the meeting

After a very rough and long night, we exited our hospital closet and walked the five steps to the NICU. It was one of those nights where you battle sleep because you never want the sun to rise. You soak in each hour and the seconds between the minutes hoping they stretch further and further apart. We were quietly ushered into a sterile conference room – one wall plastered with team goals written colorfully on construction paper and another littered with lists of candidates vying for department head. We knew this morning’s meeting was going to try us, possibly break us. We sat silently, staring at thirteen empty chairs, chairs soon filled with strangers. Their names ended in various abbreviations all representing a specialty we never knew existed, each one with an opinion about Birdie’s heart. As they trickled in, pagers going off in sequence, some immediately rushing back out, most avoiding eye contact, Mick and I sat stone-faced. We were frozen, trying to decide if it was all real.

As the conversation began there were disclaimers, minor disagreements, words you cannot find in a regular dictionary. My body was broken and tired, my mind so entirely overwhelmed that it was shutting down. I couldn’t speak, I could barely hold up my eyelids. I hated everyone in that space and resented their words before they even spoke. I refused to cry, I refused to show any emotion. With what energy I had, I stared deeply into everyone’s eyes – I needed to see they cared. I needed them to know we had a story, we were not simply another case on their desk. We adored our daughter and her life, her mere existence deserved ALL of their respect. After what felt like hours, all “professional and medical opinions” were laid out. Some with the utmost care and others so clinical I wanted to scream. Suddenly, it was our turn to ask questions. I could barely breathe let alone speak – my heart littered my insides. I turned to Mick – he sat stoic and calm – I am certain neither of us blinked. He gently rested his hands in his lap, looked every single person in the eye, and began asking well thought out questions. He respectfully let certain people know their opinions did not matter and preferred they keep them quiet. He somehow knew what to say and how to say it. I was baffled because the only words I had were inappropriate and filled with rage. As the meeting came to an end, everyone returned to their daily rounds and caseloads and we sat motionless, in a sterile conference room, facing thirteen empty chairs.

THIS moment, the one before our exhaustion and utter despair set in, a moment of quiet where words settled, and finality reared its ugly head, our world ended. As the door clicked closed, the last white coat disappeared from view – our resolve, the facade of strength and courage we showed dissipated into sobs, as we crumbled into each other. Our precious friends crawled down into our despair sobbing and wailing alongside us. Everyone shattered, everyone in shock. This was the day they told us, YOU have to decide what happens to her.

WE had to decide.

After that meeting we quite literally prostrated ourselves in the hospital chapel for hours pleading for her life. We didn’t sleep, we couldn’t eat. We called our families and they were all soon on planes heading west. We roamed the hospital halls like zombies as Birdie went through another echocardiogram and MRI. Once she was back we stood over her – memorizing every inch of her tiny body, every ridge in her finger nails, tracing every vein on her belly, counting fingers and toes, the way her hands grasped when she sensed we were close and the slow of her pulse as I sang her every song I ever knew. She was absolute perfection, and we had to let her go.

There’s a reason it took me 5 years to put this to paper. Maybe it’s the quarantine – a time to revisit our lives and realize there are still bandaids left to remove. This part of our story isn’t flowery. It isn’t something we share. This is raw and painful and unfathomable. To accept that you must determine whether your child lives or dies – there are no words. I don’t share this for sympathy, because I don’t think I want it. I don’t share this so you perceive us as strong or admirable, because we certainly feel the opposite. I also don’t share this to shame or sadden anyone. I share this because someone out there needs to hear it, feel it. They need to absorb its reality and its grace. I know that sentence is obscure and slightly opposing itself. But, this is what I know – my heart for Birdie was divinely planted – it’s strength, it’s passion, it’s unwavering pursuit was far beyond my capabilities. As painful and horrific the reality we faced, we had to face it and choose love over ourselves. We wanted to be selfish, we wanted to ignore science, we wanted to say we believed in miracles (which just meant we wanted what WE wanted). Without grace, making that decision would have sent me to a very ugly place. But with grace – I suffered, I questioned, I faltered significantly, but every time I wanted to give up, grace caught me. It showed me, no matter how twisted my thoughts, how broken my heart, or how doubtful my soul – I was loved and valued. Despite my rage, my hate, my anger – I was carried, I was held. Glorious, unmerited favor.

It is not an easy corner of the world, this one without our Bird. We do not always wear our story with the grace so selflessly given to us. Reliving these difficult moments is both healing and yet still so raw. The questions do not stop, the doubts often sneak through, and my self-assessments vary between rejection and acceptance of our outcome. The last year or so has revealed a few truths to me personally. 

First, without selfless love, either bestowed on me or given by me, I will never accomplish big, earth-shattering things. It requires honesty, it requires vulnerability and it demands a willingness to not be OK all of the time. Second, I have zero control over anything. I spend so much time obsessing and over-analyzing every part of my life, I can actually miss out on it. Third, I am the luckiest person to have loved Birdie Anna. I wouldn’t change a single second of those seven days. She was awe-inspiring, a force to behold. For whatever reason, I, this broken flawed girl, was entrusted with her existence. There is a lot of responsibility there, to be good stewards, to share and be honest about all its parts. Fourth and final, our story is worthwhile because she breathed life into it. My hope beyond hope is that it inspires one other person to be brave with their life, honest and raw, and to find the grace and joy that can bloom from despair.

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.

Tis the season

This time of year stirs up feelings of joy, togetherness, generosity, and hope. Hope for a new year, a new way of doing things, a better version of oneself. Hope for better, more functional relationships, and of course, stronger thighs and tighter abs. This time of year also draws out all the ugly we repressed for the last 300+ days. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, grief, trauma, pain, addiction. I don’t know if it’s the placement of the moon, the winter solstice or all of the subliminal holiday messages of happy families flush with cash. Whatever the trigger, we all find ourselves in one or more of these emotions, states of being. Maybe we are reminded of those we lost – an empty chair at Christmas dinner, the movie we used to always watch with that person, the first Christmas ornaments that never were. Wherever you fall on this spectrum this holiday season, know you are seen, you are loved. You are better today than yesterday, and if you just raged on someone at Target for taking the last * insert whatever it was here * – good news! You can start fresh tomorrow. 

I say this every year, but if you know someone who goes to a dark place over the holidays – reach out. Leave a gift, a card on their doorstep, hug them in the grocery store, cry with them if they need it…notice them and their pain. You don’t have to make a big deal about it or go overboard. If they don’t want to cry, that’s OK too (they’re probably closet or shower criers – let them have that). The simple act of showing them love, letting them know you remember their hurts and their broken pieces, it means more than you know. If you don’t know what to say, it’s also OK to say, “I don’t know what to say.” It’s so much better than the awkward pause or disingenuous gestures.

Christmas in and of itself is JOY and HOPE – it’s also a call to be these things to others! Pay it forward, show kindness to strangers, give of yourself. As you sit down with family or friends (or dogs and cats) this Holiday – stop and breathe. Notice those people, in that space and show gratitude for however they showed up. Notice the breath in your lungs and what a privilege it is to share space and life with others. To share highs and lows, disagreements and redemptive resolution. This day represents promises kept, selflessness given, and the everlasting promise of eternity.  

Happiest Holidays to you and yours! Wishing you peace, joy, hope and continued growth in 2020!

The house we live in

Big change tends to stir up those things we repress. It draws out any ugliness we try to cover with the “New” thing or the “New” experience. I guess the real adventure is embracing every part of the process – not just the shiny newness, but all the brokenness that brought you there in the first place. Since we moved I have been a lost and found box of emotion. I have tried detaching, scare tactics, distraction, numbing, close up magic (just kidding) – none of it works. At the end of the day I look like an out of control emotional crazy person, and basically, I am.

Over the last six or so months I have been a little obsessed with personalities. There is a part of me that always wants | needs to know the “whys” of things. Why things happen, why two people can look at the same situation and come to separate conclusions…etc. Back in September a friend introduced me to the Enneagram (read: diagnosed me). The nerdy researcher in me began reading everything and anything I could get my hands on. It’s an absolutely fascinating concept, and dare I say, spot on. I am familiar with various other methods of personality typing, but this one described me perfectly, to the point where I may have had a small identity crisis. If you aren’t familiar, and are willing to see yourself in the best and worst sense, I would encourage you to check it out.

On my quest to gain a better understanding, I realized my biggest enemy, other than grief, is stress. When I am stressed I either get very sick or basically turn into a monster. I could be a monster to those closest to me, those within a 3 to 5,000 mile radius, or just to myself. I researched introvertedness, logical | critical thinking, sensing, feeling, judging; all the ways we as humans emotionally react to any given situation. I am incredibly hard on myself, the expectations I chase are more often than not impossible to catch. When I disappoint myself I take it out on others. When I am angry or lonely or sad or frustrated, but cannot put words or emotion to it – I project. It is a vicious cycle, one I am desperately attempting to correct. Stress inspires a way of acting/reacting that gives me visions of what I would have been like as a cavewoman – absolutely terrifying. If this were a sitcom we would flash to a scene: me in torn clothes, feeding on raw meat, blood trickling down my face, dirt smeared skin, and grunts and growls being my only form of communication. It also gives me an appreciation – like a deep tear inducing appreciation – for friends and family who love me in spite of my gnashing of teeth and/or disappearing acts.

Who we are and why we are those people is an important study. I was insulted at first by my personality typing and I was incredibly unkind to myself as a result. I am thankful for so many of the things that make me, me – but there are scary parts – there is a wildness that needs – not taming so much as love…self love. I read a quote the other day that basically said – the words you say to yourself, become the house you live in. Throat.Punch. The house I live in is weighed down by words of frustration, sadness, and weariness. Words of joy and gratefulness are certainly scattered in there – but self reflection is no joke. I need to strengthen my walls with encouragement, lower my expectations, accept my lack of control. I need to stop withholding grace – be OK with time: time for growth and healing.

I have been horrible at balancing life this last month. I have been difficult, cold, and ambivalent. Here’s to embracing all the messy broken parts – accepting responsibility and owning the process. Part of showing myself grace, is also a practice in showing it to others, better than I have in the past. Recognizing we are all works in progress – and the only way we can do this life is together is by simply loving ourselves and one another. Love has no expectations or pro and con lists; it is kindness, it is grace. And when we do a crappy job, which we ultimately will, love is owning that failure and trying again, over and over and over.

le divorce

I was married young, in what feels like another life (by my internal clock, very young). I got married the first time for all the wrong reasons. I got married because I was lonely, because I felt pressured, because I craved stability, because I was scared, because it was the right thing to do. I got married, well, because everyone else was doing it. 
 
It was a beautiful day; it was a perfect day, really. I looked adorable despite also looking malnourished. My best friends by my side, in the most beautiful garden, at the most beautiful time of year – cherry blossoms in full bloom, blanketing the grass with blush colored petals. I wore blue shoes and a purple orchid in my hair. I remember most of the day well. I remember my Grandma refusing to attend unless she could wear a magenta dress. She was stunning – her silver hair perfectly contrasting the blinding pink. I remember dancing with my best friends in an empty hall – a moment, that by design, calmed my fright or flight reaction. I remember walking across the vast garden and looking back at the mansion. I stood under a tree (because obviously I was getting sunburned in May) taking in my guests; the laughing and coming together of families and friends. It was beautiful yet it frightened me. I asked my friend, “Why, in this moment, does everything hurt? Why, on this day, this BIG day, am I not overjoyed?” She grabbed both my hands – smiled warmly – and told me I looked beautiful. She told me no matter what happened, I was going to be OK, and even if I wasn’t, she would be there, always. I remember cutting in line at the buffet and I remember not wanting to leave – not wanting to step out into forever. 
 
I know this makes me sound awful, damaged, sad, and broken – like deeply broken. If there was a receipt to be kept – it would have been mine: return policy indefinite. I’m OK with that reaction – I honestly, truly am. Because, for a very long time, I felt that way about myself. Not in some self deprecating way – but in a deep way. I felt toxic. I was fools gold personified, and soon, everyone would know. They would know I was permanently flawed and to run, not walk, in the opposite direction. 
 
Years later, on a day – just like any other – I made a decision to leave that marriage. Even now I have no idea what grabbed hold of me – but I decided that this, this was not my story. I was not going to be defined by whatever was broken inside me; I was going to overcome it. Being OK, being WHOLE, meant more to me than the fear of being alone. If I was going to fail, alienate myself from family and friends, be completely on my own – I was going to do it on my terms.  (Let me be clear – not because I care what you think – but in the context of reality – and I deal in reality: walking away from a marriage does not happen on a random Tuesday afternoon. Ending a marriage takes work and thought and conversation. For this basic, essay-style platform, it’s simplified in four sentences, but in real life – every part of it was shared. There was therapy, painful conversations, logic, lists…etc. I own all of it. There were no whims here – not a single whim).
 
As I ventured out into the unknown I began to unpack those damaged feelings and ideals.  “She is tactless, brash, foul mouthed, and simply needs guidance and direction. She needs a man/a someone, to fix her.  Lies, lies, lies. I learned what I was conditioned to view as personality flaws, are what I now consider amazing qualities. I spent almost a decade convinced I needed to change. And this was by someone who “loved” me. That does a number on the psyche, let me tell you. There were fleeting moments of freedom where I felt adored for exactly who I was. Cherished moments where time stopped, expectations disappeared, and night drives solved all the world’s problems. I came back to these moments often. I re-played them, they gave me life. They reminded me not only who I was, but that I was worthy of so much more. They seem simple, but it was in their simplicity that I realized – it’s not meant to be this difficult. 
 
After some time in solitude, I surrounded myself in joy. For me, joy represented anyone and everyone who made being human, feel effortless. It felt this way because these people, my people, live in and act out love. Love in its most basic forms. I needed basics – I needed grace and acceptance. I needed reassurance that even if I showed up cynical and foul mouthed, I was loved. Period.
 
People have tried (and some still try) to fit me in a box- I let them struggle for bit, it’s an entertaining social experiment. But that box – that relational space where one person can control or manipulate another person – it’s a powerful box. It is not grounded in love or acceptance and can rob people of a joy filled life. It has taken me many years and much dedication to define who I am, and it’s ever evolving. I now have a partner who loves ALL of me – like he actually finds my foul mouth, erratic dance moves, and constant analyzing endearing. I did not need his acceptance or validation – but I am blessed and beyond thankful to have it. He has taught me so much, loved me so richly that now, being human, feels effortless. He is steady. He is kind. He is brave and honest. I am thankful my story remains fluid. I am thankful I play a role in defining it’s ending.

 

Image found via TheFickleTattoo on Etsy – hey, it’s a temporary tattoo if you’re in the market!

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

 

Gratitude

Expressing gratitude is something I am learning and training myself to do. I often find it difficult because I get so caught up internalizing everything and lose myself in the analytics and process. I can write down ten things for which I’m grateful, but I am more excited about the list writing than its actual content. I am making a concerted effort to be more present in life, opening up to things that cause me discomfort like hugs and compliments and general touchy feely things. Saying it aloud makes me cringe a little. I can do this – and by this I mean – be a little less awkward and less controlled and embrace life for exactly what it is.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance…Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. -Brene Brown

Have you ever played that game where you stare at something for a really long time and it almost becomes unrecognizable? It could be a familiar face, a piece of art, or a word – it shape-shifts and the longer you stare, the more familiar you become with its beauty and flaws. If you stare at yourself (read: your past | your present) and allow it to shape-shift – become something different entirely – you may just see beauty. You may see how the flaws of your youth created unique and fantastic bits that freckle the landscape of who you are today. You may see how the difficult times prepared you for a larger mountain to climb later in life. You may recognize past relationships and their impact on your ability to love and be loved. I don’t think I knew true gratitude until I was comfortable with imperfection – not being OK – loving the mess that is me and being grateful for all of it…even the messiest bits.

So as this season of thanks continues through the new year, I want to encourage you to actively practice gratitude. It can be a journal or sharing them aloud with friends/family/partner. If this cynic (I’m talking about me guys) can get sentimental and a little sappy…anyone can do it.

I am grateful for relationship. I hit the friend jackpot – some dating back to 4th grade and others still in their introductory phase. I don’t know if your friends would fly cross country for a cocktail, spend 36 hours talking about life, take a night drive as a ritual, call you on the plane to say I love you one more time, hold your hand through the sad part in a movie, send you amazing things from thousands of miles away, or make up a dance just to see you laugh – mine do and I adore them. I want my legacy to be honesty, dance parties, and laughing, A LOT – these people, make me believe it’s possible. That may sound trite and weird but I’m 100% serious. What more is there to life than relationship; showing up, loving people for exactly who they are and walking through life together. Everything else just kind of happens when you’re letting love and grace light the way. Cliche’? Maybe, but it’s gold and I am incredibly rich with the greatest friends and will fight anyone who tries to tell me different.

I am grateful for a temporary retirement – one that allows me to rest, be present, be available to people I love in a way I am incapable when buried under stress.

I am grateful for adventure and a partner who is willing to face just about anything, trusting we can handle whatever’s next.

I am grateful for my brain and how it over analyzes everything – because of it’s annoying approach to life, I have learned so much about myself this last year – and look forward to more growth.

I am grateful for new friends when I least expected it.

I am grateful for family who continue to champion Mick and I on and speak truth into our lives in ways that change us and bring us back to a simpler way of living.

I am grateful for brokenness – it has brought me more challenges and joy than I ever anticipated – this next year is going to be incredible. I look forward to watching our life shape-shift further into authenticity and vulnerability.