Five.

I remember being five – I was a terrible person. I rejected authority, I stole from the blind girl at my lunch table, and was chosen only once to be the nap fairy. Apparently, I “tapped” people “too hard” when it was time to wake up. I would argue, it was the most effective amount of pressure for an efficient wake-up. I beat up on boys, I even hit the girl-next-door with my wooden shoe. But, I also had adorable freckles, loved the elderly, my imagination was its own universe, and I was entirely certain of myself. My mom says I was born this way…confident, never intimidated, and one might say, brutally honest (like all my elderly homies). I was an uncompromisingly whole person.

The start of 2020 ushers in a fifth year without our Bird. My emotions have been all over the place and words fail me. If I’m being honest, I think deep down, I didn’t want to deal with this week, her week, or even acknowledge the month of January. New Years’ morning I woke up and immediately began crying – this reality, the one without Birdie, it’s isolating and screwed up, unnatural. We took our annual trip and it was lovely – we were adventurous, tried new things, exploring new places – all the things we promised her we would do. But…we didn’t talk about her or actively celebrate her life. I don’t say this to make you sad, or mad, or fearful of our emotional health. It’s more just a moment of brutal honesty (cuz that’s how I roll). Life can be very lonely without her, at times overwhelmingly so…to the point I/We want to pretend it’s not our reality. This shit is hard. It’s strange and surreal, it’s horrible yet somehow beautiful.

I think the most difficult part of this fifth year is, imagining her as a vibrant person, one who has a shoe size, a preferred book, and parent to read her to sleep. I imagine her with defiance that can only come from me and a distinct laugh and dance moves that mimic her dad. Her inquisitiveness would open up our world to brilliant conversations; an entire personality in a tiny body, looking to us as if we are the world. She would be confident, courageous, stubborn… an uncompromisingly whole person. That’s it, right there, the gut punch, the emptiness…why the walls go up. Where do we put that? 

Well, we shouldn’t run, hide, or build up walls and pretend. We have to acknowledge it and then we dig, we fight for the JOY. ALL of this – my life, my grief, your life, your (insert whatever here), it takes time, a lot of it. A time filled with brave and honest work, bearing witness to every part of the process – cultivating the good AND the bad. We cannot have the joyful moments without the dark and suffocating ones. The struggles within the process, are the heartbeat of life. They open doors, windows, and portals to our growth, they bring life full circle. Suffering is the very place we refine and reshape, where we experience the full joy of achievement. When we try all the things to ignore this, to press pause on suffering, or push it down, pretend we’re all good…well, it doesn’t work. Trust me. It will hunt you down, grab you by your face and demand eye contact. Consider this “lecture” a wooden shoe across the facemore for me than for you. (sorry Jasmine, wherever you are)

So – taking my own advice, owning my reality, here is the JOY: I am still that confident, brutally honest little five-year-old*, but Birdie softened my edges. She taught me volumes on grace and forced me to be brave with my vulnerability and my life. I am a better person because of our lil Bird. She urges me to open my heart, to live bravely, to free-fall into the unknown. I know and understand more about love, more about suffering, and I am learning to practice empathy. I have miles and miles to go. I will falter, I will fight against my better judgment, but in spite of this, I will always, always strive to honor her and look for the Joy.

 

*Remix: I no longer hit people with wooden shoes, no matter how much time passes, I will never be the first choice for “nap fairy,” and, I no longer steal from the blind.

being yours

I was undone at the sight of you

I understood how mountains could move, lands separate, oceans rise and fall

I felt my very core tremble knowing you were mine

I became fearless as you took your first breath

With every squeeze of your tiny hand I gained strength, I became better

My old self eclipsed by a woman, now a mother, branded by your very existence

Being yours meant I would accomplish the most difficult, most breaking of things

Being yours means knowing boundless love and soul crushing pain

The light you ushered in is forever unmatched

The truths you unveiled continuously reshape my perspective

My heart now beats where yours cannot, it’s pulse ever so slowly inspiring a new life

Each inhale and exhale carrying the melody of heaven, resounding in His perfect love

It casts out fear, it casts out doubt, it has no end, it has no equal

May that melody flow to others, may it move the mountains in their hearts and bring light to darkness

My precious lil Bird, you are our broken pieces shaped into perfection, into selfless love

What an honor it is to be yours

be relentless

Almost exactly 4 years ago I was sitting in this same house, taking in the changing colors, cheeks flushed from the crisp east coast air. It was a joyous week celebrating life – 50 years of one well lived, the union of two beautiful souls, and the anticipation of meeting the little one growing inside me. Family from near and far all converging with shared purpose and excitement. There were so many hugs and squeals – the air riddled with hope, elation, and that feeling – you know the one – where all just feels right in the world.

Weeks before our trek across the US, we learned our Little Bird may not be growing as she should. The messages were mixed and tests inconclusive. We kept the potential of her defect to ourselves – we wanted our ignorance to last as long as it could. The air was thick with joy and maybe selfishly we knew, this would be the last time we would breath with ease, the last time we could wear joy and know it was genuine. Surrounded by every face we’ve ever loved, receiving thoughtful gifts – some passed down through generations, and resting in the idea that life was good – it is something I will never forget.

As I sit in the same house, cheeks flushed from the crisp fall air, tears sneak quietly down my face. This isn’t how we were supposed to return here. Empty handed. Hearts deflated by pain and anger. Broken in every way. It feels as though we exist on the outside looking in. Always asking ourselves, is this our life – forever and ever? Does this state of devastation and grief ever lessen? Does it ever become something capable of sharing space with joy and happiness? I don’t have the answer. It is likely I never will. That has to be OK.

What I do know is this: even when I can’t see through the grey and the fog, life is still beautiful. It’s beautiful because even in this mess, this effed up brokenness, there is love. I know that love is so much bigger than me and my pain – it is the currency in which I should place all my investment. Without it – we would not have made it this far and neither would you. We all have a story – likely littered with pain and disappointments – that’s OK – it makes us human, it gives us common ground. We need to use that common ground to be there for one another. If you know someone in pain – sit outside their door – take them a meal – send them a text or email (snail mail is WAY cooler though) – love them in whatever way they let you, until they let you in. Once you’re in – don’t freaking screw it up! Don’t give unsolicited advice, ask them how long it will last, or lament about your own problems – JUST BE. 

I cannot stress or say this enough – if someone you know is grieving, the loss of a person or their life played out in depression, anger, isolation; maybe they’re struggling with family or lost in their own pain – don’t stop reaching out. Ever. Also, Don’t make it about you. If they don’t respond, do so harshly or coldly – don’t take it personally (well, try not to). It won’t be easy – there is an ugliness that stems from shame, loss and pain. It manifests as self preservation; the thickest and tallest emotional walls, and words sharper than knives. It generates visceral reactions to the simplest of things and strikes out of fear, loneliness, and exhaustion. Nine times outta ten, it has nothing to do with you. Chase them down and leave your expectations outside – try and try again, be relentless in loving them even if they only let you from very far away. One day your love will seep through, it will sit with them when they feel alone, it will tap them on the shoulder when they’re about to lose it, it will keep them going.

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Three years have passed – I don’t know if it feels like a minute or a lifetime. I am at a loss this year – words are turbulent in my mind yet putting them to paper feels, impossible. I hope we tell her story well; that we are assiduous in living out her legacy, and that we do so fearlessly, profoundly, while always cultivating joy. Hey Lil Bird…we love you, happiest birthday, our darling girl.

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I’ve waited a hundred years
But I’d wait a million more for you
Nothing prepared me for
What the privilege of being yours would do

If I had only felt the warmth within your touch
If I had only seen how you smile when you blush
Or how you curl your lip when you concentrate enough
Well I would have known
What I was living for all along
What I’ve been living for

Your love is my turning page
Where only the sweetest words remain
Every kiss is a cursive line
Every touch is a redefining phrase

I surrender who I’ve been for who you are
For nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart
If I had only felt how it feels to be yours
Well I would have known
What I’ve been living for all along
What I’ve been living for

Though we’re tethered to the story we must tell
When I saw you, well I knew we’d tell it well
With a whisper we would tame the vicious seas
Like a feather bringing kingdoms to their knees

-Ryan Curtis O’Neal – Sleeping At Last || Turning Page

 

words on sorrow

There is sadness in you | There is sadness in me; we all carry it  – some as a badge, some silently. Sadness is all around and often exists voiceless. It is silenced by shame and usually presents as anger, anxiety, control or apathy. Sadness is the act of Sorrow – a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.

People don’t often realize how visible their sorrow is – it screams loudly when lonely or angry, other times it’s the tone in our voice as we cut someone verbally. It always shows its face no matter how hard we fight it. Many people don’t realize they are acting on their sorrow. They may not know loss in the sense of a loved one, but maybe it was a friendship, a job opportunity, the accolade they craved greatly, or simply affection. Sorrow can swallow you whole – it can suck life out of everything you touch and even those with whom you come into contact.

I know, for me, my sorrow is cyclical. Well, specifically my sorrow over Birdie. The holidays are always difficult – which doesn’t really make sense since we never experienced one with her. I guess it has to do with the parts of the holiday that involve coming together. The traditions we carry over or start on our own – the kind you pass down. It’s the simple delights – Christmas lights, make believe, and time well spent. It’s the cuddling on the couch in matching pajamas while the snow falls heavy outside. The things you never knew you wanted to do until you cannot.

Sorrow makes people incredibly uncomfortable. People rarely sit around and discuss their sadness or recognize how they project it, and they most certainly do not want to discuss yours. It’s really too bad because it’s something we all have in common. Although origins may differ, the weight of it is something of which we can all relate. Because I have been open about mine | ours, I have seen various reactions. The most interesting has been those who are constantly waiting for the day we will no longer be sorrowful. Those who ask: do you feel you will be past it soon? Not necessarily over it, but past it? What I find so interesting is they have a sense of desperation in their voice. They desperately need us to be OK! I know it comes from love – when you love someone you want them to be content, without struggle, and back to “normal.” 

I guess what I’m saying is: if someone you love is not OK this holiday season, but is doing their very best to get through the day | the holiday | the year | the month – show them grace. Let them feel safe with you – whether it’s safety to laugh, let loose, or even lose it. You will never expedite their healing, you will never be able to take their pain, but you can do your very best to love them through it. If it takes years or a lifetime, don’t rush them. Don’t push them to fill a void that is inevitably insatiable. Also remember, there is no part of the healing process designated to make you more comfortable. It literally has nothing to do with you. 

It takes courage to live through suffering; and it takes honesty to observe it. – C.S. Lewis

 

numbing

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Truth.

 

Hearing her say this, then reading it on paper – my mind was (and still is) blown. This describes so many years of my life, especially the last three. To see my life summed up, in thirty-one words, somehow made me feel normal – gave me a better understanding of myself – and the science behind it just makes sense to me. The last three years I existed in a constant state of numbing. I can barely give people hugs without wanting to crawl out of my skin – not because I think they have lice or smell bad or want to creepily smell my hair – but because hugging means you’ve missed someone – you’re happy to see them – you love them – you want to be close to them. Nope…sorry, I don’t want to feel ANY of those emotions, let alone all of them at once! I am safe in my Misie-sized bubble with a withering stare sending people at least five feet outside it. When I was in my twenties I had A LOT going on – 100% inside my head, locked away for no one to ever know – I maintained a state of numbness by working crazy hours, always being busy, over exercising, and disappearing into a life that required no commitment – at least not the stable kind.  [Disclaimer – because you know there’s always one or two – I loved my twenties in all their messiness; they shaped who I am today, significantly…but there was also a lot of pain and sadness that caused me to shut.it.down] I eventually became very ill and required some serious integrative intervention (liquid diets, therapy, new eating habits, sleep…the list goes on). Even with this help, these changes, my go to reaction to anything out of my control was to numb | is to numb.

When we lost Birdie I reached an entire other level of numbing – there is numbing for self preservation and then, there’s numbing for survival. My goal every single day was to survive – to wake up, get out of bed, eat something, have the guts to open the curtains and let light in. Laughter was a foreign sound; going to the store was the scariest thing because there were babies, toddlers, pregnant women there; friends were having babies left and right and it felt like the greatest insult. When you can see your dearest friends expanding their families and feel hate – this is the deepest darkest space for the soul. The thought of crying in front of people I loved, let alone some stranger in the check out line, instantly made me want to never ever leave the house (because crying is weakness apparently in my world). Numb. Numb. Numb. Shut it out, pretend it doesn’t exist. There was no joy, no gratitude, and no happiness. They are beginning to creep in every once in awhile, and this makes me appreciate time – how it allows us to soften, our eyes to widen, and lets light sneak past the darkness and seep through the cracks in our walls. I don’t believe time heals wounds, but I do believe, if we’re open to it, it will give us the space we need to process, to understand, to feel what needs to be felt before our wounds keep us locked in the house, never wanting a hug again.

the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
-Emily Dickinson

happiest birthday lil bird

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