Finding the Gold in the Dark

My family shows up. We are never alone.

It seems lately as we approach the holiday season and should be surrounding ourselves with all things “joyful” that instead, so many families I know, including my own, has been forced into one tragic event after another.

One of these awful tragedies was the death of one of my cousins a few weeks ago. The unexpected loss of this great young man leaves behind voids that I can only begin to imagine. I will say, however, that the intense grief, love, unwavering faith, and even some good ol’ fashioned laughter that I experienced during my brief visit with friends and family for the services left a remarkable impression on me. Seeing his teenage children weep for the loss of their father. Or the strength in his wife as she constantly kept watch over her two kids to make sure they were okay when the easier thing to have done was to simply not get out of bed. Hearing story after story of the lives my cousin touched and the hundreds of people he’s helped to better their lives. [That certainly made me realize how very little I actually do to make this world a better place. But that’s a different therapy session for a different day.] Seeing and being a part of such deep, emotional experiences left me spinning. Whether you’re 21, 41 or 91, these are pivotal moments in a person’s life. I do often wonder why it takes the death of someone to have some of these “Ah Ha” kind of realizations but I suppose no one ever said hind sight was anything less than a bitch.

But anyway after I got back home after the services, I spent the next week or so just asking myself “Why” over and over. And then later in the week, I came across a line in a book. It read:

“There is gold in every piece of your story.”

As simple as that line is, it stopped me in my tracks. Because my brain does not think that way. I focus only on the negative, and it ends up being a downward spiral of one bad thing after another until I’m only seeing bad things in every situation. And that’s not life. But seeing that line made me realize that I was asking myself the wrong question. Because at the end of the day, the “Why” will never be understood nor will it change the outcome. So instead, I started thinking about what I should be learning from this situation and what I would want my children to learn. I wanted – I needed – to see “the gold” in this part of my cousin’s story because from the outside all I saw was heartache. When I started thinking about the situation in a different light, I was amazed at all the “good” (and I use this word loosely in relation to anyone dying) things that I had seen and heard just in those two days.

While I could ramble on, for me I simply wanted to focus on what I believe to be THE most important message or the “gold” that I gained out of this situation. And that is simply: I AM [YOU ARE] NEVER ALONE. Life can be shitty. This year in particular seems to be exceptionally awful for so many. But damn, what I witnessed at this funeral, and even others this year, has just been phenomenal. Friends and family come out of the woodwork during these tragedies. And maybe you don’t see or even talk to them that often but just knowing that they are indeed there should provide some level of comfort. Because even when you think you’re at your lowest; when you think you’re all alone and no one can help you, all you have to do is look around because there will always be at least one, or 10 or even 100 people right there, wanting and waiting to help you.

For some reason I’ve always thought that it was best to deal with my problems by myself, inside my own head. (Brilliant, right?! Insert eye-rolling emoji.) But that simply isn’t how life should be. I suppose I can say I’ve always known that but I think this funeral actually helped me see that. Don’t stay inside your head. It can get dangerous there. Try to find the gold among even the darkest parts to our stories. Because it is there; it just isn’t always easy to see. God or Buddha or the Stars or Someone gave us each other for a reason. Remember that. And repeat after me: You Are Not Alone.

The Warrior I Strive to Be

My grandma and I on my 40th birthday

When my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer something like a million years ago, the twenty-something me was a tad different than the current 40-year-old me. And while obviously no one likes death or losing someone, witnessing the fast demise of my grandpa was just not something I was able to mentally handle. So instead I chose to write him a brief, but heart-felt letter so I knew for certain that he knew just how special he was to me. My aunt read it to him sometime before he died, and while I don’t believe he was communicating too much in the end, she assured me that he had indeed heard my words and understood.

Now this time last year my grandmother took a turn for the worse and none of us believed she would make it to see Christmas. We all got in our extra visits, and she was given her last Rites. And yet miraculously somehow she rallied. For an entire year. She struggled with dementia, her body was failing her and yet she continued to fight. That is until last week. My aunt called me last Sunday and suggested I go visit her as she wasn’t doing so well. Thankfully we had no plans that day so I was able to go and spend a few hours with her. But I never in a million years thought it was going to be my last visit. So when my aunt called me Wednesday suggesting I come again, while I was concerned over her urgency I still thought to myself, we’ve been here before, she’s struggling but she’ll work her way out of it. She always does. I finished up my errands. and Evelyn and I headed over. But I got there five minutes too late.

I don’t know why I never wrote my grandma a letter like I had my grandpa. I always told her I loved her, and she of course knew it but did she know everything? While it’s too late for her to ever hear my words aloud, I have to think she’s somewhere still listening. So Wednesday evening as I was in emotional turmoil filled with uncontrollable grief, confusion, and disbelief, my only solution was to put my thoughts on paper (well, a computer). It’s my therapy after all. It didn’t, nor will it ever, end my grief, but it did give me some sense of momentary peace.

Dear grandma,

Just two days ago we were bonding over Suze Orman, admiring her stilettos and discussing how she could take a man out with them. And you were telling me your plans of wanting to get a dog. You know, one that could just go in and out the back door so it wouldn’t be much trouble, you said. And now you’re gone. But a funny thing is as I was typing this the auto correct said you were “home” not gone. Maybe that’s you giving me my sign. Because right now I feel like you’re the only one in the world who can truly comfort me. I wish I had been brave enough to talk to you about the “end” when it was actually significant and ask your feelings about it. I know you weren’t afraid because I used to make you talk about death all the time. We used to always joke that you were too healthy and while it was silly, I still took comfort in it. Because I don’t think I ever accepted the truth that you wouldn’t actually be here forever. But I can only assume and imagine that Grandpa and my mom were waiting for you with open arms and the biggest box of wine you ever did see. So maybe you are indeed home.

My cousins have always teased me that I was the Golden Child. And that’s ok because obviously I am. Duh. But truthfully you were the Golden Grandma. I know you took pity on me for not having a mother and I was your only grandchild for a long time, but circumstances aside, we had a bond that I will cherish forever. You and Grandpa did everything for me. Endless supplies of donuts, homemade fried shrimp, trips to the city, New year’s Eve (virgin) pink squirrels, letting me drive (on the highway!!) well before I had my license. These are the memories that I’ll never forget. And yes even those long road trips to Kansas where you and Grandpa hot boxed me with your horrific cigarette smoke for hours on end. Even those memories I’ll always look back on and smile.

You were such an influential and special person in my life. You helped fill a void that I didn’t even understand. You mesmerized me with your stories of faith and you were always 100 percent honest with every question I threw at you. I appreciate that more than I ever told you. My aunt told me today that you were the strongest person she ever knew. And aside from my stepmom I would completely agree with that. You were a role model to us all even when you didn’t mean to be. You showed us just what unwavering strength and faith truly is. And you always said exactly how you felt, no bull shit. Your life wasn’t easy. You didn’t grow up with much, but you had a loving family. You outlived a daughter, a grandson and a husband. You showed us all just what it looks like not to quit when times are hard, but more importantly what it looks like to preserver.  And end up stronger because of it. You were the epitome of a true fighter, grandma.

I’ll miss your spunk, our crazy conversations (even if we had the same ones over and over the past few years), but most of all I’ll miss our laughs because you made me laugh like no other. I don’t think most grandmas are nearly as funny as you were. Just one of the many reasons why I was so lucky to have had you for as long as I did.

I’m sorry I missed you at the end. But I know that was just you simply looking out for me as you always have. Because now I won’t remember you in death. Instead I’ll chuckle about our last moments together with Suze and your soon-to-be dog. I love you with all my heart, grandma. I hope to someday see you again.

Love, The Golden Child

We laid my grandma to rest this weekend, and while it was such a sad day, I think we all did a pretty good job of celebrating her life. We came together as the strong family that she taught us to be. We cried. We laughed. We drank (way too much). We sang. We danced. And we lived. And in doing so, I know that her spirit lives on in each of us. Rest in peace, Grandma.

To the ONE I’ll Never Know

One of the few, albeit horrible quality, pictures of my Mom and I.

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I can possibly miss something, or someone, that I never got to know. And yet I do with an uncontrollable ache that isn’t possible for me to even put into words. Two unmemorable years was all we had. I’ve spent so much of my life asking why. And yet it’s a question that’ll forever remain unanswered. Who were you? At only 26 years old did you even know? At 40 I feel like I’m just starting to figure myself out. But if you existed who would I have become? Yes, I’ve inherited Dad’s short-fused temper and stubbornness and cursed with Grandma’s big hips, but for the most part I’m comfortable with who I am. What would you have given me? What was your favorite memory? What were your dreams? What kept you up at night? I saw a sign today that said: “You only live once but if you live right that’s enough.” Did you live right? Was it enough? You never even had the chance to learn the word “regret” because you’d barely started living.

Sometimes I daydream about what I’d say if I was miraculously given a moment with you. But sitting here, thinking about you, I don’t think I would say a single word. Instead I would simply stare at you. Look over every detail and try to memorize the lines around your face. The shape of your hands. The color of your eyes. It’s hard not knowing in my own memories what you looked like. Pictures don’t tell the full story.

I hated you for years. You left ME. You were stolen from ME. You were taken away from ME. You were supposed to be smarter than that. Of course I didn’t really hate you. But I’m so good at being angry and so bad at being sad. You weren’t there to teach me. To show me how to cry. How to feel. But somehow we managed. When given no choice, you do what you can. And you picked a good one, you know. Not many could have done what he did. And did again. And does.

My Dad and Mom at his vet school graduation.

What would you think of me? Do you see me failing over and over with my own kids? Do you see me punishing myself at the end of each day for losing my shit so often? What would you do? You never got the chance to find out. You aren’t here to tell me what to do. Can you feel my frustration, my worries, my insanity, my happiness, my love?

By not being here, you wielded me with a permanent suit of armor. It’s protected me. But it’s also failed me. Because it’s a hard burden to carry. And sometimes I get very, very tired. But I’ve lived so long with it, that I don’t know how to take it off. It’s become a part of who I am. And to take it off would leave me in a state of vulnerability that I’m not sure I can, or even want to, live with.

On this day I wish I had just one memory. Some small remembrance of a time we shared together. But instead all I’m left with are dreams that won’t come true and feelings I’ll never experience. However, you gave me life. You fueled the breaths that I take. And for that I thank you. For giving me the life that you were denied. On this day, and every day of my life, I will continue to think of you. To dream of you. And to wonder. Because once upon a time, you were more than just a nonexistent memory.

Love, the ONE you’ll never know

My favorite picture

The Day I Believed

A handful of my Guardian Angels

Do I believe in God? It’s a pretty simple question, right? Eight years ago I would have had a prompt, definite answer. Because I used to. I used to pray every night when I was a little girl. As I got older those prayers turned into long (one-sided) conversations with my mother – asking her advice, telling her about my days. Throughout my entire childhood I remember interrogating my grandma every time I visited her, asking about her experiences with God, what she thought Heaven was like, what happened when you died… and the questions went on and on. Thankfully, my extremely religious grandmother was always happy to answer to the best of her ability. Today, however, my beliefs are skewed. Life changes a person. Things happen that make you question everything you once believed in. So if someone asks me that question now, I honestly don’t really know what my answer would be.

Now I’m a fairly cautious person. But my “mom brain” is most definitely pretty solid, and trust me when I say I forget A LOT. As in most days I can’t remember what I was thinking by the time I’ve walked to the other side of the room. However for the most part, my overall anxiety keeps me fairly on my toes when it comes to safety. Yet something different happened today.

I decided to make lasagna for dinner, which required the sauce to simmer for a fairly long time. But as with so many moments in my daily life, I got in a hurry. It was time to pick up Jaycob from the bus, the girls were up and needing a snack, and we had to hurry up and hustle out the door to get to swim practice in time. With some work, I quickly assembled the lasagna, threw the pan in the sink, picked up Jaycob and got everyone gathered up and out the door on time.

As I was pulling out of the driveway I was stopped short by a very funny feeling. I wasn’t sure what or why, but I felt with all of my being that something wasn’t right. I immediately put the car in park and ran inside. I looked around briefly and sure enough, my stove burner was still burning. Without hesitation, I quickly turned it off, gave the dog a pat on her head and ran back outside.

I sat in the car for a minute, my heart pumping like I had just got done running a marathon, trying to process what the hell just happened. A million different “what if” scenarios were racing through my head… none of which were good. With shaking hands, I turned around, looked at each of my kids, smiled and told them I loved them. I took a deep breath, and we headed off to swim.

I don’t know what sparked that uneasy feeling in my stomach today. More than likely my subconscious was more aware of me not following my own rules [turn stove on, turn stove off, close safety burner lid and done], more than even my conscious state was.  However today I choose to believe in something bigger. Today I choose to believe that I have a Guardian Angel (well, who am I kidding, SEVERAL of them) who is indeed looking down on me and lending a helping hand in keeping me and my family safe. And maybe nothing would have even happened. But I’m all too familiar with “what ifs” turning into realities. So today after eight years, I said my first prayer – a prayer of thanks for whomever up above just saved my ass from having my house blow up or whatever other crazy, horrible thing that could have happened. Today I’m putting aside all of my anger towards The Power(s) at Be and simply saying my prayers. Because you never know who’s listening.