Depression, Grief and Loss, Hope, Love, poetry

The World Keeps Turning

Today is the twenty-sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. He was thirty-seven. In eleven years, he will have been gone as long as he was alive. That thought is hard to wrap my head around. Everyday is a new day, that he does not get to live. Everyday is a new day that I get the chance to make it count.

Some days are harder to remember the gifts set before me, and they are easily taken for granted. Days pass by, and things are left for tomorrow. It is easy to forget that tomorrow may not come. It is easy to forget life has an end point, and that we do not get to know when it all stops.

The last few days, I have been paralyzed with emotion. Not depressed, more like observing. There have been so many things that have happened, and so many things that I wanted to write about. Good things, hard things, memories, feelings, accomplishments…and no words were able to escape. Even today, writing this, I feel the distant block of the words that want to come, but can’t.

Life doesn’t wait,

Like the tide crashing into the rocks.

Like the sun setting behind the mountain.

Life keeps moving,

Even when we are not.

Days pass by,

The sun rises and sets.

The seasons change,

Whether we do or not.

We can wait until the perfect moment,

But life keeps moving.

Stuck in the past,

The present doesn’t wait.

It comes everyday,

And there is nothing that will halt it.

We can be at a standstill,

For days,

For months,

For years.

But life keeps moving.

It is up to us to catch it.

To live it.

To love it.

To find joy in the misery.

To find purpose.

To find balance.

Keep moving.

Embrace the gift of life.

In Memory of Russell Hall

November 12, 1954-June 14, 1992

Grief and Loss, Hope, Love, Tom Petty, Uncategorized

37 Days Until 37 Years

img_7784My dad died 19 days before my eleventh birthday. He was thirty-seven. For the past twenty-six years I have worried about turning thirty-seven, as if it is the cursed year. That since he did not live, neither will I. I know how ludicrous this sounds, and have tried to push the thoughts out of my mind. But in 37 days, I will turn thirty-seven.

Turning thirty-seven always seemed so far away. And, now it is not. I have moments where anxiety takes my breath away when I think about how close it is. I had to stop and do the math. He was not just thirty-seven. He was thirty-seven years, seven months, and two days old. I wouldn’t let myself do the other math, to find out when I will be thirty-seven years, seven months, and two days old, because I don’t want to worry about another date on the calendar.

My dad did not reach his forties, and I always worried that I wouldn’t either. An unspoken fear, because if I don’t speak it, it won’t happen. I coast between not wanting to get older, and fearing that I won’t.

The universe doesn’t really work like that though. My life will not end, just because his did. The circumstances are different. I do not have Marfan Syndrome, and I did not have a heart attack in my twenties. I don’t eat a pound slice of macaroni and cheese loaf, straight from the deli, or crisp fat off a freshly baked ham.

My dad died before ever getting married. He was engaged, and excited to be a husband, but his fiancée brought a date to his funeral. (I always wondered how that would have played out.) He did not get to see me graduate eighth grade…or high school…or college…or grad school. He did not teach me how to drive, or help me buy my first car. He was not there for my wedding, or to help me through my divorce. He never got to meet his grandchildren or the man that I love.

He has missed a lot the last twenty-six years. And, I do not want to be like him.

I will live and watch my children grow. I will go to their graduations, and weddings. I will meet my grandchildren, and give unwanted advice.

I will be more than a memory. I hope. I hope, because we never really know.

Live. Live everyday like it will be your last. Live for yourself, and the ones that you love. Make memories, take pictures, and love. It is all we can do. We only get one chance…make it count.

Depression, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, mental illness, Uncategorized

The Gift of Belonging

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Continued from: Trauma Camp

Waking up the first day at Onsite brought excitement and anxiety. I was still unsure what to expect, and still uncomfortable about sharing in front of such a large group. I made my way out of the cabin and to the mansion for breakfast, where I tried to find some familiar faces to sit with. We made small talk and walked over to the Carriage House for the morning meditation.

Meditation is something I have always struggled with, and I felt myself squirm in my seat as others found their seat. As I thought to myself, I don’t know how to meditate… The voice from the group leader announced, “It’s okay if you don’t know how to meditate, or if you can’t stop your thoughts, just do your best, and notice where your thoughts take you, and then focus on your breath.”

Relief washed over me as the expectations were lowered. I sat quietly for the fifteen minute meditation, bringing myself back to my breath after thoughts of my inadequacies and what was ahead of us circled in my head. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I did feel more relaxed.

Three group leaders joined the front of the room. They were breaking us into smaller groups. More fear left with this discovery. Each group leader read off a list of eight names. The kind woman from the night before read my name off her list, with seven other women. We were the only group of all women. More apprehension left.

We made our ways to our group rooms. img_7483Where we found eight pillow chairs lining the room, as soft music played. One by one we found our way to a seat and grabbed a blanket to keep warm.

I looked around the room. Beautiful women filled the spaces. I felt out of place. What if I don’t fit in? What if I’m not like them? What if they don’t like me? What if my trauma isn’t that bad? I couldn’t stop the thoughts and tried to stay to myself, so no one would find out that I didn’t belong there.

When everyone was accounted for, we were asked to stand next to the emotion that best decried what we were feeling as we began the week. I found my way to scared, and backed myself as close to it as I could.

Scared. Anxious. Worried. Unsure. All these feelings swirled inside of me.

As I looked around the room, I noticed there was a mix of emotions from the others. We were all feeling something. We all seemed unsure of what to expect. As we took turns speaking about our feelings, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one struggling. My feelings of not belonging lessened as the day went on.

The more the other women talked, the more I felt connected. What happened in Group Room 3 is only for the members to know. Our words, our feelings, our tears, our growth are sacred. For our eyes, ears, and hearts only. What I will share is how the process helped me. To be honest, a month later, I am still processing what took place in Group Room 3, and at OnSite .

The first thing I noticed while at OnSite, was the feeling of belonging. This is a very rare, if not unknown feeling for me. I have walked through my whole life searching for belonging, to be understood, to be loved, to be heard. All of these things happened at OnSite. I was never turned away when I approached a table full of others. I was included, and not expected to talk or share if I did not wish to. No one made fun of me when I didn’t have anything to say. No one picked apart my lack of self confidence. But people loved. Strangers became family, old wounds were allowed to see the light of day, and healing from the soul up began to take place.

I did not notice it happening all at once. I even felt that nothing was happening. I felt like I was wasting my time as I retold my story of past trauma. I had told it, written about it, even went on Dr. Phil to talk about parts of it. What more could happen from sharing the same old stuff again? I volunteered to share my story first after I drew my timeline of traumatic events. A page for every decade.

Without making any eye contact I looked at my drawings on the wall and told my story, in a matter of fact kind of way. As I was telling my story in the thirty minutes provided, I started to think that my story isn’t that bad. I felt like I was wasting the rest of the groups’ time. I skipped over some major events, and added some things that I had not shared with anyone before. Things came to the surface, that I had buried so deep, even I had not remembered them before. Even still, some of these memories were not shared, for the shame they evoke inside of me.

My voice broke as I neared the end of my story. Silence filled the room before I could go on with the part where Gram, Uncle Doug, and John left me. All at once, stolen from this world, to leave me dangling in the darkness. The feelings from that time came back as I remembered how distant I had become through the grief. Guilt poured in as I finished, remembering all the ways I had let others down, how my life had been wasted, while others did not even have a life left to waste.

I sat back down on my pillow seat, covered back up with the blanket and looked down at my knees. A quick glance around the room let me see the tears from others while they listened to my story. I picked three women to write parts of my story as I told it, so they could read back to me the facts, the feelings, and the beliefs. As the women read back what I had said, I heard my story differently. I finally, for the first time, heard that my story was that bad. I had been through a lot, overcame a lot, and survived. I survived so many things that I shouldn’t have. The trauma did not swallow me whole. I was not only surviving, but I was thriving.

As I listened to the other stories in the room, I understood on a whole new level the saying “Everyone has a story.” I understood how much alike we all are, no matter how different we seem. I saw how much trauma can change people. I saw how strong we are, and how little we give ourselves credit for. I saw myself as whole. As complete. As messy, and beautiful. As strong, and vulnerable. As trusting, and open. All of my broken pieces were molded back together, shaping me into a perfectly, imperfect woman.

The day after telling my story my body began to detox. I had heard this was possible, but did not expect it. I still felt as though I was doing work that I had already completed. Learning new things along the way, but getting a refresher course. I woke up unable to catch my breath. I could not breathe deep enough to feel as though I was getting enough oxygen. Even in meditation I was unable to breathe. I felt nauseous and lightheaded. I went to the bathroom every chance I could and eliminated black stool (TMI, I’m sorry!). I even threw up. It was quite noticeable that I was struggling, and the group leader took a few moments with me to explain what was happening. “Your body is detoxing all that old trauma.”

I was trying to remember to trust the process, but I was still holding on to a bit of skepticism. I tried to breathe deeply with her, but still could not catch my breath. Even, as I tried to fall asleep that night I struggled with my breathing. I wanted to go home, and give up. This was scary, and I need my normal back. This was only day three.

When I woke up the next morning, I was able to breathe  normally again. I felt fine, and bathroom business returned to normal. There was no way that I could be a skeptic now. Things were happening inside of me. Deep down. Trauma that I had worked on in the past was now being released. I was finally giving permission to let it go. Not just with words, but with action. I knew now what trust the process meant.

As the days progressed, I saw myself differently. I saw that each person who was there knew what it felt like to be different, feel broken, unloveable, and unworthy. I belonged. And not just at OnSite, but in the world. If every person there knew what it felt like, it was not too far fetched to believe that everyone else did too. It is true, everyone has a story, and it is also true that everyone has experienced trauma. If you are living, you have suffered. The people who pretend that their life is perfect are actually hurting under their fake smile. The successful person you envy, struggles with self love too. We are all fighting a battle to some scale. There is no perfect.

This discovery energized me. It filled me with hope, and a new sense of wonder. A new mission to help others see what I have learned. A new goal of self love and acceptance. I gave myself permission to be human, to own my faults, and honor my strengths. I am able to see how far I have come, while keeping my eyes open for the road ahead. Everyday brings new struggles and new gifts. It is a constant choice whether or not I beat myself up over the mistakes, or cherish the lessons. I choose to tell the negative thoughts to STFU (another lesson I learned at Trauma Camp).

OnSite introduced me to my true self. The experience gave me hope, that anything is overcome-able. It showed me that I am strong. We all are. We are all worthy of love, especially our own. The mirror before me continues to be cleaned off, and I can see who I really am. The detox is still happening as the years of anxiety, pain, and trauma escape my cells, and I remain open to trust the process.

I am worthy. I am loved. I am enough.

#Onsiteworkshops

Depression, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, mental illness, Uncategorized

Survivor’s Guilt

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Seven years and ten days after my gram died, her daughter followed.

She left behind the Earthly prison of her body and mind to travel to joy and belonging. Within minutes of exiting her body, she was basking in the beauty of the sunshine–this was something that she had not been able to do for many years.

For years before her death, her wish was to sit out in the sun and feel it beat down on her skin. She rarely left the house due to her mobility, and as each day passed her by, she wished for better days.

Depression and guilt haunted her, and stole many pieces of her. She was barely able to exist some days. She had many dreams, many wishes, and the heart of a child.

One of her wishes, the one that I remember the longest, was to be a published author. She passed her love of writing to me; it was the one thing that we shared. Maybe my dream of being an author came from her–it was also the one thing I always hoped for.

When my book became a reality, I had a hard time feeling the joy it should have brought. I was sad. Sad that I was able to fulfill a dream we both had shared. Sad that I was able to find strength within myself to fight the depression and the blocks. Guilty that I lived to tell the story.

When I think back to the life my mom lived, a sadness comes over me. Her life was much like mine. We shared many of the same kinds of abuse, but we were never close enough to talk about it. There was a distance between us. I was unable to reach her in the places that I longed for.

I tried my best to save her, but I couldn’t. No one could. So I had to save myself. Through my healing, I think of my mom often. I struggle with knowing she was unable to find her own strength. Guilt overwhelms me when I think about all of her suffering. Shame shadows me as I think about the secrets I exposed.

I struggle with the reality of what was. I wish things could have been different. I long for her love, for her to see who I was. I dream of having a childhood, where I could have been a child. And then I feel guilty all over again. My insides cringe when I think back to how much my mom suffered.

But I suffered too.

Then, the cycle circles back to thoughts of why was I able to have a different outcome? Why was I able to travel on my healing journey when she wasn’t. These thoughts alone can take me to a place I don’t want to be. They interfere with my healing. I didn’t know what this was called, until I talked with my counselor. Survivor’s Guilt.

I felt guilty because I could crawl out of the trenches. I felt guilty because I could fight the demons. I felt guilty that I succeeded. I felt guilty that I am alive, living and thriving when she never did.

Giving these feelings a name helped ease some of the guilt. Understanding what I was feeling made me see that it was normal. It did not mean I was throwing away my healing, but that my heart held love for my mother.

I wish my mom’s life had of been different. I wish our life together could have been different. The past cannot be changed, but it can be learned from. I consider the lessons a gift.

Enjoy your freedom Mom. Until we meet again. Spring 2016 855

Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

I Will Love You Forever

Nine years. Nine long years since she crossed over. When she died, I did too. I was lost without her in this cruel, lonely world. My days went black, and darkness surrounded me. I wallowed in my misery.

For seven years. And then, I started to live again. After seven years of pain and suffering, I allowed it to escape my grip. I let go. With letting go, I was able to feel her love as it surround me. It was always there, but I was too tightly wound up in the depression to allow it to sink in to me.

When her love began to replace my dread and worry, I started taking steps toward my healing. I shed a layer of pain, and began to live again. To love again. I knew she would want me to live, and would have been upset with me for letting so many days pass by me. We only have one chance at this life, and I was reborn into a new life.

As I stepped out of each layer of hurt and sorrow, I began to feel lighter, and the dark spaces began to illuminate. My gram was my cheerleader, even in death. When life felt overwhelming, I felt her push me forward. If I held onto fear, she held my hand as I tackled the new challenge. When I cried, she was there to wipe them off my cheeks. When I had something to celebrate, she was there to witness my joy.

As a child, it was her that made me want to do my best. It was her that I wanted to impress. It is still her that makes me strive for new goals. She built me up in a sea of people who tore me down. And, now, as always, she is by my side, making sure I have what I need.

It took me a long time –seven years to be exact, to understand that she gave me the tools I needed to survive. While she was alive, and still. She taught me everything I needed to know, guided me toward greatness, and loved me without exception. Before she left this Earth, she made sure I was going to be okay. Being okay did not mean never struggling again, but it meant that I would be able to overcome any challenge thrown at me. It meant never giving up. It meant finding love within myself, and trusting enough to find it in others.

I am okay. I will always have what I need because I have her love.

Thank you Gram. I will love you forever.

Grief and Loss, Love, Uncategorized

Good Friday?

480848_10152877591360711_1300103464_nToday marks the ninth Good Friday since my Gram’s passing. My daughter asked me, “How can it be Good Friday when Grammy died?” How can it be good that we lost her? How is there any good left in this day?

She took her last breath on the day that Jesus was said to take his. I did not realize the significance of this until the funeral director told me it was an honor for her to have died on Good Friday. I have never been religious, but she had been a Sunday School teacher. Religion had been important to her, so the meaning behind it all helps ease some of the sting.

Every year, I struggle with today. I cannot help but think back to the phone ringing in the early morning hours to pass the dreaded news. Your grandmother passed away. My eyes fill with tears as I remember. My heart aches for her. And then, I smile.

For seven solid years, grief stole life from me. Seven years that I will not get back to live. Seven years that are tinged with blackness. Seven years of being disconnected from the world, and from myself.

It has now been two years since the pain finally lifted. Two years since this day can come and I can feel at peace. I love my gram, and I will always miss her. I have moments of feeling sad and angry at the thought of life without her, but then I remember a funny story or her smile, and I am left feeling grateful.

As I think back to the life I lived, I often wonder what it was that kept me alive. What was it that kept me going? What helped me see through the darkness?  What pushed me to be my best?

Every time, it circles back to her, and the lessons she taught me. Learning to be grateful is the best gift she ever gave me. It does not solve everything, but it helps keep hope alive. Her unconditional love kept the flame lit inside of me until I was able to learn to love myself. th

Because of her, I understand how important one person can be to someone. I know that it only takes one person to make a difference. I know that a simple smile can brighten up someone’s bad day. I know that there is good in people. I know I can do anything I set my mind to.

Because of her, I know that love is real.

 

In her memory, I challenge you to be that one person to someone. Listen without judgment. Love without expectation. Take your light and help keep someone else’s lit. Kindness is free to give, but priceless to receive.

 

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Kindness and love will keep her memory alive–it is what worked for me.

Grief and Loss, Tom Petty, Uncategorized

Four Months on This Groundhog Day

22195256_10159447341855711_7932537416085145978_nToday took me by surprise. For the past nine years I count down the days until February 2. Not because I am awaiting an adorable rodent’s prediction of the length of winter…because living in New England, we all know the weather does what it wants and in February we are almost guaranteed twelve more weeks of dreadful, dreary winter.

The evening of February 2, 2009 my world began to crumble as I received the call that my uncle had passed away, and I was the one to share the news with his mother, my gram.

I didn’t know what to say or how to phrase it, so I sat in front of my eighty-nine-year old grandmother, blinded by tears and blurted out the information. Her son lived over seven hundred miles from her for the past four decades. He visited every few years, and they talked on the phone almost as sporadically. He was her oldest (and favorite) child, and she loved him with all she had. I knew the news was going to kill her, but had no idea how quickly.

Soon after his death she began talking about hers. I shushed her as much as possible. “Gram, stop it…you are not going to die.”

“Jessie…I’m eighty-nine…I’m ready…”

I covered my ears and started to build the wall higher around my heart in preparation for what was coming. She tried to preplan her funeral, but I was not ready to help her. She wanted me to take notes to write her obituary, but I wouldn’t listen.

Denial is a beautiful thing, but only lasts so long. Regret however, can last a lifetime. Two months later my gram died of a heart attack. A broken heart. My world went black as she slipped away. Nothing made sense any more. I didn’t know who I was. Parts of me died that day too.

Without diverting too far from the point, February 2 always takes me back to that phone call, and the days that followed. Every year there are reminders of the day on the news, on social media, the radio…everywhere. My family members have a habit of dying on “holidays” -Flag Day, Groundhog Day, Thanksgiving, and Good Friday- so reminders of death-iversaries are everywhere.

As I connected the dots this morning, I could feel myself going down the familiar, well-worn path of grieving, I turned on Tom Petty to help ease the pain. And, like that, it worked. His words filled all of the empty spaces in my heart. As his voice hit my ears…tears began to well.

Today marks the fourth month since Tom’s passing.

While I am sad, I am also grateful.

I am sad that his life was cut short. I am sad that the world will think he’s “just another rock and roll star with a drug problem.” I am sad that he gave his fans his all, and because he worked so hard, and tirelessly, he was in an extreme amount of pain. I am sad that we will never be able to have new words written by his talented soul. I am sad that his family, band members, and friends lost him so young. I am sad that we all lost him so soon. I am sad that a simple mistake cost him his life. I am sad (and maybe a little angry) that opioids stole another life.

But I am grateful.

I am grateful of the gifts he left the world. I am grateful that his music heals so much for me. I am grateful that just the sound of his voice sooths my soul. I am grateful that he left behind so much talent. I am grateful that future generations will have his music. I am grateful that I was able to breathe in the same air as him at nine different concerts. I am even more grateful that I was able to catch his pick this last tour (two days before my birthday). I am grateful that Tom Petty saved my life, and gave me a sense that I belonged in this world.

His words are powerful, and reach people where they are at. In the darkness he brings light. In the light, he increases your joy. Pure. Gentle. Subtle.

Tom Petty’s music is the soundtrack to my life. I am not alone on that one. I have met countless others who feel the same way. From twelve to ninety, his music touched his fans. The lyrics snuck in through our ears and tangled around our hearts. No other music has ever done that to me, and I am doubtful it ever will.

My love for a man I never met keeps me going. It gives me hope and strength on the toughest days. It connects me with others, who love him too. We are in this together. As a fan, you are never alone. A family of strangers, who love a man and his music who has touched so many of us.

Thank you Tom for giving us all you had, and a little more. Thank you to his family and friends who shared pieces of this incredible, gentle, kind man with us.

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