small pieces of joy

pieces of joy in each day

the third

Monday marked the third anniversary of Dad’s passing from this world to the next.

The third year without Dad. Wow.

It seems like such a long time, but remembering the events from three years ago feels like just yesterday.

The past two years we have remembered Dad’s memorial day with something special. A service at the gravesite the first year, KSU football game and dinner at Texas Roadhouse the next.

This year I wanted to do something specific in honor of Dad, but it was hard to figure out what that would be.

We had a steak dinner at Mom’s and simply enjoyed family time, even though my youngest brother couldn’t make it.

I went home, put the kids to bed, and still felt like I needed to do something more to make the day feel complete. I had wanted to go to the gravesite by myself before dinner, but my husband got home late from work so I couldn’t do that. Then I was going to go after the kids went to bed, but now it gets dark early.

On a whim I left the house and drove to our church’s adoration chapel, thinking I had the code to get in. Nope. Wrong code. So I sat outside of the chapel, wondering if this was a sign or if I should wait for someone to come and let me in. After about 10 minutes I just decided to drive for a while and ended up in the cemetery at twilight.

Only a little creepy.

I turned the car off, started talking to Dad, then had a major cry-my-heart-out-tears-on-the-steering-wheel sob fest. As I was letting it all out, I still felt lost, like I needed to do something else.

I called my mom, and was at her house a few minutes later.

She held me and we cried. Cried about missing Dad, cried about the good memories, cried about the things he was missing, cried about what we thought he might be like today, cried about the whole crappy situation.

It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.

The thing is…grief is complicated. There is no amount of time to make losing my Dad OK. Just because it is three years out does not mean I’m not still hurting. Yes, I’m getting much better about living my life without him. I’ve come to terms he is not here and will not be here.

But I’m still hurting.

It hurts that I had to see him decline over 10 months, that I was a new mom, living in a different state, trying to juggle all my roles, while cancer was slowly sucking the life out of my big strong hero.

That will never be OK with me.

And all those things I mentioned are things I haven’t had time to really process. Because unfortunately, life continues to move after loss. So it takes a while to get to a place where the shock, agony, and pain can come through and be truly felt.

No, I am not stuck. No, I’m not dwelling on the loss. I’m actually moving forward in the best way I know how.

The best way for ME.

I’m learning about grief, I’m allowing myself to feel, and I’m sharing with others in hopes they can work through their pain too.

These past few years have been the most challenging years of my life, and looking back, also the years in which I have grown the most. For that I’m thankful.

The third year without Dad. Another step forward on a long path to healing.

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sulking

I’ve been sick all week and in addition to that, feeling very down. All the ads for Father’s Day, Top Ten lists of gifts for Dad, and the greeting card section screaming ‘you don’t have a dad to buy one for’,  have finally taken a toll.

I thought I would be able to embrace Father’s Day this year and focus more on my husband being a dad and not on the fact I can’t get my dad another tie. But sometimes those God-given emotions call the shots. After have a few crying sessions while driving around today, something I read earlier this week came back to me.

The article is from What’s Your Grief? titled Father’s Day Sulking Without Apology.

I found it so intriguing, probably because it is just what I needed. So today when I got home, I closed my door, grabbed a roll of toilet paper (closer than a kleenex box), turned on my “Happy Tears” playlist (my brother and I have collaborated to make two of them), and went through my “Dad box”. And boy did those tears start to flow, and I could feel lighter and lighter the longer I cried.

As each new song came on, a different memory or feeling came, some happy, some sad, some of self-pity. While listening to those special songs I went through my box of sympathy cards, letters of support, and other things that remind me of Dad. Some of my friends made a box of support letters when Dad was sick, and it just meant the world to me. I didn’t realize that two years later it would still be just as impactful. I would highly recommend doing this for someone going through a hard time. The written word is so powerful.

So now that I’ve let out months and months of pent-up feels, I am a little more ready to tackle the rest of this weekend. Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow won’t be nearly as awful and I can celebrate more freely.

Treasure your Father this weekend. Please know I am holding close to my heart those who are missing their dad or father figure this Father’s Day.

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ponder no. 3

anxious

I spent some time outside this evening on our patio. There is something wonderful and relaxing about the smell of rain, a gentle breeze, and some insightful words. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve been reading. Ponder with me, will you?

  • On the pull of distractions: “We run away from ourselves because we don’t want to be with ourselves. Our pain is a kind of energy that is not pleasant. We fear that if we release our diversions and come back to ourselves, we’ll be overwhelmed by the suffering, despair, anger, and loneliness inside. So we continue to run away. But if we don’t have the time and the willingness to take care of ourselves, how can we offer any genuine care to the people we love?” —From No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Embracing suffering: “So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness. When a mother embraces her child, that energy of tenderness begins to penetrate into the body of the child. Even if the mother doesn’t understand at first why the child is suffering and needs some time to find out what the difficulty is, just her act of taking the child into her arms with tenderness can already bring relief. If we can recognize and cradle the suffering while we breathe mindfully, there is relief already.” –From No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • “Pray, hope, don’t worry.” –St. Padre Pio
  • “Don’t fight reality” –Sr. Debbie
  • “In times of anxiety, write a letter to yourself from God’s perspective. What you think God would say to you?” -Sr. Debbie
  • Come, Holy Spirit
  • On anxiety: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:6-7

Please share any insightful words in the comments!

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small stuff

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today’s small thing: don’t sweat the small stuff

I’ve been meeting with a wellness coach for about six months now and I’ve learned so much about all aspects of my health. She’s basically a health counselor and I’ve learned that I love seeing counselors. They have so much wisdom that I get to absorb and hopefully put to use!

Today we discussed stress management. She explained how the source of stress is usually about things that have already happened, or things in the future. She said the best way to combat those thoughts are to stay in the now, in the present. Even though that is very hard to do, it is a great way to manage stress.

Yeah, right, lady. Easy for you to say. Sigh.

Right after that appointment I took George to see the dentist for the first time. He was so nervous in the waiting room, but once he got his own toothbrush and was chatting with the dentist he was having a great time!

Before cleaning his teeth, the dentist was telling the hygienist about a talk she heard on the radio. The main point was that we often say “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but we should add, “don’t sweat the big stuff either.” We should sweat only the things we can control. In reality, that isn’t much.

Hmm. Is someone trying to tell me something?

So today I will be pondering these things:

-Keep your thoughts in the present

-Only sweat the things you can control

Even though this is going to be hard, I’m marveling at the fact that this was discussed in two separate places on the same day. I guess that means I have to listen!

Enjoy your day, friends. And try not to sweat.

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blessed are they who mourn

Right now I’m thinking of those who are mourning the loss of a loved one.

I just finished a long sobbing, blubbering, saltwater pool forming, cry. it felt so sad and so good at the same time.

I really really miss my dad. Of course you all know that. And perhaps some are tired of hearing about it. But I can’t deny it.

I miss him with all my being. Even when I’m not aware that I miss him, I do.

My heart aches for those whose hearts ache from loss. Because I know what it feels like, a little.

I know what it feels like to feel alone even when surrounded by people. I know what it feels like to hear others talk about their dad and the twinge of sadness attacks. I know what it feels like to be happy with life, but sad a huge part is missing.

And I know what it feels like to simply want to cry. Sobbing, blubbering, and saltwater pool forming.

I want you to know that it’s OK to form pools of saltwater.

It’s letting the sadness out to allow room for happiness. 

I’m sending some prayers for you if you’re like me and missing someone today. Know that I’m thinking of you and offering your sadness with mine. We will be comforted, even in the slight relief felt after crying.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Matthew 5:4

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words of remembrance

As I’ve been working through my grief, I’m saddened I wasn’t able to give words of remembrance in the days following Dad’s passing from this life to the next. I’ve found that I wish I could have said something to everyone who came to his visitation. I wish I could have said something to everyone who prayed for his soul at this funeral mass. I wish I could have given tribute to dad with words from my heart.

Looking back I know there were many reasons why it didn’t happen. Everything worked out the way it needed to in those moments. Some people, myself included, were able to say things to Dad at his Celebration of Life party. That just wasn’t enough for me, especially since he was driving his electronic wheelchair away from me as I spoke!

I guess it is never too late to write the words I would have liked to share with everyone eighteen months ago. And it is fitting that I will speak about his life on this day, March 8th, the day he entered this world in 1959. Here goes.

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

These words from Clarence Budington Kelland sent goose bumps running all over me when I read them recently. I silently whispered, “That’s what my dad did.”

I didn’t really have a lot of heart to heart conversations with Dad about living life. But I really didn’t have to.

Dad taught me about life by living it.

By taking us on inexpensive, meaningful family vacations.

By showing me how to put a worm on a hook when fishing.

By helping me oil my glove, and always being my catcher.

By building our swing set and deck with his own hands (and a few helpers).

By helping us fly kites in the open field behind our house.

By showing us how to ‘box out’ at basketball practice and yelling a few intense instructions during a game.

By watching a Chiefs game with the TV announcer muted and the radio announcer blaring. (And yelling a few intense instructions during the game).

By clapping proudly after every sports game and band concert—especially after my adult dodge ball games!

By playing board games with the family and working his business skills to trade one wheat for two sheep.

By claiming every sports movie is his favorite because he loves the underdog. And watching them over and over and over and over.

By playing in the parents band, proudly banging on the drum that gave him so much joy.

By taking leadership positions even when the job is not easy and sometimes goes unnoticed.

By making the difficult call because it is the right one.

By being a man of few words, but making those few words speak thousands.

By respecting and working with people of all nations, creeds, and backgrounds.

By saying his name with confidence, followed by a strong handshake.

By lying down on the floor next to his crying daughter, reassuring her that things will get better.

By letting his daughter move into a shady apartment during college, even though he had huge reservations—and then letting her move out of the house before having a job!

By saying, “I’m proud of you buddy” after he spent a few days with his brand new grandson.

By allowing people into his cancer journey, accepting all forms of help and encouragement, and at the same time paying those gifts forward. And buying lottery tickets for the radiation nurses!

By going to confession for the first time in over 10 years, and then speaking to me about forgiveness.

By letting me teach him to pray the rosary when he couldn’t remember anymore.

By gracefully letting God take him Home.

As someone wrote in a sympathy card to our family, “He was honest, thorough, and trustworthy. There were only two types of people—those that didn’t know him or those that called him friend.”

I do not believe it was God’s will for Dad to have cancer. But God sure did use the fact he had cancer to show us more good and beauty in this world than I ever thought possible. All of our friends and family were God’s hands and feet on earth, showing His love during the most difficult time of our lives. We are now able to see how God used Dad to teach us loyalty, friendship, leadership, and LOVE.

I miss you, Dad, everyday. I’m working hard to continue the legacy you began and I hope to teach George and my future children the way you taught me. By living.

“I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” –John 10:10

If you have some memories or words of remembrance you’d like to share with my son, George, so he will know his Papa better, please send them to george.j.ashley@gmail.com. I know he, and my family, would be forever grateful for your sharing of memories!

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control

I’ve learned many things since losing Dad and Grandpa. Some of them I’ve blogged about already but one I’ve been hesitant to share. Not because I don’t think it is an important lesson, but because it is so personal and revealing. Plus it might give me more accountability, which of course is a scary thing!

Being faced with mortality has done a lot to me physically, mentally, spiritually, all the ‘ally’ words, really. In some ways it has been close to depressing, but in other ways it has been a good motivator.

If I only live to be 54 like Dad, what kind of life do I want to live? Was I living that life before Dad got sick? What can I do to make sure I live the life I want?

There are so many things that are not in my control. I’ve been spending a lot of time worrying about those things, with nothing to show for it.

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The phrase “worrying is like praying for something you don’t want” has entered my thoughts many times, but the worrying is still hard to shake.

Here is the important thing.

There are so many things that are in my control. Taking this as my mantra for the past few months, life has been a little easier, and a little brighter.

Part of taking control for me has been identifying the things that cause me stress and then finding ways to eradicate the problem. The other part is telling myself the extra work will be worth it! Here are a few things that have been stressful for me, and how I’ve slowly taken control.

1. I’m frustrated that I don’t have a big house with all the nice things.  A bigger house is not in the cards right now (sigh) so I had to identify ways to make the place feel bigger because we’re quickly outgrowing our two bedroom apartment. It is really difficult to stop the house envy, especially when most people my age own their own homes. I can’t change that, however, so I have to change what I have. We have done some rearranging and donating and trashing, so hopefully in the next few months the place will feel bigger, and maybe look nicer with some new furniture, curtains, and artwork.

2. I gained a lot of weight after having a baby and living a life of stress for two years. Most women aim to lose all their baby weight right after pregnancy. Well, a month after having George, Dad got sick, and for the next year I was back and forth to KC as well as trying to be a new mom, and of course eating my emotions. Not the best weight management conditions. So to take control of this I started seeing a wellness coach and nutritionist. So far so good—after drinking more water and eating more veggies I’m more than 5 pounds lighter and closer to my goal of being healthier. It is so nice to have a few people encouraging me to take these small steps to feeling better about myself.

3. I can’t keep my house clean. This has been a life long issue, just ask my former roommates. But when I’m already stressed and I live in a messy place, it makes it hard to ever feel relaxed and happy. The idea of keeping every room in my house spotless is daunting. So, I started small and I just aim to have the kitchen clean each night. Dishes done and counters wiped. That’s it. And that’s really all I’ve been able to do, but it is a tiny success. I’ll take it.

Those are a few of the many things I want to take control of, but my wellness coach says three goals is just enough to start. So there I start on my quest to take control.

What are some things you can take control of today?

P.S. Here are a few books I’ve been reading lately: The Blue Zones:9 Lessons for Living Longer and Thirsting for Prayer

And here is a website for setting your personal goals for this year The Best Year Yet

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twenty fourteen

twenty fourteen.

Last year on this day I was reflecting on the good that came from the worst year of my life so far. The year I lost my dad. I also wished that the new year would be filled with better days and taking steps to move forward with my life.

The most profound difficulty was losing my grandfather only five months after losing Dad.  Grieving multiple losses is a completely different monster that sneaks up on you and sometimes feels like it will never be defeated. I would feel better about Dad but then I would remember Papa was gone too and I would take steps backward.

I then began to see a grief counselor, thanks to the nudging of a concerned aunt and my own desire to feel better. Through counseling I’ve been able to better understand how grief affects all aspects of my life, and I gained many insights into coping skills, self-care, and overall better mental well-being. I also put together a new page that contains all my posts about my grief journey in hopes my writings may help others.

Things began to look up when we were able to celebrate something with family: Dr. Jonathan.

July brought another happy celebration, my cousin’s wedding. And we enjoyed a family reunion in Breckenridge. Many smiles were shared during that family time because for once we were together for something positive.

September was the start of the mom’s group I helped form at my church. This required a lot of planning as well as mental preparation. I was not ready to present myself to new people, let alone try to make new friends, but the tug from the Holy Spirit could not be ignored. We had a good number of moms at our first meeting and it is looking like St. Gianna’s Moms Group is off to a great start, and hopefully will help me continue to move forward socially and spiritually.

BLUE OCTOBER. This post and this one will explain all that went on in my mind and heart during the Royals’ quest for the crown.

George’s birthday and many visits from family kept our spirits high through most of the fall. The perpetual sadness and the cloud of grief seemed to dissipate slightly throughout the year. As I continued to think, read, cry, and pray I felt myself beginning to define my new normal. A normal where I will always miss Dad and his void will always be felt. A normal where I will cry in the doctor’s office and other strange places. A normal where I will say no to things I used to say yes to, and take better care of myself. A normal where I live in each moment and not in the past or the future I wish I could have.

We already know of many challenges we will face in the next few months, as we have some more family illnesses to conquer. I know we’ll pull through because this year is evidence that there is sunshine behind the clouds.

My hope for the new year is the same as last. May there be better days and may we all continue to move forward.

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sweet gift

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today’s small thing: a gift from my neighbor

As Christmas draws near I’m becoming increasingly busy, and more stressed. It seems there is so much going on this week I can barely keep track of things. Also I am mentally and physically beginning to prepare for a two week trip back to KC.

And then we were out of milk. And the car had vapors of gas. And it was 9pm.

The ‘not it’ discussion between my husband and I went on for way too long and finally it was decided I would go get gas and milk.

Of course one can’t just buy milk, so I bought a bottle of moscato to help relax my crazy mind. The checkout lady at Walgreens probably wonders why I regularly come in to buy milk and wine.

Walking into my apartment I noticed the neighbor below was out with her dog and we started chatting. I told her I had to go get the essentials, milk and wine, and she asked me what kind. I told her moscato was the perfect blend of bubbly for easy drinking.

She ran back into her apartment and came back with a bottle of her favorite moscato.

“You have to try this one. Merry Christmas.”

She smiled and went back inside. She cheered me up without knowing I needed it.

Oh, what a good, good neighbor.

How has someone given you a gift you needed?

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ponder no.2

The background music: Christmas Piano Favorites from iTunes

The scent: Sage, Mandarin, and Eucalyptus votives from Yankee Candle

The place: My bed, books strewn about and my journal (there might be a pile of clothes too…)

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Here are some reflections and Bible verses I’ve been pondering lately. Take a moment and ponder with me.

The topic: hope

  • “The sufferings of the present time simply don’t compare to the glory to come that will be revealed to us.” –Romans 8:18
  • hope is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” –Hebrews 6:19
  • “Oh Israel hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.” –Psalm 130:7
  • “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” –Romans 5: 3-5
  • “Trust God and he will help you, make straight your path and hope in him.” –Sirach 2:6
  • Let us learn to abandon ourselves to have total confidence in God, in the big things as in the small, with the simplicity of little children. –In Conversation With God Reflection
  • Hope keeps us moving forward when we’d just as soon give up–The Catholic Youth Bible reflection on Romans 8.
  • Life is something of a mixed bag. There are days of joy, when all seems complete and we are perfectly contented. Then there are days when we feel lost, confused about our purpose, and alone in facing our difficulties. We enjoy happy moments, and those of pain. All are a part of life. While embracing the fullness of this human experience, Paul reminds us that our hope is in something more. There is a longing deep within us–deep within all of creation–for another home. This present world, in all its beauty and wonder, cannot compare with the glory that awaits us in heaven.–The Catholic Youth Bible reflection on Romans 8
  • “Jesus asks for faith in his person, for the complete trust that opens our hearts to his saving and transforming power. Thus, asking for something with faith really means entrusting my needs and my hopes confidently to the One who loves me.” –John Janard, Magnificat Advent Companion

“May the God of hope fill you with all the joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy spirit.” –Romans 15:13

What have you been reading/pondering lately?

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