Okay, So I Lied and I’m Not Making Anymore Promises

Something strange happened to me this week. I was thinking about this overwhelming desire I have to declare myself all better. All cried out. All finished grieving. This desire is so overwhelming that I keep mentioning it in these blog posts, as if everyone reading is waiting with bated breath for me to make this declaration. I’m like a little puppy when I see someone who knows how sad I’ve been and how my dad’s big one-year-since-death anniversary just passed, I kind-of jump around wagging my tail, waiting for a pat on the head, hoping for a “Good girl!” because I followed directions and did what I was supposed to do and now I get a treat. Not a single person in my life has ever said, “Okay Anna, you’re all done. It’s time to move on.” And yet, I assume that is what everyone is thinking. It’s as if I’ve been deaf to what I’m really hearing which is “Take all the time you need.” So, the strange thing that happened is I began to believe you. And boy does it feel good.

After my last post, a sweet friend of mine shared an article featuring two authors who had written books about how they dealt with loss (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/weekinreview/27grief.html?_r=1. One of the authors, Meghan O’Rourke, said the following:

In those first months, I quickly came to feel almost embarrassed by my sorrow. Most people are uncomfortable around loss. Friends talk to you about “getting through it” and “moving on” and “healing.” We shy away from talking about death, not out of cold-heartedness, but out of fear. No one wants to say the wrong thing; and death is scary. I think this is part of why there are so many memoirs and movies about loss: they create a public space where we can talk safely about grief.

I was so grateful for this insight because, to be perfectly honest, I can’t quite explain why I wanted to share my journey via this blog, but I can tell you that I absolutely believe there is a need to create more space in our society to talk about loss, to support those in mourning, and to honor and remember those who have passed. I also appreciated receiving affirmation that death is scary. I think I told you that one of my first stops after losing my dad was the bookstore. So many of the stories written for children about death and dying emphasize how death is a natural part of life. I latched on to that, thinking that if I could incorporate that concept into my understanding of life and pass that on to my children, we’d all be better prepared for facing our next loss. God forbid. See? Even as I begin to accept that death is a part of a life, and let’s face it, it is, I fear the loss of another loved one. Death is a scary part of life.

Death really doesn’t make sense when you think about it. How could someone I saw several times a week just disappear, never to be seen again? Yet, that’s how it happens. It’s not like my dad and I made an agreement to stop seeing each other. Or, like one of us moved somewhere far away. I had no choice in the matter. One day he was here, in my doorway, talking, breathing, living, and laughing. And that night he died. Now there are no more opportunities to say the things we put off saying to each other. This is what we signed up for though, we may not like it, but death is just as much a part of the cycle of life as birth. And the pain I’ve felt, like my heart had literally broken open, like I couldn’t breathe, like I couldn’t imagine how any of us would go on, all of it, is just as much a part of my emotional range as joy. My pain has turned to emptiness and my disbelief has turned to sadness and as these changes occur, I begin to understand that death makes just as much sense as life. Death is part of life.

When I hear people talk about living life to its fullest I picture myself in the sunshine with wide open arms, a smile on my face, hair blowing in the wind, all but floating my way across a field of wildflowers to a pot of gold, or something. I picture my children and I laughing together and playing together. I picture my husband and I holding hands, walking along the Red Cedar River on MSU’s campus. I never get an image representing the other end of the spectrum. I have never considered what it would mean to live life to its fullest when I’m sad. I never get a picture of myself stomping out of a room, slamming doors, and screaming in anger. I don’t see myself falling apart. Grieving is teaching me that living life to its fullest means living every little bit of life. It means being free to feel every little thing from utter despair to boredom to sheer delight. I don’t get to skip over the sad stuff. None of us do.

I love that I get to live life to its fullest. It is true that I would not appreciate the happiness in my life if I had never known sadness. I love a good cry. I love a good laugh, as long as I don’t wet my pants. I’m finally listening to you. I’m finally listening to me. I think I get it. I’ll take my time, I’ll move through the ups and the downs, I’ll breathe into the waves, and I’ll begin to fill the empty holes in my heart with great memories of my dad. I’m not making another promise about what I will or will not write about the next time I write. I cannot predict how long it will take before a visit to my parents’ house doesn’t end in tears. I don’t want to predict it. I don’t even want to know. I just want to feel my way through, as I go. Wherever I go.

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.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

Well, tomorrow it will have been one year since you left us. In some ways it seems like the year passed by quickly, and yet at the same time it feels like an eternity since I saw you last. It’s funny how time does that. Since you died on a Thursday, today seems more like the anniversary of your death. It’s dreary outside. The snow is melting, leaving patches of ice and puddles of muddy water in its place. It’s been rainy. The air holds the promise of Spring, but it still looks and feels like winter outside. We’ve changed things up a bit. James and Dan go to Milford Music together for guitar and piano on Tuesdays now. I’m so thankful for that. It would be hellish to spend the entire day comparing the similarities of March 11th last year to March 11th this year. I can see myself recalling your image in the door around 5:30 as you hustle James out the door to his lesson. I could torture myself, again, remembering our last hug. I might even go downstairs to run on the treadmill, trying to recreate the whoosh of energy that came over me around 8:30 p.m., the time I feel sure that you died. I may have even drug the kids out of bed late at night to ride to your house in the rain, to find mom in the backyard with you. Our lives were so drastically changed that night. Her life with you by her side ended in just an instant. So, wow, despite the changes we’ve made in an effort not to spend every Thursday night in the same routine, remembering the details of the night you died, everything that happened a year ago is still so fresh in my head.

I’m scared Dad. I feel like I’ve been living in a protective shelter this year. I’m wrapped in a bubble that says I’m grieving and I’m fragile, so be gentle with me because I might break at any minute. What happens when the bubble pops? Do I really have a breaking point? Or will I rise to the occasion? I never thought I’d lose you or Mom before you had the chance to watch my children grow. But now I know that death does not discriminate. It touches all of us at one time in some way or another. It hit me hard this time. I’m much more sensitive to the fact that it will hit me again. Sometimes I even catch myself holding my breath, fearful of what lies ahead.

Throughout this year, the unpredictability of how I will feel from one minute to the next has been a challenge for me. Other than that, it is feeling so vulnerable that troubles me. I feel so raw, so exposed sometimes. I am learning that I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. Who knew? I am learning to accept whatever it is I feel as it passes through me. I don’t hold on so tightly anymore, Dad. I am learning to let things go.

I’m sure you’ve heard that we’re having a Memorial Service for you on Saturday. From what I understand, it can get very busy over there on the Other Side. I wanted to make sure to mention the service now so that you can attend. Will you give us a sign that you are there with us? Let me know what it is and I will look out for it. I’m hoping we can have the service on the beach. I know you’ve always had a thing for powerful women so I’m sure you’re all cozy with Mother Nature now. Maybe you can pull a few strings and get us some sunshine?

I still think about how much I would have loved to say good-bye to you, Dad. I know in my head that you left us knowing you were loved and I know you are feeling our pain as we miss you. My heart still aches for that one last anything though. A hug, a cup of coffee at my table, a holiday together. I know you live on in our hearts and I know you can watch my children grow, but how can I be sure they will know you?

I’ve been listening to your music a lot lately. I am so grateful for your voice, Dad. Couldn’t you have thrown in an “Anna” every once in a while though? We have some of your recording sessions on CD now. Mom copied them for us. I’m beginning to label them with things like “Dad’s laugh” and “Dad breathing.” Maybe that is morbid in some way, but I just don’t want to forget those sounds. Your voice is part of me now, Dad. Thank you for leaving behind the tools I’ll need to make sure my children know you. They say the funniest things like, “Papaw is already dead! Why do we have to have a party for him?” That was Alexander. All the way to school the other day he and Sophia talked about how dead you are. Last night I heard Alexander saying to James, “we all miss Papaw, especially Mommy.” I hope I’m not traumatizing them with my tears!

Someone asked me if I was okay yesterday. It took me two hours to answer because I didn’t know what to say (the question came via text so I could take my time, even Mom is texting now!). I am okay Dad. I guess I’m holding on to the possibility that I’m not okay, just in case I crack or something… But the truth is, I am okay. I am okay and I am a wreck. I know you are with me and I miss you desperately. I want to celebrate making it to this milestone because everyone said the first year without you would be the hardest, but I dread it too because the hard part is all I know now and I’m afraid of what’s to come. I know you know this, Dad, but I have to say it: If I’m okay and if I move forward, like I feel myself being pulled to do, it doesn’t mean I love you any less or I miss you any less. I think I can let my grief go, gradually, without letting you go. I can hear you now. You’re nodding your head with your sweet loving smile and you’re saying, “Far out, Anna. That is far out.”

Well, I better go pack the car now. And, well, pack my bag?!

Take care Dad! I will look forward to having you with us on Saturday.

I love you!
xoxo Love,
Anna

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