That thing about grief

20130221-222219

This goes out to every single person that is missing someone they love. . .

Today is my niece’s birthday. She is 12. And today she is partying in Heaven with her mom and grandma, just like she has been since 2012 after a drunk driver cut their lives on earth short.

I wish I was writing this to tell you that three years later life is grand and that I rest comfortably in the fact that three of the people that I love the most are celebrating wildly and beautifully in Heaven. Every. Single. Day. Somedays, that is true. In fact, even as I write this through blinding tears on the most painful of days,  I know in my heart that it is true. They live on in the most glorious of places. But just because something is true and beautiful,  doesn’t mean that it does not SUCK.  As much as I will be celebrating my niece today (in fact it started yesterday when I drug my bestie to the bakery for cake) I will also be glaringly reminded of the fact that my niece is not here celebrating with the rest of us. The scab gets ripped off, so painfully at times, and today is definitely one of those days.

But today, like everyday, life goes on. . . the world around us often seeming oblivious to the searing pain that losing people we love brings.  At one time in my life, I would have been one of those oblivious souls. “It’s been a year (or two, or three) you should be over it by now.” Or maybe I would have said, “Maybe you need therapy or something, you shouldn’t be STILL grieving after all this time.” Or maybe I would have tossed out some meaningless platitude reminding the person that their loved one is now “better off” or that they are in a “better place.” Wow, I know so much better now. Grief doesn’t end after a certain amount of “socially appropriate” time that the world allots.  People will do all they can to avoid talking about grief because its uncomfortable, and messy, and really, who wants to talk about death anyways, right? And that is okay. I get it. I don’t want to talk about it either. But not talking about death and grief doesn’t make the hurt go away nor does it lessen the pain. If anything, it may make grieving  persons question their sanity. “Should I be ‘over this’ by now? Is there something wrong with me?”

The answer to that is NO. In fact, it’s a HELL NO. Whatever you are feeling right now is probably normal. To all of you missing someone, whether you lost them today or 50 years ago, know this. . .

You are not aloneEver. There is a massive tribe of beautiful grieving folks out there. Seek them out and bask in the comfort that being with other grieving persons brings.

Grief makes no sense. You will have good days. You will have AMAZING days. Then suddenly, as if out of the blue, you will have a terribly awful and insanely painful day. A smell, a sound, a song, a memory can bring you to your knees. Grief is like that. It creeps up and punches you in the gut when you least expect it. You suddenly find yourself gasping for air  wondering what the hell just happened. (Yes, even years later. And , yes that is okay, see above, you are probably normal.)

Grief has no time limit. Don’t ever let anybody tell you it does. But also know that life really does go on and we have to figure out how to go along with it–even if it drags us along as we are kicking and screaming. 

Also know this . . . it is okay to celebrate life, even after excruciatingly painful loss. Life, even with the pain, is too beautiful and short to not live it. (You may not be there yet. And that is okay but always look for the littlest of things to celebrate. It helps. More than you can imagine. Buy birthday candles and light them often.)

Breathe. And then breathe some more. Purposefully take a deep breath. Do it again and again. And then do it some more.

So today, on my niece’s birthday, I will celebrate. I will cry happy tears and sad ones. I will lament over how unfair life is yet I will still figure out how to celebrate it–one gloriously painful beautiful moment at a time. And I will not be alone in this tearful celebration of life and death. To all of you missing someone right now, my heart and soul are with you as I know yours is with mine.

Happy Birthday Jules! I love you. Party on in Heaven little angel. Party on. We miss you like crazy.

Advertisements

A rambling good-bye

FullSizeRender (2)
My map of what breaks me open, an exercise in turning brokenness into beauty. I am currently navigating my way through a book called “the Geography of Loss” by Patti Digh. She talks about taking those moments that break you open and creating a map using those moments as landmarks by which to move forward–creating beauty from brokenness. This is my beauty of a map. Artist I am not, but luckily that wasn’t what this map required.

Update July 29, 2015: When I originally wrote this, I was sure I was ready to move on and start fresh in a new blog. Well, I guess I lied. I’m really not going anywhere. This place has too much of me poured into these pages to ever let it go. I was and will always be Hanging by a Thread. ~Melissa

This is a rambling, a jumble of words, a see-ya-later-but-not-really.

They say all good things must come to end, and so to must this blog.

When I began Hanging by a Thread in January of 2012 I was a different person, one that had done the work and was ready to take charge of her life.

And took charge I did.

But little did I know what life had in store. . .

Unimaginable loss. Change. Grief. Pain. Heartache.

Comfort and safety snatched away.

Healing. Love. Gratitude. Growth.

Grace. Redemption. Hope.

Learning to trust His way.

Little did I know that the title of my blog would become an aching metaphor for life. . . 

And now I have come to a crossroads. . .

A season of major life changes, a season of loss, a season of finding me–is slowly fading.

I can feel it in my bones.

What is next?

I have no clue. . . only visions in my head of where the path is leading.

Visions placed there by the whispers of my soul.

It feels like a settling in, of heading where I am being called, of finding the courage to share with my whole heart what life’s journey has taught me over the years.

And even though I am ready to take the leap, to dive headfirst into the deep end–it is scary.

Very scary.

But in a good way, I think.

It’s a new season.

A new day dawning.

I have felt it for a while now.

But it takes courage, both to let go and to move forward.

And sometimes courage is hard to muster. Really hard.

It is easier to just stay where we are at because it’s comfortable. It’s safe.

Then I remember that comfort and safety are really just illusions anyways.

I wrote this a while back and just found it the other day. I don’t even really remember writing it. It was one of those thoughts that popped into my head and I recorded it on the spot. I knew it was a perfect snapshot of where I was at, of where I am, and of where I am heading.

Change is coming again. I can feel it. I don’t know exactly what it will be, even though I have an inkling. I have learned to be okay with not knowing. I have learned to trust, even though I wonder. I have learned to be patient, even though I’m not wired that way.  I have learned that even though I know the change will be amazing, it will be hard. It always is. Growth and change and healing are like that. They don’t call them growing pains for nothing. 

I have learned to trust, even though I wonder . . . luckily my middle name is faith.

Faith.

It’s what has gotten me through, given me hope, and brought me home.

Even though this blog is ending, I am not done writing.

In fact, I am just beginning. . .

You can find me here, in my new place, with my new blog, My Middle Name is Faith.    http://melissafaith.com/

I don’t know exactly what it will be. In fact, there isn’t even anything there. And even though I don’t exactly know what it will be yet, the words real and raw come to mind–kind of like a conversation with those that know me best. A space where authenticity, tolerance, grace, and love are welcomed . . .

Thank you all for your encouragement and love over the past few years. I thank God for each and every one of you.

Thank you to all who have shared my tears, watched me come undone, and stayed by my side through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And lastly, thank you to those that have remained through the brokenness and the beautiful of this journey. 

Let the new chapter begin. . .

My December To-Do List (It may just kill me)

Maybe it was a pre-emptive strike on the pending holiday season. Maybe it was because I needed some focus to get through the next month without having a hater-induced meltdown. Or maybe it was something entirely different, but the other night I jotted a December “To-Do” list in my journal–not generally what I jot in my journal, simply for the fact that I am NOT a fan of to-do lists. To-do lists often cause undo angst. For example, is there anything on your to-do list right now that will cause the sun not to rise tomorrow if you don’t complete the task? I didn’t think so. The world will not end if your floors are not scrubbed or your holiday baking doesn’t get done. Enough said. Moving on!

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the holiday season, especially since the Christmas ware hit the store shelves (it gets earlier every year) before the Halloween pumpkins were out of the field. The Facebook memes soon followed. It all makes me really uncomfortable mostly because the holiday season brings out the worst in people and society–especially Christians, especially in the United States.

We freak out because somebody says “Happy Holidays” to us instead of “Merry Christmas” yet we walk by homeless people like they don’t exist. We rant and rave about putting “Christ back into Christmas” yet we trample each other, literally, on Black Friday for a deal on something we probably already have 10 of at home. We stuff our faces with food and drink from Thanksgiving until the New Year yet our neighbors go hungry. We sit in church pretending to do unto others yet hateful words directed at those who are different from us spew from our lips, sometimes even while we are still in the pews. To sum it all up, we use Christianity to justify our worst human behaviors and in the process we become self-righteous a@@holes. Merry Christmas everyone!

1450889_10151997335697420_1734855224_n
Yes please!

Eat. Drink. Be Merry.

Spend. Spend. Spend.

Overindulge.

Be self-righteous.

Spew hate.

We proclaim. . . 

“Jesus is the reason for the Season.”

Yet, we fail–time and time again–to serve our fellow man.

We fail to serve others because their of skin color, or because they are gay, or Muslim, or Atheist, or in prison, or an addict, or mentally ill, or homeless, or poor. . . Hate, fear, and ignorance get all jumbled together and before we know it we’re deeply offended because somebody had the audacity to greet us with a Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas yet people all around us are hurting and messed up and we don’t seem to care. Love one another? Sure, as long as you are just like me.

I say its about time we ALL get over ourselves and act the Christians we proclaim to be. After all, it’s easy to buy a cup of coffee for the next person in line at Starbucks but what about buying a cup of coffee for the homeless person standing on the street corner?

You see, from the time the first Christmas light twinkled on a store shelf mid-October to the first meme that reared its ugly head on social media, I have been irritated, frustrated, and angry. I have found myself unfriending, unfollowing, and complaining about anyone that even came remotely close to displaying their self-righteous Christian attitudes and behaviors about anything (and there has been a whole lotta hate spewing around lately), especially Christmas.

Until. . .

I realized that I was being a self-righteous a@@hole towards the self-righteous a@@holes. UGH! I was justifying my self-righteous a@@hole hater behavior with my belief that good Christians don’t act the way the self-righteous a@@hole haters were, so therefore it was okay for me to hate on them.

But wait. . .

That’s really not what being a Christian is all about, is it. Besides, I don’t want to be a hater, even to haters because hate, and fear, and ignorance take up space that could be filled with love, and grace, and kindness. And love, and grace, and kindness are essential to putting Christ back into Christmas. UGH, UGH. Hating haters is so much easier than loving them, or extending grace, or being kind. But then again I don’t remember anyone ever saying being a Christian was supposed to be easy. UGH, UGH, UGH.

As I have said a million times before, when you know better, you do better. Me blogging about self-righteous a@@holes will not change them or put Christ back into Christmas–but me, changing myself? That might make a difference for someone. After all, the only person we can truly ever change anyways is ourself. By making changes in my heart, I can hope that the ripple effects change someone else, and in turn change someone else, and so on, and so on, and so on. . .to infinity and beyond.

When I finally got over myself (which I am pretty good at because I have to do it often) I made my to-do list. My list is short but challenging to me. For those of you that know me well, you know which “dos” on the list will challenge me the most. Some of you will probably snort with laughter like the hub did. You better sit down before you read it.

Anyways, the list went into effect December 1. So far, I’ve been doing pretty good, but it’s early in the month, Christmas is coming, and change is so hard! I have vowed, though, to do the following every day–either until the changes are so ingrained in me that they become innate or until this list kills me. At this point, it could go either way. So, here goes!

This holiday season (drumroll please) I vow to:

  1. DO KINDNESS. Yes, that means to self-righteous a@@holes, to people that are different than me, and to strangers, and to my friends, and to my family, and to myself. Kill ’em with kindness, they say. (Ironically, this may be the one that kills me.)
  2. DO SELF-CARE. For me this means hydrating, drinking green smoothies, running, and trying to get enough sleep. It is only when you practice self-care that you can serve others to the best of your abilities. Putting your mental and physical health needs aside is plain foolishness. You CANNOT take care of anyone else if you choose not to take care of yourself. Don’t be a self-care martyr. Just don’t. Period.
  3. DO GOOD DEEDS. For others, for myself, for the planet, for whatever “doing good” means that day–even if what I need to do makes me uncomfortable. (Like being kind to self-righteous a@@holes.)
  4. DO SPEND WISELY. This means my time and my money. Consequently, I have vowed NOT to buy myself ANYTHING material until the New Year. (That is the part where the hub nearly lost it.) Yes, that means clothes, shoes, purses, makeup, and the like. I have more than enough. I plan to do something good with the saved time and money.

Will my to-do list move mountains and end all the hate in the world? Of course not. Will a trend of actually putting Christ back into Christmas sweep the nation as we all set aside our differences and do unto others? Nope. Not even close. But will my to-do list make me a better person? Yep. Will my to-do list make the world a better place for somebody else? It already has.

P.S. And as an added holiday bonus, there is currently one less self-righteous a@@hole in the world. Well, at least for this holiday season anyways. Maybe to-do lists are good for something after all.

Four simple truths about gratitude

gratitudequote3

I’m resisting the urge to write volumes on the subject.

Because I could.

It’s that powerful.

It’s that game-changing.

It’s that essential. . .

To all that’s good in life.

But, I promise to keep it short and sweet.

Because the truths speak for themselves. . .

Four simple truths about gratitude

  1. Gratitude is a choice. Living life with a grateful heart doesn’t always just happen–especially when life sucks. You may have to choose it-over and over and over again–even if it hurts, even if it doesn’t make sense. Because eventually, it will make sense. It will become part of your DNA. You’ll wonder how you could breathe without it.
  2. Gratitude is self-pity’s kryptonite. Try feeling sorry for yourself and being truly grateful at the same time. It simply cannot be done. I know this because I’ve tried. More than once. And I’ve failed. Every. Single. Time.
  3. A joyous life is absolutely impossible without gratitude. So is a peaceful one, or a content one, or a loving one, or a courageous one, or an abundant one. . . And you get the picture.
  4. Practicing gratitude will save your life. I know this because it’s saved mine.

So what is stopping you,

Despite where your life may be at this moment,

From living your best life?

The one that includes you with a grateful heart. . . and a joyous soul.

As somebody once said, “There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.”

And it’s true.

One thousand million percent true.

There IS always a reason to be grateful.

Besides, like I said. . .

Gratitude will save your life.

Now go ahead. . .

You go be grateful!

What are you waiting for?

Staying present when life gets crazy

Hello Blog, it has been a while. . .

Not the first time I’ve written those words on these pages for the world to see and probably won’t be the last. Luckily I don’t blog for a living. Whew!

My hiatus from the blogosphere started unintentionally, of course. Then one day, I realized that it had been a while since I had written. By then I had so many things on my mind to write that I didn’t know where to begin.

So, I didn’t.

Then, the pile in my mind of things to write got bigger and bigger.

And I became a little lot overwhelmed.

So, I stopped. . .

And I wondered why I was struggling to create space in my life for something that I love to do?

Then, I realized. . .

Sometimes life comes at us so fast that we barely have time to breathe. It’s in those crazy times that we need to just hang on and stay present so we don’t miss a thing.

So, I did. . .

Fotor0706192756

And a funny thing happened when I simply stayed present–in the midst of this crazy, amazing, beautiful, chaotic time–space had been created for awakening, change, and growth in my life. The uncomfortableness I wrote about a couple of months ago? Yeah, well, it settled in, created some angst, then finally allowed me to follow my heart and to make some tough changes. Even though some things have been messy, I have had faith all along that I am heading in the right direction. After all, God has yet to lead me astray.

Staying present throughout the insanity of the last few months has also allowed me to fully embrace the life I have before me and the person I have become. Life is SO completely different than I could have ever imagined it could be. As much as I have tried to compartmentalize my life, especially when it comes to writing about it, I can’t. Life for me isn’t about family, or friends, or faith, or grief, or joy, or loss, or running, or serving, or weight loss, or healing, or even about orphans in Uganda. My life is about ALL of those beautiful things wrapped into one. Even though there are parts of my life I would have never chosen, I couldn’t be more grateful for the beauty that has risen from the ashes. I have come to fully understand that life is truly what we choose to make it. We can’t change what happened a second ago, let alone yesterday, and we surely cannot, with any sort of certainty, know what the future has in store for us. We only have now. So, take a deep breath, stay present, and hang on for the glorious ride. You won’t want to miss one crazy, amazing, beautiful, messy, awesome moment of this incredible life.

 

 

Grieving the childhood loss of a parent, 35 years later. . .

photo (7)
My dad and I, shortly before my first birthday, circa 1970.

February 7, 2014 would have been my dad’s 72nd  birthday. Today, would have been my mom’s 70th.  After my mom’s death 18 months ago, I found myself grieving my dad as well as the collective loss of my parents–something I never expected would happen.

I cleared the leaves and freshly fallen snow from my mom’s newly laid gravestone. It had only been a few months since she, along with my sister-in-law and eight year-old niece, had been killed by a drunk driver. As I looked at her name etched into the stone, I was sure the heaviness in my heart would cause it to explode. My mom was 68 going on 50 when she died and I had yet to make any sense of her senseless death. I stood there in tears for a while and when I finally turned to leave, I noticed my dad’s gravestone. It was covered in layers of dead leaves and snow, nearly forgotten by me. My heavy heart sank further into my chest.

The year was 1977 and I was eight when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 34 years old and his death was shocking to me, even at such a young age. Standing at his grave 35 years later, his death seemed like a lifetime ago. The older I had gotten, the less I had seemed to think of him (even though I did occasionally) and at times, I still really missed him. So many years had passed though that for the most part, my memories of him had faded deeply.

My mom had remarried when I was 15 to a wonderful man who I have considered my dad for the three decades. My stepdad walked me down the aisle, was grandpa to my children, and loved my mom to no end. He had been there for me, through thick and thin, throughout most of my life whereas the man buried at my feet had only been there for the first few years. Yet, I shouldn’t have forgotten. Even though he had been gone for so long, my dad had loved me deeply, that I had known from early on.  As time had passed I had taken those memories and tucked them away. Maybe it was to protect myself from the hurt, maybe I really had forgotten, or maybe it was a little of both. I wasn’t really sure. All of these things quickly raced through my mind and suddenly, I found myself sobbing. With guilt-laden grief, I quickly dropped to my knees and began to clear away his stone.

As I drove home, the tears kept coming. I had just been thrust into an unexpected, adult-sized mourning of his death at the same time I was mourning the new loss of my mom. I found myself grieving a lifetime of memories lost as well as grieving the collective loss of my parents, something that I hadn’t considered would happen. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The two people that had loved me and cared for me from the very beginning of my life were now gone. If it was possible to feel orphaned as a forty-something adult, this had to be what it felt like.

Over the next few days, I found myself in tears quite often as I kept thinking a lot about the early years of my life, especially those days and weeks surrounding the time of my dad’s death. Even though those memories had been dormant for what seemed like forever, my grief-stricken brain easily–albeit painfully–recalled them. Saying goodbye the morning of his death, being taken out of school knowing that something was gravely wrong, going with my mom to pick out his casket, sitting with her at his funeral, as well as the sorrowful days that ensued— these memories were now incredibly fresh in my mind. As they flooded in, I found myself reliving the pain of that time, not through the eyes of my eight-year old self, but instead, through the eyes of an adult. As a child I knew the loss of my father was tremendous, but as an adult, I was able to realize fully the magnitude of his loss and it hurt– big time. Even though I thought I had completely grieved his loss years ago, I found out that really wasn’t true at all. Now, as an adult, I was able to give my eight-year old self the space and permission to hurt and then to heal. I had discovered quite out of the blue that grief is funny like that. It sneaks up on us and can send us reeling into some dark places when we least expect it to. We can either run from that darkness or through it to the light. I chose to move towards the light.

photo (8)
My dad and I!

It has been just over a year since that grief-ridden, heavy-hearted day in the cemetery. Since that day, I have been able to heal from the childhood loss of my father in a deeper and more meaningful way than I ever thought possible, even while grieving the recent death of my mom.

The biggest lesson that I have learned throughout this time is that grief and healing are constant and fluid, ever changing as time passes. I know that I will always be grieving my parent’s deaths, both individually and collectively, in some way or another, and I am completely okay with that. I know that with every resurgence of grief, the opportunity comes to heal and grow, and to reconcile and release the pain of their losses. I know that it is okay to give myself permission to grieve and to create space in my life for healing, whether it’s from something that happened years ago or just yesterday. This new understanding of grief and healing has created a newfound peace in me–despite the pain— and I know that with each new level of healing that I reach, I will be able to stand in that cemetery. . . my heavy heart a little lighter than the last.

The creating of a lefse snob

LEFSE-353-Edit

I remember the day like it was yesterday (well, good enough to produce this anecdotal account anyways.)

It was the fall of 2010. .

It was that time of year when my annual lefse cravings began to set in.

I stated this fact to my co-worker and then I innocently mumbled that I needed to pick up some Mrs. Olson’s, you know, the kind of lefse that all good Scandi-Americans eat. Then suddenly, before I even knew what hit me, my lefse-lovin’ world was turned upside down.

lefse__19003.1289402825.1280.1280
Who knew that this is not REAL lefse?  Apparently, NOT this German-Swedish-American girl.

Much to my surprise, shortly after uttering the words “Mrs. Olson’s” I received a scolding. YES, a lefse scolding. (This outburst came from my usually very kind co-worker, Char, so I was really taken aback.) My scolding, well, it went a little something like this. . .

“You eat what?” as she turned swiftly to look at me with a horrified look of disbelief on her face. “That’s NOT real lefse,” she said with a tone. And on and on it went. I was being “schooled” in what REAL lefse actually was.  (Okay, maybe that was slightly totally dramatic? Or maybe not? Wink, wink, right Char?) Who knew that REAL lefse didn’t come neatly packaged, labeled with a good Scandinavian name, and sold in the grocery store? Obviously, not me.

Not long after my education, I came to work to find fresh, REAL lefse (complete with butter and sugar to spread) waiting for me to taste test. Yep, the Lefse Fairy (aka my co-workers best friend) had come to work and my taste buds were R-O-C-K-E-D. There was no denying that the “REAL” stuff made Mrs. Olson’s taste like sandpaper. Again, who knew?

Over the years, the Lefse Fairy would occasionally make an appearance, enough to keep me satisfied and away from faux, pre-packaged, “non-lefse,” lefse. I did break down and buy an “upscale” version (Mike’s or something like that) of the commercially prepared stuff a couple of times, but never again did Mrs. Olson’s grace my lips.

This year though, the Lefse Fairy failed to make an appearance. After my initial shock wore off, I nearly caved in a weak moment and returned to my old ways. I swear, while perusing the grocery store,  I could almost hear Mrs. Olson calling out, “Missy, come back to me. Do not listen to the naysayers,”  but, alas, I simply could not do it. I had been turned into a lefse snob and there was no going back now. Not even in the most desperate of hours.

Luckily for me, the ones that created the lefse snob must have gotten tired of listening to me whine about not getting my fix yet this year. I kindly explained to them, on more than one occasion, that you CANNOT create a lefse monster and then NOT feed it. It just ain’t right.

Redemption finally came in the form of a Year-End Lefse Party– hosted by the Lefse Fairy herself. Yes, on the last day of the year, I not only got to eat my weight in lefse, I also learned to create it. What’s that old adage? “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish. . .”

Although I knew the day would be incredible because I would finally be getting some lefse, it was so much more than I expected! I got to spend the day with some great friends and family, AND I learned to create REAL lefse, a treat that should really have it’s own food group. I can’t think of better way to end the year. Thank you Char and the Lefse Fairy!

Lefse anyone?

IMG_0452
Mixing it up. Who knew potato flakes could be turned into such deliciousness?
IMG_0451
It was a hard-working, team effort, with a little fun mixed in.
IMG_0456
Rolling and frying, rolling and frying. We produced HEAPS of the good stuff in a matter of hours.
photo
My dear friends. On the left is Char, the one who initially “educated” me and on the right, Jan, the Lefse Fairy. They are the co-creators the lefse snob, me in the middle. 🙂