Undaunted in 2018: my word for the New Year

Definition of undaunted: undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort.

2017 was the worst year of my life.

Not all of it…some of it was normal, even joyful, fun, adventurous. There was travel, and there were milestones. There was love. There was a lot of work, with effort spent toward family needs, clinic responsibilities, and the daily stuff of life.

And there was shock, tragedy, and devastation.

2017 brought the loss of my son, and with him, something I can’t really define. I’ve written about his death on Facebook, and here on my blog…it’s pretty much all I’ve written about in recent months…talked about it with family and friends. But regardless of the words I use, or how much I say, I’m not satisfied. I can’t really explain the impact, or the sadness.

At 57, I don’t think it was loss of illusion, or naive expectation of life. I’ve been around the block, and I know about hard times, the reality that life hands out surprises, some of them fierce and awful. Some that take your breath.

But losing Alex…I just can’t describe it. It’s a reality I can’t deny. But I haven’t grasped it either.

I can’t fathom that 2018 will dawn, and the only imprint of him on the new year, and the years to come, will be from memories. How is that even possible?

We were supposed to be with him for New Years. Instead, we’re mourning him.

I replay, in my mind, talks we had when he was strong, and determined, and driving toward his goals with purpose. He was undaunted.

And I want to claim that for myself. Not in denial that Alex is gone, nor in expectation of getting over his loss. Some things you don’t get over.

But I ask myself, what would his words be? He’d be philosophical, and tell me that he made the choice he felt was right for him.

Though I can’t see that point of view, there’s no doubt he believed that.

And believing that, he would expect the people who love him to be accepting. We didn’t always agree, but now, there’s no opportunity for argument, or changing his mind. Now, the only option is to accept.

I think about the year ahead, and I know I want to approach it with grace and love, appreciation for what we had, and looking toward the future.

The future with Alex will be in another time and place. But the future with others is here and now, in 2018.

I have a responsibility to the ones I love, and the ones who loved Alex, to be here for them. And that means more than being just physically present. It means being engaged, and connected, not lost in a fog of grief.

It’s only been three months, and to be honest, some days I’m shocked I’m upright, and forming coherent sentences. And to be honest, not all my sentences are coherent.

Other days, I glimpse the future. The ache is in my heart, but I gather myself to do more than mourn. I gather myself to do, and to mourn.

Neither death, nor life, can be ignored.

When I was thinking about my word for 2018, I knew it had to be a word of strength, and determination. Like Alex, I want to be undaunted.

Some would view his final choice as anything but undaunted. Some would see defeat. Or loss of determination, even weakness. But I see someone who believed he had reached the end, and was undaunted by the decision he faced.

I wish I could talk him out of it…help him see a different path, and a different way to live undaunted. But I can’t. I believe he died that way. Undaunted, and making the choice he believed was best. Even if it was a choice that broke hearts.

My choice is to live undaunted. It’s easy to say, and so challenging to confront. What does that even mean? And how will that look, in the coming year, when I’m still raw and walking wounded?

I think it means learning to live with loss, and grief, in ways that both honor Alex, and honor the lives around me. It means being the best I can be, in the midst of mourning. That’s what I’m learning. I’m not just mourning. And I’m not resuming life as though this never happened. I’m combining these realities, and my responses to both.

Spending the last week with Riley and Jack shows me how important this is. We talked about Alex, cried over him, missed his laugh and presence, shared some stories. But we also opened gifts, and played games, and celebrated the here and now.

If I sound like I know what I’m doing, like I’ve figured this out…well, that’s just me telling myself this is what I have to do, rehearsing it out loud, and in print. This is my choice, based on Alex’s choice.

I wish I could continue living the life I had before October, but that’s not an option. So, my word for 2018 is undaunted, the only way forward.

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Alex Gibson, April 2017

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Last family vacation in Hawaii, April 2017

 

 

 

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Murphy — Eyes + Words

This is so beautiful, just wanted to share. I really love the last line…”I’ll fight for that smile…” ~ Sheila

Written by Jacob Ibrag He tried to appreciate the good, flooding out the inevitable. Looking at her, couldn’t help wonder when his world would crumble. Natural deterioration. Murphy’s law was waiting. Planning a heist to replace his heart with deep gravity. Crawling into his insides, taking over his memories. Destroying everything he’s built in a instant. He rejected it, ‘I’ll fight […]

via Murphy — Eyes + Words

Love is

Love is perhaps the most over-used and least understood word in any language.

And today, Valentine’s Day, it is especially overworked. Love is the key word in all the cards and messages that go out across the world.

But what is its essence?

To love without condition means selfless reaching out, a giving up, putting the other person first.

Love forgives, and doesn’t look back.

Love holds on, and doesn’t give up.

Love doesn’t measure past faults.

Love stands up and braces against the challenges of life.

Love is strong.

Love is soft.

Love is amazing when you feel it flowing out, and overpowering when it comes in like a tide.

The greatest love is not found in a season of new. It can only be fully discovered and revered in maturity. How can we know what we have without comparison, without recognizing we’ve weathered and grown? And how can we know how strong love is unless it has been through the fire?

We can only know we love unconditionally when we’ve confronted conditions.

The beautiful moments make the photos, the Facebook page, the Twitter feed.

The hard times make the love. 

It is the hard times that tell you if you have the real thing or the pretty thing, the last-a-lifetime connection or the last-as-long-as-it-feels-good relationship. There are plenty of those around, and yes, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Who doesn’t like it when it feels good?

No one has the answers, a formula worked out neat and predictable, least of all me.

But I know it when I see it.

And I know it is worth having, worth working for.

On a day of icons, roses and chocolates and pretty cards, if you’re receiving or giving, I hope you’ll enjoy the moment.

Just know…the real thing is likely to show up on a Tuesday, disguised as something not glamorous, not photo-worthy, even unexpected.

And I guarantee…the Tuesday moment when love is demonstrated, not with beauty and ceremony, but in a flash of nitty-gritty, real life, and inconvenience…look there for the meaning, for the stamp of belonging.

Look to those moments to see love in all its power, showing up without the disguise of romance, standing in the gap and holding firm when you need it most and maybe deserve it least.

We can all be pretty and sweet on date night. But on a Tuesday…that’s when the real thing happens, and the bonds are forged.

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all the romantic souls who dress up today and celebrate the moment.

And may your Tuesdays be beautiful too, full of opportunity to give and receive real love, without condition, with all your heart.

Love is Blind

Thanks to the Dads

To all the dads I know: may your day be wonderful and full of the good stuff: laughter, and words that touch the heart, hugs, and the moments that become snapshots in memory. The years fly by, but the good stuff somehow lasts, photos of the mind that take us back, connecting through time and distance.

I have those mental snapshots of my grandfathers, my dad, father-in-law, my husband, brothers, uncles, son-in-law. Watching these men over the years as they fathered…some in more traditional ways, others more hands on and involved…I’ve seen a breadth of styles and relationships. Above all, I appreciate their commitment and integrity.  Just like me as a young mom, I’m quite sure they were making it up on the fly, figuring out how to be a dad in the midst of all the other demands life was throwing. Does anyone have the luxury of learning to parent at leisure?

There are a lot of words of wisdom that fly around on these days, and anyone can learn from the example of others. But words fall away in the face of actions. It is the actions of these men that I reflect on today. Watching them interact, sometimes at the high points of life, others in the valleys, I see men who were able to connect with their kids, be there when it counted, when the going was rough. I see men who have been quiet heroes to their families, not perfect, but trying. I see men who stayed, fathers who lived up to the name.

I see dads, and I see kids…young ones, adults, and everything in between…who have relationships. And they’re good ones. Thank you to these men, the men of my family.

But more broadly, thanks to the men everywhere who are fathers, and who make a difference, not just in the lives of their children, but in the lives of all of us. Fathers doing a good job make all of us stronger, and better, and healthier.

Enjoy your day, and celebrate the good stuff. And feel proud: you’re doing your job, you’re making a difference. And we love you for it.

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PB and Riley

 

 

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…

Love is

Love is many things and comes in many forms. On this day, Valentine’s, there’s no escaping the commercial message. While I don’t get excited about the day myself, (my personal take) there are so many ways to express love, and thankfully, none revolve around a date on the calendar. These are a few of the joys I celebrate.

Love is:

~ 32 years of marriage: ups, downs, roller-coasters, tears, smiles, joys, kindness. All that, and we still laugh together. We still connect.

~ Love and support for family, and from family: the ties that bind.

~ Watching our son and daughter thrive.

~ Discovering childhood again through the littles, Riley and Jack.

Snow bunnies

Snow bunnies

~ Watching our daughter play with her babies, build her family.

~ Seeing the relationships of generations ahead of me…enduring, stabilizing, nurturing.

~ Friendships that have stood the test of time.

~ Faith that grounds and secures. I’m not secure in myself, I’m secure in my relationship. Thank God, and grace.

In honor of the day, here are a few new favorite words:

I have seen the best of you, and the worst of you and I choose both. ~ (Pinterest)

I believe in love at first sight…because I am a mom. ~ (Pinterest)

The problem with love these days is that society has taught the human race to stare at people with their eyes rather than their souls. ~ Christopher Poindexter

True love isn’t Romeo and Juliet. It’s Grandma and Grandpa, who grew old together.  ~ (Pinterest)

Eventually, soulmates meet, for they have the same hiding place. ~ Robert Brault

Imagine – how would you change?

I was catching up on blog posts this afternoon and came across this video of a TED talk given by one of the passengers from the flight that landed in the Hudson River in New York a couple of years ago. Maybe it resonated with me a little more after my bumpy flight last week! Or maybe it was just a timely reminder of what’s really important in life.

You may have different priorities that speak to you. Regardless of what you list as your life’s focus, this is a good reminder to be intentional. Evaluate how you spend your time. Adjust if necessary.

Hope you enjoy!

Do you bemember?

We recently spent a weekend in Seattle with Stephanie and Matt and their little ones. I’m enchanted watching Riley and Jack, listening to three-year-old Riley chatter away, and baby Jack’s belly laugh and funny growl when he’s trying out his voice. They’re absolutely delicious. I feel myself being pulled in, helpless to resist the charm of childhood.

Jack's 1st haircut

Jack’s 1st haircut

Riley is living up to her heritage, a talker who’ll be able to hold her own. She’s not afraid of words. She speaks clearly, only missing now and then with pronunciation. One of her “Riley-isms” is “bemember.” No one is correcting the mistake…it won’t be long till she figures out for herself that it’s “remember.” But meantime, it’s precious to hear her asking, “do you bemember?” And yes, yes we do.

Sunday she was reaching into the pantry for cookies. There was a spill, the cookies landed on the floor, and suddenly we heard a little voice saying, “Not good, Mommy. Not good!” She was a little bit reporter, a little dismayed. The tone was perfect. The adults couldn’t keep from laughing at the grown up response.

She’s all about pretend. She mixes the characters from Disney movies, princess books, toys, and imagination without discrimination. Sometimes she’s featured as the lead of the drama, clomping about the house in her costume “glass” slippers and sporting Minnie Mouse ears, a veil, and one of her princess dresses. Or she may top off the dress with a pirate hat, or a Doc McStuffins stethoscope. Pink figures largely in her wardrobe. Never mind, it’s all good. Storytelling is just an ability to weave a thread though characters and events, which she does effortlessly. The story may not resemble anything we know. But she’s learned to preface her beginning with “Pretend…..”

Riley the Storyteller

Riley the Storyteller

Baby Jack has mastered crawling, and he’s reached the curious stage. As in, he’s checking out everything he can grasp. Objects mysteriously disappear in front of him. He works hard at it, but so far parents are faster. So far. And Riley is learning to protect her stuff from his little hands. She’s seen the future, and it has a large imprint of Jack. Jack is all boy, and he’s going to be a climber. He’s a snuggler, still curls up and hugs your shoulder when he’s sleepy. He’s almost eleven months, rounding the corner to the homestretch of his first year. He’s starting to stand, and pull up to furniture. Walking will be a quick step for him, and then the baby days will be behind, toddler months ahead.

I find myself missing them, smiling when I see their photos stream across my screen. I miss their funny expressions, the imprint of childhood that captures my attention and keeps bringing me back to a view of the world through their eyes, at their level.

The days pass as quickly this go-round as they did with my kids. I’m shocked when I look at the calendar and realize Jack will be a year old in December. Riley will be four in April. I have a lot of the same feelings, 25 years later, as I had when I was the mom.

But now, as Gram, I’m a little wiser. I know the time flies, and the kids grow. I know that it’s more important to enjoy the moment rather than mourn how quickly it’s flying by. I know you can’t have too many photos, but you can have too many toys. I know spending time with them is more important than spending money on them. I know that kids need boundaries as much as they need love, and they gain security from consistency.

I hope I gave my kids these gifts, in some measure. But I know I’m better prepared to share all this with Riley and Jack because I’ve done it before. I practiced first on my two. And now, with the benefit of repetition, and standing in line behind the parents, I’m privileged to nurture again, and to witness, and to mark their moments.

Sunsets, like childhood, are viewed with wonder not just because they are beautiful but because they are fleeting.”  ~ Richard Paul Evans

She’s thirty

Stephanie & Jack

Stephanie & Jack

Friday, November 1st, and we’re heading to Seattle for a long weekend. We’re going down to celebrate, and mark the moment, and wonder where the time has gone. Stephanie turns thirty – 30! – tomorrow. I’ve joked that I’m not sure who is more traumatized between us. I think it’s me. She’s actually excited to be leaving the 20s behind, and feel that she’s fully a member of the adult world.

I’m excited for her. She’s a wife, and a mom, and a teacher, a home-owner, a tax payer. She sees this milestone as a cap to a decade of growth and achievement. A Type-A first-born, she powers through to her goals.

I’m nostalgic. I vaguely remember my mom turning thirty. I clearly remember myself turning thirty. I’m utterly astonished that my daughter could be hitting this marker. Decade birthdays cause reflection, my daughter’s no less than my own. I look at her and have flashbacks to earlier years. Photos and videos tell her story, interwoven with lives of family, friends, and now, her husband and little ones.

I’m proud. She’s funny and smart and pretty, and she’s kind. She follows her faith. She’s organized and creative. She remembers birthdays, calls her grandparents. She’s a better mom than I think I was…firmer, and more disciplined. She’s a strong woman.

I’m humbled. Motherhood will do that. From birth to now, I’ve watched her grow, with awe. She is unique, as all individuals are; yet watching her develop has taught me that from mother to child, the generations repeat the rhythms of life. I hear her talk about Riley and Jack, about her life and her epiphanies, and I identify. Yes, I remember feeling that. I learned that lesson too. I’ve experienced the same emotions as she does. I’m just a few years further along the path. And with the vision of my 53 year-old eyes, I see that my mom, and my grandmothers before, did the same things, said the same things. We are linked by blood, but maybe more importantly, by common experience. With all the changes in the world, we are much the same at heart. Technology and fashions change. Love doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes of motherhood says that once you have a child, your heart is forever walking around outside your body. That’s more true today than the day she was born. The love for the newborn grows and matures, just like the person. And now, thirty years rich with experience and memory, that love is a deep current that flows between us, mother and daughter. Not often spoken, but always there.

One of my favorite things about now is the ability to talk. We talk daily. Sometimes multiple times a day, usually short exchanges that keep us connected and rooted in the other’s life. The minute-to-minute events of childhood or traffic or a new haircut are the stuff of our conversations. Mostly. Sometimes we wander into deeper stuff, baring our hearts for a few minutes. But largely, through the magic of technology, we have a running dialog of the day-to-day.

Tomorrow we’ll treat her, and ourselves. We’ll open gifts and have dinner out, topped off with cheesecake. We’ll do photos and drink a toast to the day. Rob has a sentimental gift for her. I went with the more practical approach. I’m giving her a new camera for the coming decade. I expect lots of sweet shots to add to my digital collection.

Happy birthday to my daughter, my first born, my one and only Stephanie. You have been a joy and a delight! May you have many more to come, and may you be rich with love, opportunities to serve, and satisfaction from life well done. My deepest wish for you is that you experience the reward of relationships. Nothing is better than a life well lived, and full of love. But you already know that. You’re thirty now!

Paying forward

I paid a bill tonight. Oh, not online as I usually do. And it wasn’t a Visa bill or a car payment. It was a life bill. The kind that presents itself unexpectedly.

I’ve owed this payment for a while now.

A young friend, a woman I know from the small church fellowship I attend, had dinner with me this evening. Rob is out of town…I’m spending the week working and home alone. She and I had talked a few weeks ago, said we should get together sometime. When I got back to Ketchikan on Monday, I called and suggested dinner this week.

So tonight, she came over, and we sat and talked. We talked about life, and marriage, and choices, and inspiration. We share a love of quotes, and discussed writers who motivate, favorite books and websites.

She had a need, and maybe I did too. She had a need to hear what I could say, and I had a need to pay a bill. To pay forward the generosity and sharing of so many women in my life who have sat with me and listened and rained wisdom on my circumstances. These conversations helped shape my thoughts, gave me hope, held me up.

And I believe, in a small way, that I paid a little of that debt tonight.

My young friend is strong and big-hearted. She’s motivated. She knows what she wants. She just needs encouragement to do what she already knows to do. She needed to talk and be heard by someone who could listen; really listen.

I told her a bit of my story, some of the ups and downs of my life. I told her what had worked for me: strategies to get over the rough times, the times when you question and second guess and wonder if you’re doing the right thing or if you’re just too weak to do it differently. And I began and ended by saying clearly: I have not figured it all out. I don’t have all the answers.

But this I know: I am a better woman today for the struggles I’ve experienced. And now, memories of the hardest times are as sweet as memories of the best times. Because without the one, there could not be the other. The struggle created the better me, and the better me, the Sheila that so needs grace in life and drinks it in like water in the desert…that Sheila knows the value of the struggle in a way that the younger and untried version of myself could not have understood.

So, I paid forward. To those women out there reading this who have sat beside me and been a bridge to now…thank you, thank you, thank you. I don’t know where your legacy may end. But I believe we created another link in the chain. And one day, maybe years from now, my friend of tonight will be the one realizing that she is paying forward, sharing with a next generation the wisdom of women who came before.

It is a priceless heritage. I’m proud to be a part, and to have paid a small portion of the bill I owe.