25 August 2017


The days are slower now, my body alternating between different stages of molasses. My hours seem to be filled with mostly morning, or maybe it's just the time I am most connected, the most aware. I awake stuck to sheets, suddenly swimming upward from the deep end. I never wake with an alarm and I haven't in years. My eyes crack a few minutes before and by the time my cell phone erupts into a symphony of automated tinkles and bells, I am staring at creases in my ceiling, my hands, my stomach.

I feel so much the way I did while I was in Russia. Always walking, always quiet. Words whirl around me, but nothing clicks. I remember a time on the Moscow Metro and begging Ben to translate a conversation between girls my age, missing desperately any conversation. He told me they were talking about their friend, nothing special but it cradled my heart. Nothing special talks with friends were things I ached for only then and only now. The carelessness of words, a life with all the pieces still in tact.

People do speak to me: they ask me to step aside, what I'd like in my coffee if I dropped something, but I hear none of it. It feels like winter or some stage of it at least. The emptiness, the complete decision by the earth to be quiet and to hibernate is felt by my body. But it's not real; summer is everywhere. On people's skin, in their hair, on the streets. I am some version of my own January.

I color my hair a bright shade of red and I think that now it all looks right. I look like someone troubled. It was all too manicured before or something. This is what people do, right? Shop too much? Lay in bed thinking of a million reasons to call off work? Change their appearance dramatically? I do everything that everyone else probably does, but I am bored by all of it. I feel silly and obvious, but I can't stop it no matter how aware of it I am.

Walking is almost the hardest part. There is never anything I want to listen to. Sometimes I find a book or a podcast, but I eat them fast and alive and then my days are silent again. My feet drag on the pavement, my eyelids are slick and heavy. I flick through songs, radio stations. I think to myself that it isn't the music I want to change, but my mood. I'm not really listening anyway.

Ben goes to Indiana for a weekend and I have Katie over. I pay $4.99 to rent a scary movie, but halfway through a car slides off the road and we pause the movie. I start off by saying how fine I am with seeing car accidents, how many I've seen in my life, how I was even in one when I was in high school. It's been easy for me to detach, how truly I feel nothing. And then it starts coming out of my mouth like ribbons and I pull and pull and now I realize I have said too much and I am far over my own boundary and no, I'm not okay with car accidents. I am not okay when I see them when I hear about them. They break me open in every way I can be opened. They are the ender of my life. I talk and talk until I realize that I'm crying, no I am sobbing and I am sobbing in a way that is usually private, but I can't stop it and I cry as hard as I can.

"Nothing has ever happened to me before," I tell her. "I always thought things did, but nothing really has. I'm just such a regular girl. The quietest of all Midwest girls. Nothing ever really happened before this."

She listens and nods. She says the things that people who are good at listening can say. Only a few people know how to speak the right way. I am must have done something right to have more than one. And I do calm down, I always do. All crying ends, this I know.

I ask her what her Catholic upbringing would say about my dad's death.

"Does your God take people to punish others?"

"No, no," she says gently. "Someone in my church would just say that God needed him and that this will help you become a better person. They'd say this was part of your path and this will lead you to do something greater."

"But what if I don't become anything?" I ask. And this is my biggest fear. "What if I just lead a regular life? What if nothing changes about me at all?"

We think on this. After awhile we finish the movie and fall asleep together in my bed.

Ben and I buy plane tickets to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving and I feel pure joy writing that in my calendar. I keep a grateful journal the way my dad always did and I write three things I was grateful for that day. Sometimes they are big and sometimes they are small, but I force myself to finish it every day.

  • I am grateful I like all my clothes
  • I am grateful Ben's hair looks the way it did when we met
  • I am grateful I have comfortable pillows 
  • I am grateful for TV that makes me laugh
  • I am grateful for Harry Potter
  • I am grateful for the unshakeable bond I have with some friends and family
  • I am grateful that my cat sleeps with me every night
Ben works late but is never too tired to bake with me when he gets home. Somethings are the same as they were before and some things are better. We make s'mores bars and flavored cream cheeses. I pickle cucumbers and clip my beloved pothos to grow for Christmas presents in a few months. We talk as we do everything and I play music Ben has never heard off my iPhone.

We work from home sometimes, but never in the same room. I like knowing he is nearby though. I hear him speak Portuguese and love him in the same way I always have. Sometimes I wander over to him while he has a break and I find myself asking him the questions I always like to ask like, where the Mariana Trench is and what do you think is at the bottom? What's the biggest dinosaur there ever was? How can a plane break the sound barrier? What is the story of how we met? Do you still think I'm pretty?

My living room continues to thrive with strong, healthy plants. The ones my dad gave me for Christmas are vibrant and getting tougher as the days past. I wash their leaves and say goodbye to them when I leave for work. Someone asked me the other day how often I replace them and I was shocked.

"What? Never. I don't kill plants. I've had most of them for years," and I realized how truly proud I am of my plants and how big of a role they have in my life. I find endless peace in watering them, trimming off their dead leaves and rotating them around our sunny flat. Sometimes before I leave in the morning, I catch my cats on my windowsill, hidden by trees and my heart is filled with nothing but pure and simple joy. And it's like all at once I get it. I just get it all.

02 August 2017

Feel Good Lost: Things That Helped

After my dad passed away, everything made me sick.

The morning afternoon (or afternoon, since no one fell asleep until well after the sun, was up) my mom sent Ben out to our family's favorite bagel shop to get something for us to eat. She hadn't expected guests and now the house was full. I sat in my usual spot in our sunny dining room and stared at my warm, handmade chocolate chip bagel- my favorite breakfast in the world- and my stomach only felt dark and empty.

"I don't want this," I whispered and got up to walk around the house.

Almost everything happens the way it does in movies. People bring a lot of food: big bowls of pasta, loaves of bread, plastic dishes of salad. People came in and out throughout the week, but I also remember the house being empty. I wish I could say I remember exactly how it was for sure, but it always just seemed like the morning. I remember the sunshine everywhere. I think it had been cold.

After the funeral, I went back to my apartment and lay in bed for one more week. My company had been generous with my time off and two weeks seemed perfect: one week to be hysterical. One week to be quiet.

But my quiet week was met with a storm of desperation. All I wanted was to feel better, to fix my crumpled stomach and broken heart. Smooth it out and put it back to the way it was. I traced through my memory to self-care videos on YouTube; British girls with Lush hauls and makeup store binges. There seemed to be answers out there and I just needed to land one.

so here are some of the things that actually helped

a hot water bottle in a sweater

My sweet friend Catie sent me a care package that timed up with the week I went back to work. And I was really hurting. My first week was a blur filled with all raw emotions. Genuine breakdowns, moments where I couldn't hold tears back. Running to the bathroom, grabbing a girl I hardly knew to ask for comfort behind a filing cabinet. I ended up working out a schedule that broke up my week with time to work from home, but that first week I did all five days and right in the middle of it I came home in hysterics to a package addressed to "Lisa Lilac" (her nickname for me). 

Inside were her beautiful prints, pouches filled with herbs and stones specifically chosen for grief, but most all a hot water bottle in a little sweater. I don't know if I have ever loved on something the way that I have loved that bottle. I cradled it in my arms while I watched TV and I slept with it every night for probably the first two months. If there is one thing I could tell anyone dealing with grief it would be to buy yourself (or someone else!) this. It brings immense comfort, literal and emotional warmth, something to physically nurture your broken heart with. 

rereading harry potter

One of the first things I started asking people after my dad died was what I should read. I am a lover of books and I was specifically looking for literature, not self-help, to get me through this. I was recommended Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, but after a couple of chapters, I found it too on point and someone identifying my feelings before I could to be very off-putting. I look forward to a season in my life when I am ready for her always guiding words, but I couldn't read about grief head on. 

Instead, I started tracing through my memory to find a hero who had lost a parent but still went on to lead a happy, adventure-filled life. Live a life after grief. After a couple of days of googling and staring mindlessly at my bookshelf, my eyes landed on Harry Potter. I immediately turned to Ben (who rereads the entire series once a year) and said, "Harry misses his parents right? That's a thing!" 

Ben looked at me very seriously. "Yeah, he does. He misses them all the time and struggles with it consistently throughout the series." 

So there I went. My mom actually read all of the books too (though she is much quicker than me and it took her about a month), but we both found such profound comfort in revisiting this classic. I think the natural reaction to death is to surround yourself with materials and information, but I found that to be very suffocating. My life was already surrounded and truthfully, I wanted to swim up for air. I chose to dip my toes into other worlds where death and heartache are real and present, but where characters choose to move forward, choose to face their pain and also live beyond it. I haven't thought of many books beyond Harry Potter (I am still finishing up Prisoner of Azkaban so I still got another few months with it), but if you have a suggestion that is similar, please let me know. 

my plants

I don't know if I would recommend going out and buying new plants if you're dealing with extreme grief, but I have a steady green thumb and took a lot of plants from my dad's wake to join my home (PSA to funeral attendees: send plants, not flowers. Flowers are great, but plants can be taken home and loved. My brother, my mom and I have filled our homes with greenery). At the end of the funeral, we divided up what could be realistically taken and having new life in my home forced me to get out of bed to water and clean leaves, as well as learn about new species I wouldn't have necessarily picked up on my own. 

My home has become a jungle of sorts (just like the home I grew up in), but now all my plants have stories and are beautiful and sweet and fill me with such joy. I took care of them and they took care of me.

things that did not help, but I spent money on thinking they would
- an oil diffuser 
- expensive pajamas (like, really expensive)
- new candles 
- an earring from Catbird 
- Two tops from Madewell
- bath bombs, bath oils, anything for the shower really (though I have found that sitting in a shower for an extended amount of time is very triggering-I struggle a lot with intrusive thoughts, which I hope to write about later)
- an Italian bathing suit 

I ended up spending money here and there with the thought of "treating myself", but I really don't think it's a time to treat yourself. This is a hard truth, but nothing will make you feel better in the beginning. You are in the ocean now and the waves will come. Save your money, go through the pain. Lay in bed in your regular pajamas with your usual candles going and watch TV. Take normal showers. Don't try and buy the pain away. It will hurt, but it will also ease up. Just go through it; the hours are long, but the days are short. 

If you have any additional comfort tools, please share them. I'd love for people to be more of both what to get for themselves and also what to give. You can often times feel so helpless both in watching and experiencing and I think being able to send helpful gifts is wonderful (though, genuinely anyone who reached out in any way at all has a place in my heart. I remember everything).

Thank you for reading, as always.  
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