Reflection

It’s 11pm on a Tuesday night in late November. I lie wide awake with my mind whirling , as has become my norm in the past few weeks. The only thing quieting my frazzled thoughts is the subtle snore coming from my eight year old snuggled next to me. Yes, I know I shouldn’t be letting him sleep in my bed, but as I look at his little face, so soft and peaceful…I know these moments are few and fleeting and that soon enough they’ll be a thing of the past. In this moment I feel enveloped with gratitude, that I get to be his Mom; their Mom. That the one thing I’m doing right, is loving them.

On a personal level, this hasn’t been the best year. Not the worst year by any means….but certainly not the best. And the older I get, the more I recognize that stagnancy is almost worse than turmoil, than affliction. Because what often stems from the latter two is perspective; whereas the other tends to lead to a place of mediocrity of mind and soul.

I’ve so much healing yet to do and growing and brainstorming, it’s often overwhelming. But as this year comes to a close, I try to make peace with all of the things that didn’t come to fruition; with all of the times I misjudged and made decisions that didn’t flow with the current of my life, that led me upstream then back where I started…..and I forgive myself. Because sometimes that is truly all you can do. Love yourself enough to forgive.

This year has, however, brought me much closer to my boys; my heartbeats. Even on days I’ve felt like a complete failure, I closed my eyes at night knowing those little humans felt loved and happy and content. And that is everything. For them I am grateful and I am blessed.

In the coming year, my wish is to be the best version of myself not only for me, but for the little souls I’m guiding through this crazy thing called life.

Letting Go 


I slowly placed the lid over the top of the candle on the nightstand. As I sat back on the bed with tears streaming down my face, I watched as the flame flickered out. It felt oddly symbolic. Just five days before my 31st birthday, I was once again reminded of the weight of being an adult. Having to make decisions that hurt so bad in the moment, but the mature you knowing deep down it was right; right for future you, right for your children. So I took a deep breath and I let go. Physically, I let the tears go. Mentally and emotionally I freed myself of what was, what could’ve been, and I remembered this: there is never a better time to start anew than the present. So I closed my eyes and awaited the sunrise. The first sunrise of the rest of my life.

“Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow” ~ Caroline Moss

Transition

“It’s the oldest story in the world. One day, you’re 17 and you’re planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life.” – Anonymous

I’m not sure those words could reflect more accurately how I’ve been feeling as I approach my 30th birthday. Time has evaded me. Almost three decades on this intricate planet of ours and I still have an overwhelming amount of self-awareness to achieve. I would file the past three years in particular under “lessons learned” and “harsh realities”. Life changing for both the good and the bad. In that time, I have managed to experience some of the most exhilarating moments of my life; hit rock bottom (or what I certainly hope is my rock bottom), both emotionally and financially; seen some of the ugliest sides of life, as well as people (myself included); rebuilt some relationships and abandoned others completely; and struggled with a mountain of guilt, regret, and loss (not all in that order).

There have been times I didn’t think I could possibly feel more alone…imprisoned in my own whirling thoughts. Times I didn’t think I could feel more alive and enlightened. And times I truly didn’t know how or what to feel, so I sort of just stopped feeling. But that, I’ve come to understand and embrace, is life. The only thing predictable about it is it’s unwavering ability to be unpredictable.

This period of transition I find myself on the brink of is pivotal to my evolution. No, the earth won’t stop turning the day I turn 30; nor will life suddenly change in some sort of drastic or abrupt way. However, the opportunity presents itself to exhale the negative from the past decade of my life (a decade full of self doubt and self scrutiny, more rash decisions than I’d like to recall, and more hard losses than I was able to cope with) and to instead breathe in a new decade. One of potential, one where I focus on self love, personal growth, and strengthening my ability to be more patient and understanding of others, and most importantly, MYSELF.

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The Appointment 

Walking into that quiet waiting room, I suddenly have the urge to turn around and run. I tell myself I don’t belong here. But I made the appointment and the doctor has set aside this hour to see me. Being the person I am, with an irrational fear of being considered a flake, I take a seat. Staring down at the daunting amount of personal questions I have to put a check mark next to, that “White Coat Syndrome” I developed after my father’s hospital stint sets in full force.

A door opens slowly and an older woman with a kind smile calls me back. We make our introductions, I find a seat, and then she asks the dreaded question: why am I here? This is what I’d been practicing for, all the things I thought I wanted to talk about, all of the emotions I’d been experiencing, culminating into this moment. And suddenly I’m speechless, holding back a flood of tears. This is not what I wanted. I wanted to come in strong and put everything out onto the table in a calculated manner and get some direct answer sprinkled with some constructive criticism, maybe a suggested book to read, and then be on my way.

Once I’ve gathered myself, I began with what I considered to be the most catastrophic, emotionally debilitating event thus far; the death of my father. How abrupt and traumatic the events leading up to his death were; how I felt there was no closure, no way of knowing if he heard what I was saying to him or how I felt about him; dealing with the aftermath of his passing; grieving alongside my child who was old enough to understand the gravity of the situation and close enough to my father to feel a significant void. We talk about grief, what a complex process it is, one that can’t be rushed. I tell her I feel that was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, the event that led to an emotional and mental landslide and a handful of rash decisions.

Naturally, the conversation gravitated toward the next big event, the one I did have control over; the divorce. The guilt pours in. I tell her how difficult it was to have so many people that were once family, turn against me, not knowing both sides of the story that was my marriage. How tough of a pill it was to swallow to be the bad guy, to be cut off completely by people I was invested in for over a decade of my young life. I explain the 180 degree turn my life had taken since then, the overwhelmingly lonely moments of solitude I was faced with when I wasn’t out surrounding myself with strangers in an effort to avoid reality. I tell her why I ran. That relationship wasn’t me. As many times as we’ve heard it said before, I didn’t know who I was. This quote explains it better than I can: “And then she realized she had devoted a whole book to someone who treated her like a footnote. So she put down the pen and stop writing.” ~ Mandy Hale. I stopped writing because I had stopped caring years before. I was slowly worn down with the responsibility, with feeling unappreciated, unexcited, the sting still there deep down from hateful words I had absorbed as a young woman, as well as the embarrassment that came from hiding repeated physical abuse.

In that hour, we covered many of the contributing factors to my current state of anxiety and what some would consider self-destruction. We talked about the unhealthy relationship I was in at the time, the history of dysfunction in the family, my rigorous religious upbringing alongside my immediate family dynamic, and my fears for my children’s future in a split family. We set up another appointment and parted ways.

I realized after that meeting that what we all want: a black-and-white answer, a quick fix, doesn’t usually exist. There is no magical pill that can force us to let go of regret, to teach  us how to redirect our thoughts or how to talk to ourselves in a healthy manner, or to be patient in our relationships with others. That part is completely up to us and determines our commitment to cultivating a life worth living. I was reminded of the value in being heard, and sorting through what’s been accumulating in our minds with the intent of understanding it ourselves and being understood. And just as there is no magical pill or magical word to cure the past and what’s hindering us in the present, there also exists no perfect set of circumstances, no ideal environment in which to be raised. We have all seen imperfection at its finest and endured things that have set us back. We though, are solely responsible for our own happiness and we should never feel guilty or apologetic for taking whatever measures necessary to accomplish this.

And that, my friends, was the start of my journey back to loving life.

“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.” ~ Andrea Dykstra

“I’ve changed. Irrevocably. Permanently. My soul is richer and my heart is fuller in brokenness than it ever was without. I’ve learned true despair, and it’s made me learn to appreciate true joy.” ~ Annonymous

Note to My Dad

Last night I picked up your guitar for the first time in years. The acoustic one you used to play us. I dug it out of the back closet, dusted it off, and strummed the strings slowly. Maybe I thought if I did I could hear your singing voice more vividly in my head. I’m scared. Three years and I feel like I’m losing grasp of some of my memories of you. Yesterday I actually sat through the entire song I had picked out for your funeral without crying. Why does that make me feel a tinge of guilt? Time heals….healing is good right?

You’d be so proud of me; that I know with certainty. My boys, your Grandson’s, are growing up to be such sweet, respectable individuals. They would make you smile and laugh every day. I have a great career I know you’d love to hear about. You and Mom raised a strong, independent woman. And the man that has blessed my life, boy would you love him. He’s musically gifted like you and works well with his hands.

Life is good now, even though I wish I could show you.

When you were in the hospital bed, I held your hand and I sang to you. I think you heard me, because I saw a tear roll down your cheek. The song we sang growing up:

 

I remember daddy’s hands folded silently in prayer
And reachin’ out to hold me, when I had a nightmare
You could read quite a story in the callous’ and lines
Years of work and worry had left their mark behind

 

I remember daddy’s hands how they held my mama tight
And patted my back for something done right
There are things that I’d forgotten that I loved about the man
But I’ll always remember the love in daddy’s hands

 

Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands

 

I remember daddy’s hands workin’ ’til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over, I’d live my life again
And never take for granted the love in daddy’s hands

 

Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands

 

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I have plenty more to tell you. Until next time, Dad.

 

 

Grief

There are moments in life when something affects us so deeply, we almost forget how to breathe. The lump in our throat is too massive to swallow and the sinking in our heart drowns our ability to think past that very moment. That is how I felt on that Saturday afternoon, standing in a stale room of a ghostly hospital that reminded me more of a prison. There was no color there, nor warmth or hope of any kind. Walking through those hallways, I could almost see the tears and hear the cries of people who had suffered loss there in times past. The smell still haunts me to this day. In that room, I was surrounded by family and close friends. We all awaited the doctors prognosis, news we’d all been dreading to hear for the past 4 1/2 grueling weeks. We were told there was no hope for my father’s recovery. He would have to be moved to a long-term care facility, where he would not be able to speak or eat. Rather, he’d be held captive in his own body, being kept alive by a machine. Little did I know a month before that day that I would be in this moment, preparing my mind and heart to say goodbye far too soon.

It was 11:30 on a Monday night. I was sleeping at the time I got the call. The last peaceful sleep I would have for a while. The sound of the phone woke me, but not in time to answer. As I sat half asleep listening to the voicemail, I felt nervous and confused. My cousin, who lived across the street from my father at the time, was telling me there had been an accident at my fathers house, but everything was OK. I got dressed as quickly as possible and drove straight to the hospital, calling both of my sisters on the way. The wait in the ER felt like forever, and never have I been so happy to see my sister and hug her. At this point, we knew very little about my father’s condition, only that there had been a fire at the house and because of his pre-existing lung problems, he was taken to the hospital.

When I was finally allowed to see my father, the gravity of the situation hit me like a brick. The man I could call anytime I was sad or scared and find comfort in; the man whose arms I used to hang on as a little girl, thinking of how strong he was….was laying there surrounded by a web of tubes. Motionless and virtually helpless, he was at the mercy of his body. A body that we learned in the coming weeks was too tired to fight.

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The next five weeks can only be described as an emotional roller coaster. My sisters and I were faced with many tough decisions from day one. We asked a lot of questions and tried hard to make sure my father was as comfortable as someone could be who couldn’t eat, drink, move, or communicate. I researched every moment that I could, so I could ask the right questions and understand the process that was about to unfold. Unfortunately, no amount of questions or crossing of fingers could change the reality of the situation. Without getting too technical or detailed, weaning someone with compromised lungs from a ventilator is no easy feat. Every time his breathing assistance was decreased  to try and retrain his lungs to function on their own, his body would panic. His heart rate and blood pressure would skyrocket. In an effort to avoid a massive heart attack, his breathing assistance would again have to be increased. The process would then start over the next day. It seemed every time there was a spark of hope, it was extinguished by a flood of disappointment.

A pivotal moment in this journey was when our family decided that we needed to somehow explain the situation to my father and give him the choice (indicated by the nod or shake of his head) to continue fighting or not. Mind you, he had for the most part been in a medically induced coma for two weeks. When the medicine would wear off and he became somewhat aware of his state and surroundings, his anxiety would become debilitating. One day, he was very slowly weaned off of the medicine. My sisters and I made the decision to have a nurse try to understand his wishes. We believed that had one of us presented the information to him, the situation would be unbearably emotional for him and us both. Surely he would see the pleading in our eyes, wanting him to fight, and this would sway him from giving an honest answer.

The family sat for sometime in the waiting room, holding our breath. Trying to prepare ourselves emotionally for whatever the answer was. In that moment that the nurse entered the room and told us my father had chosen to continue fighting, the first joyful tears fell. The battle had not been won, nor was it any less daunting than it was prior to his decision. But someone wanting to live, despite the odds being stacked against them, is a beautiful thing.

However, after two surgeries and a transfer to another facility, the situation was bleak. There was no improvement. Watching someone you love die is an image you never forget. It is even more difficult when you know that in that person’s mind they want to live, but they are being betrayed by their own body.

Too early in our lives do we realize the inevitability of death. The “ideal” situation, if you can call it that, would be for us or our loved ones to pass peacefully in sleep at an old age. Rarely does life hand us those cards. Upon receiving the news from the doctor, my sisters and I had to make the toughest decision anyone could ever make on someone’s behalf. We knew in our hearts, without a doubt, it was what my father would have desired, given the quality of life he was being offered from that point on. My father would be removed from life-support the following Tuesday morning.

I have always felt that most of life’s occurrences are due to circumstance, even coincidence at times, rather than predestination or outside forces. But on a Monday night, around the same time I received that first haunting call five weeks to the day, my phone rang once again. My father passed away on his own that night. His heart stopped 12 hours before we were to remove him from life-support. I would like to think that subconsciously my father let go in order to spare us the wonder and the pain associated with his passing in that way. For this, I am truly grateful. The relief almost surpassed the devastation at that moment.

“Grief only exists where love lived first” ~ Franchesca Cox.

The grief was overwhelming because the love between us was undeniable. I will never forget how it felt to hold my father’s hand for the final time. To lay my head on his chest that had lost all of its warmth, knowing at the very least, he was at peace. It was up to me now, to pick up the pieces and find my own peace.

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in” ~ Haruki Murakami