Saturday, July 18, 2015

For Better and For Worse

As our wedding draws closer, I have an inexplicably heavy anxiety and fear woven throughout my excitement and joy.

I knew that planning a wedding came with a special set of frustrations and headaches. What I wasn't prepared for was the upheaval of all I thought I had satisfactorily buried. This process, in the midst of excited anticipation, has also been one of the saddest and loneliest I've experienced.

I can't begin to express how empty this feels knowing that neither my mom nor my fiancé's mom is here to share in all of this with us.

Part of me is still angry that not only did my biological mother not desperately want to keep me, I lost my adopted mom when I was still a child, and then I lost my mother-in-law-to-be; my last chance to have a mother figure in my life as family. I don't know what the words are to explain how that feels...

Every meltdown has me wondering if maybe I'd be having less of a meltdown if one of them was here to listen as I agonize over all the stupid details that probably won't matter in the end anyway, but more importantly, as I hash out all my fears about trust, commitment, my life's direction, and the risk of letting someone in so close that it would tear me apart to lose them.

My dad tells me even if he knew what was in store for him and my mom before they got married, he still would've gone through it. It was all worth it in spite of the two decades of hell watching her struggle physically and mentally while fighting to keep his entire family afloat.

There is some solace in that for me; even with as heart wrenching as it was, he doesn't wish it just never happened at all. I am lucky and got to witness my dad set an extraordinary example of commitment, devotion, and love in the face of impossible odds. I've watched many others turn away for much less.

I adore the man I'm marrying, and I know he adores me right back. I believe he would stand by me if our world came crashing down. And that terrifies me. This man loves me for who and what I am. I have trouble doing that myself some days.

I spent years making myself strong and fiercely independent. It's not that I entirely closed everyone out– I just didn't let anyone get close enough to really hurt me if they disappeared somehow. Now I feel completely dependent, vulnerable, and as raw as though someone ripped away all of my scabs and scars.

Thankfully, my husband-to-be is infinitely patient and possesses a steadiness I can only hope to one day attain. He's becoming quite skilled at soothing my demons when they attack out of nowhere.

I avoided writing for the last year because, quite frankly, this is all embarrassing to me. I feel like a failure because I can't "just" focus on the good parts. I don't have the eternal optimist's silver lining to paint around my little gray cloud. Sure, I've learned a lot and wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gone through all of that, but I don't think I'd be a horrible person if I would've had a stable mom in my life. Who knows, there's a chance I'd be slightly more well-adjusted.

But maybe it's not always about turning something into what it's not. We so often look for the heroic inspiration in every sad story, but perhaps sometimes the lesson is to let it be what it is. Maybe the healing is in the acceptance.

I am incredibly excited to have found this man with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, and I can't wait to see how our story continues to unfold. I am looking forward to our wedding and seeing all of our closest family and friends together; I know they will make it an unforgettable night. I am also indescribably sad because there is, and will be, an irrevocable emptiness.

Yann Martel so poignantly wrote in Life of Pi, "To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experiences of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures who people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you…"

Our lives will never be the same, and that's ok; it is how it should be. We will carry on with our lives creating new habits and patterns around the emptiness like a tree around a knot in its wood. Some experiences will usher in sadness alongside happiness because I will always wish for the sun to shine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Joy and Sorrow are Inseparable"

I never thought that would happen. 

It's not even that I just didn't think it would happen for me, I just didn't think of it at all. 

But here I sit with a gorgeous rock on my left ring finger thinking about what day would be best for our wedding. 

That's a long way to come for someone who, at one point, didn't expect to make it to 30. 

But here I am at 30, and I'm so happy it feels unreal, like if I blink one too many times, it'll all disappear. 

I have a beyond wonderful fiancé, a cozy little home that becomes more ours each day, a job that doesn't feel like work, an adorable tiny wiener dog, and amazing friends whose devotions blazed more brightly than ever this year.

It's certainly no fairytale story; we've struggled a lot in the last year and a half. But, we've made it through an immense amount too. 

We've suffered all that comes with the loss of friends we thought we'd never lose, the sorrow that comes with any big life transition- even the happy ones- and the heart wrenching grief that comes with the loss of a mother. 

All of these things have brought us closer than we would have ever anticipated.

The 16th anniversary of losing my own mother is rapidly approaching, and every year around this time, I feel the same sort of antsy anxiety as though my body is subconsciously prepping itself for the morning of October second. You'd think after over a decade and a half that sensation would subside, but I have yet to discover otherwise.

I am incredibly grateful for my life now, and so very sad that absolutely none of it contains the presence of my mom. Even her memory is barely a whisper contained only in the few people left in my life who ever knew her.

It's a strange realization to know I have, by necessity, built the last 16 years without a piece that seems so vital. And it's beautiful. And I'm happy. And I'm sad.

As my fiancé and I make plans for our wedding, our joys highlight our sorrows, but our sorrows graciously serve to highlight our joys.

It is a good life.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Show Up

Over the last several months, I've been developing a deeper appreciation for those in my life who show up. The ones who say they'll be there, and are there. The ones who say nothing and show up just because they know life is hard and want to be supportive even though they can't fix anything. The ones who, even if far away, send messages to check in and offer their love and encouragement.

Those are the people you know you can count on because they understand the importance of relationships and what it means to be invested. 

We all get caught up in the "I was so busy, I couldn't bother to send a 30 second text…" excuse, but if and when life tears that person away, we then fall into, "I wish I would've made more time…"

There's another kind of showing up I've been learning about too. 

How many of us have had this conversation with a co-worker, a family member, a child, or a significant other?

"Yeah, I hear you."

"Right, but are you LISTENING to me?"

I'm a self-proclaimed multi-tasker extraordinaire. The problem? Sometimes when someone talks to me, I hear something, but I wasn't actually listening; which means I heard sounds, but I didn't pay attention enough to figure out what the meaning of those sounds were. 

That's an issue because if I'm not listening, I'm not learning- I'm not learning what it is that needs to be taken care of, I'm not learning how to understand, I'm not learning how to respond, I'm not learning how to navigate what's between the sounds.

But what's more important is that if I'm not listening, I'm not present, and if I'm not present with someone I say I care about, I'm showing them that I don't care enough to understand what they're trying to communicate with me.

We all do it.

Think: "Hey, how was your day?" "Eh, I've had better..." "So, what's going on for dinner?"

In that brief transaction, the expected response was, "good", and if the questioner wasn't listening, they didn't realize the expected response wasn't given, and then missed an opportunity to show up. That "things've been better" could be as small as "I clumsily spilled coffee all over my clothes this morning" to a bigger, "I just found out my friend just died." Of course, the tone of voice would give further indication, but if you're not listening, you're probably not noticing tone of voice either.

And no, I'm not exaggerating. I've seen these things happen. It's no wonder people feel lonely and disconnected.

Imagine how different the person answering would have felt if the questioner would have been listening and just simply asked, "what's going on?"

Whether it was coffee or a friend passing that caused the answer, the questioner emotionally showed up and totally changed the dynamic and course of the interaction.

Sometimes it's not as bad as someone dying. So many days people simply have hard challenging days that wear them out, and all they need is for someone that cares to emotionally show up and ask questions to which they're listening for the answer.

With our vast array of technological gadgets and apps meant to network and stay in touch, we've somehow gotten worse at actually creating and maintaining meaningful connections.

I'm not saying we shouldn't show ourselves some grace. There are definitely days where we're barely keeping our own heads above water, but when days roll in to weeks into months into years, it becomes a larger issue of where our priorities really lie.

"When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?"

Being present isn't just about being physically there. I have friends who show me they are with me no matter how many miles are between us.

What matters is that we show up, in person and/or in our attention- how we listen and learn from what we listen to. It's not about always knowing what to do or say; it's about genuinely wanting to understand the people you love.

Each seemingly insignificant encounter adds up to whether we draw someone closer or push them away. When we show up, we build trust in our relationships in priceless and profound little ways.

Friday, January 31, 2014

On Turning 30 (and other things)

Well, it's been a(long)while since my last entry.

Sometimes a hiatus is necessary, even from the things you love. 

So, what have I been up to the last few months?

November and December were quite full of the usual holiday chaos running alongside the difficult loss of my boyfriend's mother. Needless to say, life was less about trying new things and more about spending time in the inner circles of our close friends and family.

The circumstances surrounding that situation were heartbreaking in and of themselves, but having lost my own mother added another layer of sorrow.

It broke my heart to watch him and his family day after day, understanding as best as I could, how hard that time was. Our situations were so different. The one thing I understood was losing mom. As Yann Martel wrote in Life of Pi, "To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you…"

Here I was in the most vulnerable, intimate and private part of their lives in the midst of just beginning to get to know them. I had only moved back a few months before. Generally, people take a lot of time to get to know their significant other's family, but time wasn't on our side.

Sometimes I felt like an intruder, but they, in spite of their own situation, were incredibly gracious and open to me. I gained a profound respect for them.

Through it all, it focused us on how incredibly precious time is; there was no time for bullshit or putting things off.

We learned an intensely vivid lesson on what and more significantly, who, is important in life.

Since I moved back in mid-August 2013, there's been a rough series of events in transitioning from the mountains and the constant activity of living where I worked to being back in the place I thought I'd never return to for a million different reasons.

It has taken me nearly 6 months to finally start to calm down and even begin to feel somewhat settled. The stress of everything happening all at once left me feeling particularly doubtful, sad, and vulnerable; which made me feel like an incredible jackass. I wanted to be strong and supportive for my boyfriend, but so often it was him being strong for me.

Thankfully, he is unfailingly optimistic, and in spite of it all, we still managed to find quite a bit of happiness and joy through the months. He has been my rock through everything.

Speaking of happiness, odd as it sounds, turning 30 on January 22 was quite festive and fun- I still feel exactly the same as I did when I was 29. ;)

I am looking forward to my new decade and the new adventures it has to bring.

And speaking of new, one of my new endeavors is another blog called The Little Things, which is a place where you can find, you guessed it, little things that make my days happy. Since I love cooking and finally have a lovely kitchen equipped with nearly everything I could ever need, it is currently a lot of food and recipes.

I recoiled into preservation mode the last several months, but now as I've begun to find my center again, I'm starting to open up and am ready to continue pursuing what I set out to find when I originally started this blog; the things I love. The things that make me happy. The things that make life rich and meaningful for me.

Or maybe more accurately, I should say "more of" those things because the reality is, I already have all of those things in abundance.

Here's to the next 30 years.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Leading an Adventurous Life... in My Own Home

It's over. 

I have trouble with endings. 

Over the last two months I've spent a lot of time realizing that I'm having horrible withdrawal from the adrenaline that comes from a few years of consistent travel and a massive life changing move. 

When I left Pennsylvania, I swore I'd never return. Now I've moved back and am in almost precisely the same location I said I'd never come back to. I'm easily comfortable here, which ironically feels wildly uncomfortable. 

I've heard the line, "I'm so happy you're back, but I was really surprised you returned" more times than I can count.

It kinda feels like failure because I spent so many years talking about and preparing to leave, I finally left, and then came back after only a year.  

Ultimately, what I struggle with the most is that this is not what I thought would happen. I didn't have a plan per se, but this wasn't part of my unplanned plan. If you happened to read my earlier post this month, "Sometimes when you lose, you win", you know the main reason I came back was for love.

That's big, right? Most of us skeptics are generally pretty adverse to making big life decisions for such seemingly intangible concepts.

But for me, I've learned how important love is largely because of my mother and my best friend. I've been broken hearted and also very very lucky. 

During this gray area of my life, I'm learning that maybe searching for an adventurous and passionate life is like searching for happiness. I think it has less to do with searching and more to do with being open. Sometimes you have to just live your life and be open instead of frantically searching for the end results because really, there isn't an end to any of it until the very end, which is when we cease to be alive. At that point, then we can have our regrets or make our peace. 

Until then, the gray area is very often not just a piece of our lives, but a very large part. The new rage is to go out and find your passion, be exciting, be interesting, be different, daring and bold- which I think holds a lot of merit; however, how many people promoting that life tell you how difficult and sometimes painful it can be until you get there? And who tells you just how long it may take? Or that you could go the majority of your life before you find it? Or that, heaven forbid, you never really find that one thing?

I, for one, don't want to feel like a failure for the majority of my life simply because I didn't/wasn't able to figure out what exactly would make an adventurous passionate life for me in the eyes of others, and even myself.

I do want to live my life the best of my ability and often that's going to mean doing things that look pretty routine, and possibly even mundane, on the outside. (Grocery shopping, anyone?)

Currently, I have no plans for traveling to foreign exotic places or finding innovative new work. At the moment, I'm writing this blog then going to clean our cozy little house. 

My most exciting plans are going to a concert tonight with my boyfriend and making dinner plans with friends for the next few weeks.

Admittedly, though doing domestic house chores likely ranks up there with "routine and mundane," it feels pretty good to have a home to clean after living out of bags and cubbies. It feels particularly good knowing I'll have a clean home to have dinner parties in because I have tons of time to cook which is something I happen to love to do.

Perhaps an adventurous life has less to do with doing what looks exciting and more to do with doing what feels good to you, even when other people think it's boring, maybe especially when...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"I Want to Die"

"If relationships matter most then [at the end of our lives], 
shouldn't they matter most now?" 
-Max Lucado 

Before any of you get concerned, I don't actually want to die.

But there was a time when I did.

Years ago, that phrase haunted my mind during most waking hours. If you've ever felt that way, truly genuinely wanted it to all be over because you just couldn't imagine how anything would ever be better, you'll easily understand this post. If you've had bad days but couldn't fathom ever wanting to check out, you are lucky and it might take a bit more, but try anyway.

On Saturday I found out one of my old friends shot himself the night before. I've lost a lot of friends to suicide over the years, and every single time I wonder what the differentiating factor is between who makes it through and who doesn't.

The age old nature or nurture question pops into my mind first- "How much is determined by environment and how much is an inherent strength?" Then I think about that cliche "you're never given more than you can handle," and wonder if maybe that's not entirely true.

I hear opinions varying from the sympathetic to the judgmental. "How could they be so selfish?? Why weren't they thinking about everyone who loves them? Why weren't they thinking about ME, how I would feel???"

But then I think two things. 1. Maybe they did think of you and (erroneously) thought you'd be better off without them and 2. Did they know you loved them or even cared at all?

I'm not going to write an in-depth analysis of suicide because I have no answers.

Sometimes I have what I equate to survivor's guilt. I have no idea how I survived the years when I wanted it to all be over. Perhaps it was because I was lucky, maybe because I was blessed enough to have at least one person who loved me at some point each step or maybe it's because of an uncontrollable character trait I was born with.

Most likely it's some incalculable equation of them all. I wish I knew how and why I'm still here and they aren't. Maybe some of them would still be here then.

The one thing I do know is there's a pervasive loneliness that I've watched shape the way people see themselves and the rest of the world. We live in a world that's more socially interconnected than ever, and yet our sense of displacement is increasing.

So often I've heard the last words were something along the lines of, "Nobody would care if I was gone. I can't handle any of this, I don't know how to fix it. I'm so alone. "

Why is that?

We hear the old wisdom and see it burned onto a crafty pieces of wood,"Love the ones you're with", "Home is where you feel love", and other stupid bullshit that sounds great and we whole heartedly agree, but we still ignore it or at least don't really live it out... till things like this happen.

We could use cop-out lines like, "they needed to change their perspective" or "they wouldn't have believed me, it wouldn't have made a difference," but sometimes I think that's a cover for the guilt we feel because we remember all those times we thought to call but didn't or said we were "too busy" to talk or hang out.

The world we live in will continue to move at unmercifully dizzying speeds. It's easy to have a rational sounding excuse to dodge putting the effort into the people we say we love, but when the end comes, we're too often left with regrets.

Love changes everything. I'm not saying that we can prevent all suicides. There are innumerable factors that play in, many of which we never know about. I am saying that there is a problem with the growing sense of disconnection and displacement.

We all have a role to play in that.

We don't get control over how someone else experiences life, but we do get control over how much love we give.

Sometimes, it makes a difference. I know it did for me.

"As the globalized placeless world spreads... it could be that the most radical thing to do is to belong."
 -Paul Kingsnorth