Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

DarknessOldFriend

Ah, the dark. We can’t ignore or outrun it. We can only walk, tentatively, nervously or purposefully through it. Pretty good spiel from someone who turns to TV for sound in a silent house and flips my lights on through an app, assuring me that life is visibly still present. Yet, I still remember, back when there was an abundance of life and noise in my house. I wince now remembering how I would make the occasional nonsensical wish that I’d have “just five minutes without someone arguing, or calling mom, mommy, ma.” I guess that’s not abnormal in a life with three active kids, right? Now I hear those same kids, whose babes today populate their homes, make that same joking wish sometimes. However inadvertent, my unvoiced wishes for the occasional quiet were answered to the max last year — and , boy, does that ever suck.

They say ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” Hey, universe, I never wished for THIS! Yet, all of us humans yearn for the greener grass, never really contemplating that it might be overrun with dandelions. Try telling a kid, who can’t wait for a grownup’s clothes, and privileges, that it ain’t all that, and you’ll get a withering look. How about newlyweds who wish they could take a short cut through all the trips and falls on the trip to real oneness? The one thing none of us wish is darkness, the kind that illness, loss of love, loss of dreams and of course the mother load that scary dark  brings — death. Yet, dark is the flip side of all the good stuff. We can’t avoid it, we have to find our way through it.

No one is comfortable with funerals or wakes. I used to shake each time I entered a funeral home, wishing with all my might, I could just phone it in. Maybe it had something to do with my Italian grandmother’s hysterical wailing as she threw herself, pulling her hair as she went, on my grandfather’s coffin. Yeah, that might do it. Or the earth-swallowing experience of standing in the pouring rain while they lowered my young brother into the ground. I’ve always been plain terrified of even the mere mention of death. It’s never been the topic of chatty conversation and it’s only as years go by that the obits seem like a good place to start your day. (that was a joke).  Yet, death pays the occasional visit to everyone in some way. The night it slithered up the stairs in my own home, gloating over my husband, it forced me to look straight into its eyes and changed me forever. Continue reading

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Carpe Diem

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Emily, the young mother of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ died in childbirth.  She returned, in spirit, to relive just one day, her 12th birthday.  Watching her family, moving with such familiarity, she muses painfully about the fragility of the moment. Wistfully she says “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every every minute?”

No, Emily, we don’t.

We live in a world of constant to-do’s, so we do – too much. We fill every moment and, at the end of the day, sometimes we can’t remember where the minutes went.
Well, they went to the grocery store, to work, to social media, and cleaning the closet. They went to anxiety, annoyance, and anger. Moments keep disappearing. The clock never slows. The calendar is relentless. We can’t control the speed or ultimate loss of minutes but we can try to savor what we can of them.

These days, reminders of time’s speeding train is evident in my growing grandboys, one who starts high school next year. Yikes! And how many minutes have passed since my only granddaughter was a sassy/smart little munchkin to the gorgeous grown woman version she is today — with a wedding to plan. Time waits for no man – or woman. Continue reading

Chicken Little Grows Up

Fearful

It was just a text; an invite from a friend. It was an invitation that should have been a slam dunk for someone else. But in this old kid’s alternate universe, this simple text set my hair on fire because it was invite for dinner — in the city. Uh oh.

Excuses racing through my brain, my fingers hesitated over the letters that would spell out my regrets. Considering my options, including perhaps an unforeseen natural disaster, the full force of guilt was also upon me. This sweet lady who had often driven many miles just to visit me deserved better than a dumb excuse and any excuse would be just a smoke screen for the real problem. I was a chickenshit. Just the thought of traveling solo to the Big Apple invoked a world of panic in me and that was the unvarnished, embarrassing truth.

So, there I sat, minutes ticking away, staring at the computer. Houston, we have a problem.

I never lived or worked in the city. Any exploration of Manhattan was as the sidekick of friends or husband, not in driver’s seat. (competitive races with taxi drivers were not my wheelhouse). My only lone trip on the commuter train was as a much younger version of myself and the last (and second time) time I took the bus was with my husband the year before he died. Yet, I live in a commuter town, well serviced by public transit and here I was having apoplexy about using it.

I pondered my options. I could decline this loving woman’s plan for what sounded like a nice night with her and her savvy, accomplished ‘gal pals’. Or, I could say ‘yes’; then dial-a-friend. I knew my neighbor buddy was also solo travel-shy but hey, two crazy chicks were always better than one. Problem solved.

That’s how I ended up in New York City last night, enjoying a delicious, entertaining and inspiring night with savvy new friends I never would have otherwise met. Neither I nor my sweet travel pal were abducted. We didn’t get lost in the bus terminal maze or suffer anything but bouts of insane laughter. The night was more than a success; it might have been a much needed facepalm. Though it would have been exceedingly easy to decline the dinner invite, it wouldn’t have been right – on many levels. The time had come to finally make the leap to ‘yes’. Continue reading

Pick A Number

kiciPq8jLo1zC-qI3lyNCKi6Css-gWqyIo2U_s2KH2lqlzawKXmtqkD962y4E3aYV_iLT4VeagOkJYAbATo=s640-l65Hah! If age was just a number, how about we pick one we like, say a single digit one, and stuck with it? It might be really cool to be 7 again. Picture running barefoot in the summer grass (minus wasps and ticks) with an orange popsicle dripping down your arm. Who doesn’t remember the Pavlov’s dog call of the Good Humor truck, or halter tops minus bras (we didn’t need them at 7), lazy afternoons with paper dolls and Nancy Drew books?

Well, stop dreaming; that’s not going to happen. The truth is, knowing all the good and not so good that’s happened along the way to where we are now, would we be content at any age forever? I don’t think so.

When I thought of getting older, I set pretty low bars. I yearned to ditch the Saturday morning weeding chores.  I couldn’t wait to wear the makeup I saw teen girls artfully apply and even thought, that once I grew up, my younger brothers would stop trying to get me in trouble. Well, the weeding was traded in for an entire house a mom of three needed to keep clean. Makeup became a must not a dreamy thought and, at least one of my brothers doesn’t ever tease me anymore. He died before he ever really got to live.

So much for setting goals high.

As a kid who always loved to draw, I thought I’d go to art school and become a passionate artist. Oops, I totally forgot Women’s Lib had yet to visit my house. My big idea being the next Norman Rockwell took a backseat to making sure my brother went to college. Like many households back in the day, women became teachers, nurses and/or wives instead. So, I sidestepped plans of a paintbrush in my hand and tested out my father’s theory that I should instead become a dental assistant. That idea barely lasted through one part-time job in an interminably quiet dental office.

But I digress. Continue reading

After the After

AFTERPublic service announcement: There’s no room for BS in the ‘after’. Drama isn’t welcome either. A crash course in death makes it pretty clear that all you can do is wrap your arms around the now. That’s all you have. The idea that in a nanosecond you can go from wife to widow brutally teaches the importance of focusing on things that matter. Death makes life too real not to reconsider how you’re living it.

Oh, I certainly don’t have everything figured out. In fact, most days, I fly by the seat of my pajamajeans. (I seriously love those things) But, living after —the after, I have a greater appreciation for the right now. I’m hardly always Zen. Like everyone else, I have moments that catch me up angst. My kids can assure you that my worry meter is even more often than usual on high alert and my poor grandkids are stuck with helicopter gramma. Oh, well.

Kierkagard once said “The most painful state of being is remembering the future.” Well, that pretty much sums up the grief of loss, doesn’t it. We’ll never NOT remember that our futures would have been better, fuller, hurt less with our loved ones in it. We had no say in what happened  to them but we do for ourselves. We get to do is say ‘yes’ to now and will figure the rest as we go along

These days my priorities have shifted; my emotional to-do list is lighter. As business partners, my husband and I were more entwined than many; his cancer sewed us even more tightly together.  To be suddenly operating solo is real paradigm shift, one that we have no choice but to make. The ‘how’ is up to us. Though Death gives us no choice and no reprieve, life does. Even when the daily living of it feels inconsequential and meaningless, we can still try to make the rest of our lives the best they can be.

Today, time with family is even riper with meaning and memories. My friends and all they are to me, have never been more treasured. And there’s never a day I could say “I’m bored”, thank goodness! Don’t get me wrong, there are still ‘moments’. There are many times missing my husband gets the best of me. Memories can kneecap me yet, there are other days now and thoughts of life still to be despite the one that isn’t.

Death doesn’t end a relationship. All we do is emotionally relocate the people taken from us. It’s not an instant process but one that continues throughout the rest of our lives. After the hell of the first year, I’m seeing daylight, more appreciative of the ‘small things’, and certainly try not to sweat the big ones as much. I want to love more, laugh more, help more, and hold the hands of both the hurting and the happy more.

The After is tough but so are we. There’s no playbook for it so we just go through it the best we can, with the most grace we can muster (tears are still allowed). It doesn’t matter if all you can manage is to whistle in the dark, or are brave enough to forge ahead.

Whatever’s good for your soul — do that.

 

To Infinity — And Beyond

the-arrival

I’m an artist. Well, at least I’ve been masquerading as one for a long time. If the creative awards that dot my office shelves mean anything, I’ve pretty much gotten away with it, too. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked as an illustrator and graphic designer both at in-house in ad agencies as well as in my own house, partnered with my husband in an agency of our own. Shockingly, people actually paid me well for my work, which is kind of handy when it’s your livelihood. Yet, having been completely self taught, I’ve never felt like I fully stuck the landing. In a world where college degrees are your admission ticket and even proof that you are relevant, my lack of educational credentials was always my Achilles heel. Still, somewhere along the way I graduated the school of hard knocks, leaving behind old insecurities about not being good enough. Now, I figure that my website, and all it contains, speaks for itself, thank you, so love it or leave it.

That being said, I still regularly get serious crushes on those authentic, passionate artists who live their art on their own terms. I have a healthy envy for the badass artists who bring it, delivering their passion in everything they do. They are the ones who allow the craft to drive them and not the other way around.

I’ve never been that artist. Continue reading

Velveteen Human

mr-bunny-lost

To love at all is to be vulnerable.   C.S. Lewis

From the time we emerge, wrinkled, red and screaming our heads off in the delivery room, we begin to grow. We bravely take first steps, say first words and train daily for life as a fully realized human. We get skinned knees, scrapes, spills and tears along the way to all the good stuff and then we realize – it might not be all good stuff.

Pinocchio got a crash course in what it means to be ‘real’ when he became a human boy. Suddenly, he had all the best and worst of being real.  He also had to choose not to lie, not only to everyone else, but also to himself. We’re all a little like that wooden boy.  As we grow, we learn to embrace true selves including all the splintered, broken pieces because it’s in those pieces we learn to be kind, genuinely, and sincerely kind. We learn to say what we mean and mean what we say, trying not to hurt others but empower them. We learn, we learn, we learn. . . if we’re lucky, if we’re aware, we become ‘real’.

Part of being real is being authentic, broken parts and all. It can be really tough to dive deep inside ourselves for our truest feelings but those are the only ones that count. We all get broken in different ways in this thing we call life and need to be mindful of what we experience to stay connected to ourselves. Maybe we could take a page from The Velveteen Rabbit’s playbook; as plush toys go, those guys were pretty evolved. “You become. It takes a long time.” the Skin Horse explained to the Velveteen Rabbit. Real “doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept.”
Continue reading