This Is Why.

 

_DSC4050-2It’s been 17 years today. Seventeen very long years. Sometimes they feel haunted. And you would think. One would think. I mean, really. What else is there to say or think or write? Have the memories not faded? You were so young. Are there not…new thoughts to be thought? New memories to be made? How is there sadness all these years later. Is…something wrong with you? Will you ever be over this? How come you’re not?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

All of the above.

But this is what I do know: When you lose someone, it’s possible to spend the rest of your life- no matter how good or bad that life is- wondering what it would be like. What it could’ve been like. If they were still here.

And the dangerous part of this is, I know, that every single idea you construct is purely imagination. You don’t know. You can’t know. But somehow you imagine things would somehow be so much different. And better. And easier. Probably, this is not true. But perhaps it is. I want to think that it is. But I’ll never know.

I miss the future I was supposed to have with you.

And it’s such a beautiful indulgence to imagine the way life may have turned out if you were still here. And somehow, in some way, there is still an ache inside me for the life I never got to have with you. It won’t go away. Some days, there is no place I can go to escape from the longing.

Somehow, I still want it.

I think about who I would be. Better. Happier. Easier. Lighter. Not so fucking complicated.

Maybe.

I think about who our kids would be. They would not carry The Empty Space. The heartache of living a life–an entire life– without their dad. I would not also be carrying it for them.

Maybe.

The Big Life Events pass by, the road inevitably paved by loss and a heavier weight than seems fair. But mainly, it’s the dailyness of you I miss for them. For me.

Logically, my brain understands. It may not have been easier. Or better. Or beautiful. Maybe it would’ve been worse? But I’ll never know. And it’s all the not knowing. All the not knowing all these years that won’t let go. And when I’m not being careful, grief is an unrelenting taskmaster.

I still imagine. I’m still left only to imagine and miss what might have been. I don’t need to be reminded that perhaps I’m missing out on what could be. I understand that. I know that. I do.

Tomorrow, I’ll do better.

But for today, I still wonder. And I still miss you. And what might’ve been. 10580065_740205752781930_7690649221112900995_n

Post Script~ When I have big feelings, I write about them. And without fail, people message me to say thank you. And they message me to say, “me too.” And that’s why I write. I know this post is sad. But I don’t write for sympathy. I write about what feels true today. I write for you to read it and feel relief in knowing that if you’ve felt this way too, you’re not alone.

 

 

Even When it is So Dark I Cannot See, You Are There {Healing from Grief}

{This post was originally published at Creative and Free as part of a ten day series entitled, Scary Stories. “Some hope only grows in the dark.” Thank you to Christina Hubbard for opening up her space and sharing it with other women to bravely tell our scary stories.


The night Mark died was such an ordinary night, which has always been so strange to me. And sort of curious. How can the night you lose your childhood love, your best friend, your husband, the father of your children be so typical? How can the night he is killed in a one car accident be such an ordinary night? But it was.

December 28th, 1998. We were visiting my parents and by 9:00 that night, my kids were tucked in tight, fast asleep and dreaming. We had even said bedtime prayers including ‘God bless Daddy and keep him safe.’ I would later struggle with that 10 second prayer for years to come.

The details I remember in hindsight are sort of amazing to me. I think maybe our minds take certain snapshots during traumatic events so that eventually, it’s a story we can relive and retell whether we like it or not. My dad was in the next room watching Seinfeld- his nightly ritual- and I was at the kitchen table with my mom, painting my nails Magic Mauve.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t really Magic mauve. Had it been magic, the phone wouldn’t have rung a few minutes later bringing the news of Mark’s accident and death…

Click HERE to finish reading over at Creative and Free.

Life Requires Time and Space

Green Lake

I get choked up every time. Every. Single. Time. There is something about a morning walk or run through the tiny little park not far from my house. The sunrise reflecting off the water. The stillness of this tiny little corner of the world. The way the trees and branches hang out over the jagged little shoreline. And the dock. The lone, long dock looking like a pathway to somewhere else. Anywhere but here.

How many, many times I have sat on that dock wishing I were anywhere but here.

But not this morning.

This morning, I still got choked up. But this morning it was in gratitude. Gratefulness. I sat on that dock thankful that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in life. Not because everything is perfect. I have finally learned perfection is not the goal nor is it possible.

But everything is okay. 

Better than okay. But in the very least, okay.

And what I’m learning now is life requires time and space. Kind of like the old adage, ‘Time heals all wounds’, but different. I’m not sure I believe time heals all wounds. But what I do believe is time and space help things change shape. Time and space give life a chance to sort things out. Time and space allow things to breathe a little and work themselves out.

A thousand times I’ve walked through this same little park.

I walked through it as a pregnant teenager, not sure how I would ever manage a baby at such a young age. Then I watched that same baby grow up and play baseball on those  diamonds. And now he’s 23.

I walked through that park as a young widow. I cried my heart and soul out on that dock. I could’ve filled Green Lake with those tears. I had no idea what life would look like or how I would go on. But I did.

Time and space.

I walked through that park and sat on that dock worried about my girl. How she would navigate some of the challenges thrown her way. In the next few months she’ll go to prom, get her license, graduate from high school and head to college.

Time and space.

I sat on that dock after my sister experienced several absolutely devastating miscarriages, begging God to please fix this somehow and give her healthy babies. Now they’re 2 and 4.

Time and space.

I ran through that park and collapsed on that dock during the toughest battles of my marriage, grieving everything I thought my life would be and wasn’t.

Time and space.

I sat there for 5 minutes this morning. Just to say thank you. Just to remind myself of all the times I didn’t know how things would ever be okay. And now they are. I know they won’t stay okay forever. I know there will be a lifetime of running through that park and sitting on that dock, wondering how things will turn out. But now I will take a deep breath. I will remind myself that time and space help life change shape.

And somehow, even if it takes a year, or two, or ten, everything’s going to be okay.

8 Things I Learned When my Dog Died

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“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” -J. Billings

When you have a pet you love so much, every once in a while you’re reminded this gig isn’t gonna last forever. Someday, there will be an end and you’re going to have to deal with that end, however it comes. This was a barely acceptable thought to me. A huge suck. And it almost kept me from getting a dog in the first place. I didn’t want to have to say goodbye someday, and I didn’t want my kids to have to say goodbye either. But last week, we did say goodbye to our very sick 8 year-old Golden Retriever, Ranger. And this is what I learned. 

{It just feels noteworthy to add right here that all of our fish also died last week. Do not ask us to watch your pets. That’s all I’m saying. Apparently it’s not our thing.}

  1. I was not nearly sensitive enough to the people in my life who had previously lost pets.  I really didn’t understand the true level of sadness and grief. I was probably a little complacent about it. And I’m totally sorry. Because it was a really hard thing to go through and I wish I had been a more sensitive friend.
  2. The first thing people will ask is if you’re going to get another dog. It just seems soon to ask this. Funny enough (not funny HAHA, funny like please stop talking), people also used to ask me about getting another husband after I lost my first one. And we all know how that turned out. So stop it. Listen, folks: Dog, husband, hamster, whatever– The point is not about a REPLACEMENT.  The point is about RANGER. Right now, I don’t want another dog. I want Ranger. (And I don’t want another husband either. So stop asking.)
  3. I didn’t take enough pictures. I wish I had taken ten times more. Puppy pictures. Pool pictures. Snow pictures. Kid pictures. The ones I did take are so precious to me now. But there’s not nearly enough of them.
  4. My kids are hard-time rockstars. People always say that kids are resilient and in this house, it could not be more true. I don’t think I was giving them enough credit. I was incredibly worried about how they would handle losing the dog and saying goodbye. And although it was tremendously sad and painful, they were very brave. They did it. WATCHING them do it was a different story. But they did it.
  5. I have the best friends–and mom– in the world. My people helped me while Ranger was sick. They helped me in his final days. They helped me make the hardest decision ever. They sat with my kids. They hugged us and cried with us. They sent cards. They brought flowers. They brought food. They brought gifts. They taught me how to love someone who loses a pet.
  6. I am the Health Care Proxy for my parents and Holy Moses I will need to grow a serious Lady Pair before that day ever arrives when I need to make “decisions”. (Even though they’re both going to live forever.) And Dad, although you’ve repeatedly instructed me when the time comes to “Yank it like you’re pulling a mower!”, I’m just telling you, it will most likely not be quite so fast and furious. My mom, on the other hand, has asked that I give her a few extra days. You know. Just to be sure. I do not have enough I-Can’t-Evens- in all the world for this one. 
  7. Losing a pet really IS like losing a loved one. I used to hate it when people would say losing a pet was like losing a person. Because no. But now I get it. Their point was that the grief is real and true and legitimate. Ranger has left a hole in our hearts, in our home, and in our lives that is deep and wide. And irreplaceable. And I see now just how much my life and schedule and heart revolved around his.
  8. Pets are going to be in heaven. I just know it. Because there’s no way this was the end. So just like any other day, Ranger, please keep waiting for me to come home to you.

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Fighting for Gratitude

gratitude

Gratitude has not come easy to me today. You have no idea how much I would love to have woken up this morning completely and totally happy and grateful and smiling. But. I didn’t. I woke up to a quiet, empty house. Sort of sad. Sort of lonely. Peaceful. Totally peaceful. But sort of just… not feeling festive and holiday-ish. I made my coffee, puttered around the kitchen. Fed the dog. Watched a little Scandal and DID give thanks that I don’t have Olivia Pope’s problems. Damn. Those are some big, big problems. All the while trying not to feel what I still feel so often: Broken.

And so I cried. And cried. And cried some more. I let myself feel the ugly, crappy, familiarity of it all. I talked to a few people who really love me so much– and I hated to be the downer in the conversation– because that’s not a role I enjoy. Ever. But they each reminded me of this: I am totally loved. I am totally supported. There is so much right even though sometimes it feels like there is still so much wrong. And that we are all broken in some way or another.

The tide comes in. The tide goes out.  And on holidays especially, it can feel like the tide always comes in. Good news though: It will go out again.

 


 

So if this is you at all today– if you, like me, are struggling with grief of any kind, it’s okay. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.  Allow yourself the chance to feel it and process it and find what’s true in it and what’s not. And then, use whatever self-care techniques work for you– and out of self-love, decide to bounce back. Because it IS a holiday, and despite not everything being exactly the way you’d like, there is still a lot of goodness. Tons. Tons and tons of goodness. So get up. Get dressed. Work out. Turn on happier music. Set a timer for 3 minutes and write down a rampage of everything you have to be grateful for. Pray. Meditate. Read something good.  Watch Scandal. Call or text the people you love and tell them so. It helps and it works and I’m doing it.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m thankful for you.

 

Just a Little Farther…

images-21When Mark and I first got married, he was in the Army and we were stationed on Fort Riley, Kansas. Mark was in great shape and totally fit from daily PT and all of the other physical rigors that accompany military life. I, however, was not. But I had run track in high school and wanted to start with running as a means to get back in shape. Mark wanted to run with me and I immediately disliked this idea. I knew running would be hard, and as a competitive person, I was not ready to suck in front of him. Sucking by myself would be easier to take. But he insisted it would be more fun to do it together. Begrudgingly, I agreed, and just as I had imagined, not long into our first run, I was ready to hit the wall.

{That competitive spirit is how I ended up with a tattoo. Mark thought I wasn’t tough enough to get one. Oh? Really? Is that so? Watch me. Um. So yeah. I don’t recommend that as a consistent way to make life decisions. But at 24, it felt totally legit}

So there we were, running along and Mark chatting away, acting as if it were no big deal (JERK!) while I am out of breath and ready to stop and walk. I’m sure I was ticked off and possibly being a poor sport. I was sucking in front of him! UGH! But just as I was starting to say I couldn’t go any farther, he looked over at my struggling self and said, “See that stop sign up ahead? You can make it to there.” I’m positive I rolled my eyes and inwardly whined that I was sure I couldn’t…But, indeed, I did make it to the stop sign. After all, it was only 100 yards away. Okay. Fine.

But Mark had a method now. As we neared the stop sign and I was mentally preparing to  collapse and take a break, he chimed in again. “See that fire hydrant up ahead? You can go just a little farther and make it to there.” This guy! What the heck! See? This is why I wanted to run by myself! Maybe it was my competitive nature, pride, or just aggravation, but I kept going. I DID make it to the fire hydrant. And then some. And as you might imagine, Mark continued to coach me this way through the rest of the run. And lo and behold, I made it to the end.

Only a few short years after that day, I am sitting in the dark. Staring at the clock. I have lost Mark. He is gone forever and not coming back. I am physically aching to be where he is. The grief is dark and thick and threatens to consume me. I am fully convinced I cannot go any further. And it is then that I faintly remember his coaching, whispering to me now in the night. I hear myself say out loud to the empty room, “It is 11:31. I can make it to 11:32. It is 11:32. I can make it to 11:33…”

I don’t know how long I sat there counting minutes, but I made it through that night and went on to use that coaching many, many nights after that. In fact, 20 years later, I still use it. And I have taught my kids to use it, too. Because you know what? It works. The truth is, you can pretty much always make it through another minute. And then another one. And another one. And the minutes turn into hours, and then into days and weeks and months. And before you know it, you are absolutely doing that which you swore you could not do.


I don’t know what it is you’re facing today that feels too hard. Maybe it’s learning to run, or maybe it’s grief or maybe it’s a hard marriage or parenting or a job you hate– or maybe– maybe it’s just life. Because life is freakin’ hard. Even when it’s good, it’s hard. But I’m pretty sure you can get through today. Take a deep breath and go just a little farther. You can do this.

{And Mark. I hope you are smiling.

And proud.

And…we will keep going…just a little farther… until we see you again someday}

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This is Why We Tell Our Stories

images-18Not long ago I received a call from a good friend in total distress. A young woman he knows had lost her husband suddenly and tragically. He didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. He was shaken and looking for direction. Knowing I had walked this road before, he called me first. With tears in my eyes, my heart was already silently breaking for what I knew lay ahead for this girl. I gave him some advice and then choked out the words I sort of dreaded to say: “When are the calling hours? I’ll go see her.”


 

Flashback to December 31, 1998: I have just been gifted with the American Flag from the United States Army on behalf of a grateful nation for my husband’s military service. With my little boy by my side, I am walking down the aisle of the church. I have just sat through my husband’s funeral service. I am numb, but not so numb that I don’t feel slightly annoyed and frustrated when someone pulls me to the side and says there’s someone I should meet. Seriously? Who could I possibly need to meet right now? Whoever it is, surely there is a better time than this. But then I see her. A child standing on either side of her, half-smiles cloaking their mild embarrassment and it’s as if I already know.

This woman. This stranger with whom I was prepared to be annoyed with, warmly grasps my hands in hers and tells me how sorry she is for my loss. And that she understands. That she knows this pain. A few years back, she lost her husband too. And honestly, after that, I don’t remember another word she said. But it doesn’t matter. Because in that very brief meeting that could not have been more than two minutes long, this is what my brain processed: “She survived this. She lived through this. Her kids are standing next to her. They are here. They are alive. They seem okay. One of them is even smiling. They survived. They are here. I am not alone. I may live through this. My children may be okay someday. We might recover. We might make it.”

To this day, I don’t know who that woman was. I never saw her again. I don’t know if I said thank you or just nodded my head or cried or what. But I know this– in the middle of my absolute hurricane of shock, grief and despair, a total stranger came to see me for two tiny minutes and do something extraordinary: Plant a seed. Give me strength.  Show me that I was not pioneering this road; That there were those who had gone before me and survived. It was barely perceptible that day, but it was there: Hope. Possibility. A future. I would look back on that meeting for years to come. When the way seemed too dark and too hard to navigate, I would think of her and remind myself, “People survive this.”


 

And so I hung up the phone with my friend and made plans to attend the wake, if only for a few minutes. Because this girl needed to see me. She needed to know what I already knew. There are those who have gone before us to pave the way and report back about giants in the land and roadblocks in the way. About the cracks where the light will shine through and the spaces where it is so dark you cannot see. But that there is a way through. That there is hope. And this is why we tell our stories.

What is it in your life? What part of your journey does another weary and wandering traveler need to hear? Have you run a marathon? Lost the last ten pounds? Finished your college education? Started your own business? Found freedom from an addiction? Learned to live with a chronic illness? Every single one of us has something we have made it through— and the proof is that we’re still here.

There’s healing in the telling and there’s hope in the listening. Tell your story. Because someone needs to hear it.