. If you had to do it on your own, you’d never make it. You just don’t know the way. The guide, however, knows the way and is just as invested in helping you reach the summit as you are. They show you the path, but you still have to make the climb.

Expectation: It’ll takes years of therapy to start seeing changes in my life.

Reality: I felt a little better after the first session. Nothing earth-shattering, but a little better. Maybe just relief at knowing I could get better.

Expectation: I’ll cry. A lot. 

Reality: I cried. A lot.

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.

Monday Musings: of reluctant obedience, a serious question, and a broken heart…

1) I’m stubborn. This is not news.

PromptingI also crave order and systems. In that spirit, I like to plan out my time, even if the plan then goes adorably awry. A couple of days per week, I have a gap in the middle of my day that I devote to computer work: this blog, homework, bills, and things of the like. It’s a period of time with a defined ending point, as I have students at 3 and I literally have nothing else that I can be doing.  So far, it’s been pretty effective.

I’ve been feeling compelled to write out my testimony. A year ago, our pastor challenged everyone to write it out and email it to him, but I didn’t do it. I’m just a rebel like that. I had all but forgotten about the task until the past couple of weeks, when I have been on the receiving end of the not so gentle prodding of the Spirit to complete my assignment. The other day, we came to an impasse; I resisted, He pushed. As I set up with my computer to get some blogging done, I couldn’t get it to connect to the internet.

Rude.

A whisper in the back of my mind told me that this would give me plenty of time to write out my testimony.

Grrrrr. Fine.

1,312 words later, the internet connection came back in time to send off my tome to my pastor.

I guess we know who’s sovereign here.

2) Which brings me to a serious question. It’s been suggested to me that I should publish my testimony here, but I pause. Besides its inherently personal nature, it’s also really, really long. In context, this post is 514 words, roughly 40% of the length. I hesitate, but if you’d be interested in reading my story, let me know and I may pluck up my courage.

3) It’s taken me 13 days to steel myself for this announcement. After a little more than 3 months together, I’ve been dumped.

Take a second, I know I needed one.

Learn SomethingYou can be sure that I’ll have more to say on the topic as soon as my head stops spinning. At this point, I’m nursing a broken heart and trying to just get through this season of my life. I’m doing much better than I was 13 days ago, but I’m far from over it. I’ve made a habit of being honest with you, my sweet readers, and this is no different. I am hurting. Grief is grief and loss is loss and I’m facing the second major heartache in my life in under 6 months. And it sucks.

I’m reminded of a song by Ginny Owens that I sang for church this past fall:

“The pathway is broken and the signs are unclear
and I don’t know the reason why you brought me here.
But just because you love me, the way that you do
I’m gonna walk through the valley if you want me too.”

Friends keep telling me that I’m strong enough to make it through this.

I’m not, but I know someone who is.