A Difficult Path

Standard

Burning Candle by SOMMAI

This is not what I planned to write today, and there are those who will be far more eloquent and speak more comforting words about what has happened than I can ever hope to say. I can’t even pretend that I can fully understand what families are facing right now.

I was lucky, I guess you can say. Having time to prepare yourself for death and loss can be a blessing. No, my days were not pretty and knowing the end was coming was heartbreaking. But I had time to prepare my mind and my heart for things to come. I knew when some of my last conversations would take place as I let go day by day, piece by piece. Those who lost their children and loved ones and friends yesterday did not. What started out as an ordinary day ended in a tragic nightmare. That is unimaginable to me.

To those who feel the anguish of loss now, I can offer my words and my heartfelt feelings of sorrow… and hope.

If I could speak to the families who are grieving right now, I’d tell them to feel whatever they feel without apology. I would tell them that I do understand that life will never feel the same again. I would let them know that sleepless nights and what feels like days of endless tears are ahead. They are now on a long road that will feel lonely and overwhelming sometimes.

I would also tell them that the fog will feel dense and heavy, so thick they can hardly breathe. But slowly… oh, so slowly… it will lift. It will start to clear, just a little at a time, and they will see that life will move forward. I know that forward is not what they want. Not at all. I understand that all they want to do is rewind, to go back and make all of this stop. Life is very unfair and there is no explanation that will feel right, no reason that will make any sense. As the fog lifts, though, I do know what is possible. They can take the littlest moments, the tiniest memories, and create monuments of happiness and joy to honor the ones who have been taken. They will turn the dark corners and see lights of hope, peace, and love begin to shimmer. They can carry on, never forgetting what has happened, but turning their deep sense of loss into new feelings of compassion.

My heart aches for anyone who has to go through the journey of grieving. I know there is no way around it or over it. There is only one difficult path straight through the middle of it. Along the way I hope they can find, as I have, treasures of peace and joy.

The Difficult Path Ahead = Joy

Home

Standard

Home

Home is a little word packed with meaning. It is what we call our physical address, the GPS coordinates that identify where we keep our “stuff” on the planet. It’s where we tell people we’re going when we leave work or school, the location we choose to rest our weary heads at the end of a long day. I looked up the word home in the dictionary and all the expected definitions were there: permanent place of residence, a family or social unit occupying a place, a house or apartment, etc. But one definition caught my eye: a place where something flourishes. Isn’t that true?

Talking about home at this time of year conjures up visions of families around the dinner table for holiday meals and the way people usually come together to celebrate the season. It also brings to mind those who, unfortunately, are without a place to call home – a sad reality that I wish I could change. Home is different things to different people, but I think it typically is a place of belonging.

The word home has been in my thoughts a lot these days. It’s not a big secret that I don’t like being cold, am not a fan of snowy weather, and prefer flip flops to almost any other form of footwear (second only to no footwear). So, living in Colorado has been a bit of a climate adjustment. Sometimes I’ve handled it well and other times I’ve cried or screamed (inwardly) about being here. It’s also been an adjustment because of the circumstances that brought me to this place. Going somewhere completely by choice is a far cry from packing up and moving so family can be around your loved one as he is dying. Colorado has it’s good points of course: the goodness of family and the comfort of people who care about me. And, by definition, I can say I’ve begun to flourish here in new ways.

There is only one place I’ve ever lived, however, that feels like home. That would be [insert drumroll] Florida. From the time I arrived there I felt as though I belonged. Even though we didn’t really know a soul when we pulled up in the driveway of a rental house we’d found online and rented without ever stepping foot inside, I knew I was going to flourish in that place. Fort Myers was truly the first place we ever put down roots and felt a sense of community. The sunshine, tropical temperatures, and proximity to the Gulf helped a lot too. Those are big draws for someone who doesn’t enjoy cold toes! When I think about Colorado or Missouri I have fond memories of fun family times and days spent with friends, but if I hear “home” attached to those places I picture the dwelling places – the houses and apartments we lived in. When I think about Florida I have those same fond memories of friends and family and times shared with people, but when I hear the word “home” it is far more than a house or a condo. I feel sea breezes, sand under my feet, the salt water on my skin, the sunshine and warmth all year long. I remember that there I share a playground with dolphins! I think of the sense of belonging I had. My home there was everything that surrounded me, not just the four walls that sheltered me.

Lately, my true home has really been tugging at my heart again, so I plan to get there in 2013 and re-establish those roots that were pulled up unexpectedly. Until then, I’m following some advice I’ve received, to enjoy where I am until the time comes to move on, cold winter weather and snowstorms included. So, I’ll work on blossoming and flourishing here until I can get back… home.

My Heart’s Home = Joy

Unplugged

Standard

Unplugged

My kids used to get annoyed with how glued I was to my phone. Yeah, that’s kinda weird, huh? Teenagers thinking their mom is a smartphone junkie, addicted to texting and Google… sad, but true. It’s something I denied, but they were right. Frequently they’d be talking to me and realize I was in “the zone” on my phone, and occasionally they’d say sarcastic things to see if I was listening. I wasn’t. I was too engrossed in the virtual world, getting connected, and not paying attention to the actual world around me.

Not too long ago, I found myself in that zone and it was as though I couldn’t even get my own attention. Wrap your head around that one for a minute. So I decided that unplugging the phone from my hands and plugging it into the wall, walking away, and shutting the door would be a good solution. But I had some reservations. What if I got an important call? What if I missed a critical text? What if I didn’t catch that email as it came through? What if someone asked a question and only Google would know the answer?

Oh dear, I was going to have to tackle those questions! Well, one reality is that I rarely talk on the phone. Once every six weeks I make an appointment at the hair salon. Occasionally I have to break down and call a customer service line. Yes, I talk to friends and family; I’m not totally antisocial! But I prefer Skype or FaceTime. No, that’s not technically unplugging, but I only Skype on my computer or laptop and only FaceTime on my iPad. I don’t carry any of those things in my purse or pocket. Wow, one problem solved! (And let’s be real – no foreign diplomats are calling me asking for the answer to world peace. A lot of things can wait.) Confession about emails: truthfully, I don’t even like looking at them on a phone, so was I really going to miss the frustration of typing out a response on a teeny keyboard? Nah. Two problems solved. This might be easier than I thought. Admittedly, I’m a big texter, so not having my phone next to me would mean missing those messages. What if someone felt ignored? That was going to be tough; I hate disappointing people. Last admission… I do love my Google so that was going to take some getting used to. Sometimes I Google a question that pops into my head just to see how many words I have to type in before that question shows up in the dropdown menu. It’s kind of a test to see where I am on the scale of weirdness.

In order to feel less tethered, I stopped carrying my phone downstairs during dinner every day. I stopped texting Jordan to come to dinner. I walked up the 15 stairs, knocked on his door, and walked back down the 15 stairs. That wasn’t so bad! I started leaving my phone in my purse while I was with other people. One night the battery even died while it was in my purse and the world didn’t come to a halt. I know firsthand that the people you are sitting with at dinner or sharing laughs with in the living room won’t always be there. Looking at their faces is better than a 4-inch, cold, glass screen. I set aside time on my calendar for unplugging from my phone and the Internet six hours on the weekend to focus on writing. For the most part I’ve stuck to it. As far as I can tell, no one is angry if I don’t respond to a text or email immediately or if I let my phone go to voicemail. After the initial symptoms of withdrawal subside, it’s kind of nice to unplug. I still have work to do. I hope to keep improving, maybe even to the point of one full 24-hour period of gadget-detox each week.

One little note about unplugging and grief: I am finding that unplugging from devices and plugging into my thoughts really opens up my heart. I feel emotions more clearly when I sit down and write about them (by hand), thinking things through and pausing for reflection. Sometimes I just sit with my grief and do nothing. Stillness and quiet is good. Being present is important. Enjoying the world with all your senses is vital.

Unplugging = Joy

I’m writing this on December 3. On the 5th I leave for a trip to Raleigh and New York City. My hope is that I’ll enjoy travel with minimal attachment to technology. Out of necessity I’ll be online sometimes, and I’ll no doubt post a picture or update my status here and there, but I hope to pay attention to the experience by fully engaging with all that surrounds me and leave my phone tucked away. I don’t want to miss out on what’s really important and exciting because the little screen in my hands wants my attention. This will post on December 9, the day I return. I’ll let you know how it went…

One more note – you’ll get no judgment from me if you’re reading this on some type of mobile device. There’s a place for the wonders of technology. I’m just becoming more aware that, for me, there is also a place for the wonders of everything else in this gorgeous slice of life we are given.

Making Room for Joy

Standard

December is a great time of year to purge. Out with the old, as they say! I’m a huge fan of simplifying, decluttering, and downsizing. As we prepped to move from Florida to Colorado, I was able to donate a lot of what had become “junk” to me. That’s not to say it was really junk, just that it had been relegated to the junk drawer, the storage closet, or under the bed. That move was unique in that I threw out, donated, or gave away about 80% of our stuff. A few items here and there have been replaced, but for the most part I still have far less than I used to. That feels really good!

For the past nine months I’ve been living in my parents’ house, so there’s a section of the basement housing boxes I’ve not needed to unpack (kitchen stuff, some books, crafty items, etc.). What I’m finding is that I’m not missing a lot of what is still packed away. In fact, I’m looking forward to throwing out, donating, and giving away quite a bit more of it.

I’ve said before, though perhaps not here, that I’m not very sentimental. Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not cold-hearted and lacking the tenderness that comes with reliving fond memories. What I mean is that I rarely… very rarely… purchase a souvenir when I take a trip. I didn’t save all the drawings, papers, and projects my kids made over the years. I don’t save the cards and letters I receive, with very few exceptions. I don’t have any of the boys’ baby clothes or my wedding dress. What I do have is plenty of photographs of some of those things, digitally stored on my hard drive or archived (on acid-free paper, of course) in a few scrapbooks, and even more memories tucked away in nifty little boxes in my mind. Looking at a photo of a drawing Brian Jr. did when he was 3 floods my mind with thoughts of him from the day I gave birth until now. Seeing a picture of Jordan playing with one of his favorite toys as a kid has the same effect. And looking through the photographs of Brian and I throughout our marriage brings back those days like they were yesterday. So, I suppose you can say I’m actually quite sentimental, just not a clutter-bug! I have some trinkets and mementos of times gone by, things I like to keep around to recall the past, but if I had to give them away or they were suddenly gone, that would be okay.

Christmas is a time for traditions, and I guess the Lawsons had a tradition of simplifying the holiday. I probably make more trips to Goodwill during December than any other month. Since the kids were tiny little things, we gave them no more than three gifts to unwrap on Christmas morning. Their stockings had silly little gifts tucked inside, but were by no means extravagant. Now, because they are guys and guys’ toys get pricier as they age, it’s usually one gift. Thankfully, they are both very appreciative for their one gift and don’t look dejected if there isn’t a mountain of gifts under the tree. This year the boys and I are actually celebrating Christmas a month late, so there won’t even be a tree! But there will be togetherness and that’s even better.

This December I’m sure I’ll purge some of my material belongings, but I am also planning to declutter my mind and free up some space for more joy. I want to throw away regret and the last little bits of bitterness that are hanging around gathering dust. I’m also going to toss anger. Sometimes I put that in the recycling bin and nobody needs that in a new form! I think I’ll also trash jealousy, spite, and critical thoughts. I’ll happily donate compassion and kindness, patience, and understanding to those who need some. I have more than enough to spare. Giving away smiles and good wishes seems like a good idea too. That should give me a lot more places in my life to store up happiness, good memories, positive thoughts, and joy.

Making Extra Room = Joy

Releasing the Year

Standard

This year I’m finding rituals to be quite comforting and helpful. They are an important part of the grief process and have allowed me to let go. Each day that I kept track of Brian’s medication, dosed out his pills, helped him bathe and dress, fed him, and loved him allowed me to let go of him knowing I’d given my best and my all. Watching his body be prepared and taken from this house enabled me to release him a little more, Feeling the weight of the box of ashes showed me that life is not permanent and we have to release our attachment to it when the time comes. Celebrating his life during his memorial service gave me the means to let him loose, so to speak, into the world of memories and moments that are shared by all who knew him.

Throughout each step in grieving, I’ve experienced glorious and excruciating emotions. I’ve fought some and invited others, but each one is essential in completing the process of surrendering a loved one and releasing our tight grip on them. That certainly doesn’t mean I have thrown away what we shared. No, quite the opposite. I’m learning to put our past together in its proper place, holding it dear.

Along the road to wholeness, I’m finding the significance of releasing the past to make way for the future. So I’m preparing during December to leave 2012 behind, not forgetting it, but letting it stand as a milestone of learning in this crazy and beautiful thing called life. My sister in-law (also my friend and kindred spirit) gifted me with a tangible way to move from this year to the one that is right around the corner. My project the other night was to create a page of gratitude. I broke out my markers and set to work, filling the blank white space with words. That turned into the Wordle you see above. Funny thing… once you start writing down all you’re grateful for, you think of new things to add. I keep revisiting that page and adding to it. Gratitude grows the more you acknowledge it.

My word for October was Promise. When November rolled around I turned to Renewal. In thinking ahead to December, the first word I thought of was Release, so it is fitting that I have been focusing on saying good-bye to what has been a devastating and delightful year. It has brought challenges and I’ve somehow managed to overcome each one. I’ll never forget 2012; it will no doubt stand out as a turning point, the place where I had to stand and look behind me and then press on to what was ahead with courage and curiosity. I’m finding a sweet satisfaction in reflection and release as I slowly and fondly bid farewell to the year. The next question in my Incredible Year Workbook is “Are you ready?” I can say with enthusiasm (and a few jitters): Yes! I will check that box with a brightly colored flourish!

Releasing the Past to Make Way for the Future = Joy