September

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” – Paulo Coelho

September is chock-full of change – new school year, Football season (eye-roll) and fall on the horizon. Grounded into the newness are lingering summer nights that leave me grasping for the memories and feelings of more carefree days. 

It’s officially September 2019 and I do not want to pass go. I do not want to collect $200. I just want to rewind the days. What if tomorrow was September 6th instead of September 8th? Land mines fill the month. Birthdays and all of the “last year at this time” memories. Last this and that. 

It seems impossible, and yet, we’ve survived impossible over the last year. Standing up after he died and speaking to nearly 1,000 people, that was impossible. Lindsey and Brandon’s wedding, impossible. Dark days of grief, impossible. Writing a book about him, also impossible. And yet, we’re doing it (and people do even wilder, more impossible things all the time). 

All of the impossible hasn’t been for nothing, it’s actually been for many things. Of which I will collect sometime in October. 

One of my biggest layers of resistance for September 29th is a sense that I need to relive that day. But why do I need to relive that day? Who says I do? In EMDR therapy last week I had an incredible moment of knowing (a message and gift from Dadio).  It was this: do what we loved to do. I had a beautiful vision of scouring the tide pools in one of our favorite places, Laguna Beach. So that’s what I will be doing.

As I’ve learned this year, it’s not going to be okay. It’s never going to be okay that he’s not here. But, I know that we can handle it (even if it’s not pretty), and I know that we are never alone (held every step by God and Dadio). Resilience is something that’s earned, it’s not just a given trait like curly hair or green eyes. 

What would my dad say? “It’s just another day”.

For Opa

For Ryan’s Grandpa, Fokko Nienhuis, remembered and loved in the vibrant memories of his family. 

Half a grapefruit livened with sugar for him,
freshly squeezed orange juice for her.
Oranje through and through,
and starting in nineteen hundred and 47,
he also bled red, white and blue.

A welcoming host at home and at heart –
Is everyone “goodso”?
He threw the party and she was the life of it. 

His meticulous mind kept orderly by his daily planner.
Strong in his history knowledge,
yet delicate while hand-rolling a cigarette. 

The Nienhuis patriarch, not by definition,
but by his welcoming, comforting character.
Everyone around him well-taken care of and well-loved. 

Except at the dinner table; a ruthless omnivore emerged.
A rack of ribs whittled down to ancient fossils,
no sea creature escaped with its life,
no crumbs left behind.

He wore a polo shirt tucked into his trousers; 
classy, yet inconsiderate of his satisfied mid-section.
Saw almost all 50 states, showed up without a fuss,
always chose family, community and honor.

Lenie, “Cognac?” as he held up his thumb and pointer an inch apart.
“I don’t care what you guys are doing, but I’m going to bed.”

 

35471636_10213626516191968_5153098506155589632_o13138997_10207102659899638_5011518611366505741_n35423928_10213626518552027_6290294026662838272_o35486542_10213626517391998_2644159799322738688_o

 

Wish You Were Here

As we sat eating dinner at Panama 66 in Balboa Park, the sun had just settled in for the night and the iconic Museum of Man tower was illuminated with purple and blue lights set against the dusky sky. The kids were happy and we were happy. It was one of those beautiful moments where you sink a little deeper in your chair and let out a full exhale.

In the midst of so many fun-beautiful-exciting-adventurous moments in my life, even when he was alive, I would think, I’ve got to take my dad here. He would really love and appreciate this! We shared a passion for so many of life’s greatest, simplest pleasures.

As we were walking back across the string-lit bridge, I was telling Ryan how much I wish my dad was here to do things like this. To have a beer and enjoy the best of this life. To see his admiration and share in his well-deserved happiness. To return his love for me by sharing in life with him. I miss him so much.

In perfect synchronicity, Ryan looked down to see that someone had etched the words “wish you were here” into the concrete. I love when the universe matches on the outside how I feel on the inside. It makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.

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.

 

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.

 

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.