Devastated by the sudden loss of her beloved father, Bethany Harvey embarks on a year-long, self-imposed odyssey of self-reflection. As she navigates the unpredictable spiral of grief, she openly shares the heartbreaking, gritty and unexpectedly hilarious insights that surface while she continues to respond to a universe that never stops dealing the next hand.
Joined by her daughters, who innocently help her find the deeper meaning in even the messiest human moments, Bethany triumphs — and discovers that, no matter what life dishes up, she will always be “dipped in it.”
The following quote by poet Tyler Knott Gregson came up on my Facebook memories this week…
“To begin again, sometimes you have to take life down to the studs, knock down all the walls, and pull out the insulation that kept you from the world. You must get dirty and feel the ache in the muscles you used to pull the house down around you. You must stare wide eyed and grinning at the mess you have made, seeing through the rubble to the clean floor that will emerge when the work is through.
Now, now is the time to destroy the foundations of fear and apprehension, the walls of waiting and wishing; now is the time to begin again. Laugh at the piles of the past you stand in, knee deep and smiling.”
I so loved it at the time I posted it. Reading it again brought me back to that moment in time. It was two and a half years after I had split with my husband and moved out of our home. I had – we had – torn it all down. It was not working. We were not happy, though we had tried and tried. I had already gone through the grieving, much of it while we were still together. I was, at that point in time, ready “to laugh at the piles of the past in which I stood, knee deep and smiling.”
The date was February 2016.
About a month later, my ex-husband (and the father of my two girls) came out as transgender. Nine months after that, my beloved father died suddenly. Nine months after that, my mother was diagnosed with BRCA and stage 3 cancer.
Let me be clear – I am not comparing my ex being trans with death nor with cancer, but I list it here because…well because when the person with whom you were in a relationship for twelve years reveals this kind of secret – when you realize you didn’t know, percieve, understand…have an inkling of something so fundamental about your spouse as his gender – it has the power to shake one’s foundation. As is, for my girls and me, navigating the outward changes of our loved one. When you think about it – what is more fundamentally true to a child, than that Dad is a man? (Or to a woman, that an ex-Husband is a man, for that matter?) Love is love…and what is revealed within that can still be a wall rattler; a soul shaker.
Once again I found myself standing in the rubble that was once my life. However, THIS time – I hadn’t asked for it. I had not held the sledgehammer in my own two hands and swung wildly, hungry to tear it all down. I had simply woken up one day to find a big hole in the roof, and then I watched helplessly as the foundation cracked, and the walls buckled, and everything seemed to crumble all around me.
The question I find myself asking is – Is it possible to approach the rubble we’ve willfully created in the same way that we greet the rubble we did not? The rubble we never asked for? The rubble we never saw coming?
The Buddhist answer would be yes – simply greet what is. Embrace it.
I can assure you, I am not the Buddha.
As I have stood in the piles of the past, I have grieved. Heavily. I have cut myself on the jagged pieces of the past as I tried to fix what was there. I have tripped and fallen as I tried to hold up the pieces that were still hanging on by a few desperate nails. When you never wanted the destruction, it is hard to accept the fact that nothing can be put back exactly as it was, in its imperfect perfection.
Whether the rubble was intended or not, Gregson was right about looking THROUGH it all, “to the clean floor that will emerge.”
Because it will. It is there, beneath it all. It is always there. Whether we brought on the demolition ourselves, or we helplessly watched as everything fell apart. Either way, we must rebuild.
We have no choice, as we stand there in the rubble, but to get to work cleaning up the mess and to begin again…and again, and again.
Such is life – learning to push up our sleeves and do the work…
The work we asked for, and the work we didn’t.
I still may not be able to greet both with a smile – to greet them equally with gratitude as bits of the house that once sheltered me cling to my hair and dust my eyelashes – but I do understand that it’s the building and rebuilding of my house that will teach me the most about myself.
Above all I must remind myself that I am not the house.
Its destruction never has to equal mine.
As many of you know, my family has been taking the same spring trip together for over twenty years.
If you have been an avid reader of this blog, you may have, in a sense, taken the trip with us last year. Coming just five months after my father’s death, it was hard. I tearfully joked that I felt we should have purchased an extra seat on the plane, for the grief we carried with us surely was too big to fit in the overhead compartment.
I shied away from family photos that year. It was as if I didn’t want to remember it. Not as if, actually. I didn’t. I just wanted to get through it, because he would want us to keep going there…and to keep toasting to him with each sunset.
Fast forward a year, and for months prior to the trip there was an unspoken worry –
Will Mom be well enough to go? Would we go without her?
She would insist. It would be awful.
As the trip approached, we learned not only would she be able to come, but she would also be completely done with treatments. We were elated. I was on a high for about a week…until suddenly the pain of not having my dad there resurfaced for me. In talking to my mom, the same thing had happened to her.
Perhaps, she said, we never had enough time to grieve him. Suddenly we were thrown into dealing with The Big C. Our grieving was interrupted. Now that that storm has passed, the grief returns…not yet through with us.
I found this thought incredibly frustrating. I know I’ll mourn my dad forever, but I so desperately wanted to feel light again. Life has been so heavy.
I wanted to stand on the beach with my toes in the warm sand, and to fully feel the sun on my face…literally and metaphorically.
Off we went to Boca Grande…
In the end, aside from a few tearful moments, the predominant feelings I had throughout the trip were those of gratitude and joy.
Dad wasn’t there – but Mom was…and she had fought like hell to be there.
There we were – my big, beautiful family, in the most beautiful place.
There’s something I’ve noticed about the beach at Boca Grande. Every year it is the same familiar place, but there is always something slightly different about it, too. All of the storms throughout the year, and even the day to day currents and tides…they alter the landscape.
They expose new things, they erode coastline, they create sand bars.
Things never stay the same, and yet, it is always beautiful.
It is always Boca.
In our lives we have day to day currents and tides that ever so slowly and subtly alter us. Sometimes there are big storms that ravage us, and we must rebuild. Sometimes the devastation is so vast, we aren’t sure where to begin…but we do.
We always do.
Life creates and exposes, erodes and rebuilds.
What remains, through it all, is fundamentally beautiful –
It is Life…or as Mary Oliver wrote…”yourwild and precious life.”
One year ago (one year and two days, to be precise) I announced that I was going to write a blog a day for 365 days.
You may ask…
What the hell were you thinking?
That’s a fair question – and one I have asked myself more than once. The answer is…I was drowning, and somehow I knew that writing would help me to keep my head above water.
I wasn’t wrong.
I wrote every day for more than half the year, but at a certain point I began to relax a little and to allow myself to take a pass, or two…or as it turns out…51.
I can choose to see this as a blog partially empty or as a blog mostly full. Personally, I think writing 313 blogs in 365 is an accomplishment, so I am going to go ahead and take this as a win…with the condition that I will keep writing. Stopping now would feel like tripping and falling with the finish line in sight. If I had 314 blogs in me, I am sure there must be 51 more kicking around in here as well.
I’ll find them.
The truth is I wasn’t sure exactly when I started the blog (the precise date), but the first ones started showing up in my Facebook news feed as “memories” two days ago, so…there was my answer.
All this time I have deliberately avoided going back to read any of them. I honestly have no idea how doing so is gong to make me feel, but I am curious…
Will the me from a year ago seem far removed from the me I am today? Will I relate to my own words differently now with the perspective I have gained?
Is it a time capsule I am really prepared to unearth?
Today was a hard day. My friend, Jaime, was laid to rest.
It was incredibly touching to see the community of support around his family, and to bear witness as we all tried our best to collectively shoulder the enormous weight of our grief. Honestly, I was completely wrecked by his grieving children, who must live with the cruel paradox of having had the most wonderful father, but for not nearly long enough.
Jaime was young and vibrant and had so much love to give. There’s more to say about that, but for tonight…just this simple bit of gratitude.
After the service (burial, collation…), I felt exhausted in the way that only emotions can exhaust a person.
When I got home, I told my girls (who had been home with a sitter) that I just needed to lay down for a few minutes. I went into my room and laid on my bed, curling up on my side and closing my eyes.
Moments later, Beau came into the room. She climbed onto the bed, and laid down with her back to me, shimmying herself into the hollow I’d formed with my curled up body. Next, Ruby climbed in behind me, pressing herself into my back, and reaching for my hand.
No one spoke.
Then, for the first time in years – the three of us took a nap.
Tonight I am thankful for sharing my home with intuitive beings, who know when all I need is someone to be with me…to hold my hand, and to not say a word.
Sometimes I find it really hard to write the blog because my head is so filled with something that I don’t want to share, either because it’s too mortifying (yeah, there’s stuff in here I don’t share – scary considering all I do share, I know) or because I feel like people are tired of my whining.
I really don’t walk around like Eeyore all the time. Life goes on. I mean, I smile and laugh and carry on with my day, almost always…but sometimes the core of me is just really sad and writing anything other than that seems inauthentic. This blog is supposed to reflect how I really feel. It’s supposed to be about all of the stuff that is percolating under the surface, threatening to suffocate me if I don’t get it out.
Yet – how many blogs can I write about losing my dad?
Well….quite a few, as it turns out…but how many will you want to read?
It’s then that I have to stop and remind myself why I started doing this to begin with – not for you, but for me. So, I’ll write. I’ll purge. I’ll let it out.
(Still, somehow I feel like I owe you an apology. Like I’ve lured you into a dramatic film and you’re kind of stuck here waiting for the happy ending so you don’t have to go to bed sad.)
They kept my dad heavily sedated (can you believe they can sedate someone who is already unconscious? Oh, the things you learn…).
They had to do this because he was having seizures, constantly – petit mal – the kind you can’t see. The doctor described them as electrical storms in his brain. They didn’t want the storms to (further) damage his brain, so they sedated him to stop them.
The problem was, with the heavy sedation they couldn’t tell whether there was any “normal” brain function.
So we had to wait, and wait. They’d cut back the sedatives, and the storm would begin again…so they’d put him back on them…again…and again.
The entire week – this week last year – we were in this horrifying purgatory…and we all keep having flashbacks.
Both of my brothers called me today, and I talked with them each only for a few minutes as I was at work. At a certain point in each conversation, someone needed my attention and I said, “I’ve gotta go, I love you,” when what I wanted to say was…
I’m there too.
I’m right there with you.
I’m watching my tears drip onto his impossibly warm hand.
I’m soaring at the sight of his suddenly open eyes, only to realize they see nothing.
I’m sitting on the cold floor in the corridor, because it is somehow less depressing than the waiting room.
I’m sitting in the hospital chapel, embarrassed by the fact that my first real talk with God is happening here – in a glorified closet – after all of the hallowed places I’ve been.
I’m there, in the cold conference room with too many chairs, waiting to hear them say what we already know.
I’m there, wanting to throttle the neurologist with the nervous habit of smirking while she says the worst things a person can say. Doesn’t she know her words cut like knives?
On the first day of the calendar year, we all get a clean slate. A chance to offer the world a new us. A chance to hit the reset button; to begin a new chapter of our lives.
I’m sorry but…that is a lot of effing pressure to put on one day, isn’t it?
What if, at the stroke of midnight, you found yourself not in a state of optimism and renewal? What if you were not in a position to havea fresh start, but rather, you are right in the middle of a challenging period of your life?
Something beyond your ability to “reset”?
Case in point – last year I rang in the new year curled up on a reclining chair in the ICU. Rather than fireworks and cheers, I lay there listening to the beeping of the IV drip, and the hum of the respirator that unbeknownst to me would keep my father alive for only five more days. The next morning, my sister in law remembers being in the room when someone came in with a power tool and removed the 2016 calendar from the wall, replacing it with a fresh, shiny 2017.
Happy New Year!
As the clock struck midnight this year, I found myself thinking about Karen, who lost her dad just a few days ago, knowing all too well how this year will be for her family. A close friend ushered in the new year from a loved one’s bedside in the ICU. Another is faced with an impending divorce. Yet another is struggling to be understood and accepted as his authentic self.
As for us Harveys, well…with luck, Mom has two more months of intense chemo, then surgery, before we can hope to see her good health return. It is a stressful time, and there’s no avoiding it.
My point is, many people are enduring hard things…things for which there is presently no “reset” button. To many, the words, “Happy New Year” ring hollow this year.
The good news is…to my thinking, January 1st is a completely arbitrary date to have been chosen as the first of the year. A year is a circle, isn’t it? Well…technically an ellipse...it is a rotation around the sun.
There is no stopping nor starting point. We all go round and round. So, how about we take the pressure off of those who might be feeling robbed of their fresh start, as of midnight, on this totally random point in the Earth’s orbit.
We can have a fresh start any old time we choose.
Whenever we’re ready.
In fact, we have the possibility of one everysingle day.
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.
Writing is hard to do right now. I could tell you I have been busy, and that I am exhausted at the end of the day…and both of those things would be true, but the real reason is that I am struggling, emotionally.
So, why am I reluctant to write about that?
I certainly have done so before. It’s kind of – what this blog is about.
Yesterday afternoon I sat at the bar at The Mooring, a beautiful waterfront restaurant in Newport, with Lynette and Ryan. There were some tears. We laughed at ourselves as we dabbed our eyes with cocktail napkins.
I mean…poor us, crying into our oysters and wine.
I don’t know – maybe that is a big part of my struggle. There is so much abundance around me – nourishment in all forms…
Yet, the fact that I have the time, the money and the wonderful family to indulge in an afternoon like that doesn’t bring back my father. It doesn’t make my mother less sick.
It doesn’t make life less heavy right now.
We left the restaurant, and after walking around Newport awhile with Monica, we went our separate ways. As soon as I got into my car alone, I really let go.
Big, heavy sobs.
I pulled myself together to run a few errands – grocery store, liquor store, pharmacy, picking up one last gift…
I pasted on a smile, but oddly I felt as though every clerk was treating me with kid gloves. They each were kind, but subdued…offering a particularly gentle “Happy Holidays.”
When I got home and looked in the mirror I understood. It would have been glaringly obvious to anyone who looked at me that I had been crying.
In that moment, taking in my reflection, I actually felt guilty for having subjected the world to my obvious despair – and on Christmas Eve–Eve.
But there it is, isn’t it?
There is an expectation of joy that we place upon the world at this time of year. None of us want to admit when we aren’t feeling in the spirit.
The truth is…
We all have our ups and downs in this rollercoaster of life. When you’re at a highpoint at Christmastime, it is an insanely intoxicating time of year, full of joy and hope.
When you are at a low point, you become a detached witness to the joyful hustle and bustle. You don’t feel a part of it…and that makes you feel all kinds of shitty emotions – ungrateful, guilty, embarrassed...like you don’t belong.
Like you’re at a party you weren’t invited to.
It is that feeling of being lonely in a crowd….of searching the room for your people….
The really-I-am-so-blessed-and-grateful-but-I-am-also-really-sad-and-this-is-not-my-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year people.
Ahh…there you are.
May I sit at your table?
I’ll bring oysters and wine, and lots of cocktail napkins.
The holiday season is a time of love and giving, and also, for many of us…a time of heightened anxiety and stress.
I always worry this time of year that I have forgotten to do something or to buy something…that somehow I am going to leave someone I care about feeling overlooked or disappointed.
I was thinking the other day, I have no idea how people with more than two children manage to remember all of the things they need to do during this time of year. Yes, there’s the shopping to be done for the kids, but also their teachers, coaches (all very deserving of our gratitude!) and then there are the special events at school. How do you manage when it’s more than one school? Kudos to you. Really.
It is all beautiful and lovely, but there is so much to remember.
I wrote a while back about how it is a scientific fact that grief wrecks havoc on one’s memory, focus and ability to process. I have struggled all year with memory and organizational issues. So, coming into a time of year when there is so much more to do and remember….well, this quote struck me particularly funny –
I know that the logical thing to do is to back off a bit where I can – to not volunteer to add more things to my “To Do” list.
The dilemma with which I am faced is this – adding things to my plate can cause anxiety, but doing things for other people helps to combat depression.
It’s the classic Uppers vs. Downers dilemma.
(Just kidding…kind of. I do find doing for others kind of like a drug.)
It isn’t really much of a dilemma, actually.
If my anxiety is presently caused by my worrying about the amount of love and joy I am spreading in the world – that’s a pretty good kind of anxiety to have, right?
The fancy Christmas kind?
Here’s the painful truth –
I see The Nothing ahead of me, like a big black fog of darkness I am going to have to walk through at the other side of Christmas. The night of December 26th was the last time I saw my dad conscious. It was the last time I felt his arms around me; the last time I heard him say, “I love you.”
So…I know what I’m doing.
I am begging the question…
If I create as much light as I can, between now and then, can I hold it off?