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Today Alex is 31. I talk to him, think about him. What do you say, when the years aren’t adding up on this planet any longer? Do you still say “happy birthday?”

I think about other birthday celebrations for those who are gone, the way we honor heroes who left a mark.

We hold parades, declare holidays, and remember their gifts. We look back with gratitude, and find inspiration in stories of lives well lived.

Alex left his mark too, on so many lives. He left stories of kindness, humor, a strong work ethic, his unique vision of life. He left grand memories.

There won’t be any parades today, and businesses will all be open as usual. Other than a few people who know this date as his, to the rest of the world, it’s just another Monday.

But for those who love him…it’s the first birthday without.

We had a running conversation about this time of year…me always trying to find a gift he would enjoy, and him standing firm, saying all he wanted for his birthday was a sandwich.

I don’t remember how that got started. When he was still a kid at home, the tradition was always that the person celebrating their birthday got their dinner of choice…favorite home cooked meal, or favorite restaurant. Somewhere along the way, Alex decided to keep it simple, and started requesting “just a sandwich.” In mom mode, I could never do that. A sandwich wasn’t festive enough. Sometime in the teen years, he began choosing pie as the birthday sweet, lemon icebox or key lime, to mark the day and round off the evening, candles burning and presents stacked, ready to be opened.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the birthday reminder from Amazon, sent to alert me that June 18 was coming up. Then a reminder popped up on my calendar.

As if I needed that.

Though there’s no danger I’ll forget his birthday, and no need to remind me to buy a gift for him, I won’t take him off my birthday calendar, or Amazon reminder list. There are already so many ways he’s missing from life. His phone number is no longer his. He doesn’t have a mailing address any more. His bank account is closed.

I won’t erase him from my lists. It’s not that I need any reminders to think of him. But it’s important to me that his name is still there.

Like so many pieces of the tapestry of loss, there’s no logic to my thoughts. I couldn’t tell you why I can’t take him off my Amazon gift list, or delete his address from any of the other sites where it lives. I just can’t. Even though I know that deleting an address doesn’t mean anything…doesn’t change any facts, and doesn’t lessen his place in my heart…I won’t do it. Somehow it means something to me to see it.

In this new era of life, without Alex, everything counts, everything matters. It’s strange the way this works. When someone you love is living, of course they’re important to you, and you’re concerned with them, and for them, and things that impact them impact you. But when that person is gone, and what you have left are the memories, photos, physical reminders of their lives, and the digital footprints left behind….it’s all important, to a level you can’t begin to understand, until that’s all you have.

It all becomes sacred.

Where once I loved the boy / man, now I cherish the traces of him, wherever I find them. So nothing is meaningless, not even the email from Amazon to remind me of his birthday approaching.

And yet nothing fills the void.

I’ve been fearful of this day. Wondered how it would feel to wake up and know there’s no birthday call to make, no sandwich joke between us, no hearing if he liked his gifts. Nothing. Just nothing.

But today, as much as I miss Alex, I’m celebrating his life, all 31 years of it. Somewhere he’s 31, and he’s probably having a sandwich, hopefully with bacon.

There are 364 other days in the year to mourn him, to feel the sorrow of loss. Today, I’m just choosing to find the joy, and to be thankful for his life. He was amazing, and a gift.

Alex taught me many things, some of which have come in the past months. Even now, I’m learning through him, because of him. Today is another of those gifts, teaching me, reminding me, that lives intertwined don’t unravel because one has moved to another realm. They’re still connected, and always will be.

The people who touch our lives, and whose lives we touch…our stories are forever joined. Alex will be forever young, in photos and human years. But in my heart, and in another world, he’ll keep having birthdays.

“There are three things we cry for in life: things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.”
Douglas Coupland

Alex has been each of these: found, magnificent, and lost. He is lost to us now, for a time. But not forever.

And that is something to celebrate.

Laura, Will, & Alex, June 18, 2017

Alex’s 30th birthday, with friends at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, June 18, 2017

“The beautiful thing you did, that no one knows about, or forgot, it’s there always; light, grainy light- even if cruelty gets its hands on it. It’s done. You were born. No taking that back.” 

~ Thank you, Laura, for the quote. It’s perfect. ~

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Alex, my son

It’s been a terrible fall. We lost our son, Alex.

I’ve written about this on my Facebook page, shared a lot of the detail there. But I can’t go back to blogging without sharing the story here, as well.

Our world changed on Oct 4. Really it changed on Oct 3, but we didn’t know that until the night of the 4th.

That was when we learned we’d lost Alex to suicide. It happened the day before, but it took several hours after he was found in his apartment in Denver to get word to us through official channels, in Alaska.

That knock on our door changed so much.

It plunged us into a surreal world of sadness, loss, questions, statistics, and community.

The initial shock, disbelief, and the follow-up trip to Denver passed in a blur of unreality, mixed with the stark practicality of death. No matter how devastating, death demands decisions, and actions.

We left Alaska on Thursday, stopped in Seattle to connect with our daughter and son-in-law, and landed in Denver on Friday afternoon. Although we knew from the note Alex left that he requested cremation, we had to sign the paperwork to allow for that, and begin the process of procuring a death certificate.

The death certificate was the key to having authority to address Alex’s estate issues…deal directly with his bank, his apartment lease, his vehicle. Though he was single, and a minimalist, there were still multiple tasks required to close out his physical life, and see to the responsibilities of legal and financial requirements.

Working through everything in a short time-span, we hardly had time for his loss to sink in. Looking back, that was a blessing. I don’t know if I could have made it through that week if I hadn’t been largely numb, still in shock. Faced with the necessity to empty his apartment, decide what to do with his car, and make arrangements for cremation, we literally worked for the next week, almost without stopping, except to visit with friends…some mutual, and some new acquaintances, who were friends of Alex.

That was priceless time, allowing us to connect to people he knew and loved, people he worked with, friends from his past, people we’d known as a family during the years we lived there. It was a precious gift of shared sorrow, but also of shared joy, celebrating the man he was, and the man we lost.

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You hear yourself talking about things you never imagined you’d discuss.  What to do with his ashes. Deciding what to keep of his personal belongings, what to donate. Each possession becomes a question to debate…first, because it was his, and the smallest of his things are suddenly sacred. And second, because…how do you decide, in the emotional whirlwind of unbelievable loss, what will be significant in the future? The obvious things are easy…but so much is not obvious, standing in the apartment of the son you loved, trying to realize what this really means…that he has no more use for these things…that he’s done with them, and yet they’re suddenly your tangible link to his life.

Although humans live with the idea of death,  and the possibility of it taking anyone, at any time, for any reason…you never think it will be your child. Your son. And we never feared suicide for Alex. I worried for him when he was deployed in Iraq with the army. I used to mark each call and email on my calendar, so I could see, at a glance, when we last heard from him during that 13 months. I worried for his safety when he was working security, and when he was driving for Waste Management. I worried about him being in an accident on the road. As a driver, he was out in all weathers. I worried about him working with heavy equipment.

But I never worried that he would take his life.

Even though he fit the profile of someone at higher risk for suicide…young, male, a veteran without a stable relationship in his life…we didn’t see him as someone at risk. We knew he was seeing a counselor through the VA, but he dismissed those sessions when I asked him about them. He made the counseling sound like more of a formality…just something he had to do, as his honorable discharge from the army came with a PTSD rating.

He always seemed so strong, so sure, so determined. He was well-connected to friends, to a job he enjoyed, to his routine of working out, going out, taking care of himself. He was in a good place, for the most part. Most of all, he was intensely, vibrantly alive. He had energy, humor, drive, and plans for himself, with friends, and with us.

He was also lonely at times. We knew that. He and his long-term girlfriend had been through some on/off cycles, and he was struggling with that. Ultimately, from his note, that was the trigger, though we believe the PTSD was a contributing factor as well. Ironically, he had gotten rid of his gun collection, because she didn’t like them. He obviously kept the one he used. Now, I wonder if he kept it with this in mind, or if he kept it for target shooting, or as a weapon for self-defense? We don’t know, will never know. How I wish he had disposed of it, along with the rest!

Rob and I talk a lot about Alex…what happened, what we might have missed that would have allowed us to intervene…we talk about him, the boy and the man, the son we love and miss so much. He’s never far from our thoughts.

This is what I’ve learned, these past few months, living with a grief unlike any other I’ve experienced:

This grief is like clothing. Sometimes it’s the outer clothing I wear. That’s when the tears come so easily, triggered by the smallest of memories or links. Sometimes grief is the layer underneath the face I show to the world. But whether it’s visible to anyone else or not, I’m conscious that grief is there. Ever present. Palpable.

Grief can be triggered by anything, however insignificant, or even seemingly disconnected…because suddenly, there is significance between the one grieving, and the one lost. A scent, a word, a photo, a food, or something random that triggers a memory…a favorite color, music, a place, a line from a movie, a joke…anything that takes you to that person, in a flash of remembrance. There may be a flood of tears, a laugh, a sweet longing. There’s not one possibility for response, but many.

I realize that Alex was a grown man, and he had friends and connections who are strangers to us. I’m grateful he had many people in his life, that he was well-loved, by others as well as us. We didn’t own the man, we just had a piece of him. I’m thankful for our relationship with him, thankful that we’ve had so many of his friends share stories of his kindness, his humor, his integrity, his place in their lives. I’m thankful for the man he was. I’m thankful for the memories we have, of calls and texts, trips to see him, and for him to come to us. I’m so thankful for our last family vacation in April.

Grief has a positive side. Feeling the intensity of Alex’s loss, I’m even more conscious of other family and friends…how important they are to me, how much I want to spend my time with them in ways that are memorable.

Grief makes me appreciate so much. I appreciate that my son and I had a loving relationship, that the last words we ever said to each other were “I love you.” And the best part is, that was our usual way to say goodbye. We didn’t speak those words out of some sense of healing a wound or mending fences. No bridge building or fence mending was needed.

I appreciate the connection he had with each of his family…for the ties that bind, and continue, even now. I’m thankful for the messages we read, the photos we have, that remind of us the good times, the funny exchanges, the humor and joy he brought to our lives.

I’m so thankful for the years we had with Alex. I’m so thankful that he was with us 30 years, that we saw him grow up, and we knew him as a man.

Mourning my son has freed me from fearing death. I used to be fearful of what was beyond. But since my son is on the other side, I’m not afraid to go there now.

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We’ll do a celebration of life event for him, when the time is right. For now, I’m not ready or able to spread his ashes. But the time will come, and when it does, he’ll be in Colorado, the home where he grew up, and the place he chose to be his home as an adult.

For now, each day is a new experience of learning the depths of this loss, and how to keep living, when a part of us is gone…how to make sense of this, as best we can. We talk, cry, go through our days, look at photos, connect to him in a hundred small ways, and get up the next day to do it again.

We look for ways to honor him. He was a dedicated blood donor, so that’s a new focus for me. I hope to arrange digital blood drives, and plan to donate myself, as often as possible. Others who knew him have joined me in this.

We’ve used Alex’s choice to connect to others who might benefit from some part of his story. We’ve been given an opportunity to reach out, through Alex’s death, and we take that responsibility seriously. It’s not a community I expected to join, but once you’re a survivor of a suicide victim, you become more aware of others’ circumstances, and ways you can help in the fight for life. We speak respectfully, but seriously, to say…don’t do this…please don’t consider this option. Please choose life.

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We have a few pieces of Alex’s affairs still to work through. Next month we’ll turn in his phone. We kept it to help with managing his accounts, and to be honest, because we couldn’t face disconnecting his phone number just yet. His Facebook page is still up, though we should probably transition it to a memorial page. We plan to request his records, to find out if he had a diagnosis of depression…if there was a clinical condition that contributed to his choice. And we have a series of significant dates to get through…holidays, his birthday, the first anniversary of his death.

I don’t expect to get over this. We’ll be the rest of our lives absorbing his loss. How could it be any different? There are many definitions of grief: “grief is love with no place to go;”  “grief is the last act of love;” “grief is the price we pay for love.” It’s all true. And the realest definition of all: grief is our new normal.

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Alex Gibson, Apri 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the holidays begin!

December 19, and I feel like I’ve been waiting all year for this moment. After months of thinking, planning, and anticipation, a lot of things have come together.

This year is ending differently than I would have guessed in January. I didn’t foresee a lot of things then that have happened.

I saw the evolution of our lives, swinging from nomadic to settled, once again.

I watched the small clinics we work with lose providers, deal with changes, welcome new faces.

I saw the ebb and flow of relationships, friendships, and partnerships.

I witnessed growth, change, loss, and reality. Well, isn’t every year filled with all of those elements?

I poured my heart into a book, into a site, and into creating an online presence, that, so far, has mostly been a learning tool for me. I could say the same for the book…maybe one day it will be a best seller, but so far that fairy tale hasn’t come true.

And yet…it has done me good. This year has stretched me, surprised me, and humbled me.

I feel so blessed.

And now, after a year full of work and busy-ness, we’re spending the next few weeks with family, seeing the littles, marking the moments, doing it all one more time.

I can’t wait.

And then, on the very last day of the year, my Christmas present…a trip to New York to see a play that’s captured the imagination of many people. Rob surprised me with planning a trip to see the hit show “Hamilton.” And he capped it off with planning a cruise on the Queen Mary II, leaving New York on Jan 3.

We’re ending the year with a bang, and beginning the new year with an adventure.

We don’t own a home, we don’t own a car, and we still work part-time. But we travel, and we have family, and we’re able to do some good in the process.

It’s a rich life, most of which has little to do with money, and everything to do with intangibles.

Every year I feel like I’ve learned so much, so much that I didn’t know, just a few short months before.

This year I’ve learned, again, that life will surprise you when you least expect it. I was reminded that magic happens in the every-day as much as in the once-in-a-lifetime…the settings are so different, but the ingredients that create the magic are the same…love, people, good hearts, laughter…

I was reminded, again, how much I love to travel, and to explore. I’m a nester, and that need has been satisfied, now that we’re re-settled and mostly unpacked. But I’m so glad life gives opportunity to ramble, to trip-plan and day-dream, road-trip and fly.

It’s not the life I imagined I would have, but it’s a good one.

I’ve known holiday seasons that were less than joyful…those come to every life, for many reasons.

Because I’ve known the other kind of holiday, I appreciate what I have so much. To love and be loved, to have friends, to have hope…it truly doesn’t get better.

May your holiday season be filled with love and light, peace, joy, and acceptance…for what is, as well as what you hope for.

Yes, let the holidays begin!

~ Sheila

 

My mother’s table – Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m celebrating this Thanksgiving at my mother’s table, once again.

It’s not often, at this point in my life, that I find myself surrounded by family for the holiday. We often visit in summer, or at Christmas, but the Thanksgiving break is shorter, and makes for a harder trip.

But this year, the stars aligned, and we have a cross-section of ages and family branches, from multiple time zones and states, gathered to share the day and the feast, to tell stories and catch up on news, to snap photos and give hugs. We’ll hear about what’s new, remember what’s past, (and who’s passed), and talk.

Most of all, we’ll talk.

In my mother’s kitchen, around my mother’s table, we’ll talk. The stories will flow, and mostly they’ll be funny. Sometimes the talk turns to country and opinions, and the opinions are always strong, and strongly voiced. But no one is uninvited here, whatever is said. We’re family, and that’s that.

My mother has two tables, in side-by-side rooms. There’s a formal dining room, and we’ll have enough people in the house that both tables will be used.

But it’s the kitchen table where the magic happens.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, when we gather, we eat, we talk, and we laugh, often late into the night.

Like so many families across the country, we’ll do the traditional things, eat traditional foods, and mark another year.

There are some missing from our clan. Some just can’t be here, too far to travel, and too short a break. We’re missing others who’ll never sit with us again. But they’re here in spirit, and in stories, and in the recipes we use, the names we recall…”Papa,” “Mama,” “Daddy,” “Mother.”

The day will be full, and we’ll be full, stuffed with all the trimmings, and all the favorite dishes offered up to mark the meal, to say this is a special time, to remind us of tradition and occasion.

We are thankful, the lot of us. We’ve all known joys, and we’ve each known loss. We’re a cross-section of Americana, in so many ways…from careers to interests to where we live and how we talk. Some accents are southern, some less so. Mostly we’re united by common genes, common faith, and heritage of place and upbringing, though we’ve wandered far and wide from our starting points.

Thanksgiving is a day for many things…a national pause to say grace and peace, to thank and remember, to eat and celebrate. Mostly, to me, it’s about family. Purer than any other holiday for that focus, it’s a day that allows us to be together with no other motive than that…to be together. The food and the other traditions are really the extras. It was never really about what’s on the table.

What we’re really thankful for are the people, gathered around.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! May your table be full of food cooked with love, and the chairs be filled with faces you love. As you look around tomorrow, may you know who you’re thankful for, and find kindred spirits to talk and laugh with.

I’ll be at my mother’s table, and I’ll be thankful to see the faces, hear the stories, and feel the love.

~ Sheila

He’s on the way!

Look who I found at the Seattle airport last night, headed north!

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We came down to be part of this:

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I told Riley and Jack Santa was making a last minute stop in Seattle to check on the kids here…see how they’re doing, before heading out on his Christmas Eve trip.

This morning we did a few last-minute errands…stocking stuffers, an impulse buy or two. This afternoon we’re cooking, and watching holiday movies, getting excited.

Oh, it’s the good stuff!

The boy is three, just this month, and the girl is five. Perfect ages to drink in the fun, the rituals, the excitement. Jack occupies himself with checking out the gifts under the tree, asking if it’s time to open yet, hearing (again) we have to wait until Christmas morning; he wonders which are for him. He shakes them and looks at them, identifies what belongs to who, makes stacks of his boxes.

It’s a hard thing to wait until the time is right, when you’re three.

Riley sings favorite songs, “Rudolph,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” She absorbs the traditions, knows we have to put out cookies tonight.

They’re ready. The adults are not quite. But we will be, before the littles get up tomorrow, bright and early.

Stockings wait to be filled, cinnamon rolls will be made tonight, ready to pop in the oven in the morning.

Is it perfect? No, it’s never perfect.

Is it magic? Yes.

They’re five and three. And that’s magic enough for me.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Bibbity Bobbity Boo!

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It was a weekend with the Littles, and two weeks out from Halloween, it was a weekend to visit the pumpkin patch and pick the perfect ones to carve for the big event.

Riley and Jack take me to my childhood, and to memories of my kids’ childhoods. What a joy, this third time around to experience the magic and the firsts.

And even though this Halloween isn’t a true first for either of them, they’re young enough that each year is still fresh, a new experience of abilities, awareness, and memory.

They’re at that tender age when their traditions are forming. They’re beginning to know what they do “every” year. Riley, especially, is reaching the age to anticipate, to forecast, to know.

She knows Halloween is coming, that Christmas is around the corner, and that her next birthday is on the horizon.

Jack parrots Riley, so even though he doesn’t have a lot of understanding about dates and events yet, he pipes up with the right words. He copies what she says, and how she says it, right down to the tone of voice and the emphasis and excitement.

It’s delicious to be around them, to hear the baby wisdom. To hear Riley say yesterday that she would “just be the bigger person!” Of course she wasn’t…she was immediately the smaller person, in response to something Jack had done. But she’s working on it. She’s got the words, and she knows when to use them. She just has to perfect her follow through. I recognize pieces of Riley through my first-born self and my first-born daughter, and now another of us. Riley mothers, and orders, and knows. She knows what she wants. And she understands how life works, even at five.

And Jack! That boy, he’s stolen my heart with his laugh, his energy, his very joy of living. He’s almost never still, until suddenly he is, passed out in a heap of exhaustion.

We wait for that moment, every night. He’s precious, but he’s a busy one. And at his bedtime, I think you can hear an audible “aaahhh.” It’s just a wee victory, Jack quiet and down for the night.

His language is growing, every day. But he still has some of the charming baby phrasing I find so irresistible. Two months short of three, he sometimes sounds like a little boy version of Riley, who sometimes sounds like a little girl version of a teenager.

Such is the power of culture. She picks up the tone and phrases, and he learns from her.

But he’s still a Little, too. Often throughout the day he comes to announce, “I hungry!” Like the book he loves about the hungry caterpillar, he eats and eats and eats. And he runs. He’s a runner, and a jumper.

As always, any time they’re in my keeping, the goal is to pass them back safely. Bones intact, no stitches. 🙂

Tonight we’re done, getting ready for bed, the Littles are home with parents. But we’ll see them in a couple of weeks, gear up for another few days of being in their world, their routines, remember the rhythm and the magic.

We’ll carve the pumpkins and buy candy to hand out at the door, feel the building excitement of Halloween for little kids…the non-scary, candy collecting, neighborhood walking event.

It’s a charm-filled time in their little lives, and I’m so thankful to share it.

Earth in the soul

I’m drinking my coffee, looking out at morning sun over vineyard rows, the symmetry and orderliness calling to my soul.

What is there about farming that sings to me? I don’t have any real ambition to work the land, to tend crops or fret about the impact of weather on harvest. But there is something there.

I think it’s the heritage of my grandparents, farmers all, at one point or other in their lives: tied to the soil, to the rhythm of seasons and the cycle of labor, prepare, plant, nurture, harvest, rest.

My grandmothers were gardeners. They were primarily gardeners of vegetables, real food. One of them also raised chickens, and the other was an avid flower gardener, in addition to the plants she grew for food.

They worked hard. As a kid growing up, I had the luxury of helping on the fringe, shelling peas or some other child-friendly task. I wasn’t out doing the real manual labor.

I got to enjoy the bounty. My grandmothers’ tomatoes and corn, peas and butter beans, strawberries and cucumbers were all features of their summer tables, in fresh-from-the-field dishes. Canned and frozen versions appeared in the fall and winter months. Pickles, jams, and all things good lined their shelves and filled their freezers.

In my childhood home, gardening wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity.

I wish I could say I learned this skill from these women, but I didn’t. At the time, I was too young, and later, too busy, to value the knowledge and the work of putting food on the table the old-fashioned way. I thought, in some place in my younger-self brain, that growing your own food wasn’t glamorous. It was too lowly. It wasn’t where I would put my efforts. Give me a nice clean grocery store, vegetables and fruit clean and neatly arranged in artistic rows.

No sweat and dirt for me, thank you!

Now I look out over these rows and I’m wistful. I wish, sometimes, I could be still long enough to see a season through from the planting to the harvesting. I wish I could know the satisfaction of raising my own food. I look back at the women of my youth and I appreciate them in a different way. They were hard workers, and they were so knowledgeable. How did I miss that? How could I think that because they weren’t well educated in a formal sense that I couldn’t learn from them?

I don’t know that I ever really thought that. But I demonstrated it. I didn’t try to learn what they knew. I took it for granted, and shelved what I saw into the category of “nothing I’ll ever need to know.”

I wish I could go back and sit with them, appreciate them from an adult point of view. I wish I could tell them how proud I am of them, how inspired I feel by them. Knowing, as I know now, more about their lives, how hard they worked, how selflessly they gave.

I look out over the rows and I feel it, the call to my blood. Is it some sort of genetic memory? I don’t even know if such a thing exists, or if I believe in that. But something pulls. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for connection to the land that I used to have, through them.

Maybe it’s knowing I missed chances, and I don’t want to do that anymore.

My grandmothers knew I loved them. I said that, many times. But I don’t know if they knew I respected them. I’m not sure I did, as my younger self. I didn’t think of them in that way. But now…now, I wish I could tell them that.

I respect them for the love they showed, for their work, for who they were in their time of life. Their lives were so different from mine. But finally, looking out over the vineyard, I know that’s not important. IMG_0029

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What is important is that they lived their purpose, and planted a heritage.

And I thought they were just planting vegetables…

Top 10 ways to soothe when you need relief

I know a bit about needing relief. I’ve felt that many days, from different sources of stress: relationships, health, financial pressures, uncertainty over a looming decision, all difficult in different ways. Depending on the weight of the issue, sometimes it feels like I can barely function, other times the worry is like an overlay…or maybe an underlay… on top of everything else going on.

When I’m struggling with something heavy on my heart, I need to cocoon and hide myself. In the hardest moments, I want to sleep. I know that’s a sign of depression, and though I’ve never been clinically depressed, I know sleep is a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotional issues.

I also find it hard to stay focused and be productive. I’ve learned that action is a good antidote to feeling sad, but it can be hard to jump-start myself.

My automatic response to distress is to mask what’s bothering me…not sure if somehow I think that will make the situation go away, or if it’s a retreat from confronting what’s painful…if I ignore it, I won’t have to deal with it.

My way of describing this is “putting on the face.” You know, when you act like life is normal, you greet co-workers, go through the motions, even manage to smile and do whatever is on your agenda.

But all the time, inside you’re dying. You’re dying to hear from someone, or about something, or afraid of an approaching deadline.

You’re afraid.

Fear and I are old friends. I can tell the extent of my stress by the persistence of the “engine” of fear I feel running in my stomach. You know when you hear references to the feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yes, that’s the one I mean…fear that is so real you can feel it.

It wakes me up at night, this fear. It rouses me from sound sleep to course through me, my mind moving back to familiar grooves as I think about whatever the issue is, once again.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not one.

Some fears do come true, and there’s no changing that. Tests come back with scary results. People die. Bad things happen.

Some situations are not about circumstances that are beyond our control, but about people who are beyond control. Wouldn’t life be easy if everyone did what I want them to do? Well, that’s not happening either. Or at least, not in a predictable way.

So, how can you find relief, some measure of peace, some way to cope that’s healthy and sustainable?

Because let’s face it, there are all sorts of answers that are not healthy, not sustainable, not realistic.

I can’t sleep my troubles away, don’t want to medicate to handle life, and living in denial doesn’t help either.

So this is what I do…my top ten ways to comfort and soothe when I’m in the valley:

  1. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I imagine the worst. I just go ahead and get it over with. What if my worst fears come true? What will happen then? Of course I can’t foresee exactly what variables could come into play. But by going to my imagined worst-case scenario, I create a vision of what I would do, what I could do. By facing the worst, I can have at least a minimum plan of response. Maybe I’d need to travel, or consider how a situation would impact financially. I try to think through options in advance. Instead of seeing this as dwelling on the negative, I view this as confronting and planning ahead so I’m prepared, as well as I can be.

  2. Once I’ve imagined the worst and think of how I would address it, I imagine the best. What if the best possible outcome happens? What then? I imagine how that result would impact me…even good outcomes can create change, and I want to be aware so I can be prepared for the good as well as the bad. At least this step is positive and more hopeful than the first, so it’s an easier exercise.

  3. I think about things that I can do to soothe in the moment. Sometimes that means doing something physical, like a work out, or just getting out and going for a drive. Other ideas: clean something, paint something, cook something. Do anything that is a positive physical act that gets me moving and helps me feel productive. Stay on top of day-to-day chores. Nothing is more paralyzing than letting go of your physical environment when you’re mentally stressed…if you’re already fragile, living in chaos will only make it worse. Put your mind on auto-pilot and force yourself to keep a routine going. On the other hand, if you can’t do something active, try being still. Meditate and just breathe.

  4. I have a number of “go to” authors that I read when I need encouragement or comfort, or even a challenge to hold on and breathe and be strong. Knowing whose voices will speak to my heart and mind is a good tool to have in my arsenal to ward off sadness and depression.

  5. I think about who among family and friends I can reach to, not necessarily to talk about what’s troubling me, but just for the connection. When I can have a “normal” conversation about the day-to-day, it reminds me that there are a lot of wonderful people and good things in life beyond the concern of the moment, and it helps to distract me for a while, at least on a surface level.

  6. I talk out loud to myself, usually while I pace, or drive. This one may seem strange, and I don’t do it when I’m with anyone else, but it really helps me to work through my plans, fears, hopes, etc., to hear the words out loud. It’s almost like I can move outside myself and get a little perspective.

  7. I try to get out and meet a friend, have dinner with someone, do something to break my day or evening, change the conversation going on in my mind. That can’t happen every day, but having something on my calendar helps me to look forward to a change of pace, and something that is uplifting. This also includes things like doing something helpful for someone else…anything that gets me out and connecting with other people is a mood lifter, and a distraction, and that’s healthy. I try to do this even if I’m not in the mood to do it at the beginning. Acting my way to feeling better is a positive way to improve my mindset.

  8. I write. I’m a writer, so that’s therapeutic for me. If I can put what bothers me into words, I can get a better grip on the whole thing. I can vent, rant, be sad, talk it all out on paper, and oddly, writing through an issue gives me a different perspective than talking it through out loud or with someone else. It also gives me a record to review down the road. It’s a good check to see if I’ve sorted myself out and resolved what’s troubling me. I don’t try to keep a daily journal when I’m stressed, I write as I feel the need. But I do keep what I write, sometimes just until I have an answer, and sometimes longer if the issue is deeper, and something I may need to visit again.

  9. I talk it out with a trusted soul. Depending on the issue, everyone in my life may know what’s going on, or only a select few. I don’t like to air my issues casually, but being able to open up to the right person or group can do a world of good.

  10. I pray, if possible, out loud, or I sometimes write my prayers. If you’re not a praying person, this one won’t help. For me, there’s relief in taking my heart to God, and believing that he hears and cares about what hurts in my life.

So that’s it. I hope, next time you feel your fear, some of these ideas will help. And if you have a great strategy for dragon-slaying, please share…I can always use another weapon in my arsenal!  ~ Sheila

How to find your iPhone, in 20 easy steps

I’m passing through SeaTac this afternoon…reminded me of this little adventure…just distant enough now I can recall it without a shudder…

So there I was, traveling down from Ketchikan to Seattle, December 19, just in time to celebrate Jack’s 2nd birthday the following day, and launch the round of Christmas festivities. It was all going so well…connections worked from Metlakatla to Ketchikan, and though I did get stuck in a middle seat on the flight, in spite of the premium price of the ticket, still…Christmas and birthdays and family…it was all good.

We even landed early.

That was really where the story began. We landed early. Stephanie had planned to pick me up, so I knew she would be waiting for my text saying I was on the ground. I thought I would just pop into the restroom before texting so she wouldn’t pull around to the arrivals level too early. I was holding my phone as the thought registered, and I set it down with my purse and backpack when I went into the restroom.

The stop I chose was the last restroom on the D concourse at SeaTac, the last one before you exit the secured area. Do you know that airport? I’m pretty familiar with it at this point, and I strolled out of the restroom, past the guard sitting by the big sign reminding passengers that they were re-entering the real and unsecured world.

Baggage claim is one floor down, and I was standing on the escalator heading down when I glanced at the pocket in my purse where my phone should have been.

In an instant, I knew where it was, the moment I saw where it wasn’t.

Let’s just say a bolt of electricity / adrenaline hit my body and I spun around like a crazy woman and began climbing the stairs of the escalator. I had checked my luggage, but I still had a purse, backpack, and a small gift bag, and the purse and backpack were heavy with all the things I never check…laptop and iPad, chargers and all the essentials you can’t do without if the luggage is lost. And I was wearing a polar fleece vest and my coat…I just came from Alaska, and it was December, so I was dressed for the weather.

Suddenly, I was overdressed.

I never sweat, but I felt like I had run a distance race, climbing up those stairs…why I did that I’ll never know, except all I could think was turning around and running back to the restroom where I hoped I would find my phone, hanging out on the shelf where I had left it just minutes before.

As I gained momentum and was almost at the top of the escalator, a man was waiting to step on, and said “Boy, that’s a great way to get your exercise!”

Barely pausing to answer, but absurdly feeling I owed this complete stranger an explanation for my bizarre behavior, I yelled, as I caught the last step, “I. Left. My. Phooooonnnne!” I didn’t look behind me to see if he was horrified for me or amused at me…I couldn’t stop now that I was off the steps.

I raced back to the exit point…the one with the guard…I panted out what had happened and hoped I was sufficiently pathetic to appeal to her sense of pity and humanity, but I couldn’t budge her. To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead when I did my about-face on the escalator, I just knew I had to try to get back to the phone.

She sent me around the corner to the check-in desk for Alaska Airlines, since I had just come off an Alaska Air flight. I inserted myself into a line…if you knew me you would know only dire distress would ever cause me to do that…and I breathlessly told my story…by now feeling a little more desperate as the minutes since I had left the restroom ticked by.

Did I mention, this was a new iPhone 6, and it was in a case that had my driver’s license and the main credit card I use for everything? Perhaps you begin to appreciate my state of mind.

It wasn’t pretty.

The Alaska Air agent shepherded me over to a customer service agent, who began to inquire, halfway through my story…had I come off a flight or was I getting on a fight? I just stared at her, open mouthed, I’m sure…what difference did that make? And of course I just came off a flight…I had just come through the secured area…I stared in disbelief as she printed a new boarding pass for me, with the flight info for the flight I had just left…what good could that possibly do me now? And how did it relate to getting back to the restroom?

Well…there is no mercy in the TSA system, let me tell you!

Not only was there no one from the airline or TSA who would allow me to go back and look for my phone from this side of security…no one would do it for me. The only solution was for me to go back through the security screening and back to the restroom myself. But to get through the screening I needed a boarding pass.

The full horror of the scene burst upon me…they actually expected me to go back through the whole security process, with all my stuff in tow, and then walk back to the bathroom to look for my phone.

Did I mention this was a new iPhone 6? With my id and credit card???

I had the presence of mind to ask if I could at least leave my bags at the customer service desk to speed the process.

But no, there is no mercy at Alaska Airlines either. At least not in this situation.

So I hauled, shaking by this time, back to the security line.

Did I mention this was Dec 19?

The lines were full of happy people who had not left their phones on the other side of the secured Great Wall of China, and who were chatting, taking their time, and who had all, seemingly, brought every conceivable thing that would slow the whole process to the point of a crawl.

By the time I got to the agent checking id and boarding passes (fortunately I had a second state ID in my purse, since my license was with the phone) I was beginning to envision a scene…me causing a security incident as I waiting for the v e r y s l o o o w people in front of me to get through the line. I kept seeing the scene unfold on the evening news…”woman has meltdown at SeaTac over new iPhone.”

Well, it was very upsetting to me. But not worth going to security jail over…and anyway, by this time, I was at least 20 minutes out from the time I left it, so my hope of finding it was fading. But I couldn’t walk away without trying.

I spent the few minutes in the security line thinking through the process of replacing the phone, canceling the credit card, thinking of how I would get in touch with Stephanie…because of course I don’t know her cell number, or Matt’s cell number, or my son’s cell number…I was just solving that puzzle when I made it through the line, and I was able to do a sprint to the D concourse.

By this time I felt like I had run a marathon. I could have used a tranquilizer or a shot of something stiff, and if anyone had looked at me wrong I would have likely melted on the spot…you know that point when you feel like you can’t take one more person explaining why they can’t help you? I was in a fragile state and Just.One.Word would have sent me over the edge.

I walked into the restroom and saw a janitor there, and I asked her if she had seen a phone on the shelf.

She looked at me and said the most beautiful words.

“It was turned in to lost and found, down by baggage claim.”

Oh, I could have kissed her! But I kept it to a heartfelt and hurried “Thank you!” and raced out the door, headed down the same path I had just taken a half hour before.

I stood on the escalator steps, this time catching my breath and calming myself, thinking of Stephanie, realizing she must be wondering what had happened to me.

I walked over to the baggage carousels, and standing there waiting for me was Stephanie and Riley, Jack in his stroller, and Stephanie said, “Mom, I’ve got your phone.”

Well!

The story had been working on the other side. My phone had its own little adventure while I had been running around like a crazy woman. If only I had known I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety and a near melt down in the security line. I could have stopped off for a latte and just relaxed and waited it out. But noooo!

Well, that’s life…you can’t always see how things are sorting themselves out, and you have to do what you think is in your power to do.

So the story from Stephanie…

She was waiting with the kids in the cell phone lot, as is standard practice…saves getting the kids out and paying a parking fee, so she just drives up to the arrival doors when she gets the text that I have my bags.

She called my phone to see if I had landed, and she got an answer on the other end, just as she expected.

She didn’t miss a beat, until it suddenly registered…the voice she heard had an accent, and it wasn’t southern. She immediately asked who had the phone, and where they were.

At this point, Stephanie realized this was a situation that was going to require parking, so she got the kids out and came into the airport and stationed herself at baggage claim. Of course my bags had already come off the flight by this time. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on speedy bag delivery.

Turns out it was the janitor who found the phone and answered it. She was able to pass the phone off to an airport police officer, and he in turn gave it to Stephanie. So by the time I saw her, it was already recovered.

It took me the rest of the night to calm down. I kept hearing myself talk too fast and too loud…fortunately we had an hour drive to the house with the traffic, so I was a calmer version of myself by the time we got there.

And later, my only regret was that I didn’t get the name of the woman who found it. At a minimum I would have liked to have thanked her more profusely, and given her some type of reward for being honest and turning it in.

I know the others I encountered in that half hour were following the rules and protocol…at an intellectual level I understand what happened. But I still think there should be some other option…situations like mine probably occur often enough. Maybe they need to create a runner service at airports to go back and retrieve lost items…I would have paid someone to do that for me. Maybe some entrepreneur will set up a service desk opposite the guard post and offer to retrieve items left behind the secured barrier for a small fee. All I know is, when you’re already stressed, it doesn’t help to have to navigate security again.

The last couple of times I’ve traveled, I get this little reminder from Stephanie…

“Got your phone?”

Ah, that girl! She was my rescuer that night!

And yes, I have my phone. 🙂

And just in case you’re wondering…going up the down escalator actually is a great workout!

Some days

Back working in Alaska again for a stretch, and picking up the threads of all my projects. I seem to have a never-ending list! Not that I think I’m alone in that. Who doesn’t have a list?

Lately my list has been a little fuller. I’m brushing off some long-unused skills and trying to recall what I’ve ever known of design programs. Admittedly most of my knowledge was via on-the-job learning. Back in the day, when I was in college, Adobe products weren’t even a glint in a designer’s eye. Now I’m learning with books, and the ever-helpful tutorials that abound online. I’m doing this as part of a multi-prong approach to creating digital income, and it occurred to me that it would be helpful to have a few more skills in the digital world.

So there’s that, and my second Kindle book which has been languishing for the past several weeks, waiting for me to pull it out again. Then my blog is wondering if I moved away and forgot to pack it along.

And there’s work, as in, what I am actually paid real money to do.

I’m so grateful to live in a time when so much is at my fingertips. It’s a rich experience, learning and growing, all at the touch of a few buttons and some time and effort.

But, I remind myself, life exists off-line as well. It’s easy to get sucked in by the vast world that lives behind my screen.

And if I’m always looking that direction, I miss so much.

Like this:

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Riley and Pete the Cat, preschool mascot

Or this:

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The boy, blowing bubbles for Gram

I don’t get bubbles from my laptop. I don’t know…maybe I don’t visit the right sites?

Nothing replaces reality. I can do a lot from my sofa, and learn a lot without going into a classroom. But on days when I feel like I haven’t looked up, I stretch and yawn and remember:

What I’m really invested in is out there, the people in my life.

I’ve always been able to draw that line between my work and personal life. I find it a little more challenging when work can follow me home, follow me to the sofa, be in front of me as soon as I click on my screen.

It takes discipline to create income out of hobbies, out of interests that have potential. And I want to be one of the people that finds that key to unlock the door.

But I don’t want to get sucked dry by the process, consumed by the ease of access.

I realize, now while I still am in the formative stage of creating online work, I need to set boundaries and schedules. Yes, I want to be able to work from anywhere, and anytime I choose.

But I don’t want to find myself working everywhere, all the time.

That’s not the plan.

Is it?

Aaahhh…there’s a difference in convenience and flexibility, and being consumed by the tool I’m using.

I don’t want the dream of creating my work world to become the monster that devours me.

For now, that isn’t likely to happen. For one thing, I can’t generate income without a regular job, which keeps me grounded and tied to a somewhat regular schedule. These thoughts are really about the future.

But this is the time to plan. What do I want more of? Endless time online?

Or bubbles?

Which do you think I picked?

Happy Sunday!  ~ Sheila