Here we go again

Hope, Love, Uncategorized

I used to love the summers. I looked forward to them because the days were longer, kids were out of school, and everyone just seemed genuinely happier. If you want to know more of what I’m talking about read the lyrics to Will Smith’s, Summertime. Anyway, from as far back as I can remember the fourth of July had such happy memories. It always felt like a family reunion. There was food, family, fun, fireworks, and the occasional wild fire or maybe a trip to the ER. I never knew what was going to happen, I just knew it was always going to be a good time. That was, until seven years ago when my husband passed away unexpectedly on the Fourth of July.

July 4, 2013, became a surreal representation of the meaning of the word, “independence”. I became something I never thought I would be at 40, a widow. My husband, Bob, had a sudden, massive heart attack and died. The doctor said he didn’t suffer so I tried to take comfort in that but truth be told, there’s little comfort in anything anyone says when you lose someone you love. You have to hold on to those things (or at least I did) to get you through the questions and the unknowns that crop up in retrospect.  What if I had been there? Could I have saved his life? Did he realize what was going on? Did he really not suffer? Why? Why did this happen to him, to me, to our children, to us? I realized that dwelling on these things would drive me crazy. So instead of dwelling on them, I kept moving forward.

My employer graciously allowed me to take as much time off as I needed to try to get through this trauma. For a while, family and friends stayed with us day and night. They made sure our basic survival needs were met; we ate, showered, and slept. They did everything they could to make our lives easier. Eventually, they had to leave and I had to face this new life and the weight of it all. No one could have prepared me for this—every day, every event, and every celebration without the person who had been by my side for almost everything else over the last 17 years.

The first year was extremely hard. I existed, I cried, and I prayed. I cried a lot at first, mostly in the shower because I didn’t want the kids to see how sad I was. I knew that I had to be there for them as best I could, until bedtime.  Bedtime was the time that I both anticipated and dreaded.  Anticipation of being alone and letting go; dread because I was left alone to let go. I felt free to cry and to try to process the loss while dealing with the events of the day. Maybe it would have been better that the kids (and everyone else) see me cry more. I guess I felt like I needed the kids to know that one of their parents was still around. I also felt like I needed to be strong and crying in front of everyone didn’t feel like an exhibition of strength. In hindsight, I realize the tremendous strength found in vulnerability and admitting the need for help getting through the tough times.

I dreamt of Bob a lot that first year. The first dreams were hard because he was so real and I got to hug and kiss, or talk to him. Maybe it was hard because I got to hear him and see him again. And then I would wake up and he wasn’t there. All that was there was the fleeting and untrustworthy memory of the dream. I had to see him and lose him all over again. As hard as that was, it’s even harder now not seeing him at all, not even in my dreams. I miss him.

As a family, we went through the motions, especially that first year. We had to figure out the new “normal”. Eventually, the kids and I somehow figured out how to get through the day to day.  We “celebrated” birthdays and kept as many traditions as we could. We knew that we had to decorate for Halloween because it was Bob’s favorite holiday. We had to cook a turkey that no one would really eat that year. We got an oversized, overpriced, Griswold family Christmas tree and decorated it the same way we would have if Bob had been alive. Well, he was more of a perfectionist and Christmas light guru, but we did our best. We had good times during that year but nothing really felt like a celebration. And then we were back around to the anniversary of the day he died. A year had passed and we were still here and he was still gone. 

I didn’t realize how heavily I relied on Bob until he wasn’t there. I didn’t realize how much I counted on his love and support to get me through the days. I didn’t realize how much I loved him until he was gone—and for anyone who knows me, they know that’s saying a lot—this man was the greatest love of my life. We were made to bring out the best in each other.

As I think about the past seven years, I can’t help but think about all of the things that he’s “missed”.  Seeing the kids graduate from high school, the birth of two more grandchildren, the first day of college, the kids’ first tattoos. Recently, I started thinking about seven years into the future. If he were still alive, he would possibly be walking his youngest daughter down the aisle, or seeing his sons get married, or holding more grandchildren, and I would be listening to him complain about the cost of all of these things—you know, the good stuff.

Seven years after his death, I can tell you there are days that it’s still hard. I still break down and cry when I hear Head Over Feet by Alanis Morrisette because it was our wedding song. There are days when I don’t know how to help whichever child might need it at the moment and I wish he were here to help me figure it out. There are plenty of lonely nights where the other side of the bed has never felt more cold or empty. But there are also the reminders that he’s still here. When I look at the kids and see his features or mannerisms. When I hear any of them tell a long, drawn-out story about something that no one in the world would have any reason to know, I think of Bob. I can hear his sense of humor come through when they tell certain jokes. When I think of these things, I look forward to the next seven years. I’m no longer sad because of all of the things that he missed; I’m anticipating all of the things that he would hate for us to miss.

Footprints

Faith, Hope

My grandma loved the Footprints poem. One year for Christmas, I gave her a pair of handmade (by me) ceramic footprints (in the dirt, in lieu of sand) attached to construction paper which contained the poem written for her in my semi-atrocious handwriting. It seemed like she got so many Footprints knick-knacks that year but mine was unforgettable. Not because it was great, mind you; it was truly a hot mess. I have great artistic vision yet very little artistic ability. But thankfully, my grandma was a woman full of grace and love and she acted like it was the best rendition she received that year. Oh, and, I think I was in high school at this time so it wasn’t even like I was a little kid who didn’t know it was terrible. But she loved it anyway. She was just that much of a saint.

I was thinking about that poem because this is one of those days I feel like I would look back on and question why Jesus left me to walk through this alone. If you’ve read the poem, you know the answer is that He’s carrying me but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I’m on my own this time. It feels like yet another unanswered prayer. And then there’s the sort of dread and anticipation of the answer to said prayer. What does, “working all things together for my good,” really mean? Our definitions of “good” feel vastly different some days. But I know my view is myopic where God’s is not. Still there are days like today…

The reality for me is that things are still working in my favor. Even through events that feel so daunting and overwhelming, there’s always been kindness extended, or ideas and options presented that give me hope and peace. These are things I’ve taken for granted in the past, things that as I stop to think, offer proof I’ve not been forsaken.

There’s a song (of course) by Casting Crowns called Just Be Held. I absolutely love the message in it though I wish I’d remembered it earlier when I was in my funk. The chorus kind of says it all.

So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held

These words give me hope, and on days like this, that’s exactly what I need.

Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.

Christopher Reeve

Falling Through Love

Hope, Love

Do you remember team-building trust falls? You know where you deliberately fall backwards and hope that your team members are going to catch you. If they don’t, you’re likely going to get hurt and probably suffer some embarrassment. I feel like falling in love, or maybe staying in love, is like a continuous succession of trust falls. With all abandon, you fall backwards, and trust that the person standing behind you still loves you enough to keep you from hitting the ground. And if you’re lucky, you both are invested in making sure you’re always there waiting to catch the other.

There is no greater feeling than falling in love, and no greater pain than when you lose it.

~Unknown

Bob and I met and within a few months, we were together. Like together, together, until he died. Things moved very quickly for us; within a short period of time, he took his first trust fall and confessed his love for me. Initially, I tried to run from this because he was only supposed to be a fun distraction for me. Honestly, I was still reeling from the effects of my previous trust fall and I didn’t have the capacity or desire to love someone else. Eventually, due to his persistence and relentless pursuit, Bob won me over and I fell in love with him. We moved in together and began co-parenting his children, I got pregnant, we got married, and we lived mostly happily ever after. We actually did it—“till death do us part”—we “won” the game of love. Making it all the way to the end was both beautiful and heart-wrenching. I loved him until the day he died—it was like my badge of honor. I held on to that for so long because it felt like it was all I had left of him.

After a couple of years though, I was tired of feeling sad and lonely and decided to start dating again. My original plan was to try online dating because, if nothing else, it would be a quick and easy (or so I thought) distraction from the loneliness. I knew I would never again have what I had but I didn’t want to be alone any longer. And maybe, if only for one night, I would feel something again, even if it was just anticipation. What I quickly learned is that like Boston, I wanted more than a feeling. What I wanted at the time was what I had before without the pain of the loss. I wanted a relationship based on love that would grow stronger over time. And two years after losing Bob, I thought I’d found just that.

I met this guy at work a few months prior to Bob passing away so I’d known him for a couple of years before we started dating. He turned out to be a great guy who was a lot of fun to be around. We had such good times when we hung out and everything seemed to be going well. The more I hung out with him, the more I opened up and allowed myself to feel again. And I liked it. I remembered how good it was to feel that way. It was so freeing to be able to release all of the pent up love that was wrapped up in the loss. It was awesome to love and feel loved in that way again. I ran full speed toward that feeling not looking at where I was going just ready to get there–back to what I had for so long and lost so recently. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect but it would be real again.

Sometimes the person you fall for isn’t ready to catch you.

~Unknown

I was so lost in the feeling that I forgot what it took to get there the first time around. I guess I thought I could skip the 17 years of building a foundation. I felt like I’d already built a solid one and I should be able to reuse it. Plus, I already knew the formula. You meet, profess your love, get married, and live mostly happily ever after. I already had the roadmap for a successful relationship and happiness. So instead of approaching this a little more cautiously, I ran forward as fast as I could and I took what I thought was a graceful leap into love. I fell right through. Hard. And it hurt.

If falling in love is like a trust fall, then falling through love is like I imagine skydiving would be with similar end results when something goes awry. I felt like I jumped and started free falling for a bit. At first, it was scary but quite exhilarating. I wasn’t even sure if the parachute would deploy but I’d already jumped so there was no turning back. Everything was moving quickly which, for me, was right on track. In time, I pulled the cord and floated along blissfully taking in the magnificence of it all. I saw the beautiful sandy beach beckoning the promise of happily ever after. It looked like what I had before was within my reach again.

But then it was like a freak storm came through with a sudden gust of wind that blew me off course. I panicked and I started to fall faster and more uncontrollably until I crash landed in the trees, hitting every branch on the way down until my parachute got caught on one. I hung there in this place for a while, broken and hurting, until a torrential downpour snapped the branch holding me and I dropped to the ground in shock—thankful to have made it through but wondering wtf? And then the pain of loss set in again.

For awhile, it was really hard to deal with the loss of another love—especially while still hopeful it would turn around. I mean, after all, he was still alive and I just knew it could work. And it could have but it wasn’t meant to. Once I accepted that, I was able to start moving forward. By the grace of God and the help of my peeps, I made it through.

So here I am a few years later, thankful for the experience. Looking back, I see that I met a good guy and fell through love in a fast and furious way. It was a crazy, beautiful, and wild ride that I still can’t believe at times. Nowadays, I’m a little wiser and a lot more cautious—actually downright scared some days if I’m being completely honest. But I am more hopeful than ever because I learned that while I’m still afraid of loss, I’m not afraid to love.


Don’t try to stop your heart from falling in love, because in the end it may be worth it.

Fad Ibra

Mama Said

Faith, Hope, Love

Today is one of those days I feel like my Mama talked about. I wish it were like the song. Alas, it was one of those days she said to keep doing the right thing even if you think the wrong thing is happening to you. I wish it were one of the other life lessons she felt the need to impart, but no dice. It was one of those, Matthew 5:44, “…Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you…” type of days. Ok, so that’s a gross exaggeration of my days but it feels that way in the moment. Mama said there’ll be days like this.

Our Mama was an amazing person. She exemplified God’s love in such a tangible way. To know Mama was to love her and to hug her was to feel pure love. You can literally ask anyone who knew her and they’ll say the same (or I’ll fight them). Seriously, she was always so kind and frequently went out of her way to help people. She had a strong work ethic and it seemed like there was nothing she couldn’t do. She sewed, cooked, baked, worked, and played; she did it all!

She was also a beautiful person who welcomed all of our friends in as her children. She was Mama to anyone who needed one. I can’t fully express how truly good, loving, and kind she was. Of course, I like to think that my sister and I take after her in a lot of these respects. It’s what we saw growing up and I think we both strive to be the best mothers we can because of her. Every day of Mama’s life, she loved freely and selflessly.

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow.”

Maya Angelou

So knowing this about her, you would ask (and rightfully so), why would she have days like this? Why would anyone intentionally mistreat or hurt her, ever? I say intentionally to absolve my current self from my past self’s wrongdoings of Mama. On the real, it was mind-boggling some of the things that she went through. She endured thankless jobs and put up with a lot of BS to make sure that we were cared for as best she could. And she always tried to do the right thing—even on the tough days when she felt wronged or treated unfairly.

Mama and her girls

I remember when we were kids, she would come home exhausted from the day she had at work. We would be so excited to see her and would sometimes lie in wait by the door ready to pounce as soon as she came in. There were some days though, when she just needed 10 minutes to decompress from whatever nightmare of a day she had. Getting yelled at by customers and working hard to turn things around, or supporting coworkers through challenges. And she endured it all, for us.

As we aged and became closer, she shared more information about her days, and I finally understood her need for the 10 minutes. I also saw her response to feeling like she was being unfairly treated. She would smile (to their faces) and continue to do the absolute best that she could. If the situation didn’t improve, she would find another company and would start the cycle all over again.

Bringing it back around, today is one of those 10-minute days for me. Admittedly, it feels like so many other days over the past few months. I feel like I’m in a season of my life where I keep trying to do the right thing despite the “wrong” thing happening to me. For a while, I’ll be honest, I started doing the wrong thing in response to the wrong thing happening. There were days I was angry or frustrated and I responded in the same manner I was approached. I also started expecting the worst, so maybe it wasn’t always the “wrong” thing happening, but I didn’t know the difference. Or maybe, at the time, I didn’t care to know because I was so wrapped up in the victim mentality. While I know my behavior is expected, it potentially hurts others, it doesn’t make me happy, and it won’t make my days any better.

So, I’ll keep reflecting and self-correcting because I want to be like Mama when I grow up. But in the meantime, I guess there’ll be days like this, my mama said.

Overwhelmed

Hope

Lately, I’ve been watching a show called, Lie To Me. It’s about a science doctor crime solver who basically is a human lie detector. He can tell whether a person is lying by watching their micro expressions and gestures. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Well, I was watching an episode about suicide and it makes me really think of that place you have to be in life to feel so done with it all.

Thankfully, I’ve never reached that point, but I have at times felt overwhelmed by either my circumstances, sadness, or loneliness. I believe the difference for me has been prayer, hope and love. Even at my lowest point, I’ve always had people who loved me, who were there, standing in the gap, so to speak, between me and my happiness. Standing there when I just couldn’t reach it on my own. I could see it still. I remembered what it felt like to genuinely laugh and look forward to the next day. I remembered and longed for the good times. But then I became comfortable in my sadness. It was like a friend. The more I’d isolate myself, the closer we became. Pretty soon my sadness was my very best friend in the world. We did everything together. I think I fell in love with my sadness at times because I knew I could count on it to be there no matter what. It was there to remind me of all that once was, everything that I thought made me happy was bundled into this easy to travel with companion who never left my side. What more could you ask for, right?

Photo by Robyn Drew

I’ve reached this point several times in my life. I’ve got Emo poetry, and emails, to prove it. I even went to therapy until I felt like I knew more about my therapist than they about me, but I digress. I wanted to fix it. I knew it didn’t have to be this way. But I had to first realize that I couldn’t get that exact same feeling back – no matter what. That to look forward to a new day, I had to stop looking back for happiness and fulfillment. I realized I had to start thinking about the happiness that could be versus the happiness that was.

Sometimes, you see that realization in others’ lives. There is someone who’s been where you are and can help you find your way out or sit with you until you’re ready to move out on your own. I loved my isolation chamber; it became my safe haven–a fortress of sorts. My family and friends banged at the door for weeks, even months in some cases. Finally, when I wouldn’t come out, those loving bastards broke in and held their ground. If I wasn’t going to leave, neither were they. I’m so thankful for that.

Family is a life jacket in the stormy sea of life.

J.K. Rowling

The times that I think about as being my happiest have always involved other people. This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I think I am a lot of fun to be around. I think I’m hilarious, more than others do, I’m sure. I love being me, most of the time, but still my happiest times always involved others.

My mom was amazing and we come from a crazy family, full of love, so there were always good times to be had growing up. I remember slumber parties at my best friends’ houses as a child when it was all about junk food and staying up late. I remember slumber parties at my best friends’ houses as an adult when it was all about alcohol/drugs, junk food, and passing out because you stayed up too late. I remember meeting my husband and falling in love. I remember becoming a parent, and the fun times we had with the kids over the years. Good times can be had alone but my best times have been with others.

I honestly believe that we are all supposed to be here for each other. Likely, there’s someone banging down your door or maybe someone whose door you should be banging down right now. You don’t have to study facial micro expressions to recognize sadness, loneliness, or fear in someone’s eyes. We all recognize places we’ve been. The beautiful thing is that we don’t have to know how they got to that point and we can still walk them through how we got out.


Who Am I?

Hope

I was in the convenience store, just aimlessly browsing the aisles on New Year’s Eve. A gentleman walked up to me and said hello, so I smiled and returned his greeting. I went about my business but was cognizant that he was watching me—not in a threatening or ominous way. I kind of figured that he found me attractive but I wasn’t interested so I continued convenience store shopping. I ended up behind him in the checkout line but I stepped out to pick up an impulse buy and maybe also to create a little more distance between me and this guy.

I was in preemptive strike mode. The guy finally left so I wrapped up my convenience store shopping spree, checked out, and left the store. Well, wouldn’t you know it? The guy was sitting in his truck at the front of the store when I exited. He called out, and inwardly I cringed, but I knew how to handle it—acknowledge briefly but keep moving. The gentleman wished me a safe and happy new year. I wished him the same but never stopped moving. I wasn’t in a hurry, I just wasn’t interested. But what wasn’t I interested in? Even if I wasn’t trying to be picked up in a convenience store, which is admittedly an assumption on my part, I didn’t even give this man a second glance. The guy was nothing but nice to me. I returned his pleasantries with quick dismissal and no eye contact. As I reflect on this, I can’t help but think who do I think I am? A super model? A celebrity? Royalty, perhaps? And when did I become this person?

“Blue Steel”?

“Magnum”?

I don’t know when this transition happened. “Flirty and fun,” or some such BS, is what it said on my online dating profile. Maybe it was that experience that has me a little jaded when it comes to encounters with the male species. I feel like I have to go into translate mode. His in-person, “hi,” was the equivalent of texting, “wyd.” In my experience, “wyd,” is quickly followed by, “we should hang out.” And we all know what that’s code for. I guess I thought his greeting was quickly going to be followed by an invitation to go out. Oh the horrors! But truly, this has nothing to do with that.

I told myself it’s because I didn’t want to lead anyone on and if I wasn’t interested then why encourage him by talking to him. It made it easy to accept that I treated someone that way—so dismissively. This behavior at some point became acceptable to me. It manifests in different ways depending on the person, or environment. With people I know, the walls aren’t quite as high but they’re still there. It’s not easy to tear them down either. I’ve been building some of these walls since I was a kid. Like most people, I’m afraid to be vulnerable. However, this closed off behavior, while “normal”, if left unchecked could eventually affect my existing relationships.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

Nelson Mandela

But, also, because my mind works the way it does, I will say there is a chance I was right and he had less than honorable intentions. In which case, yay me! *she pats herself on the back*

Bringing it all back, I doubt that this impacted this guy’s life in any significant way. I don’t imagine he cried himself to sleep; he probably didn’t give it another thought once I walked away. Likely, I’m the only one still thinking about this brief encounter but I don’t mind. I’m glad I’m aware. I don’t want to miss another opportunity to be better – not just act like I am.

There’s hope for tomorrow, y’all!