April Showers Bring More Tears

April is a hard, hard month for me. While everyone and everything around me is celebrating the newness of Spring and all the joy that brings, April marks the loss of two of my most favorite people ever: my dad and my best friend. Their deaths were one year and 24 days apart. I used to think that it was such a terrible thing to lose them so close together, but now I think it may actually be a blessing. April is month of grief for me. And I need that. And I need you to know that I need that. And you need to know that I need to know that you know I need that. (favorite FRIENDS episode, anyone?)

It’s not like I go the other 11 months of the year without thinking about or grieving them. I do. Almost everyday something happens that I would want to tell one of them about. But because life is life, I can’t go around being sad all the time. So, April is when I give myself permission to really feel. To remember them and their lives. To imagine what it would be like if they were here today.

Papa Steve with Lauryn and Brayden when they were about the same age as B is today.

It’s when the little triggers become big triggers. When something as small as a phone call not answered can send me into a downward spiral of fear and worry. When my son asking about the picture of my dad on the mantle ends with me ugly crying in the closet instead of sitting him on my lap and telling him a funny story about Papa Steve. When I’m listening to a song on the radio that I’ve heard a hundred times and all of a sudden the words start meaning something else and I’ll never listen without tears again.

I was beginning to think I’d reached the point in my grief that I could stop watching for and avoiding these moments. I was starting feel almost whole again – as whole as one can feel with two parts of their heart gone. And then my Dad’s angel-versary came. And it went. And nobody really even noticed. Not my husband. Not my family. Nobody. Almost not even me.

That’s a lie. I did notice. I had been dreading it for days. I kept myself busy and made it through the work day without incident. I called my Grammy to wish her a belated happy birthday and prayed she didn’t want to talk about it – she didn’t. I called my sister that evening just to say hi and make sure she was okay – she was, sort of. I started to call my brother, but couldn’t muster the courage in case he was the one of us who really wasn’t okay. Instead, I picked a fight with my husband and then cried myself into a ball in the shower.

I’m terrible about bottling up my feelings, while at the same time expecting everyone else to know exactly how I’m feeling and why. It’s something I have got to work on. But not this month. Not in April. Consider this your warning. For the entire month of April, I may be happy, sad, moody, and on the verge of crying all at the same time. You probably won’t be able to tell from outside, but it’s there. Just waiting. Waiting on a smell, a song, a picture, or a memory. Waiting on something to trigger it.

But as the old saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. And one of my favorite new traditions comes toward the end of April. The 24th, to be exact. It’s when I celebrate Anne Marie by sending her mom a bouquet of pink flowers – Gerbera daisies to be exact, symbolizing my favorite picture of Ree. I think this year I will buy myself some, too. Maybe looking at them will help me remember the happy times and move out of my April funk. Any then when the flowers wilt, I will toss them out – along with my grief.

Until next year.

From my visit to DC. One of my favorite memories of Anne Marie.

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National Siblings Day

Today is National Siblings Day. A day set aside to celebrate a relationship that is unlike any other. It’s not a relationship you chose, nor is it one you can leave. Nope. Your parents chose to give you siblings, and whether you like them or not, it is a bond that can never be broken.

I consider myself very lucky to have my brother and sister. I haven’t always felt that way. There were those tough years growing up that I hated how my older brother always made me be the nurse when he and his friends played war in the woods behind my house. Or how my annoying little sister was always trying to hang out with me and my friends when I had sleepovers. I remember taping a line down the middle of the room my sister and I shared – and the only reason I took it up was because her side had the door.

But as I have gotten older, I have grown to truly appreciate that I have built-in best friends. People who know where I came from and can relate to my experiences better than anyone else – because they lived it, too. Someone I can call when I’m just having one of those days. Someone that calls me when they need advice that only a sister can give. Often times talking to them is like looking into a mirror – probably because we all look so much alike, but also because they are the reflection of my life that I sometimes have trouble seeing.

As grateful as I am for them, I write this with tears in my eyes because I know that my son will never have that. It was a decision Adam and I made when we were discussing our family plans. It wasn’t something I took lightly, but deep down I knew it was what would be right for us, our family, and our lifestyle. However, I was super sad knowing that my child would never get to experience that relationship. That sibling bond.

However, part of what factored into my side of the decision was the fact that both of my siblings were also growing their families at the same time. We each had babies 3 months apart – May, August, and November of 2013. Knowing that my son would grow up with his cousins, these 2 and the 3 older ones, eased my mind that he would still have the closeness of family even without a brother or sister of his own.

I knew this would be true because I also have the greatest cousins in the world. My cousins and I were thick as thieves growing up, spending weeks at a time together at Grammy’s house. So in addition to my brother and sister, I also have 6 other people who have my genes and know everything about my childhood, my family, my life. An extra set of people who love me like their own.

Having that experience with my cousins, and knowing that my brother and sister grew up in the same crew, warms my heart and reassures me that my kiddo will not be growing up alone. He has 5 other people that will be there every step of the way. My siblings and I will make sure of it. He also now has a new baby cousin from Adam’s side and I can’t wait to watch that relationship blossom.

I guess what I’m getting it is that I love my siblings. I love my cousins. And I love that my son has cublings – cousins who are like siblings. It is hands-down the best thing my brother and sister have ever done for me…and they didn’t even know they were doing it.

Thank you my Nacie and Sissy. I love you both beyond words. Happy Siblings Day.

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The Sad. The Bad. The Ugly.

The other day I came across an article shared on Facebook written by a young girl who lost her best friend during high school. I timidly clicked the link, knowing there would likely be tears in my near future. But instead of crying, I finished the article with a smile on my face and my own thoughts on what it’s like to go on living after tragedy. So that is what brought me back here – months and months after my last post – to share a more truthful version of my life  than most of you have probably seen in the past 2 1/2 years. (click here to read her article. keep scrolling to read mine)

In April of 2014, I lost my best friend. In the height of our busy lives, we’d grown apart, but Anne Marie was the kind of friend that could go weeks or months without speaking and we’d pick right back up where we left off, each of us innately knowing what the other had been through without having to say it. Her sudden and heartbreaking death cut straight to my soul. A piece of my being was gone.

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Then, just as the pain of losing her was easing up, my dad passed away unexpectedly. Well, not completely unexpected – but sooner than I was ready for and in a more tragic way that I can even put into words. Alone. Sick. Sad. Peaceful. I thought that was rock bottom. That life had given my fair share of pain and things were going to start looking up. But a month later my mom was in the ER, failing to thrive and unable to care for herself. She would spend the next 2 months in a nursing facility, and I would spend the next 6 managing her life from afar and worrying that any day she would give up the fight and die on me, too. Luckily, she pulled through and is back on the track of living again.

Throw all of this on top of being a new parent, changing jobs, and another complicated family situation, and it sounds like a recipe for personal breakdown. But anyone that is close to me knows that I deal with things by elevating the good and suppressing the bad. I bury hurt and pain down deep inside and put on a smile, choosing to focus on what is going well in my life. I tend to live by the motto: Feel it. If you don’t like that way it feels, change it if you can. If you can’t, move on.

But that article made me stop and think…what did I really go through these past months and years? Should I share my feelings and stories, too? Obviously I decided to share, and here it is (some of it, anyway).

The Sad. The Bad. The Ugly.

Time stands still.

I’ll never forget where I was when I got each of the calls. When Anne Marie died, I was upstairs in my bedroom when my phone rang. It was a friend that doesn’t call that often, so I was instantly on guard thinking something was wrong. When she shared the news, my body reacted before my mind and I was somehow instantly in my closet, sitting on the floor with my knees hugged to my chest. I hung up and dialed her cell – voicemail. I dialed her parents’ landline from memory. “She’s gone.” The shortest sentence, spoken in a voice that only Momma Lisa could have had in that moment: strong, sad, comforting, factual.

When my brother called me in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday, I thought he just wanted to chat about the great weekend we’d had celebrating my Grammy. I was sitting at my desk and spun my chair around the look out the window as I picked up his call. When I heard his voice, I knew something wasn’t right. And when he gave me the news, my left hand clenched my shirt over my heart, as if it could somehow stop it from beating. The tears fell, the snot came, and my cubicle neighbor peeked over to check on me. I was hunched over in my chair, rocking back and forth. I walked to my car stoically, just praying that I would somehow be invisible to anybody that passed me.

These two moments now overshadow all of the better moments that I had with two of my most favorite people in the world. These are the moments when time stopped and I physically felt my world crashing around me.

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My guardian angels

There are triggers everywhere.

I knew there would be memories of my dad scattered throughout my daily life. He had, of course, been a part of it for more than 2/3 of my life. But what I wasn’t prepared for where the subtle reminders of him. Like the way my father-in-law refuses to bring reading glasses to a restaurant and then can’t read the menu – just like my dad used to. Or when I would run into a guy a work who could be my dad’s doppelganger. When I hear a story about someone with a broken collar bone, I can just hear my dad telling us the story about how he broke his. Or when I see my dad’s best friend out to dinner with another friend – and all I can think about it that it should be him. Possibly the most surprising for me has been when my handwriting slips in to ALL CAPS and I can see his messy writing coming through in my own (capital E’s without the vertical line, S’s that look like Z’s).

All of these things bring to mind things I took for granted about my dad. Things I want my son to know about my dad. Things I want to remember about my dad. If I tried to shelter myself from all the triggers that might cause me to feel sadness or pain, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Which would probably make my back hurt. Which would make me think of him. Which would negate the purpose of staying in bed. So instead, I’ve learned to embrace the triggers and the memories that go along with them.

I’m an ugly crier.

A seriously ugly crier. My face, especially around my mouth and nose, gets all splotchy and red. Snot immediately begins pouring out of my nose. My shoulders start to spasm and my whole upper body beings to convulse. It’s not pretty, but I’ve realized that crying is one of the those universal languages that everyone understands. Not everyone is fluent or speak it the same way, but even single human being knows that if you’re crying, you’ve got something going on.

I realized this at the Sprint store when I went to get a new phone. The sales guy was extremely helpful in getting all my contacts, pictures, etc. switched over, then handed me my old phone back for one last pass through before wiping it out. That’s when I saw it. A voicemail from Anne Marie from 2 weeks before her death – the one she left me, which turned into the last conversation I would ever have with her. It was my last living piece of her. Her voice saying “Hey girlie, it’s me. I really need to, umm, talk to you, so, umm, call me back please.” I looked up and asked if there was a way to transfer a voicemail to my new phone. He saw the tears and knew his answer was not going to be the one I wanted or needed. I listened to her voice one last time, and then traded my old phone for the tissue he was extending. I managed to pull it together and finish my transaction, but it had happened. An unsuspecting stranger had seen my ugly cry. And we both survived.

Be in control.

Although I am often guilty of attempting it, it is impossible to control everything that happens in your life. You can’t control events, emotions, what other people say or do. Things happen that you won’t like, didn’t plan, or couldn’t imagine. And that’s OK. Even when it feels like it’s not.

Like the writer of the article above says, “All of your feelings are valid. Every single one of them.”

But a big part of who I am and what I believe is focusing on what I can control. I can control my reactions to my emotions. I can control how extreme my feelings get. I can control the things that make me feel that way. And I can even change the emotions that are triggered by the same thing. Like in this story…

We used some of the money I got from my dad’s life’s savings to remodel our kitchen. At first, I was really excited that we could finally afford to do the major overhaul we’d been wanting to do in that room, instead of just some cosmetic things. We finalized all the details and the contractor started work. When it was finished, it was even more beautiful that I’d imagined. I quickly put a picture on the mantel of me and my dad from my wedding day. And that was when the sadness hit. For months, every time I stepped into my new kitchen, I felt like crying. I put on a happy face because I really do love our new space. But on the inside, this new kitchen was a beautifully painful reminder of the major loss my life had just experienced. Then one day Adam helped me realize that my dad would be really proud of us for doing something so beautiful and making a smart investment in our home. So now, whenever I start to feel a tinge of sadness, I look at the picture on the mantel and imagine that my dad is as proud of me right now as he was on the day that photo was taken.

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The best stories are the ones that are told.

Did you ever have a night with your friends that was just so crazy that nobody would believe it? I’ve had more than my fair share. And looking back on those times, often the best part of it is telling the story to somebody else – or to each other again and again. Each time, the story comes back to life, probably gets exaggerated a little bit more, and always brings back fond memories. Some of them may only make sense to those that were there, but most of them bring on uncontrollable laughter.

I have picture of Anne Marie on my desk and every time B sees it, he grabs it and asks who it is. I tell him she is mommy’s best friend and that she died a couple years ago. The other night, when I was tucking him into bed, he had a huge booger in his nose. I said to him “Let me get that bat out of your cave”, which made him erupt with giggles. “I don’t have bats in my cave! What does that mean, mommy?” I explained that Anne Marie would always come up to me, tilt her head back, and ask if she had any bats in her cave (boogers in her nose). Hearing B giggle at our inside joke made my insides lite up with joy, and a little sadness. Sadness for missing her so much, but also because I realized just how many stories I have yet to tell him about my dear friend. Some of them will have to wait until he’s a little older, but I plan on telling him all of the crazy things Anne Marie and I did in our 20 year friendship.

As cliché as it sounds, life does go on.

My life changed and time stopped in the moments surrounding Anne Marie’s and my dad’s deaths, but while that was happening, both my life and time also continued moving forward. My husband and son weren’t going to stop needing me just because I was grieving. My job wasn’t going to lighten my workload. My house wasn’t going to clean itself (although somebody seriously needs to invent that – I could really use something like Rosie from the Jetsons). And it turns out, my family and my job are really happy parts of my life. So getting back into the grove with those aspects was a major part of my healing process. I’m not saying I’m totally past the grieving phase – I started bawling just the other day when B put one of his toy tubs on his head and said “I’m a bucket head!” and I’ll never be able to listen to New Kids on the Block without some tears – but focusing on being the best wife, mother, and person I can be has helped me get past the hard parts and move me through the difficult days. And having all of you around to support me is pretty awesome, too.