Day 323/365 Totally Doable

Lately I have been feeling really happy…

Sunshine-y, even.

I have been in a make-sure-you-tell-people-you-love-them (and not because you’re afraid they’re gonna die but just because you love them) kind of mood. A random-acts-of-kindness kind of mood.

A mood of expansion, a gesture of openness….a heart open wide to life and love, and their infinite possibilities.

I think it all started when we were in Florida. I experienced a shift.

We were nearing the end of the trip (that time when everyone begins to dread leaving paradise and coming home) and I had this revelation…

“Home” for me is a pretty amazing place.

In the most literal sense, we live in a beautiful town in coastal New England. I have settled into a home that feels like a sanctuary to me, but…home is more than a town, or a house.

Home is my beautiful family.

Home is my passionate work community.

Home is my incredible friendships.

Home is also within me.  I am feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. 

Home is…truly a gift. I am beyond blessed.

I see that. I feel that.

Going “back to reality” isn’t so bad. In fact, reality is…at the moment, pretty damn good. 

Throughout all of the challenges I have had over the past two years, somewhere inside of me (sometimes way, way inside of me) I did always know that the darkness wouldn’t last forever.

Life is a pendulum after all, and things are always bound to swing the other way sooner or later.

Which is what worries me now…in my sunshine-y place.

{Ha…will she ever relax, you wonder? Um…nope.}

Now that my pendulum has swung toward happiness, I can’t help this niggling feeling (or knowing) that the upswing can’t last forever, either. It goes both ways, for better and for worse. That’s how it works, you guys.

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I went on a field trip with Beau‘s class this week. We went to the zoo. Throughout the trip I somewhat compulsively counted heads like a good chaperone…making sure everyone was safe and accounted for at any given moment.

One, two, three, four…WAIT, WE’RE MISSING ONE! Oh, nope – there she is. ALL GOOD!

That’s the best way I can think to describe this niggling.

I feel like there’s a little piece of my brain that is always actively “counting heads.” Everyone I love can’t possibly be safe and accounted for…so I count…

One, two, three, four…

Really? ALL GOOD? Can it be? Better count again, just to make sure. 

Look, I don’t know if I will ever stop counting heads. Experiencing major upheaval and loss will do that to a person. I’m okay with it.

What I am learning to do is to enjoy the sunshine just the same.

Right now, right here –

I’m home…and everyone is accounted for. That’s more than enough.

“DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!” may never be my mantra.

But this

Is TOTALLY DOABLE.

Day 301/365 Braving The Rapids

I was twelve years old when I first understood that my mother would do anything for  her children, without hesitation.

In fact, she would drown.

The creek, which was often completely dry, sometimes offered a gentle current into which we could dip our toes…

But on this day, it was raging.

I had never seen it that way before, nor have I ever since.

I remember rounding the corner to the place where my younger brother, Ryan, and our friend, Sarah, were playing. Ryan, with the recklessly foolish courage of a seven year old boy, was attempting to cross the rushing water. He placed his foot on a partially submerged rock, slipped, and went under.

It wasn’t as if I saw him float away.

There were no flailing arms reaching up…there was no possible hope of grabbing ahold of him…he was just…gone.

I ran as fast as I could up the hill to our house. I burst into the bathroom where my mother was in the shower, and I screamed at her –

“Ryan was swept into the creek!”

“What?!” she yelled, not comprehending my words.

“RYAN! THE CREEK!”

I remember running after her down the hill. She was partially naked, throwing clothes on as she ran…

“Where?!” she yelled, looking frantically at the water for any sign of him. The sound of the rushing water was deafening.

“There!” I yelled, pointing helplessly to the spot where I last saw him. There was no sign of him, but if he was in there, she was going in too.

I watched as she jumped into the rushing water. She immediately disappeared beneath the water’s surface, just as he had.

I stood there, frozen.

What we didn’t know was that by the time my mother had jumped into the water, Ryan had already come out. Downstream and out of sight, the creek widened and the current lessened. Ryan was able to stand up and walk right out. He was dazed and had a gash on his head, but otherwise, he was fine.

In shock, he had wandered out into the road, soaking wet and bleeding.

When my mother emerged from the water downstream in the same place, Ryan was already gone. Devastated, she was certain he had drowned.

You can imagine the hysterically tearful reunion moments later.

I remember looking at my mother, soaking wet, sobbing and clutching her youngest son as an EMT examined the cut on his head. Looking at the raging creek, no one could believe they had both survived.

I understood then that she would willingly give her life for any one of us.

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I have thought of this story often during my mother’s battle with cancer.

There really is no way to thank someone for loving you more than anyone else ever could. There is no way to properly express gratitude to someone who would jump into the rapids for you.

Except maybe…

If there comes a time when she is being pulled under…

We can show her that we are willing to jump in after her, too.

Day 271/365 It Isn’t The Dying That Matters

It has been a rough couple of days.

December 27th was the one year anniversary of Dad’s passing. Well…technically it was January 5th that he died, but he was never conscious again after his collapse on the 27th.

I wrote before about how Mom knew he was gone that first day (see here), and thus it has become the day of greatest significance to us.

She wanted to have a dinner out in honor of him, which we did. As we sat there at dinner I thought about how hard it is to comprehend that someone so unassuming and humble could have left such a big void at the dinner table. Our collective aching for his presence was as palpable as the cocktails we hoped would numb it.

Throughout the day I kept replaying what I was doing one year prior – I’d spent the day roller skating with friends and family, followed by a spaghetti dinner with the girls and their two buddies. The five of us sat down to watch The Princess Bride…the girls, their two friends, and me.

It is eerie to recall what a fun day it had been….

Before the call.

I don’t presume that everyone’s experience with remembering traumatic events is the same. I can only say that for me, I don’t remember it all in clear detail…the whole evening…nor the entire terrible week that followed.

Some details are exceptionally vivid, while the rest of it comes across in my memory as a permeating feeling or series of feelings, rather than a clear sequence of events.

I don’t remember the faces of the doctors and nurses, but I remember how I felt when they entered the room…comforted, or terrified, or angry.

When I think of that night it tends to raise my heart rate. I feel my chest constrict. Sometimes it nearly brings me to my knees, still.

The most vivid memory is of my brother Ryan’s voice on the other end of the phone. I knew it was him (caller ID), but his voice was contorted by the most gut wrenching chords of despair and pleading…

“What’s wrong with Dad?”

I knew nothing. I hadn’t been told yet. For a moment we took comfort that it must be a mistake.

How could I not know our lives had changed?

Moments later I knew the truth, and I was frantic to get there…to get to the hospital before he died…

What if I didn’t get there in time?

Little did I know I would have a week of purgatory to live through before saying goodbye to him; before kissing his warm cheek for the last time.

I have thought a lot about death and what I’d wish for if I’d gotten to choose.

Would I wish for…

A sudden death (so we wouldn’t have had the agony of hope)?

An extended illness (so we’d have had more time to prepare)?

Or would I have chosen the slow acceptance with which most of us were faced that last week – the week in which Dad’s heart, in the cruelest betrayal, continued to fuel his body, but not his brain?

After much deliberation,

I’ve decided it is all utter shit.

All of it. 

There’s no good way to lose a loved one. 

There’s no perfect scenario that is going to mitigate the shattering of your heart.

But…

My Dears,

It isn’t the dying that matters.

It’s the living.

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Day 245/365 Like the Stars at Noon

“Yet that light is always present, like the stars at noon.”

– Peter Matthiessen, “The Snow Leopard”

Depression and grief have been frustrating emotions for me. They are hollowing, damp and heavy emotions, and being IN them is hard in and of itself, but for me the hardest part has been knowing these emotions are not my true nature.

I know the lightness of which I can capable.

Lately Joy has seemed to me like a language in which I was once fluent, but which now comes to me in hazy spurts of words. It is still there within me, for I’ve not lost it completely. Being around others who speak it fluently and regularly helps to bring it all back. Certain people, places, smells, sights and sounds help to open the floodgates of memory…all helping me immensely on the road to reclaiming Joy as my default.

After all, it is my first language.

Day 185/365 Box of Wishes

“These are antique candles,” my mother said as she placed the half melted candles into the top of the cake.

I laughed, thinking she was making a joke.

“I’m serious! They belonged to your grandmother.”

I looked at the box…

“15 cents”

Yup, definitely antique.

“They used to make candles that lasted a while,” she said. “Not one-and-done like they are now. Imagine how many wishes have been made by your family members on these very candles.”

It was a kind of magical thought. Wish-granters that were honored by being placed back into their box for safe keeping – until the next wish. 

How many people had wished on them?

For what did they wish?

Did their wishes come true?

I guess we will never know, but…I do know two things for certain about these Harvey heirloom candles.

I know that every rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song that these candles have heard (um….endured) was surely appalling. (It makes me smile just to think of it).

I also know that whichever of us have leaned forward over these very candles, considering a wish…

Whomever it was that looked around the room at the candlelit faces of our family, gathered together and singing hideously, but with so much love…

I bet they felt lucky – whether their wish came true or not.

Day 177/365 Papa Did This

We spent the weekend in one of my favorite places on Earth, with many of my favorite people. Summer, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to you. Thanks for humoring me.

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Sitting out on the dock last night, we watched the most beautiful sunset unfold. Beau leaned into me and whispered, “I think Papa did this for us.”

She meant the sunset, of course, but looking around at my beautiful family, her statement held a deeper meaning.

He did do this for us.

He and my beautiful mother did.

Mom and Dad, I could never thank you enough.

Day 118/365 John, Part II

A few months ago I shared a letter I had written about the death of my cousin, John. He passed away two years ago, and the letter was my way of processing this.  I shared my thoughts about alcohol and drug addiction; about what it had done to John, and to our family.

John’s eleven year old daughter, Megan, is here visiting us for three weeks this summer.  As I listen to her play upstairs with my girls, I can’t help but sit here and think about John, and how badly I wish he could have tackled his demons. How I wish he could be here, laughing with me over the girls’ hijinx.

So, tonight I wanted to write a little about John. Not about alcoholism, and what a vicious beast it is, but just about John and who he was before he was taken from us, bit by bit.

John loved to laugh, and to make others laugh.  Everyone loves to laugh, but John had this look of appreciation he’d get on his face when someone really amused him – especially if he wasn’t expecting it.  I loved catching him off guard with my humor. John laughed with his whole body. With his mouth wide open, he would often bend right over laughing.

John (right) laughing with his cousins, Billy (middle) and John (left). I love this one.

John was outgoing – he could talk to anyone, and he could win just about anyone over. He was charming. Many of my girlfriends fell for John.  He had so much charisma, and he loved women. This included my grandmother, with whom he lived for a stint after graduate school. I still remember their joint answering machine recording – you’d hear John say, “You have reached John (and then grandma piped in) and Lynette…” Grandma was the envy of all (mostly elderly widows) in her condo development that year!

He liked things to move at fast pace. Sometimes this was at odds with my day-dreamy nature. He’d tease me for being slow – playing cards with me (having to repeatedly nudge me when it was my turn) just about put him over the edge.  I laugh just thinking of him pretending to bang his head on the card table.

It wasn’t all roses with John – he was so passionate, and with that came fire. He had a temper.  Sometimes this was problematic, and sometimes it was just funny. He was intense. As I write this I’m smiling, because his temper did provide some comedy.  He was almost always able to laugh at himself after the…incidents.  Like the time he was so frustrated with golf during a family vacation that he chose to walk several miles home in 90 degree heat down the side of a south Florida highway rather than to suffer through another minute of golf!

He was such a smart guy, and he had a few different careers (and from what I recall, more than one Master’s degree), but the jobs he loved best were the ones in which he was in a position to help others.

John loved deeply. He was an affectionate guy and wasn’t afraid to express

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John and his dad, my Uncle Ed.

his love for his family and friends. John was so proud to be Megan’s father. He was always talking about how smart, funny, and adorable she was. If he could have stayed sober for any reason, I know he would have done it for her.  He couldn’t do it, though – not for anyone.

So, we have to let it go – the pain of that, difficult as it is – and be grateful for this beautiful young woman he brought into our lives.

I see in her John’s outgoing nature, his humor, his affection.  At eleven years old, she is so outgoing and adaptable. She gets along with everyone and anyone. She plays so well with my daughters, who are eight and eleven. She has also endeared herself to everyone else in our family, from the adults all the way down to my two year old nephew, who presently has a serious crush.

She’s a wonderful kid.

I know you couldn’t stay, John, but we are so grateful for the gift of her.