The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning two years ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?

To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.

I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .

Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.

And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.

So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.

I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.

So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.

Bardo (or state of the soul between death and rebirth)

I want to wander Bardo
ambling down misty paths lined with
thick, dark trees
that hang over your head
not to hold you in
but to hold time out.

I want to wander Bardo
alone
though Death is often there
and so is Life
I’ll walk quietly and
hope not to see either.

I just want to wander Bardo
following words
not feelings
you cannot feel in Bardo
because you must leave your body behind at the gate
and cannot get it back till you leave.

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.

Only Mostly Dead

IMG_0453This morning after the babies were fed and the horses and the dogs, I went outside to water my Mother’s Day plants from last year. It is no secret that I am the worst with plants. You’d think with how much I love my children and animals, I would be able to figure out how to to nurture a plant, but I’ve proven time and again over the years that I simply can’t. In fact, this is one of the first two plants that have remained in my care for a full year and survived. I use the term “survived” somewhat loosely here in the sense that mostly they both died. But as we all know from watching The Princess Bride, there’s a big difference between “all dead” and “mostly dead.”

In any case, they are still trying and so I am still trying and as I poured water over them this morning, it crossed my mind that these plants remind me of, well, me right now.

When they were given to me, they were absolutely lush. One was brimming over with beautiful, purple petunias and the other had the most beautiful hot pink and bright yellow flowers flowing over the sides. I remember when we first moved here, I felt just like that. Sad to have left my family and friends and a fantastic job in Idaho, but also full of hope for the future and joy at finally starting a life with my family in our own home.

But over the past two and some years, we lost our beautiful friend Tammy, I lost my dog of fifteen years–Why?lee and then my horse of seventeen years–Tristan.  Then I had a miscarriage, and almost immediately after, found myself pregnant with surprise twins.  And now we are losing Kerry–a man I love so much, who has had an immense influence on who I am and someone I can’t imagine the west without.

For any of you who have been in the ocean on a rough day, it’s like when a wave rips your feet out from under you, rolls you up like a burrito and smashes your face in the sand. I can hardly catch my breath before the next wave hits and I’m exhausted and I’m sad.

Yet, here I am trying, much like these plants. And what occurred to me this morning that inspired me to write, is that with just a bit of water and sun, a bit of care on stormy days, these plants will continue to hang on until I can get the formula right for them to thrive. I’ve been doing the same, just along with a bit of sun and water, I’ve been soaking up the love and care (and daiquiris) of a good man, my precious children, the humor and love of my friends, the unending support of my family, quiet cups of coffee when I can, our horses, dogs, and cat, the incredible generosity and kindness of our neighbors, and the stunningly beautiful land we call home.

All of these things have kept me fed while I grieve and start piecing together someone new out of what’s left of my life from before and all the beautiful pieces that have been falling into place along the way. I am not one to talk much when I’m in the middle of things. I prefer to write my way through the the good, bad, and ugly, but if you’re reading this, odds are high that you’ve been counted among my blessings these past few years and I thank you for your presence in my life.

And if you yourself are feeling mostly dead like my plants, or like you’re a burrito being rolled up by a rough sea, just one mouthful of sand away from more than you can take;

hang in there.

One breath at a time, one foot in front of the other, eyes peeled and heart open for the water and sun we need to keep going, before we know it, we’ll be on our way to thriving again.
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Home

IMG_8195This week, one year ago, the hardest year of my life began.  I have never lost so many I care about so deeply in such quick succession.  My ugliest nightmares just kept coming true one after the other and it isn’t like in the movies.  In real life, the sad parts are so much more than a three minute montage.

I’m soul weary.  My heart is sore and doesn’t want to be touched.  I have felt deep loss before and I know that grief comes when it comes, over and over as time passes.  I also know that so long as I don’t hold onto it too tightly; it will make its way away again.

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I remember two years ago when my husband and I were searching for a house while living in a ground floor apartment.  The first time he took me here the snow, silence, and bare branches of the trees made me feel like we’d gone through the wardrobe and come to Narnia.  He pulled in and turned off the car while I stared at the dark woods, the old, rock walls, and large fields imagining raising our children, riding our horses, playing with our dogs, and living out our dreams.

It felt like the perfect place to make those dreams reality.

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I’ve been wanting to write for months, but every time a new idea came to mind and I sat at my laptop, my fingertips could only tap out my grief.

Then, last week, I was out walking with my Sunshine and our dog and I looked up to see the above image.  In that moment, I realized that while grief and that particular loneliness brought on by irreplaceable loss are still here, so are joy and peace and contentment.  This beautiful place has been holding us close and giving me reasons to be happy even through the darkest and most difficult days of my life.

Everything I saw in my mind on that blank, snowy landscape two years ago is coming to pass.  We’re home.

And my fingertips finally have something to say other than “I miss you.”

Unburdening

Sometimes, no matter how hard you pray, no matter how many right steps you take, no matter how badly you want or need something to go a certain way . . . it doesn’t.

And the end result is this thing–dark and heavy, ugly and mean, that sits on your sternum, but can move in a blink to your throat.

It’s everything you wish you’d done differently.

Everything you want to be but aren’t.

Everything you so desperately hoped would happen that never will–

The path you can’t take.

And somehow it goes with you on the path you’re on

until you dig it out

set it down

and

walk away.

 

 

 

 

Of Course

Of course I am lucky.

Lucky to have had them,

lucky they lived so long

lucky to have loved them so deeply

and felt that love returned ten-fold.

Of course I understand.

I understand they live shorter lives than we do,

that it was always going to come to this and

that I did all I could with all I had

to keep them here and happy and healthy.

Of course it will get better.

Of course life will move forward and so will I.

One step will become twenty will become a thousand

and I’ll be in another time

where missing them is not white hot and searing

but a golden glow–

warm sweet memories I can sit beside . . .

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And of course,

none of this helps at all.

Welcome to Grief,

where knowledge is not power

and there is no way out but through.

Tristan

What can I possibly write?
eighteen years of your unconditional
(if sarcastic and a bit dry) love
cannot be condensed into words.

For three days after your passing
I wrestled with whether I truly love horses
or I just loved you.

Turns out, I don’t know
but I know I love my sweet SoCo and my wild Daisy, too.
And that’s enough for now.

Writing season is just around the corner,
but who will carry me out of myself
when the words start to pull me under?

No living being on this earth
will ever be so patient with me
as you were.

I used to feel good that I could read your eyes,
that your ears and the set of your mouth
would tell me how you felt.

But in your absence, I keep asking
did I give you even a fraction
of the strength, joy, and peace
you brought to me?

Tristan, I am lost.
And you aren’t here to take us home.
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Because of Tammy

This past spring I unexpectedly lost someone precious to me.  I thought we had at least another twenty or so years of margarita drinking, laughing over old memories, and making new memories ahead of us and her death hit me like a freight train.  After spending the past few months trying to find the words to express who Tammy was to me, I’ve finally accepted that I can’t.

So instead, I shifted my thinking away from who she was and decided to focus instead on what she did.  Tammy inspired me and believed in my ability to do things that were hard for me.  Not one time in seventeen years did I come into or leave her presence without having her tell me about my gifts and how she was so excited to see how I would use them.  So, because of Tammy and her beautiful way of telling everyone why they’re great, I’m going to mail one note of thanks/inspiration per day to the lovely people in my life for the next year beginning with the one I’ll never get to send:

Tammy,

Thank you for shining a light on all the best in me and ever so gently reminding me of my obligation to use and be my best in the world.   Your ability to find the good in absolutely everyone (particularly when I was busy looking for their faults) challenged me to do the same and made me a more observant, compassionate, and forgiving human being.  I am so grateful to have been loved by you and I hope you’re watching, because I’m not going to let you down.

Love,
Jesse