32: Into the Wild

I turned 32 last week.  How does it feel? As my dad used to say, “It feels just like 31!”

Many things are the same.

Instead of perfume, I still rub “chill pill” essential oil balm onto my wrists and neck. The first time I look at my hair in the morning is typically in the rear view mirror of my car. I’m still getting comfortable crying in public and I’m still 97% afraid of the dark.

But one big thing is different. 32 officially marks my first age without my dad. 

Everything I wear or see has this “before dad died” and “after dad died” essence. I will see a shirt and think, the last time I wore this dad was still alive. I will watch a movie and think, the last time I watched this, dad was still here.

32 feels like that too. A transformative year. Before I was 32 and after.

This year is wrapped tightly in a big question mark. I don’t feel entitled to anything anymore; I’m not entitled to people or days or my health. I just damn well know to appreciate those things.

My friend Nicole said that God doesn’t waste anything. I love that sentiment and will continue to be on high alert as He uncovers the silver lining. I’m picking up the scraps of a shitty couple months, doing my best to make sense and make good out of them. I know I will be different, I hope mostly better.

Less fearful, more daring. Less anxious, more at peace. Less stuck, more in the flow.


It’s weird to think I’ve only been a mom for two years and some change. Of my 32, it feels like so many more have been in the motherhood. To my future forgetful self, this is what your family is like right now:

Maisley walked up to me while I was feeding Coura last night and casually stated: “What the fuck.” Just as breezy and matter of fact as if she were asking for a snack. I immediately called Ryan and told him we needed to implement that cussing jar ASAP.

Maisley. How do I put that girl into words. She’s more of a feeling, a motion, a dance move, a splatter of paint. I remember when she was a baby thinking that I could never be mad at her because she was too sweet and perfect. As it turns out, that wasn’t true, but I do love her even more than I did in that blissfully ignorant moment. She is whip smart and remembers everything, even the things I hope skip in one ear and out the other.

Ryan told me that Coura is the most optimistic person he knows. I’m oddly obsessed with her contagious joy right now. Her smile is so big that it looks like someone is pulling on her cheeks to stretch them as wide as they’ll go. When I pick her up, she leans slowly into my chest and if I’m lucky, brings my face close for open mouth kisses. She is already trying to crawl because as Jordan says: it’s survival of the fittest around here.

Ryan is the most optimistic person that I know. He hasn’t once complained about doing double the work right now; around the house and on the job. He is my safe place for processing grief and never lets me dip too far into never-land. He has mastered the art of Elf on the Shelf and is fired up on projects around the house. Rightfully so, his fuse with two kids can be as short as the colored Christmas lights we just strung, but his frustration leaves as quickly as it came. He is home to me, always has been, always will be.

32; into the wild we go. 

 

What If It’s Great?

I couldn’t walk after my dad died. My anxiety was crippling. I thought I was also going to die. The grief had manifested so physically that I could barely get up. Every type of food made me nauseous like I was back in my first trimester of pregnancy. I had to stop breastfeeding my 4-month-old daughter because I had nothing left to give.

It was the lowest point of my entire life, but I’m here. I’m moving. Most days forward, some days back. The path I’m on feels unfamiliar, so in a way it doesn’t feel like mine, even though I know it is.

Today I walked for 45 minutes. I made everyone breakfast. I drove Maisley to preschool. I don’t have to Uber to therapy anymore. I’ve never been more grateful to be accomplishing ordinary daily tasks.

There’s been a shift in my grief after over the last couple of weeks. Discomfort is pervasive, but it doesn’t quite feel like I’m on the Hunger Games anymore; on edge every second of the day wondering when and how grief will strike – a hail storm of anger? A tidal wave of sadness?

Still, everything is upside down.  Red is blue and blue is green. 

My grief has more questions than it does answers. It doesn’t understand, trapped in the limited capacity of my human mind. Why him? Where is he right now? 

Every day of this coming year feels like unchartered territory; random ones like May 15th and special ones like December 25th. What will every day be like without Dad? What will it feel like in the spring and summer?

In therapy today I talked about how I’m a little apprehensive every time my mom calls. What if the tone in her voice makes my heart sink to my knees? 

My world changed on a hopeful, bright blue, Saturday morning. Sorrow fell out of the sky and hit me like an anvil on an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. A part of me had been waiting my whole charmed life for that phone call.

Would it have helped if I had been worried and fearful all morning?

Not one bit.

Whether I expect bad things or good things, things will just happen. Life will continue to happen.  I can feel myself inching toward a shift, because, what if it’s great? What if I expect good things? 

Feeling that positivity and hope start to permeate my perspective feels more genuine than living in the twilight of foreboding joy. 

Anne Lamott said it best: “To have been born is a miracle. What are the odds?”

A First Laugh

I laughed really hard for the first time since my dad died.

I was sitting in the kitchen doing some writing while Maisley was pretending to nap. Our part-time nanny and friend, Jordan, peered around the corner and whispered, “Oh you gotta see this.”

I got up to find Maisley standing in the hallway, butt naked, proud and smirking, anxiously awaiting my reaction. She had climbed out of bed, de-robed, de-diapered, and scaled the “safety gate”.

I couldn’t help myself; I lost it in full blown, slap-happy laughter. 

I laughed without holding back. I laughed mindlessly, deep in the present moment. I felt something new inside of me, sparked in that moment of joy.

Motherhood and grief is a wild collaboration. On one hand, it helps me to have these tiny distractions of blissful naivety. On the other, it’s hard to feel everything I want to, when I want to, with obligations that come first; like keeping both kids alive while Maisley has Coura two inches up, off the ground by the ankles.

I’m so happy my girls got to meet my dad, but my heart aches for future memories we will never make and dreams, unfulfilled.

Some days I wake up in hope and positivity. Others in sorrow and angst. After every tidal wave of grief – weak, tired and with tear stained cheeks – a gentle, but firm voice speaks very clearly in my mind: Get up. Keep going.

I have to get up everyday for those girls. I have to keep moving.

It feels good to smile and see the light through the cracks.

The A Word

I’ve had anxiety since I was a little girl, but never really knew that’s what I was up against until recently, when I started reading more books and blogs on the topic, listening to podcasts, practicing yoga and talking to other like minded humans.

From ages nine through eleven I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I was so worried that something bad was going to happen to my family. I would sheepishly walk into my parents room every night after suffering through about two hours of horrible thoughts. Each time, my dad would patiently bring me back to bed, tell me nothing bad was going to happen, say some prayers and I would finally drift off to sleep.

There are other stories too, like getting hives before track meets, running away from potential accidental boyfriends, and nearly seeing God during “normal” turbulence as a frequent (fearful) flyer.

Now as a mother, I have greeted a new type of anxiety; one that involves tiny humans falling off tables and the constant questions: Am I doing enough? Am I enough?

Some days I don’t even notice my anxiety, other times it’s situational; presentations, speeches or social gatherings, and yet in some seasons, I wake up every day to anxiety sitting on my chest like a 10 pound weight for no good reason. It takes me out of the game and makes me fear things that I deeply enjoy.

Something that helped me understand that I have anxiety and that I wasn’t alone, was talking about what it feels like.  What it actually feels like to be in a body that gets taken over by the multi-sensory manifestations of this beast. I asked a few people that I admire (former athletes, a teacher, a surfer, mothers, yopros), who also cohabitate with anxiety, what it feels like to them. I’ve never been more clear about how physical, mental health can be.

“Anxiety feels like my brain is on fire, stuck in the groove of one train of thought. I find myself painfully removed from the present moment, obsessed instead with things I know (rationally) will be just fine or are out of my control.”

“Anxiety feels like there are bubbles all over my heart that I can’t pop. Like the liquid around my heart is carbonated. Sometimes it feels like I can’t fully exhale and in turn, I can’t relax and be present.”

“Anxiety feels like fear. Fear that my family is going to be hurt, fear that I’ve pissed someone off, fear that I did something wrong at work, fear of not making a good impression, fear that I didn’t make the right decision or fear that my ideas are stupid.”

“Anxiety feels like a pinball lodged in my throat, ceasing airflow in and out. That feeling ricochets into my head, like it too has been cut off from receiving oxygen. Like a balloon tied tremendously tight at the bottom. As the pinball pushes through and I can feel my body again, I realize my limbs have never been more stiff.”

I ended up writing a poem about Anxiety, a collaboration of thoughts, from our anxious hearts to yours.



Anxiety: The Unwelcome Guest

The room gets quiet as she walks in the door.
whispers,
restlessness,
confusion.

I lost my train of thought.

I’ll greet her by name,
acknowledge she’s here.
But I’m suddenly no longer there.

My brain lights up like wildfire,
stuck in the groove
of one thought.

Like bubbles over my carbonated heart.
Why can’t I get it to stop?

Half inhale,
Half exhale.
Yawns,
deep sighs.

Full head like a balloon,
but with no oxygen,
ready to pop.

On a rollercoaster,
it feels endless,
please stop.

A cloud of fear rolls in
like a fog machine.

Fear that my family will be hurt,
my ideas are stupid,
that I’ve pissed someone off.
The list goes on.

What she looks like to me,
may be different to you.
A monster,
or maybe,
so close she’s almost a friend?

I pull out my tactics,
I’m ready to fight.
Armed with mantras,
prayers,
and my rational mind.

Sometimes its minutes
or hours or days.
However long,
She’s always overstayed
her already unwelcome.

Finally she starts to slip away,
leaving the faint scent of
forget-me-nots
in her wake.

Crickets

This electric nervous energy has me levitating lately. Everything around me is just out of reach. Gravity is nowhere to be found and I’m trying to grasp and hang on to anything I can.

Sitting in a state of grief has opened me up to smaller nuances and things that I might not have noticed before my dad died. I am on high alert, paying close attention to any signs of him that may appear. 

So far, all I’ve been hearing are crickets.

My mom and dad had pesky little crickets in their house when they first moved in together 30+ years ago. Right before my dad left for his very last bike ride on September 29th, my mom yelled something like, “We need to get rid of these crickets in the garage!”

Since the day my dad died, crickets have been showing up at just the right time.  At first we didn’t want to believe it, hoping for something a little more glamorous than a cricket as his spirit animal.  A hummingbird perhaps? Shooting stars?

But the crickets are prevailing, in little, pay attention or you’ll miss it kind of ways.

At the end of the night at Lindsey and Brandon’s rehearsal dinner, the lights went out for a scheduled blackout and then silence; crickets. I came home for the first time after he died and what was chirping in our garage?

The crickets are also emerging in bold, clear as day kind of ways.

I had started a class on Tuesday nights in early September, a course on unblocking creativity through the workbook, The Artist’s Way. The week after my dad died I couldn’t get myself to go. I couldn’t drive anywhere, let alone think about anything other than my dad. The following two weeks I kept wanting to go, but didn’t have it in me.

Finally, I went. I was anxious, but looking forward to it, as the class had been a breath of fresh air every week. New people with unique perspectives, wild imaginations and a zest for life.

I walked in early and sat down next to our instructor. A few minutes into our conversation she paused and said, “There’s that cricket again! It’s been here for the last three weeks and we can’t seem to figure out where it is.” Three weeks, which means, the week I stopped coming, my dad had been holding court at the Soul Flow Art Studio in my place (and let me tell ya, that wouldn’t normally be his scene).

At first I thought she was joking because it was so perfectly orchestrated. I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s still guiding me, telling me to keep going, keep writing, and to stay on this path. I felt comforted. A quiet nudge, just as he would do. Thanks Dadio, I see you.

Crickets seem to suit him. We can only hear him in the quiet. He is peaceful, unassuming. He brings us good luck. He always used to get so mad at us for talking over each other a million miles a minute so he implemented a talking stick. Now he is still telling us to be patient and listen.

Yesterday I had this overwhelming sense and understanding that I now have my dad right next to me every day. Like a four leaf clover in my back pocket, Dad is with me through every big decision, every cheers, every airplane ride, and every down day; all of it. Our relationship is different, but maybe it will be even stronger somehow than before.  There’s no calling or texting, he’s just there. He’s got my back, him and God, and that makes me stand a little taller.

When I start paying attention, I feel myself slowly drift back to Earth. There is magic in the quiet. Crickets. 

Life Right Now

I am a deeply sensitive person. I often “numb out” when watching sad movies or hearing sad stories because it’s just too much

Now I am here, living out my worst nightmare: something bad happening to someone I love. And it’s real, even though it doesn’t feel like it. 

Enter: anxiety, panic attacks, physical pain, fear, endless questions. 

The deepest sadness I’ve ever known is now tangled throughout my everyday.  I have to feel it and let it move through me.  In the midst of it all, I have to keep committing and recommitting to living out loud, just like he did. 

Each day I am discovering small joys, grounding myself by touching the dirt and sitting on our cool driveway. Walking barefoot around our rain-kissed neighborhood. Listening to Coura Joan laugh. Doing sidewalk chalk of really big, really spooky pumpkins with Maisley. Taking baths with lavender epsom salt. 

There’s a house down the street that has a life-like skeleton in their driveway as part of their halloween decorations. Everyday, the skeleton is doing something new. Yesterday he was fixing a car, today he is skating on a ramp, what will he be doing tomorrow? That skeleton, that dead, plastic set of bones we have dubbed “Steve”, might just be the best thing in my life right now.

A tiny part of me can see that in feeling this full spectrum of emotions, that in my biggest brokenness, I am becoming more whole. That this is life. Sorrow, despair, joy and love. 

 

 

 

The Summer of Life and Death

I’ve lived 31 years without knowing what grief is. I know about death. People die all the time. Just not people who are ingrained in my DNA, my every memory, my childhood, and my entire existence up to one moment.

From one moment to the next, my life became unrecognizable.  I’ve been propelled into an alternate universe where I feel every emotion, often at once. Everything and everyone around me feels like glass, like the rest of my life could shatter at any moment. Homesick, as the priest said.

Who will I be on the other side of this loss? What does life look like without my Dad?

My daughter was born on June 1st. My dad died on September 29th. It’s a strange thing having life and death in the same season.  As I stood there in a vulnerable postpartum state, my heart wide open, physically exhausted and run down, I lost one of the single greatest influences of my life: my dad.

I can’t help but recall the process of birth as I am learning to survive death.

As goes birth, so does death; breath by breath. If you fight against the surges, they will sweep you away, becoming even more painful and intense. The only way I am learning to survive is to sway with the intense surges of grief, surrendering to this powerful force and allowing it to move through me. Once it is has passed, I desperately search for the peace and joy in the moments in between, trying not to dwell on the intensity of what I just felt or on what’s coming next.

I’m not sure exactly what happened in between her birth and his death. It all feels blurry right now. I think there was sand and sunshine, a little doom and June gloom. Birthday celebrations, trips and other ordinary memories that are now anything but that. 

The only thing I am sure of is right now. I am alive. Living this season, this moment, in gratitude, prayer, anger, sadness and hope.