Back on the Blog.

I’ve been afraid to start this, unsure that the words would come, unsure that if the words came that they would adequately touch the depth of this experience. But as with all forms and subjects for writing, the important part is to begin.
My mother died on a snowy Monday morning two weeks ago. We missed her by minutes. I slept fitfully in a recliner in her hospice room all night prior, counting seconds between breaths, trying to remember to keep breathing myself. My father slept on an air mattress next to her bed, doing the same. The nurse came in at seven to check on her and administer more medication and left to get a stethoscope. Our eyes drooped closed, and when the nurse came back, she had gone. The air slowly exhaled in one long quiet breath from her lungs, and she crossed over into the next world. It was as simple and as peaceful as that, just as we had prayed for.
I cursed myself for missing it, for not being awake to hold her hand and say goodbye. But now I understand that I was doing exactly that for the months, weeks, days, and hours beforehand. Things had become so apparent; as much as we wished it were different, we knew what we were facing. Therefore, important words did not go unspoken. Time was not wasted. There was no limit to love in those days; how grateful I am for that. And in the moment she left, it was appropriate that she make that transition independently; she didn’t need anyone to cling to her and beg her to stay as she made her way into a new life that she rightfully deserved.
I can’t say much without saying it all, and a single blog post won’t hold the whole of it. If you’re at all like me and you haven’t experienced death first hand, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your mind :
Is it scary? Can you sense death’s presence mentally, spiritually, emotionally? How do you know when they are getting close to the end (days, hours, minutes)? How do you carry on conversations with each other when things become that serious? Is it better to talk about it, or avoid it? How do you spend time with your loved one in the days before their death if they are conscious? How do you comfort and encourage them as they reach death? Losing a loved one is hard – where and how do you find solace and strength to keep living? When your loved one suffers from a terminal illness, can you really find relief in knowing that they are no longer suffering, or is that just something ignorant people tell you when they don’t know what to say?
There is a lot that people don’t talk about when it comes to death. Why bring it up now, when things are fine? But death is a part of life. Whether it is from a terminal illness, natural causes, or a sudden accident, it happens to each of us; it’s only a matter of time, and we never know for sure how much of it we have left. And there are so many ways that it changes us as we witness it, and as we draw closer to it ourselves. A sense of our own mortality is part of what makes us human.
So in the weeks and months ahead, as I process this loss, I will write about it here. If you have specific questions, or if you have your own story to share, please email me. I’d love to dialogue about it.

A Blogging Break.

I am standing this side of something. A tunnel. A current. A dark place. An ocean of grief. It feels so strangely appropriate to stand on the precipice of a new year, and to stand at the ledge of this experience. I know that light awaits me. And I know that the light will not meet me all at once, but in slow, gradual gradients as I make my way across. And then I will stand, feet in the tides, on the opposite shore and welcome the sunrise. But first I must take the plunge.
I’m taking a break from blogging to turn my focus to my mother as she lives out her final days with us. She has battled breast cancer for 14 long years. We are deeply grateful for her life, for her love, for her unwavering faith and strength to the very end.
I wish each of you a happy new year. See you on the other side.

Confessions of a Twenty Something : I’m in Therapy.

I was 21 and had just graduated college. I was two months away from marrying my best friend, but I didn’t have a job and neither did my then-fiance. And I was completely insecure in the choices I was making. Should we still get married if we have no money? How can I earn money as a writer? Is that even possible? When should I go to grad school? I love my fiance, but am I capable of being a good spouse to him? Am I ready to be an adult?

How do I cope with all of this anxiety?

And I was beginning to notice things about myself. That if I was at my apartment alone without my roommate around, I was doing one of two things: crying uncontrollably, or laying on the couch like an overcooked vegetable watching reality television. My “anger management” techniques, though inherited honestly from my German-American family, were highly ineffective, unhealthy, and were not conducive to being someone’s spouse.

I wasn’t writing.

I wasn’t looking for a better job.

I was letting the negative things in my life strangle the positive things. I had a college degree I’d worked hard for, but I had no job. My confidence in my writing and my professionalism were rock bottom. I had a great relationship with my fiance, but I was terrified that I would ruin it with my obstinacy and insecurity. I had faith in a God that has consistently been faithful to me, but I felt unfaithful to Him by living in fear of the future.

And I knew my friends couldn’t fix me. 

So I went to see a therapist I knew. And we began to unravel a few things.

First: are you sure you want to get married? 

The answer was unequivocally and irrevocably YES. Yes, I did want to marry my best friend. Even if we lived with his parents for a few months while we got on our feet, even if it meant that we wouldn’t be able to go on a honeymoon or buy better vehicles or go to grad school right away, I knew with every part of me that we would be honoring God and one another if we chose to work through those things together in marriage.

Second: since I’m getting married, what do I need to do to be an emotionally stable spouse? 

All of us were raised with habits, good and bad. And then, at some point, we realize the unhealthy ones are getting in the way of constructing positive ones. We have to deconstruct the unhealthy habits – admit them, analyze that pattern of behavior, let go of it, and then try – painfully at first – to speak, act, reach out, apologize, forgive and encourage in new ways.

Third: how do I learn to cope with my mother’s unstable health? 

There are days when I’m overwhelmed. There are days when I feel numb to it. And because I am the oldest child and the only girl from my family of five, I will always feel responsible for the well-being of everyone else. I will, instinctively, suppress my emotions in an effort to accommodate those around me. I will, instinctively, believe that if I just “keep it together” I will find a way to fix the situation. I’m learning to confess my grief, my doubt, my fear. I’m learning to let my faith sustain me. I’m learning to be honest with myself and with others about how I feel in a given moment.

And I had to my ask myself this question:

Is going to therapy a sign that I’m broken, or that I’m healing? 

We reap what we sow. We have to do the hard work of uprooting the negative in order to make room for positive things to grow. There’s a lot of sweat and tears and patience and prayer involved. A lot of talking and crying and brutal honesty. To bear the fruit of a healthy life, I had to find the help I needed to unearth a better way of living. I hope each of you find the courage to do the same.

This post was written in conjunction with the blog series Confessions of a Twenty Something, hosted by Ally Spots.

Detour : St. Joseph, MI.

On our way home from a family wedding this weekend [yay Whitney and Jon!] my husband and I took a detour and stopped in St. Joseph, Michigan. We spent our  honeymoon there two years ago and wanted to revisit Silver Beach, which holds a lot of happy memories for us. Sunday was gorgeous : 78 degrees and sunny. The clouds rolled in as the sun was setting, giving us a spectacular lake view that we couldn’t help but capture with some snapshots. The first I took with my iPhone, the rest were taken by Matt with his Nikon D80.

matt in st joe's

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When I was young I didn’t appreciate the natural beauty of Michigan. Then again, most of what I new of the state was southwest Michigan, which really isn’t that spectacular away from the lake. Now though, I love that on our way home to Chicago we can stop and drink in a late summer evening, complete with Silver Beach Pizza and a GIANT waffle cone of Kilwin’s pistachio ice cream :

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Life Spilled Over.

I came home last night motivated to get my life our apartment in working order – a clean kitchen, washed, dried and folded laundry, sorted mail, dinner on the table by the time my husband arrived home. Recently I’ve not been disciplined as often as I should be about these things, and it leaves me with a nagging, constant guilt that eventually becomes impossible to ignore.
So I was nearly done making dinner, a quick batch of carbonara pasta, when I realized at the worst possible moment that I had no parmesan. The pasta was cooked and waiting. The zucchini and bacon were already a little overdone. What to do? In a nerve-wracking attempt to salvage my hard work I took the only cheese I had, feta, and mixed it in before I could change my mind. The result? It was not only edible, but oddly delicious. [Note for you culinary nerds that might be wondering: no, thank God, I had not stirred in the egg yet. Not sure how that would’ve turned out. Anyone tried it?]
My dishwashing attempts were likewise thwarted. Aside from the obvious liquid versus dry granules, there are significant differences between dish soap and dishwasher soap. I swallowed my sneaking suspicions and used the liquid dish soap since we were out of the dishwasher soap to save myself an extra hour of washing by hand. Result? My dishwasher was foaming at the mouth, spilling suds all over the floor. You can imagine my surprise as I flipped on the light to grab a glass of water. Perhaps it would have been better if I hadn’t filled the entire dispenser with the liquid soap, but oh well. To my own surprise, instead of freaking out like I’ve been prone to do on several pithy, fleeting occasions lately, I laughed out loud, alone in my apartment. And why not make a slip-n-slide mop the floor while I’m at it? My kitchen floor is now nearly clean enough to eat off of.
There on my hands and knees in the suds and scrubbing away at long-neglected grime, I thought once again about how hard it’s been for me to stay motivated during the last few months. With my mom struggling harder than ever against the cancer and the subsequent treatments and surgeries, I’ve been worried, angry, depressed. I’ve allowed the what-ifs and the should-haves to keep me unsettled, insecure. I’ve let two dominant, separate and equally loud voices to split myself apart, one that tells me,
“Stop forcing the moment and admit your fear. Cry. You’ll feel better.”
and the other that argues back,
“Get up. Move on. Forge ahead. Don’t stop for anything.”
And as a writer, these two voices have left me unproductive and indecisive. One part of me says,
“Write when you want to. You can’t force yourself. Wait for the lightbulb.”
and the other chides my artsy immaturity,
 
“If you’d just make time for your writing on a daily basis, the words will come. Make your passion your priority.”
Which is right? Which is better for me? Which will help me keep going?
With no right answer unveiled, I’ve let my habits become dormant and my emotions ebb and flow unchecked. I’ve been quiet around here, afraid of being too vulnerable, afraid that admitting anything will mean that I’m asking for a pity-party, wary of all the awkward flubs that people make when they don’t know how to handle a person’s grief.
I haven’t wanted to see the silver lining in anything for awhile, far too exhausted and angry to think that good things can come from this, soul-growing things, eternal things. What I want is a healthy, happy, whole family that can think about the next few months, years, even decades without the elephant in the room to block our perspective. What I want is normal, in the here and now.
Maybe it seems silly that screwing up dinner and accidentally Ajax-ing the linoleum gave me some much-needed perspective on my inner battles. But there I was on the kitchen floor, up to my elbows in normal and the residue of everyday life, suddenly and strangely comforted by this awareness: I can’t control any of it. And for once it wasn’t a hopeless feeling, but an understanding that things can still turn out well even if they don’t go as planned. I can work hard, or I can take the time I need to let my emotions run their course. Either way, I’ll be okay.
It wasn’t a sickly sweet silver-lining that obscured the reality I’m facing, just a comfort to know that I can find motivation to do the simple things, be happy in the moment, and still find reasons to laugh about the mess that I am, inside and out.