What I Used to Think

“You can turn over every stone on Earth and still not find what you’re looking for.” 

I used to think I’d find myself in the color of my hair, or the clothes I’d wear; the number of piercings in my ear. 

The friends I’d make, the boys I’d kiss, the jobs I’d win; how fast I’d fly down the track. 

“Just be yourself!” they’d say. 

I looked everywhere; couldn’t seem to find her anywhere. 

Until these days, when what I used to think isn’t working out so well for me anymore. 

If someone asked me now, I’d say:

I’ll find myself right where I’m standing, in whatever shoes I’m wearing, in the voice I hear that’s both mine and the Divine. 

In the sea and the trees, a deep breath of love, in things that glitter on the inside. 

A me that doesn’t don’t fade, leave or scar; whole without even trying. 

I’ll still turn over every stone and travel the Earth, but seek only accessories to the real me.

Triggers

I drove to Creative Mornings with mascara on, feeling brave and un-smudgeable. I met my friend and creative dreaming partner, Suzanne, coincidently twinning in a golden shirt, jeans and brown sandals. It was her birthday and the day before Coura’s birthday. I was feeling excited to hear some inspiring words on creativity.

Five minutes into the presentation, the speaker started talking about her childhood. Mostly, all about her dad, photos in a slideshow of her dad, her relationship with her dad. More about her dad. And then, a tape recording of her as a kid talking with her dad.

That’s when I lost it. I became unhinged in every sense of the word and started uncontrollably sobbing in a silent auditorium of 200 people. I ran out as fast I could, my tears fleeing my eyes at the same pace.  It was the most blindsiding, unexpected wave of grief yet.

Triggered.

Who knew? What are the rules on big, flashing trigger-warning signs?

DAD TALK COMING. ALERT. AVERT. PREPARE. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. TURN AROUND. RUN HOME AND CRAWL INTO BED.

Some triggers are obvious like going to my parents house, the spot of the phone call, a photo. Other triggers are more camouflaged, hidden inside innocent keynote speakers or coffee shop playlists.

Thank God for Suzanne who knows dark humor and what it means to cry in public. It helps to be surrounded by people who know how to position your arms so that air can flow into your lungs.

As uncomfortable as that was, I would take a public cry over holding that gigantic ball of energy in my body to wreak havoc on me in some other way. I’m slowly learning, that if I face my grief head-on with honor and kindness, it actually releases it’s death-grip and even lends a reward of peace on the other side.  In kid terms: It’s less like an annoying house guest who never leaves and more like Tom the mailman, just dropping in with a quick message and then on his way.

I wonder if other people wanted to cry that morning. I wonder who else has been hurting when I’m sitting in beautiful oblivion. 

One of the many gifts of grief: compassion.

Triggers I want more of: sprinklers on a hot summer day.

Word Preferences

Unhelpful Helpful
Settling down Putting down roots
I’m unraveling I’m untangling
Everything happens for a reason Everything happens
I’m so sorry Thank you for understanding
I’m such an idiot I made a mistake
I really want to go for a walk I’m out the door! See you in a bit
I’ve always wanted to go to… I just booked a flight to…
She really needs to work on being more present I really need to work on being more present
Take a deep breath Breathe into your back, expanding your lungs like you’re filling up a CamelBak (tip from Zen Golf via Ryan Nienhuis)
You are not your thoughts

Close your eyes and turn toward an anxious or scary thought in your mind, sit with it and eventually it will just dissolve

Life is short Not one second of your life is wasted
Accept it Allow it

A Second Chance

A babbling brook of whys and what ifs.
Where’s his second chance? His saving grace?
That miracle lying in wait.

So tied to our illusion of control,
we beg and plead:
he’s one of the good ones,
please use it on him.

In a single moment,
our road map diverged from His.
Propelling us off course,
no turn-by-turn directions home.

Eight months later,
some footing found.
Hints of knowing,
silver linings and signs of God all around.

And still, some days, anger interrupts again:
why didn’t he get a second chance?
This time,
A quick and knowing all-heart reply:

His first chance taken,
a life well lived.
A family, his humble heart,
full to the brim.

Why didn’t he get a second chance?
Because he didn’t need one.

One Year With Coura

For my sweet Coura Joanies:

As I attempt to color your beautiful world with words, I have to start with the truth. Your first year of life was the most challenging of mine. A transition into a whole new existence that neither of us saw coming. And yet, you never left my side through it all – our bright light behind the dark clouds. From the day you were born, you’ve been my teacher.  You make me want to be present in the moment, stepping outside of my chatty brain to enter your world of endless possibilities. 

Thank God for your deep belly laughs, your big cheesy grin and the way you liked to speed-crawl across the hardwood floor with your head down. You are coordinated, determined and always in motion. Climbing is first nature for you, which goes hand-in-hand with your rock-solid glutes. You are a lover of fine foods with a special palette for noodles and raspberries. Anytime music comes on, you stop in your tracks for a signature move: a unique mix of the booty bounce and a side-to-side sway. 

Your sister’s scooter is the current object of your affection. Scratch that: you love riding on, sitting on, chewing on or being near anything that is Maisley’s, including the legend herself. I love seeing you two together. You make Maisley brave and she does the same for you, and my sisters do the same for me. You will always be your own person with your own preferences, but her steady influence will also be your guide. Someone to test the waters so you can later jump in with ease.

One day, at any moment, you will enter toddler-hood. I now know what that means – for better, for worse – but until then, your sweet self can do no wrong. I wish I could wrap you up in a baby carrier onto my heart forever, tied just as you are now so that I can come here anytime I need to feel your silky smooth skin, thick auburn hair, determination, goofy-loving heart and life-giving courage.

Poppi didn’t cry often, but he got choked up when he first heard your beautiful name. You were named after Grandma Joan, his mom. She was a loud-whistlin’, fun-lovin’ lady who made a mean broccoli chicken casserole, hosted the best parties and always had a trick up her sleeve. She was a bright light, just like you are. In addition to loving your name, Poppi loved holding you in his arms any chance he got, soaking up your calming, Heaven-sent presence. Even though you only knew him for a short time, he is a part of you and forever your trusted angel advisor.

Just like we all the know the story about Aunt Linny eating a cigarette butt when she was little, you will reluctantly grow up hearing about the time you ate dog poop. Though, I hope the stories you hold onto at your core are the ones about how you didn’t stop laughing and smiling from the day you learned how. I hope you see photos of your baby self that reflect your patience and optimism. I hope you hold onto the moments where you gave me strength when I didn’t think I had anything left. I hope you have beautiful babies when you grow up and understand how much bigger the love is than any frustration or moments of sadness.

Thank you for all that you are. We love you forever and ever my sweet baby Jo. 

Xoxo
Mama

Words

The roughly 23-year-old guy at Trader Joe’s and I stood gingerly talking about the salmon in my cart. It was all fun and games until he unintentionally drop-kicked me with this line: “People my age like to go to sushi a lot and I just don’t love it.” People my age.

For the first time in my adult life I felt old, swimming upstream to the youthful, free-wheeling existence I once knew. The roughly 23-year-old guy and me, separated by a few extra wrinkles, new grey hairs, the need for an alarm clock, and a hot shower. (And I didn’t even have my kids with me.)

Like the old cliche warns us: choose your words wisely. I’ve been living through a lot of cliches recently – life is short, life’s unfair – and this one is no exception.  Words can uplift, help you make sense, educate, connect, or kick you in the ass (even with perfectly good intentions).

Discovering new meaning for old words, discomfort with new words and finding the “right” words has been the name of the game in conversations recently.

Circumstance: When reflecting back on the year.
Me: “My dad died in September…” still gets stuck in my cottonmouth every time. I will sometimes use softer words like since dad’s been gone or passed away which only help my brain and not my heart.

Circumstance: When new people ask where my parents live.
Me: “My mom lives up in Orange County”.

Circumstance: When my daughters are asserting their independence.
Me: Playing voice dress up to reveal the right tone and language – somewhere between yelling and my quiet time voice – that empowers us all and bypasses uninterested ears.

Circumstance: When hearing about someone else’s grief.
Me: It’s so hard to allow and hold space for the pain of people I love. Even though I’m in my own grief, I wonder what words they need to hear?

Circumstance: When I hear the word “Dad”.
Me: A word I’ve said millions of times has developed an entirely new meaning. It means despair, gratitude, crickets and love. It means the Dad I knew for 31 years and it means the angel Dad I am getting to know now. It means guardian and the one who still, always shows up.

Circumstance: When someone asks what’s helped the most.
Me: God. A God who doesn’t care if my church is surrounded by walls or water or pine trees. A God who is happily present in every area of my life – creativity, protection, love, dreams – if I invite him to be there. God, in me and in all of us. 

Just like my daughters are adding new pieces to their vocabulary everyday, my language is also fluid and expanding. Growing by the ten half read books on my nightstand, podcasts and conversations with therapists and family/friends. Most importantly, as a practicing mindful, spiritual being – I’m working to discover the right words through my inner voice, my intuition, my heart. The guiding light of all impeccable words.

At the very least, I can practice my Dad’s golden rule: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Going Home

It’s hard to go back to the place I called home for so many years. Four walls that are dangerously close to feeling more foreign than comforting now almost eight months after September 29th.

We pulled around the corner to 48 Amantes, just like I’ve done thousands of times, and some of those since he’s been gone. It never gets easier. I see his truck sitting there. I see his house. The bricks he laid with his hands. The rooms that hold a lifetime of traveling artifacts, his baseball caps, his shoes. All the other mountain bikes out enjoying the trails this morning. It feels like a betrayal in some way to be in this space without him. Wouldn’t it be so simple to jump back to a day when he was here?

Sometimes crying is conscious. Your nose starts to get tingly and you decide if you’ll allow it or not. This wasn’t one of those times. It was the kind that takes over and you’re left to either surrender or surrender. The cold hard fact of him being gone hit like a wall as I walked through the door. His BBQ, his office, his chair, will somehow never be his again.

Yet in the same thought, none of that stuff matters. After he died, one of the lessons that deeply struck me was that we take nothing with us. It’s us and God, at birth and death.

So what does that mean for us in this beautiful, complicated dash in between? What do I do with this firsthand information? Sell all of my things and live in a tiny house with my husband and kids? That’s going to be a firm, toddler-style “no” for me (at least in this phase). Sell all my things and move back to Australia? A little more likely. 

Right now that lesson is manifesting as do the soul work”, which means constant, merciful reminders to myself.

When the kids are running rampant and your finger is aching to scroll or phone a friend – be present. When you’d rather sleep in – get up to pray. Pause before you purchase new things. Connect with new people. Cherish and nurture the time with people who have steadily been along for the ride. Turn toward hard emotions/pain and away from distractions. Invite God into all parts of your life first – the same God you ask for protection is the same One who inspires your creativity.  

After the dust settled, I walked into the garage. It’s the space in the house that still feels like he never left. His workbench and tools that frequented his calloused palms, still in perfect order. I always admired how he worked with such ease and comfort on projects around the house while classic rock stars hummed a low beat on the radio. He would always be the first one to greet us as we pulled into the driveway. 

“Hey Dadio”, I would say. “Hey Jen”, I can still hear him say.