When My Neighbor Died.

We bought our dream house four years ago. This is not to brag but rather quite an accomplishment from our previous digs only a few years before. You see, in 2010, when my life imploded, we lived in, well, a house broken into different apartments. At one point, Homeland Security raided the house. At another point, the man in the apartment under ours died and no one discovered the body for a week. My husband got a staph infection. Our friend Shelby was the only friend that would come in and hang out. It was preferred that we meet other people at their place.

Then, as life does, our life came together beautifully and we found a 120+ year historic home with a zen garden (that required a lot of work to become a zen garden). I love this house.

When we moved in we were greeted by a gruff looking kind man. He brought over a case of Miller High Life, which to him, was an act of kindness similar to a pie. He welcomed us to the neighborhood. He was full of life, jokes, and adventure.

Then the dogs and the fence.

Our neighbor had a dog when we moved in. His name was Earl and when people say owners look like their dogs, they really nailed this relationship. I believe Earl was our neighbor’s spirit animal. Then Earl died. This was devastating.

A few months later, they rescued two new dogs. One, Lucy, a terrier type with a hook nose, made our dogs crazy. They would have destructive fights at the fence. I would end up in tears. We tried every different way to stop these fights. It was frustrating and I grew to hate those dogs. I would side eye Lucy when she’d sneak that hook nose through our front fence to say hello. Her bark, it was like razor blades.

Then, a few months ago, I came home for lunch and the police were parked outside our neighbor’s house. They wouldn’t tell me what was happening but I was not leaving until I found out. Eventually, a family member came out crying. I asked what was happening and she tearfully stated that our neighbor had died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was only 50 years old.

I shared this news with my husband. We coped by blaring Bob Seger on our turntable and attended the funeral. We learned at the funeral how close he was to his grandchildren. This answered the always puzzling question about why he wore a baby monitor on his belt.

His wife is moving this weekend. They close today. A new, younger couple, is moving in. They don’t have dogs but they want dogs. The fence will probably still be a problem.

But, now that I have the longview, the fence was never that big of a deal. I would love to look at that hook nosed dog and have fights at the fence if that meant we could still have our handy, kind, funny, neighbor.

During the frustrating fence wars, I forgot the one truth of life, it all goes away. The only truth is change and loss. Damn.

Love

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The Courage To Love Like This.

“What time is it? Can you at this moment look in the mirror and be all right with it?… Are you doing what you want to do right? Have you located your passion as if this was your last night on earth?

I draft some of these posts weeks and/or months before I publish them. I wanted to finish this book before I published this post. In the meantime, a friend of mine started a book review blog and you should check it out here. She’s a brilliant writer and critical thinker. And, her reviews may help you decide what to read next.

I love to read non-fiction (memoirs, psych theory, science, essays, etc.). I do fancy a few fiction novels a year (particularly those written by my friends). But, when I know the writing is real lived experience, it feels different. Not better, not worse, but different. Ultimately, I believe there is a lot of truth and realness found in fiction. We all want to know that good wins over evil, we all want to know that love prevails, and we all want to know that we have a reason to hope.

These themes are found in the Bible, Greek Mythology, Shakespearean Plays, Nicholas Sparks’ Books, The Hunger Games Series, Star Wars, and X-Men. I think one would be hard pressed to tell a unique story. Across time and cultures there are some basic truths related to the human condition.

“Do you see why I miss him? I call out, to no one. Will I remember everything? What am I meant to keep?”

But me? I want to know how real people survive and thrive in the face of struggle. No doubt, my pull to these memoirs is the product of facing my own struggles and professionally helping people manage their life challenges.

“In all marriages there is struggle and ours was no different in that regard. But we always came to the other shore, dusted off, and said, There you are, my love.”

I just finished: The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander. This book was on a number of bestseller lists and recommended with the tagline “If you only read one memoir this year this is the one.” I followed these recommendations and now I am knee deep in tissues holding onto my partner for dear life. I am not going to ruin the book for you (save for the excerpts shared in italics throughout this post). I want you to share in the experience. I’m recommending this book because it tells a true love story.

“I think, I will keep mornings free for the rest of my life so I can go back to bed and hope to meet him there.”

This book asked me: Do you have the courage to love your partner wholly and completely. Do you have the courage to be vulnerable and risk being torn apart by the love that sustained you?

“Perhaps tragedies are only tragedies in the presence of love, which confers meaning to loss. Loss is not felt in the absence of love.”

I feel compelled to share the questions that came up for me as I read her story/their story. Are you loving your partner, your friends, your family entirely and completely right now? If this was your last moment with any of these people would it be what you wanted it to be? Do you have the courage to live with that level of awareness? Is it too much pressure to live life this way? Isn’t it true, that this moment could be one of the most important moments of your life and it is impossible to know this until it passes? 

“He was a bottomless boat and the boat that would always hold me.”

Love.

I’m Not A Mom, I Can’t Understand.

“There comes some pressure in your mid-30s, and you think, ‘Am I going to have kids so I don’t miss out on something that other people really seem to love? Or is it that I really genuinely want to do this with my whole heart?’ I didn’t feel that my response was ‘yes’ to the latter. You have to really want to have kids, and neither of us did. So it’s just going to be me and Ellen and no babies — but we’re the best of friends and married life is blissful, it really is. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.” —Portia de Rossi

To have children or not to have children, a question (and pressure) that hit me like a mac truck when I turned 30. No one prepared me for the barrage of comments, assumptions, and attacks that awaited. I was also not prepared for my own painful ambivalence towards the issue.

This is not a post to  defend my decision (and my partner’s decision) to not have children.We have no need to explain how we arrived at the decision to not have children. I also feel no need to say things like, “There are a lot of ways to mother things.” I love my pets, but they are not children. I can leave them unattended for hours with no worry. I love my writing and my work, but I am not mothering them in the same way one mother’s a child.

I fully understand that the pressure to have children is not limited to those of us with partners. In fact, I’ve witnessed people become frantic when faced with a single person in their late thirties that does not have children. The expression, “Time is running out,” seems to slide out of peoples’ mouths without much consideration.

For me, the intensity around this topic turned way up when I reached thirty. I was presented with some panicked responses and some concerned responses. For the most part, the responses were well-intended. There was a period of time where my partner and I took the approach, “If it happens, it happens.” That is really no way for me to make such an important life decision. The thought, “What if it happens” kept sneaking into my mind.

My own ambivalence pushed me back into therapy. I begged my therapist to help me sort through this ambivalence around having children. I felt crazy for not desperately wanting what I was supposed to want. I love my therapist for patiently helping me arrive confidently at my current location. In my relationship with my partner, this involved a lot of honest communication about what we wanted for our lives.

To the shock, awe, and disbelief of some, this does not leave me feeling empty, purposeless, and with regret. I love children. I work with children every day. I love my nieces and nephews. I love watching my friends have children. I love the giggles and the joys these families experience. Most importantly, I love my life with my partner with all my heart.

There seem to be some themes related to parenthood.

-When I hear the phrase, “They don’t understand, they’re not parents” I think two things. One, you are correct. Two, if you want me to understand what life is like for you, please try and explain what it is like for you. I may not understand how it feels, but I can only truly understand my experiences. This leaves a lot of life for me to learn about.

-Each person/couple decides for their own reasons why they want to have children or not. It is not appropriate to assume you understand why. It is also none of your business.

-Some people/couples try desperately for years to have children. Please do not assume all people without children do not want children.

-There are a lot of ways to be parents. If you or your partner gave birth to your child that is incredible. But not every family is created that way. There are adopted families, step-families, blended families, half-siblings, foster families and more than I can list here. There is no hierarchy in terms of,”the best way to be a family.”

My philosophy: Do you love each other? Great! You’re family!

– A couple is a family even without children.

-It is not selfish to not want children. It might be the healthiest decision for the person/couple for reasons you do not know and you do not get to know. And, have you ever met a parent that wishes they had never had children?

-People who do not have children might still know how to love someone unconditionally. Do they know the kind of love a mother knows? I don’t know and neither do you. I’ve known some amazingly loving mothers and I’ve known mothers that have done horrible things to their children. Again, let us avoid making assumptions about what love is or means to an individual.

-I belong to one of the first generations where individuals/couples get to openly decide whether or not to have children. I literally had someone say to me, “You think you have a choice?” I answered, “Absolutely.” I appreciate that this is generational.

-Having children may have been the best thing that ever happened to you. I absolutely believe you and I am happy for you. I also believe that my life can be incredible without that experience.

-Yes, we are missing out on the experience of having children.  I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have children. Life is full of choices that lead down different paths.

-Some posit that I would be a conservative or have a deeper sense of purpose/faith if I had children. It was my experience working with at-risk youth that solidified my socialistic democratic orientation. Being around children makes me so liberal it’s ridiculous. I want them to have all the money and the resources. 

If you feel so inclined to remind me that I do not understand the life of a parent, I hope you are saying this because you want me to understand more about you and your life experiences and not because you want to make me feel badly about my life. I hope you are happy with your choices and I hope you wish the same for me.

“You don’t have to feel guilty or bad for loving your life exactly as it is. You are not weird, broken, or deficient as a woman for not having the desire to be a mother” –  My Therapist in 2013

My Love Letter To Grief

“Grief is the price you pay for love” – Queen Elizabeth II

(Full disclosure: I have wanted to write about grief from the beginning but it seemed so daunting that many iterations of this copy have sat in my drafts box for a month now. I think it is as ready as it can be)

It has been said that death is the great equalizer. I think we do a poor job of addressing grief and death in our culture. Maybe it’s because we are so scared of death that we like to pretend it doesn’t happen. Until, inevitably it does, and then we are left with no skills or language around how to deal with a loss that lasts forever.

For some, their faith slides in and the floor is promptly back under their feet. For others, it is not that easy and even people of faith struggle to deal with the complexities associated with death and grief.

We allow ourselves a three-day bereavement period during which we are supposed to do all the grieving that is expected of us and then return to the world as if the loss did not happen.

Three-days and we are supposed to be fine? 

Or, there is the weird idea floating around that “It’s been a year and I should be over it.” Which is absolutely ludicrous. There is no time limit on the feelings associated with loss. You will always miss them. It will never be easy that they are gone. Over time, we are forced to adjust to their absence but we are never the same without them. It is insulting to them, to us, and to the relationship with the person to think that we would ever forget them.

Some days it feels like they’ve been gone forever and others it feels like they died just moments ago. I saw a video online this week that thrust me back into the throes of grief.

This is life after loss. 

Grief is expressed as many emotions coming in waves sometimes all at the same time. In the early stages after a loss you can feel turned inside out by all the emotions pouring through you. But because we don’t talk about how that happens, people come to me asking if they’re crazy.

You’re not crazy, you’re heartbroken.

I would never ask for less of grief because I know that would mean I would have to ask less of my love for the person. I’ve experienced some of the darkest depths of grief. I’ve watched as the people I love sit in the deep dark pits of grief with no ability to help them other than to sit with them. I know that is the price they paid for their love.

I was presenting on grief not too long ago and I told the audience that grief doesn’t end and the other clinician tried to soften the harshness of my statement. A man that knows the deep pain and loss of grief personally was telling me I was coming across too harshly. Perhaps, he was correct. I’m not one for couching something as big and powerful as grief.

I don’t expect it to end and I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to stop missing them or remembering them. If grief is the price I pay for love, and I believe it is, then it is a price I will pay again and again. 

Of course, grief is a person specific experience and there are some occasions where grief doesn’t affect you like it does the people around you or you don’t experience the intensity like you think you should. That is okay, too. It’s just not okay to tell someone else they are feeling too much or too little grief.  

When my grandfather passed away six years ago (he was my rock, my secure base, my home and what followed his passing was a season of more grief and loss that will also always be part of me), I was pouring through the handwritten cards and letters he sent me over the years and I found one signed:

as some actor, in some movie, at some time said: until we meet again

Does this mean that I am not happy in my life? Absolutely not. It’s just not as simple as people want (or need) it to be. Our emotions are complicated and messy.

I have a wonderful and beautiful life for which I am grateful everyday AND I experience moments of deep dark sadness within the context of my wonderful life.

I’ve included an excerpt from and article that I reference frequently as it relates to grief:

A psychotherapist for more than thirty-three years, Greenspan sees the dark emotions as potentially profound spiritual teachers — if we can live mindfully with them. – by BARBARA PLATEK

Greenspan: Let’s begin with grief. There is a kind of shattering that happens with, say, the death of a child, or any death, but perhaps most of all violent death. Not only is your heart shattered; you lose your sense of who you are and what your life is about. So reconstruction is needed. But first we need to accept that we are broken. This initiates the “emotional alchemy.” If we can hang in there with grief, it changes from a feeling of being “hemmed in” by life to a feeling of expansion and opening. We will never get back to the way we were, but eventually we reach a new state of “normal.” I’m not talking about the mundane kind of “getting back to normal,” in which we find ourselves doing the laundry again (although that is important too), but the deeper kind, which is a process of remaking ourselves and how we live.

Grief is a teacher. It tells us that we are not alone; that we are interconnected; that what connects us also breaks our hearts — which is as it should be. Most people who allow themselves to grieve fully develop an increased sense of gratitude for their own lives. That’s the alchemy: from grief to gratitude. None of us wants to go through these experiences, but they do bring us these gifts.

From: http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/385/through_a_glass_darkly?page=2

Love.

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