Writing Therapy.

“And even though their son will always be alive in their hearts, like Pammy and my dad will be alive in mine- and maybe this is the only way we ever really have anyone-there is still something to be said for painting portraits of the people we have loved, for trying to express those moments that seem so inexpressibly beautiful, the ones that change us and deepen us.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I found the poem I shared yesterday written on the back side of a scrap of watercolor paper, a painting I had begun that I destroyed entirely with too much of the wrong color. On Sunday evening I finally decided to clean out a bag full of things I had taken home with me that week before Christmas, when I knew that this was my last journey home to her. So many things were in that bag. Christmas cards, sympathy cards, receipts from the hospital cafe, a copy of mom’s obituary, a Vogue that I flipped through mindlessly because I couldn’t bring myself to read the novel I brought, scraps of paintings that never turned out, scraps of writings from spare moments when fairly cohesive thoughts broke through my sadness.
Two months later, I don’t even remember writing that poem. Was I in the hospital? Was I at home? Late at night or early in the day? Before or after she slipped and fell and hit her head on the cold bathroom tile and all the nurses came rushing in at once and I cried, but she didn’t?
I left all of that out, but the emotion is there.
I’ve found bits and pieces of these experiences all over the place, scribbled on napkins and receipts and work notes. Like finding all the outer edges of a 500-piece puzzle I’ve been gathering them, trying to fit them together to keep the memories alive. Because sometimes, yes, I have to ask,

Did that really happen?

It did.
And she’s gone.
But she’s still with me.
Reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been very much like going to see my therapist, except that Lamott is like the therapist for my writing psyche. She tells me to write thoughts as they come to me on index cards or in a notebook. I think for a long moment about all of my notebooks and scraps of paper.
“Oh yeah… I guess that’s what I’ve been doing, in a way.”
“Good,” she smiles. “That’s normal for a writer, whatever that means.”

Goals for 2012.

It’s been a month. One month without mom. Without her voice, her touch, her face, her thoughts. I expected to be immovable, stranded on an island of grief and away from the world that I understand. But grief defies expectations, and so does faith. When the two interact, we often find ourselves in unfamiliar territory; rough, but not impossible.

This is where I find myself, one month into this new chapter of life, this new year where nothing and everything is different. The thing is, for me, the girl that moved away from home nearly seven years ago ne’er to return, my life looks the same in so many ways. But it feels different on the deepest levels.
And so when I started working through the idea of change, writing this post a couple of weeks ago prompted me to think about tangible ways to embrace that change. I’m not one to make resolutions; I’m usually one to break them. When I have made new year resolutions, February usually marks the end of effort and there’s a celebratory burning of the resolution list. I can be just that rebellious against myself.
But this February is different. I am different.
Maybe it seems inappropriately belated to share a resolution list in February. But life is short. And in one of the last conversations my mom had, she told one of our family members, with clarity and conviction and absolute love, “It’s never too late.”
If we’re not intentional, time rushes past and most of it is wasted. So I’m sharing with you the goals I have for 2012, the ones that will help me embrace change. Next week I’ll share another goal list, my 30 Before 30. Tell me, do you have any goals for 2012? Or goals before you turn a certain age? Now that it’s February, how would you rate your progress with those goals?
P E R S O N A L : 
- get a physical (for the first time in 2 years)
- visit the optometrist and get a new pair of glasses (for the first time in 5 years)
- visit the dentist (for the first time in 5 years)
- take a bubble bath once per week (this one is going VERY well, I should mention.)
– give myself a weekly manicure (this one has also been a success!)
- read at least 12 books (an average of one per month, but I don’t have to finish each one within 30 days)
P R O F E S S I O N A L : 
- redesign blog and/or convert to WordPress
- double my blog readership
- contribute 11 guest posts for other blogs (average of one per month from February to December)
- write and share at least one new poem per month on my blog
- get one article or poem published in an online or print magazine
- create writing portfolio for graduate school and job interviews
- get business cards for my writiting, editing, and art
- create and sell at least 100 paintings through my Etsy shop
- get up early enough to eat breakfast and write for 30 minutes each morning (working on this one, but not quite there yet)
[Image via]

Morning: A New Routine.

I am not a morning person. When the alarm goes off at 6:15 my body feels like a dead weight. My ears don’t really hear it until 6:30. And the purpose behind that annoying jingle doesn’t really register in my brain until 6:45. And then the dread sets in : the effort of getting out of my warm bed, making myself presentable, going out in the cold, dealing with morning traffic, answering emails at work, doesn’t make sense from the comfort of my fetal position beneath a pile of blankets. To my shame, I have been known to sleep until 8 a.m.
The bright spot, the one motivating event of my every morning, was my phone chat with mom on the commute to work. I would climb into my car, put on my headset, dial her, pull out of my parking space, and before I reached the end of the lot and started on the road she would greet me with a cheerful,
“Good morning, my Bethy.”
As the months of 2011 waned on and cancer took its toll on her body, this routine changed. The cheer in her voice lost its color and vibrancy. Conversations grew shorter. And there were many mornings when instead of that phone call, I received another one from my dad or my grandmother saying that they were taking her to the hospital again. I let the depression settle into me, keep me in bed a little longer each morning, away from the world, away from work, away from writing and everything “wrong” with my life.
You can imagine how different my mornings feel now, to know that our routine is forever changed. No phone calls, no cheery chats. It would be all too easy to justify staying in bed permanently.
Yesterday I pondered words for 2011. Today I ponder words for the first weeks of 2012.


The one word that seems to fit for this time : 

C H A N G E .


2012 is my year to accept that change. To live with it, work with it, respond to it. I figure that since my mornings are fundamentally different now, why not roll with it? I know what my mother would do to me if she knew I was sleeping in and arriving late to work every day. I can’t dishonor her like that.
So I’m getting up early, when my alarm actually goes off… Okay, here’s a secret : I employed the help of my best friend, who has to be AT work at 7 a.m., to text me repeatedly until I answer her that I am out of bed. And I can’t lie to her, so I might as well actually get up when I say I am going to.
And from my bed I walk to the kitchen, where our shiny new french press awaits, and my bright yellow tea kettle sings hello, good morning, and I pour a mug for myself, mom’s mug.
From there the day begins. I’ve even allotted time to pack my lunch. And instead of dwelling in the silence of a morning commute without my mother, I call my grandmother; it doesn’t do to dwell in the loneliness.
So let the change I feel be the change I need in order to rise early and greet the day in a new way, with gratitude, with discipline, with determination.

Five Words for 2011

1. S A V O R :
The bittersweetness of this year taught me to savor every moment. Through it I learned to be intentional about making memories. Life is so rich with blessings, even when times are hard. I see the whole of 2011 in the memorable moments : trips to the beachlong drives to and from Chicagovisits from my brothersgood conversations and good music and city excursions and goodbyes and birthdays. Every moment is a gift; let yourself enjoy the present.
2. C R E A T E :
2011 taught me so much about creativity. For the first time in years, I allowed myself to explore poetry and the visual arts. And those things, which seemed so secondary to who I am, became lifelines for me. They steadied me in a way that I did not anticipate, and also gave me a freedom that I could not attain in my work life or family life. Once I began, the instinct and drive were a force that kept me moving forward. Creative drive is transformative when we allow it to be. In 2012 I fully intend on pursuing these things further.
3. C O N N E C T :
I’ve crossed paths with so many amazing people this year, almost all of them as a result of this blog. I always thought of writing as a solitary experience, but words are universal; they have a way of tying us to another in a spirit of truth and creativity. I branched out in a big way by meeting with some of them in person, and I’m excited to meet more of you in 2012. I met Ally and Darrell in September when they came to Chicago for the Story Conference and I guest posted for both of their blogs. And I met AbbyMelissa, and Jess at the Business in the City event in December.
And as for the friends I “virtually” connected with,
- Missy and I exchanged her book for one of my paintings and have been connecting online ever since
Sam and I discovered in one another twin bookish tastes (among many other similarities)
An old college friend and I bonded over shared experience with loss.
- And Brynna, Mandy, Helena, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Blane all shared their writing with me, too.
4. R E F L E C T :
I wrote a lot this year through journaling, poetry and blogging. I am so thankful I did, because now in my desperation to hold on to the blessings that seemed few and far between in 2011, I have written record of them. Scanning through my blog archives and the pages of my journal, I see now that the year was full of good things. My reflections in my writing then created an opportunity to reflect on them in the future, too. I can reflect on those for years to come and keep those moments alive in my memory.
5. F O C U S :
2011 was full of distractions. I didn’t pursue freelancing in the last six months because I needed time to be at home with my family. I didn’t pursue grad school for the same reason. I didn’t make any changes to my blog over Christmas break because I was at home spending time with my mom, too. If you want me to be really honest, it also affected my finances, my marriage, my friendship, and my office job.
And though for a long time it seemed that I was being plagued by all these inconveniences and injustices, I realized as time went on that it was, in fact, one really important thing helping me weed out all the other inconsequential things which distract me from what’s truly important.
2011 taught me to say “no” in order to say “yes.” It taught me to work, blog, write, relate, and create with intention. It taught me to see life in death. It focused my priorities.
I wonder what my words will be for 2012. I think enough has happened so far that I can come up with at least one word before the week is through. Stick around. And tell me, what are your words for 2011?

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.