Saying Goodbye to Grandma

Grandma.jpg

At my wedding Grandma wished me as long and happy a marriage as she had with Grandpa. And she said we were off to a good start because there was just as much love at our wedding as there had been at theirs.

“This one,” I said to my sister Shannon as we stood in front of the largest bouquet in the store. She nodded.

I didn’t know the price of the bouquet that I didn’t think I’d even be able to lift and things have been financially tight, but it didn’t matter. We’d make it work. Nothing else would do. Read More


Recommended Reads: The Only C.S. Lewis Book I Still Own

A Grief Observed.jpgC.S. Lewis died years before I was even born, but yet I feel as if that old crusty British academic and I have a long and complex history together. He was my first literary love. I fell in love with his world of Narnia, and with so many of the characters (Lucy will always be my favorite). A world of imagination. A world of fantasy. The type of world that usually would’ve been banned.

Fantasy was strictly banned because it was considered a gateway to the occult. The Chronicles of Narnia were only allowed because C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian and his books contained a crap ton of Christian metaphors. The fact that Aslan represented Jesus and that that little rat Edmond who sold his siblings out for some gross British candy (come on, Edmond, it wasn’t even something good like cookie dough ice cream) represented me was pointed out and discussed in length in order to be sure I hadn’t missed the symbolism. Aslan died for Edmond. Or, how it felt to me: I was Edmond; I killed Aslan. (I recently packed up my collection of Narnia reads and set them to Goodwill because I knew the whole You Killed Aslan thing would set off my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome. And besides, I’ve gone for the harder stuff. Now I read things like Harry Potter.)

I loved Narnia and fantasy and magical creatures so much that I named my first cat, Lewis, after C.S. Lewis. And my next cat, Jack, also after C.S. Lewis. His world is imaginative and wonderful in so many ways, and it was also the only fantasy world that I had access to.

Later on, when I was experimenting with things like The Five Points of Calvinism when other teens and college students were experimenting sexually, I read through his Christian Classics (Mere Christianity, and so forth). I owned a pretty matching set of all his works that I displayed proudly on my shelf.

But things changed, I changed, and I tend to not agree much with C.S. these days, which is fine. And some of his books are trigger-y so I don’t plan on rereading them, but that’s not really his fault. It’s more the context they were discussed in and the way they were presented (like the whole Edmond thing). But despite clearing out most of my books by old C.S. (and so many other Christian books from my past lifetime), there’s one that I won’t be parting with. Read More


Halfway Out of the Dark: Candles, Christmas, And the Winter Solstice

11153760234_82620f4c80_z

Flickr CC Markus Grossalber

It was thirty-two degrees that morning as I stood at my regular bus stop next to 7-Eleven. I’ve never done well with cold temperatures, so I pulled out all my winter gear: down vest, black water-proof jacket (a wardrobe staple in the Seattle region), thick socks, winter hat, and gloves.

Right below the bus stop sign there were glass candle holders with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The weather hadn’t been that great that week—lots of wind and rain (it’s Washington, so mostly rain). But the four candles were burning.

There was a balloon on a stick that was stuck into the ground reading, “I love you.” Another read, “Thinking of you.” There were flowers strewn around the ground. The artificial ones were still standing up smartly, still holding their color. But the bouquets of real flowers hadn’t survived all the rain and had turned into a soggy mess of petals, stems, and tissue paper on the concrete.

I’d brought flowers, too. I’d written a card. I’d made a sign reading that the regular riders of our bus route remembered. That I remembered. But now it was all gone, just a part of the water-logged mess.

But the candles burned on.

I hadn’t known the victims—a seventeen-year-old boy and his father. They’d been sitting at the bus stop around five in the afternoon, right at peak when they charge you an extra 25 cents. They’d just been sitting there at their regular stop. At my regular stop. And someone drove by and shot them right there.

The younger brother was there too, but he wasn’t hit. But that’s not true, not really. He wasn’t hit; he was shattered. His world ended at five o’clock in the afternoon as the rush hour traffic was just beginning to form.

Lives were taken. Lives were shattered. Evil left its mark. Darkness entered our bus stop and our neighborhood.

But the candles burned on.

Candles like that don’t keep burning forever. They have to be lit, and relit. It was morning. It was cold. But someone had already been there to light them. Someone made sure that they burned on. There were puddles of wax around the candles. They had obviously tipped over, spilling hot wax onto the cement. But someone had righted them. Someone had relit them.

The candles burned on during the longest nights of the year.

As a small child I didn’t even know when the Winter Solstice was but I’d been warned against it. I imagined pagans dancing around bonfires, casting spells, and playing with tarot cards as The Satanic Bible peeked out of their back pockets. The Winter Solstice was spiritually scandalous. It was the time when all the dark things crept out from under that dusty, cluttered spot under your bed; all the mischief and mayhem that lurked in the shadows, afraid of the light, beckoned to one another to come out and play.

But now, as an adult, I’m beginning to find a tremendous amount of comfort in the Winter Solstice. It’s a time of darkness, but not dark doings. It’s a time for light to shine. It’s a time for the candles to burn on when we need them most.

Every time I stand at my bus stop I’m reminded that somewhere, very nearby, a family is mourning. For them this festive time of year is undoubtedly a time of anguish. Their hearts are grieving, hurting. If the Wise Men showed up at their home, they’d bring myrrh.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

I have two friends whose fathers passed away recently. They’re living in the shadow of death as Jingle Bells pays on the radio; living in the isolated valley of grief and loss.

There were four warm, friendly white-haired women who sat in front of the husband and me at church—I think of them as our Lutheran grandmothers. These adorable older women have helped their church to feel safe to me despite my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome. And I found out this Sunday that one of them passed away. Her funeral service will be three days before Christmas, on the longest night of the year.

I had to call 911 last week because of a domestic disturbance across the street. I looked out the window when I heard scared children screaming, “No, Dad! No!” to see an angry man waving a large kitchen knife aggressively as his children jumped into a car that quickly pulled out of the parking lot, driving them to safety. I feel like I haven’t even recovered from the scene, so I know the children haven’t.

So much darkness. So much hurt. And that’s only looking at the small sliver of humanity that I have access to. When I turn on the news or read articles online I’m greeted with more darkness, more bleakness. So much violence. So much pain. So much sorrow. So many people in need of shelter and safety. So many people who are afraid, and rightfully so.

I don’t know how to handle it, this darkness. So much death and grief and brokenness, so much pain. The darkness is so thick that sometimes it makes me feel like I’m chocking. And December, despite all of the holiday lights and super sales, has a way of making that worse.

December is a time of year that can bring with it great joy and also great sadness. It’s like the Great Multiplier. Whatever feelings you’ve been experiencing already are multiplied, accentuated, and accelerated. When you’re already feeling an ache in your chest, tears are already threatening you at gun point, it makes it even worse. So much worse.

One of the most comforting moments in this month for me is on Christmas Eve. The nativity, whether it’s history or myth, brings comfort in the middle of these cold, dark nights as I hold my red pew hymnal and my candle while singing Joy to the World. It’s a joyful, beautiful, precious, light-filled moment.

The candle burns on.

I have a thing about candles. They can be symbolic or spiritual or sentimental or sensual or scented (and I’m sure all sorts of other alliterations I can’t currently think of). A little bit of light in a very dark time.

This little bit of light doesn’t fix everything. Or anything, for that matter. It doesn’t mean death hasn’t touched our lives; it doesn’t mean that existential crises have come to a close; it doesn’t mean healing has finally been achieved; it doesn’t that we’re feeling all sappy and sentimental every time we hear Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Last Christmas playing over the noise of people shopping. It doesn’t mean things are fixed. It doesn’t even mean things are okay. It doesn’t mean we like the holidays or any of this.

Candles don’t fix things. They don’t heal things. But they provide just a little bit of light.

To me the light—symbolic and literal—this week of the Winter Solstice and Christmas reminds me that I did it. It reminds me of a line from my favorite Doctor Who Christmas special, a sci-fi retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, ‘Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.’ Back on Earth we call this Christmas. Or the Winter Solstice.”

The holidays can be an extremely hard time of year for a lot of people. And if you’re feeling that way, may the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, remind you that you’re halfway out of the dark.

In a few days the holidays will be over. In a few days we’ll be changing out the calendars. In a few days you take down the holiday wreath, burn the tree, and never be forced to say merry fucking Christmas for an entire year. In a few days the sun will begin to resurface. In just a few days.

Well done. Well done, everyone. We’re halfway out of the dark.


Sometimes

Flickr cc Tanya

Flickr cc Tanya

Sometimes a crisis means the world at large is crumbling around us on the nightly news; sometimes it means only your world — or mine. Sometimes pain is physical; sometimes it’s watching your dreams burn and not knowing if you’ll ever be able to carefully pick a few of them out of the ashes. Sometimes mourning means wearing black at a funeral; sometimes it’s walking through the grocery store without the clerk noticing how the flesh encasing your heart has been removed.

Sometimes courage is having hard conversations when you’d rather befriend the silence. Sometimes strength is pulling yourself out of bed and forcing yourself in the shower. Sometimes wisdom is not allowing yourself to think beyond today. Sometimes hope is putting on mascara with the belief that someday, maybe far off or maybe not, you’ll make it through a day without it running. Sometimes faith is the belief that even though you feel like you’re coming apart at the heart-seams, you’ll somehow, in the end, survive — but not without scars.

Sometimes it’s the unknowns that are the scariest. Sometimes crowds are the loneliness. Sometimes the worst part is waking up from a nightmare and realizing that, sadly, it’s not just a dream.

Sometimes finding yourself looks like saying “I,” and meaning it. Sometimes love looks like a willingness to say goodbye. Sometimes bravery looks like entertaining the possibility of new dreams. Sometimes miracles look like going to counseling. Sometimes fortitude looks like deciding to do what’s right for you, even if others don’t understand. Sometimes spirituality looks like finding comfort among the crisp wind and autumn leaves.

Sometimes.


Confessions of a Fatherless Bride

I’m finding the wedding countdown to be a particularly awkward season of life. I’ve never had people use words like “perfect” and “adorable” and “wonderful” so regularly to describe my life. I walk on a cloud, fart rainbows, and am waited on by only the fluffiest of kittens. You know, the usual.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something as much as I want to finally be the Mr. Man’s wife. But this whole wedding business is too messy for me to try and sum it up under something so one-dimensional as “happy.” Sure, I’m happy. But I also feel broken, raw, and heartsick in decent measurements, too.

I lost my dad a number of years ago to a horrible brain disorder — it began by slowly devoured him, little by little, until every part of the daddy I’d loved was completely lost. Most holidays (but Father’s Day and Christmas are the worst) and major milestones in life have a way of bringing up all the grief anew.

For example, two days after the Mr. Man and I got engaged I sobbed as if I’d only just been informed of someone’s passing. And it hurt just as much. I was thrilled about being able to inject “when” instead of “if” into sentences pertaining to the future, excited to upgrade my relationship status on Facebook, but riddled with grief, too. Life’s messy.

Daddy Stories 

As a result, being engaged has been a particularly challenging season of life for me. This is primarily due to the fact that there’s a weird thing that happens when you get engaged: women decide that you need to hear, in great detail, about their weddings (even the completely imagined ones that have been planned down to the blue lace napkins). The trouble is that a lot of these weddings or daydreams involve dads.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many women have told me about dad-related wedding stuff that ripped me to shreds as I politely listened — the touching speeches their proud daddies made on their big day, how their dad is ordained and will not only be present at the wedding but will even perform it, their special father/daughter dance, and so on.

A few have even come close to scolding me when they asked if I was going to have my dad walk me down the aisle and I simply replied, “Nope.” I was trying to protect them from the harsh realization of just how badly they’d just stuck entire their foot in their mouth. But they proceed to just jab it in there even deeper by instructing me on the importance of brides including their dads in their weddings. Ouch.

There’s also the awkwardly painful but well-meaning questions.  For example, “Are your parents excited about the wedding?” or “Does he get along with your dad?”  Sometimes when I only talk about my mom after being asked about my “parents” (man, I hate that awkward little “s” the creeps into so many casual conversations) they’ll cue in. Sometimes, they just ask more directly, which leads to things being pretty awkward for everyone.

When the Grief Hits Hard 

Originally, the Mr. Man and I had planned on getting married in late summer or early fall, so we were considering an outdoor wedding.  A risky move even during the warmest times of year in the Seattle area, but we were feeling adventurous.

While checking out possible wedding locations, we’d gone to a park with a view of the water. It was beautiful. We held hands, pretending to be in the middle of our vows, when I suddenly burst into ugly crying (the kind of crying where you lose every sense of propriety as you wipe your smeared eyeliner, tears, and probably a few boogers on your significant other’s favorite t-shirt). I felt like a wreck. The grief was so bad my chest physically ached.

It’s been several years now since the very last time I saw my dad, so watching all the Hallmark-y family-oriented Christmas specials no longer feels like a new form of torture and I usually get through Father’s Day okay providing I stay off Facebook.  But sometimes, usually unexpectedly, the grief still manages to crash into my chest like a supersonic jet. And I’m left feeling like a little girl who only just lost her dad.

The Glaring Holes 

When it came time to plan the wedding details, everyone wondered what sort of flowers I wanted and what my color scheme was. My actual wedding plan, which I only told to a few people, was pretty simple: I didn’t want to look out into the group of attendees and be able to see specifically where my dad should be sitting. I’ll know he’s not there, I’ll feel it in some measure or another regardless of whether anyone draws attention to it, but I don’t want any specific reminders.  I don’t want any glaring dad holes.

Some people have suggested doing something to honor my dad at the wedding — lighting a candle, taking a moment of silence, or displaying his picture — but for me it’d just bust that hole where my dad’s supposed to be wide open. And it’s already pretty raw.

I’m wearing my grandma’s necklace at the wedding for my “something old” as a way of honoring and remembering her. It makes me feel closer to her, which I know is what people are hoping would happen if I did something similar regarding my dad.  But that pain is still too raw for a reminder like that to be comforting, at least for now.

It’s All Pretty Messy 

When I graduated from community college and expressed similar sentiments about the sadness that my dad wasn’t there, some folks told me to “cheer up” and “don’t mope.” They wanted me to snap out of it; what they didn’t understand is that grief doesn’t work like that.

While my grief isn’t usually a major fixture in my life anymore, I’ll never stop missing my daddy. And the fact that he won’t be there for my wedding provides some new elements of grief. My daddy won’t be there to give me away, dance with me, or make a speech telling me he’s proud. He won’t wave me goodbye as I drive away with my new husband. He won’t do any of his classic embarrassing things like accidentally tucking his pant leg into his sock or talking way too much about work to someone who couldn’t care less. He won’t be there at all. In fact, Dad never even got to meet my Mr. Man.

This shadow — the fact my dad is truly gone, not just unable to walk me down the aisle — gives the event some of the emotions and complexities as if I were planning both a wedding and a funeral. Death and life. Beginnings and endings. Joy and grief. It’s all there.

This doesn’t mean I’m not excited to get married — my first thought this morning was, “Only 19 more days!” But there’s still a hole. There’s grief, pain, and shadows. Because, despite what the movies and glamorous wedding photo shoots suggest, normal life in all its messy, sometimes heart-wrenching glory doesn’t take a break for weddings.