Last night I dreamt of you again, and of Dad, and the family farm, the rolling beauty of the Ozarks—
snatches of dialogue, mirror distortions, only pieces, images remain
yet I wake up heavy with sadness,
longing to hear your voices again.
Everything reminds me of you or Dad or you and Dad. Everything.
Even dreaming because I think of the first sentence of your favorite book.
From Rebecca: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Last month we went to the World Premiere of “Sherlock in Love” at the Cocoa Village Playhouse, so of course, I thought of you who loved anything to do with theater and of Dad who loved anything to do with Holmes. I wanted so much to call you up, afterwards, so we could do our thing. Analyze the play, the acting, the scenery, the atmosphere. Dissect the writing and costume and ending. Share the connection, the moment.
I hadn’t realized how much you brought to my life, how much I relied on you, how much I’d miss you. You were a huge part of my creative process for writing, teaching, living, and I don’t know how to fill the void that opened when you died.
Last night, Halloween, I watched one of the movies about a massive earthquake that destroys so much in one terrifying day. Scariest movie I’ve seen in a long time, partly because it’s too realistic, but also because it shows what so many are going through right now.
Tectonic plates shift shift shift. We don’t even know. We can’t see or feel anything. Until it’s too late. Until the earth shifts again and breaks apart, displacing and demolishing everything in its path.
I’ve heard of so many friends and family and even strangers who have recently experienced this devastating rearrangement in one way or another. For me, in the past two years…
My ex made a decision that impacts me and our daughters. Shift.
Grandpa died at age 96, leaving land and legacy. From my earliest memories until May 2014, he was part of my life, yet now he’s gone. Shift.
Dad died on January 4, 2015, leaving us without him and his knowledge and brilliance. Our roles in the family transformed. Shift.
And then you, Uncle David, on April 28. Another shift and my world broke apart, displacing, annihilating, obliterating.
Everything in pieces.
We are left to put the pieces back together, to rebuild, restore. It’s been six months now, and I’m trying, working, processing. But it’s difficult to do it without you, to sort the pieces, to process the emotions.
Like this morning, UD, when I realized it’s a new month, and I turned the page of the last family calendar that you will ever make for the family. That hurts. Then, I turned the page of the Lexi-Laina calendar that you made special for us, and I see the November images you chose, the photographs I took of Lexi and Laina during our trip to New York City last Thanksgiving. The girls smiling in Central Park with the backdrop of autumn leaves. The girls huddled together against a brick wall in Uptown NY. The girls standing in front of the strong iron gates of Columbia College where you earned a Masters in Clinical Psychology once upon a time. The memories are bittersweet. Lovely because the three of us were together. Lovely because you were part of our vacation in many ways. Lovely because we will always have our NYC trip. Sad because it’s a year later yet you are not here anymore.
November is my birthday month, and I can’t help thinking of last year when I was in NYC with my girls, and we had the most magical day. It began with a special breakfast of coffee and gluten-free muffins that Erin fixed for me. After that, Lexi, Laina, and I rode the subway all the way to the end and took the Ferry to Staten Island and back, viewing Ellis Island, the shorelines of Manhattan and New Jersey, Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty along the way. Next, we took the subway to Greenwich Village where we ate lunch at Jekyll and Hyde, which I loved and which was possible thanks to your generous birthday surprise. After our delicious meal, we walked around the area until Lexi had to return to school for class. Then, Laina and I went to Chambers Street where tourists asked us for directions. We walked to Wall Street and St. Paul’s Cathedral and visited Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorials and Museum. I teared up just walking to Ground Zero, and being inside the museum was challenging.
We ended the day by eating NY pizza at Kesté Pizza before taking the train back. I will never forget that extraordinary birthday and how loved I felt because of you, my girls, and my friend.
At this moment I’m not looking forward to this birthday or the upcoming holiday season. Too much loss. Shift. Shift. Shift. Too much change, and the tremors shake us. Another shift, and we stand amidst the ruins of our lives and wonder how to go on.
Everything is different.
Thus, I am led to the awareness that part of reconstructing and renovating the devastation in our lives is to create new traditions, new relationships, and new ways of processing. The problem is where to start. When I stand here overlooking the destruction, I am paralyzed.
I feel alone and lonely. Like if I let go of the grief I will be empty. As if the void left from these losses will fill me up until I am nothing. No one.
The truth is I cannot do it alone.
So, I surround myself with others who understand. For instance, I talk to my cousin every week because, like me, she knows loss, and like me, she knows you, UD. We have that bond, and nothing can break strength that emerges from a battlefield. Also, I joined a grief share group where I can leave behind my responsibilities and roles, where I can simply be a girl who lost her grandpa, dad, and uncle, where I can lament and learn new ways of coping.
The truth is that I must rebuild on a solid foundation, on something that will never be destroyed, will never be taken away, will never leave me.
My faith leads me to that foundation as I turn to God and the promises in His Word. Like the promise to “never leave nor forsake.” Or the hope we can have because of Him in this life and the next. He is a God I can count on even if I don’t understand the whys or the ways. His love is fierce and forever. And, He is here, close, and all I have to do is ask. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8. So, God I ask you to heal my heart and restore my life.
The truth is that I need a change in perspective. From negative to positive. From masks to authentic self.
I know this, though it’s hard to do right now. Too many triggers snap me back to deep sadness or throw me into anger or fling me into heartache. Underlying everything, I am exhausted and stressed—emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.
Enter November, the month of thanksgivings, the month where I normally join others in 30 days of gratitude. I can’t, or won’t, do so again this year. I’m not there yet, though I want to be. I miss you and Dad too much. I miss me with you guys in this world, in my life. And if I am going to rebuild in this new world, the one without you, then I need new ways. I am rebuilding not only my life but also myself.
Therefore, I am going to start a new November tradition in honor of you, Dad, and Grandpa. Grandpa had a sweet spirit and always looked for the best in everyone and everything, and you and Dad both loved life in unique and interesting ways. So, I am going to look for and share a thing of beauty every day this month.
A Thing of Beauty is combining gratitude with seeing things in a new way and with authenticity; it’s living in the moment and acknowledging what is (good and bad) and reinventing what life gives us. This reminds me of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Valentine for Ernest Mann” where the narrator sees beauty and connection in the eyes of skunks. This I feel I can do. I can look at what is, whether I like it or not, whether it’s ugly or bizarre, and find beauty or create meaning out of the muck. Like a lotus flower, I can find a way to blossom out of the mud.
As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, “Think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment.” A Thing of Beauty is just that: to approach life with the “openness” and sense of “wonder” in order to reveal meaning.
Lamott also writes that “It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” My heart and spirt have been battered by this earthquake in my life, and my hope is that this activity will renew my heart and spirit and touch others in the process.
UD, I think you would love this idea. I can imagine what you would say, and this month, I will hold you and Dad close as I choose A Thing of Beauty each day. My first choice is the memories I hold of you, Dad, and Grandpa. I’m smiling as I remember enjoying family events at your house, fishing in our pond with Grandpa, or watching road movies with Dad. One of the last movies I watched with Dad was About Time, and the protagonist shares that “We're all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.” As I focus on these positive memories, I am filled with contentment and love in this moment. All three of you taught me so much, and I have become who I am because of you. I consider it a privilege and am grateful. Your love enfolds me and stays with me no matter what, and that is A Thing of Beauty.