Whoa.

Oh my gosh! I am so excited right now. I have been waiting for this moment for two days. Thoughts, words, and ideas have been swimming in my mind, begging to be called forth into my blog (insert big smile). And now, it is time.

So, I’m taking another online class through the Brave Girls Club – this one is called SOUL RESTORATION. I’m really really behind in the class. Like, I’m on week 6 (of 8 weeks) and I think it ended a month or so ago. That doesn’t really matter. At all. BUT, I had to mention it because the lesson for week 6 – No Shame, No Blame – came at the perfect time for me, during this week in my life. I love it when that happens. Incidentally, the project assignment was to create a timeline. A timeline of my life!

I love timelines.

I took this picture to give you an idea of what the timeline looks like.

The Accordion Book Timeline of my life!

The timeline takes shape over the span of an accordion book. I wouldn’t have had a clue how to make an accordion book on Tuesday, but now I know.

Before I tell you more, like why I am so excited, I need to make a confession. I am IN LOVE with the Brave Girls Club. This is how the Brave Girls describe themselves “Brave Girls Club is a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly liveā€¦and that means something different to every single one of us.

First of all, I LOVE places and people who recognize that being ANY ONE THING means something different to every single one of us. It’s one of those things that makes me go “DUH” but really, let’s be honest, not very many entities are all about honoring that one singular word can mean a whole lot of different things to different people. Right? I love it when I find a place or a person that does, because it makes me feel very warm inside. Sometimes living a brave life means getting out of bed in the morning. That can be very brave. And sometimes, it means saying a final good-bye to someone we love. That requires a hell of a lot of bravery. Trust me. I love that no matter how I define brave on any given day, I can still be a brave girl. It takes me back to the days I pretended to be Pippi Longstocking in my backyard. Oh, how I loved Pippi!

Second of all (is that a legitimate phrase?), The Brave Girls Club has given me the HUGEST gift ever. I had forgotten how much I love to be covered in glue and paint. I forgot how much I love to cut things out of one thing and create something new on another thing. The online classes are all about doing all that and so much more, meaning I am in Soul Searching Mod Podge Scissor Paper Acrylic Paint Heaven. I never thought I’d have time for something like this, you know, since having children, but I find the time in secret places. Like when I’m supposed to be doing laundry. It’s all good.

So this is why I am excited… in the process of creating my timeline, I came in contact with one of the great truths of life. This is big. As is typical for me, this is not the first time I have encountered this particular truth, but seeing it come alive in the form of my LIFE packs a lot of power. The truth hit me in the face this time.

Here it is: The truth of who you are does not change.

This comes compliments of Melody Ross, my class instructor, who I also adore even though I have never met her. Weird, but true.

Closer-up of the beginning of my timeline.

Closer-up of the middle of my timeline.

Closer-up of the end.

This is my favorite part, I think. I made a little book on the timeline! I included a picture of me with each of my children on the day they were born. Love.

As I glued the bottom part of the timeline, my dates and ages, to the book, I started thinking about all the different things that have happened in my life. It’s a lot. What I found is that my darkest of dark days took place over the course of about four years. Four? FOUR! Four of (almost) FORTY?! That is nothing. What is it? 1/10 of my life? I couldn’t believe it. From those years, which were very formative years in their defense, I created a whole story about who I was from then until the end of time, and I went back to that story in times of trouble. The sad thing is, it wasn’t really a true story. See, I’m not really, truly a drunken school-skipper just because I’ve been drunk. And skipped school. I assigned all kinds of meaning to what kinds of people do the things I did and they were really bad people. Therefore, according to my logic, I was a really bad person. Yikes. I know.

So then, when my second son was born very ill and he survived and thrived and we all moved on, life got hard for me to handle. Looking back, I know I didn’t deal with the trauma of his birth and his recovery from his illness properly. I didn’t recover from childbirth properly. I stuffed all my grief and fear and pain and sadness. I didn’t fully address the questions I had running through my mind – like, “did I somehow cause my baby to suffer…?” because I thought I really was responsible and I didn’t want anyone to find out (in case you are wondering, I was not at all responsible for my son’s illness…). I was so incredibly elated to bring him home from the hospital that I had to believe all is well that ends well.

And, secretly, I was so afraid that someone might try to take him back. It is unnatural to give birth to a baby and not be able to hold him, to cuddle him, to nurse him, to examine his little body parts, and to get to know him and fall deeply in love with every inch of him on the day he is born. It is unsettling to have someone tell you that you cannot touch your baby while he is hooked up to machines and looking so helpless, like he needs to be touched. After experiencing all that, and finally getting Alexander home where he belonged, I didn’t want to risk losing him again. When I made mistakes, like all parents do, I was SO HARD on myself. I drew from those four dark, formative years and said things to myself like, “of course you can’t handle a child, you couldn’t even make it to class on time in college…” Things like that. And other mean things I don’t even want to mention.

Two quick years later, my daughter was born! It all happened so fast. It took everything I had to make it look like I was keeping it all together – three kids, a home, a husband, etc. I didn’t come up for air. I looked really happy on the outside, but on the inside I was torturing myself with the same awful messages I had come to know as the truth about me.

Then, my dad died. It all came out. Every little bit of grief, pain, guilt, shame, and fear that I had been stuffing in neat little packages and storing in my soul. It bubbled up and out of me. Fortunately, I had graduated with a Master’s degree in Social Work and read enough self-help books to know that when all those old scripts surfaced, something wasn’t right. To feel the love that I felt from the people I knew and loved and respected and admired, I knew I had to be worth something. Since then, I learned that I have been the same bundle of love and light that I was on the day I was born ALL ALONG. I am not my mistakes or even my victories, none of those things that I do define me. The truth of who I am does not change.

Likewise, the truth of who you are doesn’t change. That’s why I was so excited. I just couldn’t wait to tell you that, just in case you didn’t know, or you forgot, or you knew but would like a reminder. As sweet Melody says, “no matter what mistakes you made, no matter how others have hurt you, no matter what happens, the truth of who you are does not change.”

It was a huge realization for me to see that I let those four little years of being lost and a bit broken define me into adulthood. Ugh! But that’s okay because I like me now and I wouldn’t be who I am had I not taken that journey.

You don’t need Mod Podge or acrylics, but do make a timeline. Or, at least consider the possibility that you are giving all your power to one little blip in time. You are not that blip. The truth of who you are, which is all the good stuff, does not change.

YAY!!!

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

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