Day 325/365 Let There Be Color

This weekend we celebrated my mother’s birthday. I told her I’ve never been happier to celebrate someone’s birthday…and that’s the truth.

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While still mourning my father, the idea that my mother might not survive breast cancer this year was a very real and visceral fear for all of us.  Coming around to her birthday – cancer free – was truly something to celebrate. 

I got to thinking this morning about something I read once, somewhere…it was something to the effect of…

What would you do differently if you knew you were dying? Well, guess what…YOU ARE.

We are ALL dying. 

Not to be grim [smirk].

The truth is, we are all inching toward death, every day. Of course, some of us have a lot longer to go than others. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily have as much to do with age as we’d like to think.

Sure, we can take precautions; be smart. We can eat healthy, exercise, manage our stress, try our best not to run with scissors…but beyond that we don’t have much control over our ultimate fate.

So…live every moment as if it’s your last!

Hmm.

I am not going to say that.

I have had enough hard knocks over the past couple of years to understand how unrealistic that is…and I am not going to shame myself for my emotions. Sometimes we get hit hard, and we reel from it. If I have a day when I just want to crawl back under the covers and hide…and that is even remotely possible to do that day…I am going to go for it. I am not going to force myself to savor the day because it may be my last.

True contentment and joy are not forced. They are arrived at with grace.

Grace for ourselves, and for everyone else…even, or especially, the people who challenge us.

Grace is not always an easy place to land.

Sometimes it means processing our reactions – not stuffing them down under the guise of perpetually enjoying the moment!

Sometimes, we need time…space…perspective.

So…if we can’t possibly enjoy every moment, yet we are aware that the number of moments we are granted is never truly known…where does that leave us?

I think it leaves us in a place where we have to learn to appreciate the full experience of our humanity. We can allow ourselves to experience ALL of what it means to be human,  and get to a place where there is no shame in it.

No shame in feeling angry, sad, jealous, afraid –

And then…

Learning to release it...because we can’t stay there.

An image comes to me of an abstract painting. Can you imagine a piece of art that could convey all of the emotion of your life –

No identifiable images – JUST COLORS.

How would it look?

Would you want the painting of your life to be monochromatic?

Not me.

I’d want it all to be there – messy and spilling out over the entire canvas – the light, the dark, the passion, the fear, the joy...

I imagine if you look closely, analytically, you could see the detail of each emotion, both the subtle and the dramatic shifts in hue.  The colors would weave toward and away from each other…often overlapping…one spilling into the next.

Then, if you were to stand back from it…when you take in the piece as a whole…

You would truly see it.

The whole me;

My whole life.

You would see all of the messy layers aren’t random. In fact, they come together to evoke one very palpable and permeating emotion –

LOVE.

Let there be color.

Day 261/365 Nevertheless…Oh, Never Mind

Just a quick thought tonight for I am utterly exhausted…

Never underestimate the power of a listening ear, a well timed joke, or a hug. If you happen to be able to find all three in one place, that is worth its weight in gold.

Never mind, that doesn’t work as a metaphor.

Not one of those three things weigh a damn thing.

I told you I was tired.  

{Side note – why is never mind two words but nevertheless is one? Madness, I say.}

Anyway, where was I?

Ah yes…an ear, a joke, a hug…I was appreciating today having, by chance or fate, been in the company of someone who offered me all three of those things – compassion, laughter, and comfort – when I really needed them.

He quietly helped me gather myself up and prepare to take on the day.

Later, when I really thought about it, I realized that I am blessed with so many people who understand how to care for someone in this way.

I am a wealthy woman.

That is, if listening, laughing and hugging had any weight or monetary value whatsoever.

(Nevertheless, I continue with a nonsensical metaphor.)

Oh, Never mind.

What I mean is –

My wealth is immeasurable.

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Day 260/365 The Lessons We Don’t Teach

After I picked the girls up at the bus stop this afternoon, I had to bring them back to work with me. This happens from time to time, and they actually don’t mind it. Afterward I treated them to a dinner out.

{Side story – One night the girls and I had just finished up a meal at a restaurant. On our way out we walked by an older couple who had been seated at a table near us. The woman stopped me and said, “My children never would have behaved so well at a restaurant when they were that age. Well done, you should be very proud.”

I beamed and said, “Thank you!”

Juuuust as we were nearly out of ear shot Beau says to me, “Boy, it’s a good thing she’s never seen how we behave at home!”}

So, back to tonight –

There we were, out at dinner. It really was the highlight of my day – hearing about school, playing tic-tac-toe…just being together in a relaxed way after a long day (which for us had started with some sibling squabbling, a missed bus, and me with a lap full of coffee).

The waitress came over to the table and introduced herself as Sarah. Ruby (8) would always prefer to have me dictate her order. For some reason she gets uncomfortable, but I encouraged her to speak up for herself. She nearly inaudibly, but politely, submitted her requests.

After I paid the bill, I got up and walked a few yards before turning to stop and wait for Ruby, who had gone back to collect her crayons from the table. Beau was ahead of us, needing to use the restroom. I saw our waitress approach the table and begin clearing it. It was then that I heard Ruby, in a sweet, clear voice, say to her  –

“Thank you, Sarah! Have a nice night.”

I have to say I was so proud in that moment. Yes, it was very sweet and polite, but also she had listened to and remembered Sarah’s name. She was grateful for what Sarah had done for us….bringing us our dinner, cleaning it up for us…

Yes, this is Sarah’s job, but...

Ruby appreciated it, and said so. 

Frankly, being kind to others – to everyone – whether they are serving you or you are serving them – to me that is a lesson that will be of more value in my daughters’ lives than anything they may learn at school.

It made me feel really good about how the girls see me (and I hope, their dad) operating in the world. There are lessons they are learning every day that don’t need to be spelled out – in fact, perhaps they are all the more meaningful when they aren’t. 

Day 258/365 Finding Gratitude (and even inspiration) Within Pain

Throughout my life I have predominantly had a positive outlook. I have always lived with the understanding that everything happens for a reason.

I have trusted that there is a purpose to every experience….that we are all being led somewhere…being taught or shown what we need to learn in this life.

We can choose to see it that way – or not.  I had always chosen to see.

To be fair, it seemed that not much ever happened to cause me any great distress. As my mother ruefully remarked recently, “We had a good run.” It is easy to have faith when there is nothing to really test it.

Then life got more complicated. I have worked at taking the long view.

For example, with regard to my girls’ father being transgender – I can choose to feel pain in anticipation of the challenges that he and my children may face at the hands of people who are cruel or discriminating.  I can live in anger, fear or frustration that their lives may be more challenging because of this. Or, I can trust that my children will grow up to be compassionate defenders of humanity…that they have the potential to influence those around them with their open hearts and minds. That they will be strong, brave and vocal in the face of discrimination.

Of course, the more painful the experience, the harder it is to find meaning.

It can be incredibly difficult to look for the golden thread of meaning in the face of extreme illness (our own or that of our loved ones) or in the death of someone we love.

How can there ever be a purpose to such pain?

I think it is important to understand that no matter how much meaning you are able to ultimately derive, it will never make you grateful for this kind of pain. However, finding the lesson is a way to ease the pain – even just a little bit.

The interesting thing I have discovered is that sometimes the lessons are not even directly about those who are hurting.

Sometimes it is someone else’s pain that wakes us up, and in that way we can never truly know the ripple effects of our very existence.

We are all connected. 

After my dad died, my friend Shane finally booked a long dreamed of trip, for he and his dad, to Ireland. I loved seeing pictures from this trip, and it was comforting to me to know that the loss of my father helped spur this on. Shane realized that time with his own father is not an infinite commodity.

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Shane and his father on the trip of a lifetime.

I have always loved writing, but it was my father’s death that pushed me to finally do it – every day, and publicly.

My father’s death, my mother’s illness, adjusting to a transgender co-parent, divorce, unrequited love – all of these topics have inspired me to write.  I see a future in writing for myself – which is something I had not seriously considered in a couple of decades.

My openness and vulnerability in this blog have inspired other people to write. It has also inspired others to be more direct, open and vulnerable in their own relationships.

That is a beautiful thing.  I’m proud of that.

In the time since dad passed away, I have experienced deeper and more meaningful connections with my loved ones than ever before. I have reevaluated my relationships and really gotten to the root of what is important to me.

I have done an incredible amount of self reflecting, and I understand myself better than I  ever dared to previously.

Would I trade all of these things to have my father back?

Of course I would, but…I am not given that choice.

So, I can choose to believe that my pain is for nothing, or I can see the ways in which these painful experiences have helped me to grow, and to live more fully.

I can notice how sharing them has helped other people to grow and live more fully, too.

Therein, I can find gratitude (and perhaps even inspiration) within my pain.

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Photo by Shane Roche – Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

 

Day 257/365 Just Like People

I used to spend a lot of time picking out the perfect Christmas tree. I’d wander around in the cold, agonizing over each one – its height, its symmetry…

I did not take the decision lightly.

Eventually my children began to weigh in on the selection process, and their criteria weren’t quite as….clear as mine.

It was hard to let go of being in charge of selecting the tree, but when one’s children declare their undying love for a tree, its imperfections lose their significance.

What I ultimately realized was this –

Every single tree is beautiful when it is dressed in light and love. 

Just like people.

Day 250/365 Why Dogs Are Happier Than People

This afternoon I bundled up for a walk with Louie. I threw on my dad’s hoodie sweatshirt, which usually hangs comfortingly on the back of my bedroom door (I’m not really one for sweatshirts – I’ve saved his purely for sentimental reasons).

Having it on under by coat felt like a warm hug. It felt like I was taking him with me.

As I was pulling into the parking area of our favorite spot, I thought of a cartoon I saw a while back. I tried to google it just now but couldn’t find it. Anyway, it depicted a man and his dog out for a walk in the woods. They each had a thought bubble over their heads. The man’s thought bubble was filled with a dozen things that were on his mind. The dog’s thought bubble simply had an image of the man and the dog walking in the woods. The dog was thinking about exactly what they were doing.

The caption was, “Why  dogs are happier than people.”

I don’t know if the cartoonist was deliberately illustrating the benefits of mindfulness, but nevertheless, to me it was a well made point. No one is more “in the moment” than a dog.

My mind is busy most of the time (often too busy, in my opinion). Getting out in the woods usually does wonders in clearing my head…if only for a little while.

The woods bring calm, and it really is in the form of mindfulness. I notice and appreciate the changing canvas through the seasons – the carpet of leaves, the newly bare trees, the joy in my dog.

Sometimes I am stuck on something that I can’t let go and I need to process, and the fresh air does help…but I most enjoy a walk when I can just be there in body and in mind.

Today was one of those days. I am grateful.

 

Day 248/365 Do I Know Who I Am Without It?

I saw this quote on Facebook yesterday…

A friend of mine had posted it, and one of my closest friends “liked” it, and so obviously it was directed specifically at me, because I don’t know about you but every potentially “negative” comment to which I can even remotely relate, is clearly about me.

(Am I right?)

This comment really cut me, and any time something impacts me that strongly I have to stop and take a look at why.

Has my entire identity become centered around grief and loss? 

I mean, I write a blog about it (almost) every day. It has become a fairly common occurrence at this point for people I don’t know (or don’t know well) to approach me to say that they enjoy reading my blog, and many of those encounters end in tears (for both parties!). They are moved by the blog, and I become moved by the feeling of connectedness. Often they want to tell me about their loss, their pain.

We hold space for all of it together – mine and theirs, ours.

So…have I somehow become a spokesperson for those experiencing loss? And if so, is that a bad thing? Am I stuck here?

Am I afraid I don’t know who I am without it?

Later, I went back and read the post again. It was then that I noticed what was written underneath the post, which was this…

“It occurs to me then, that one of the greatest gifts I can give my world is to embody and show what we “are” and “can be” when we DO heal, so that it feels less scary.”

Ahh…Yes!

This blog isn’t really about grief and loss, it is about RISING UP from it…at least, that was my impetus, hence the name “Dipped In It“.

It has always been about returning to a seat of gratitude, lightness and love…and so, I am not stuck.

I am not my grief, I am only holding it for a while…and hopefully I am helping you to hold yours, too. Together, we are making it less heavy.

We can do this.