Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Arriving at Happy.


The first thing on my mind this morning when I woke was my list of To Do’s preparing for tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day. I ate some breakfast, woke the kids, cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the stove after leaving it a mess during a lazy ‘vacation day’ with the kids yesterday. I prepared the green bean casserole, cleaned more dishes and retreated to my room with some ice water and my list to get the rest of my day planned out. 

Then I pulled up Facebook on my phone to see who else might be preparing for Thanksgiving and came across my sister in law’s post remembering her brother, my late husband, who passed away 5 years ago early this morning. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘Five years’.

The first three years were difficult. Last year I determined I would make an active choice to be happy when faced with moments of sadness. But this year has been different, easier. We’ve transitioned into a new normal. I could not have imagined that I would start this day not thinking of him, but planning the holiday instead. Yesterday and today have typically been the two most difficult days of my year and yet here I am feeling good, pausing, reflecting, smiling and happily preparing for Thanksgiving Day. 

I still think of him every day. I still dream about him fairly often, I still miss him, I still love him, I even still get mad at him. But perhaps within this fifth year, I’ve become accustomed to living without him. That statement almost sounds like a betrayal. I imagine the me from three years ago is glaring at the present day me right now and scoffing at how I could be humming through this day, the date of his death.  I’ve spent hours planning and making a Thanksgiving feast, not because I have to and he’s not here to do it, but because now I want to and I enjoy it.

We hang an ornament with his face beaming at us on each Christmas tree in our house (yes we have three trees). Before this year I hung them out of sight to avoid his face whereas now I find myself smiling softly at the sight of his dimples. I fondly glance at the mistletoe he kissed me under as I walk past it when the sight of it used to crush me with the knowledge I wouldn’t receive any more kisses from him. We have not forgotten him, but the holidays are happy again. 

Life has somehow moved forward, even without him here and I think I’ve finally, for the most part, caught up with it. I can accept that I am both mom and dad, good cop and bad cop, the bread winner and the home maker and I am good with that now instead of feeling overwhelmed and abandoned. The bed doesn’t feel empty anymore. I don’t wake up and sigh with disappointment that a new day has dawned and I am still here. I find myself opening my curtains to let in the sunshine. I can sing songs we sang together without weeping (most of the time). I can watch videos of him with my kids and laugh and smile. Life, is happy again.

The road here wasn’t short or easy and it’s definitely not over. Each morning I smile and say hello to the new day instead of waking and sighing because I’m still here. Each morning I begin again. Each morning I try again. And again, and again. And even though arriving here five years later has been a long, bumpy, painful journey, I am here and I’ve arrived at yet another new beginning. Life isn’t perfect and it’s not pain free. But, I’m alive again. And I’m happy again. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Four Years Later, Our Family of Three.

Today, I am a widow of four years and my children have grown four years older without their father. We are no longer broken, but some days we are still learning how to live without him. 

I still have some sleepless, lonely nights. My daughter sometimes come to me in tears because she misses how her daddy adored her. My son still keeps a photo of he and his daddy on his dresser and after months of introspective silence, will talk with me about him for hours.

In those moments, my children listen with rapt attention to my stories of our fun dates and silly fights and the life lessons he and I learned together and they retell their favorite, funniest and saddest moments of their dad that fill their memories. Kellan can't remember the day after Donnie passed, it's a complete blur to him. Emmi can recall almost every detail. I try not to remember the day before or the night we lost him and yet I can't help but think about where I was, what I was doing and how I had no idea what was coming. 

Losing your love, your loved one, or your dear friend can be sudden, world shaking and hurt as if you've lost a limb. It takes time to regrow the nerves that were severed, to realize there will be phantom pain, to understand you must work hard to move forward or even re-map your entire life plan. It's a painstaking process that is full of missteps and hesitations, tentatively placing your foot forward and finding yourself falling over and over again until you are finally able to pick yourself up without assistance and start moving forward with a hard fought confidence in each careful step.

I still dream about Donnie sometimes, even as recent as last night, but my dreams aren't as dark as they used to be. ~ In my dream we were planning a wedding vow renewal on a vast lawn under the stars, with lanterns hanging from trees and laughter floating on crisp fall air. ~ Life feels different now versus the last few years; still unknown, but brighter, hopeful and full of new beginnings. 

Today we will decorate our house for Christmas, tomorrow I will start cooking for Thanksgiving and our family of three that used to be four, will see a new year begin in just a few more weeks. We will miss him at each milestone and in the quiet nights. Every birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas we will experience somber moments. But we will also laugh together, love each other and live each day with the intention of joy. And we will have new stories to tell in the years to come; our family of three. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reagan Got Shot and I Got Spanked.

My family always had strong political views and shared them freely in our home. As most children do, I listened to my parents views, soaked them in and I adopted my parents' opinions. During the election between Reagan and Carter in 1980, we were very supportive of Jimmy Carter. My older brother Mark even dressed as Jimmy Carter for Halloween, in a tan corduroy suit with a Jimmy Carter mask on his face and at every door instead of saying the typical 'Trick or Treat' he would exclaim "Vote for me!". It was awesome.

As we know, Reagan won the presidency, was sworn in and took office in 1981 and just two months later there was an assassination attempt on his life. At the time, I was nine years old and my younger brother Gerald had just turned eight. When we heard the news, we ran outside and began dancing around our willow tree together, rejoicing and singing "Reagan got shot! Reagan got shot!" with blissful grins on our innocent faces.

I think it was our neighbor that overheard us and told our parents what Gerald and I were doing. And let me just say, we definitely received a proper scolding and sported some red bottoms that afternoon. Our laughter turned to tears and not because we were worried about our President, but because of our punishment. I remember feeling so confused and also quite ashamed. We were told it was not right to rejoice in anyone's demise and that we must respect the office of the President, even if we did not value or agree with the person in that office. 

That afternoon helped shape my current outlook. Since that time, I've understood that the President is the President. I may not like him, I may not agree with him, I may not have voted for him, but he is my President. And because he is my President of the nation that I live in and love, I pray for him and I respect the office that he holds. 

Today I have seen so many posts on Facebook from unhappy or angry people, from ecstatic or even gloating people, from people that have mixed emotions and from people that just don't seem to care. I have my opinions. They might follow after my family's or they might not. They might be different from yours or they might be the same as yours. They might be more grey than black or white. They might not be completely formed. They might be ignorant opinions or they might be researched opinions. 

But they are my opinions. We have the right and the freedom to express ourselves. I rarely express myself when it comes to politics and related hot topics. And that's my right as well. Here's what I will say. We live in a country that gives us the freedom to vote, for some of us that was more hard earned than others. I don't take that lightly and any time I am able to vote, I do so. I mark my vote, my opinion on who should be president and I do my part. 

My vote joins millions of others and they are then counted and we are given a result and it is what it is. We don't have to be thrilled about it. We can even be disappointed. We can be ambivalent or delighted. We can express those feelings, that is our right. 

What makes me sad, so very sad, is the hatred I am seeing. The absolute unbending hatred. And people, it is coming from both sides. My oldest brother Phil's best friend who is without a doubt pro-Clinton, had a Facebook friend in the pro-Trump camp post "Now, I want to go out and start shooting Muslims." This breaks my heart. And I've seen plenty of posts from the pro-Clinton/anti-Trump side too that I won't go into right now, but I'm sure you've seen at least a few negative posts as well, from both sides. 

I'm not going to tell you who I voted for yesterday. It might be who you think I would vote for and then again, it may not. It's my right to keep that private. All I'm saying is I'm sad today. I'd like to see us be 'Stronger Together' and 'Make America Great Again'. I'd like to see if we can be civil and kind to one another and see how we can work together because this is our America. This is our country. This is our very opinionated nation made up of very different people who are all very passionate about our country's future. 

We are an amazing country that has come a long way and still has a long way to go. We are not perfect. There will always be disappointments and failures to face; personally, privately, publicly, nationally. I still hope for our future. And I know you do too. I think it would benefit ALL of us to learn to be kinder to one another, to sometimes hold our tongue, or soften our words, to treat one another the way we would like to be treated. 

We're going to disagree at times. Let's love our nation. Let's be kind to one another. And let's work hard together to make a difference. And to both sides I want to remind you that bullying gets us nowhere. Hatred gets us nowhere. Kindness goes a long way in expressing your opinions and makes a huge difference in delivery and reception. 

Play nice people. 


Thursday, September 8, 2016

11:57 pm.

This post was written by Kellan. It's a memoir, an assignment given to him for his English class this year. Posting with his permission. (I'm a proud mommy!)

11:57 pm

By, Kellan Thibodaux

It was the night before Thanksgiving when everything changed. My mom had let my little sister and I stay up late and we were watching TV when I paused the DVR to check the time. It was 11:57 pm. “Hey! Why’d you pause it?!” my sister Emmi belched out. “Checking the time.” I replied boredly. Then from the other side of the house, we heard loud whispers; panting. We walked with unease towards our parents’ bedroom to see our mother pushing repeatedly on our father’s chest, as he laid unconscious on the bed. 

“Mom? What’s wrong?” I said with tears rolling down my face. She turned and saw us and yelled, “Go sit on the porch with some toilet paper!” We ran to the bathroom and grabbed a roll of toilet paper to dry our tears with and sat on the porch waiting for our Pastors and an ambulance.

A few minutes later our pastor’s mom (whom we didn’t know at all) showed up and took us to her house and tried to distract us with basic conversation like “Sooooo, how’s school?” and “Sooooo, what’s your favorite color?”. My sister and I snuck glances at each other silently saying ‘Why is she trying to distract us? It isn’t going to work!’. Then she tried to distract us further by playing a Jackie Chan movie which we watched for all of two minutes before my Pastor’s wife Mrs. Cyndee saved us by walking in the front door to take us to the hospital to be with our mom.

At the hospital, we waited inside a small waiting room that held only two tables with magazines, a box of tissues, a potted plant and a few chairs. We sat impatiently while the doctor shared the news down the hall from the waiting room with my mother, Pastor Nathan and Mrs. Cyndee.  My sister and I decided to peek out the door to see what was going on but nothing was happening and we couldn’t hear anything so we went back in and shut the door to keep waiting.

Finally, they came back into the room. My mom sat down and said “Kids… I have something to tell you.” When she said that I looked backwards and Mrs. Cyndee was covering her face with both hands. I couldn’t tell if her reaction meant my dad was okay or not. I turned back to my mom and she said “Your dad… he’s gone.” I cried on and off while my sister cried hysterically and mom held us both in her arms.

The next few days were mostly a blur. I still can’t remember much of anything. I don’t remember Thanksgiving day which was the day after or even my sister’s eighth birthday which was the day after that. It’s a total memory fog.

This Thanksgiving will be four years without my dad. My fourteenth birthday is less than a month away. I’ve had to learn some essential things like riding a bike, mowing the lawn, and checking the oil on the car without him here to teach me. Sometimes it’s hard for me to talk to my mom instead of my dad about personal things as I’ve grown up the last few years.

Since I lost my dad, a lot has changed. Once in a while I cry myself to sleep at night and it’s still difficult for me to say the words “My dad died”. But I’ve come a long way in my grief and I’m so thankful I had such a great dad for the 10 years I had him. He was amazing. He loved me, my sister and my mom with everything he had in him. He was talented in so many ways. He was handsome, funny, smart, caring and giving. As I grow older, I find many of these pieces of him in me. And that makes me really happy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

#ichoosehappy

Some of you in my facebook world may have noticed a hashtag I've been throwing around since day one of 2016. Instead of making a resolution, I pondered on what I wanted to see happen in my life this year and it is simply one thing. To be happy. So I chose this motto for myself in the form of a hashtag: #ichoosehappy

The first year after I lost my husband was such a dark year for me. I struggled to survive minute by minute, day by day. I hid in my room, I ate my feelings, I cried, I slept, I was numb and I won the title of Miss Dreary Non-Personality.

The second year it was as if I was climbing out of heavy waters, draggy myself out of a pool after spending all day in the burning hot sun. I was working full time again, moving from an apartment to a house, trying to do everything on my own, re-disciplining my kids (because for the past year I just didn't have it in me), learning to cook more than just 5 meals and basically becoming human again.

The third year was a bit easier. A little less anxiety and depression, giving more of my time trying to do fun things with my kids, trying to be build friendships, enjoying holidays and cooking my first Thanksgiving all by myself, and trying to figure out who I am, what I want in life and what I want to be when I grow up. Honestly, I'm still trying to figure that one out.

But this year, as I work my way through our fourth year since Donnie passed away, I've approached every day looking for the joy in each moment, seeking the silver lining when the inevitable tough times arrive, being positive and joyful instead of staying dismal and depressed. Choosing happy has made a huge difference for me when bills are looming overhead and one income has been a challenge. It's made me grin and bear it when I'm feeling grumpy or my kids have been stinkers. Choosing happy has made me laugh when I locked my keys inside my house and had to sit in the car waiting for a locksmith. 

Choosing happy has made me say yes more often to my kids' requests and surprise them with new privileges AND responsibilities as they grow older. It's caused me to live in and appreciate tangible moments that are now fantastic memories. Choosing happy has brought more peace to my heart and helps me sleep better at night. And when I look back through the first five months of this year, I realize they have been a very happy, happy five months.

The year 2016 is approaching its halfway point and here I am still choosing happy. It doesn't mean that hard days don't come. I just had three days in a row that were the toughest I've had in quite some time. Anxiety attacks and depression showed up out of nowhere, bad dreams and sad memories overwhelmed me and stopped me in my tracks, made me breathe deeply, stand still and even stay in bed for almost a full day. 

But even in the thickest, heaviest, most wearisome moment of those days I knew that it would pass. I knew I would come out of it. I knew I would feel the sunshine of happy again. 

I love the power I hold in choosing happy. I may not have all the answers, I might not know what tomorrow holds, how I'm going to cross the next to do off my list or even when the next dark cloud might try to cover me, but I know I can purpose to choose happy in the face of those uncertainties. I don't need to have the answers. I just need to choose happy. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Nights, Three Years Later.

I climbed back into the bed, hearing it groan and creak with my weight. I turned and lied on my side facing him, facing me. I closed my eyes blissfully because I had 2 hours before I had to get up again. I swayed my body towards his and smelled his clean fresh scent he carried after his nightly shower. I reached out and wrapped both my arms around his right arm, pulling it gently towards me and snuggled my face against the arm hair that tickled my nose and kissed the sweet spot below his shoulder where he had a slight indention. I sighed in utter contentment and satisfaction.

I knew as I hugged his arm against me that we wouldn't lay this way for long in the early morning hours. We weren't two people that could cuddle while sleeping which was a good thing since neither of us liked to snuggle all night. It's not that I minded cuddling, I enjoyed it, but I just couldn't sleep like that. It got on my nerves and kept me awake and it was the same for him. But we loved these brief early morning embraces; short, intimate, sweet moments of pure joy wrapped up in seconds. Fleeting touches, quick kisses, deep squeezes.  

We totally had our own version of that 'hug and roll' move down from Ross on Friends. That was good enough for us. We only wished we had a king sized bed where we could roll away and not touch each other at all while sleeping. That would have been ideal, to feel like we had our own bed all to ourselves, with plenty of room away from each other and yet still close enough to cross the distance and grab these quick morning snuggles. I sighed as I squeezed just a little bit tighter, that squeeze that means I'm letting go of you soon but for just another second I just cant get quite enough of you.

My breath catches in a quick sob as I rub my face against the furry sensation because I know, I know he's gone. I'm just a 44 year old woman lying in her bed alone, crying and chuckling ridiculously at the absurdity of the fact that I'm squeezing the life out of a teddy bear for comfort. You see, I never had a teddy bear as a child. Well, I had them but I didn't sleep with them because I just did not like to cuddle. I cannot ever remember sleeping with bears or dolls. I remember snuggling them for a minute and then pushing them away from me because I could not, I did not, I would not sleep like that. I would toss and turn, flail and wiggle, pick my head up and put it down a million times on my pillow to find that perfect spot to rest in and no stuffed animal would have been able to take that abuse. I saved them from myself by ostracizing them from my bed and placing them in the corner of my room or my closet.

This teddy bear in my arms, it helps. It's been almost three years now since he left me and I still lie awake at night. For the most part, I've moved past the daily heart wrenching grief although admittedly it still comes back in moments and immobilizes me, like this past week for instance, but that's another blog entry. Most nights though, I find myself lying awake at night, unable to sleep, unable to settle, unable to fully relax. And then there are moments I am so frantic inside where I just have this feeling that something is wrong, something is missing, something's been taken away from me and I need it so desperately. I need to hold something close to me, I need to press it against me to have that physical knowledge that I am not alone. I am not alone. I am not alone.

So for the past nearly 3 years when I experience that desperate feeling of approaching madness, I will get up as a last resort when I just cannot stand it anymore and I will wake one of my children. I weigh the risk in my head before I wake them; who has a test, who's gonna be grumpy, who's going to be willing to come quickly, who needs more rest, who'll be easier to wake up tonight?

I reached out and touched her arm and gently shook her. Then I started whispering "Emmi. Emmi? Emmi, wake up. Emelia. Emelia Rose. EMELIA." She gasped and started awake. Her eyes blinked open and I say with quiet desperation in my voice "Please come lay down with me?" like a scared little girl waking up her mommy after she's had a bad dream. "Please baby, please wake up, just come with me, come lay down with me, let me hold you for a little while. PLEASE." She nodded her head, turned over and climbed out of the bed. I stood there for a moment to make sure she didn't lie back down and once I heard the soft padding of her feet on the wood floor, I turned around and I walked back to my room. I put haste in my steps and quickly reached my bed, climbed up once again, the mattress groaning, and spread out the blanket, preparing for her arrival.

...Preparing for her arrival. When I was expecting her, Donnie almost died then too. I remember waiting. Waiting in a long row of chairs outside of the operating area, nervously waiting with members from our church and my pastors. My family and his weren't able to be there because everything happened so quickly and they lived hours and hours away. So we sat there in anticipation, with a completely different kind of expectancy, waiting for an update on the surgery, waiting for the doctor's report.

The doctor finally walked out decked in his mint green scrubs, still wearing his surgeon's cap on his head and his mask hanging from the little bands on the back of his neck. He wearily reached up and rubbed his forehead and came to stand directly in front of me. He was all business, this surgeon we had just met the day before, this doctor that saved my husband's life. He had no bedside manner unless he really, really tried once in a while as I would come to find out over the next six weeks. But in this first debriefing he gave me, he spoke with fatigued matter of fact-ness. "Your husband is stable. There was a lot of infection. If we hadn't operated today he would have died in the next couple of hours. And he is not out of the woods. The next day or two will tell" he said, "and the next several hours. We'll definitely have to go back in again. We'll do it tomorrow."

My breath caught in my throat and I swallowed against the dry lump that had risen. I said "Thank you." and he quickly turned and walked away. And I was so, so angry, so pissed off. I could hear the murmur of consoling words and encouragement given to me by the pastor's wife and the other church members. In comforting tones they said how it was so good we had seen this doctor in time, and how great it was that he caught the problem. They sounded like an irritating, maddening swarm of bees buzzing in my ears and all I could think was "God, I'm so pissed off at you. If you let him die... if you let him die, and I have to raise this baby and my son alone I'm gonna be so mad at you. I'm gonna be so angry with you!!" Oh I threatened him, I warned him. I was so mad, knowing that Donnie could still leave me.

All these thoughts ran through my head in those split seconds before I felt my girl climb up in the bed beside me and lie down. I covered her with one of the soft fuzzy blankets and drew her close to me.  She likes to cuddle so it's not a problem, she'll stay as close as I hold her, only slightly moving to get herself comfortable. She'll let me squeeze her, squeeze her, squeeze her as close to me as I need to and hold her so, so tight until that empty starving feeling starts to dissipate just ever so slightly and I keep that pressure, the locked arms around her body so she cannot escape though she doesn't even try to because she loves it. She breathes in deep and she sighs, satisfied, content in my arms and I hold her so tight, trying to fill that void and it helps, it does. Warm, salty tears slide down my face and under my breath I tell myself with quiet determination "I'm gonna be okay. I'm gonna be okay. I'll get through this, I will".

I rub my wet face against the brown furry bear and chuckle again, shaking my head a little. I've replaced those 3:00 am tiptoed moments to my children's rooms with this bear. Well, not completely. There are still moments where I have to hold one of them, but this bear helps. I don't always hold him at night, but I do sometimes, when I wish I could feel Donnie's arm in mine.

I miss him. I miss hearing him breathe beside me. I miss how he would shift his weight to get comfortable. I miss the clearing of his throat, his reaching for a water bottle on his bedside table and drinking throughout the night. I miss hearing him sit up on the side of the bed for a minute when he got up, maybe so he could wake up a little to clear the cobwebs or maybe he was dizzy and needed to center himself before rising to walk. I even miss hearing his leg drag as he walked to the bathroom. His gait had changed after those life saving surgeries from that healthy strong walk he had when we first met. Step-thump, step-thump. It made a funny sound when his nerve damaged left leg landed on the ground. My ears strained, going from normal size to 10 times their size in my mind, like cartoon movements in my silly ridiculous imaginations. You know how in the cartoons when a character's ears would grow larger when they are intent on listening? That's how it felt when he was away from the bed. 

I would listen for every movement while he was gone until he returned to the bedroom, attentive just in case he needed me, body on alert until I heard him step-thump back to the bedroom. He would sit on the side of the bed, take another drink of water and then lie down, turn over and face me, reach out and put his hand on my arm and squeeze it gently before he pulled the covers back over his neck and simply say to me "I love you". And I would tell him, "I love you too honey". 

Maybe that's why nights are still difficult for me. I try to ignore the silence. I fill it with worship music or funny YouTube videos. I watch Hallmark Christmas movies or something from Netflix. I try to read or drink some hot cocoa or hot tea. I sweep or clean dishes or do laundry. I sit on the side of my bed, drink ice water and rock myself back and forth and try to push down the frantic feeling as I hug my new teddy bear, laughing at myself to keep from crying, but doing what I have to do to survive, to stay sane even if I am a little crazy. I miss him every day, but in the nights, in the silence, in the waiting, I feel so alone.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Meeting Pop-pop.

My children and I just returned from a trip to North Carolina where I spent the greater part of my younger years growing up. From the second grade into my mid twenties I lived where the grass is greener, literally. The trees are abundant, the highways are beautiful, the mountains linger majestically in the background and the autumns are vibrantly full of breathtaking colors. I've missed the rich natural beauty of that southern state even if I have enjoyed living other places.

We spent hours this past week visiting with my family, a little time with a few of my friends, took a day to drive through my small hometown to show my children the houses we grew up in, the churches we worshiped in and the schools we attended. And most importantly, we visited my father whom I hadn't seen in fifteen years. My children at ages 10 and 12 were so eager to meet their "Pop-pop" in person for the first time ever. They've exchanged a few letters, phone calls and done a little face timing over the years, but this was a significant moment for my kids. 

The first twenty minutes after we arrived at my dad's place, my daughter who was seated near him just stared at him with a quizzical 'I'm trying to figure you out' look on her face. She studied him so astutely. This man who she had heard stories about, not all good and not all bad; with his swollen-red ankles, large belly and semi-lame arms very quickly stole her heart. After meeting him she thinks he's funny, she loves the way he chews and she gets a dreamy smile on her face when she thinks or talks about him. 

My son in his usual reserved way stayed mostly quiet, stood when my dad told him to stand so he could see how tall he was going to grow, laughed at his jokes, checked his mail, readily helped to wash the dishes and grinned ear to ear when it was time to take a family picture with his Pop-pop. My eyes get blurry over the pure joy resident on my kids' faces in those photos.

Last night after we brought all our luggage in, changed into our PJ's, had a bite to eat and said our good-nights, my daughter and son both drifted back into my bedroom with somber looks on their faces. I asked them what was wrong and my daughter replied softly 'I miss my Pop-pop' while her brother nodded his head and said 'Mom, this was the best trip ever'. So sometime this week some letters will be written, an envelope addressed and a stamp applied to it's top right corner to be mailed to North Carolina where we left a piece of our hearts behind. It was a good trip.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Extension Cords and Aftershocks.

Last weekend I took the time to go through a few boxes I had been putting off emptying and found new places to store the things they held. I busily placed the extra components for electronics, cable wires, twist ties and tools in the new-to-me shelves but paused when I came across several sets of extension cords, coiled and then wrapped and tied with the plug end. 

I gripped one of the bound cords in my hands and held it to my chest. His hands touched these last. His hands wrapped these and tied them and set them aside after a Christmas maybe four or five years ago, the last year he was able to actively make Christmas happen for me and the kids before I stepped in to do my best.

It's been a while since something shook me like that. It felt like what I imagine an aftershock from an earthquake would feel. The room around me slightly swayed and left me feeling a little off-center, dizzy and confused. It's funny that something as simple as an extension cord could put me off balance.

The next day I had a dream. He was back. He had fallen again and had to stay in the hospital for a few weeks to recover. We had moved into our new house and I was busy getting things ready for him to come home. But reality broke in when Kellan walked in my room to wake me up and ask me a question. In my stupor, I yelled at my poor baby "I'm not done sleeping!! Ask me later!!" I almost had him back for a minute there. Almost. And I just wasn't ready to wake up to the reality that he wasn't back and he wasn't coming home.

This week I've found myself trying to figure out what's wrong with me when I'm busy doing dishes or folding laundry and feel like there's something deeply wrong or missing. As soon as I sit still I suddenly feel like bawling for no reason. Or I'll catch myself spinning into an anxiety attack when I thought I had nearly overcome them. My chest hurts, again. I can't breathe, again. And I feel crushed, again.

I used to live in moments like these every second. I was overwhelmed in every moment and could literally focus on nothing else. Now, when these emotional intrusions break into my life, they catch me surprisingly off guard because they're truthfully and thankfully no longer the norm. I've come so far. So very far from the broken woman I was even just less than a year ago.  

In just over a month it will have been two years since we lost Donnie. I miss his voice and hearing him pray and sing and laugh. I miss his mad chef cooking skills and confiding in him about everything and talking with him about nothing. He was my best friend ever. Ever. Ever. 

And even though I may be over the bulk mass onslaught of my slaying grief, I know these aftershocks will come. They may last for a few seconds, or an afternoon or a week or two in waves like they seem to be resurfacing now, but in a way I am thankful for them. In the middle of the busy-ness of my life they remind me to stop and pause to remember, not the end of his life and how it devastated me but who he was and the magnificent memories I have of living life with him.

I loved that man from the depths of my soul. I loved him with all that I was and that kind of love doesn't just disappear. It may sleep until it's revived by something as silly and common as an extension cord or a dream, but it's still there. I don't want to forget him. I don't want to bury his memory and walk away. I want to grab those memories and hold them tight to my chest and remember vividly who he was. He was an amazing man. Talented, brilliant, funny, aggravating and amazing. And he was mine. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

True Love.

Easter Sunday 2014, as I was watching Jesus die on a cross, again, I had a sudden realization that something was wrong with me. As I sat there slightly sunken into my chair with my arms crossed against my chest, totally annoyed with the beautiful yet tragic display of God's sacrifice for me, I wondered briefly what my problem was when the answer suddenly hit me. I was angry at God. 

To be bluntly honest, the words that came into my head with this revelation as Jesus was being nailed to the cross were, "Oh my gosh! I am SO PISSED OFF at you, God!" For the rest of the service I continued shouting this at my Savior, inside my head, over and over again. It was empowering and somewhat euphoric. It was emotion I hadn't felt spiritually in quite some time. And it was anger. At God.

I allowed myself to say it. For the next two or three weeks I walked around repeating those words. Sometimes I would scream them out loud. Sometimes I would whisper them. At times the words were monotone. In moments I wept them. But I had to tell Him, even though He already knew. 

All that time, for the past nearly year and a half (back then) since my husband died, I had no idea I was angry with God. For months I was so numb spiritually. My relationship with God was dormant. I was expressive with my words on paper or via blogging but when it came to trying to talk with God, I could barely get the words out. I would try to pray and nothing would happen. It was like there was a door between us and it just wasn't opening. Until Jesus died on that cross again this year. And then it all came pouring out.  

It was freeing to release it. It felt so amazing to be honest. To be real. To tell God like it was. And to know it wasn't the end of our relationship. He didn't turn away from me. He didn't lock the door. He didn't walk away. He stayed right there, even though I was all up in His face, spewing not so nice words from my lips. He didn't leave me. He didn't forsake me. Instead, He loved me.

In those weeks of expressing and confessing my pointed anger to God, a breaking took place. I reopened the door I had shut. I knocked down the dividing wall I had inadvertently and unknowingly created. My anger which had been explosive, strong, hot, heavy and extreme slowly began to dissipate. When my steam ran out, my anger was replaced with a calming, soothing peace.

I began to pray again and was able to worship more intimately. It started being less about me and what I was feeling and more about Him and how He was moving and what He was saying. I felt more alive than I had in months. I felt there was purpose in my life again beyond just getting through the day at hand and began feeling hopeful for my future again.

And while I still don't have all the answers, I am learning to trust Him again to reveal them in His timing. I admit I still have issues trusting Him. I still battle with unbelief that He will move mountains for me, but I must believe that He will, because He loves me. 

And honestly, even though I'm not angry anymore, I'm still hurt. I miss my husband. I don't like being alone, even if I am getting more used to it. This wasn't the plan. I did not sign up for this. But what I've discovered through this experience of severe, earth shattering loss that I've been through is just how much God loves me. He didn't push me. He stood by patiently until I was ready to talk again. He let me be angry with Him. He understood. He listened. He waited. And He loved me. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

He Knows My Story

I love Hebrews 11. I used to read it and marvel at how these great people of God could do the things they did, by faith. My favorite example though, is in verse 8:

"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going."


Crazy, right? I would read that and wonder, HOW could he do that? How could he go, not knowing where he was going? It floored me that he had such an assurance and confidence in God, that he would just go, because he was told to go, and didn't even know where he would end up. That place of not knowing and yet trusting, not having the answer and yet acting, amazed me. I just couldn't quite grasp it.

Until one day, years ago, God told me to 'go' without telling me how to get there and I came to know the destination that Abraham arrived at. The surreal land of the unknown, full of unseen riches that I could feel and taste and yet not - quite - see. I was surprised that I found such a deep joy in submission and obedience. Those words sound like a chore, but acting them out was life giving to me.

The last three major moves our family has made grew out of this obedience. He would speak to me in quiet moments and prepare my heart for the future He had for us. He would show me the time period and the outcome but leave all the in between monumental makings of the destination unclear. He would tell me to wait and not speak about it to my husband until He released me to do so, sometimes weeks or even months later. And I would find we were on the same page because God had been speaking to him too.

And every time, every time, He provided. Every time, He opened the doors for us at exactly the right moment. Every time, He reassured us of His purpose in our lives. Every time, He made the way clear and unfolded His plan in such a supernatural chain of events that it was clearly His doing and not our own. And we would sit back, smile, and watch the perfection of His promises being fulfilled. Every time.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because my lease is coming to an end in 46 days. It's time for the kids to have their own rooms. It's past time for me to have a washer and dryer connection. It's time for our next place. So I have been planning our move, gearing up to start packing, preparing my schedule and making time to make it happen. And yet I don't know yet where I'm moving. I'm not sure where my kids will be starting school in just 13 days, or if I'll even have an address by then to register them under. 

I have a lot of questions and very few answers. But I know God has a place for us. I know He has all the little details that are keeping me from sleeping worked out. In those moments that I don't have Donnie to turn to and make decisions with, I am burrowing my head in God's shoulder. And I'm assured by Him of His love for me. He keeps telling me "I've got this". He says to me "I know". I am confident in my submission and obedience to Him. 

And just like this move, this unknown home where we'll be unpacking our things in a little over a month, I know He has a plan for me, too. A hope and a future. Even if I don't know anymore, just what that will be. I know He knows. He knows my desires and He knows my heart. He knows my secrets and He knows my story. Every page. The start, the middle, the road ahead, the pit stops, the bumps, the triumphs, the bruises, the sorrows and the joys. Past. Present. Future. He knows.

And He knows your story too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

And the Crazy Mom of the Year Award Goes to...

FYI: This blog is written in a wholly sincere tone. Please don't read it in a sarcasm filled, defiant, sassy tone. I can see how it might be perceived that way, but it's definitely not written that way. Thanks... :)

Dear Nice Lady at My Kids' School:

Maybe I'm paranoid, but I'm pretty sure I saw the look of judgement that passed over your face when I dropped my kids off late for their last day of school and they were marked absent for the day since it was past the official tardy cut-off time. I want you to know I get it. I know I'm not mom of the year. I know they've missed more than their fair share of days from school this school year because there were some times I just did not wake up when my alarm went off and I let them stay home to save them and myself the embarrassment of facing school staff in a situation like today's. 

I can understand your raised eyebrow at my hair thrown up in a sloppy attempt at appearing human with my beloved giant hair clip that has saved my life on more than one occasion. I know I'm not the mom who appears at every school function with a batch of homemade cupcakes in  a proper Tupperware poised on my hip. And I realize with a shake of my head that I forgot to run by the store and buy the chips that my son was told to bring for their last day of school spread which I didn't find out about until bedtime 2 nights ago.

I know you're the one who called me twice this year when I didn't show to pick my kids up after school because I slept through my alarm at 3:00 in the afternoon. You know I work nights but I agree it still doesn't make sense that I seem to have selective hearing loss when it comes to my 3 or more alarms I set to get myself up in time to take my kids' to and from school. I don't get it either.

What you might not know is that even though it's one and a half years later, I am still in mourning for the husband that I lost at the far too young age of 42. That although I am doing much better, I still have days that I am unable to function on a normal level because the night before I was struggling to breathe between and during phone calls about passengers' seating misfortunes. That in those moments of sheer terror filled panic I am chanting a mantra of sorts in my head to get myself through each second: "I'm okay. I'm going to be fine. God, please help me. I can do this. Jesus, I need you! Breathe in, breathe out. I'm not dying. Lord, help me. I'm okay. I'm going to be fine."

You may not realize that even though I was able to give away a little time last night and was off work an hour early and went straight to bed because I knew I was exhausted and needed to sleep so I could get the kids up for their last day of school, that when my head hit my pillow, my heart started racing in anxiety yet again and the prickly grasp of panic clawed at my chest and it was all I could do not to scream and wake up my children in the next room at 4:13 in the morning. You don't know that I lied in bed for the next I don't know how long praying, crying, begging God and texting friends 'Are you up yet?' before 5:00 in the morning just so I could hear a human voice and talk myself down from the insanity ledge I found myself dangling from so suddenly.

You and I both have no idea what time I finally cried and prayed myself to sleep. And you don't know the dread and disappoint that filled me when I woke up in a sad sleepy stupor to see it was two hours past the time my children should have been at school for their last day. You didn't see my son crying in the doorway when I told him we were late and he only had an hour or so left with his friends at school if we hurried to get ready and know the reason he was crying is because you failed, again.

You shook your head a little when you asked if I was staying at the school for the awards program and I half laughed to myself and said "No". You don't realize that I've only slept for a few hours and the crazy woman hasn't quite left me yet and sitting through an assembly with other teachers or moms that might look at me the same way you have, terrifies me and my imagination is out of control in one of those thankfully now rare moments of reliving my husband's death and I might end up running out screaming and embarrass my children even further.

Although it has been a whole year and a half since my world turned upside down and you would think I'd be drawing near to the end of my grieving and mourning season, I'm not. I still have these days that overwhelm me and cause me to wonder how I will ever grow beyond the onslaught of emotions that stop me in my tracks and turn me into an inner lunatic that I do my best to push down into a dark little crevice in my heart.  

You see, the truth is there are days that mad woman walks with me everywhere I go. It disturbs me that I can't seem to break away from her. She whispers in my ear when I am laughing with my children. She points at happy couples in ridicule and disgust when she sees them. She pushes against my chest with all her strength until I am gasping for breath and doesn't give me any relief. She rocks herself during songs at church that I led with Donnie and causes me to sometimes clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from loudly wailing in the middle of a worship service. So to take the chance of unleashing her during a school program is for me, absolutely a laughable, 'NO'.

You don't know that this week I've begun two HUGE steps in my recovery. That just last night I met with some people who I am working with to help put on a Night of Worship and that this is one of THE BIGGEST and hardest things I've done to begin to bring myself back to who I am or who I was or who I might be or who I might become or that I'm still iffy about what my future holds and I'm still testing the waters on what God wants for me and trying to learn to trust Him again. 

You don't know that I've had to learn how to worship again when it was second nature to me before. That part of me has been severed and it's like learning how to walk again. That the future I had envisioned was a shared one with dreams that I thought could only be fulfilled with the inclusion of my husband. That I'm terrified of doing this without him because we were such an amazing and powerful team and it's all I have ever known and that leading up to last night's meeting I was such a nervous wreck. Or that sitting there hashing out songs with people I've never worked with felt strange but good and I realized I CAN DO THIS. Or that as I drove home from the rehearsal I realized that I can do this, WITHOUT DONNIE, and that realization hit me with a devastating blow of sadness that I am moving forward without him. WITHOUT HIM. And it feels as if I'm leaving part of him behind instead of him leaving me and that hurts.

You don't know that in just 2 days we are driving back to the area we lived in happily together for five years to the last places I saw him, to go sit in a congregation and look again at a platform without him and hear someone other than him singing and leading worship in that sanctuary where we had experienced such total freedom and liberty as we had never known before. You don't know how nervous I am about seeing people I haven't seen since the few weeks following his funeral. Or that my daughter, who has been so excited about returning there, broke down in my arms the night before last and told me momentarily that she didn't want to go now because daddy won't be there. Or how important it is that we actually return to replace the memories we left with on a sad note, so we can leave on a good note instead, full of fond memories and moments with people we love and who love us.

And you don't understand what it's like to hold your child in your arms not more than a week ago, as waves of grief overwhelm him and he clings to you as tightly as possible pulling back only to stare at you and cry "Mommy!" in desperation and say "It feels like you're not here!" and understand that feeling of void inside of him as the sobs rack his body and he wails and moans and weeps and continues crying "Mommy! ... Mommy!" and you feel helpless as you hold him tighter and closer and repeat over and over "I'm here, mommy's here, I'm right here with you baby, mommy's here.", for hours.

You don't know that after we leave our last home-place together, we'll be driving to Louisiana and the one thing on my mind is through all the fun and enjoyment we will have while we are there, we will also be going to visit his tomb in the quiet sanctuary of the cemetery where his ashes remain. We will somberly stand in front of his tomb reading over his mis-spelled name that they still haven't corrected on the hard marble door that will separate us from him. You don't know how tempted I am to bring a camping chair and just park it and hang out there with him for a while, just to feel close to him again and hear the birds singing while I'm smelling the thick bayou-scented air and watching my kids run their fingertips over his engraved name as I look over all the chalky-white painted tombs.

So I'm not angry with you. Not at all. And maybe I'd judge the same way if our roles were reversed. Maybe I wouldn't understand either how some moms just can't seem to get it together. But the funny part is 'this IS together' for me. I am doing so much better than I was a year ago. I have come so much farther. I am taking huge steps that tend to knock me off balance and push me backwards but the important thing is that I get up and keep pushing myself and keep moving forward, even when it hurts, even when it's painful or becomes tormentive. 

Even when I have to watch my children endure the stages of grief and continue to gently push them forward. Even when people look at me like you looked at me with reasonable disapproval and judgment, I have to keep moving forward. Because even if it doesn't look like it from the outside looking in, we're making progress. So I'll take that Crazy Mom of the Year award or the looks of disapproval like a badge of honor. I've earned it. And I'm proud of it. 

Oh, and I forgot to tell you when I left because I was still wiping the sleep out of my eyes and also being a bit self-obsessive, but I really do hope you have a great summer. ;)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Voice of Queen Esther

There are times when I hear myself speak that I am caught off guard because the voice that flows from my mouth can sound just like my mother's voice and for a moment it makes me feel as if she were in the room with me. It jars me because at the sound of her voice I am a child or young girl growing into a young woman again, spending time with her and holding her hand. 

I would run my fingers over the fistula in her arm that had allowed her to receive dialysis. Its warmth and the rushing sensation of her blood coursing through her arm would comfort me. Her skin was soft even though it was scarred from needles being forced into her arm hundreds of times. And because the skin on her hands was loose and a little wrinkly, I would smooth them out and wrinkle them again just for fun. 

We went to antique shops and consignment stores together and I would look at the old jewelry and antique purses while she shopped for kitchen items and then I'd show her the treasures I'd found. We drove through the hills and country in the spring, summer and fall to see how the flowers and trees changed over the seasons and sang along with Sandi Patty and Barbra Streisand. We would sit in restaurants for longer than our meal should have lasted because we would lose track of time talking. 

She told me stories about her years growing up and imitated people with hilarious accuracy. She was silly and she laughed with me. She confided in me and told me secrets that had been confided to her by others. She talked calmly to me and help me find reason and resolution to my problems. She made me feel better about my failures and flaws and encouraged me. She listened intently to my words and I knew the things that I said mattered to her. I felt valued and irreplaceable and she always made me feel special. And I was, because I was her little girl, even at 19 or 23 or 30 years old. 

It makes me miss her even more to know that my voice holds shades of her speech within it. But I love the memories that rush over me when my voice slips into hers. I love feeling as if she is still here with me in those moments and I feel the strength of her devotion to me and her love for me as I relive those vivid memory reels in my mind. And I still feel like her little girl, even at 42 years old.

I miss my mommy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Happy Birthday Dear Donnie...

Dear Donnie, 

It's your birthday. Today you would have been 44 years old. I would have teased you about being only 6 years away from 50. And I would have told you with all sincerity how thankful I am that you were born. For your last 8 birthdays on this earth you and I truly celebrated your life because of your brush with death in 2004 from Necrotizing Fasciitis. Every moment became special and sacred.

I'm so glad I purposed to give you a party for your 40th birthday. I still think over the time I spent preparing for your surprise birthday roast on the bayou with happy smiles and of how much I enjoyed every moment of planning and then seeing it come into fruition. And even though you knew something was up we still got you with the roast and all those awful pictures. I'm so happy we celebrated that day with your family and friends.

Tonight the kids and I will spend the evening celebrating you again. I've been veklempt since Sunday night thinking about this day and the significance it holds. About how Emelia told me just a few months after you left us for heaven that she wanted to celebrate having you as her daddy on your birthdays every year. And the extra hugs the kids have been seeking from me the last few days with moist eyes along with whispered words of "I miss daddy" in my ears have made me weak and nostalgic.

I miss you. I miss your voice and how its deep timbre brought me comfort and warmed me. I miss your laugh and how it would make your eyes disappear and your dimples deepen. I miss the warmth of your hand covering mine and hearing you say 'Thank you honey' for the small things I did for you throughout the day. I miss the silly irreverent videos that you would text me to make me shake my head in laughter or shock and after watching them, I would have to delete them in case the kids came across them in my phone. And of course I miss your mad chef skills, especially when I murder a steak in my awkward attempts at cooking.

But I will celebrate you today. Even though I will be teary and a bit somber in moments, I am happy to have this day to honor you. I will watch old videos with the kids and we will laugh together. Emmi will tell the IHOP sausage story for the thousandth time and giggle over your crazy antics. Kellan will quietly listen and laugh and cry. We will dine at a restaurant you loved and we will wave at you and hope you see us as we gaze into the starry sky before going into our apartment and getting ready for bed. And we will love you, love you, love you always and no matter what. 

Happy birthday honey.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sharon, the Joyous Giant.

I was stalking the page of a fairly well-known worship leader the other day, reading her posts, watching her videos and I was floored by her joy. She exudes it. It pours out of her eyes, her mouth, her smile and her voice. She's like a big bright ball of sunshine that's so blinding you have to shield yourself from looking directly at her because the rays are just busting out everywhere. 

She is full of wonder and peace and joy and excitement over Jesus' love. She gushes on and on about Him. She is effervescent. And as I read her words and watched as she giggled and laughed and exuded this joy, I wept. 

Great, I thought, another thing to mourn. I have lost my joy. I listen to CDs of fantastic worship and half the time I am numb. I move my lips to sing and the words fall off my lips and feel strange and forced and foreign. I watch other people as they worship and tilt my head to the side in wonder as they so effortlessly offer up their praises and their words to the Father. I marvel at how easy it is for them to push through to that deeper level. 

Because that used to be me. It used to be. And now, I feel like a shell of a human. I'm half the woman I used to be. Half the worshiper. Half the leader.

Remember in The Little Mermaid, when Ursula turned Ariel and King Triton into the shriveled up mer-people and how pitiful and desperate they looked and sounded in that state? That's how I feel. Shrunken, tiny, minuscule and weak. But even though I am in this malnourished state where my growth has been stunted, I am still reaching out for bread and water. I am hungry. I am thirsty. I have been starving and although I am hesitant and mistrusting because I am wounded and broken, I want to be fed, I NEED to be fed and I MUST drink. I want to live again! I'm dying to live again!!

So I am striving. I am diligently pursuing my Father. I am finding His bread of life and I am drinking His living water. I am sipping and nibbling because it is so overwhelming. And I am finding my insatiable hunger and thirst is slowly coming back. I know that soon I will be devouring every morsel and drowning down every drop just to be reaching out for more!

And now, I have a secret to tell you. I've only told a few people this and you might laugh, it's okay, I don't mind. There's something really cool that happens to me when I worship. When I really, really worship with every fiber of my being, when every little part of me focuses in on giving my self completely to God and lavishing my love on Him and accepting His love for me, something happens to me in THAT moment. That moment when I've given Him my all and I am worshiping Him in absolute reckless abandon.

I become a giant. I'm not kidding you. In my spirit, in that moment I am no longer 5'2". I see myself rising taller and taller and taller until I am so tall I am nearly to the ceiling! It is such an amazing feeling, so euphoric, so heady, so rich and I am so, SO tall! I know that sounds funny. It is. It's weird. My spirit man is tall. For always having been a shorty, let me tell you, that feels really, really good. But man, when I worship God with all that is in me, I'm telling you people, I literally become a giant. 

I miss that. I miss my joy. And I miss my worship. And I'm so glad I'm getting it back. One bite, one sip, one song at a time. Oh how I love my Jesus.

Verbal Vomit.

I so did not want to go to our grief counseling this week. We hadn't been to the past two meetings because four weeks ago I was sick with the flu and two weeks ago I received news just before we were getting ready to leave that our former Pastor's father was about to pass away and it hit me and threw me into a basket case-crying, I can't breathe and I sure can't drive and sit in a room full of grieving people and hold my composure overwhelming hot mess mode.

So this Wednesday, after missing a couple of sessions, I felt anti-social and was just not in the mood to sit in that room with the other adults. But the kids wanted to go. It means so much to them to be able to sit in a room full of other kids their age and hear them expressing the same feelings they have about losing their parent and being able to talk about their daddy. They had missed going and looked at me with those pitiful, pleading eyes as they asked me "Mommy, are we going to The Warm Place tonight?" I told them "Yes, we'll go but only because I love you so much."

I have a serious love/hate relationship with our grief counseling. I hate introducing myself every other week and telling everyone who I lost, when I lost him and how I lost him. It pisses me off when half the adults there were already separated or divorced or whatever and so they don't feel the loss as deep as I do or at least that's the way I feel. It makes my heart beat fast before I have to speak and I feel like I can't breathe and like I need to run out of the room screaming. I hate feeling like that.

I put off speaking until I absolutely have to when it's my time to share because I am such a mess. Then I open my mouth and verbally vomit all my feelings. I choke up and pause and everyone is staring at me, listening to the un-edited, non-eloquent words as they pour out of my mouth, revealing my weakness, my anger, my fear, my horror, my loss, my frustration, my annoyance, my bitterness, my desperation, my hopelessness, my angst, my rage, my anxiety and my loneliness.

I stop and I say I'm done and they look at me with understanding and nod their heads and wipe their eyes after crying with me. And I realize this is why I still need to go. As much as I hate it. As much as I detest sitting in that room and hearing everyone's pain and feeling their anguish as we go one by one around the room describing our loss or our feelings, I need to be there. In that room, I feel abnormal and normal at the same time. Awkward and accepted. Angry and forgiven. 

I love going there. I hate going there. I have to keep going there. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree.

I just took my bedroom Christmas tree down and I can't tell you how good it feels to have it all boxed up. I was excited to put a tree up in my bedroom again. It had been six years since I had put up our bedroom Christmas tree, decked in pearls, off-white poinsettias and a gorgeous variety of blue ornaments. I couldn't wait to enjoy the lights from my desk while I was working at night.

As I opened each ornament box it took me back to seven Christmases ago. Some of the ornaments had never been used and still had their tags on them from the after Christmas sales we had hit that year. With each layer of ornaments I added to the tree my sadness deepened. I finished decorating and stepped back to look at our tree, Donnie's and mine. 

Instead of bringing warmth and fulfillment, it brought me heaviness and weighted pain. The soft glow emanating from the corner of my room was like the ghost of Christmas past staring at me with droopy tear filled eyes. It reminded me of hushed conversations we held after putting the kids to bed, planning out their gifts and stocking surprises. How we would gaze at the lights as we cuddled on the bed or how I gave him his gift early because I just couldn't wait anymore.

I didn't realize the tree would throw me back so far or bring me down so low. That's the funny thing about grief. You just never know what is going to trigger it and in such an instant moment you are left breathless as if you've been sucker punched in the belly or pinned beneath an anvil like Wile E. Coyote.

At our grief recovery meeting this Wednesday, our adult group was given Play-Doh to use as part of our activity. We were asked to make something to show how we feel now that the holidays were over. I made a little Play-Doh man with X's for eyes and his mouth gaping open and with the rest I made a boulder. When it was my turn to share, I dropped my boulder on the man and flattened him. Everyone laughed, including me, but it was true. 

I have felt flattened by this Christmas. My apartment has been in chaos. My laundry needs washing. My floor needs vacuuming. Everything feels and looks like a wreck. Except for my beautiful, perfect Christmas trees. 

So tonight, after I put the kids to bed and took some down time for myself, I looked once again at my bedroom Christmas tree, sighed and started to dismantle it piece by piece: ornaments, poinsettias, pearls and branches. Now it sits in boxes where the tree was standing and to be very honest; I know this doesn't sound like me, being the Christmas lover that I am, but those boxes are just the most beautiful thing I have seen in a few weeks. Well, that is besides my children. 

One tree down, three to go...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Living With An Empty Chair

Doing something as simple as eating out quickly became one of the hardest things to do after losing Donnie. When it's just the kids and I eating at a restaurant, they always place us at a table for four and his absence becomes immediately much more visible with an empty chair at the table. So when we eat out now, I tend to make plans ahead of time to eat with someone else. And if the sudden whim hits me to go out, I find myself desperately texting friends to try to fill the empty space.

You know how it is at any given dining place. There are a few tables suited for larger groups, the intimate tables set for two, and then there are the tables arranged for the perfectly sized family of four. When we're shown our table we choose our seats, sit down and although I do my best not to look at the empty chair beside me, I can't help but sneak in a glance. 

That vacant chair changes everything. It's obvious when we sit at a table for four that he is missing. And at some point during our three-person dining experience, our faces grow a little sadder, our shoulders become a little heavier and our conversation slows. It's just not the same, because he's not sitting in that chair.

He always tried new and interesting dishes and I would stick with a boring meal of chicken something or the other. He would work a puzzle or color a picture with the kids on their children's menus. He would tease them and laugh with me. He would lean over and talk confidentially with me while the kids were distracted. And when the kids and I couldn't finish our dinner, he would take his fork and enjoy the meat that was left behind. Now we always have leftovers to take home.

Who would have ever thought that an empty chair could carry so much significance? That a glance at the chair beside me could fill me with sorrow and place a hollowness in the pit of my stomach. Or that the absence of his reassuring arm behind me on the back of my chair could make my food taste like warmed up cardboard. 

This Friday night I didn't feel like cooking. I wanted to go out and do some laughing and celebrate the beginning of the weekend with a meal made by someone else. I started texting my friends, put a feeler out on FB to try to find someone to meet us and just when I was about to head out to meet some friends, I had a check in my spirit. Or to whoever may not believe like I do, I'll just say something made me stop and think for a minute before rushing off to meet friends for dinner.

I know there's nothing wrong with eating with friends and honestly some times for me, it's absolutely necessary. Sometimes I just cannot be alone, even when the kids are with me. But Friday night I took a moment to stop and dwell on my decision and I decided I needed to give the kids more. Not a night where we were tagging along with other people just so we wouldn't have to be alone, but an evening where it was just the three of us, where it was 'about' just the three of us and sharing that moment together.

I texted my apologies to my friend and jumped in the car with the kids on a quest for a mini-adventure. 'Where are we going mom?' and 'Who are we going to eat with?' were the questions that met me as we left our parking lot. 'I don't know Kellan. We're not meeting anyone Emmi, it's just going to be us.' And a collective, disappointed 'Oooohhhhh.' met my ears and my eyes winced the threatening tears away. 

We ended up going to a German restaurant that I had been wanting to go to for months, but never did because I knew it was a place Donnie would have loved to try and I thought it would be too awkward without him. The kids were skeptical and their mouths were twitching in fear at the thought of eating strange food before we even walked inside. And as we walked through the doors of the restaurant our senses were immediately assaulted. 

Festive, rich and raucous notes from a live accordion player shocked our ears. Young ladies in authentic German dirndls met our eyes. We were seated by a girl wearing gingham at a four-chaired table and our waiter, a young man in his twenties, was wearing lederhosen. We breathed in the thick aroma of bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut and fried potatoes. The kids' eyebrows were raised in surprise and smiles started framing their faces.

I talked the kids into trying bierwurst and kaiserwurst with a side of fries and I tried the schaferschnitzel. Emelia danced a polka that sounded just like the chicken dance with the waitresses and Kellan went to steal a peek at the accordion player and came back to the table miming as if he were playing one himself. Their attitudes had changed from disappointment and fear to fun and adventure. And my perspective changed a little as well.

I still noted the empty chair that held my purse instead of my husband's laughing, teasing, food critiquing, bold personality. I saw that it was void and barren but instead of feeling like it was the giant sized novelty chair bearing the burden of his absence, this time it shrunk to a normal sized dining chair that just happened to be at our table. 

We rode home with full bellies, leftovers in our laps and smiles on our faces. The kids and I talked about how even though they were scared to go in, they ended up having more fun than they could have imagined having in a restaurant. I reminded them we only have one life and we need to be open to new experiences. We talked about taking risks and chances and enjoying each moment instead of hesitating in fear and missing out on something special and unforgettable. 

And even though Donnie wasn't there, it was almost as if he was, because he would have enjoyed every moment of the assault of our senses. He would have been hamming it up, trying new foods and he may have even borrowed the accordion to play a tune for us to dance to. He would have lived that moment out to its fullness with laughter and satisfaction. 

There will still be glaringly vacant chairs at our table. His presence will still be unavoidably missing and we will still have somber moments when we dine together, just the three of us, alone and without him. But I will do my best to teach my children to live exuberantly. To take chances and risk replacing their fear with excitement and to take advantage of life's many opportunities. I want them to live their lives passionately and without any regrets. Which I happen to know is exactly what their daddy would want them to do.