autumn days

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Good Grief

Grief.  Many on the outside of grief think it is something to be passed through to find the unburdended glow at the end of the tunnel.  For those of us in this grieving process, we know the emotional devastation with our loss shifts, though it does not disappear.  Our family's greatest loss was only five weeks ago.  Attending support groups, I have had the privilege of meeting families feeling fresh devastation eight years after a death.  Each child processes in their own way in their own time, shifting in their grief as their brain's mature.  One child lost her dad three years ago and still is terrified and overwhelmed by her feelings of loss.  This is normal.  This is our new normal, this lifetime processing of grief.

Our daughter is nine years old and doesn't want to talk about her dad, his dying, or her feelings.  Her good friend of the same age saw my partner after he died; he is processing this loss in the same way.  Our daughter listens as our six year old son and I open up about our feelings, our memories, our loss.  We hug, we cry, we model what grief can look like.  Our daughter is processing her emotions in her own way.  When she is ready, she will talk.  For now, she cries over seemingly-unrelated battles with her brother and watches us directly process our feelings.  Our son wears his emotions on his sleeve, as do I.  Our one year old daughter will spend much of her life processing in her own ways as well.

In my world right now, I vacillate between overwhelm at paperwork/schedules/housekeeping/emotions and wanting to run far away from home with my children to a warm, quiet beach.  This is when I pause, take a breath, and intentionally focus upon the overflowing of my heart.

I am so very thankful for the people in our lives.  I am so very thankful for our home, our cats, our routines, our ability to turn anything into a special occasion, the grace of forgiveness and compassion within the family, the comforts and traditions of this life we've built together.  And so much more.  I am so thankful for the relationships I get to have with my children, everyone in my partner's family, the friends we have gathered and now consider family.  I appreciate the details and vastness of everything in nature.  I appreciate getting to feel so many emotions flowing through me, letting them move through, and feel a great lightening of my load afterward.  I appreciate the feelings of laughter in my belly and tears on my cheeks.  My love for my people keeps me going.  There is such beauty and grace within relationship.  Now that's good grief, Charlie Brown.

I know I will continue processing the death of my partner for the rest of my life, as will our children.  I also know we will feel supported in our relationships with those we love.  (When we do not feel supported, we work to resolve those challenges.)  What a gift to feel such buoyancy in these challenging times.  Regardless of all the tasks I want to get to, especially with my whirlwind of emotions, I know what is most important.  It's all about heart.  We get to keep coming back to the heart.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Stretching of Public School Snow Days

In the dark, alone in the kitchen, when my children would usually be dragging themselves around on the floor looking for socks and breakfast, I get to be alone.  My children are sleeping in three different beds without me.  Snow days.  As homeschoolers, snow days meant we got to stay home and play in the snow and drink hot chocolate with my partner, watching the snow and freezing rain fall.  I had already expected to be with my children and meet their vast needs all day.

Public school snow days feel a little different.  On these days, I am surprised to find my young children with me, to get to meet their vast needs all day, while also needing to get my own business-as-usual done anyhow.  I am again surprised at my new full life as a single parent.  For our first snow day yesterday, we had a couple neighborhood children with us so their parents could work.  I was the mother of five children for several hours.  This was a wonderful and busy experience.  Before bed I got a little of my own work taken care of.  Today is another snow day, full of freezing rain-slicked surfaces.  There will be more children joining us, more indoor projects, and less work completed.  Now I know what it feels like to parent young public school children when there are snow days.  It is like much of parenting and life, both bitter and sweet.  I intentionally focus on the sweet.

I trust I will eventually get our errands run, our mail opened, our floors dried, our laundry folded, my meals prepared.  I trust I will somehow get to my surrogate grandfather's memorial service far away tomorrow with the necessary items in hand.  I trust I will find the details needed within my deceased partner's texts and emails to negotiate with the builder of our "dream home" (that we will sell asap).  I trust I have it within myself to get through this day with grace and love and patience and gratitude.  I trust that what is most important will be done.  The holding of hands, drying of tears, filling of bellies, warming of toes, reading of books, stacking of blocks, coloring of pages, cutting of snowflakes, connecting of hearts.  Despite my endless list of tasks, I know it will all be okay.  We are buoyant creatures.  I am thankful just to be alive with these miraculous people, complete with our daily fears, tears, and joys.  I treasure getting to experience the stretching of another snow day with my children.  I would not trade this day for anything.  Such infinite blessings.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holding Hands & Holding Hearts

Hands.  What simple yet complex parts.  One of my favorite parts of my 18 years with my partner was his hands.  His soft fingers that rubbed my own.  The security in fingers entwined from the first night we met.  Loving touch.  Holding hearts by holding hands.  The stability of knowing we could hold hands and be together through thick and thin.  The strong hands that pushed on my back as we together labored with our beloved children.  The hands that rubbed our children's fresh wounds.  

Together our family got to watch ET the movie a year ago.  This photograph brings me to tears.  In it I see our youngest child sitting on her daddy's lap, touching her daddy's hand, each comforting one another in their special way.  I miss this moment.  So much bitter and sweet in the bittersweet story of our lives together.  Such beauty and pain wrapped up together in our human experience.  I appreciate the contrasting emotions we feel all at the same time, the depth in how we love one another, the ways we stay connected, the vastness of it all.  I am thankful for these hands and the loved shared by holding each other.  

Radon Testing

Our area is known to hold high hazards of radon poisoning.  My parents-in-law and husband died of cancer far too young.  One thing they had in common was living in the same tall home with a basement.  Radon exposure 15-20 years ago is one possible culprit.  Our current home has now been tested for radon.  We will have results in a few days.  Regardless of the outcome, we are going to have a company come install radon release pipes and other safety measures.  I am not taking chances with the health of my children and myself.  I will not take these calculated risks with my children.

Just two days ago, our North Clackamas School District sent out a letter recommending every single home be tested for radon.  Radon poisoning symptoms resemble those of lung cancer: a persistent cough that doesn't get better, difficulty breathing, chest pain, the coughing up of blood, wheezing, hoarseness and recurring respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis.  (Another culprit of non-smoker's lung cancer may be asbestos in old buildings.)

I appreciate having information on radon testing and treatment to clean our home's air.  I appreciate taking steps toward our family's long term health.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hand Prints & Autumn Leaves

My beautiful partner was in the hospital for three weeks before he died.  Each day I would go to see him as early and often as I could manage while juggling the needs of our three young children.  Each day as I walked through the parking lot, I looked up at the trees as they shed their leaves and looked down at the ground covered with brilliant yet fading colors.  This was meditative, soothing, and comforting for me.  I found many metaphors in these moments for the phase of life my family was experiencing.  The trees were losing their leaves as my family was experiencing our greatest loss.  It felt right, like we were engaging in a natural yet devastating process, going within ourselves to pull out whatever would help us get through each moment together, to make the most of the finite time we got together.  

Now that most of the leaves have fallen, and my beloved has gone from our hands, I cherish the comfort brought in those moments with autumn colors.  I cherish the hand prints we created in the last days together for our children to hold tight to their daddy.  I cherish all the moments we had together.  I cherish the love that will live on in my heart for all of my days.  I cherish this life I get to spend with my children and our family.  We are so very blessed in love.

Finding Comfort

Each year I get to spend an evening with the same lovely ladies.  My long-time friend invited me to join her book club a decade ago, a group formed with her mother and many high school friends.  What a gift.  Each December, we gather with our homemade hot chocolate, buckets of popcorn, and cucumber sandwiches to catch up on each others' lives and watch a movie.  It is such a blessing to feel safe in a warm group of friends, to be vulnerable and honest about how hard it is to gracefully raise my beautiful children with high standards (for my children and myself) and miss my partner so very deeply.

This year we got to see Elf (with Will Ferrell).  The holidays are different once we lose people close to us.  Watching the movie was wonderful, though I found myself reflecting on watching it with my partner, laughing together at home in front of the screen, how he won't be able to watch this movie again, how I won't get to hold his hand and look into the face of my beloved again.  In a bitter sweet moment, I was surprised to feel gratitude for trusting I will get to be with my partner in some way again when I die, a very long time for now.  I find comfort in a variety of ways.  I am thankful for the traditions of gathering with my beloved friends each year, feeling so loved and held and embraced.  I am thankful for liquid chocolate and the comfort of routines.  I am thankful for the coming together of friends.  I am thankful for the opening of hearts and the holding of hands.  Such blessed lives we lead.  

And Above Us Only Sky

I have a great love for the sky.  Especially on the days when I feel so very low to the earth, I dream of flight.  I dream of being a bird and swimming through clouds.  In the last four months, as my family moved through my partner's battle with cancer, I found myself often drawn in gratitude for the sky.  Admiring the vastness and freedom of it all.  Looking into the clouds is like opening the Bible or tarot cards and divining the meaning we need in that moment.  This allows me to make space for wonder and miraculousness and awe.  I am also pulled to repeat Ani DiFranco's words, "Cuz humility has buoyancy, and above us only sky."  Here are some photographs I've captured while falling more deeply in love with our sky.  What a blessing it is to dare to dream of flight when we are often firmly bound to our roots.  Blessings abound.