Grief is.

Grief is smiling when you remember a loving memory.

Grief is looking at your sleeping children and being filled with fear and love.

Grief is bawling on the bathroom floor because the feeling in your chest is just too heavy.

Grief is grateful and angry.

Grief is just sitting because your thoughts are weighing you down.

Grief is the sad tickle that keeps you from falling asleep at night.

Grief is waking up your partner but not being able to explain why you’re sad.

Grief is placing reminders of their life around the house so you can see them everyday.

Grief is taking a different road just to drive by a special place.

Grief is laughter as you recount a funny memory.

Grief is ugly crying in your car on the way to work and then going back home to put on mascara.

Grief is wanting to be happy and at the same time wanting to wallow in sadness.

Grief is texting your siblings in the middle of the night because you know they know how you feel.

Grief is sitting in the garage before coming inside because oftentimes, taking a moment is all you can do.

Grief is a lens through which I see everything.

Grief is constant.

Grief is happy-sad.

Grief is.

 

Sitting in Permanence

This week I have felt a deep, sad anger – an “it is not fair” state of mind. I’ve been lingering in the permanence of loss.

My mom will never be able to hear about my work week again.

I will never go to her house again.

She will never see another school music program again.

Never again

Permanence is where grief can cause us the most hurt. Where we perseverate on the idea of never having again – of the loss that happened and the reminders of the loss that continue to haunt us.

And this week, that is just where I am.

I saw her old neighbor and it made me sad.

I drove by her house and it made me angry.

I saw James second grade music concert, that she will never see.

That is where I am this week and I think that is ok. I won’t get stuck here. I will eventually move back into the space of gratefulness and breathing.

But it is also ok to sit in your feeling and experience it for a moment. My mom has been in my dreams, in my thoughts, in that tight space in my chest where I try not to cry. The universe is telling me to listen to this. Spend time with it and feel the sad anger. The “it’s not fair”. The never again.

Because that is grief. And wherever you are is ok.

Sad Night

“Mom?” whispers the little voice in bed next to me who is trying to fall asleep. “I miss Grandma Debby,” he says as he begins to cry in my arms.

I hug him ever so tight as we both cry. I attempt to ease the pain by telling him how much she loved him. I reminisce about how fun she was – a simply wonderful grandma. He cried and nodded. I asked if he wanted to hug while we fell asleep. He nodded again. He dried his eyes with a tissue and snuggled in close. It only took two songs into his bedtime music and he was asleep.

But the hard moment comes now when I am left thinking about my mom. It’s a painful happiness to think about how wonderful she was. On one side it is so joyous to remember her and feel her humor and love. On the other side it brings back a flood of memories. Of hospital rooms. Of late night texts. Of the loss.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to feel the happiness without also feeling the pain.

And I think about my little guy. Does he think about her often? Does he worry about me? How does his little mind comprehend all the events that have come to pass? How does his heart feel when he’s sad like this?

And now he’s getting sweaty against my chest and arms. I rearrange and set him next to me. I grab his little hand and just hold it and look at him. I wonder how many times my mom did that to me.

She really was wonderful. It may always be painful to remember my mom, but worth it every time.

Engage in the Moment

I think about my blog throughout the week, looking for moments of meaning, humor, grief, love, and connection. I had found my moment to write about and sat down at 5:30 on a Friday. It was calm and quiet. I was ready to unpack my thoughts and dig deep.

“MA-AAAWWW-MMM!”

[enter James]

“I’m bored! Will you play basketball with me? Puh-leeeez?”

[pull heartstrings with big 8-year-old sweet puppy dog eyes]

“Hey mom”

[enter Miles]

“Can we make dinner together?”

[pull more heartstrings with the fact that my teenager wants to hang out with me]

“You bet guys. Give me some time to work on this and I’ll come get you.”

“Ok.”

[Miles goes back downstairs]

“But I’m bored!!”

“Why don’t you get started and I’ll be down in just a sec.”

[James goes back downstairs]

I stare at the screen I was going to fill with moments and connection.

What the hell am I doing?! Isn’t the whole point to appreciate what you have in the moment? I closed the screen and went downstairs to make moments with my boys.

[commence losing basketball and eating delicious food]

Hours later, I sat down to write. The moment I was originally going to write about will still be there for a future post, but this one took the spotlight. This moment with my boys is what life is all about.

There will be a day when my body will say goodbye to this world… And when that day comes, the most important things my boys remember about me won’t be my writing or my thought process.

They will remember me playing with them.

They will remember me cooking with them.

They will remember me loving them and connecting with them, over and over again.

So, take a moment to look around the room…

Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Breathe in the moment. See the moment you are in. Appreciate what you have exactly as it is. Find one person to connect with – with whom you can give and receive love.

Now go engage in the moment.

Cultivate Love (AKA Valentine’s Day)

I gave my son a job for the day – to be as kind to as many people as he could. We talked about different things he could do:

  • Tell a friend how much he enjoys being their friend.
  • Hold the door for someone.
  • Help the teacher with something.
  • Thank the lunch helpers.
  • Tell a girl at his table several nice things today (this led into a conversation about how annoying she is and how she threw peas at him yesterday… which led into a conversation about how much she must need love)

Love.

An unconditional caring for another person.

An ability to be vulnerable to another person, to open your heart and your spirit to them without fear of judgement.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.” -Brene Brown

How did my mom cultivate love?

  • She always hand delivered valentine’s to my family.
  • She showed kindness and compassion to kids she worked with who needed it most.
  • She called friends and ask how they were doing.
  • She shared rides, food, or shelter.
  • She hugged with all her being.

“Love is not something we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them – We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” – Brene Brown

Loving ourselves as much as we love others was not something my mom was very good at. She struggled with depression, low self-esteem, and a life that was not how she envisioned it would be. It is also something I struggle with. Isn’t this true for most of us? Why is it so difficult for us to treat ourselves the way we treat others?

So how can I cultivate love for myself?

  • Breathe and be gentle with my expectations.
  • Remind myself that it is ok for my courage to be slow and soft.
  • Drink coffee alone or with company.
  • Sit in quiet appreciation of what I have in the moment and what I have been given in my life – insane pets, wonderful boys, loving partner, crazy amazing siblings, and kind-beyond-measure parents.

My chest feels heavy with sad-happiness today as I reflect on these things and how much they mean to me. I miss my mom dearly. And I am painfully grateful for the love I have and have been given in my life.

Not only today, but every day… How can we cultivate love for others and ourselves?

Best Friends

I work with families that have children birth to three years old, and we talk a lot about attachment and the importance of that first relationship with our parents. They are our teachers. Our guides. Our attachment figures. They feed us and care for us day after day, long night after long night. They pass down to us their values and beliefs. Their relationship with us creates our inner speech about who we are and how we relate to the world around us.

Kind of important, eh?

And as we grow, so does our relationship with our parents.

*cue adolescence and teenage years*

We push them away. We rebel. We question everything. We make life pretty damn difficult for awhile. (Says the one who made lots of trouble… I just wasn’t always caught.)

And then we become adults, and parents ourselves. We navigate the boundaries of having our own families yet being a part of our childhood family. We muddle through raising our own children and figuring out what we want to pass down and what we want to change for the better. And we build our own identity as a person.

It was in this stage that I really became best friends with my mom. She was always so conscientious (sometimes too much) of being a new grandparent and not wanting to overstep the boundaries into being a parent. She was so kind to always include my family in everything and always wanting to be included in our things (sometimes too much). And she was so silly and would engage so naturally in play with my children and still me (sometimes too much).

mom

In these moments it sometimes felt like too much. Looking back now, I just wish I could have more.

Then I pause with my thoughts. And breathe into my heart space.

I do have more.

I have her strong work ethic. I have her frizzy hair. I have her musical rhythm. I have her passion for working with children. I have her silliness for sure. And I have her caring heart.

Its not the same, but I am grateful. Thanks mom. For everything, really. You are my best friend.

Phone Calls

One of the things I miss most about my mom is her random texting.

Hi Suzy – are you home & can I come by for a quick stop?

Hey Suzy! Just checking on you! Hope the evening went well & that all the boys & pets are driving you crazy.

Do you have a DVD of Independence Day that I could borrow? I don’t seem to have mine anymore…

Kind, funny, weird – but always genuine. I really miss that. I miss being checked on. I miss being called. I miss that she doesn’t know all the inner workings of my life. I miss her followup questions. I miss her validation. I miss her voice.

And I miss texting her back.

I’ll be pulling weeds in the garden beds today. Wanna help?

Hope you’re having a great day and not losing any children!!

There are hot dogs here.

If you appreciate someone, tell them.

If you think of someone, send them a text and let them know.

They may be small, seemingly insignificant texts, but they mean all the world to me now.

“Grief is just love with no place to go”

For the first time since she died, I thought of my mom, without hesitation, as if she were still here. I was shoveling snow off the front sidewalk and said to myself, this will be helpful if mom stops by tonight.

(insert heartbreaking realization)

For six months now, I have known – so potently – that she was not physically here to stop by, or to call, or text, or hug. But today was the first time my brain forgot to stop the thought before it came. I stood there for a second, looking at the snow, thinking of all the times she would just stop by. I felt sad and lonely that I can no longer greet her face-to-face as a random visitor at my door. I can no longer call her up. I can no longer answer (or ignore) her phone calls. No matter how much I want or wish, I can no longer.

It has been six months since my mom died, but it is like I am in a weird time loop where life feels raw as if it just happened yesterday…

then it feels “normal”…

then it feels surreal…

then it feels raw again…

then fun…

then sad and surreal…

then “normal”…

and so on…

It is a balance of trying to embrace love and grief while at the same time attending to life happening around me. As if I exist in two alternate dimensions, trying to move forward with grace and intention and simultaneously wanting to run backwards in time and pretend this never happened.

When we were cleaning out my mom’s house, I took some towels home. They smelled like her. I would put my face in it and just breathe in.

I can’t smell her in them anymore.

The hospital bills linger.

Her Facebook page needs memorialized.

Her headstone isn’t ready yet.

What is worse than the initial shock of loss, is that it is followed by millions of grief moments that rip open the center of your healing, sometimes poke around a little, and then sew it back up and move on. Finding balance after these continued grief moments can be challenging.

I have talked a lot about gratefulness and embracing the sadness as I heal through grief…

But some days the sadness feels heavy.

Some days the sadness makes it worse.

Some days the grief is just tears. Or silence. Or exhaustion.

And it is also love. It is joy. That is why it hurts so much.

 

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” – Jamie Anderson

Gratefulness

New Year’s came and went and I somewhat avoided all conversations about New Year’s resolutions. I did not want to talk about the loss of 2017 and moving forward – without – in 2018. To contemplate the past and how to move forward requires that I find some stillness within myself… which opens up awareness of my sadness.

But with sadness comes gratefulness.

Can gratefulness come without sadness? Can we be grateful for our sadness? Grateful for feeling the pain and tears and angst? Grateful for lack of sleep and difficult decisions? Grateful for the moments that make us appreciate it all?

I offer part of a passage by Thich Nhat Hanh for you to consider:

One autumn day, I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small beautiful leaf, shaped like a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a number of questions. I found out the leaf had been a mother to the tree. Usually we think that the tree is the mother and the leaves are just children, but as I looked at the leaf I saw that the leaf is also a mother to the tree. The sap that the roots take up is only water and minerals, not sufficient to nourish the tree. So the tree distributes that sap to the leaves, and the leaves transform the rough sap into elaborated sap and, with the help of the sun and gas, send it back to the tree for nourishment. Therefore, the leaves are also the mother to the tree.

….

I asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.'”

That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from that leaf.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

As parents, our children often teach us more about ourselves than we ever expected. We think we are teaching and growing them, but in reality it is a mutual, reciprocal process.

My mother is me and I am my mother. Her actions, values, tenderness, and weird habits are in me as mine were in her.

As I move into 2018 I simply want to breathe with gratitude.

breathing

My mom exists in my breath. In the wind. In the leaves. In the love of those around me.

I will embrace my stillness. Be grateful for my sorrow. Breathe in. And out. As I am connected to my mom. To you. To all.

There is a Soul

The first Christmas without my mom came and went.

There was very little talk about her.

Mostly glances.

As if the leaking floodgates would swing wide open if we spoke of her.

For my mom, Christmas was a time for celebrating family and God.

I grew up in a religious family. My grandfather was a minister, my dad became a minister, and my mom was a devout Christian. We went to church on Sundays – sometimes twice – and Wednesday evenings too. I was in the youth group, bell choir, and I got baptized twice. Yes. Twice. I didn’t remember my first one and I asked to do it again a few years later so I could remember it. I think I wrote a big sappy speech and everything.

As I entered my teenage years, my parents attended different churches with different fundamental beliefs; my church divided due to my pastor’s affair; and one of my best friends committed suicide. This was my breaking point for organized religion. I simply couldn’t come to terms with the things happening around me.

Today, if someone asked me if I was a Christian, the answer would be no.

But I do believe there is a soul.

What it is, what it means, and what happens to it, I cannot even begin to speculate. I do not believe we were created at once by an all powerful being. But I do believe in energy and connection – a spiritual connection of all things living and non living. Perhaps this spiritual energy is simply atoms and waves connecting everything that was once stardust.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan

My sense of spirituality is strong, yet my beliefs are raw and undefined. My mom, however, had an unwavering belief in God. She went to multiple bible studies and yearned to learn all she could about being a Christian. She lived every day according to the Bible to the best of her ability.


On July 14th, 2017, my mom had been in the hospital for 7 days. She had continued to show no signs of recovery and we were beginning to make very difficult decisions… It was time for my uncle, brother, sister, and I to meet with the palliative care nurse.

Through gasping sobs, I shared that I had been thinking about this looming conversation we were about to have and there were three things I knew about my mom that would help us make decisions:

  1. She hated people doing things for her and she would not want machines to live for her.
  2. She was afraid of dying alone at home and perhaps we have an opportunity here to surround her with all the people that love her.
  3. She has spent her whole life preparing for and looking forward to meeting God.

Our decisions were just that:

  1. Do not resuscitate.
  2. Invite everyone that was a part of her life to come spend time with her.
  3. Welcome her faith and religion into her room as she prepared to meet her God.

The upcoming days unfolded just as my mom would have liked – with an outpouring of love and prayer. There was rarely a time when there was NOT a visitor in her room. Many friends prayed for her, grasping her hand. Some spoke in tongues. Some sang. Many read bible verses. Some sat in silence.

Her friends told her to stay – this was not her time and not God’s plan.

Others told her that they are praying for her and they trust God to help her decide whether to stay or go.

And some would ask to pray with my siblings and I. Although this made us uncomfortable, this was not for us. This was for my mom.

We made these last days full of God’s love – just as she would have wanted it.

It was not my belief. But maybe it is just a different version of my stardust and energy. Just different perspectives for the same phenomenon that we struggle to understand – the soul.


Minutes after my mom passed, I looked at her and did not recognize her pale skin and sullen face. “That’s not her,” I said.

Perhaps that is proof there is a soul.


I visit my mom often at Oak Hill Cemetery. It is a nice release of my leaky floodgates. I talk to her as though she is there. But I know she is everywhere now. I feel her soul. She is waves of energy. She is here. There. Always.

She is stardust.