31

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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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Happy Mother’s Day!

This year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to send flowers or do anything long distance for Mother’s Day. Over the past week, I’ve spent time with my mother, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. And of course, I’ve been with the littles. Wonderful to give gifts and love in person!

Beautiful mothers all, the inter-generation connection is sweet and powerful to experience, as I’ve been blessed, again, to touch people who are part of the fabric of my ties that bind.

My goal as a mother was to be the best example, parent, friend, and teacher I could be. Of course I didn’t always live up to my aspirations, but I tried. That much I know. And that’s all any of us can do…we try, and keep on trying.

I learned so much from my mom and my mother-in-law about the work of parenting, of friending, and of the on-going nature of mothering. Watching my daughter parent reminds me of the stages and the changes of this life of motherhood…how it shifts and grows, widens and deepens with the years.

Thank you to all the mothers in my life…for the joys, the patience, the humor, the tears, and the memories. It’s been an amazing experience, and a gift that keeps on giving.

Roses

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children. ~ Jessica Lange

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

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

Us

Happy today, doing the nothings of life,
Chores and errands feed me.
Who would have guessed that the simplest work
or the mundane round of the grocery store
could light up my face and warm my soul?
It is not the task that holds the magic,
but the companion.
And with you, boring is transformed to joy,
and simple becomes interesting.
With you, I am part of us,
And that is enough adventure
For me,
Wherever I am,
Whatever I am doing.

Stories

Sunlight

I feel the whisper of your kiss on my shoulder.

The early morning light creeps in

And finds we two,

Curled in summer sheets,

Warm and secure.

How long did it take us to get here?

Through decades of life and living,

we struggled to find

the slow unhurried pace

of this moment.

We face each other and smile.

This was worth the wait,

and all the days of busy.

Kids and work, hustle-bustle,

life in the fast lane.

But now we have time.

And we have each other

in the morning light

Curled warm in summer sheets.

Half-hearted

I wake up slow

And remember fast.

That instant when I know

I’m alone in the bed, in the room, in the house.

But worse than that,

I’m alone in heart.

This is not the absence of a trip away

Or a few days’ separation.

This is forever.

And I don’t know how to think of that.

I don’t know how to imagine forever

Without you, without us.

We were a matched set,

And I don’t think I come as a single item.

I see myself sitting on the store shelf,

Someone wandering by

and looking at me curiously,

Only to put me back when it’s apparent:

Half of me is missing.

Thanksgiving grace

Thanksgiving is here, the one holiday of the year that is, by name and spirit, inspired by the grace of gratitude.

We gather, we talk, we prepare, we eat. Oh yes, we eat. It’s the beginning of butter season, and all things good.

We list the things we’re grateful for. And for most, the list is some version of a litany of the important people in life…spouse, children, family, friends; important pillars of life…health, home, job; important attitudes of life…thankfulness, forgiveness, joy.

I feel all that, and more. I am so grateful. But today, “more” is my special focus.

This year, “more” is all the uncertainty and upheaval the past few months have brought to my life.

Uncertainty doesn’t sleep well, doesn’t feel comfortable. It has become the knot in my stomach, the question behind all my plans.

“What next?”

And yet, even as I sat and gathered myself this morning, sitting hard against the wall by my bed to focus my thoughts, start my day with calm and quiet, I knew: the coming joy is rooted in this time of in between, this period of lostness.

I’m walking in the valley of indecision so I can choose, and choose wisely.

These are the days of hard questions: what do I want? What is essential?

The voice in my mind answers: my partner is essential. Family is essential. Faith is essential. The rest…the where or how or the timing of the choices…window dressing that puts the pretty bow on the real gift. The real gift is the people, priorities in order, values in place.

Knowing who I am, whose I am, who I am with, and who I love are the bedrock essentials. Nothing else matters…not where I live, or how I earn income, how big my house is, how often I travel. Because I know the answers to the essentials, I can take a breath, step back, let the details sort themselves in good time.

It’s easy to get that confused…to take the people and relationships for granted and treat the externals like they’re most important. I can admit I’ve done that, acted like all the “big” decisions were the drivers of life. They’re not…they’re context, but they’re not the heart of the story.

This year I’m not hosting the holiday feast..the trappings of my physical life are in a Public Storage unit in Washington. I don’t have all the externals together…no decorating for Christmas this weekend, or gathering family for the perfect Christmas card pose.

Family is scattered, and I don’t have the pretty bow to wrap us all together.

But I know the answers to the questions of heart, the essential ones that frame the rest.

And I am so grateful. I have my Thanksgiving list. And when we go around the table to say what we’re thankful for, I can acknowledge: the uncertainty, the question of “what next?” points me to the deepest joys. The very not knowing becomes a gift to show me: security is in the intangibles of my life, in the people and the love that isn’t tied to an address, or a piece of furniture, or an orderly path.

So yes, today I’m celebrating that I have no permanent home at the moment, just a permanent mailbox address. And I have no vision for where I’ll be next year, just a vision of who I’ll be with. I have no forecast of my annual income for 2015, but I expect to cover all the usual needs of life.

I’m in between, and I’m grateful. I may look lost, but I’m not.

I’m full of expectation, full of anticipation. What turn will my story take now? And how will my choices and my life lessons be a light to shine for others?

Happy Thanksgiving! May you all know “who” is on your list when you go around your table, or you recite to yourself the joys of your life. When you know who is important to you, the rest is just glitter.

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Today’s Grace

How does this help

My truth

Truth

Are you a truth-teller? A truth-seeker? I like to think I am. But while there are “real” truths…facts like 2 + 2 = 4, and forces like gravity, that will not be denied, at work in every moment…so much of what we believe to be true is shaded by perception, or intention, or seeing a chain of events unfold from beginning to end.

Is truth in the eye of the beholder? To a certain degree, yes. Though I don’t believe in a relative morality, things are not always what they seem at first glance. Context and understanding are critical factors in determining truth.

I’ve known some people who use truth as a weapon, a kind of battering ram to be fearlessly used and proudly claimed. Honesty and truth are closely interwoven. And sometimes truth hurts. But I’ll admit I’m always on guard when I sense this is happening. Someone who uses truth as a way to plow through life and over people needs to ask some questions about motive.

And that begs the question: who determines truth? All of us do, at least so far as we are able. Isn’t that what just happened this week in the election? Voters evaluated candidates, the economy, national security, healthcare, etc., etc., etc., and judged the truth of the candidates’ claims for themselves.

There’s another way we determine our truth, and that is by the words we feed ourselves.

Oh, I don’t mean that we change objective truths…telling myself I live in Florida when I live in Alaska is not going to take me very far. I’m not going to wake up in Disney World tomorrow.

But our version of truth in matters of the heart, in opinion, in assumptions about others, their motives, their intentions, their efforts…our version of the truth is dependent on our specific view of life, and how we interpret it.

This is the “glass half full” meme, or the optimist/pessimist struggle.

Only it’s bigger than that.

Words and thoughts are so powerful. They can literally change the world. They change the way people view themselves, each other, family…words are critical to truth.

I read words that build me up, inspire me, help me reach to become, and I do become. I become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It can work the other way too.

And if it works for me, or against me, when the words are my own, the impact is even stronger when it comes to the things I allow myself to believe about others.

Why?

Because I’m the only person in the world that I can get into. I know my motivations, my intentions. I know when I make a mistake that I tried my best. That allows me to see my truth…I did the best I could. My heart was in the right place.

It’s not always so easy to see that truth from the outside. I don’t want to feel suspicious, or doubtful, or assume the worst about someone just because I can’t know the whole truth about them. Because when I do that, I create my version of their truth. Whether it is really “true” or not.

So why do we do it? Why do we let our assumptions get the better of us? Why do we let them color our views?

Drama is more entertaining than unvarnished reality. Sometimes prettier too.

I’m trying to be an honest person, trying to pay attention to those moments when I rush the story, mistake perception for reality.

It’s not easy, because I get in my own way. It’s a conscious battle, every day, to let truth come out without my assistance. It’s really tough.

Truth is universal. But it’s also personal…at least the version we tell ourselves. Finding the real thing…now that’s priceless.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ Anonymous

 

 

Hole in the soul

A few years ago I was struggling. I was going through a difficult time, feeling depressed, sad, empty, not myself at all. For a time I was miserable, but over a period of months I came to terms with some of the issues I’d been struggling with. And eventually life was better again; not perfect, but so much better.

Sometimes I remember those months, and what I learned from the experience.

Depression steals your energy. I remember feeling like I just wanted to sleep, to escape. Simple chores were overwhelming. The only thing that kept me somewhat normal was work. Work helped me put on the façade, gave me a reason to get up and get moving. Because I didn’t want to bring drama to my work place, I tried to minimize what I was going through, tried to hold myself together so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed with my co-workers.

Depression steals your appetite. At least that was what happened to me. I lost interest in cooking. I was alone a lot during those months, and it was easy to ignore meals when I wasn’t hungry, and too disinterested to cook. I lost 20 pounds in a few months. Best and worst diet experience I’ve ever had, the only “diet” that was effortless. In the past I’d put on pants or a favorite skirt and realized it was time to lose a few pounds. I’ve never before had to look through my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t fall off me.

Depression steals your interests. I would try to read to take my mind off the things that were bothering me. I couldn’t read. I would try to watch TV. I couldn’t stay engaged. I couldn’t settle myself long enough to accomplish much. I was restless and yet exhausted.

Depression steals your rest. I slept a lot when I wasn’t working. But often in the middle of the night I would wake up and my mind would race, going over and over the things that were troubling me. I was sleeping all the time, but not resting. My sleep cycle was broken by stress and worry, and somehow, the more I slept, the less I rested.

Once I was in the grocery store, walking around like a ghost, feeling the physical impact of depression. I felt like there was a hole in the middle of my body where my stomach should have been. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself with a gap between chest and hips…a hole that only allowed for the churning engine of stress that took the place of my belly…and even though I knew there was no hole, I remember thinking that the gaping emptiness seemed so real, I was surprised other shoppers weren’t staring at me, stopping to ask if I was alright. Because I had a hole in my middle. It was a surreal experience, and I wasn’t even on any medication. I was just feeling the drowning grip of sadness.

I walked around the store, filling my cart, looking normal on the outside, feeling lost and empty on the inside, and so aware of the gaping hole. As I walked around, I began to wonder who else was walking through the store with their own holes, invisible to me, but so real to them. Holes in souls.

That question took the focus off myself and allowed me to stand back and recognize that I probably pass people all the time who walk around with holes. I just don’t see what’s in front of my eyes. I try always to be kind, to be thoughtful. But even so, there are days that I’m wrapped up in my world. I pass people on automatic pilot: kind but remote, polite but disinterested, because I’m busy, and on the run, and don’t really look close enough to see the hole that’s devouring the person in front of me.

Living for a time with a hole in myself helped me realize, in a way I hadn’t before, that a lot of people walk around like that. Walking wounded. They put on the face, just like I did. They go through the motions of living, just like I did. Some get help, and some get relief from a change in the situation that’s causing the pain. That’s what happened to me. Circumstances changed, the skies cleared, my smile came back.

It wasn’t without some effort on my part. I did a lot of soul-searching, made some changes that were within my power to make.

It was a humbling experience. When you’ve always been hopeful, mostly happy, mostly sunny side up, it’s hard to recognize a self who’s drowning, who can’t snap out of it. You begin to look at people who struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness through a different lens. You find more compassion, more appreciation for the struggles that are invisible to the eye, but so real to the heart.

When I remember that time, now I can feel grateful. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me find strength I didn’t know I had. I learned the value of “wait and see.” I learned that the phrase “trust the process” isn’t just something you hear in corporate settings. I learned that life will often right itself, if you work with it.

I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking I’m invincible. I’m not, and the truth is, no one is. If there is a next time, I think I’ll manage my hole a little better. I think I’ll know to trust, I’ll find my smile a little faster, a little easier. The reward for weathering the hard times is being better prepared to face whatever comes, and knowing, knowing, that you’ll survive, and thrive, and grow above. Eventually, assuredly.

Once you’ve worked through a hole in your life, you’re never quite the same. You’re scarred, but you’re wiser.

I no longer have an engine of stress running in my stomach, or feel like there’s a hole in my body. But I can empathize with those who do. I don’t talk a lot about this experience…just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. But now and then I see an opportunity to speak up, to share, to encourage, to say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a powerful thing to look back at a challenge and know you’ve overcome. And it’s a powerful encouragement to someone else to hear a first-person story, to know someone else really gets it.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this, except that I suddenly wanted to.

I’m not sharing to get sympathy. I’m sharing to give hope.

I started my blog during those months, started it to stake a claim to the positive person I knew was somewhere inside. I was determined to find my way to that self again. And I did. I had help from a few significant people who knew what was going on, and some of the conflict in my life subsided.

After the worst of it was behind me, I noticed I was singing again. I noticed I was interested in food again. I noticed I had a renewed sense of grace, of redemption, found a new sweetness to life that stays with me. I sometimes have small setbacks, and I sometimes feel discouraged. But I’ve never gone to the depths again. I’ve learned the signs to watch for, and the steps toward healing.

I think I’m a better person than I was, in part because of what I went through. It changed me, grew me. And though the details are not important now, I can share this much: to anyone reading this who is lost and despairing, don’t give up hope.

Do something to get yourself moving, literally. Get off the couch, do the smallest thing, and let that lead you to the next thing, and the next. Action inspires hope, and hope is the lifeline to healing. Reach out; there are probably more people than you could guess who understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. And give yourself time. Time can be your ally, and in time, you can look back and see that you’ve come a long way from your lowest point.

You’ll find your smile again. You’ll hear yourself singing again. You’ll sleep through the night again. And you’ll know you’re healed.

 

Wounds