A Different Kind of Love Letter

Dear Dad,
You’re still a jerk for dying. Every once in a while I can be okay with it, but for the most part, the way I feel about you for dying hasn’t changed.

As the second anniversary of your death approaches, I am thinking a lot about what has changed since March 11, 2010.

At your funeral and afterward, a lot of people said to me, it will get easier with an emphasis on the IT. I don’t think IT really gets easier, Dad. I think I just get better at IT. I live and love and laugh a lot and I cry a lot too. I sometimes question my sanity. When that happens, I wonder if maybe I really should be all better now. There is no “all better” in the world of lost loved ones though, Dad. I know that you know that. And, I know that you know, better than anyone, that the pain – the sadness, the anger, the desperation – we feel when we lose someone we love needs to be expressed because if it’s not expressed, bad things can happen. Unexpressed grief festers inside us like an infection. It might manifest itself in another way, like as an illness. So, I don’t need to explain to you why two years after your death, I’m still writing about it and thinking about it…and crying about it.

I still miss you so much, Dad. I miss you the most when I am putting Sophia to bed and we are laying side by side with our faces so close that our noses are almost touching. She stares at me intently and whispers the sweetest things like, “your eyes are like JEWELS!” As if she is so surprised, but also as if she is telling me a secret about the meaning of life, something that only she knows because she is still so fresh in her human body. I wish you were here to tell me what you think of all the things she says and the ways she twirls around the room, dancing and singing, and the ways she taunts her brothers. I loved hearing your James stories. Then, I loved hearing your Alexander stories. I long to hear your Sophia stories.

When Sophia and I meet new people or stop to talk to strangers in the store, it isn’t too long before someone says, “I love her little voice.” Nobody knows as well as Sophia just how lovable she is. She tilts her head and smiles. One day, Alexander was FURIOUS at her. She talks a lot, Dad. Her little voice never stops. She wouldn’t stop talking and Alexander screamed, “I HATE HER LITTLE VOICE!” It was hilarious. I laughed out loud. Really, what else could I have done in that situation?

I parent differently now than I did before you died, Dad. I used to get really stressed out, almost panicky, in situations like that. I wanted to be the perfect mother. I wanted to respond with the most meaningful, profound, and powerful words. I wanted to say the right thing, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Oh Dad, that just isn’t real. You know? My kids need to see me lose it. They need to see me make mistakes and say I’m sorry afterward. They need to see me cry, Dad. Nothing is real anymore. Between TV and movies and video games, kids just don’t see what’s real. I want to be real for them. They need me to be real for them. When they’re upset, they don’t need me to spout off something I read in a book, they just need me to listen. At the end of the day, if they can go to sleep knowing that they are loved and that they are heard and seen, I think they will be okay. Sometimes I screw it all up, but mostly I think we’re all going to be okay.

I think that is true for most people, Dad. They just need to be heard. So I’ve stopped trying to come up with the perfect response altogether. I’ve stopped beating myself up for falling short of perfection…because I do fall short of perfection. Way short. I listen a lot and think less about how to respond when the person I’m listening to is finished talking. When people ask me what I would do – I try to answer from the heart. But, honestly Dad, we all know that nobody really knows how they will respond to something until they are actually faced with that situation. Oh, the time I wasted IMAGINING how I would respond to a hypothetical situation! I try not to do that anymore. It’s a waste of time.

I also try not to obsess so much. I used to obsess over every little detail of every little thing that I did. Do you remember that? I was so busy obsessing that I was missing what was most important – just BEING. Kids don’t care if their birthday parties have a theme, Dad. For the love of God! But themes are fun. So that’s different. I don’t pretend that implementing every aspect of the perfectly themed birthday party is for them, an essential part of the perfect childhood. I’m honest now, Dad. They may pick the theme, but all the other coordinating and matching and gathering and putting together – that’s for me. They really just want cake and presents.

I guess you could say I’m following my intuition more now. I’m listening to myself more. The funny thing about that, Dad, is years ago – before kids and marriage and a job and all that, I LISTENED to my intuition! Somehow I lost touch with that ability. Or, I lost faith in that ability. I began to look outside myself for answers to questions. I read books. Lots and lots of books. Before I made any significant decision, I checked to see what Dr. Sears would do. I turned to my friends and anyone really, to see what they were doing. Then, I judged myself against all those inputs – the books, the people, the kids’ teachers and our pediatrician… I never measured up, Dad, because that wasn’t me. That wasn’t real. And the other funny thing about that is I’m actually really smart. I have some pretty great answers. But, I still love books.

I still think a lot about God too, Dad. That hasn’t changed. It is an obsession. I really wished I had some solid ground to stand on after you died. I desperately wanted to be able to say with confidence, “THIS is what I believe…” I have some ideas, but I’m still open to possibilities, Dad. I stopped thinking that maybe some people were wrong and some were right about God though. Maybe we’re all right, Dad. Maybe we all just need to figure out what works for us and do that. Maybe we can change our minds as we go. Twice this week already I’ve read stories about how God wants us to treat others as we would treat ourselves AND, here’s the important part, that implies that we actually treat ourselves well. Right? I never got that part. I just assumed I was treating myself well and that is how I would treat others. In actuality, I wasn’t treating myself well. At all. So, I’m trying to treat myself well because I want to be able to treat other people well. Skipping meals and not making time for exercise? Um, no. Not anymore. But Dad, I’m always the first to go when things get rough. I take full responsibility for that. I’m not whining about it. I’m just saying that I’ve still got work to do.

I’m writing all of this as if you have no idea what’s going on down here on Earth. When really, in my heart, I know that you already know all of it. I know you are there in the night with Sophia and me, and maybe it is you whispering in her ear, telling me my eyes are like jewels (although, even you wouldn’t be quite so dramatic about it). I know you still follow James and Alexander and maybe you’ve got some buddies up there who listen to your funny stories now. I know you are here with me, leaving pennies and feathers and messing with the frames on my walls. I know you are guiding me to listen to my intuition…again. I know you are helping me to see what is real and what isn’t and what matters and what doesn’t. This is what you did on Earth. You were flawed, like all of us, but you were real and the way you lived your life was an invitation for all of us to be real too. You believed that the power was inside us, in the people, NOT in politicians or priests or other people like politicians and priests – people we turn to when we feel powerless. As I continue to miss you and live on without you here, I think I also feel closer to you. Closer to what you were and what you stood for. For living and laughing and loving and singing and playing and thinking with all your heart – not so much with your mind. You got it. You knew that nothing but love mattered. You sang about that. You knew that all the power we ever needed was right there inside us. You had it all figured out.

It’s hard to be real, Dad. To be honest and true. To let it all hang out. To be vulnerable. It’s all so very hard. But you did it with such grace and with such a great sense of humor too. So, I’m not giving up. I’m open and listening. I will keep at it as a tribute to you. In my mind’s eye, I can see you smiling now. I see the signs that you give me, and I will continue to follow them right back home – to myself, to my own heart, where you live, always, inside me and all around me.

I love you Dad!
xoxo love, Anna

Keeping it Real on Valentine’s Day

Here we are – it’s Valentine’s Day. For some it’s all about love sweet love and for others, it’s just another day. When my daughter was born on Valentine’s Day four years ago, February 14 became a permanent LOVE day for me. I’m a sucker for romance. I love chocolate. Love it! I love roses and sparkly things, and I of course love my husband, but more than anything I love this day because it is Sophia’s birthday.

That said, I’m still thinking about love today. I have been trying to imagine what love looks like? I have a few ideas…

This is a picture of Dan and me on our wedding day (August 16, 1997). This was after the ceremony in the backseat of our getaway car – the 1969 Chevelle SuperSport that he and his dad built together. His brother, Max, was getting ready to drive and my sister, Sarah, was riding shotgun. I love this picture. When I look at it, it reminds me of what it felt like to have our whole lives in front of us and all the people we loved most in the world around us. It felt like we could handle anything as long as we had each other. I was probably being goofy when the picture was snapped, but I think I look like I adore him. And he looks like he adores me. Love looks like this, I think.

Love also looks like this:

Oh my gosh, I love this picture! My sister took it last year after my niece’s birthday party. Maybe my mom took it? Anyway, I love that this moment was captured to enjoy for the rest of time. Or however long it lasts. No matter how I’m feeling, I can’t help but to smile when I see this picture. Look at it – my three kids laughing together in my arms and me holding them tightly as if nothing else matters. We are in our own little blissful mother and child utopia at that moment. It’s like a commercial for motherhood. All smiles, all laughter, all hugs!

I think love looks like this too:

Yes, I’m sure of it. This is from Thanksgiving, 2009. The last Thanksgiving we had with my dad. This picture captures the complete chaos that ensues wherever children go. We try to contain them, but they cannot be contained. Kids embody life in all of its glory, with their goofy smiles and random poses. Kids don’t worry what people think about them or whether they have food on their faces. If they don’t feel like smiling or looking at the camera, they don’t. No matter how you try to bribe them. They are impulsive and uninhibited and I love that about kids. They LIVE.

I think love looks like fun. In these pictures, love is about laughter and living and sharing and feeling connected to others. Love has its hair done, mostly, and it is dressed well and it probably smells good too. I just remembered my dad’s friend, Andy. At my dad’s funeral Andy shared that during their gigs (my dad played the guitar and Andy was the drummer), my dad would say, “We may not be good lookin’ but we’re sure looking good…!” Love looks good here.

We are BOMBARDED with images in our lives. Most of these images make love look good. In commercials and television shows and in movies we may see a glimpse or two of heartache, but mostly love looks good. And then there is Facebook! Love always looks good on Facebook. Okay, maybe not always, but for the most part, let’s be honest, with the exception of the picture I saw today of a cupid laid out flat with an arrow – presumably his own arrow – sticking up out of him and blood all around him (seriously People, why the face?), love looks good.

This is where my mama bear springs into action today, on Valentine’s Day, on Love Day. I know there are people out there, and you may be one of them, who see these images and think that what they see looks so good, beyond good, to the point where what they have in their own lives looks bad. Really bad.

So, we don’t typically post pictures of the moments, right before a wedding, when a bride might be acting a little bridezilla-ish in the dressing room, perhaps. I don’t post pictures of myself on days like today where I look like I have two black eyes because I stayed up way too late last night doing God only knows what because I hate going to bed when Dan is out of town. Concealer’s got nothing on these dark circles. I NEVER post pictures of the look on my face, every afternoon, when I am about to sit down for a cup of coffee, and the coffee is actually hot, and Sophia screams out from the bathroom, “MOM! WILL YOU WIPE MY BUTT?” And I think I might just go the opposite way, out the door, and away… To someplace warm, maybe? But far, where nobody ever asks me to wipe his or her butt. And, thankfully, I have not yet posted a picture of Sophia’s butt. And there are no pictures of less lovely grandparental moments, like when my son used to kick my dad under the table at restaurants and after about the six thousandth kick, my dad would look like he was about to blow. My son kicks me now. It’s karma for wondering how my dad could possibly lose patience with my perfect little son, while knowing full well that little kids kick hard. And, all those people on TV, well, we know by now that they are not even REAL anymore with all the millions of ways they are made-up and digitally “perfected,” so while their love looks good, it’s not REAL either.

I think this is so important to remember, as sweet spiritual beings, in our human bodies, surrounded by images that make love and life look so good and words (i.e,. “status updates”) that make it all sound SO GOOD, that what we see isn’t always real. There is a place where we can celebrate along with our friends and family members and even strangers, and that is a nice, happy place. There is another place where we begin to feel badly when we see people looking really good and hear that things are going well for them. We might feel like we don’t measure up, or wonder if there is something wrong with us because we aren’t looking or sounding so good – because while they are on a beach in Hawaii we are wiping butts in snowy Michigan. We might ask, “Why can’t I have that (that love, that family, that child, that spouse, that body, that house, that job, that vacation…whatever that is)?” That place is a little darker, a little sadder, and it doesn’t really feel good. Not at all. Sometimes we get stuck there. We might think it is our destiny to stay in that dark, sad, uncomfortable place forever.

I know now, like I have never known before, that each of us, all of us, each and every single one of us, is worthy. We all measure up. We are all lovable. I want you to trust me on this one. I may have dark circles under my eyes and I don’t love wiping butts, but I am trustworthy. I can say with all the confidence in the world that you measure up. You absolutely, positively measure up. That dark place? You can go there if you must, but please don’t stay there.

We all hurt. We all have bad hair days. We all make mistakes. We are all learning. Please tell me we all have bags under our eyes? Sometimes? We all have not so picture perfect moments. Even if we don’t share them. Even if we pretend they don’t exist. Oh, they do. Some of us lie. Some of us are fake. Some of us aren’t keeping it real. All things considered, it’s not fair to compare our worst with someone else’s best, or someone else’s attempt to look their best. You know what? It’s not fair to compare. At all. When you compare yourself to someone else, for better or for worse, your own light dims. We need bright, shining lights on this planet.

On this day, this LOVE DAY, I would like to invite you NOT to compare your love or your life or your light to anybody else’s love, life, or light. If you are wondering what love looks like, like I was. Look in the mirror! What you see there is love. Don’t look online or in magazines or in books or on television, look at yourself. YOU are LOVE. You are worthy. You measure up! You have talents and dreams and a beautiful mind that can make them all come true. You are lovable. You are a knock-out and an AMAZING soul. Love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Be your own very best Valentine. YOU are what love looks like. Take my word for it.

Me and Sophia Pearl, my little love girl.

One Last Grief Blog (maybe?) Before I Become Whole

Right after my dad died I thought there would be a time where I would need to make a choice. I imagined that I would wake up one day and decide not to be sad anymore. As we approached the first anniversary of my dad’s death, I thought that time would be right around Day 366. Despite my best judgment, what I’ve heard from others, and what I’ve read about grief, I thought I’d come back to My Hat Trick a brand-new, grief free woman.

Well, I was right. Sort-of. Day 367 and I felt lonelier and emptier than I had since the day my dad died (actually, the day after my dad died because I spent most of the day he died blissfully unaware of what that night had in store for me). I had spent the entire year looking ahead to the One Year Mark as a time when things would change and I would be all better. Things did change, but not how I anticipated. I think I spent most of the past year trying to comprehend the shock of my dad’s death because it was completely unexpected and I was, to be perfectly honest, traumatized by what I experienced the night of his death. Once that shock wore off, I still couldn’t believe he was gone. Now, I know that he is gone. I know because I’ve just gone through a year of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays without him anywhere in sight. And he was never one to miss a good meal. On day 367 it was obvious that there would be no more Dad hanging around, looking for leftovers or making a pot of coffee. And on day 367 it dawned on me that for the foreseeable future, I would need to figure out what it truly means to live my life without my dad. Something I only speculated about in the past. I thought the choice I would be making would involve happiness over sadness, or something like that. This may come as a shock to you, but I can’t control my feelings. Sometimes I feel sad, plain and simple, and other than recognizing my sadness there isn’t much I can do to make it stop. I can choose what to do with that sadness though, so that is my choice.

As I typed away last week, I thought I’d never again focus so much of my writing on my grief. I now think I would be remiss not to share a little bit about the Memorial Service my family and I had for my dad last weekend. Looking back, even to just last week, I can see that all the energy I put into that service was just the beginning of my decision-making process. What could I do with my sadness? Honor the man who made it possible and celebrate those he left behind.

In January my sister, my mom, and I took a trip together to Sedona, Arizona. We were mostly going to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday, but while we were there we had the opportunity to perform a “Letting Go” ritual with a minister named Yana. We hiked through the red rocks of Sedona to a place where a stream flowed. We prayed, we meditated, we reflected on my dad and our memories, and we scattered some of his ashes. Just thinking about it, my heart skips a beat. It was the most extraordinary spiritual experience I have ever had (okay, to be fair, giving birth to three little beauties ranks pretty high on the extraordinary spiritual experience scale). More than anything though, our letting go ritual helped us to heal mending hearts.

Before we headed back to Michigan, we discussed the possibility of sharing something similar with our children and the rest of our families. As the day approached, we began to make plans, thinking about what we wanted to be sure to include. I even became an ordained minister so that the ceremony would be legit (I’m not kidding!). I took excerpts from a few different books on blessings and rituals, including a book specifically about Living and Dying; I added my own words here and there, and came up with a ceremony where everyone was involved in honoring my dad and, I hoped, in celebrating each other and the lives we have left together. I didn’t realize it when I was in the midst of it all last week, but all of the planning and crafting was very therapeutic for me. I was set with our service, our guests, dinner plans, and even programs. I wanted it to be a celebration. I wanted to honor my dad, as I said, but it was a lot like a birthday for the rest of us. We had made it through our first year, the hardest year according to everyone, and that was something to honor as well. I envisioned a beautiful, sunny, albeit cold, day on the beach at our family cottage in Northern Michigan.

Friday was gorgeous and Sunday was gorgeous. In between sat Saturday, the day of the ceremony, and the snowiest, coldest, most blustery day of the year (of the year might be a slight exaggeration). I kept asking if people wanted to stay inside, but nobody did. We all bundled up and headed outside. The beach was really way too windy, so we set up in sweet little spot under a tree. It was not what I had pictured, but in retrospect, the flying snow was a perfect touch. I couldn’t have planned it better myself. We read our parts and shared memories of my dad. We made an offering of rocks to the land and a cup of coffee in honor of my dad (he was coffeaholic). My mom and my sister and I walked down to the beach, to a large rock that we’ve all come to know as my dad’s rock, and scattered some ashes. This part was really special for me. We had my dad cremated so he doesn’t have a grave site to visit and I have often felt like it would be nice to visit him somewhere specific every once in a while. We laid him to rest in a place where I can visit often. After that, we joined the others who had already gone inside. By the fire, we toasted my dad and each other with champagne and homemade macaroons (his favorite cookie). It was a beautiful service.

I know there are a lot of ways that people honor and remember lost loved ones. I read a story about a family whose mother passed away right before her 70th birthday. They decided to have a “birthday” party for her and invited all her friends to share in a night of remembering and celebrating the woman they lost. I know there are all kinds of memorial services based in religion and in culture that provide a similar sense of honoring the lives of those we loved and lost. As individuals and in small groups, we do many beautiful things in remembrance. As a whole, though, I don’t see a lot of place for grief in our society. It seems like we are more apt to suggest that the grieving “move on” or “get over it.” I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to sit idly by as people we care about suffer. We feel helpless. Of course we want them to move on.

In the year since my dad died, two of my very dear friends also lost parents. Even after losing my own dad and knowing everything I knew, I felt helpless. I hoped these two women could find the strength to keep going. I hated to see them so sad. Sometimes the wisest, most profound action I could take was just to sit there. So, I think I wanted to share this story about the memorial service because I am forever grateful to the people who have just sat there with me this year. And, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to share last weekend with people I love and who love me. I want everyone to know, that in the absence of abiding by religious or cultural traditions, we can create our very own ceremonies that honor those we’ve lost and that celebrate each other and what is to come. I really didn’t even need to become ordained, but the fact that I did makes me smile so I had to share that with you too. Finally, I just had to write one more losing-my-dad-related-blog-post because it feels so great to be making a choice that is rooted in celebrating the present and moving forward. I’m still sad and I miss my dad now more than ever, but I finally have the strength (at least for now) to choose to do something delightful with my sadness.

Let it Be

I need to make a confession. I started My Hat Trick on a whim. I have no plan, I have no mission, I have no message. I, obviously, needed to get some things off my chest. I know in my heart and through my life experience that there is a reason we teach our children to share. Sharing is empowering. It sets us free. It feels good. And, in my case, sharing heals. So, I decided to share these things that were screaming to be shared. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of thinking, writing, and sharing. I adore anyone who takes the time to read what I write. I am flattered by your positive feedback. I cherish your support and encouragement.

Everything has been going so well, until this week. My head is swimming with millions of things that need to be done. I feel so discombobulated! When I plan for some time to try to sort things out, it often backfires. Like today, for example, the plan was to drop my two little ones at pre-school, then take my older guy to his dentist appointment, then take him to school, then try to get my head straight. Enter ice. School was delayed this morning. Consequently, I had to take the little ones to my older guy’s appointment. By the time everyone was dropped off where they were supposed to be, my 1.5 hours turned into 45 minutes and I didn’t know where to begin.

When I saw my son’s pre-school teacher at pick-up she said, “What a crazy morning!” By the way, I am convinced that all of the teachers in the local area think I am a complete basket case. I feel like Pig Pen from the Peanuts. Instead of dirt swirling around me, I am encircled by a tornado of three children, our great big dog, and an insane amount of that dog’s hair. It’s chaos. I forget things. I don’t return phone calls. I’m late sometimes. I’m not a model mother citizen. But, I have a huge smile and I can be fairly charming at times so I think they like me anyway. Miss Theresa and I joked about how unpredictable life is, especially with small children. We agreed that it is best not to plan because plans so often change. We said the best thing to do is to just go with it. To let it be.

Once the kids were safely buckled in their seats and we were on our way home, it occurred to me that Miss Theresa and I were on to something. Rather than worrying about how I’m going to do everything that needs to be done, I need to spend more time simply letting it all be. So there I was driving home, thinking about all the books and articles that I so badly want to read and the laundry that I need to put away and the phone calls I need to make and the places I need to go and the people I need to see… As all these thoughts mingled in my head, I realized that whether I’m planning to do it all, doing it all or not doing it all and just worrying about it, I am not truly doing anything. On the other hand, on the rare occasion that I can let it be, when I can go with the flow, I am fully engaged in the life before me and I am open to receive whatever it is I need to receive. And then, when I go to fold the laundry or drive my kids home from school, I am more focused. I can mindfully complete the task at hand because my head isn’t swimming with thoughts gone wild.

I have shared that my dad’s death presented an opportunity for me to take inventory. In the area of Spirituality, I came up short. My background does not root me in any one religion or world-view. I am open to all possibilities. The Universe is huge! It would be impossible for us to know what all is out there. I had been feeling fairly content with my outlook on the Universe and its vast abundance. I didn’t feel the need to define it or put a face on it. But then when my dad died, my broad view of Spirituality didn’t seem like enough. I wondered about all the things that most people wonder about as they explore their spiritual beliefs. Mostly, I wondered what happened to my dad. I wondered if he went to Heaven, and if so, what was it like? I wondered if he was okay and whether he liked it there. I wondered if he knew that I missed him, if he knew that I loved him, and if he knew how sorry I was for never listening to the last two cds he gave me. In my darkest moments I wondered why I was left here on Earth and how long I’d need to stay. I asked the Universe, “What is the meaning of all this? What is the meaning of life?” And ever since, I’ve been scrambling around trying to find the answers in all those damn books I mentioned. I’ve asked people what they think about the meaning of life and where they think we go when we die, if anywhere. I think about it, read about it, and talk about it constantly. Some people may even go so far as to say I’m obsessed.

My husband has always said that the point of life is to live it. How can I live my life if I’m so busy thinking about it?

So I decided today that I’d like to save you the trouble of reading the books and asking the questions. Even though, it’s all very fun and I think a very healthy part of any spiritual journey. Today I join the Beatles, Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ram Dass, billions of other writers, thinkers, masters, teachers, guides, rabbis, priests, pastors, monks and ministers, and Miss Theresa, in sharing a piece of great wisdom: the answers we seek don’t come when we are doing, thinking, or planning. Instead, we learn all we need to know when we let ourselves be, when we are quiet, open, receptive, and when we simply and fully, let it be.


Let It Be, by the Beatles