another silent night

four years is an eternity.

four years is an instant.

while most days are easy,

today is impossible.

and so i remember her—

always with love

and sometimes with peace.

Andrew-Cebulka-9463
“Our Lady of Guadalupe,” one of my mother’s paintings 

Honoring Mom

“Do you want to take a photo to honor your mother?”

That’s the question my thoughtful, compassionate photographer asked me on my wedding day.

The dress was on. Hair and makeup, done. Chandelier earrings dangling by my cheeks.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything at all.

Todd had decided to take a portrait holding his mother’s cowboy hat across his chest. Perhaps I wanted to do something like that?

“Maybe in front of one of her paintings?” the photographer offered.

I stared at my hands. I tried to focus.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t put plenty of thought into how to honor my mom at my wedding. I’d considered empty chairs and photographs. Special songs and moments of silence.

None of it felt right. None of it felt like her. Or me. So, I’d let it go.

“That’s okay,” I replied. “I don’t think I need to do that.”

Now I look back at the pictures from that day, and I know I was right. In shot after shot after shot, my face shows nothing except unbridled joy.

And that’s how I honor her.

By being happy. By finding the best partner for me. By living life fully. And always, always, always overflowing with love.

 

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To the ones who said, “It gets better”

Sympathy Card Curly Girl Designs

When I lost her–my mother, my gypsy, my patron saint of love and kindness–the echoes first began.

“It gets better. Just wait. It’ll get better.”

I hated every person who offered me those words. For their guilty eyes and soft voices. For their pity. For filling my head with false promises of tranquility, impossible visions of peace.

How could it possibly get better?

Every day that passes I’m 24 hours more removed from the last time she held me in her arms. The last time she stroked my hair. The last time she spoke three infinitely more soothing words.

“I love you.”

Every day that passes my vision of her fades just slightly more. Her image fuzzes around the edges. Pixelates. Unnoticed from one day to the next. But combined, she’s becoming a blur.

I claw through my memories trying to find one of her laugh. One of her hum. One of her silly smiles. I feel victorious when a forgotten detail surfaces—in photograph or video or voicemail or dream.

But I know I have no ownership over those stolen moments. I know I’ll lose those details too.

Give it another day.

With each changing season, the things she’s given me age. Shirts, shoes, sunglasses, jewelry, watches, purses and more. I won’t leave the house without one of those priceless gifts. At least one thing. Maybe the Tiffany earrings she and my sister went in on together for my college graduation. Or the Tom’s sunglasses she gave me our last Christmas together.

Our last Christmas.

But those objects, those items, those physical incarnations of her love and generosity—they are not immune to the mighty arms of time either. Jewelry is lost. Shoes wear down. Sunglasses break. Every day I have less of her to weave into my wardrobe. To wear her love like a blanket on my skin.

How could it possibly get better?

My dreams—the ones where she’s still alive—they’re treasures. I experience her just as she was. I wake up surrounded in the warmth of her. And long to drift back to the place where she lives in my subconscious.

But every day that passes, I have them less and less.

It can’t ever get better.

Now as I wind through my second full year without her, I know the words I’ve hated for so long are true.

It’s getting better.

I wouldn’t call it peace, but time has given me something I didn’t know it could. As I try to balance holding on and letting go and moving forward while desperately clinging to the past, as I fight to forget nothing and even as I continuously fail, time still offers a comfort.

A new echo caressing my ears. Of “This is okay.” Of “This is what is.”

Of acceptance.

She’s not here. I’ll never not miss her. I’ll never not wish I had more time. I’ll never not want even one more day by her side. I’ll never stop trying to remember more pieces of her. I’ll never stop mourning them as they fade too far away into the darkness of my fragile, fallible, feeble human mind.

But still—even still—it’s better.

And I’m grateful to everyone who told me so.

And even more grateful that they were right.  

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Image Source: CurlyGirlDesign.com, maker of the best greeting cards in the whole beautiful world.

christmas confessions (it won’t be the same this year…)

As a general rule, I start listening to Christmas music each year around September 15th. That’s exactly 100 days before December 25th, and in my opinion, it’s totally fair game.

In all the places I’ve lived and worked, the people around me have taken note: this chick loves her some Christmastime. I deck the halls with dedication and purpose, send holiday greetings the good ol’ fashioned way, and am notorious for my extensive Christmas music expertise. You could call me the sommelier of sleigh-worthy songs.

I’m the one to whom my friends confess when they sneak a listen to few carols before Thanksgiving. I’m who they call when they’re blaring “Run Rudolph Run” when it’s 75 degrees and sunny.

Yes, I’m that girl.

And yet, this year, somehow I’m not.

It was this time last year—December 16—when I got the phone call. I was told that Mom is not okay. Her pneumonia is worse than we thought. There’s a 50% chance she won’t make it.

And it was five days from now—December 20—that we lost her.

It was two days after that—on the eve of Christmas Eve—when I sat in a black turtle neck dress on the front row of the United Methodist church in Pulaski, Tennessee at her funeral. Surrounded by advent wreaths and Poinsettias and manger scenes.

This year, I kept waiting to get the unmistakable, relentless urge to listen to Christmas music. September 15th rolled around and nothing happened. Halloween passed, and I still wasn’t ready. Then Thanksgiving—the day when the rest of the world starts feeling festive—came and went. And I just felt numb. And empty. And lost.

Even the first of December didn’t offer a magic spark. Instead, I felt nothing.

And I knew then that Christmas had changed for me.

One of my favorite Christmas albums growing up was Vince Gill’s Let There Be Peace on Earth. For reasons I could never explain, my favorite song on the album was titled “It Won’t Be the Same This Year.” Written as a tribute to Vince’s brother who died from a car crash, this melancholy tune showcases how at the core of the holiday season are the relationships and memories we have with the ones we love:

“It’s time to pack our bags and hit the highway.

And head on out for Christmas holiday.

I’ll fall apart when I pull in the driveway.

It’s my first time home since brother passed away.

His favorite time of year was always Christmas.

We’ll reminisce about the days gone by.

Oh, how I wish that he was still here with us.

My memories of him will never die.

Losin’ my big brother hurt so badly.

It’s helped me learn what Christmas really means.

There’s nothing more important than your family.

We’re all the children of the King of Kings.”

Now, approaching the first anniversary of Mom’s death, I understand the words of this song. The pain of this loss. The power of this sadness.

And despite those feelings, I’ve decided to turn on my Merry-mas playlist on my iPod. I listen every chance I get, even though I’m never quite in the mood. I’ve decided to decorate. My first tree at my new house–with many of Mom’s sweet, beautiful Christmas touches scattered throughout. I’ve decided to buy the presents, to splurge on the good wrapping paper with real ribbon, to send the cards, to bake the snickerdoodles, to watch The Grinch, and to embrace the joys of the season.

Because even if Christmas won’t be the same this year, I’ve decided I still can be.

when christmas comes

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(Because some feelings will only be processed in writing)
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I tell myself I’ll be just fine,

When Christmas comes to pass.

I’ll wear a smile above my scarf—

With mulled wine in my glass.

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I’ll play the songs I love the most,

But there’s one I’ll dread to hear.

The one with words I know too well:

“It won’t be the same this year.”

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I’ll wrap the presents up in bows,

String lights around the tree.

I’ll hang the stockings in a row,

Place the nativity.

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But as the day looms closer still,

My thoughts will linger on.

It was 12/16 I got the call,

And in five days, you were gone.

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My toenails, they were sparkly green

At your funeral last year.

I looked down with misplaced shame

At their burst of Christmas cheer.

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Now coldness taps the windows.

Winter looms in sight.

And I’m not sure how I’ll manage

On this year’s Silent Night.

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If you were here beside me—

Avoiding all that’s Mary and bright—

You’d whisper words like magic,

And make everything all right.

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Since you’re gone, I’ll just imagine

Those words that set me free:

“When you celebrate the memories,

You still celebrate with me.”

be patient with the process

I can say without a doubt in my mind that December 21, 2013, the day between my mom’s death and her funeral, was one of the hardest of my life.

My sister and I zombied through Pulaski, Tennessee, with red eyes and runny noses doing all the things that immediate family members do when someone dies. We ordered flower arrangements. We visited the funeral home. We reviewed the drafted obituary. We picked out songs for the memorial service. We worked on a eulogy.

But the most difficult thing we did that day was visit her home. It wast difficult because Mom’s adorable house, situated at the bottom of a hill on West Jefferson Street, was perfect. It was a sanctuary. A reflection of the essence of her. Except the essence of her was gone.

Mom had remarried that spring and my sister and I went to her house that day in hopes of getting some of her things that held sentimental value and comfort and memories for us. To me, the most important of those things were her paintings.

Mom started painting about 10 years ago–mostly of angels or Madonnas. I loved her whimsical, vibrant style. 

redtennisshoes

When we arrived to her sunroom-converted art studio, we found a handful paintings stacked in the corner. I flipped through and recognized a few from her Etsy shop. But there was a particular one I loved that was missing.

I asked her husband–Tom–if he knew anywhere else that painting might be, and he suggested the small storage shed on the side of the house.

And that’s where we found it.

Not just the painting I was hoping for but dozens of them. Stacks and stacks of her work–most of which I’d never seen before.

We brought them all in the house and began revealing one after the other, lining them along the walls so we could take them in. So we could bask in them.

paintings

They were magical. They were beautiful. They were her.

In addition to painting, Mom was a writer. And many of her paintings included words. Sometimes names of the Madonna or angel she was painting–Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other times just uplifting messages, whatever she felt inspired to say.

And as my heart swelled looking at those paintings born from her hands–the hands that raised me, the hands that molded me into everything I am–it was as if they were speaking to me.

A butterfly blinking the words “Joy is everywhere.”

joy

A beautiful angel offering up “Transformation.”

transform

A pink and purple tree, saying simply “Love grows.”

love

A skull surrounded by roses soothing, “I honour what is lost & found.”

lostandfound

A wavy-haired woman suggesting that “Grace makes us whole.”

grace

It was like she had put those messages there for us. To ease our pain. To hold us as we cried. To echo in our heads as we mourned the loss of her.

The largest painting, nearly four times the size of the others, was of an anatomical heart, pierced with several spears and bursting with flames.

heart_far

And written in Mom’s familiar handwriting in the top corner were these words:

“In sorrow’s stillness, a tear comes that prisms light, a sigh comes forth

and something that was broken breathes.”

I don’t know what Mom was thinking when she painted those words. Or who she had in mind. Or what angel guided her hand. But those words were exactly what I needed to hear.

Now nearly eight months have gone by. I’m past the phase where I forget she’s gone and am constantly t-boned by that devastating realization. I’m past the phase where I cry all the time. I’m past the phase where I can’t sleep at night, where I can’t sit still, where I can’t let my mind wander.

Instead, I’m in the phase where I just miss her. And I wish she was still around. To be my goofy mom and my sweet friend. Some days I can’t think about anything except her. And she’s all I can ever seem to write about, no matter how long I spend trying to think of another topic. And I get scared when I can’t remember exactly how her voice sounds or what her different facial expressions look like or all her amusing catchphrases.

Some days I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of my grief.

And on those days, I know if she was here, she’d remind me of the words I found on another one of her paintings last December.

bepatient

And of course, I know she’d be right.