Out of the Grey

As I continue to find my footing, my voice and my self in this transformative season of motherhood, I’ve been mostly comfortable living in the middle. Extremes haven’t really been my thing. I’ve been taking in all sides of the story and experiencing a little bit of everything, all from the safety of my moderate mind.

The girl who once jumped out of an airplane and another time yelled at the mailman was a different Jenna who existed in a life I sometimes can’t recall.

When death came marching along on September 29th, it swept the grey right out from under my feet.

Everything is mostly black and white now. No cruising decibels, no cruising – period.

He was here and now he’s gone. I love my daughters, but damn I need a break. I want to be grounded and also free. I wake up in either vivid hope or with anxiety wrapped around me like a girdle.

The comfort of grey is no longer. The luxury of never having received “that” phone call is gone.

How long have I been scooting by in the in between? Now sitting on the edges, is this where I am made to be?

I think everyone feels the magnetic duality of life. We choose one path, but often are half in, half out because of the luster of another way of life. Something feels missing.

Sometimes I resist motherhood, I resist being a homemaker, I resist working, I resist working out, all because I want everything, I want the opposite thing. If we don’t fully embody one of the selves we desire, where does that leave us? Overwhelmed? Stuck? Maybe committing to one of our selves actually creates more mental space and time to embody pieces of our other self. 

Unlocked by death, the outlier in me is seeking the winding edges of my path. An undefined, yet seemingly more concrete way of life.

Of All The Things

Of all the things I want to tell him.

All the places I want to go with him.

All the memories I want to reminisce about.

All the questions I want to ask him.

All the Sunday breakfasts I want to eat with him.

Of all the things,

the thing I want to do most,

A thousand times a day, everyday,

Is to say THANK YOU.

 

Happiest Kids in the World

There’s currently a book sitting on my nightstand titled: “The Happiest Kids in the World”.

It’s ironic to see it sitting there when the big one is in complete hysterics at 5:30am for no reason other than:

“I want a banana!” (give her a banana)
“No I don’t want a banana!” (throws banana on floor)
“I want daddy!” (daddy holds her)
“No! I want mommy!” (and so on)

Yelling, ignoring, hugging, loving, talking; it all feels the same in that moment.

The little one woke up extra cheery this morning after a surprising good night of sleep. As I was changing her diaper, I found a toy cow that had been zipped up in her onesie all night long.

We’re all still getting to know each other. They’re learning how to be a human and I’m learning how to be their mom, while quite frankly, also still learning how to be a human.

Some days motherhood wins. I surrender. Some days I want to lock myself or my kids outside. Some days I wish I wasn’t so tired at night that I could actually read books about raising happy kids. Then again as Jordan said, its too much to be reading about something when you are really in something. Over saturation. 

I’m sure there’s a “moral of the story” in here somewhere, but right now it’s lost in the hodgepodge of a toy bin, that is my brain. It’ll turn up later. 

Somewhere in the Ocotillo Trees

I have this irrational argument in my head on a regular basis of whether I prefer the ocean or the mountains as my soul place. I force myself to choose.

Definitely the mountains with their all-encompassing pine trees and majestic views, I think.

Yeah, but the ocean with it’s limitless expanse, compassion and fresh salty air, I’ll think back.

On Sunday, we went rogue and chose the desert instead. I had been desperately craving a nature adventure; a hike that required actual hiking boots rather than my Nike Frees.

Me, Ryan, Maisley and Coura drove out to Anza Borrego State Park, taking a road we’ve never driven, to a hiking trail we’ve never stepped foot on. We strapped Coura securely onto me or Ryan, and Maisley hiked a good half of the trail with my hand in hers before finishing the rest on Ryan’s shoulders. We played in the stream, threw rocks, looked for mountain goats and took several snack breaks. We only got a few weird looks climbing small boulders with a baby on our back, and much to Ryan’s surprise, saw almost no one on shrooms.

Maisley thought the desert was a destination we would find at the end of our hike. “Are we at the desert yet?”, she asked a few times every few steps on our three mile (two hour) hike to the oasis.

When we had finished our day, and the last PB and J had been devoured, Ryan asked me if I had any good conversations with my dad on the trail.

I had, of course. I feel my dad so strongly right now. His voice turned up to full volume in my dreams. His presence in the beauty of the fluorescent purple and green hummingbird on our hike.

Still, I so wanted to call and tell him about our adventure. I wanted to then hear him talk about “That time we brought a generator to the desert and built a makeshift dance floor” or “That other time Chris and I were backpacking in Mammoth…”. My dad loved a good adventure. He grew up with dirt under his bare feet and always had a story from the great outdoors.

Deep down, I know that he knows. In fact, he was the first to know about our day. Somehow it makes me feel happy, like he’s gloating to my mom from Heaven that HE is now the first to know everything.

I found peace and a surprising amount of quiet in the desert.

And as I had hoped for, somewhere amongst the freshly blooming Ocotillo trees, I found a little bit of me. A part of me out there in the wild desert that came back home. A little added piece to the puzzling notion of wholeness.

The important thing isn’t that we choose which to love best, just that we choose to go.

Golden Hour

8:25 pm. “Golden hour” for those of us in the parenthood. After 45 minutes of Maisley’s In-N-Out style bedtime routine, and a tiny turd of evidence that confirmed Coura’s constipation, both kids finally gave in to their weighted eyelids.

Ryan is kicked back in his corner of the couch wearing a new robe from Christmas while laughing at a meme from TheDad on Instagram and eating a bowl of ice cream.

I’m ironically sporting my “Ryan’s gone” pulled back hair-do, wearing a striped sweatshirt I bought in 2010, and crunching on a cup of granola. After scrolling for 20 minutes through the same shows and movies we see every night – “you pick, no you pick” – we decide to watch a Vice about Doomsday.

I paused from my crunching for a minute and just started giggling.

“Who have we become!?” I asked rhetorically. “What would our 25-year-old free-bird selves say about us right now?”


Ryan and I have been married for four years as of January 10th.  Everything has changed since our wedding day, yet nothing at the same time.

Four years and two weeks ago I was crying in the bridal shop about hating my wedding dress and ended up pulling a very last minute switcheroo.

[Still indecisive, just about less important things.]

Four years and one day ago I was in the emergency room with food poisoning praying that whatever was left of my body would make it down the aisle.

[Currently still dealing with gross bodily things on a daily basis.]

Four years ago we danced to “Forever and Ever, Amen” in front of our favorite people. 

[We’re still on track singing that same tune, just a little more broken in.]

Over the last four years we gained new members of our family and lost really important ones. We’ve been broken down and built up. We’ve learned to not have arguments when our heads hit the pillow at night. We’ve discovered what makes each other crazy (why? why do the contents of your pockets find themselves at home on various counter tops around the house) and what makes each other full (road trips with chex mix and a good playlist).

Elbows deep in parenthood, sometimes we feel more like roommates and wanna-be sleep scientists than husband and wife. Other times I look at him like he’s the cute football player I’m flirting with in chemistry class and still can’t believe he’s mine.

When I look at a photo, hold Ryan’s hand or smooch my daughters cheeks, I sometimes miss them. I find myself nostalgic for the present moment, this “time of our life” – even though I am in it.

I wonder what a year from now or four more years will hold. Thank God for golden hour. Thank God it’s him.

 

Love Through Loss

No one knows what to say. We don’t know what to say. No one can imagine. We can’t imagine either.

New to death? So are we.

While nothing can take away the pain or fill the void of a loss, so many thoughtful words, acts and gestures have helped us carry on to the next day – even with joy.

From our experience, here is a list of what we (my sisters, my mom and I) are finding helpful and comforting in the days and weeks following the loss of our dad. Above anything else, the biggest act of love is to show up and reach out with a listening ear and compassionate heart.

What to Say

  • Ask “how are you today?” rather than “how are you?”
  • Talk about the person they lost, offer kind words, a warm hug and a listening ear. This feels much better than any well-intentioned avoidance of the person.
  • If you have experienced a loss, share meaningful perspectives you have learned through personal experience.
    • “The future that I felt entitled to with this person wasn’t actually ever mine. This path that I am on is the exact one that was always intended for me.”
  • My aunt came up to me on Christmas and said, “I just want you to know that I miss him so much. I miss him every day. I’m not trying to make you sad, I just want you to know that.” The perfect combination of acknowledgement, love and empathy.
  • Offer understanding, prayers and support that don’t expire.
  • I love when people text me a memory or a story about Dad. I love the random texts because it’s nice to hear Dad is on other people’s minds too.”
  • Send a “Thinking of you and your [loved one]” text to show support on both holidays and random days.
  • Follow-up after the service or celebration of life is over.
  • An email over a text is great in the beginning if it’s not someone super close to you.
  • If the person is upset or having a moment, assume it’s because of their loss. Offer love and grace, no questions asked.
  • Let them know that they aren’t crazy and what they are feeling is normal.
  • Sit, cry and make them laugh.
  • Briefly give tips on what helped you during a period of grief.
    • “Grieve how you need to and don’t judge yourself for how you are feeling. Feel what you need to, when you need to.”
  • Text, email or call to share your favorite memories or the way the person they lost made you feel
    • “Your dad always made me feel so understood and heard. He genuinely cared about what I had to say.”
  • Let them know you are eating their loved one’s favorite food, listening to their favorite song, etc.
  • If they are religious – send a comforting bible verse or song.
    • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
    • “He will send His angels concerning you.” Psalm 91:11
    • Homesick by MercyMe

What to Do

  • If there is something you want to do, be persistent. Follow up if they forget to respond.
    • “I’d like to bring you or order you dinner. What night works best?”
    • “I’d love to meet you for a walk. If you are up for it, how does next week work?”
  • Bring over normal food and groceries like eggs, bananas, avocados, bread.
  • Freezer meals are great.
  • Do something to help them honor the person that died:
    • A poem
    • A special tree or plant
    • A candle to light during the holidays
    • Organizing an annual memorial bike ride or event that suits their loved one
    • Have a mass said in their honor
    • Turn their funeral flowers into a rosary
    • Name a star after them
  • Attend the funeral and celebration of life.
  • Send a meal a week or two later.
  • Do their laundry.
  • Clean up their house.
  • Bring a seasonal item if applicable to help bring joy (i.e. pumpkin cookies and decor for pumpkin carving)
  • Remember that the person is still grieving months down the road, so offer to take them to dinner or do something after the storm has calmed.
  • Babysitting!
  • Offer to visit the cemetery with them.
  • Be the “check-in” person if you are close to them while honoring their personal space.

What to Give

  • Journal to write down thoughts
  • Magazines and mindless books
  • Melatonin and calming essential oils
  • A book on grief
  • A daily devotional book on grief
    • Healing After Loss by Martha W. Hickman
    • Grief Day by Day by Jan Warner
  • A poem
  • Print out helpful quotes on grief to give them hope
  • A nice handwritten note with memories or kind words
  • Prayer shawl
  • Memorial item such as a necklace or ring with loved one’s initials or something specific to honor them
  • Custom Nike shoes with loved one’s initial

What We Did for Ourselves 

  • Giving and receiving huge, long hugs
  • Showing up every day, even when it’s hard
  • Crying when we need to and not crying when we need to
  • Doing “normal” activities even when nothing feels normal
  • Exercise
  • Pray – endless prayers of gratitude and of mercy
  • Talking to our Dad
  • Welcoming the big cries whenever they come
  • Talking about memories
  • Laying and sitting with loved ones
  • Getting outside to feel our Dad and to see God’s beauty
  • Paying attention to the nuances and signs from our Dad
  • EMDR and therapy
  • Yoga to process grief
  • Walking around outside with my shoes off
  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Xanax on hand those first couple weeks if you are struggling with anxiety or panic attacks
  • Talking to the right people who have stood where we stand
  • Doing what feels right that day, that moment, but also giving myself a little push
  • Hanging out with people who fill me up, make me laugh and I can be myself around
  • Making self-care a priority
  • Watsu Water Therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grounded & Free

“The wilderness had a clarity that included me. That included all of us.” – Cheryl Strayed

There is a call within my grief to go into the wild. A deep desire to feel connected to the Creator; grounded in His expansive, oxygen rich masterpieces.  In a past life, I would uproot and run to it. Right now, I’m patiently listening to it. Incorporating it in between nap times and snack times – in these anything but ordinary times. A quick recharge rather than a full on runaway.

Errands and laundry followed by the earth beneath my feet. “Brush your teeth”, “change your clothes”, “here’s breakfast” — a quick song by The Birds in the Trees. Holding her small hand in mine on our short hike to the tippity top top.

The introduction of death has sped up every lifelong dream and desire from someday, to today. With so many different lives beckoning my attention, my mind feels in a constant state of tug-of-war. How do I go here and there, take this course, that road and fulfill the other idea, while still being “mama”, “June” and “Jenna Bean”. A cognitive dissonance between grounded and free. My family; my home, my heart, my everything and everywhere I want to be. And yet – travel, solo adventure, art, creativity, feeling like me. 

As with sadness and joy, maybe grounded and free are closer together than I think. More alike than different. I feel Grounded and free in the majestic arms of Mother Earth. Grounded and free in the presence of the innocent, unfiltered, colorful joy of my children. Grounded and free in the promise of forever with someone who I am fully me. 

My answer to the call of the wild: Thanks for including of me. I’m coming for you, just in pieces, rather than all at once.