this really sucks. and it’s going to be okay.

grief quote by washington irving - there is sacredness in tears

I woke up today at a loss for words. Wanting to say something here, but not sure what. It’s the second anniversary of my dad’s death and, honestly, it sucks. But who wants to read that? 

Then, my childhood friend Tracy, who knew and loved my dad, sent me this note via Facebook: “As I find myself crying…it’s because it sucks. I am sending rainbows and cake with a ton of frosting and positive love but ya know what? It also sucks. I love you and wish I could take on any pain your family has today.” 

I so appreciated her not sugar-coating it, but honoring the suckiness of it all (though the imaginary rainbows and frosting were much appreciated).

It reminded me of attending a funeral for one of my mom’s friends just a couple of weeks after my dad’s death. Our pain was still so raw and it was heart-wrenching to watch another family coming to grips with their loss. When my mom introduced me to her friend’s son, I meant to offer kind condolences (and rainbows and frosting), but what came spilling out was: “I just want you to know I know how much this sucks.”

He grabbed me and hugged me, saying, “Yes! This totally sucks. Thank you for saying it out loud.” We bonded briefly over the suckfest of losing a beloved parent – and it felt really good. Really real. Really healing.

Ryder with Papa at baseball gameMeanwhile, in the car with Ryder last week, he heard the word “cancer” on the radio and quietly said he misses doing “sports stuff” with Papa – playing catch, having him at games, talking stats. “But I don’t like to think about Papa for very long because I start to get mad at him for leaving,” he said. “I mean, I know he’s still watching me – and then I feel bad for being mad at Papa.” 

I nearly crumpled into a thousand tears. I can’t tell you how glad I was that my 10 year old was able to put those feelings into words. I was able to tell him I get mad, too – and that Papa was probably maddest of all about having to go. “It doesn’t seem fair and it just kind of sucks,” I told him. “But the best thing you can do is feel all those feelings. Sad, mad, bad and sometimes even happy about old memories or knowing he’s watching out for you.”

Once again, owning up to the suckiness (hereby declaring this an actual word) felt real and honest and good. So, I guess that’s what I wanted to say today. In these past two years, there’s been lots of beauty, too – healing, remembering, laughing, sharing, strength, growth. But there’s great relief in being able to hold both sweetness and suckiness inside the hole in my heart.

The crippling grief has faded. Family dynamics have shifted. A new normal is still forming. Joy and hope have been restored. Amazing how we all find the strength to carry on, isn’t it? But there are still days or moments that suck, and there probably always will be. And it’s going to be okay.

when times get tough

gratitude quote

These words whooshed into my heart this morning and I figured they were meant to share. I have been feeling deeply and praying hard lately for people I know who are facing uphill battles and dark days. It’s hard to know what to say.

When I have been on the flip side, the one being loved up during difficult times, I have been comforted by friends’ words – but confused by a handful. Of course, they were all delivered with good intent, but sometimes when your grief or worry is so great, certain words fall flat or make the heart ache more.

Like “stay strong.” When someone tells me to stay strong, I can’t wrap my head around what that means. Don’t cry? Don’t crumble? Pump some iron? They just aren’t words that motivate me to keep moving forward; instead, the idea of “staying strong” feels like added pressure. In times of trouble, I want to know it’s okay to fall apart and trust that there are people around me to help pick me up off the floor.

And when they do, I am so incredibly grateful. And that’s an amazing feeling when you’re in the depths of despair – to feel thankful for something, anything.

It’s easy to be grateful when things are going good. But it’s a stretch when your world has spun off its axis. That, I think, is what makes it so powerful. My dad used to love the quote “fear and gratitude cannot exist within the same breath.” I can still see him – not long after he was diagnosed with cancer – standing in his driveway, looking up at his beloved trees, taking a deep breath and saying it out loud. That wisdom helped us get through some shitty days during his cancer journey – and since losing him, I have leaned on those words – and that moment with him – countless times.

So, for me – those words that hit my heart this morning really rang true. When times get tough, they key is not to stay strong…the key is to stay grateful.

 

Something For The Pain

Cactus Heart, found by my Aunt June on her Texas ranch last week

I’ve long loved the idea that we connect most deeply with others when we meet in our broken places, admitting we’ve all got cracks and dents: shattered dreams, broken hearts, wounded spirits, tired bodies. A full, well-rounded life requires knowing and allowing for both gladness and sadness during our time on Earth. No pain, no gain, right? There’s just one problem. In our culture, exhibiting joy is perfectly acceptable and encouraged, but revealing pain is a far trickier task.

My boys have taught me so much about pain management, reminding me that everybody hurts, but in so many different ways. Case in point: on Monday, three-year-old Tru tripped in the hallway, stubbing his toes. He cried briefly, gave me a snuggle, then bounced off to play. Later in the day, I discovered two of his tiny toes were practically purple! I moved them around, squeezed a little…and Tru didn’t flinch. Not a huge surprise, since we’ve realized he has such a high tolerance for pain. Whether he’s covered in bug bites or bonks his head, he barely notices. When he does cry out, we know something must really hurt.

His big brother is another story. He got a flu shot on Monday afternoon; I waited till the night before to tell him, since I knew it would stress him to no end. Just the thought of physical pain sends the kid reeling. The shot took half a second and he handled it well. But by that evening at home, his arm was so sore that he winced and whimpered each time he moved it – even when he didn’t realize we were watching. This told me he wasn’t overreacting to get our attention; his arm genuinely hurt. Again, not a surprise: he has always had such a low threshold for pain that he feels everything so acutely.

So, the kid with black and blue toes is bouncing around the house while the kid with the tiniest pin prick of a scab is grasping his arm in pain. Welcome to our home.

Days like that, when I witness the stark difference in my kids’ reactions to their pain, remind me that there is no right way to deal with discomfort. We all process pain – physical and emotional – so differently. It’s one of the subtle and fascinating ways we’re each unique. That said, it’s easy to judge someone who doesn’t handle discomfort the same way we do. Ever had a friend who’s sick, injured, stressed, depressed or grieving and questioned how she handled it – because it wasn’t the same way you would have gone about things? Sure, we all have.

When I speak about my journey through post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I tell audiences that trauma is a lot like a tornado. A twister can deck one house and leave the one next door unscathed, just as weathering a personal storm can all but destroy one person but barely impact another facing a similar challenge. Over the course of my life, there were probably lots of tiny indications that, if faced with a mental health crisis, I could easily crack. And I did. Afterwards, I was jealous of people who didn’t collapse under pressure, who seemed to float through challenges in a way I couldn’t. It took a long time to understand and accept that everybody does hurt, just not in the same ways or for the same reasons.

Now that I’m facing a new kind of pain {a heavy heart following my dad’s death this month}, I’m intensely aware again of how we all do this dance so differently. I’ve received advice that’s all over the map, like how long I should expect my heart to ache {one person said two weeks; another said two years}. I’ve been touched by heartfelt messages from friends who have walked this road; I’ve noticed the understandable silence from friends who have not. And I’ve watched my loved ones and our circle of friends with great interest, fascinated by how each person is dealing with this loss – some so crushed, others so angry, a few quite detached, but all approaching this pain in the best way they know how.

When people I know and love are suffering, I have a chance to meet them in their sacred, broken places. I realize now the best thing I can do is really so simple: ask them how they feel and then listen to what they say. And when I do inquire, I’ll strive to do so without judgment, without expectation, without applying my own feelings to the situation. The more I understand how a loved one is processing his pain, the better I can be at offering appropriate help and support. It works whether I’m with a friend in crisis or a kid who’s afraid of a flu shot.

We all need something for the pain, but every person needs something different. I kind of love that we were made that way.