Grief: A Life-Long Fickle Friend

This coming November will mark ten years since my dad’s death. The day that I received the news was one of those beautiful autumn days. The kind where the air is crisp and the trees are multifaceted with reds, browns, yellows, and oranges. The kind of day that welcomes an adventure.

The adventure that day was not what I had imagined. It was meant for a visit to Fort Sumter in Charleston, but instead the adventure was a long, silent drive home to North Carolina. Funeral arrangements needed to be made, but I couldn’t focus on that. The man who loved me no matter what, and never made me question that, had died alone, and had laid in his home for two days before anyone knew. Although his unanswered phone calls prompted me to request a welfare check, I never suspected he was gone from this world. I don’t know why. I feel kind of dumb for that–for always hoping for the best.

The days ahead were filled with lots of crying, decision-making, half-hearted laughter, genuine laughter, smiling, crying again, anger, lack of understanding… needing so desperately to understand, seeking answers, and trying to navigate a territory that was completely uncharted.

Uncharted for me… but not for others. I have to acknowledge that loss is not unique to only me. So many others have experienced loss, as it is a part of life. But unless you have experienced it, you cannot truly understand the depths of grief. Unless you have lost someone close to you, you cannot understand the strange little rituals that a person performs on their loved one’s birthday or the anniversary of their death. Unless you have lost someone close to you, you may not be able to fathom how sinister dreams can get– your loved one “starring” in them every night; Avoiding sleep is the only way to escape them. You may not be able to understand the sudden fear of the dark one experiences, or the physical pain from hurting so much emotionally. You may not understand why, even after many years, grief can take hold of a person without warning and completely take them down in a moment.

I recall the evening we came home from the hospital after having my firstborn. I laid in bed, squirming with afterbirth pains, and suddenly my mother-in-law (at the time) was crying while holding my newborn son in her arms. She was grieving the fact that her late husband would never hold my son; He would never meet him. And after nearly ten years since his passing, that sneaky little shit called “grief” hit her right in the gut. I remember forgetting all my physical pain in that moment and feeling her sadness.

When my second daughter was born less than ten days before my dad’s 69th birthday, a nagging ache inside of me appeared because he was missing her birth and she was missing out on knowing him as a person. I knew how crazy about her he would have been… how he would have loved that she had the same dimple in her chin as he did. The same dimple in her chin as I do.

Whenever I hear Don McLean sing “A long, long time ago, I can still remember…” on the radio, the breath is knocked out of me. Even to this day. I tell myself that my dad is with me in that moment and I pause, imagining his spirit all around me. I think about the times we sang it in the car together. It was his favorite song.

When I went through my divorce and thought my life was over, needing my dad was one of the hardest parts of that experience, as it was kind of like an itch that you cannot scratch.

And when I was about to get married this past year, grief mauled me like some sort of crazed animal, watching and waiting for me to crumble under its pressure. And I was ashamed because I couldn’t explain the utter sadness that swept over me… Couldn’t pinpoint the reason why I felt so empty. I wanted him to be here to tell him how happy I finally was, but how silly does that sound?

I do believe grief changes a person. Not just for a short time… no. Forever. The magnitude of what is summed up in such a puny word- grief– is unmatched. It becomes a part of your makeup. You eventually come to accept the fact that that person is never coming back, but a small part of you is always a little bit blue. And when that person is someone in your immediate family, you feel like a part of you died, too. It is a very odd, yet human experience. I still do not know the “right” words to say to people when a family member dies or is actively dying because the experience is different for everyone, but I always feel their pain down to my bones. I can only tell them to lean into it. Ride the wave. Don’t try to escape it, because you can’t. You literally can’t. Grief will always find you, so you might as well face it head on.

If You Must be a Romantic

“She loved us more than all the named things in the world.” –Wild, Cheryl Strayed

If you must be a romantic (which you will be if you have even the slightest hint of my DNA), be a romantic about the things that are ordinary to most. Be a romantic about Shakespearean plays, or cooking with a record playing and a glass of wine, or the scent of the air when a summer thunderstorm is coming your way.

Be a romantic about the things that bring you unexplainable joy to your heart, such as the way certain music makes you feel all the way down to your bones, the feel of wet grass on your bare feet at night during the summer time, or the thought of people showing kindness and grace to everyone they meet.

I will not tell you what to do, but I will tell you my hopes for you. And my hopes for you are so many. I hope that, if you must be a romantic, you will not place your whole entire heart in someone else’s hands… that you might save some of it for yourself. It can be tragic if someone takes your heart and shatters it, as it can take a lifetime to fully (and truly) repair. If you must be a romantic, and this happens to you, my hope is that you are able to think more logically than romantically, and you will know that you will, in the end, be just fine.

If you find yourself in such a predicament (because those who must be romantics often do), take all the time that you need for yourself until you are feeling free again. Take a trip somewhere completely random and magical, alone. Pick up a map, close your eyes, and point. Do exactly what you want to do while you are there. Take yourself on dates to try new foods, go see movies you want to see, alone, and laugh, cry, or cover your eyes alongside some strangers. Explore a city with no particular itinerary. See what you stumble upon. Learn something new. Try a new hairstyle. Give your heart back to yourself. Be gentle and patient with yourself.

But do remember, if that happens, your heart will never be the same. And that’s okay… because it will be stronger and wiser. Know that all things must evolve- it is necessary. Lean into it; Don’t resist it.

My Absurd Attraction to Characters Played by John Cusack

John Cusack has always been my celebrity crush. Ever since I saw him in Say Anything when I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to fall in love with someone exactly like him. Obviously, it was his character that made him such a heartthrob, BUT, I watched Must Love Dogs recently for the first time, and I swear it’s like he is THE SAME PERSON. His easy-going nature, adorable awkwardness, gentlemanly kindness, and awesome sense of humor when he plays Lloyd Dobler and Jake… Swoon. And let’s not forget his character, Jonathan Trager, in Serendipity. Again, SAME PERSON.

How does he do it? Is this really what he is like?! A girl can dream, I suppose. The point of this post is not to go on and on about John Cusack… It’s to mention that there is something to be said about expectations.

I think about this sometimes. Have I always had some sort of expectation when it comes to anything in life in general? I really am not so sure. I have hoped, sure. I have hoped for things to be a certain way, or go a certain way. But did I really expect them to? I don’t think so. But, again, that is the purpose of this post. I definitely have expectations now. Higher ones. Once upon a time, I expected nothing. What happened, happened. Does that make sense? I am asking myself this question more than I am of you, sweet reader. Hopes and expectations are clearly different in nature. When one hopes, their hearts nearly burst with rainbow-y, fantastic, romantic, fall-to-your-knees something. They get wrapped up. When one expects something, it is more logical in approach. Their brains evaluate all things sensible, and they go from there. Hope and Expectation are the equivalent to Dreamer and Idealistic. I have always been a romantic- a dreamer. A believer of all things Nicholas Sparks story line. My curiosity, now, is… Can one be both? Which is realistic? Will I find my Lloyd-Jake-Jonathan? Or will I be practical and be with someone who can meet realistic expectations? I do not know the answer to this yet. So stick around to find out? If you want to, I mean. Shit, I may end up being a born-again spinster with a bunch of cats and an RV that I drive everywhere/live in. Maybe embarrass my kids at college by dropping by to visit, while wearing a ridiculously floppy hat. Perhaps I will drink Earl Grey tea and ungodly amounts of coffee.

Or, I could meet my Lloyd-Jake-Jonathan and be completely comfortable in my own skin for the rest of my life… and never have to question whether I am loved by the one I love with my whole heart… ever again.

Encouraging Healing with Movies

This weekend is my weekend without my kids.

I went to Movie Trading Company, which is one of my favorite places, and decided to find a few movies that I would like to have. I went through each aisle, starting with the clearance section. I ended up with The Princess Diaries (a childhood favorite), Under the Tuscan Sun (a good picker-upper), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (something to make me laugh), and Paris Je Taime (a raw and amazing compilation of love stories). As I browsed, I noticed that my eyes would focus in on the love stories. You’ve Got Mail, The Notebook, When a Man Loves a Woman… and I realized how incredibly robbed I felt. Haha, now… don’t get it twisted. I realize they’re just movies. Movies aren’t real life. I get that. But I have always put so much faith in love being the way it is in movies.

I feel so dumb typing this. Just hear me out.

I unrealistically believed in the true love story. Love is way more complicated than that. Love isn’t easy. I’m fact, it is fucking complicated and hard. Divorce has taught me a lot. Betrayal has taught me a lot. Thinking that I knew someone has taught me a lot. I’m not being negative. I’m being practical and realistic for the first time in my life. I won’t give up hope that there is one person I will spend the rest of my life with happily and love them through and through, but I also am not holding my breath. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to be me, completely. I’m going to love myself and focus on me. After all, I’ve taken care of someone else my entire life. Not all the same people. But that is the role I assume, and it always has been.

There is something liberating about letting shit go and just focusing on yourself. It isn’t selfish. I realize that now. So tonight, I cooked myself some spaghetti, drank some wine, stretched out on the couch, and watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It isn’t much, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m actually pretty okay with being alone. I enjoy having “me” time. One day I just might meet that someone I want to share my life with. But that day is not today, and in the meantime, I’m gonna celebrate me and all I have to offer ❤️