An Armful–The Contents of the Closet

Written December 29th . . .

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” -Edgar Allan Poe

If you’re wondering where we’re going, no words of my own could say it more accurately and succinctly than Edgar Allan Poe already did. Grief is strange and we do strange things when we’re in it’s grip. For instance, right now I’m sitting on the floor in front of the closet (not inside because I discovered mouse poop once I started pulling things out so a thorough bleaching is going to be necessary before I do any sitting in there) and I’m holding a literal armful of horse hair.

Let me write that again. I am holding a LITERAL ARMFUL of HORSE HAIR.

But before I get in to that, let me lay out a few of the things I did to prepare for this moment. Again, it all seems a little insane when type it out, but all I can tell you is that I promised myself I would listen to my intuition as I went through this process. This is what I felt like I needed to do and for the first time in years, instead of doubting or questioning, I just did it.

  1. I brought coffee and water-coffee is soothing for me, especially in the morning and water for hydration because I figured I’d be doing a lot of crying (I was not wrong.)
  2. I put on my husband’s shirt–it feels strangely like armor. He couldn’t come with me for this, I needed to do it alone, but his shirt is a comfort.
  3. I brought a clean notebook and pen to jot thoughts for more in-depth writing later.
  4. And finally, I brought a pair of shoes, not to wear, just to remind me that if it gets to be too much, I can and should get up and walk away for a bit.

There are so many reasons I’ve put this off and I’d planned to come down here this morning and start small, approach the half-asleep beast of my grief nice and easy . . . but instead, I opened the door and looked at all this horse hair and there he was in my mind, thrashing out his last moments, eyes rolling, and obviously in great pain. It’s my worst memory. I have avoided it so consistently and successfully since it happened because I knew just how awful it would be to go back in my mind.

I loved him so much. I’ll never be able to write how much I loved him. And all of our life together he gave me absolutely everything a horse can give.

Yet the one thing I wanted to give him so badly in the end–a quick and painless death, I couldn’t. And it guts me still.

Instead, I watched and spoke soothingly in his ear the same way I did when a train passed too close or that pack of four rottweilers ran up on us, or when bicyclists went by “Easy, easy boy, easy.” and I didn’t cry because I didn’t want my sobbing to be the last he heard of my voice. When he was gone, I stayed with him until his body started to feel cool under my cheek. And then, I apparently cut off almost all of his tail hair like a complete lunatic.

It was the same with the tufts of Why?lee’s undercoat I kept, which are also now in my lap. I can’t think of a single, normal reason to have kept all this, but I remember the horrible feeling as I watched him breathe his last three breaths. I counted them while they euthanized him. Three breaths and he was gone.

Sitting here now, with all of it in my hands, I first thought, Why did I do this? What was my plan? But I know I had no plan. There was no thought to the future at all, just an overwhelming desperation to keep them with me: any way I could.

And one thing that has become clear this morning, is that keeping this hair has done nothing at all to make me feel closer to my lost loves. It’s all become an ugly weight in the center of my home–representative only of the guilt, pain, and fear I felt in their last moments.

Written January 13th . . .

As often as I can, I get up very early and spend time just letting myself remember, letting myself cry, writing my thoughts, etc, and I’ve come to a few conclusions over the past two weeks:

  1. The initial pain was possibly even worse than I imagined it would be, but even that first day, after I pulled myself up off the floor and had a long, hot shower, the relief I felt at having finally opened that closet and acknowledged its contents was undeniable and immense.
  2. I can now say with confidence that I do not want to keep these mementos of their deaths–neither the armful of hair/fur nor the plaster paw print of Why?lee’s I got just after he passed. But I can’t throw them in the garbage either. They need to be laid to rest properly, I’m just not sure what that means yet.
  3. I frequently feel crazy as I move through these intense thoughts, memories, and feelings. Yet, every time I allow myself to do what I feel like I need to do, the relief is instant. My body and my heart know just what they need, it’s my mind that resists and denies.
  4. The longer I hold on to what was, the longer I go without opening my heart to what is and there’s so much here before me to fall in love with.

Written this afternoon . . .

SoCo and I took all the fur and hair and the plaster paw print to the woods this afternoon. It was very cold and snowy and I like to think that maybe a bunny or a bird will find the dog fur and tail hair useful for a cozy nest. I thought it would be incredibly hard to let it go and walk away but when we found just the right spot, I didn’t hesitate. Turns out, before I rode into the woods today, I’d already let it go and walked away–the power these things have held for the past, nearly four years is just . . . gone.

And now, well, I don’t know what now, but I’m ready to find out. : )

Everyone is worth it.
(whatever “it” is)
Though that doesn’t mean that just anyone has it to give you.
But they’re out there–
People and animals who will give you just the thing you need
to move toward what feels good and right at different points in your life.
You will have to do all the moving.
And sometimes you’ll miss it
and stay stuck awhile longer.
But you’re worth it.
(whatever “it” is)
Let no one tell you otherwise.

Want

I want to throw my heart in the wash. Hot/Cold, Heavy Duty Cycle and see if these feelings will come out.

I want to know why I hold on to people and things that don’t hold on to me.

I want to shake my head so hard the facts fall out, because I don’t want to see this as what it’s become.

I want to have already done the work I see before me.

I want to know why they’re dead and if they all have to die and I have to stay here, why does it have to feel this way every time?

And why can’t I stop myself from loving them all so much? Why doesn’t my heart ever run out? Even when it seems impossible that I could ever love again, even when I hope I won’t; there I go.

I want to pull a dark, heavy sky over our heads so we can talk without being overheard by God.

Saturday Thoughts

You cannot value wisdom without equally valuing mistakes.

What you think someone else is thinking is still just what you think until you verify.

Like I love Idaho’s mountains and lakes, like I love the white sand and blue-green waters of Pensacola Beach, so have I come to love the dark forests teeming with life and long, wild winters of Massachusetts.

Shifting gears again, not quite, but almost back up to speed.

I’m beginning to understand how much death is part of the rhythm of life. I’m not okay with it and my losses hurt no less, but I see the wisdom in getting to know Grief–who will visit me many times and again should I live long enough and keep on falling in love with people and animals and life as it is in a given moment that cannot stay.

Like their Lego towers and magnet block houses, my children break my heart and put it back together over and over and over again.

Grief is Love’s heaviest dress.

The Lipstick Letters: Honesty

Bare Minerals’ “Honesty” is the color I’ve chosen to start with because what better place to begin a journey than honesty? It’s a beautiful shade of pink and I will definitely be wearing a lot of it this summer. I will say that I enjoy this brand, but I won’t be reviewing the lipstick because I am no make-up artist! In fact, it’s rare that I wear make-up at all, but I love lipstick and it’s one of several things from before kids that I am bringing back into my life for the sheer joy of it. : )

Alright, let’s get honest . . .

After several years of hard-hitting losses and beautiful, exhausting additions to my life, I’ve been trying to make small changes here and there to jump-start a much bigger shift in how I’ve been thinking and feeling. Just little things like buying clothes that actually fit after years of being pregnant and nursing, making a conscious effort to shower and get ready for the day, spending more time with my horses, and working on eating less processed foods. Which, strangely at first, brings me to bread. (Bear with me, I swear this will be a Lipstick Letter by the end! lol)

I love bread. I love mixing it, kneading it, watching it rise and rise again, baking it, sharing it with people I care about, and most especially, I love eating it. Bread is my favorite and I have had exactly zero luck making good, whole grain or seed breads that I actually want to eat. So I went looking for help in book-form, eventually choosing Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. On the day it arrived, I began to read and there at the end of the first chapter, the absolute last place I would have expected, I found the words I needed:

“Though you may recognize some of the steps, this method is unlike any that you have tried before. It cannot be mastered by simply reading instructions and recipes. You will have to make adjustments for your particular flour; you will have to develop a feeling for the dough so that it, rather than the words on the page, can tell you what it needs and when to move on to the next stage. You will be required to make a commitment to the process and to the mystery itself. We have taken apart conventional bread making and put it back together in a totally new and different way . . .”

Reinhardt may be a master baker, but he’s got a poet’s soul.

Over the past five years, my world has been taken apart piece by piece and I’ve been afraid to put it back together. There’s no comprehensive recipe for our best life. We’ve all got to get a feel for it as we go and, as we go, it keeps on changing and needing new adjustments if we want it to continue being good. We’re all working with our own set of ingredients and utensils, some of which come and go when we least expect it and aren’t ready. I haven’t wanted to commit to the process and I’ve been so angry with and resentful of the mystery, particularly death, that I’ve behaved as if I’m stuck, when lately, I’ve just been refusing to move.

And honestly? I’m ready to stop that now.

To be fair to myself and to anyone reading this who isn’t quite ready to stop doing the thing that you will eventually need to stop doing, I cannot fathom writing this at any other point over the past five years. Grief is a process and I don’t think anyone wakes up one day, has a good shower, puts on some lipstick and says, “Cool, I’m not sad anymore!”

I’ve been grieving since I left Idaho. One loss just rolled into another and another until I couldn’t face them all standing. I’ve been on my knees in the dark, eyes closed, bracing for the next terrible thing to happen. And I’ve been avoiding old and new connections because the pain of loss has been ever-present in my life, my heart, and the forefront of my mind.

For all that it’s taken, the pandemic did give me one thing–time to grieve. When I would have been prepping the diaper bag for adventures, taking the kids for play dates, deep-cleaning for visitors, etc, I’ve taken that time to just feel sad–to cry, to be angry, to be scared, to contemplate my future without so many of the incredible people and animals I had hoped to have more time with, and to open my eyes to all the beauty still here, right in front of me.

So here I am.

And the hardest part of getting here was being honest with myself–there’s nothing wrong with my life, it’s the way I’ve been choosing to live it that needs to change. I had excellent reasons for not putting more energy into cultivating it sooner, but with too much time, excellent reasons tend to crumble into excuses. And, at this point, my reasons are running like sand through an hourglass.

Thank you all for coming along on my adventures. Life is wild and sometimes nearly unbearably sad, but if you stop to think about it, the nearly unbearable kind of sadness always comes from the deepest, most abiding love, which is also what brings us our greatest joy and most satisfying contentment. A lesson I first learned when I was eighteen and my Aunt Shirley (forever my favorite aunt for too many reasons to list here today) passed away far too young: One way or another, the ultimate cost of truly loving is always loss and it’s always worth it.

Being Mama When Baby gets Hurt

Yesterday, one of my precious, nearly two year old boys, fell off of and hit his face on the toy box he’d climbed. He fell so hard, his teeth went right through his upper lip and gouged the wood. Luckily, the cut is completely inside his mouth, the teeth involved seem fine, and he didn’t meet criteria for stitches. That said, his swollen upper lip looks like black and red hamburger meat inside and every time I look at his sweet face, my heart hurts.

One of the choices I’ve made for my children is to give them a great deal of freedom to explore their world, make mistakes, and learn. This often results in awesome photos of messy, happy kids running wild in the woods and fields around our home. They ride horses, play with our giant dog, pick up bugs, paddle board and kayak with us, and while they aren’t fearless, they are all quite independent for their respective ages. Most of the time, I feel confident in my approach.

Then something like this happens and that confidence crumbles a little more every time I conjure the image of my child sitting on the floor sobbing with blood covering his hands and running down his chin. I hold him close, I clean him up, and thoroughly investigate the injury. But even after determining a good rinse, some ice, and time will heal the wound, I know that another little piece of my heart is wounded in a way that won’t ever heal. This is motherhood. And I finally understand how my mama can so quickly recall and describe in excruciating detail every one of my own and my three brothers’ injuries throughout our childhood.

It’s a process, but after working my way over mountains of guilt and fear, I eventually find myself back where I started. Whenever possible, I want to give them more tools to successfully navigate the world. Only as a last resort do I want to make more rules or restrictions to prevent them from being hurt. Now is the time for them to take risks and experience the results. Now, while I’m here to scoop them up and make it okay. Now, while I’m able to create spaces for them to learn where even when they fail spectacularly, the ultimate risk is relatively low.

One day, my sweet, wild girl and boys will go out into the world without me or their dad there to kiss knees, rush them to urgent care, talk them through their options and possible outcomes, tell them no, cook for them, wash their clothes, and the list goes on. Motherhood is fun, painful, beautiful, terrifying, and exhilarating . . . but it’s also a job. And navigating the delicate balance between keeping my babies safe and preparing them to take on the world on their own is one of the hardest parts that job.

The Lipstick Letters Revival

My husband bought me fifteen shades of lipstick for Christmas. FIFTEEN SHADES. Just opening the box gave me such a rush of happiness and inspiration!

Some of you may remember an old blog series I started and let languish almost ten years ago. It was about beauty and confidence and the things we think about ourselves that we come to realize aren’t true. It was based on how badly I wanted to be a woman who could wear red lipstick. I’d tried a few different shades but it always looked terrible and I was sure it was because my lips were too small or the wrong shape or that I just didn’t have the personality to carry it off.

Thankfully, I mentioned it to my best friend from high school who also happened to be a brilliant make-up artist for M.A.C. A few weeks later, I went to visit her and she surprised me with an amazing bagful of lipstick, gloss, and liner in every shade you can imagine! But, best of all, she took the time to teach me how to apply it. This is a photo I took on my birthday that same year:

Turns out, I was always a woman who could wear red lipstick. And I love this photo because you can literally see my newfound confidence shining in my expression.

Anyway, that was then and this is now and these fifteen shades of opportunity are calling me to do something fun. Over the past five years I’ve struggled with so much loss, grief, and depression on top of new babies and a pandemic, its been a challenge finding the time and energy to work through the losses and all the shifts in my identity. I initially intended to revive the Lipstick Letters as they were and write about body image as a mother of three, but nothing sounded right so I held off.

Then, I had an enlightening moment while scrolling through Instagram, where several of my incredibly talented friends were doing their thing and sharing the results. There were home-cooked meals with food they grew themselves, woven rugs, quilts in progress, redecorated rooms, you name it! And as I scrolled, a feeling of envy grew and grew until I realized it, set my phone down, and asked myself what that was all about. After a short moment of reflection, I had to laugh; I wasn’t jealous of WHAT these lovely humans were doing, I was jealous THAT they were doing at all! Successfully devoting a portion of their time and resources to things that are important to them.

My jealousy evaporated in an instant and, in it’s place, I found new curiosity and determination. Aside from being a mama and a wife, what am I doing? It’s been several dark and busy years since I felt it last, but I still recognize this particular kind of restlessness–it’s boredom. God love my beautiful, amazing children who are so fun and satisfying to raise; they absolutely do not challenge and fulfill every element of my being. Nor should they.

So I’m setting only one rule for this reboot: I can’t write about my kids here. This series is about me taking an intentional step outside my beloved role as mama to delve into other much-loved and missed parts of who I am. We’re going further than skin deep where it’s less about the lipstick on my lips (though there will still be plenty of that) and more about what puts lipstick on my soul. Many thanks to Scarlet for that perfect turn of phrase.

Going forward, each new post will feature a different shade, but for this first one, here I am in my messy living room with no make up at all. Just me, feeling hopeful about life, and excited to drag all of you along with me while I figure out what to do with myself.


At the Top of These Stairs

I have spent countless, late-night hours nursing babies at the top of these stairs. It’s quiet and peaceful, if not the most comfortable place to sit. When my sweet Sunshine (my first baby) was born, I set up a whole nursing station with a cozy chair, books I was reading, phone charger, snacks, water . . . but with the boys, we were so far behind before we even got started, nothing like that ever came together. I used to bring them into our bed to nurse, but once we moved them out of our room, it felt like more trouble than it was worth. More and more often, I found myself stopping just outside their door and sitting down on this top step.

Sometimes, I think about what I need to get done that week or words I’d like to write. Sometimes, I think about the kids’ antics that day and make plans for fun and interesting things we can do later. I make grocery lists, budget, and sometimes read . . .

But on nights like this one, and there have been many, I just stare at the top of their heads and think about them–their whole lives from the moment I met them to this one: noting how much their hair has grown and how long they’re getting, mapping the feel of their weight in my arms, measuring their feet with my palms, pressing kisses into their soft hands, and watching them slowly-slowly drift back to sleep against my chest.

Then I sit here, much longer than necessary, the words from a book I loved as a child but didn’t understand at all echoing through my mind:

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Pandemic Thoughts

I really don’t like conflict. I like for everyone to feel good and be comfortable. So much so that I’ve had my head in a hole for months to avoid the anxiety of sorting through the logistics of relationships in a particularly controversial time. Now, I’ve put on my big girl pants and I’m dusting off my copy of Difficult Conversations.

That said, I plan to continue keeping my social media mostly all about kids, dogs, horses, writing, and all that brings me peace or joy. That’s the best reflection of me and I prefer to scream into the actual void over the electronic one.

I am deeply skeptical of being on a team when it comes to politics and I’ve never been more confident in my choice to be a registered independent.

I will never choose politics over the people I care about.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions or that I’m unwilling to discuss them.

Whenever there are millions on both sides of a given issue, the term “sheep” doesn’t really fit, does it? Or perhaps it fits everyone, just with different shepherds?

I wish I still didn’t know how many people in my life and the world at large think I’m stupid, naive, content to be ruled by my government overlords, and happy to throw away my own and others’ freedom.

I imagine there are lots of other people wishing they didn’t know how many people in their lives and in the world at large think they’re stupid, racist, fascist, and happy to murder their countrymen.

I still believe that most of us are pretty much the same–just acting and speaking on differently prioritized fears. Which is not a reason to ignore issues or quit fighting for what you believe in, but might be a better place to start.

There’s always a way forward and you can’t legislate a person’s heart.