As Long as It Takes

A week or so before my dad passed away he told me about a meeting he had planned with an administrator at the community college where he was enrolled (he was a Gold Card member – free classes for retirees!). At his funeral, we joked that my dad was a man of many faces. He had a lot of great facial expressions, but he also had many different looks. Full beard with mustache, just mustache, goatee, mutton chops, that one with the strange name that I can’t think of… His beard was an ever-evolving expression of his Inner Self. Sometimes it looked great and sometimes I wondered if he had looked in the mirror lately. He mentioned that he was thinking about shaving his beard off before the meeting. I can’t remember what it looked like exactly, but what he was growing at the time was no ordinary beard. It was nothing like the beard you are picturing in your mind. Me, being the mom of three mostly clean-cut children and law abiding citizen that I have become, said something along the lines of, “oh yeah, it’s probably a good idea to shave your beard before you meet with the administrators.”

I can remember the look on his face. He wasn’t quite appalled, but the look definitely fell into the “Is it too late for a DNA test? I’m not sure you are my daughter” category. He was sitting at my kitchen table. He looked at me and said, “I don’t give a shit what they think. My beard is starting to bug me. Plus, I don’t think your mom likes it.” This is just one of the many things I admired about my dad. He didn’t care what people thought of him (except my mom). Not in a punk, ruffian, tough guy, I-don’t-care-what-you-think way either. My dad cared so little about what other people thought of him that he didn’t even need to make them aware that he didn’t care.

He was very handsome. He looked great when he dressed up, but he was most likely to be seen wearing a warm, sensible (partly flannel) shirt with well-worn jeans or corduroys, work boots, and a Carhartt jacket. Maybe a neat necklace with one or two pendants that meant something to him. In the summer he wore shorts and a t-shirt with something cool or funny printed on it. He often sported a hat of some sort. Or, especially if he was working or playing the guitar, he wore a bandana around his head.

My dad was really smart. He read a lot of books and had an incredibly broad world view. We cherish his notes, drawings, sculptures, woodcarvings, and all the other artifacts that suggest this was a man who never stopped learning and who wasn’t afraid to try something new. He was an activist in his Union. He was a lot of different things, truly, but one of the other things I loved best about him was that he was a non-conformist. He wasn’t obnoxious about it. He did his own thing and quietly observed others doing their own thing. He was mellow, grounded, and a peaceful, nature-loving man. As I said before, my dad didn’t really care if someone didn’t like his beard or his outfit or his view point. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if he knew you didn’t like something about him, he relished in that part of himself even more. He didn’t rub your face in it; very simply, he was not afraid to express himself and enjoyed that expression in whatever form it took.

This is a gift for a little girl. I guess I should say, for this little girl. I was enchanted by my gentle, tender-hearted, free-spirited, non-conforming dad. To be his daughter was very special for me. He was sensitive before it was cool for dads to be sensitive. My dad was on the cutting edge.

There were times in my life where I didn’t appreciate just how cool he was. I rolled my eyes and wished I could buy my dad a box of golf balls for Christmas. He needed picks for his guitar. I longed to choose a tie from the Men’s Department at Hudson’s for him for Father’s Day. My dad wore work shirts. None of the Hallmark cards seemed to fit his personality. He didn’t fish. He didn’t watch football.

There were also many times when I was quite proud to be his daughter. As I got older, and less self-conscious, I loved seeing him perform. Or, even better, I loved it when my friends went to hear him play with me. We would dance the night away to the music of…my dad and his band! I cherish the times when I embraced every little quirky and unconventional thing about him. Like when I was finishing grad school and he would arrive with his guitar to care for my then 18 month-old son while I was away. It’s not every child whose babysitter shows up in Carhartts with a guitar. There were also times when I didn’t think much about any of it because he was my dad and I loved him for that and that alone.

Yesterday I had a little bit of a breakdown. We are quickly approaching the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. March 11, 2011. Part of me is relieved that we are so close to this milestone because everybody told me the first year would be the worst. If we made it this far, through the worst year, we have certainly proven that we can keep going. Without my dad. Part of me is scared to lose what feels like a free ticket to grieve. I had one year. It’s almost over. I keep telling myself that I can take as long as I want. Someone who I have always admired as a smart, kind, level-headed woman (I met her when I was about nine years-old) told me that it took her eight years to feel “normal” again after her dad died. If she took eight years, then I could too, if that was what I needed.

I want to rejoice in my new journey…this quest to become whole again. It’s exciting to be learning, growing, and changing in ways that I think are very positive for me, and for the people I love. I like to think I would have eventually taken this path anyway, once my kids were in school or whenever the time was right, but losing my dad catapulted me into a time of change, a time where new interests have begun to emerge. As I have been sorting through all the pieces that made me, that make me, and that will carry me forward, I have been fascinated, even exhilarated. This is a gift that my dad has given me.

My smart-brain is grateful for this gift and knows that my dad was a gift too. In spite of these great gifts; however, there is a part of me who just wants her Daddy back. I thought she was okay. I thought I was past that. But yesterday she showed up and said she needed some attention. This part of me feels tired. She is tired of trying to put a positive spin on everything. I think she may be experiencing some growing pains from all this growth. She might need some rest. Her body is sore from trying new yoga poses, her mind is spinning from reading too many books and wondering what to write in her next blog post, and her heart aches too. I think this part of me feels like this growth opportunity is unwelcome. She was very comfortable in her life before. She thinks back, and remembers that everything was fine a year ago. She is still very sad when she thinks about going on with her life without her dad in it, even though she knows that she can.

I could tell her that her dad is in a better place. I could tell her that he is just a thought away. I could tell her that he lives on inside her and all around her. I could tell her any number of things, but I think she would just tell me to, well, $#%& off.

So, I will just sit here with her. I will hold her. I will celebrate, with her, the first man she ever loved. We will remember the sensitive, unconventional, guitar playing, bandana wearing, beautiful bearded man who was her dad. We will hold him in our hearts. We will sit here together for as long as it takes.

Neverness

About two months after my dad passed away my mom, my sister, and I took a writing class called, Writing Stories of Loss: Healing Through Heart and Pen. The three of us enjoy writing and journaling so we really embraced the opportunity to explore our feelings through writing. We were also able to share what we wrote, which was difficult because my emotions were still fairly raw. Maybe even worse was listening as my mom and sister shared their stories. In fact, once we got going, I was afraid that we would alarm our classmates with our streams of tears. By the end of the day it seemed as if the four strangers we had met in the morning, five if you include the instructor, had become dear friends. If only for a few hours, we were blessed with a beautiful time of sharing and supporting one another.

Each of the writing assignments allowed us to consider our loss from a different perspective. After lunch we were asked to write about one of two topics: Neverness or A Transformative Moment. Neverness refers to the things we would never do or see or have as a result of our loss. Even now, thinking back to the moment when our instructor explained this assignment, my heart tightens. I wasn’t ready to focus on all the possibilities my dad took with him when he died. I wrote about a transformative moment -the moment I arrived at my parent’s house the night of my dad’s death. Sharing that story was cathartic to say the least. Since that day though, my mind has often wandered back to neverness. Can I even bear to think about it now? How about now? I think it’s time…

I will never again know the feeling of my dad’s beard scratching my face as he hugs me good-bye. I will never get to say good-bye. I will never get another hug from my dad. I will never reach for my dad’s freckled hand to give it a squeeze, noting how it has aged since my last touch, appreciating its strength, and remembering how it used to gently brush my hair and pull it back into a ponytail when I was a little girl. We had matching ponytails for a while and when he died, he again had a very long ponytail. When he started growing his hair out President Bush was in office (W). None of us were huge fans of his plan so he said he would cut his hair again when a Democrat took office. But he didn’t. He will never cut that ponytail.

I will never hear my dad say, “Anna Bandana!” or “Anna Bear!” when I call. He always acted so happy to hear from me, even if he had just left my house. He will never come to my house. He will never babysit my children in a pinch. He will never bounce any of my children on his knee, reciting “trot, trot to Boston, trot trot to Maine, trot trot to Boston and back home again!” He will never hold them close to read them a story. He will never sing them Near Ne Now. He will never hear my daughter, who was barely 2 years-old when he died, sing little songs to herself as she twirls around in circles, just like I did when I was little. He will never say, “Alexander T. Cornpone!” when he sees my son Alexander. My dad will never pull up in his pick-up truck to take my son James to his guitar lesson as he did every Thursday for two years before he died. He will never complain to James about the other drivers on the road all the way to and from the guitar lesson. They will never marvel as they count the numerous Land For Sale signs posted along the road by just one local realtor. They will never stop for candybars at the hardware store. They will never jam with James’s guitar teacher, Tim, or make the recording they had planned to make. My dad will never attend any of my children’s games or their school programs. He won’t see them graduate from high school or college. He won’t dance at their weddings. He will never take another vacation with us. My children will never make another memory with their Papaw. My daughter might not remember him at all.

I will never see my dad perform either alone or with his band. I’ll never hear him say, “Now it’s time to pause for a good cause” when it’s time for a bathroom break. He will never play Amazing Grace before Thanksgiving dinner. I will never stand there, worrying that the food is getting cold, trying to appreciate the beauty of the moment as all the people I love the most stand around one table together, listening to my dad sing one of the most moving songs on Earth. He will never eat the dark meat. He will never take leftovers home to enjoy later. He will never nod off on the sofa, then wake-up irritated, ready to go. He will never grow impatient with my mom as he waits for her to get out the door.

He will never bring tea to my mom in the morning or rub her feet at night. They will never watch another obscure movie together, then tell me about it afterward. Separately. He will never finish all the projects he started around the house or in his art class. We’ll never know what he planned to do with all the sheet metal he had gathered for his most recent sculpture. He will never tell me about his next project. He will never do another project. He will never clean out his shed or put his clothes away. He will never show up wearing a funny hat or a cool hat. He will never buy another t-shirt. He will never wear another t-shirt. He will never bring me a new book to read. He will never take one of my books home to read. He will never sit on the toilet reading The New Yorker. He will never sit on the toilet. He will never sit anywhere.

My dad will never exchange a knowing glance with my husband in the midst of the craziness that often swirls around my mom, my sister, and me. He will never tell me how proud he is of my husband or how proud he is of me. He will never look at me and say, “you’re so beautiful” as he did for as long as I can remember. He will never stare at my mom, when she isn’t looking, and tell me how beautiful she is or how much he loves her. He will never share another Jamesism, like he so loved to do. “Oh! I forgot to tell you. You’ll never guess what James said this time…” I’ll never hear him say “Far out.” I’ll never hear him laugh. I will never look over and see him wiping his eyes when he is moved to tears, which was often. He will never be there to rescue me when I need him. I will never again hear cheers or encouragement from my biggest fan. He will never defend me. I will never listen as he shares his wisdom or his unique outlook on life. He will never tell me about a story he just heard on NPR. I will never roll my eyes at one of his jokes. We will never talk politics, religion, or anything else that you aren’t supposed to talk about. We will never talk again in the way I’ve talked to him my whole life.

This feels like maybe it could go on forever. It’s breaking my heart! I will never see my dad in his body or feel his touch again. I don’t think it matters how old a person is when he dies, or how sick he was, or how whatever the case may be. For the record, my dad was young at 62 when he died and he was very healthy. But no matter what circumstances surround a loved one’s death, the absence of their physical presence creates a hole in our lives and in our hearts. I will never stop missing my dad’s presence. I will never stop wishing for just one more hug. That hole will never go away.

What I know now is that even in the absence of my dad’s body, he is with me. He is with my children. He is with my husband. He is with my mom. He is with my sister and with her family. He is with his friends. He is with all the guys from all of his bands, his buddies from work, and the people he knew from the art classes he was taking when he died. He is with his friend, the welding instructor, who was deeply saddened when he heard the news of my dad’s death. He is with Tim and James at each and every guitar lesson. He is with his lifelong friend, Ernest, who flew in from California to attend his funeral. My dad was there when some of the guys he has loved the most, guys from his band, played Amazing Grace at his funeral. And, he was probably wiping tears from his eyes, moved by their loving tribute to the man he was and the influence he had on their lives. What I know now is that my dad’s love continues to surround us. His Spirit lives on in and around all of the people he loved. Some of the things I thought I’d never share with my dad when he died, can still be shared. What I didn’t know then, on the night of his death or on the day of this class, is that even though he is gone, I will never truly lose my dad.

Nothin’ But Love

Valentine’s Day has me thinking about love. I have always been a fan of letters and words, whether reading them or writing them, I find them fascinating. I even enjoy the sounds associated with writing words, the scratch of my pencil against paper, the flow of a wonderful pen, or my fingers tapping the keyboard.

My sister Sarah was born when I was six years-old. I was so upset when I found out that my parents gave her more letters in her name than I had. I couldn’t believe the injustice. I wanted to change my name to Elizabeth. I was desperate for more letters. So, the fact that you can say so much with one simple word – love, comprised of four little letters, l-o-v-e, is like magic to me.

I thought it would be worth consulting Wikipedia, to see what it has to say about the word love.

Love From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Love is the emotion of strong affection and personal attachment.[1] In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. In some religious contexts, love is not just a virtue, but the basis for all being, as in the Christian phrase, “God is love” or Agape in the Canonical gospels.[2] Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion.[3] Or as actions towards others based on affection.[4]

The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to intense interpersonal attraction (“I love my partner”). “Love” can also refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros (cf. Greek words for love), to the emotional closeness of familial love, or to the platonic love that defines friendship,[5] to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. [6] This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

My heart is all a flutter! One little word can mean so many different things! And, I can say I love Colin Firth, lattes, and my husband without minmizing my love for either one (specifically my husband). Love has no bounds. There are no restrictions on what I love or how much I love it.

In the days after my dad’s death, the thing we kept coming back to was love. I felt surrounded by love in ways that I had never experienced. My dad was a blues muscian and songwriter. In 1998 he wrote the song, Nothin’ But Love. I have heard him perform that song many times. I always thought of it as a love song in the romantic, passionate love sense. As we planned his funeral, gathering pictures and selecting music, we listened to Nothin’ But Love quite a bit and after a few days we were nodding our heads thinking “Wow, Dad is right…there is nothing but love.”
This is how the song goes:

If you’ve never had the blues, you’ve got some blues coming,
If you’ve never had the blues, you’ve got some blues coming,
You might not be singing ’em, but you’ll be hummin’ em…

Ain’t nothin’ but love, can take your blues away, ain’t nothin’ but love can take your blues away, you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today…

You’ve got some blues coming, you know it will be hard…
You’ve got some blues coming, you know it will be hard…
It don’t matter where you live people, the blues’ll come in your backyard…

Ain’t nothin’ but love can take your blues away, ain’t nothin but love can take your blues away, you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today.

My dad was right on. We will all face some type of hardship in our lives and it will be hard. And, nothing but love will help us to overcome that hardship. Love will strengthen us and carry us through whatever life brings us. Our love for others, their love for us, our love for God, God’s love for us, no matter what form it takes, love lifts us up in times of need. Even love for our pets, for travel, for reading, for writing, for music… Whatever we love, that love has the power to take our blues away.

On a side note, in an ironic twist of fate, my dad slipped away in his workshop in my parents’ backyard. He wasn’t kidding when he said the blues will come in our backyard.

My dad’s wisdom from beyond is a treasured gift for all of us who loved him. He has reminded me through his music that love will carry me through. I know, it’s easy for me to say, I live with a loving husband, three little cuddlebugs, and a gigantic yellow dog. It’s easy for me to scoop up someone in my house and hold them close when I need some love. Although, even that comes at a cost as I discovered yesterday when my daughter whacked me in the face with a plastic Spiderman.

So, what do we do when there is no physical presence to love? No body to hug? Life can be lonely at times. When there is nobody around and I feel detached from other sources of love, I sometimes feel a little lost. Even in a crowd, it is easy to feel lost, alone.

This is where I’m learning to turn inward. Who can love me better than I love myself? If I love myself.

This is one of my soapbox moments… Practicing self-love is not selfish. Say it with me, practicing self-love is not selfish. This is not my opinion, it is not a belief I hold dear to my heart, or an abstract social construct, it is the truth. It is a fact. I would never tell my son James that he is selfish to take time out of his busy 8 year-old life to play baseball so why do I feel selfish when I carve time into my schedule to practice yoga or go for a walk? Somewhere along the way I learned that my job is to take care of others. At some point, I learned that I can only succeed at that job, or any job, if I neglect myself. Maybe you can relate. It’s hard to turn inward for love when the self-love well has run dry. What I find when I do take good care of myself and when I do make time to fill that well with love, is that I love everybody else much more deeply and fully.

Even alone, we can know love. In the words of my dear old dad, “you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today.” It’s all about love, so love a little! One simple little word with multiple meanings makes the world go round. Nothin’ but love…

1.^ Oxford Illustrated American Dictionary (1998) + Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2000)
2.^ Deus Caritas Est, Roman Catholic encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI
3.^ Fromm, Eric; “The Art of Loving”, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN-10: 0060958286 ISBN-13: 978-0060958282
4.^ Fromm, Eric; “The Art of Loving”, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN-10: 0060958286 ISBN-13: 978-0060958282
5.^ Kristeller, Paul Oskar (1980). Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays. Princeton University. ISBN 0-691-02010-8.
6.^ Mascaró, Juan (2003). The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-140-44918-3. (J. Mascaró, translator)

Blog Therapy

My son, Alexander the Great, aka Thunderball and, more recently, Big Deal is five years-old today! I cannot believe it has been five years since this little love entered our lives. It seems as if we have been together forever. Yesterday he pulled out a picture of my dad and held it up to my mom. “I wish Papaw was here,” he said. As I struggle with my dad’s absence, especially on special days, it warms my heart to hear my kids express their feelings about their loss. I wish Papaw was here too, little buddy.

Alexander is the kind of kid who will say something endearing, like “I wish Papaw was here” in one breath and ten minutes later say something equally moving, like “I want to cut my sister’s head off.” He can say just about anything with his winning smile and sparkly blue eyes to back him. He is a bubbling, brewing, never ending life force. Everything he does is done with intensity. While Alexander’s fierce spirit can be frustrating to parent at times, he provides a great example of how to live life in the moment and to its fullest.

Alexander seems to have been on a mission since the day he was born. His birth was followed by the most difficult days of my life (and his, although he doesn’t remember them). I had an uneventful pregnancy and we worked together on a pretty quick birth. He was in a hurry, at about a week early. Looking back, it must have been divine timing that triggered his arrival. My little buddy was in trouble. He was so stained with meconium when he arrived that my midwives and his doctors thought he might have been in it for hours. He was purple. I didn’t notice his weak cry or his purple body because I was just so happy to have him here. We hadn’t decided on a name and as he was rushed to the NICU my husband, Dan, asked if we should name him Henry, which was our top contender. Henry didn’t seem right at the time. I thought we had plenty of time to pick out a name for our little bundle of joy. I thought we needed some time to stare into his little face to figure out what to call him.

My nurse told me that normally in situations like ours we would swing by the NICU and take our baby back to our room with us. A bit of a panic had begun to set in. I really wanted to nurse my baby. I knew from all my reading and my experience with my firstborn that if I didn’t nurse him right away and hold him for hours close to my skin, an acceptable bond would never form. Right? I began to fear that my child was destined to grow up detached and unable to love. I didn’t remember a chapter in any of my books about this type of scenario. If one existed I most likely skipped it thinking, and silently praying, we wouldn’t need to worry about any of that.

My nurse wrapped me in warm blankets after the best shower ever and Dan came to take me back to the NICU. I couldn’t wait to see my baby. When Dan returned he told me that he had named our little guy Alexander. This name was an early contender so it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it was a far cry from Henry. What shocked me was what Dan said when he told me he had named our child: “He needed a strong name. He is fighting for his life.”

When we arrived in the NICU it was clear that Alexander was in serious danger. He was hooked up to a ventilator and there were many doctors and nurses gathered around, working hard to help him. As I approached the crowd, people moved aside to let me through. I was the mother. Someone handed me a few photos that had been taken of Alexander. A nurse came to me and said, “Do you want to baptize your baby? We can help you with that.” Pardon my French, but seriously, what the fuck? I couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t even begin to reconcile that a day earlier I had been looking ahead to pure postpartum bliss, bringing a new brother home to my son, and enjoying long lazy days of sleepy cuddles with my family, and now I was faced with a choice about whether or not to baptize my new son in the NICU while he fought for his life.

When Dan and I went back to my new room, without our baby, surrounded by cries from other newborns and people celebrating their own healthy births, we began the game of wait and see. My most vivid memory of that time was Dan spooning me on my hospital bed as we sobbed, in complete shock and disbelief. Within hours of his birth Alexander was moved to Mott Children’s Hospital as a candidate for ECMO, a heart and lung bypass machine. Dan followed the ambulance. I was discharged a little later and my mom and sister took me to Mott. We stopped at Jimmy John’s for a sandwich. I couldn’t believe that I had just had a baby not even 12 hours earlier and I was walking around Ann Arbor so freely and without my baby. Not what I had imagined.

We loved seeing all the wires and machines disappear as he got better. He stayed in a drug induced coma until we left Mott. Words cannot describe my joy when I saw his little blue eyes open for the very first time.

Fortunately, Alexander made a turn in the right direction once he settled in at Mott. They had said he would get worse again, but he never did. Nobody could say for sure what had happened, but they knew he had severe meconium aspiration and pneumonia. There was no sign of meconium during labor. At one point Dan was told that Alexander had about an 85% chance to live. After a few days they sent us back to St. Joe’s Hospital in Ypsilanti where Alexander was born. And we held our little Alexander the Great for the first time.

All the doctors and nurses remembered him from his birthday, or had heard what had happened, and were so happy to see him back doing so well. A few people told me they were there that night and were scared for him. I’m not sure whether it was a miracle, modern medicine, or the strength of a tiny fighter, that got Alexander through. Maybe fighting for his life made him who he is today. Maybe who he is, allowed him to fight. The only thing I know for sure is that he is here and has blessed us in some way each and every day of his little life.

The question is, why share this story now? Through my life I have thought that when faced with a challenge, if I could just muscle through it and keep going, it’s all good. Once Alexander came home and Dan went back to work and we resumed our lives, there was no looking back. All is well that ends well, right? What I’ve learned since losing my dad so unexpectedly is that new trauma triggers old trauma. When my niece was born, she and my sister were also in danger. When I got off the elevator in the NICU at Mott to visit them for the first time, my body seized. I couldn’t breathe. All the feelings and emotions associated with Alexander’s stay there came flooding back. I all but collapsed in my mom’s arms when I made it to my sister’s room. And again, when my dad died, and we didn’t know how at first, all these little seeds of grief, tucked safely away in my heart and soul, sprouted all over again. Not all at once, but over time. I have been told that this will happen again and again. Until we fully process a traumatic event, bits and pieces of it can and will creep back into our lives, maybe to haunt us or maybe to help us.

So moving on is great. Trekking through the halls of the Med Inn to see my baby boy the day after he was born and pumping breast milk to store in the refrigerator in the NICU showed that I was strong. No nodding off in the baby’s nursery while he nursed peacefully for me. No herbal baths to soothe my healing body. We rocked him in whatever chair we could pull into our little area of the hospital whenever it was possible and watched him closely when we weren’t supposed to bother him. I moved on, I laughed, I looked forward to visits from big brother so we could all be together, and I poured love into my baby. Oh, and guess what, all that crap about needing to do X, Y, and Z to make a baby thrive, well, I wouldn’t suggest that anyone ignore any of it, but there are exceptions to the rules. During one of my freaking out episodes while Alexander was in the NICU and I wanted so desperately to nurse him (in order to ensure full attachment…), a nurse said, “Time is on your side. Let us do what we need to do to get him out of here and when you get him home you can do whatever you want.” And she was right. Despite what I had read in books, there was much to be said for following my own instinct whenever I had the opportunity. There is also a lot to be said for going with the flow when things don’t go as planned.

Even though I was able to go on and Alexander continues to thrive, something in all of this was never resolved for me. Something was left unfinished. I’m not sure what exactly. Maybe engaging in a little Blog Therapy is all I needed to reconcile all that has happened previously with all that is now. Getting it all out there can be extremely valuable. There is no rush to figure it all out right now because time is on my side.

While I wait to see how it all unfolds, I will celebrate my sweet boy and all that he is now. As I move along my path, I think I will allow the wisdom of Alexander to guide me. Alexander reminds me to live in the moment. To be present in all the joy and pain of motherhood, and in every other aspect of my life. The beauty of life is in what is.

Thank you for standing by as I work my way through this story.

Happy Birthday Alexander! Your mama loves you!

Forward Fold

I remember being a little girl and hearing my mom talk about yoga. It seemed like a very mysterious and beautiful exercise. She looked so peaceful when breathing deeply with her eyes closed, sitting cross-legged in the living room. I loved sitting there with her. As a result of these magical moments with my mother, the practice of yoga has always seemed sacred to me. Back in the day, as a recent college graduate living on my own in Alexandria, Virginia, I decided to enroll in a Hatha yoga class through the Community Education program. I loved it and since then I have attended yoga classes off and on and used videos to practice at home. But I didn’t move beyond a very surface, acquaintance-like relationship with yoga. We waved hello at each other in passing, but we never became real intimate.

Enter my Mind, Body, Spirit hat trick. Yoga was calling my name. Something told me yoga had the potential to help me on my journey, on my quest for inner peace and balance. I was a little apprehensive to jump right in though. I was definitely someone who tucked my mat into the deepest, darkest corner of the studio, took a deep breath, than wondered for the next 60 minutes, “am I doing this right?” while everyone around me seemed to move with ease and not a care in the world. I asked one of my most favorite yoga instructors, Lee Ann, if she would help me get started on my journey. We met for several weeks and discussed some of the many, many aspects of yoga. Studying yoga is fascinating. I find that yoga is indeed beautiful and sacred, but it is not mysterious as I had once thought. It is a science. I am in love with it now. We are becoming very intimate.

One of the first things I remember Lee Ann sharing with me was the symbolism of the forward fold. It’s all about letting go. Letting go has always been a challenge for me. Letting go of the expectations I had for my continued life with my dad by my side, that’s a biggie. Of course, that would take some time. But in the immediate future, I was often (okay, almost always) bogged down by obsessive mind-chatter. As I drove around town, I wondered if I had said the right thing to my friend when she asked for advice? I agonized over whether or not I bought the right dish soap. I couldn’t remember, did I pack a snack for my child? And if so, was it nutritious? Would he have time to eat it? Would the other kids laugh at it? Then, I would think, oh crap, I should have just cut up an apple. Why wouldn’t I just give him fruit for a snack? I knew that he didn’t even really care for Teddy Grahams. I would wonder, what kind of mother am I? And finally, I would decide that I probably never should have had children… Good God! I needed help. This pattern of crazy making self-talk and not being able to move past it was not serving me well.

Oddly enough, another not so fond memory from my girlhood was me sitting in gym class. Mrs. Price would yell out, “Pike positionnn!” And everyone around me would sit up nice and tall with their legs straight out in front of them. As we were directed to reach for our toes, and everyone did as they were told, I could barely reach past my knees. I was stuck, I didn’t fold forward. I’m not kidding. So the whole resistance to letting go thing, I’ve been dealing with it for a very long time. And I felt like a fool in gym class.

I told Lee Ann I had never been able to do a forward fold. Now, there is something to be said for bone structure in yoga. We’re not all built the same so we don’t all move in the same ways, it’s that simple. Lee Ann assured me there could be modifications. It’s been a few months now and a yoga miracle has taken place. First, I plop my mat anywhere, close my eyes, breathe, and sometimes forget that there are other people in the room with me. I can focus inward (cue angels singing from heaven above)! Second, so I’m not quite a nose-to-the-knee forward folder, but I can sit up straight and I can reach for my toes and sometimes, I actually touch them! And third, I am learning to let go! When the critical crazy lady in my head pipes in with her second-guessing and obsessing, I can now say, “Oh Honey, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you care, but I’m good on my own now.” And she actually leaves. Sometimes she might even add an encouraging word on her way out.

I am amazed by the ways in which the connection between my mind, body, and spirit manifests itself through my yoga practice. I am not exaggerating when I say that with each inch that I move toward my toes (and I have very long legs), I can literally feel myself letting go. It’s as if every cell in my body joins a chorus in mind to sing, “I surrender!” It’s all very blissful. There is so much more to it too. I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of my yoga practice and that, in and of itself, is invigorating. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do a forward fold.

Progress Makes Perfect

As I grieve the loss of my dad, one challenge I’ve faced is the unpredictability of the grieving process. One minute I’m walking along in the sunshine, feeling great, and suddenly something unexpected will move me to tears. In the beginning, these surprises would feel like daggers through my heart. As time passes, I feel stronger and the grief is not as raw as it was initially. I think I’ve finally accepted that my dad isn’t coming back (a downside to watching way too many soap operas in my life is the expectation that people really do rise from the dead. I guess that only happens when they are buried alive – ala Marlena in Days of Our Lives). I am still so sad and I miss him, but now when I see a picture of him, I am starting to feel more and more grateful for having had a dad worth missing instead of wanting to crawl back into bed for the day.

I have been frustrated along the way too. Anytime I felt like I was making “progress,” these unanticipated pangs of grief felt like setbacks. Almost like I was failing at grief. A lot of people say that grief comes in waves and that makes sense to me too. Now that I’ve been at this for a while, the waves don’t catch me off guard. I’ve also heard that the grieving process is like climbing a spiral staircase, as opposed to traveling a straight line. You move up a few steps, and you might fall down a few the next day, up and down you go. I’ve come to accept the spiral as I have the waves. At least I thought so.

My husband and I spent the afternoon with my mom at my parents’ house. My dad had a lot of interests. And he had a collection to go with each one. Guitars, music, amps and so on for the musician in him, and he was a great musician. Woodcarving and sculpting tools for the artist in him. Hundreds of books to satisfy his appetite for learning. Tools and duct tape for the handyman and the list goes on. I think you get the picture. And now we have to figure out what to do with it all.

But here’s the catch, every tool, big or small, each and every book, and just about every stitch of clothing was touched by him. Some of it was loved by him. Some threads worn thin by him. And while I feel fairly confident that our loved ones live on inside us and around us once they pass, the desperate ache to spend just one more minute with the physical being that once embodied that love who was my dad, is enough to break my heart. Again and again. So as I tried to help my mom pack some of my dad’s clothes in a Rubbermaid tote today, I cried and cried. I wanted to wrap his corduroys around my neck like a scarf and curl up in the fetal position on the floor. The thought that his long, thin feet would never fill a warm woolly sock again was almost too much to bear.

It gets worse. It’s not just losing my dad that makes this process so tricky, it’s watching my mom experience the loss of her husband and my sister struggle with the loss of her dad (she is my baby sister after all), and, please pass the tissues, seeing my children trying to grasp the reality that their Papaw will never hold them on his lap again. They aren’t even old enough to truly understand what they’re missing. Ugh.

Here I sat a few days ago, thinking it was time to start sharing my story, or at least sorting it all out in a way that feels right to me, and I wonder, am I really ready for this? Waves, spirals, tears, all things considered, I guess I am. And that, for me, is true progress!

The Things We Make, Make Us

Today is a big day in my house. My 8 year-old son had his braces removed! When he got them on over a year ago some of his little teeth hadn’t even made their complete descent yet! I was a little choked up when I saw his new smile. He looks so grown up. No matter how many tiny infants I see grow into walking, talking children, I am still completely in awe of the miracle of life. It is absolutely amazing to think that we all started as a little speck and grew from there into the bodies we now inhabit. I sometimes look at my kids and I think, “I made you…” Arguably, I had some help, but I think it is safe to say that I did much of the footwork.

I recently found this quote: “The things we make, make us.” I don’t know to whom to attribute it because I cut it out from a magazine and pasted it onto a collage. It’s actually quite possible that it was never intended to read like that. Maybe I made it up? But anyway, I think of my kids when I see it. “Making” people is an unending process. With each choice I make to nod and say, “Mmmhmm” rather than take the time to answer the streams of questions I hear each day, I continue to make my children. And sometimes it’s okay to just say Mmmhmm because really, who am I to argue that there is anything more (or less) to Anakin Skywalker than meets the eye? I’m so unenlightened in the intricacies of Star Wars that sometimes Mmmhmm is the best I can do. And my 8 year-old is okay with that. Because he makes me too. The things we make, make us. If you took everything I have learned in the last 8 baby making years, and compared it in range, depth, and relevance to everything I had learned in my 30 years before that, I am pretty sure there would be no comparison. I am learning and growing right along with my children.

And, with each of you. We are all connected and we all make each other. Very seldom do we get to hear feedback about the ways in which we touch each other’s lives. From one smile in passing, to a wave on the street, to a great big hug, the choices we make about what to do or say affect the people around us. Again and again, I see proof of how we are connected and how these connections can both help and hurt us.

After my dad passed away I was really surprised to hear about some of the connections he had made with my friends. I’ve heard stories about little inside jokes he shared with some or, with others, in-depth exchanges that I had never known about. I’ve also heard about some of the ways my dad influenced people who I didn’t really know that well while he was alive. I am so touched by people’s stories and that they take the time to share things about their relationships with my dad. Sometimes that can get a little embarrassing too. But we will leave those stories for another day…

It’s one thing to think we’re connected, it’s an entirely different experience to see it in action. To actually feel the connection takes it to an even deeper level. Have you ever hugged someone and you didn’t want to let go? It’s that feeling, that connection, that shared energy that makes us. Or, sometimes, breaks us. It is that connection, the one that occurs between each of us, that feeds us, nurtures us, and helps us grow, even when we don’t realize it.

So there you have it. From gummy smiles to tinsel teeth to an almost full set of pearly whites, my son is growing fast and I am still growing too.