grief

Gifts

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Namesake

So many things I love about this photo, which I shot a little over 6 years ago....

My wee one was only a few weeks old, and we had gone on tour to show him off to loved ones who couldn't travel to see him. Here he is meeting his great-Grandpa, who shares his middle name. When I hear the phrase circle of life I think of small moments like this...beginnings and endings all blurred together, propelled by the love and energy of everyday life. Forget the big, bold stuff. Richness lies in these tiny atoms of beauty and grace.

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Rubble

2014.rubble This week I'm reaching for my own words and coming up empty-handed.

Five days ago a friend's life was devastated in a split second and the only words I can muster are..."no words."

So I've been relying on this beautiful piece of wisdom I found. I bet I've read it dozens of times over the last few days...

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." --Louise Erdich, The Painted Drum

The night my 11-year-old heard the news, she curled up beside me and cried for her heartbroken friend. Trying to wrap her head around such a senseless tragedy, she said, "You always think it happens to someone else, but we are all 'someone else' to somebody."

Of course she's right. And once again, I had no words.

And then today I stumbled on this photo I took a while back. It was shot in a quick moment that caught my attention but was quickly forgotten. The image doesn't entirely fill in the words that I'm lacking, but it does remind me of the incredible, countless people helping our friend through this nightmare. It reminds me that maybe I have a few words after all:  Even in the midst of tremendous loss and heartache, there is still love to be found among the rubble.

 

 

 

 

Show Your Work: Possessions

I’m trying something new that’s inspired by a writer/artist whose work I admire. Austin Kleon is the author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, both simple and genius manifestos for the creative life. I keep his books on my desk the same way some people keep their therapists on speed dial. I find his words both inspiring and grounding. In his latest book he advocates showing some of your work in progress, as opposed to fully formed, as a way to boost creativity, move past mental blocks and ultimately get your work Out There. By bringing people along for the ride, you and your audience will both see your work in a new light.

The idea of posting my incomplete thoughts doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but I’m giving it a whirl. I’m giving lots of things a whirl lately, because it seems to be that kind of year for me (Did I mention I humbled myself enough to aquajog?? I digress.)

So I’m embracing this idea and will periodically highlight miscellany that's on my mind or projects on my horizon. Incomplete but still interesting. We will see where they take us!

Lately I’ve been thinking about stuff. As in, possessions.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we recently moved into a small rental so we can remodel our house. The move required  extensive purging and methodical packing. The goal was to pare things down as much as possible, store most of our belongings, and live for 6 months or so with only the basics. Now, I realize that “basics” is a relative term and we all have our threshold for needs and wants and everything in between.

For us, that meant ALL the Legos stayed, because nobody could decide how to divvy them up. Almost all the books were stored, knowing that between the library and the bookstore, stories would keep coming into our lives. Bulky things like the large Kitchenaid mixer were happily stored, and have already given me an excuse to avoid baking things from scratch. We packed half our dishes, every single vase or decorative item, and most everything that was hanging on a wall.

I have long subscribed to the philosophy of only keeping “what you use or what you love” so our home was already pretty lean. Now it’s anorexic. Part of me finds it liberating to live with only the basics, but it’s strange not to be surrounded by at least a few material things I love. Of course, we've got our people and our pet so life is good...our home just feels different right now.

Last week I ran across this video by filmmaker Gemma Green-Hope, who created a short film after her family sorted through her grandmother’s belongings. It’s a lovely tribute. My favorite quote is, “I wanted to show her to myself.”

That video got me thinking about the things my mother left behind when she passed away three years ago after a long illness. She had battled multiple sclerosis for nearly 30 years and had spent the last 10 years of her life supported by a ventilator. The "basics" in her life are relative too. My mom's life was extremely simplified the last few years, but required unfathomable amounts of medicine and complex supplies to keep her comfortable.

A couple months after her death, I helped my father clean out her closet, which in some ways seemed frozen in time from when she was first diagnosed. I wrote about it at the time, but until yesterday I had not re-read that piece in years. Of course it brought back a flood of emotions...just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s amazing how your own words can come back and catch you off guard. I lived and breathed that experience, but still it seems like another me altogether.

During the clean-out, I also photographed some of the little things I uncovered in my mother’s drawers. There were no big surprises...only small moments of nostalgia or grieving. There were a few questions that would never be answered: Why did she save this but not that? Why was this recipe tucked in with her jewelry? There were also some heartbreaking juxtapositions. I had been in her closet hundreds of time and grown numb to all the medical supplies that filled her shelves. But seeing them through the camera lens changed everything. Suddenly I saw not just the life-sustaining tubes, but the neighboring sweaters that she hadn’t worn in 10 years because she hadn’t left her bed, much less her house, in all that time.

By now I’ve sorted through her treasures and kept a few things that mean something to me. When our house is finished, I will unpack them once again and find a new home for them. The photos...I don’t know what I’ll do with them. But I’m sharing a few of them here. Showing you what’s on my mind. Seeing where it takes me.

Thanks for seeing with me.

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Thanks to everyone who entered last week's giveaway. The winner of the Moms Are Nuts book is NaDell. Enjoy!

Turkey with a side of fiasco

Here comes another blog hop! This time my chicas and I were inspired by our friend Alexandra from Good Day, Regular People, who recently wrote about the subject of fiascoes. We’ve all got a fiasco story to tell. Here’s mine...

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When I was growing up our family insisted on serving the exact same meal for every major feasting holiday. In fact, the tradition was nearly as important as having enough chairs around the table. Nobody ever expected to sit on the floor and nobody ever expected anything but our menu of beige delights with a sprinkling of green and orange.

The fact that it had been decades since anyone touched the sweet-and-sour green beans did not deter our dedicated tradition police. The beans were a given. As were the mashed potatoes, the spiced peaches, the brown-and-serve rolls, the turkey, and the stuffing that, by God, better come out of a box or the men in the house would come undone.

So we liked our traditions. Some might say we clung to them with an enthusiastic death grip. In retrospect it makes perfect sense to me that we held on so tightly to these rituals because during the same time, most of our basic family dynamics were in constant upheaval.

My mom had been sick most of my life. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was 10 and confined to a wheelchair a year later. Over the course of her 30-year-long disease, she would lose her ability to walk, to use her arms, to feed herself, to leave her bed, and for the last 10 years of her life, to breathe without the support of a ventilator. This summary sounds very tidy and compact when written in one sentence, but those 30 years were messy, uncertain ones and included a long series of unraveling dreams for our family. Many holidays were spent in a hospital, or leaving a hospital, or worrying that we would be in a hospital. Many holidays at home, despite our bravest faces and sunniest outlooks, were heartbreaking and tense simply because when a loved one hurts, everyone else hurts as well.

The traditions seemed to help, though. Or at least they gave us something to banter about during meals.

It was with this familiar baggage that one year, I proposed a new menu item. I was fresh out of college and perhaps feeling worldy because I had recently left Texas and headed west, in search of a not-too-lame job and weekends in the mountains. I ran it by my mom and opted for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with everyone else.

Let’s mix things up, Mom! OK! How about another vegetable? OK! Let’s go crazy and make it green! OK! Even crazier, let’s not soak it in butter beforehand! Wait, what?

We decided on steamed broccoli served with a side of cheese sauce. I was no master chef, mind you. I was 22 and genuinely believed that the good china would make even Velveeta look classy.

The broccoli, I predicted, would be bright and glorious, and the cheese (cheese product) pure ooey-gooey goodness. Serving a new dish seemed like an optimistic and bold endeavor in the face of our family’s long-standing security blanket. Like perhaps things were almost normal and it was no big deal to try something new because it’s not like the weight of “making every holiday count” was important or anything. Just another family gathering, not a metaphor for all our hopes and dreams, right?

Thanksgiving afternoon, the dining table was set with my parents’ all-white wedding china and linens. My mother sat in her wheelchair at the table with her parents, who visited us once or twice a year on big holidays. My father, two brothers and I ferried food from the kitchen to table like seasoned caterers.

As all the usual suspects found their spots on the table, I went to retrieve our newest dish. I cradled the broccoli bowl and my younger brother, a towering but gentle giant who moves deliberately through the world, ushered in the cheese in its gleaming white gravy boat.

Before a single person could mutter “Broccoli??” I heard china crash to the floor and saw a spray of orange liquid make a spectacularly acrobatic hurl toward the far reaches of the room. The white walls, the white carpet, the white tablecloths...all splattered like the first draft of a Jackson Pollock. My brother stood speechless, his shoes surrounded by a pool of cheese sauce, still holding between his fingers the curved handle of the china gravy boat.

My mother shrieked. My father exploded. My brother stammered something like, “It just...it just broke.” My grandmother helpfully pointed out that “Wow, look how it reached all the way over yonder.”

What followed was a chaotic and noisy mix of blaming, shouting, stomping and heavy sighing. We spent much of the holiday cleaning up the mess, taking turns sponging carpet cleaner into the hundreds of orange spots all over the room. After every scrubbing, we wondered aloud how a gallon of cheese could have fit in a 3-cup container. Months later we would still find flecks of hardened cheese clinging to some distant surface. It would take years before we could laugh about The Cheese Incident and even then it was less of a laugh and more of an uncomfortable, knowing chuckle.

This week, nearly 20 years after that day, is our second Thanksgiving without my mom. The traditions have shifted over time. The food is still very much the same traditional fare. There is sometimes fine china, sometimes a new vegetable, but there is never ever broccoli.

There is, however, always gratitude. I realize how far we’ve come from the family we were then. We’ve added in-laws and kids and gained enough joy to balance out the losses. We know we aren’t immune to future stress or sadness, but the old specter of uncertainty has passed.

This year, I will count my many blessings and be thankful that the cheese can spill and it won’t be a metaphor for anything. It will just be a mess. And we will clean it up without fanfare and move on.

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Read more fiasco stories from my talented friends...

Ann’s Rants The Flying Chalupa Midlife Mixtape Smacksy

And if you can't get enough of us, check out our past blog hops about The Worst Meal I Ever Served & 10 Reasons You Should Be Glad I Didn't Blog in my 20s.

An offering

Boston2000 In times of crisis, I always hit the road. Sometimes solo, sometimes surrounded by my familiar pack. The breathing, the rhythm, the simple act of propelling myself onward, is a form of prayer for me. Running is my sanctuary; the running community my tribe.

This week, the miles mean even more, and I'm offering them up to those who need healing and peace. May we all find it.

"One might say running is an absurd pastime. But if you can find meaning in the kind of running you must do...then you may find meaning in the other absurd pastime: Life." ~Bill Bowerman

After the goodbyes

With the heaviest of hearts, we said goodbye to our Zoe this week.

Our family is swimming through the grief as best we can, trying to support each other without pulling anyone underwater.

When we told the kids the news, 9-year-old Doodlebug burst into tears, sought refuge in my lap, then went to her room to draw an elaborate picture of Zoe and Winston soaring through the stars as Angel Dogs.

7-year-old Rascal leaned over and tucked his head into my neck, saying nothing. Several minutes later he got up, went outside, rigged up a punching bag and attacked it with two oversized toy swords. Again and again and again.

Smiley, our 3-year-old, kept repeating, “But Mama, we have a dog. Our family has a dog.” It was as if this impossible piece of bad news just did not fit the drawings that hang from our kitchen magnet board. Our family has a dog.

Hubs put dinner in the oven, offered wine and chocolate, and held me as I shook. He promised me, over and over that Zoe felt loved every day of her life.

Me, I just cried. And when nobody was around, I wailed. Five days later I still don’t have a grip on the pain or the tears.

My everyday routines are brutalizing me. I wake at my usual 5am, before everyone else, and gingerly step out of bed so I don’t land on the sleeping dog beside me. But she’s not there, of course. So I start my run, which is typically my source of sanctuary and relief, already gasping for air.

As I pack up the kids before school, I realize we are actually early because we are no longer juggling the dog chores with everything else. Have you fed her? Did you get all her meds? Has she gone outside yet? Is she back in? Somebody lock the back door. Kids! Don’t let her bolt out the front! Instead, we leave for school with time and tears to spare.

In the afternoon, as I work from my home office, I glance up every hour to see if she needs to go out. She is an old dog with a tempermental bladder...She always needs to go out. Not now, not today.

And later, during the chaos that is our evening dinnertime, I carry a steaming pot of pasta from stove to sink, and instinctively glance down to make sure Zoe is not underfoot. She is constantly underfoot, waiting for a crumb to drop. But of course it’s not her, just grief that I’m tripping over now.

And then, the house falls quiet. Before I go to bed, I peek in on each sleeping child and turn to let the dog out once more before setting the alarm. I wince, then tiptoe right across the spot beside my bed where my Zoe has slept for more than 13 years.

And as I lie there, praying for sleep, I realize that I’m ending my day exactly like I started it: aching and tearful and feeling every inch of the tremendous hole in my heart.

Unplugged

It’s that time of year—time for the PeaceLoveGuac crew to unplug and unwind. Don’t worry, we will return soon with windblown hair and sandy suitcases. And just as I did during our winter break, I’m leaving you with a few suggested nuggets from the archives to keep you company while I’m gone.

Considering everything that has happened in my life over the last several months, the highlights I’m leaving here aren’t exactly bubbling over with joy…but they do give you an honest glimpse into where my head has been since December of last year.

Because I’m more of a glass-half-full kind of girl, I’ll start off with one of the most inspiring memories of springtime.

And here’s one of the brighter moments in a very dark winter that I'm still processing the best I can.

This piece of healing was inspired by a good sweat and an even better soundtrack. I’m happy to report that I’m still running strong despite the heat, and I’ve still got this album in heavy rotation. (I even got to see the awesomeness live in one of the best concerts of the decade. Aw yeah!)

The 504 words of this post were some of the hardest I’ve ever eeked out. And they attracted the most traffic I’ve seen in my 18 months of blogging.

I still can’t visit this post without crying, yet I find myself seeking it out about once a month.

One of my favorite photos of the year? It’s gotta be this one of my very first girl.

I like this shot too, but what I really want you to know is that its caption is more than just a catchy phrase to me. It’s a motto I try to live by every single day. It's both an anchor and an inspiration. Because here’s the deal: The big picture is so powerful in helping us enjoy the small moments of our lives. And funny enough, the small moments are just as powerful in helping us see the big, big picture.

Chew on that for a while, drop me a note, and we’ll talk about it when I return.

Cheers, Liz

Sorting

The delicately beaded mother-of-the-bride dress, worn especially for me, stays.

The two others, still dangling tags and dashed hopes, stay as well. The hand-sewn rainbow sundress, thin and frayed from years on the beach, and the red and green zippered housecoat worn every Christmas morning, must remain too--though none of these will ever be worn again.

My mother’s shoes, sharing space with thousands of dollars worth of life-sustaining medical supplies, will be passed along with little nostalgia.

I will keep the once-purple college sweatshirt, now paint-splattered and faded to an almost gray. I will save an embroidered suede bag that looks carefree, even though that’s not a word I would have ever used to describe her.

Most everything else I pull from the racks and stack atop an old sheet spread across her bedroom floor. I gather the corners and knot them into a bundle as I did every year as a nomad college student. I repeat this for the skirts, the blouses, the sweaters, the dresses, the coats. My father retrieves bundle after bundle, beating a path from bedroom to garage until his truckbed is full.

The volume is staggering. I can tell that my mother stopped cleaning out her closet when she got sick, all those 30 years ago. Perhaps holding onto everything offered some normalcy as her world shifted so dramatically. If these items gave comfort then, they give only stinging sadness today.

I have done this final clean-out before. Years ago, on a tearful autumn weekend, I gave away every onesie and every burp cloth. I tossed all but one pair of tiny leather booties. I kept the homecoming outfit, the mini college jersey, the First Birthday attire. I shipped off every last bottle, blanket and board book with resignation.

There were to be no more babies. But then, a year and a half later, there was.

And from the moment his heart beat across the flickering screen, he was stunning and redemptive and completed our family in a way I had not dared to imagine.

But that memory is hardly like today. Today I sit in my mother’s mostly empty closet and realize that there will be no new memories, no surprises, no redemption. I realize that the only possible life coming from this closure will be my own rebirth as a daughter and mother.

I inhale deeply and exhale with slow and measured intention. This is women’s work, I know.

Even in a haze of grief, we mothers and daughters can steady ourselves. We approach these watershed tasks knowing full well that something, anything, can bring us to our knees in pain. We may ache longingly or regretfully. We may feel cheated and furious. We may feel utterly alone in the heaviness of the moment.

But then, we gather ourselves up. We quiet our minds and whisper gently to our hearts. We continue with the sifting, the deciding, the separating. Because despite the ache, we trust no one else to do this sorting for us.

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800's

I hit the track this morning with no particular plan except that I wanted to run where I could use my headphones without fear of being snuck upon. I expected nothing in return beyond the usual attagirl from my ego and the notion that maybe I had burned off the calories from last night’s wine.

I plugged in a soaring soundtrack—the same one I’ve been listening to nonstop since December—and I ran. I tuned out and gathered speed, rounding corner after corner until I realized I was doing my least-favorite and most-bemoaned workout. One lap, two lap, break. Repeat.

Again and again and again.

Then, something dislodged inside me and for the first time in several months, I felt strong. And powerful. And dare I say, indefatigable.

My gut and my heart have been sustaining me all these months, holding me upright and giving me much-needed endurance. My legs though, they have been weary and weakened by the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other.

Today, however, these legs propelled me. And when they did, my lungs, too often constricted and anxious, filled easily. The knot of emotions in my stomach loosened and my shoulders gave way, allowing the weight I’ve been carrying to fall behind and offer a tailwind instead.

Lap after lap I ran in the muggy darkness until there was nothing left. Nothing except the wisdom that even as a mess of tears and sweat, I am undeniably intact.

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Frozen

As if you haven't already guessed, we Austinites get a little light-headed and giddy when actual winter weather arrives. It's all so exciting and rare."Look Mom! The thermometer dipped below 70! And it's FEBRUARY!"

So naturally, last week's icy and snowy conditions were especially thrilling. The day off from school was great and all, but what really got my kids amped up was a little undertaking Rascal called Freezing Everyone and Their Aunt Rita in Carbonite Just Like in The Star Wars Movie That Mom Always Calls Number 2, But Really is Number 5.

It. Was. Awesome.

When I look back at these photos, I am tempted to put a philosophical spin to the whole endeavor...to compare it to the flood of feelings and memories I have been desperate to freeze in my mind. To wax on about the exit of winter and the onset of spring. To recall the inevitable thawing that follows any intense experience. To consider the beauty and harshness of something so lively and fluid being altered overnight by a force larger than ourselves.

But I'm not going there. It's too much for me right now. And maybe that's ok. Instead, I'm going to remember this little project as nothing more than a couple Star Wars fans parading in and out the back door, spilling drops of water along the way, scheming, laughing...all so they could relive the power of an unforgettable scene in a favorite movie.

Come to think of it, maybe they were trying to freeze memories as well.

Where does the white go when the snow melts?

Thank you. To all of you who have shared your warmth and support--whether through words, thoughts or hugs--please know that I am truly touched and enormously grateful. Thank you. I am still feeling disoriented and exhausted, but I'm doing my best to put one foot in front of the other, drink plenty of water, and try to make my kids smile. Today's unusual snow day (!!) made all these things significantly easier.

A few captured moments...

Crazy, but yes this is Austin! It was a blizzard compared to last year.

 

We are such rookies. The kids built "sand" castles until they remembered how much they've been dying to have a snowball fight with actual snow, not balled-up socks like we usually do. (Clean-up was much easier with the snow.)

 

My littlest angel was game for every bit of it.

 

And in tribute to a local legend, we decided to skip the snowman altogether. Keep Austin Weird, y'all.

What a great day. There is still plenty of white in our shady backyard, but as it melts I see tiny slivers of color peeking through.

There are so many things...

I feel like I've lived a thousand years in the past week. In the early hours of Wednesday, January 26th, my beautiful mother passed away, surrounded by family. We have spent the last several days crying, hugging, laughing and honoring the amazing woman she was.

Somehow in the midst of this, I wrote something for her, and on Saturday stood on wobbly knees to share it with a standing-room-only crowd at her childhood church in Quanah, Texas.

I'm sharing it with you here. But first, a few favorite photos of my Mom...

1950. Age 8, the same age as Doodlebug is now. They have always looked so much alike. *

1966. Quintessential cake photo. I love that smile. *

My classy Mom was also very adventurous. *

Her favorite place on earth. (And my favorite photo of my parents.) *

1971. Apparently she was so happy to have a daughter that she wore pantyhose and a dress home from the hospital. *

1973. I love this photo, even though I look like a professional wrestler. Look what my poor Mom was dealing with...three kids in 3 1/2 years! *

1976. She was always the picture of calm, no matter the situation. *

1997. Three generations. What a beautiful day. I was so happy to have them both there. *

Christmas 2002. Holding Doodlebug, her first grandchild. *

Thanksgiving 2003. Sharing a moment with my wonderful Dad. *

There are so many things you should know about my mother.

You should know that my mother drew her deepest strength and peace from her faith. From a very young age, she walked to First Christian Church by herself every Sunday. She and my Dad were married in the original church off Main Street. And when the new building was completed 35 years ago, she insisted on having an oak tree shipped in and planted out front.

You should know that my mother was generous with her heart. She shared a love with my Dad that is so rare I’m not sure there are words for it. He says he was able to care for her simply because she loved him so much. That love gave him the strength and devotion to honor their marriage vows every single day for 44 years.

You should know that my mother was a beautiful and loving mom. She read to us every night. She taught us to be open-minded. She encouraged us to be more than just siblings, but also friends. She wanted us to laugh and learn and find people we would love for our entire lives.

You should know that my mother welcomed people into her life. If you met her, you were a friend. And if you were a friend, you were a friend for life. One of her favorite times of year was when the flood of Christmas cards and photos arrived. She cherished the annual updates from so many of you.

You should know that my mother was kind and warm. She adopted every stray cat that came within 20 feet of our house. When she finally allowed dogs into the family, they seemed to arrive in pairs, until she eventually had more animals than kids.

You should know that my mother loved to learn. She loved books and language and history. She loved stories and she loved to see new things. Her beautiful eyes sparkled with a joy and curiosity that we now see every day in the eyes of her grandchildren.

You should know that my mother loved nature. She was happiest outside, in the sunshine, near a field of wildflowers or with her bare feet on a sandy beach. She had a keen eye for seashells. She loved everything about the ocean—the smell, the breeze, the warmth, the sand. All of it.

You should know that my mother was gracious. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, she took the news with a steady determination. Her family, her friends, her doctors, and her nurses will all tell you that she never once asked “Why me?” Instead of focusing on the things she couldn’t do, she celebrated the things she could do.

When she lost her vision, my mom started ordering books from the Talking Books Library in Austin, and from then on there was always a steady stream of recorded books arriving in our mailbox. I am not exaggerating when I say she listened to thousands and thousands of those books on tape.

When she became more and more debilitated, my mom lost many of the simple luxuries we all take for granted. But she met each and every loss by redefining the phrase “quality of life.” She found joy in the birds and windchimes outside her window, the conversations at her bedside, and the “I love you’s” from my Dad.

You should know that my mother brought out the best in us. She had to depend on so many people in her life, for so many basic things…yet everyone who knew her has always said that she gave them much more than they ever gave her.

You should know that my mother was well loved. That she will be missed. That she will never be forgotten. That she left a beautiful legacy of family and friends. That she will live forever in our hearts.

You should know that every time I see a field of Indian paintbrush or a gentle surf along the shore, I will turn my face toward the sun and feel her warmth and her love shining down on me.

Farewell my boy

He came into our world four years ago. And when we couldn’t decide between him or his brother, he picked us—his unsteady but enthusiastic legs tumbling and stumbling toward our squealing kids.

The puppy belly, the puppy breath, the sharp puppy teeth…they slayed me. Like they always do. Like they still do. In fact, I feel weak when I think about that crazily picture-perfect Thanksgiving.

He was playful and joyful, and easily the most consistent and predictable member of our entire household. He wanted to fetch; he wanted his ears scratched. Every single day. And that is all.

He was gorgeous, so perfect a specimen that strangers often stopped in their tracks to admire him. He loved a ball like he loved oxygen...more than a bone, more than food, more than hugs. He could play for hours.

I nurtured him the only way you nurture an energetic dog: I tried to keep up. I threw a lot of balls. When we hit the park, he was my fourth child in tow. His manners were not impeccable, but extremely close. We spent countless weekend mornings at the nearby track, playing fetch as the kids ran or rode circles around us.

During a year when I’ve been seeking signs of grace in every breeze, every star, every song...his sudden and unexpected death feels like a particularly cruel Screw You. The void he left hurts like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and trust me when I say that grief and I are on familiar terms. I am looking at his photos often, willing my heart to remember not my pain, but his beauty and his light. He overflowed with it.

For those of you who are not dog lovers, or even pet lovers, you may not understand this and that’s ok. But I am someone who willingly gives her heart over to the creatures in my life. I believe in the power of a good pet like I believe in the power of a good long breath.

They are essential and healing. And when they are gone, it feels like you will never breathe easily again.

I am missing you, my Winston. Love you tons.

Self-portrait

Today is my 1-year blogiversary. That fact alone warrants a little self-reflection, but the larger truth is that there are overwhelming things going on in my life right now, and the reflection they deserve is so enormous that I am feeling swallowed whole by the responsibility.

And I don’t want to talk about any of it.

I am sitting here at my computer, wondering how to acknowledge my first year of blogging but I mostly want to dig a deep hole and ease myself down into its depths.

I have built my marriage, my parenting style, even my career, on communicating, sharing, talking it out. But now the very last thing I want to do is open my mouth.

My tribe of friends and family, so generous and caring, wants to shoulder some of my pain. But I am holding things tightly and protecting my heart. What is there to say, really? Anything I share will be both too much and not enough.

I am a relatively private person, but somehow I’m also a person who thrives on connecting with others. This contradiction has carried over into my writing career, as I struggle with the conflicts between needing to connect and wanting to protect. Lately the pull from each end has never felt greater.

So today, in honor of this blog's birth and in the spirit of reaching out, I want to peel away one layer and tell you something important.

I am losing someone I love. Not just someone, but my Mom.  And even though I have been losing pieces of her for many years, it doesn’t diminish the pain that is now devouring me, eating me alive from the inside out.

And there is nothing and everything to say about it.

This week I read a wise and beautiful piece about grief and how it is work done alone. I am grateful to this stranger for putting to words the power and pain of this experience. And I’m grateful that my own tribe is waiting nearby with ropes to toss down when I’m ready to climb out of my hole toward sunlight.

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