Finding the Gold in the Dark

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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.

Be that Inspirational Friend

IMG_4313Throughout our lifespan people weave themselves in and out of our lives. As kids and teenagers I feel like we strive for quantity over quality because we place popularity on such a pedestal and are trained to think the more “friends” we have the better off or cool we are. Yet the older I get the more I’ve learned that, in fact, just the exact opposite is true. The quality of the friends and people in our daily lives exponentially outweighs the quantity. Sure I have plenty of acquaintances and people I’m friendly with, but the number of people that I can truly say are my good friends, or “ride or die bitches” as we like to call each other, has been happily narrowed down over the years to a few select groups of people. These are the people that I talk (well okay, text with) on the regular. But even if we miss some time here or there, that’s okay too. These are the ones that we actually go out of our way to make plans to hang out with each other. Because we all know that life happens, but we’re important enough to each other to make it a point to still see one another on at least a semi-regular basis. These are the ones who know each other’s secrets, we don’t judge (or if we do, we certainly judge openly… And that’s okay too). These are the ones that make each other laugh until we cry, that give the best hugs, and always have each other’s backs.

They say that everyone comes into your life for a reason. And that I do believe. Sometimes, however, we can’t be rid of the crazies quick enough, but still I believe we have something to learn from everyone. A few years ago I was introduced to someone who today I consider to be one of my most special friends. When we first met, you can believe I was full of all sorts of judgement as I checked her out with her beautiful hair, perfect body and infectious smile. Thankfully my ridiculous judging didn’t last long once we started talking, and I discovered that it was truly possible to be both beautiful and a genuinely kind human being. And though we’ve only known each other for a few years, she is one of those people that has taught me so much.

Recently this sweet woman has been thrown a huge life curve ball. I feel deflated, heart broken and completely helpless. Yet while I have no control over the future of anyone’s life, what I can control are my words and my ability to share the important life lessons that this special woman has taught me. Because everyone deserves to have such a special and influential friend in their lives.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned from my friend is the importance of simply showing up. Despite all the grief I give her about her various luxuries in life, this woman works her ass off on the daily to provide for her family. To be there for them. And is constantly going out of her way to do special things for her girls to simply reinforce her love for them. But even after all that, out of our little local core group, it’s almost always her that is taking the time to plan outings for us or just simply dragging our exhausted mom asses out of our houses. She’s the one that’s sending out the group texts reminding us of the date for Wine Chat Wednesday, even though it’s supposed to be the same date every month. And even when it’s -50 degrees outside and all I want to do is lay on my couch in my fat pants, she has taught me that that simply isn’t good enough. Because friends show up for each other. Friends make it a point to hang out. And anything less simply isn’t an option.

Another huge lesson my friend has taught me is simply how to forgive. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s holding a grudge (just ask my husband!) My friend is so much smarter than me. She knows that harboring anger and ill thoughts does nobody any good. She’s been such a great role model to me in simply forgiving, letting go of any negativity and moving on. Because life is just too short not to. The world would be such a better place if we all followed her example.

Along the way there’s also been several other “smaller” life lessons, although in my opinion just as equally important.

  • Bless this woman’s heart her taste in music could use some improving. However, even when surrounded by horrible music, she’s proved to me that it truly is possible to have a good time.
  • Not only is it normal, but it’s absolutely crucial to slow down every once in awhile and simply remember how to feel. We often get so caught up in our chaotic daily lives that we don’t necessarily give ourselves the necessary and imperative time we, as humans, need to acknowledge our own feelings.
  • Believe it or not, body suits can actually look good…on the right person!
  • Everyone has their own insecurities and faults. But if we can’t own who we are, we need to reevaluate. We’re all human and none of us are perfect. But there comes a point in our adult lives that if we don’t feel confident in who we are, albeit good or bad, it’s our responsibility alone to change what we don’t like.

Life is confusing, at times difficult, and every once in awhile it simply knocks you on your ass. And in these moments may we all be blessed enough to have a friend as special and inspirational as this one is to me. And more importantly, may we all be that friend to someone else.

Four-Legged Family Members are Real

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The night we brought Desota home.

Well today my three-year-old daughter pretty much summed up life. She said, “When you turn into a grownup you have to do tricky stuff.” As kids you don’t even ever really think about just what all the “tricky stuff” ever entails either because a) you’re a clueless kid and b) if you have good parents they tend to shield you from the tough stuff.

Well this past weekend was one of those tricky adult situations for my husband and I. It started off great. We had a date night where we drank too much awesome beer and ate too much awesome food. But the best part was yet to come – we were going to be able to sleep in! However around 2 a.m. I got my first wake-up call when my dog barked as she needed help up. Ok, sure. I was sort of getting used to these barks as they were becoming more frequent. So I helped her up and didn’t think much of it. Then around 4 a.m. the same thing happened. Only this time she wanted outside and refused to come back in. She looked awful, and I began to fear the worst. I got my husband to help carry her back inside and we both sat with her, afraid to leave her side. Eventually we attempted to go back to bed even though I merely laid there willing my dog to peacefully drift away on her own. But around 7 a.m. we heard her bark again and we repeated the process. She went out in the snow, lied down and refused to get back up. At this point, the tears were flowing, and we pretty much knew what we had to do – you know that whole tricky adult thing where you’re forced to make awful decisions that you know are the right thing yet every bone in your body screams “No!” Yeah, that.

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Desota was often used as a soft pillow for reading time.

Now even as I’m writing this I get that it sounds like I’m talking about a person. And for anyone who isn’t a dog/pet lover, they probably think I’m crazy. And maybe I am, but these dogs and these pets are more than just animals to most of us. They become a huge part of the family. Desota, in particular, was my husband’s and my first pet as adults. We got her shortly after we were married and she was our baby. We trained her (well, we tried, she kind of flunked out of puppy school.) We scolded her when she ate pair after pair of my flip flops and at least three remotes. We panicked and chased her down when she ran away. And we found out when she was sneaking things while we were away at work. We basically went though all the same things with her that we’ve gone through with our three kids – well except maybe not the flip flop part. But overall, Desota was the starting foundation for our family.

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Wet kisses were given out often.

I’ll never forget bringing home Jaycob for the first time. Desota was very curious and very anxious. She knew that something was different but wasn’t quite sure what. She paced the entire night of his first night home. But after that, she never left his side. With each kid we brought home, unfortunately she received less and less attention. But she adjusted and continued to love on all three of them. They climbed on her. They pulled her hair. They fell on her. But she never even flinched and was always rewarded with plenty of spilled food and snuggles. Even up until recently when she no longer was sleeping upstairs with us, any night there was a storm she would pace and whimper all night unless I left the kids’ doors open so she could go into their rooms and check on them. She was the most loving and kindhearted dog any family could ever hope for. She helped raise my kids, and like my aunt said, I suppose she did kinda sorta help raise me too.

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Desota never turned down a hug.

Maybe I’m slightly biased being raised as a veterinarian’s daughter, but in my opinion, dogs, and just animals in general, are such an important part of growing up. They provide unconditional companionship and love. They teach responsibility. They help clean up your floors. And eventually they help with processing the biggest lesson of them all – the circle of life. At 41, I’m still struggling with that lesson.

Sure they’re a pain in the ass at times. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of hair that floats through my house. I’ll be cleaning that up for years to come. They cost a lot of money. They require a lot of maintenance and care. And when they’re gone you’re left with a giant-sized hole in your heart. But you know what? It’s all worth it because I’m also left with 13 years of memories. And no amount of grief can erase all the good that we got from her. I can only hope that our next dog, whenever that may be, will be half as good as she was. (And yes, I’m already Googling puppies…do NOT tell my husband! It’s for therapeutic grieving purposes only. Wink. Wink.)

Rest in peace, Desota. January 10, 2006 – April 28, 2019.