Tag Archives: losing someone

“He would have loved you.”

We lost my grandpa suddenly, five years ago today. My husband James never met him.

“He would have loved you.”

I tell him that sometimes. When we’re watching baseball, when he’s curled up quietly reading a book, when he starts singing made-up songs, when he peels open a banana, when he falls asleep in the armchair watching something he really loves.

I tell him that because it’s easier than saying, “I wish he had had the chance. I wish he had known you. I wish he had just one shared moment with you in my mom’s dimmed kitchen after dinner, hands wrapped around mugs on the table, quietly conversing about the world.”

My husband, he doesn’t know what he missed. How can you love someone you never met? If he’d come into my life a year earlier, he would’ve maybe had the chance. Maybe.

And so I look at it with a grateful heart. Less than 9 months after my grandpa died, this blonde-haired blue-eyed Italian-Irish boy parked outside the Cheesecake Factory and walked me inside. He reminded me about the love of baseball, the agony of 9 innings, of hard years and sticking with your team. He taught me that quiet can mean thoughtful. That words can be measured.

My grandfather lived three blocks from my aunt’s house. He showed up every day. In his actions and on their doorstep. He taught me what it means to give yourself to your family. And then, something changed, and he didn’t anymore. But we don’t remember him that way. We remember how he was for most of his life, how he loved his grandkids, the simple man he was.

I remember that cold first day of December, sitting on my knees with the kids, looking up at that video playing. Photo after photo. Song after song. When you’re the first grandkid, you see yourself over and over in those eulogy videos.

I cried the loudest in that room packed with people I hadn’t seen in years. In those photos, I could see all the time I’d had with him, all the things we’d done together, and how in the end it never felt like enough. You’re never ready for it to be over.

And so my husband shows me that sometimes God knows you’re hurting and He hands you a little piece of someone else. You catch yourself looking at your husband and remembering with sweetness what you once had, aching at the same time because you know they would’ve shared something special together.

You remember that quiet small actions matter. Love matters. Family matters. Showing up matters. On your doorstep or in your phone logs. However you can. However they need.

Lessons Learned: 2013 Edition

balance-girl-city-ledge

This year, I slow danced to the rhythm of two eulogies and shimmied into black lace dresses and bow-topped heels.

I passed easy on the Interstate and headed straight for arduous. I dipped my knees into rough carpet when being new felt like a curse.

It was hard. It was painful. It was unexpected almost every week.

Nobody sashayed up to me with a roadmap and said, “You are here. Where do you want to be?” I had to ask myself that question: Where did I want to be?

Happy. I wanted to be happy.

The weight of loss will drown you if you let it. Sorrow will envelop you. Wonder will destroy you.

He might’ve come storming into my kitchen with a shy apology and laugh thick with missing me, but he never did. She might have learned to smile under dull streetlamps but she hasn’t. They might’ve stopped pushing piles of guilt my way for moving too far from home but they haven’t.

I had to step outside and grab onto my own little slice of happiness. I had to build a life that felt good inside first, then outside.

I lost a lot. I don’t know if we think we’ll win just because we want it badly enough, but we don’t. We were set up to find the things we most fear losing, and then, eventually, setting them free.

Last October, I shared 32 lessons from 2012. And then, as so often happens, my life unraveled dramatically in November and December. I spent Thanksgiving giving thanks to timing. Because if you’re going to lose somebody you once loved like fresh cut grass and mint chocolate chip ice cream, it’s better you’re with family. It’s better to have a warm fleece blanket and pay-per-view and frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles.

It doesn’t hurt any less. But the loneliness is not just yours.

In these last months, I’ve learned so much. So in honor of last October’s tradition, here is the 2013 edition:

  1. Surprise yourself every day by taking well-deserved risks. The risk is in doing what frightens you. The reward is in realizing it wasn’t quite so deserving of your fear.
  2. If you want to make a change, make it. Don’t wait for someone else to take your hand and pull you forward. Do it today and commit to it wholly. I spent too many months wavering over major decisions that, once I jumped, didn’t feel so major.
  3. Justify your time only to yourself. If you have to tell your friends and family why you do what you do, either they don’t understand or you need to reevaluate your decisions.
  4. Hold close old friends. You will stretch your heart across this country like a canvas. And it won’t always feel good. But when you find your feet in front of familiar territory, remember how to say hello and embrace the people you’ve always loved. They’re waiting for your hand on their doorknob, even if they haven’t said so.
  5. Balance your life. It’s not easy. There is no guidebook. You’ll wonder if you’re doing it right. But with any luck, you’ll get better at it each year. Find time for work and play and don’t worry about one in the midst of another. Get to that point and treasure it.

What has 2013 taught you?

We Will Find Goodness In All This Sadness

No matter how many presents I wrap this holiday season, there ain’t nothing pretty and tied up nice about this December. Because when the grief rolls in and my legs get heavy, the honesty is the only thing tucked underneath my Christmas tree.

Right now, my life feels like two ends of a frayed string of lights. In one hand, the past. In the other, the future.

All because some story never got its pretty-with-a-bow ending. All because I’ll be spending this Sunday in God’s waiting room, trying not to let my voice shake when I tell these strangers and friends that some endings don’t get to look sparkly. Some endings don’t get to shine. Some endings look a little worse for the wear, a little impromptu, a little hard to swallow.

It’s what happens when somebody dies in the middle of a big ole brawl. The screaming only stops long enough to turn to silence. The searing anger only subsides so we can sob and tuck sorrow into the pockets of our black lace dresses.

I have a love-hate relationship with the month of December. It’s pretty darn pathetic the way I turn to a 13-year-old girl every year, willing myself to remember the wise words of a man who’s been beneath the ground for almost a decade now. And I guess I never thought I’d christen my Thanksgiving eve with the news that you, you are done with this little old life, this big ole battle.

I forgot what it felt like to process tragedy in all its newness. And so I sat on my parent’s fireplace and put my head in my hands and said, mouth agape, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t wrap my head around this.”

Just can’t wrap my head around the messiness of no resolutions. Just can’t wrap my life up nice and neat when you’ve got no hellos left, only goodbyes. Just can’t wrap my fingers around paper reserved for all the words I have yet to say to you.

Tell you about my first apartment, my life fresh out of college. The way I sometimes think about that last phone call back in March, the voicemail you never returned.

It’s like opening an old scar with a fresh wound. It’s like eternally ending on bad terms. It’s the fight that never ends in an apology, the kind that leaves you tossing and turning all night long for the rest of forever.

It’s hard to deal with a loose ending that leaves us torn into two halves—before you left and after.

I never intended to let my mamma call herself an orphan the week before she turned fifty. Never intended to scrape blog posts into Word documents and speak them loud and shakily in front of people.

It is much easier to write my heart into a WordPress draft when nobody, absolutely nobody, is there to judge me. And I never thought I’d have to pull these blog posts into a story. I never thought the last thing I’d ever say on the subject of you would be crafted in an HTML document and blasted out for the Internet but never your own eyeballs. That I would write you a story and never tell you about it.

But I would like to be the kind of blogger my family turns to when things get weird, when lives get messy, when hearts get achy. That’s sort of how it happens these days. That’s sort of how it plays out.

I could’ve lived with the weight of my words so long as I never had to string them together like Christmas lights brightening up a eulogy. But I do. And I am. And we will find some goodness in all this sadness, so long as we have the choice to remember the past for what it was: glorious and short-lived, quietly content and full of the fabric of this family.

But here I am, pulling a paragraph here and a sentiment there and teaching my brain how to tie up that which will never be resolved, that which you will take to your grave.

And I had not yet said, “Here’s mine.”

This blog began with a letter.

Exactly four years ago. That’s a story you’ve never been told.

It was the forty-fifth birthday of a man who stopped growing older. It was the morning after the first kiss with a boy who was shipping out to a third world country in six hours. It was the first time I learned what it felt like to lose something you only just learned to have.

It was a letter that didn’t see the light of day for two years. But in it, you could map my beginnings and endings. My nerves and regrets. The pain I felt thinking back ten days earlier to a boy in a leather recliner, away from us all because he had given me his heart and I had not yet said, “Here’s mine.” I had not yet said, “Here’s mind to trample for the next 457 days.”

It was a letter about all the things we do to ourselves.

The growing up and away. The people we reject and the places we forget to miss. It was emotional. It was nostalgic. It was written with the intention of never being read but needing desperately to be mailed.

A present never gifted because it still sits in the receiver’s future. It still deserves a place among the texts and tweets she’d rather read.

It ended up on this blog just a few weeks before I got serious about turning my life into a lasting love letter to the people who brighten me. Before I began writing truths that felt like poetry. Before I began growing people like plants with my words.

That is all this is: a place where I can magnify the good souls in this world who might otherwise never get a love letter.

And if there is one secret we must never keep, it is this: you deserve a novel of thank yous, a list of reasons why your smile will be missed tomorrow if it doesn’t grace us with its presence. You deserve the kind of love letter that gives people arthritis and sends us to Expedia for one-way tickets home.

The letters keep going. The letter to my parents, read by thousands, that never feels like enough of a thank you to them. The letters to strangers & friends who hold my heart in IP addresses and Gmail folders for when I need a reminder.

They have become my words, the calibration scale upon which I measure my actions. They are the actions behind those words and the only reason I have had enough strength to be honest when it hurts.

It is them. The broken man and the crying girl and the magic kiss against a long-ago sold car. The burn of the headlights on an intimate moment. The pounding in my chest when I remember that there will be no cake today. No candles.

Just letters. And words. And the images we rush to write down.