A Return.

Dear Blog,

You’ve seen me through so many changes in the past six and a half years. I was barely a college graduate when I started writing here. I was working two part-time jobs, as a hostess at a brunch restaurant and as a copywriter at my alma mater. I was completely in the dark about How To Be A Real Writer. I had no idea what a career might look like. I was terrified, because I had graduated in the middle of a national recession and didn’t even have internship experience. I don’t know how, but I survived that first year as a post-grad newly wed, living with my in-laws, working multiple part time jobs but still completely broke. I think, maybe, writing here was that flashlight that kept me walking through the darkness. It was a thing I could hold onto, something to light my way for the next few steps, and then the next few steps, and then the next few, just to keep me moving forward as a writer.

And then the next few years, it became a point of connection, a small but growing community of encouragement. I kept writing because it helped me find my people – the word nerds and faith seekers and fledgling feminists and creative dreamers like me. I had found full time work as a staff writer in a communications office, but this blog was my outlet, my safe space, to spread my creative wings. I was learning to write about my life, and that turned out to be a good thing, because when the storms came this blog was a life-raft. I was drowning in the grief of my mother’s death, but my blog people beckoned me back with comfort and encouragement.

I kept blogging, and it paved the way for new opportunities to share my words with other online communities. And in the years that followed, as I learned to cope with my new normal and articulate new hope for my future, the blog remained my constant source of motivation. It had brought me so far.

And then, slowly, I stopped writing here. At first it was about giving myself a chance to plant roots and build a new life in a new city. And then it was about hustling as hard as I could to make ends’ meet; the blog took a backseat to paying bills and buying groceries. And then it was about the fact that my site crashed, and it took several months (and a lot of help from my dear Sarah Joslyn) to recover my 6+ years of content. But even after we brought this blog back to life, there was something else holding me back. My silence was about being lost in a deep spiritual wilderness, where formulating words for a blog post felt impossible.

After years of writing about my life and my faith online, I reached a point where blogging a couple times a week through a faith crisis felt dishonest. I’ve always been that person that kept going when life was hard. I blogged through much of my mother’s illness; I was back online writing about her death merely two weeks after the fact. I was articulating my grief right in the raw midst of it. But three years later, I decided to stop trying so hard. To let myself be wordless in it. To let myself feel the unknown – the ineffable, unpredictable, unarticulated mystery of faith after trauma.

Did I even believe in God? Yes. No. Maybe. Yes. But I’m not sure how, or why, or what, or who.

I have felt that. And I have just as quickly felt that yes, I am a Christian, albeit an imperfect, indefinitely unchurched, perpetually exhausted one. A sweary, mad, cynical one.

Honestly, in my time away from blogging I have been a version of myself that I didn’t want to share online. Angry. Sad. Desperate. Defiant. Broke broke broke. Fresh out of fucks to give. Lonely. Depressed. Anxious. All the things I thought I was safe from becoming, when I was writing about grief three weeks after my mother’s death. Ashamed. I was ashamed. And then, eventually, I was relieved. Maybe even proud, for finally letting go. And I decided I didn’t owe anyone anything, so I could slip quietly offline, without having to explain.

I’m glad I did that. It felt like I finally gave up the illusion of being The Strong One, the Philosophical One, the Always Has Words to Say One.

My Aunt Beverly, the family therapist, always says, “You can be angry, just don’t build your house there.”

And she’s right. Of course, she’s right. I want to let myself feel all the real things, all the unbloggable things. But that’s not my home. I don’t need to dwell there forever. This blog, this is my home. My safe space. My flashlight, my way forward.

So I’m picking it up again. And while a lot of things have changed, it’s also true what they say: wherever you go, there you are. Six-almost-seven years later, I’m working two part time jobs. I’m still not sure How To Be A Real Writer. I’m still pretty broke. I make no promises to write consistently, or to write without the swears and scars and biting cynicism that are pretty characteristic of who I am.

But I’m home.

Hi, I’ve missed you.

An Iris in Remembrance.

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There’s a bed of purple irises in our backyard. A single blossom has unfurled, and it evokes warm memories of my mother, all those late spring days when she would weed the flower beds at the front of the house, and the irises seemed to multiply by hundreds every year, their heavy heads bowing in the May sun.

In many ways, I feel like I’m not in a place right now to be grateful for what happened to us. Time presses on, and the weight of meaning-making feels impossibly hard to bear.

And yet, these memories sprout up anyway. They both anchor and undo me, all at once. They are the leaves I grow and shed, over and over again, that feed the soul-soil of who I am. It’s an ongoing existence of death and rebirth. That’s what grief is to me – death and rebirth, death and rebirth. Some seasons are uglier and harder than others, and I’m sure I can never recover these winters. And some seasons I turn toward the sun, arms outstretched, like all those irises my mother planted, growing by the years.

So today, yes, I bow my head. Thank you, thank you.

Your Own Brand of Magic

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“Perfection Wasted” by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

//

My husband’s grandfather passed away on Tuesday morning. He took with him his own brand of magic that no one else will ever possess. Dirty jokes and toy trains and fishing trips. Card games and cigarettes. Raucous laughter and deep affection for his grandkids.

I sat on my porch after we heard the news and could almost hear his own disbelief that he died. I suspect he thought he’d live forever, or at least a hundred years more, sitting on his porch no matter the weather with his smokes and sudoku puzzles, fishing at Lake Shelbyville with Matt and Dad every spring. He and Matt talked about going down for a trip in May, when we saw him a month ago, the weekend we came home because we knew it was our last chance to see him. We knew it was a charade of nostalgia and grief and love for all of us.

This, though painful, is what we do at the end, because we hope that death is just a prolonged absence. We plan the fishing trip, and hope that when we too cross over to the other shore one day, that Grandpa will be standing there with his pole in hand, saying, “What took ya so long?”

I loved you dearly, you beautiful old man. Enjoy the fresh air.

Wholehearted 2015: #OneWord365

2015 started with a bang, quite literally.

On the second day of the new year, my housemate and I were in a car accident.

In the week since, my memory has already begun to edit itself into a highlight reel of moments surrounding the crash. I will always remember how it happened – with no warning, no screech of tires, no horns blaring, no crunch of metal as our vehicles collided. We were driving along in one moment, and in the next, an airbag punched me in the face and I screamed. The car filled with an acrid smoke as the airbags deflated. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Caitlin gasped. We swiped the airbags out of the way and tried to comprehend what had transpired. It happened so fast.

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It’s taken me several days to get over the trauma of feeling like the universe had assaulted me somehow. The accident happened on the third anniversary of my mother’s death. Caitlin and I went out to dinner with our friend Emily, and then we were going to go home and watch a funny movie to try and live some modicum of normalcy and happiness on an otherwise dark day in my life. A day in which I already carry a heightened awareness of my mortality and life’s brutal, cruel unfairness. I did not need to be smacked in the face with it, thankyouverymuch. It’s a wound in and of itself that will take time to heal.

I laid around the whole weekend afterward in a sort of post-accident hangover. I wondered to myself: how am I supposed to embrace a new year, making resolutions and feeling hopeful about the future, when crap like this happens? Or, in other words:

How do I live and love in a world that scares the shit out of me, every single day?

Bethany Suckrow Blog_Wholehearted_OneWord365

The details of how and why we crashed don’t matter now, I guess. Caitlin’s car is totaled, and every day when I go out to toss the garbage or fetch the mail or run an errand, I see her poor Toyota Camri sitting in our driveway, folded at the front as though it were a piece of paper instead of a metal machine, and I’m reminded all over again: it was bad. And it could have been so much worse, but it wasn’t.

I’m taking it as a token reminder of my One Word for 2015: Wholehearted.

The word, inspired by Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, holds so much interpretive potential for the 353 days to come, but for today, it means this:

Keep living and loving anyway, even when life scares you.

Keep showing up.

Dare to be vulnerable, brave, and ambitious.

Don’t tie your self-worth to your circumstances. Don’t sabotage your own joy by dwelling in tragedy and shame.

Own your healing and your words with your whole heart.

This is my sacred ground.

Three Years.

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This morning I looked through a stack of photos. It’s a ritual of remembering I set aside for this day every year, to honor you. I pause and let myself feel fully the weight of your absence. I come to grips with the reality, searching through this stack of photos, that I’ll never find what I’m searching for: you, present tense. You, with me as I am now. A picture of you, age 53, and me, age 27, arms around each other, smiling. The stack of photos in my hand feels so finite. I’m holding a window of time, a fixed frame, a chapter in a book.

I miss you, mom. I always will.