The Most Time of the Year

What makes the holiday season so great is all of the love, magic and memories. Years of traditions, never breaking from our favorite ways: Christmas eve mass, a special visit from Santa at my Aunt’s house, and then a very precise Christmas morning formula: first stockings, then breakfast with cinnamon rolls and then opening presents.

The same things that make the holidays so great, are also what make them so hard as we grieve the loss of our dad.

There are endless distinct memories.  What he would be wearing, where he sat, his funny sayings, the way he smelled, held his beer and laughed. The way he would roll his eyes at us in church for goofing off, but secretly be laughing inside with us.

Specific visions and moments play like a movie reel, so vivid and close, you can almost touch them. 

The holidays amplify the grief – nothing is as it was, everything is different – and also the love. 

It’s incredible how close sadness and joy have become in my life. Those two co-conspiring emotions are just the best of buds. Although I doubt any greetings cards ever read: “We go together like sadness and joy”. Sometimes I don’t want both of them, or either of them, but they are right there waiting for me, anxiously poking and prodding to be acknowledged.

On Christmas Eve, we all sat around the living room waiting for the special arrival of Santa. As the jolly old man himself came strutting through the front door, Maisley trembled in nervous excitement. Santa sat down and began reaching into his giant sack, pulling out presents name by name.

“This one’s for Maisley!”, he exclaimed. My daughter popped up off the piano bench like she had been waiting her entire 2.5 years of life for that moment.

She walked up – half smiles, half skeptic – grabbed her present while standing at the furthest possible point away, turned right around and walked right back to her seat. No thank you, no time for photos or sitting on his lap for a closer look.

The rest of the night she was glowing in awe and pride at her Rudolph pajamas from Santy claus. She was so proud, elated at the magic and surprise of Christmas Eve.

This was one of my happiest moments as a parent, equally feeling her infectious excitement. Just an hour before that, I had been crying in sadness at how unfair it is that of all the shit people in the world, my gold-hearted dad had to go.

Christmas was weird, chaotic, overwhelming. Getting presents and giving presents felt trivial. Something big was missing. A hole that only my dad could fill. A laugh only he could laugh. It was always going to be that way.

And still, we found gratitude. We found kindness and compassion from so many people. We found peace in prayer. We found laughter and slap happy relaxation. 

We found solidarity with all of the other people who are experiencing the “most” time of the year. The most love, the most tears, the most of everything.

Me & Death: It’s Complicated

Some of my best memories with my dad were spent in his white New Balance sneakers and light-wash, loose-fit Levi’s jeans; hiking, walking, doing chores, working on school projects, soccer games or hanging Christmas lights. He was casual and simple, with an extraordinary capacity for unconditional love and random acts of goodness.

My dad consistently met chaos with peace and with one quick glance of those crystal blue eyes, I felt understood. He always “got it”, he was always on my team and he gave the best back massages that always ended with a triple tap. Not the triple tap!

My dad and I had a great relationship.

I don’t, however, have a great relationship with death.

My concept of Heaven and hell is pretty similar to the one I constructed as a child from church and CCD classes. It’s not something that I have developed over the years because it’s not something I’ve been confronted with head on and it’s not something I like to think about.

I feel so ill-equipped with trying to find peace and “answers” in response to my ignorant, question master, Grief. Questions about where my dad is and what he’s doing, despite being someone with a solid faith. I know he is in Heaven. I know he is here with me. I know that I find his memory in everything I do right now.

I just desperately want to know that he is okay. I want to know that he is happy. I do, deep down I do. From every dream and every conversation we’ve had in this new type of relationship, he is nothing but perfect.

I think a part of the struggle is me projecting my fear of eternity onto him, mostly because it’s a big, beautiful, bright unknown. Unknowns are scary, uncertainty is unsettling, but as I am learning about this whole grief thing, discomfort tends to hang on you constantly like an overtired toddler.

The line between life and death is paper thin. The difference of one breath. The two used to seem so far away from each other, but not anymore. It’s less of a separation and more of a compilation.

Every day the sun comes up. Some days I want it to freeze and for everyone to stop and share in our sadness, validating the magnitude of our loss, and other days I wish it to be 365 sunrises later.

Coura gets older with every bath, like a tiny part of her babyhood is swept away with the sponge. She always looks more mature wrapped up tightly in her towel; bright and clean. [I wish I could say that’s why she only gets a bath once a week, but that would be a generous explanation for my second child laziness.]

All of those trite sayings like “life goes on” and “life’s short!” are actually, annoyingly and thankfully so very true.

I don’t know if there are oranges in Heaven or if there is night and day or if eternity is a place where we go and relive all of our alternate lives.

But thank you God for incredible sisters who share my feelings, thoughts and soul. For new friends and old friends. A husband who holds my hand through it all and kids who bring out all the joy and tears. For a mom who is brave enough to get up every morning, run, shower and face the day with a smile and tears. For loving aunts and an uncle who is a treasure chest of stories, legacy and deep love.




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.