small pieces of joy

pieces of joy in each day

living legacy

I watched on TV this morning Senator John McCain’s casket being walked up the steps to the US capital. Only pouring rain as the background sound. And I was deeply saddened.

This country is experiencing a profound loss in a man with such strong character and loyalty to our country that was so unique.

I relate to the loss because the same cancer that took him took both my dad and grandfather. It’s a monster that takes down even the bravest and strongest of people. It slowly strips them away but so quickly at the same time. It’s painful to think about.

I saw Joe Biden’s eulogy posted on one of my favorite Facebook pages, One Fit Widow, and I had to watch. I have a slight Leslie Knope (from the TV show Parks and Rec) type love of Joe Biden. The way he has spoken about grief in interviews and in his past book have really resonated with me, and his eulogy was much the same.

The whole thing is worth watching and contains so much love and wisdom. But the words that spoke to my soul came at the end when he was talking to McCain’s children.

“You may not have had your dad as long as you would have liked, but you got from him everything you need to pursue your own dreams, to follow the course of your own spirit. You are a living legacy of John McCain’s success.”

If I put my dad’s name in there instead of the senator’s, I’m pretty sure Joe was talking to me.

Thank you Mr. Biden for sharing your love and wisdom in this time of grief and reminding me of what still is.

Dad still lives. Through my mom. Through my brothers. Through my kids.

Through me.

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edith

Today is Lady Edith’s name day! It’s her namesake’s feast day and I wanted to share a little more about how she got her name.  

St. Edith Stein wouldn’t leave me alone for the year prior to having our third baby. I found her quotes all over and I read about her in the book My Sisters the Saints. Her story of growing up Jewish, studying and writing about philosophy, converting to Catholicism, becoming a nun and then a martyr in a concentration camp is fascinating and inspiring. Her words speak to the value of women and the realness of life in faith. 

I felt called to name our baby after her but I didn’t love it at first. The night I went into labor I was reading about her again, and when I entered the birthing center I saw the name in huge letters above me. Part of the center was donated by an Edith. So then I was convinced. It literally was a sign! 

After welcoming our baby into the world my brother did some quick research which revealed that St. Edith is a patron of loss of parents. Did I mention my baby was born on the exact day I lost my dad four years prior? 

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She wouldn’t leave me alone. 

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So today we celebrate our Edith in hopes she will grow up to know her value as a woman with encouragement from St. Edith. 

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lake

A place is more than its physical location. The way it makes you feel when you go there. The way it appeals to your senses. The way it taps in to memories and can bring them flooding back without your permission or preparation.

 

Going to Pommes de Terre lake for the summer was what my family did, sometimes with my dad’s parents, other times it was with more family or friends, but often it was just us. We went to the lake. And we camped. And we sweat. And we swam and fished and ate and napped and swam and fished and ate and napped. When I think of that place, those campsites on the lake, my heart warms and a smile is brought to my face.

 

Recently in counseling we were working on ‘grounding’ techniques. Ways to bring be back to reality when I need it. She asked me to picture a place of peace and serenity where I feel safe. I began to describe a campsite on the lake. Trees rustling in the breeze, sun peeking through the leaves and making them dance. Waves creating a symphony, with a percussive beat and crescendo. Smoke filling the air and I could taste the hotdogs roasting on the fire and even the one that fell into the fire smelled appetizing at that moment.

 

And then I felt an overwhelming presence. I started to cry and smile at the same time, a wave of bittersweet emotion crashing over me. I knew right then I was feeling Dad. He was there with me as I was recalling my favorite place.

 

Yes, I was only thinking of the physical place in this exercise, but I didn’t realize how much more was tied to it. That place is beautiful in itself, but what made it extraordinary was that is where I felt closest to my father. That place is where I felt peaceful, serene, and safe.

 

I’m reflecting on this right in the middle of my summer vacation at a lake. It is not the same lake we went to growing up, but there are so many things about it that have been triggering memories. Like the Army Corps of Engineer signs everywhere, which bring back our conversations about the dam and manmade lakes. Or watching my kids swim in the lake with their dad and I’m immediately swept back to me jumping off my dad’s legs or a large rock underwater. Or getting stuck in a storm under a marina boat dock and thinking back to the few storms we experienced while camping, riding out the storm in the bathhouse.

 

At times this week it has been difficult for me to be brought back to those memories, knowing I won’t get to share those with him the way I dreamed with my own kids. Of course I am grateful to have had such simple and precious moments with my dad. Sometimes missing him overshadows my logic.

 

I think I’ve just been surprised by how emotional being here is for me. I’m not even at the same lake, yet those memories transcend.

 

His presence transcends.

 

What a beautiful and comforting thought. Especially in my moments of sadness. To be reminded that I can still feel him. I can still remember him. And that I can share these memories with my kids and they can know him through what I experienced.

 

His legacy will continue. It’s up to me to figure out how to do it.

 

Please share with me in the comments a place that means more to you than its physical location. What makes it so special?IMG_6267.jpg

Photo taken on our drive down to Table Rock Lake in MO on Saturday.

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day of fathers

Hello everyone. I’m writing from the driver’s seat of my van parked under a tree at a cemetery. I just spent about 20 minutes sitting in the bright sun absorbing the heat next to my dad’s gravesite. I brought a hot cup of coffee (how did I forget it was so hot out?) and a delicious sausage egg and cheese crossaint. My time was a mixture of tears, laughs, and pleasant smiles as my range of emotions played out while talking with Dad. 

This is not how I want to spend Father’s Day with my dad. I really want him to be attending the cookout his sister is hosting this evening. I want to hear his voice when I ask him about the Royals. I want to feel his hug when we say hello and goodbye. I want to see his sly grin and hear his laugh when wrestling with my kids on the floor. 

It does me a lot of good to think of these things, even though it’s sad and often very hard. It is good because I allow myself to feel what I need to feel. It is important to know that loss is not something that goes away with time. It is always there (which sucks…) and there will always be moments of sadness….but it becomes more manageable with time as life moves forward and new joys are found. I just have to make sure I allow myself to feel the reality of losing my dad so they don’t get surpressed and display themselves in other ways. 

Even though Father’s Day is a challenging day—it cannot be escaped because it is all around—I actually appreciate the time to allow myself to think about Dad, the good, the bad, the ugly, the sad. 

And remind myself that joy is right there too. 

If you’re missing your dad today, I’m praying for you. I hope you find a way to feel close to him today. Even if that means getting sunburned and overheated while visiting the cemetery. 😉

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what i’ve been reading lately…

Hi friends!

I’ve been taking a break from blogging for a while. Mostly out of lack of time, but also assessing why I blog and if it’s something I should keep doing regularly.

In the meantime I’ve been reading some great books and I’d like to share them with you.

First up is The Four Agreements by Don Ruiz. This book has changed so much about how I perceive things in my daily life, I even have them posted in my bathroom to help me remember. The four agreements are as follows, and hopefully spark your interest to pick up the book!

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

Next is Boundaries by Henry Cloud. In this book I’ve been seeing how boundaries in all aspects of life can help me take care of myself better, and be able to love people more. I was also surprised that it included a lot of great parenting, workplace, and self-care advice. Here is a great video describing boundaries by Brene Brown.

Another one which has really touched me deeply is Healthy Healing by Michelle Steinke-Baumgard. She is the founder of One Fit Widow on Facebook and is a huge advocate for talking about grief openly and using exercise as a healthy coping tool. Her page and blog have helped me so much walking through my journey. The book has a nutrition and exercise plan to get started working out. I wish I could stay I’ve started…I’ll get there…but I highly recommend reading it, even if you’re not quite ready to jump into an exercise routine. Her words on grief are so worth it.

Other recommendations that are simply for fun, go see movie The Greatest Showman if you haven’t already. It will definitely put a smile on your face. And for a more thrilling film adventure,  Black Panther is a must.

Do you have any recommendations??

I hope all is well with you and thanks for reading!

 

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last home game

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This weekend was a busy one. Between three Thanksgivings, a football game, and a bridal shower for my future sister-in-law, I’m surprised I have energy to type tonight!

I talked about milestones in my last post, and yesterday was one of those big ones. My little brother’s (K) last home game in his college marching band. He has been a part of the band for five years, and it seems to have become a part of our family as well. I went to as many games as I could while living away and having babies (pumping at football games is quite an interesting experience!) but my mom and middle brother (Ke) went to almost all the games for five years.

It was probably the best game I’ve been to. Beautiful weather, competitive teams, and we won on the last play. The last play! It doesn’t really get more nerve wracking/exciting than that!

From the walk to the stadium, through the first half, I was thinking about how wonderful it is that K was able to have such an amazing experience with the band. Especially after such a rough start.

Dad passed away in the beginning of the first semester of his freshman year. He was deteriorating fast when we moved my brother in for band camp, and continued to get worse. We knew our time was limited and that we needed to make the most of the time we had.

Dad always wanted to see one of his kids march in a college marching band. (Ke and I both failed him.) So the band director, knowing of our situation, made it possible to get my mom, dad, and Ke to the first game of the season. I wasn’t there due to me living in another state so I don’t know all the details first hand…but through the efforts of many amazing people, Dad saw one of his kids march on a college football field.

During the halftime show yesterday I was in awe of the dedication, commitment, and talent it takes to be a part of such an incredible group. I also was blown away by the force of their sound! It was bittersweet knowing it was the last time I’d be able to say “my brother is in the band!”

Throughout the rest of the game my eyes were drawn to him in the band section, watching him do every chant and cheer with a huge smile. It was very apparent that he had really made a home for himself in that uniform, with those people. I felt like a proud mama watching her kid do what they love to do, thriving.

I couldn’t help but picture my dad decked out in purple sitting right next to the band soaking it all in. It is so hard knowing he didn’t get to fully experience being a college marching band parent. He would have loved every minute. (And bought every piece of merchandise.)

He was with us, though. On every two hour car ride. Every time the fight song was played. In every smile on K’s face. With every post-game Texas Roadhouse margarita.

I know this because every time my mom, Ke, or I went to a game, we represented Dad.

We get to carry him with us everywhere.

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meeting papa

Well hello everyone…we meet again. It has been months upon months since I’ve even clicked on my blog page. I’m so glad to be writing tonight, I’ve missed it.

Yesterday I felt an inspiration to go visit Dad at the cemetery. I know my dad’s soul is free and isn’t at the cemetery, but there is something real and tangible about making the effort to drive to the gravesite, get out of my car, walk to his marker, and spend some concentrated, purposeful time talking to Dad. It makes the ritual lover inside me feel like I’m visiting him since I can’t physically do that anymore.

I took the three kiddos with me. G is so good about this and seems to enjoy going. M just likes all the open grass areas available for her little feet to attack. And this was E’s first time.

We all sat around Dad’s marker and I told him about my new baby and introduced her to him. It totally sucks it has to be this way. I envisioned him meeting all my kids in the hospital, not amongst stones. What is even harder is I really don’t know how he would be with them. It’s been so long since George was born to remember how he was, and the brain tumor had already started its damage at that time.

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I am now at the point where I am experiencing things in my life that don’t have a string tied to dad. That makes it really difficult to know what he would do or say or think about these new situations. How would he play with the kids? What would he say about the marching band at the football game? What would he help with for my brother’s wedding?

In grief there is a lot of talk about how the firsts are the hardest. First birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas…but I’m realizing that there are many other events that are equally as hard. There are so many milestones in life that I pictured my dad experiencing with me. Now I, along with my family, am reaching these milestones without him.

This is just another step in the long journey of grief. It is not linear, nor time sensitive. There are good days, bad days, and some days that somehow fit in between. I know that it is ok to feel sad when these milestones occur…and it is also ok to feel joy with sadness.

As we left the cemetery we all waved goodbye to the gravesite and said we’d be back again soon. Things we’d say if we were visiting him on this side of heaven. Things he sees us doing from the other side.

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called Home

 

I feel compelled to write today, but I’m just not sure of the words.

A year ago today my sweet, loving, fierce, mother-in-law was called Home.

We held vigil for her in the hospital for almost four days.  Family was in and out throughout the weekend, family and friends brought food and comfort, people even slept in the room with her overnight.

She was never alone.

It is heartbreaking to think back to that time of vigil. Of simply waiting for the inevitable. It was so similar to the last days with Dad that it shakes me to my core even now. I watched my son say goodbye to his Mema for the last time, just as casual and sweet as any time before…yet knowing this was the last time on earth he would get to say that. I hold on to the last words she said to my husband and I as we said our goodbye and shared the name of the baby who would be born just a month later. I watched my husband have to let go of the woman who shaped the man his is today, the woman who loved him more than any other woman…and I couldn’t fix it.

Today I was reminded to also look at the flipside of that day. To look beyond the tears and pain that have settled in this past year and to look for things to be thankful for.

I talked with a priest today, the one who was with us the night before Dad passed away. That night he talked of a holy death, one that prepares our loved one for a life with Jesus. At first those words didn’t make any sense to me as I was in the throes of anticipating the death of my dad! But after the experience we gave my dad with prayer and song the whole night, I felt we really did just lift him up to be received by the Lord.

Looking back at the night of my mother-in-law’s passing, I have a similar feeling of peace and comfort knowing we gave her the best sending forth we could. The day before she died was Divine Mercy Sunday and we prayed the chaplet of Divine Mercy multiple times that day, which is a powerful prayer in the time of death. We learned this after praying it for my dad the night he died. The day she passed away was the feast of the Annunciation, which is the day Mary received news she was to give birth to Jesus. How fitting, since my mother-in-law’s patron saint was Mary, and she said all she wanted to do in life was to be a mother. (And again how perfect we were going to name our daughter Maria.) We also sang a beautiful prayer called the Salve Regina–another one so close to my heart because of Dad.

After she passed away we were able to pray together as a family and offer our pain and hope for the future as well as another chance to pray for her soul to reach Heaven.

Holy death. Words that don’t seem to fit together, but in some strange way they really do.

So today, thanks to Fr. Vince, I’m praying in thanksgiving for her holy death. For the time I had with my mother-in-law and the time she had with her grandchild. For the love she poured out on me and my children, and for the family she created that I am so lucky to be a part of.

Please, friends, pray for my husband, his three sisters, our brother-in-law, and my father-in-law that this next year may continue to be healing and hopeful for the family.

Thanks again for reading and letting me share my heart with you.

For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Amen.

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heaven’s doors

I am currently working on an art project and while I do creative things I love to listen to music.

I put my itunes playlist on random, just to see what comes up in my quite eclectic collection. Of course a song came up that I had completely forgotten about, but brought me to tears.

It’s by an artist named Sean McConnell who I happened upon years ago by searching for a song title and started listening to his music. I was hooked.

Anyway, this song hit me in such a powerful way, on many levels. In a little over a week it will be one year since my mother-in-law passed away. I’ve been physically feeling the anticipation, especially remembering back to last year and what was transpiring. So I’m extra emotional.

But the song speaks to more than that. It’s about how our loved ones are still around and we can still talk to them and share life with them. It takes a while to figure out the new relationship, though. As I was listening I was thinking about how I’m still working on that with Dad, and so I’m in the very beginning stages with my mother-in-law.

I just wanted to share this with anyone who might be feeling a little lost, missing someone they love, feeling alone like I still do sometimes.

May this song be a comfort to you as it is to me. Scroll down past the video and the lyrics are there.

Well, I found an old photograph of you
In some boxes that I thought were gone
And seeing your face made me replace
The notion that I had moved on

And it’s foolish to talk to a memory
But it helps me believe in a way
That I’m not crazy for asking you questions
And that you hear every word that I say

So I ask you what you would tell me
When I get to Heaven’s doors
And it could be the wind or the emotion I’m in
But I swear that you’ve answered before

And you said,
“I’ll tell you how proud I am of you
How you look just like your father
And how tall you have grown
And then I’ll hold you like I used to
How you slept on those long winter car rides from Boston to home
And then I’ll tell you that I love your music
Then I’ll say that the apple don’t fall far from the tree
Then I’ll tell you that you’ve done everything right
To become the man I knew you would be.”

And those words still echo inside me
Like a scream in a large, empty home
Where the things that are said come back from the dead
And times when you feel all alone

And so I hold on to them like a blanket
That I wrap around my confused heart
And it reminds me of phrases whispered inside me
That I should have known from the start

So I ask you what you would tell me
When I get to Heaven’s doors
And it could be the wind or the emotion I’m in
But I swear that you’ve answered before

And you said,
“I’ll tell you how proud I am of you
How you look just like your father
And how tall you have grown
And then I’ll hold you like I used to
How you slept on those long winter car rides from Boston to home
And then I’ll you that I love your music
Then I’ll say that the apple don’t fall far from the tree
Then I’ll tell you that you’ve done everything right
To become the man I knew you would be.

And then I’ll tell you that you’ve done everything right
To become the man I knew you would be.”

 

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your birthday, without you

Hello friends.

Today is Dad’s birthday. Yes, it has been many years since he passed away, but it is still difficult. Each year feels a little different. Each time it comes around I feel there is a little more healing. However, my sadness does still intensify around the day, because as I said about my mother-in-law’s birthday, it is the one day of the year that celebrates them. Just them. And that is hard to ignore.

Yesterday me and the kids visited the cemetery to tell Dad about what’s new in our lives and to wish him a happy birthday. I hate that my kids have to go to the cemetery to ‘visit’ their grandpa (and grandma too) but as many people have said, “it is what it is.”

It truly is beautiful to see how my son has become more accustomed to these visits, and he even asks to go see Papa at the cemetery every so often. When we go there we talk to him and G always wants to say a prayer for him. I am so thankful he gets it. It is balm to my soul to see that my kids will be able to have a relationship with their departed grandparents, even if it isn’t the one I had envisioned.

It also encourages me to seek out my new relationship with my dad and mother-in-law. This takes time and effort to discover what that looks like. I’m obviously still processing the loss of my mother-in-law, so I’m in the early stages of figuring out my new relationship with her. But I think I’m getting closer to a better understanding of what it’s like to have my dad in heaven, and how that fits into my life. The biggest thing I’m learning is to not focus so much on the fact that he isn’t here, but figuring out ways to make it feel like he is. Visiting the cemetery is one of those ways to tangibly feel like I’m spending time with him.

Of course this is different for everyone. I just encourage those who have lost someone to first off, don’t put a timeline on how you feel. And don’t let others do that for you either. If it has been one year or ten years and a birthday or anniversary makes you sad, OWN IT. Please take care of yourself. Spend time figuring out what would make you feel connected with them and DO IT.

Not having Dad around for all the new things in life is so frustrating. But including him and celebrating him when I need to is a good way to make sure he stays in my heart.

Sending love, as always, to those who are missing someone today and everyday.

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