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.

my heart

It was my second week in Tennessee, I sat cross-legged on a patch of fresh mauve carpet, hiding 20-year-old basketweave linoleum. The old recliner where I curled up to listen to Peter Jennings talk about a world, one existing far from East Tennessee summers, it was gone. In its place was a bed, the kind with bars on the sides and various mechanical parts. Mr. Jennings voice no longer reverberated through the ancient television, his face distorted by ill-placed foil antennas. Instead, I sat covered in new carpet lint, listening to my Grandpa sing hymns, and stare off into another world; he was dying. We knew it was the end – he rarely existed in the present. He hallucinated about carpentry, selecting nails from his phantom tool belt and grinning while he hammered them off into the air. Sometimes his arm would rise to the sky as if telling angels he was ready to be home. One afternoon we put all 88 lbs of him in a wheelchair and I raced him around the aged double-wide – through the kitchen, squealing through the dining room and back again. With what little energy he had, he would belly laugh as we careened around every turn. My grandma was never far – staying busy by snapping green beans or canning tomatoes. My mom cleaning, even purchasing new drapes to brighten up the place. I sat, rarely taking my eyes off Grandpa. We shared popsicles while the sun beamed soft and gracefully through the front porch. The many plants would rise to greet it – and we would soak in its warmth; I was 13.

Grandpa Jack was hard of hearing, and even when yelling, my voice did not carry the right tone. Despite being unable to hear me – as long as I was talking he was “listening.” He would smile ear to ear and nod his head, and when he could see I stopped speaking, he would smile wider and say, “I love you too!” I knew he had zero clues as to what I said, but it didn’t matter, our language was the same. He told my mom, “she is my heart;” well, he was mine. He wasn’t an affectionate grandparent – you would get a gruff hand on your shoulder more often than a hug – but his smile was all the affection I needed. I adored him. I would often slip my hand in his chapped, grease-covered one or rest my head on his bony shoulder – he never grasped back or warmed into a hug – but he never ever backed away. My favorite spot was next to him as he shared tales, large and small, of shipping yards and odd jobs he had while traveling the country.

His answer to every ailment was iodine – I will never forget that rusty liquid on his various nicks and bruises. He thought cats were disease carriers…and theirs likely had a few. He always wore cotton trousers and a white t-shirt, tucked in with grease stains or a tear around the collar. He walked with his feet kicking out in front of him and arms swinging with purpose. He was older than most grandfathers I knew and had technically been retired my whole life but he still found a “job” every single day. Some days it was “going into town” to run errands. He threw a button up over his tattered t-shirt, put on his favorite fishing cap, “forgot” his hearing aids and fired up the ole Datson. We all knew he really went to socialize which always meant cornering a kind soul into listening to his tall tales. They realized too late he couldn’t hear and had to muster all their southern kindness nodding for an hour. You always knew he was enjoying himself because his chin tilted up and to the left, smiling until his eyes disappeared, hands in his pockets, whistles exiting through his dentures.

His other jobs, for lack of a better term, involved excessive tinkering. You could often find him halfway in his shed, bent over, tools flying aimlessly through his legs into the yard. Once he located the right one, he hammered on whatever needed it and tossed it back into the shed with the same fervor as before. He loved going to my uncle’s farm, he walked along the fence line and gazed out over the fields – I never knew what he was thinking but he always seemed happy, free. He was constantly laughing as me and my cousins wrestled and never panicked when we were racing each other to the top of whatever tree was nearby. He always stood at the trunks’ base whooping us along.

He said grace with the gumption of a southern preacher, and his worn hands always clasped my grandmother’s. As much as those two bickered, they were very much in love. He was her person – he may not have been a consistent husband/father, but he always needed her care and attention and she was happy to give it. I never saw them visit, I never saw them dance or laugh together – but I would catch a glance every once in a while, there was love there.

This particular afternoon in Tennessee my mom came and sat next to me placing her hand on Grandpa’s chest – I noticed a glimmer of concern as she touched his face and grasped his fingertips. I asked what was wrong, even though I already knew; she told me to get Grandma. I walked to the bathroom door and knocked, I’m sorry to bother you but mom says you should come out here. She sat down and clasped Grandpa’s hand – he turned to face her – a rare moment of cognizance. She began weeping and he somehow began comforting her. It was an amazing thing to behold. Grandma leaned down and pressed her face into his chest – he smiled and began humming – he reached his free hand up to the sky and hummed a little louder. As his hand danced in the air his face lit up, his eyes opened wide and he smiled with his mouth open – toothless and filled with joy – he was heading home.

I didn’t know heartbreak until that day. I’m not speaking of my sadness, no, it was my Grandma. I watched her closely the week of his funeral – she was so present, showing grace to everyone who attended. She smiled, she was warm, and her strength was admirable. A couple days after the funeral I walked past the formal living room, she sat, weathered Bible in her lap, and wept. Her tears soaked the red leather cover, her long fingers covering her eyes – she wept in a dark room, alone. In her silent weeping, in her brokenness, I remember seeing the woman I longed to be. I felt warmth in my eyes and a knot in my stomach – watching this woman cry was somehow suffocating and brilliant at the same time.  I missed my Grandpa fiercely, but I hadn’t cried yet…until now. It’s possible I have a robotic way of pushing my feelings aside to appear strong, or maybe I just knew it was his time and I could logically put that emotion in a compartment. Whatever the case, her strength, and poise, her fearlessness moved me. It left a mark. She was an immovable force – stubborn, deliberate, a pistol – Anna Daisy. I like to think she and Grandpa spend their days caring for our lil bird – that Birdie Anna’s namesake is sharing with her the fierceness and independence she taught me. I would not be who I am without them, all three of them are my heart, and I imagine she is theirs.

imaged found via Pinterest

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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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stillness

This year we have been busy, distracted, remaining in forward motion. Yesterday we received a flat package, smaller than a #10 envelope…with my out of control christmas shopping, I could not remember what I ordered. A small wooden bird shaped ornament fell on the counter, graced with the sweetest of names; along with it a note from one of my dearest friends. I was caught off guard – my vision blurred and all I could see was her perfect little nose, the points at the top of her lips; feel the grasp of her hand; see the flutter of her eyes; hear the beautiful sound of her breath. Although I think of her every single day – I rarely rest in the stillness of her memory. Most days there is no time for the tears that will come, the pit in my stomach, the swelling of my heart and the lump in my throat – it’s overwhelming. And so – when I am forced into this space by an unassuming piece of mail, I am thankful, because for a moment, I am with her again. I remember the joy she brought, the lessons she taught us about how life is MUCH bigger than work, a house, having all the “things”- We are blessed with friends and family who remember Miss Birdie’s impact and love us richly from afar.

We wish you all a blessed holiday season from our little corner of the world! We hope you find stillness this season and are surrounded by those you love most.

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