Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hangin' On

This morning I put Ziva on the leash, grabbed my earphones, and headed out of the house. Walking down the street I gave myself another pep talk. I’m pretty used to those these days. They vary but the most commonly used words are “Don’t think. Breathe” and “It’s okay”. The sun was warm but not too warm. I took in the beauty of the trees and smiled as my pup looked back at me in what appeared to be a big grin. I am grateful she joined our family two years ago. In the hardships of those years, she’s been an affectionate and joyous companion. I’ve needed her.

We turned left at the corner. I spotted the big St. Bernard and decided not to turn on that street. Perhaps the two would have been friendly with one another but I wasn’t in the mood to take a chance on them. Heading the other way, our path didn’t feel right, but onward we went. Martina McBride began singing in my ear. The song, In My Daughter's Eyes, always pulls at my heart and makes me think of my daughters, but walking and hearing the lyrics again today, suddenly “everything becomes a little clearer”.

“I realize what life is all about. It’s hangin’ on when your heart has had enough. It’s giving more when you feel like giving up”.

Yes. That’s what life is. At least for me, right now. Dad died eight weeks ago. I’m hanging on, giving more. But I’m also hurting and I want the hurt to go away.

I’m supposed to be kind and patient with myself. Grief is a process, they say. I know I moved on auto-pilot those first two weeks after Dad died. Plan the funeral. Write the obituary. Go to dress rehearsals (for I had the lead role in a musical that opened six days after Dad died). Sing at Dad’s funeral. Perform three shows. Travel to Rhode Island for Emma’s college orientation. Perform three more shows. Prepare a kitchen for a new countertop (a project which had already been scheduled). The next five weeks were more of the same. Get a breast biopsied. Wait for results. Travel back to my hometown. Take care of Mom for two weeks. Make arrangements with siblings for Mom’s care. Be on call.

Then there was this past week. Life slowed down a little. And suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. I felt nauseous again. I tried to trick my overactive brain into shutting down and sleeping at night by heading to bed before I got too tired. I got on the scale and realized I’d lost more weight. Oh, I love the lower numbers but this has been one hell of a way to slim down.

I need to stay busy. I go to the gym. I pull my husband out on impromptu dates. I do some baking. I play basketball with the kids. I do some laundry. I make myself read. I take more walks. I make meals. I watch television and movies. I try to avoid thinking too much but I still do. And yes, tears fall but I try to stop them from spilling over because I am tired of crying. I’m again heading another way. The path doesn’t feel right, but onward I go. Because I can’t let go, even though my heart has had enough. I can’t give up when I need to give more. That’s what life is all about. I just wish it weren’t so hard. I miss you, Dad. So much.

As I worked to finish this post, Ziva was again at my side, staring at me with her sweet brown eyes, wagging her tail. She doesn’t know my heart has been broken this summer. She doesn’t know I’ve lost my Dad. But she’s there for me, just the same. And she’s teaching me to simply savor the moments of life that are here for me now. Without judgement, she reminds me to take each moment as it comes, to feel the wafting breeze as it comes through the trees on this beautiful August day, to not worry over the demise of the deck flowers that have had too much water this summer, but to be happy playing with the little grasshopper that jumps out of the plant pot onto the decking, to jump at the light spots which streak our path. Because this too is what life is all about. And this is what helps me hang on.

Monday, August 5, 2013

His Arms Around Me

Yesterday morning I awoke to the feeling of my husband’s arms wrapping around me. It’s a beautiful thing to be married to your best friend, and this summer, with the canyon of grief and pain I have struggled through following the sudden loss of my father, I have once again been reminded of how lucky I am to have trusted my gut all those years ago when I first met Eric.

We met on an early summer church youth group trip to a rock slide near my hometown. Being three years older, he was in the senior section of the fellowship group. I was in the junior section. I had joined the group to be with my friends, as my own church did not have a youth ministry. My middle school boyfriend was in the group too, and I remember he was rather annoyed at how my face lit up when I watched this older teenager who was easily the center of attention. Eric was (and is) a happy, easy-going guy, quickly striking up conversations with people, affectionate and flirtatious. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, much to the dismay of the boy I was dating at the time. When Eric came by us and offered to take a picture of us, I couldn’t help but feel awkward over the whole thing. After that outing, I spotted Eric mowing the church lawn one day as I rode by. I pointed him out to my Mom who was driving and I remember laughingly asking my Mom to “Drive around the block one more time!” My Mom giggled when this became a regular request of mine throughout the summer.

When the school year began, I saw more of Eric. I was now a freshman in high school and he was a senior. I knew my place, being so much younger, and I never imagined this older teen would notice me, but he did. We began flirting with one another. Eric started taking me home last, after dropping off everyone else who had begged him for a ride home from school, practices, and the like. Our first official date followed a pep band obligation at our high school. Dressed in our matching white pants, white turtlenecks, and blue school sweaters, the two of us split a small fry and a coke at McDonald’s. It was the start of our February vacation and over the next several months, we became inseparable. I remember the exact moment when I knew I had fallen in love with him. We were in his car, parked in my driveway, and he started laughing over something funny I had said. Something in my head and my heart just knew, at that moment, that this was real.

But we were young. Eric went to college that fall. I could not completely commit to a far away boyfriend, and I dated others, but Eric stayed in the picture. He never dated anyone after me, and when I realized I didn’t want to risk losing him, I stopped seeing others too. I went to college and we married in my junior year. I was just 20 years old. That was nearly 25 years ago. College degrees, careers, setting up house, children, so many adventures....our life together has been rich.

But there have been rocky times too. Times of misunderstandings, times of heartbreak. To fall in love at the age of 15 and to be with that person thirty years later is remarkable to me. It appears that we’re a rarity. Those thirty years have not always been easy. We grew up together in the years of our marriage. And we made mistakes along the way. Sometimes, there weren’t mistakes, only the situations we found ourselves in. This last year has been especially hard. It was about one year ago that we learned his Mom’s cancer was back in force. She died three months later. Just as we were coming to terms with that loss, my father died unexpectedly. In the two months since his death, I have been met with extenuating situations that have only complicated my grief. But through it all, Eric is there for me.

When my parents came to our home for Christmas that last time, in December 2011, my Dad spoke to me from the heart (as he always did). Dad said, “Anne, you know, we are all part of a family when we’re born. But then we fall in love and we choose to spend our lives with another. Together we raise children, and we love that family we’ve built together very much, but over time, those children grow up, and each of them leaves to build lives of their own with others. And we return to being with the one we chose, the one we fell in love with”.

Yesterday, my grief, despite the warmth I felt upon waking in Eric's arms, was making me restless. I needed to "run away". After not taking my hints, I sat down on the couch next to Eric and I insisted to him that I had to get out of the house. "Where do you want to go?" he asked me. "To the woods or to the water. I don't care. I just need to go. Will you go with me?" I asked. "Yes", he replied quickly. Within five minutes we were out the door. We headed to the water. At the ocean we walked, we took in the sights, we strolled the beach, we outran a thunderstorm. We took in a stupid movie, ate popcorn, and chocolate. It was what I needed and I returned home with a calmed spirit.

Eric and I share a belief that we were always meant to be together like this, and I suppose what it comes down to is that we’ve continued to make choices that strengthen that belief. There are times when he or I could have chosen differently. We could have chosen to give up, to stop trying, to give in to pain and to let it conquer us. We could have gotten too comfortable, too complacent, too lazy. We could have been too proud, too fixated on being right, too offended by a careless comment, too frustrated with the other. Instead, we keep choosing each other...we continue to fall in love, year after year, day after day, hour after hour.