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.

Advertisements
1 Comment »

donuts with dad

Two years without Dad.

It seems like forever and also just yesterday, like most memories, I guess.

About a month before September 19th I called my mom and decided to visit home over ‘THE day’. We made plans to visit my youngest brother at college and go to the football game to watch him march in the band. We scheduled family time in order to see as many family members as possible in a 2.5 day stretch. We were looking forward to my visit–which trumped the dread.

The weekend was wonderful. Yes, I did say wonderful, strangely enough. The quality time I was allowed gave me so much joy. Laughing, talking, enjoying family. Something I just don’t get enough of while living so far away.

Sisterly pride swelled when I saw my little brother–a shiny speck on the field–marching in the best band in the nation. When the band played the 1812 Overture I thought I felt my dad’s presence standing next to me. I imagined looking at him and sharing a proud smile. It was a treasured moment accompanied by tears and a few goosebumps.

We met up with Kirk after the game for a fun family dinner with a toast to Dad, right around the exact time of his passing two years prior.

The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed for early mass, then did a Dunkin’ stop before visiting the cemetery. What started as a simple desire for a breakfast snack turned into a donut date with Dad.

We stood around his gravesite and ate donut holes, drank coffee, and talked about our dearly departed loved one. Stories about how awesome he was were shared. What would he be like at a KSU football game? How would he be with George? Happy and sad tears streamed down our faces. We shared how our grieving process is going and things we’ve tried, failed at, and what we’re learning.

I mentioned that a priest told me that year two of grief is actually the hardest. Year one is simply survival mode–you’re just grasping at anything you can do to make yourself feel some sort of normal, and often there is emotional numbness as a protection. Year two is when you’re starting (maybe—everyone is different) to crawl out of the dark hole a little, and as the emotional numbness and survival mode fades, the emotions become stronger and you feel the loss more deeply in a more real way.

No wonder this year felt worse. Harder. Almost like a step back.

But those words from my priest, the wonderful weekend, and our donut date with dad, really made me step back and think.

We have come a long way in these two years. We’ve experienced a myriad of emotions. And we’re still standing. We’re still smiling, laughing, working, loving, caring.

And now ‘Donuts with Dad’ will be our family thing. It will be our way of coming together to spend time with Dad and share how we’re still loving him every day. How we’re continuing his legacy. And how we’re going to love each other through it.

Tears, crazy, and all.

2 Comments »

a note

IMG_0108

Today’s small thing: an encouraging note from my doctor

Posts have been few and far between on this blog in the past few months. I’ve been uninspired, tired, full of self pity, sadness, so I didn’t feel like putting all that ugly out in the blogosphere. Today, however, feels very different!

Since November I have been seeing a wellness coach and nutritionist. This was inspired by less than desirable numbers at my insurance screening check-up. I was at the heaviest I’d ever been and completely lost. The nurse suggested seeing the wellness coach. Knowing I needed help–especially with where I was mentally–I obliged.

My goals when seeing these lovely ladies have been simple but challenging. I started with eating three servings of veggies a day, drinking more water, and moving more.

I was completely overwhelmed. So I started by adding just one serving of veggies, which became two, than three, and so on each week as I checked in with my coach. I drank a little more water than the previous week, and just set out to do some kind of movement each day, setting appointments for workouts in my calendar (which sometimes get ignored!).

My nutritionist taught me her ‘ABCs’ which is be Active, Breathe and appreciate, Calories. She said moving, controlling stress, leaving a little room at meals, and sleep are the key ways to live a healthy life. Not to diet, but to make small lifestyle changes that are sustainable for the long run.

Now that I’m 9 months in to these lifestyle changes I feel like a different person. I’m eating less bad things and more good, I’m conscious of how much I move each day, and I’m more compassionate to myself and (a little) less stressed. And the biggest reward of all of this?

I’m 25 pounds lighter.

And that is worth the long wait, the small steps, the big sacrifices. And I truly feel like I will be able to keep it off.

And my doctor, wellness coach, and nutritionist sent a note to congratulate me.

It’s a good day.

IMG_0059

What is one small thing you can do today to make you closer to your goals?

4 Comments »

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.

2 Comments »

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

1 Comment »

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!

DSCN0748 DSCN0725 DSCN0761 DSCN0797

3 Comments »

child’s prayer

small thing: a child’s prayer

A few days ago I was video chatting with a friend when I asked George to sing his best friend, Monkey, to sleep. Because I have to show my friend his adorable singing of ‘Edelweiss’.

To my surprise, something else came out.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

I’m speechless as he is reciting this prayer, in toddler speak of course. I’ve never heard him say it before! As I’m wondering about how he learned it, he continues.

Great Grandpa Kennedy, Grandpa Kennedy, Pray for us.

Pray for MeMa and Uncle Leon get better ’cause they are sick.

Amen

I could barely breathe. My sweet, loving, amazing husband has been secretly teaching my son to pray. And I was able to see the beauty of it revealed before my eyes.

Now instead of singing a song before bed, he wants to say his prayers. And he wants to teach that to his best friend, Monkey, too.

I guess I didn’t realize how much my little man would teach me. IMG_1816

5 Comments »

support with action

do things with love

Yesterday I shared a blog post discussing the phrase, “Let me know if you need anything,” as a response when we hear of someone facing a difficult challenge.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I woke up at two in the morning and wrote four pages in my journal about the topic, feeling inspired the whole time to share my thoughts on the blog. Not because I don’t say the phrase, I do.  I am becoming much more aware when I say it, and I’m working on turning my words into action. Especially since there were many times during Dad’s sickness, and mourning his death, where I have learned the importance of action to show support.

I want to share the many ways people did take those words and put them into action for me and my family. I’d also like to share how I am working on tangibly showing support to people I know facing difficult times.

So here is what I wrote early this morning. I hope you find some inspiration and feel more empowered to help those in need more tangibly, and learn that asking for/accepting help is a sign of strength which gives others an opportunity to do good.

“The post I shared on Facebook yesterday struck a chord with me because of the post’s accuracy.

While this phrase does let people know you care and want to help–

we sometimes don’t know what we need,

aren’t comfortable telling the little, and big, things we might need help with,

and will forget who offered!

And that is such a lost opportunity for both the offerer (losing a chance to do good for someone), and the one struggling (losing a chance for some much needed help.)

Some of the best things people did for me and my family while Dad was sick, and even a year later, were the things we didn’t ask for, or that we finally learned we were worthy of asking for.

  • visits from friends, family, and other random guests
  • gift cards to grocery store, local restaurants, gas stations
  • meals multiple times a week
  • cards almost daily of well wishes and sometimes silly things
  • emails/texts/phone calls asking how we were doing
  • cleaning our house, fixing things, while we were gone on vacation!
  • donating a maid service
  • putting up christmas lights/yard work

The list could continue, if I spent more time thinking.

Living 600 miles away I sometimes felt displaced from the support my family was getting, but my friends found ways to help me even from a distance. They organized so one person would write me a letter each week. Sometimes they were filled with encouraging words, other times it was a simple update on life. I loved how those letters brought a little of normal back into my life when things felt anything but. A local friend gave me a care package full of snacks, relaxing spa masks, a funny movie, a magazine, and other things that made me smile. Another friend would bring food over or come have tea and just listen to me talk about everything or nothing. Someone sent me a book of inspiring quotes. I also received cards, gift cards, and notes reminding me they were praying for me and my family.

There were times where I wondered if anyone cared. If people really did want to support me, or if they even knew how difficult life was for me.

All of these things, these actions, were big and small ways to physically show me that people cared, that they did know my life was hard at that moment, and they were walking with me.

In times when I am so lost within my struggle, it is my biggest desire to see a glimmer of hope–in a phone call, a card, a meal, in a bag of gummy bears.

That is what I really need. HOPE. Knowing I am not alone in my struggle.

Now what? How can we start being more intentional with helping those who need support?

Here is how I’ve been working to actively provide support for someone going through a difficult time. Remember, I’m not very good at this, but I’m trying.

I love numbered lists, so you’re getting one today.

1. Identify the situation and place yourself there—what would YOU need?

What would make a hospital room feel more cozy? What would bring a smile to my face if I were deeply sad? What would help me relax in the midst of caring for a sick loved one? If you know someone who has been in that situation—ask them for what helped. I have researched online ideas for care packages and gifts for people in different situations. It can be a great springboard for ideas.

2. Decide what you are best able to do.

You know your strengths, so use them in this situation! Are you able to make a meal for the family? Would sending a meal (Jack Stack!) or gift card for food better fit your comfort zone or the family’s schedule? Can you send a card periodically letting them know you’re thinking of them? Are you good at spending time with people? Can you call, visit, email once a week to check in? Can you commit to praying for them daily or offer a small sacrifice in their honor? Can you pull them out of their mess for an hour and take them shopping or to a movie? Can you drive them or a family member somewhere? Or babysit the kids for an hour? Are you good at yard work or handy around the house? Maybe you could wash their sheets and towels? If you don’t have a lot of money to send gifts, what can you do for them that doesn’t cost anything?

The options are so large once I started noticing the things my family needed that had almost nothing to do with caring for/missing Dad. It was all about helping to make life easier, no matter how small the task.

3. Communicate with the person/family what you want to do.

Sometimes a thing you want to do might be too personal or might not fit exactly what the family wants, so talking with them (or if there is a contact person organizing help) is important. We had many friends who told us what they were going to do, and it was awesome! They didn’t ask, “Do you want me to go to the grocery store for you?” they said, “I’m dropping some groceries off at your house today, what can I get you?” This was amazing because it left little room to feel guilty, or for us to say no to something we really needed. The one I loved the most was, “I’m taking you out, what day and time are you available?” How can I say no to that??

Obviously every person/family is different. But I feel even discerning the tangible ways you can support will begin to take the words of “let me know if you need anything” closer to action.

An action of love and support that will give people what they need.”

What are some other actions of support you would suggest? What helped you when you were going through a tough time? 

2 Comments »

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.

WORRYING-IS-LIKE-PRAYING-FOR-WHAT-YOU-DON-T-WANT-Framed-Quote-306{source}

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

1 Comment »

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.

Leave a comment »