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.

Don’t Forget to Feel

Life is hard. Adulting is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenthood is hard. Working is hard. You get where I’m going with this. It all is, and we all have our ups and downs, good days and bad days. But that’s normal. And if anything, it’s kind of a necessity in life because it simply means we’re living. Yesterday was definitely one of those harder days for me. Which is kind of weird because it’s not like anything even bad happened. It was just one of those emotional-roller-coaster-kind-of days.

I ended up going to my grandma’s house and having, in essence, my final walk through and deciding if there was anything else there that I wanted. Now unlike my other grandma (and myself) this one was a complete minimalist. So it wasn’t even about the “stuff” at her house really, because she didn’t even have much of anything to go through. But the memories! Wow. I spent a few hours basically just strolling from room to room and back again. Can’t say I even did anything really. And yet by the time I got home later that day, I was completely spent. And I know that sounds kind of ridiculous but I was truly amazed at just the emotional toll that it had on me. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a fog not really doing much of anything, just kind of wandering around my house, picking at things here and there.  And then the kids came home from school. So by the time we got through snacks and our normal after-school chatter, I could feel myself being on the brink of falling off that emotional cliff. You know the one; we’ve all been there at some point. So like the good parent that I am, I herded my kids outside and got myself a beer.

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Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 feelings.

Now one of the few things that I did bring home from my grandma’s house was a giant painting that my mom had done. She was a great artist, but her prime was in the 70’s. So as a result, most of the paintings that I’ve seen or even have of hers are pretty bright, and boy, did she seem to love the color orange – so not my style. But this one in particular is mostly black, white, gray and some green – pretty neutral, which obviously is way more me. I remember it being hung up at my grandma’s house my entire life and I was always drawn to it for some reason. Maybe it’s just the simple color palette, maybe it’s just because she painted it, maybe it’s just because it’s of a castle and doesn’t every little girl dream of living in a castle? Who knows. Regardless it’s mine now, and thankfully, since it’s not orange, it’s going up in my house.

Anyway back to getting around to my long-winded point of this post. With my beer in hand yesterday, I sat my ass down on the couch and I stared at that painting and cried. If someone asked me what I was thinking or why I was even crying I would not be able to answer them. Because honestly, I don’t think I thought about anything. I suppose that’s as close to meditating and having a blank mind as I’ll ever get. And in between some kid coming in the house every other second needing this that or the other, I remained on that couch for a good 30 minutes drinking my beer and just being. Now during this break, I sent a brief text to my friend mentioning how exhausting the day had been and that I was just having a hard time. Her reply: “That’s normal.” And you know what? She’s right. People talk all the time about the importance of self care and all this crap and most of us just roll our eyes and think yeah right. I’ll get to that after I take care of my kids until 8 pm. After I’ve cleaned up the house. After I’ve done the upteen loads of laundry for the day. After I’ve cooked dinner. And on and on and on.

But her simple text just reminded me that self care isn’t always about getting a massage or escaping to the gym or having alone time. Sometimes it’s just about remembering to feel. I think as parents a lot of the time what we feel revolves around our kids, with maybe a few thoughts thrown in about our spouse from time to time. We’re happy because our kids did well at school. We’re frustrated because the kids fought all day. We’re mad because our spouse did or didn’t do X, Y or Z. But how often are we actually focusing on and channeling our own personal feelings about what’s going on with ourselves? Maybe that’s why I feel like I’m so strung up half the time these days because my own thoughts and feelings just get pushed to the back burner in order to make room for all the other crap that hangs around in my head. I rarely take the time to process my own feelings outside of what I feel for everyone else. Because who’s got time for that? And at the end of the day when you do finally get some peace and quiet, at least for me, all I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or read a book. Certainly not think about my own feelings!

So to my friend for responding to my heartfelt exhaustion with the most simple and obvious response that what I was was feeling was totally normal: Thank you for that impactful reminder. Because it IS normal to have your own feelings. And it IS okay to have your own feelings. Just don’t forget to make the time to feel them.