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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Deux

Avant-Propos 

You know . . . you think you know a thing, all about a thing, all the angles on the thing when it's your own personal thing. And there's definitely no way you can tell me how to feel, how to react, how to process this terrible thing that I've experienced.

Unless, that is, it's your thing as well.

Deux

It was at least a year after we lost Joshua before I knew that one of my daughter's friends spent some time in a "safe place" because of what happened. She'd been there that morning, after the fact, and saw things from which she'll likely never free herself. It was so shocking for me to learn. Why hadn't someone told me sooner? Where is she now? Is she okay?

Later still, as Ethan was being enrolled for pre-K at the same school that Joshua had attended, I learned that Ethan would have the same teacher Josh had known and loved. And also that she'd had to take a year-long leave of absence when Joshua died.

The hardest one for me to hear, however, was Chandler's experience. He and I were alone together at the house that morning when my daughter called. (I still hear that call sometimes. Completely out of the blue. I can be driving along; it's a beautiful day; zero stress, then bam!1 "Mom!! Mommmm!!!")

I don't know how long it was just Chandler and me that morning as I was catapulted into that horror, snatched back and pummeled, over and over and over again. I don't know when my husband got home. I don't know where Chandler was the rest of that day. If I try to remember ~ and I really don't like to ~ I can only see myself on the floor, trying to twist myself into some alternate reality where it had not just happened.

And there was little three-year-old Chandler, witnessing it all.

Switchback

As I shared a couple of weeks ago in Panic At The Disco, my youngest grandson recently graduated from pre-k and I was not there. Chandler, however, did get to attend, and here are some things he said when he got home.

"Meme, they said my name on stage!"

"I wish you had been there."

"It's okay that you weren't."

"Really, Meme! They said my name!

They said that Ethan said that I am his best friend!"2

But the thing that really chokes me up is this: I was in bed pretty early that night ~ beginning to experience the physicality and brain haze that comes with a full-blown panic attack ~ when Chandler crawled into the bed, scooted up really, really close behind me, put his arm around me, and just stayed quietly there with me for a considerable amount of time. He never said anything and he left quietly and it's the only time he's ever done this (with me.) I knew (hazily) at the time that there was something very significant about this, but it was a couple of months later before I realized what exactly that was.

Back To Reality

Because of an entirely separate thing that's happened in the time since we lost Josh, Chandler wound up at our local Children's Advocacy Center to receive trauma counseling.3  Part of that process was for him to write his life story, hitting the high and low points and especially focusing on the source(s) of his trauma.

His counselor gave us a fair warning about a few particulars before the day that he read his story to us, so I was a tiny bit prepared to hear him read:

"I remember MeMe got a phone call and she fell on the ground and she started crying and screaming."

He stopped reading to ask, "Remember that, MeMe?"

"And then Pop came home, but I don't remember anything else about that day or when they told me that Josh had died."

And that's how I learned that Chandler's loss of Joshua trauma has been rooted in My Reaction to losing Josh.

He'd not only just lost his very best friend ~ which would take some time for his tiny heart and mind to comprehend ~ he also witnessed for too long a time and completely unequipped to emotionally process as his meme came completely unglued.

Now what?! To learn now, these years later, how deeply I've imprinted a terrible memory into his psyche is much to bear. How are any of us ever going to be okay?!

But we will be okay.

Ethan graduated in May and it's taken me three months to get this far with this one. But I'm here, and so is Chandler, and each of us is healing in our own ways. 

It still doesn't feel quite finished, but if we're going to keep moving forward, then it's time to take the next step. 

[Publish.]

At Chandler's CAC graduation, we painted rocks to represent our journey.
His mom, Pop, and I left ours in the CAC rock garden.


   Chandler brought his home.



***

1 Sometimes I think that beautiful, stress-free days actually Are the trigger because it had been such a lovely, peaceful morning

2 It's possible that I don't have the quote exactly right, but the idea of it remains.

3 Thank Jesus for the CAC

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Panic At The Disco

Avant-Propos 

I used to get so mad at my sister. 
If I even believed her ~ which I didn't at least half the time. 
I still have doubts, in fact, and still get mad about it even though she's been gone for five years now. 

I also didn't believe my doctor when he presented the diagnosis. 
I still don't believe him most of the time. 

Until it happens.

Partie Une

Ethan graduated from Pre-K the other night.
Ethan is my fifth grandbaby, my third grandson.
He is Chandler's cousin. (Chandler, my first grandson, lives with us.)
Ethan is Joshua's little brother.
Joshua, my second grandson, was Chandler's best friend1 in the world until we lost him in a terrible accident four years ago.

I did not make it to Ethan's graduation.

It's been long enough since I had a panic attack that I had myself thoroughly convinced ~ again ~ that I do not have panic attacks. It's not that I don't believe they're real. It's that I'm just too strong and sound and capable to have such a thing. 

Until it happens.

I also can't remember the first one that I had, but I do know that it was after we lost Josh. And that happened just a couple of months after his graduation from Pre-K at the same school that Ethan attends.

The entire day of graduation, I felt "off" but had no idea why until it was getting near time to close the shop and I realized how much I didn't want to go home. Which was weird. I mean, I do love my job but I don't usually dread leaving it at day's end. From there it wasn't hard to figure out what was wrong with me.

Which ought to be a good thing, right? Realizing the cause of an issue is usually the first right step toward correction. However, the more and the harder that I tried to be excited about my grandbaby's graduation, the faster and harder I began to spiral. Some of the reasons are obvious: triggers lead to flashbacks, etc. Another contributor was worrying about my husband's reaction. He's a fixer and while I know that his heart is right, his efforts don't always help. And then I started thinking about all the other family that would be there and the various ways they might react, and so by the time I was face-to-face with my husband, I'd become a blubbering lump.

I wanted so much to be there.
But the thing about these panic things is that they pretty much run the show.
It's one of the reasons that I hate them as much as I do.
While I have a much lesser desire (than I used to) to control my environment,
I have a very hard time being controlled.

The reason I used to get so angry with my sister is that I was 100% positive that she could stop it if she really wanted to. 

But you really don't know what you don't know and 
I wish I hadn't had to learn this in such a difficult way.
And I wish I could tell my sister that I'm sorry. 


1 Best friendship at 3 years old may seem like a stretch, but it was the real deal with those two.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Little Rough Around The Edges . . .

 . . . (or) Work In Progress

There were so many quotable parts in this Ted Radio Hour episode, Life's Rough Edges, that I feel not only inspired but obligated to share.

"Write what you're feeling. Tell the truth."

"Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life."

"But wait, there's more!"

"You must tell the truth."

Because "We have a sacred responsibility to live fully in the face of our losses."

✴ ✴ ✴

One of my earliest memories in life is of a fairly substantial trauma ~ or so it seemed to my 4 year old self1 ~ and in the few years that followed, hardship and harrowing events seemed to rapid-fire which turned me into a bit of an emo kid before "emo kid" was a thing. And that my peers neither gratified, appreciated, or even allowed my emo-ness only perpetuated my darkening personality. By my early teens I was pretty much a twisted mess, emotionally speaking.

But I learned early enough in life that keeping my sad stories to myself was how I'd get by, and eventually that it was the only real way to maintain any lasting relationship. Learned it and practiced it, however, are different things. Life (and my peers) had to train me (hard) to keep it quiet ~ or so I've told myself. (What I tell myself remains one of my biggest handicaps.)

When I first discovered the blogging world (and still today), it seemed to me that (apart from diy projects and all things child-rearing) the writers sharing their tragedies and trials were some of the most followed, most appreciated. That many were drawn to them and their stories ~ regardless, it seemed to me, of the perspective from which they shared ~ was an observable fact. It puzzled me that the people in my circles seemed less than enthused to hear all about my pain.2

I get it though. I really do. I'm like most other people when someone is sad and I want to fix it or don't otherwise know what to do or say. And maybe it's a little bit like that "not accepted in your hometown", though I promise I'm not meaning to make much of myself in any way! And also maybe ~ and I think the more likely possibility (especially as this is true for me) ~ most people would probably rather reflect on what brings joy and good, easy times.

Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, "Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better." Even as I have myself been . . . emo, I've been mad at, turned off, made uncomfortable by others who were the same. It's very strange to imagine that grief, hardship, sadness, or sad people could be appealing. But it's not so hard for me to recognize and appreciate the value of it. After all, "Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life."

✴ ✴ ✴

I do hope you'll listen to that Radio Hour episode, especially as this is my reflection on only one small sliver of its entirety.

And would it be weird to also hope that you'll have your own meaningful encounter with sorrow? In any case, I'm here if you want to talk about it.

Also, for whatever reason, this one has to end with a song.

Maybe Tomorrow






1 It absolutely was a trauma. Why am I even trying to diminish it?!

2 To be super clear, some of the best and most caring and patient people are in my circles, and I do have listening friends

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Addendum: Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road, Really

Future Fear is the first thing I've written* in a way long time.

I've really just now realized that.

I'm rusty and failed to include a pretty pivotal point before I published it.

But that gives me the opportunity to post TWO in as many days!

Could it be that I'm back? . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Why was I afraid to cross the road, Really?**

It's because I had no idea what I would do next, once across.
I was afraid I wouldn't know which way to go or that I would go the wrong way and wind up someplace unsettling.
But more than anything, I had no idea how long it would take. I am accustomed to managing my time pretty precisely ~ as much as thrift shop life allows for that. I was afraid that once across the road, I may be gone longer than I hoped or intended. (We could definitely go into 'control issues' here, but another time, k?!)
When having that conversation the other night, the other person said, "But how long did it take you to start again?!", the implication being that That future may never arrive or at the least, may Seem to take forever and how can anyone be motivated by That?!
But what I'm saying is that there's no way to know until you go.
How long will it take if you do Nothing?
________________________________________
*Written and posted

**Referring to a recent message I heard about making better decisions, having fewer regrets. Asking too few or the wrong questions generally leads to poor choices. A question I should always ask myself is, "Am I being honest with myself, Really."

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Future Fear

I was 24 years old the first time I ate alone in a restaurant, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating. More than anything, though, it was a pivotal moment to my entire future.

See, I was about midway through a painful and difficult divorce. I'd gone directly from living with my folks to living with a husband and was suddenly facing the prospect of raising two kids alone. Knowing which way to go ~ if going at all ~ felt like an entirely insurmountable task.

So after meeting with my lawyer one day, I made myself go into the 4th Avenue Krystal and eat lunch all by myself. It felt like the bravest thing I'd done in my whole entire life. It wasn't too much longer that I ate salmon croquettes for the first time and did a dozen other things I'd never before had the courage to try!

The point is that I had to make a choice: move forward or freeze in fear.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

I've been having a conversation with someone who is feeling as if there is no way forward, or that if there is, then the future still looks bleak. I said (not competing or comparing), "I was not much older than you are now when I took my two small kids to Florida where I had zero family and knew only one man who turned out to be unstable and eventually committed a violent suicide while we were in the house with him. 

But what if I'd made different choices? 

What if I'd stayed in Georgia? 

What if I'd married that man?"1

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

So how do we decide which way to go?

What is it that moves us forward? 

Or keeps us from moving at all?

And what if we go the wrong way?

When I went for my daily walk this morning, I turned out of my driveway in the same direction that I usually do, looked further ahead than the road onto which I usually turn, and made a decision to walk past it.

That decision wasn't super novel. I'd walked to the end of my road before, but today I made myself make another choice. Today, instead of stopping at the crossroads, I went across the road that I usually avoid (because the traffic there is a little scary.)

I made this decision based in some part on that conversation (practice what you preach), but also because I have wondered so many times about what is at the very end of this road.






Because I pushed on through (crossed the road), I was witness to a beautiful morning rising over the bayou.

I saw neighborhoods and houses I'd never seen before. I saw new cats and clouds and hidden pathways.

Do you know . . . there's a house in my little town that's built under a small hill?! My husband took me once to see it and it's since then been a mystery and bit of fairy tale. Until this morning when I walked right by it!

Eventually, I walked back across the road and returned to my normal route. Because I was feeling very grown up and brave, I made yet another (scary) decision! I came again to the crossroads and this time made a 90° turn and walked alongside it for a measure.

At that, I was back in familiar territory. While I've seen the same things here most days, today I saw it all anew and that was reason enough to have made the choice.

As I began nearing the end of my walk and assembling my closing thoughts, I remembered the unpublished draft that lies in wait on the post roll just before this one. That one is about fear that shows up as anxiety/panic. (Is there any real difference? Real question.)

It's a real post that says some real things that I've not been able to bring myself to publish. If I am seeking out the real and true answer(s) for why I make the choices that I do2, then is it fear that's stopping me? If yes, then fear of what? 

It occurs to me that I must either 

own my fear or own my future.

Either way is a choice and I alone must make it.


Deciding which way to walk through my neighborhood hardly seems like a matter of life or death, but this is only ~ after all ~ an illustration of the larger choices we must make.

Move forward or freeze in fear.

My move to Florida certainly did not seem the wisest at the time, and the initial consequences1 were horrific. But because of that move, I made new friends and met people who walked with me through and set new standards for the decisions that followed. And in time, I realized that I had, in fact, begun again.

There are very few certainties for the big decisions that we make, that we must make. But standing still, refusing to go further in any direction is, in essence, a choice. As is the present, so is the future ~ the consequence of every choice we make.

If you're feeling like there's no way forward or that you're stuck in present circumstance or that you can never begin again, perhaps you can make one small decision that is different from all the ones before. Instead of stopping at the crossroads or turning onto the same old well-worn path, keep moving ahead.

This morning I saw a way that I haven't seen before and there seemed to be a light that beckoned. So tomorrow . . . 

1 I have written and talked about this part of my life many times through the years. I pray these sentences do not seem too short or careless regarding Mark's life. If you need to know more, then ask me.

The Integrity Question

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .



Also, why is the tip of this stick so white?!


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Jesus Take The Wheel

Alternate title: Some Things Never (Seem To) Change

Eventually, we bought four-wheelers and for a while, we spent our brief weekends traipsing through the woods. It felt like freedom.

On one of those late afternoons, somewhere in the country, I took the wheel (handlebars) and drove back and forth through a giant mud-puddle, screaming, "I can drive the [SCAT] out of this thing! I can drive the [SCAT] out of it!"


via GIPHY

It's a wonder I didn't die that day. I never changed gears on the thing and probably had one hand in the air like the yippee-ki-ode to stupidity that it was. I couldn't drive the anything out of anything.  Although...

There was this one time at tech school... 

For context, I was nineteen. My two-year-old daughter and I were living with my mom and step-dad while I attended classes at Columbus Technical Institute. I was going to be a ... [something great.] I'd only learned to drive in the previous year and frequently visited my dad on weekends forty miles north of home.

So one Saturday, my chevy omega wouldn't crank and I had to leave it at my dad's house until he could figure it out. The next day, I borrowed my mom's car to go back to my dad's because I'd left my school books in my car. When it was time to leave, my mom's car would't crank.

Now there's some history here between my mom and dad that I suspect I don't completely know. Suffice it to say, my mom told me not to let my dad touch her car and that I'd better drive it back "right now."

So I did. I started driving that car right on back to her. Never mind that for 10 miles from my dad's house, it smoked and gurgled and lurched. I was driving that car back "Right. Now."

And then, as I was dragging the thing up a hill, parts started to fall off of the car and roll down the road behind me. There began to be roiling smoke from under the hood, such that I couldn't see to drive it if I'd wanted to. And clearly ~ I wanted to.

When the power steering went out, I finally thought it might not make it the next 30 miles and so I pulled into a driveway. You need to know that it is Super Rural between my dad's and mom's houses. There are no neighborhoods, just random gated driveways. So I got out of the car and tried the gate that was 300' feet from the house, but found it locked. When I turned back to the car, the hood was a HUGE bubble of very angry metal. I looked past it to see my baby girl in the backseat, and that's when I freaked.

I grabbed her and ran for the (literal) woods. There was a dirt road that led to another house where people let me in to use the phone. When we came back out, there was a plume of black smoke rising above the trees. When the firetrucks arrived, all that was left of my mom's cavalier station wagon was the frame and steel tire threads.

Even my books were gone!

It's ironic in a way because when my mom first bought the car ~ I think it was probably her first ever brand new vehicle ~ I must have been about twelve years old, and for some stupid reason, I didn't know what the cigarette lighter was for and so I tested it on the upholstery of the front seat. So in a way, I did sort of finish what I started.

Lord, my poor parents!

Anyhow, there's a reason I'm telling all of this. It's in hindsight that I can see I have certain personality traits that seem to withstand the test of time, despite all my efforts to mature and change. I am driven and determined ~ or ~ I am stubborn and stupid-acting. It's possibly a very fine line.

My get it done/I can do it/do it myself mentality has brought me a long way ~ or so I tell myself when I am deciding how to do a thing. In truth, it's a real wonder I've made it this far, and while I'd like to toot my own horn, tell you stories that illustrate my tenacity, it's by God's grace that I'm still here to tell anything at all.

I pray that if there's one solid shining truth that makes it through all of my stories and nonsense, it's Jesus. I'd be nowhere and nothing without him.

Monday, March 30, 2020

System Defrag/Regularly Scheduled Maintenance

For years I've been perfecting this explanation for my husband's benefit, and hope that it might help a few of you as well.

Here's my self-talk:
I have a big, smart, busy, important brain, and
It needs a lot of space to do its thing.

But in reality, my brain is more like a wild rabbit:
Hop, hop, nibble, hop, hop, twitch, hop.

It's true that I have a very busy thought-life and much to think about.
It's not true that what I have to think about is more important than anything or anybody else.
When I get up in the morning and I require however much time it is before I can speak to others, it's not that I think I'm special and/or that your need to speak at me is not special.

It's that I need to order my thoughts.

While I am sleeping, apparently my brain runs amok and I wake to find muddy tracks all across my previously neatly ordered thoughts.  It's as if my four-wheeling self stays awake all night doing donuts in the office of my administrative self.

If I do not order my thoughts at the start of the day, then who knows which of my selves may run the show for the rest of the day.  Have you ever met my pierced and tatted biker self?  No?  It's better if we keep it that way.

In all truth and seriousness, it really is better for me and for the world around me if I order my thoughts at the start of each day.  It's simple, really.  Picture a defrag:

When I look at this, I see the red as irritability/irritation.  If I must process new information before I've worked through and ordered what I already know, then I tend to feel pressed and therefore, flustered, irritated.

However, if I take the time to smooth everything out, choose my priorities, toss what's actually unimportant, then my brain is much more likely to respond like a well-oiled machine: smooth, and quick, and (more likely) accurate.

Realizing this about my own self ~ that daily quiet time is essential, not trivial ~ helps me to treat that time more intentionally and not take it for granted.

For me, this works best at the very start of the day for what I think is an obvious reason.  However, there are times throughout the day when I know that my thoughts are becoming jumbled ~ a natural response to tension ~ and when I can, I simply step away momentarily.  In other words, I've learned to say, "I'll be right back.  I'm just going to think about this quietly for a minute." 

It's not always possible, of course, but using my relationship with my husband as an example, it's difference-making when it can be practiced.  His natural reaction is to dive right into whatever needs an answer, and often enough, I do my best to go with him into that.  But we've both realized that if it's necessary to have a solitary interlude before making a decision, the outcome is almost always better than if we'd worked against our own selves.