Letter from the Bottom

This morning I was looking through old drafts; I have nearly 100 starts I’ve never finished and I’ve been going through each one to either publish or delete. I was surprised when I ran into this poem I wrote in 2018.  It was completely finished but never shared and I’d so completely forgotten it that I really felt like I was opening a letter from an old friend, which, in a way, I guess I was.

I may have cried a little. I spent a good, long while at the bottom, but I’m not there anymore, and reading this poem was a lovely reminder of just how far I’ve come. 

Here I sit.

I’ve asked why,

why me, and

why them.

I’ve tried to climb out

only to slide back down even as I claw at sides too steep

for tired fingers.

I’ve been angry to be here

and sad.

I’ve been desperate to leave

and keenly felt the expectation

that it’s past time to get up and dust off and move on.

I’ve scratched tally marks into my soul–

noting each day as it passes,

the way the moon and stars change position

but I can’t.

And then, just yesterday,

laying on my back and looking up

from my lowest point,

I realized why I’m here

and all my efforts to leave have failed.

It’s not even a secret.

But it was still a revelation–

Rock bottom is where you rest.

where you catalogue injuries and sore spots

where you identify and cast off the heavy things

weighing you down.

where you gather energy and resources for the difficult climb ahead–

Rock bottom is not comfortable

because you aren’t meant to stay

but it is quiet,

and empty

but for your self,

the broken dreams that dropped you there,

and everything you need to leave . . .

when you’re ready.

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. : )

The Untended

I’ve been quiet,
but not still–
Wandering the untended places
inside
where grief has taken over the garden.

I arrived with a plan–
to tear it all out
brambles of fear
choking the life out of the lilies
shred it all
and till it down, down, down
where I’ll never have to look at it again.

And plant new lilies
new vegetables
new everything.

Only
I am not new.

And my plan fell apart
another failure
another noxious weed
to add to the growing tangle.

But today
I put my shears in my pocket
before setting off
to my ugly, ruined garden.

I am not new.

This place can not be destroyed
what is buried in good soil
will only and always come up again.

And this is good soil.

But I can tend it.
I can cut back the brambles
to get to the lilies
still trying underneath.

I can pull grief out of the garden
and take it back to it’s place.

It has a place.

They all have a place.

And even where the brambles are thickest
the darkest places
with my shears in my pocket
I can always get through
tend the path
through the wild places
to the garden
and home again.


The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning one year 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.

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.

To Err is Human . . .

to forgive divine. ~Alexander Pope

When Tristan died, I lost my best and closest friend. I’ll never have all the right words together at once to describe how I feel about him, so I’m going to leave it at that. Besides, this post isn’t actually about Tristan. It’s about my other precious horses–Daisy and SoCo.

We were all devastated when he died. And when I should have been out there with them, grieving and showing them how much I love them, showing them we were all going to be okay, I was hiding in the house. For the first few months, I couldn’t even look at them, it hurt so much.

When I did finally make my way out to the barn, it was just to take care of chores–feeding, watering, mucking. A year after he passed, I finally went back into the tack room only to find that my tack was moldy. MOLDY. Even as I type this, I haven’t been back in his stall, I haven’t used my saddle (although I did thoroughly clean and condition it), and I haven’t thrown out the rest of the bag of beet pulp we were using to help him put on weight. I have a lot of work to do.

But what I have done over the past year, is reconnect to my loves who are still here. It hurt at first–going out there and not just taking care of business, but breathing them in and loving them, letting them love me back. And they do. Despite my pulling away in fear, knowing how much it hurts to lose those I love so much, they held back nothing. And how silly to pull away when I still loved them just the same all along. Pulling away doesn’t make it hurt less to lose who you love, it just leads to regret and wasted time.

To err is human, thankfully, horses are divine.

Where to Begin?

There’s so much of the past three years I want to write and I plan to write it all but where to begin?

It started with losing Tammy–a person who helped me become the woman I am, who always saw the best in me and let me know it. She was much too young, it was so unexpected, and before I could catch my breath, I was faced with the decision to put down my dog, Why?lee. Why?lee was seventeen at the time and we’d spent fifteen of those years together. It was brutal, but at his age, I knew it was coming. Three months later, my horse Tristan had to be put down suddenly. He was twenty eight and we’d spent eighteen of those years together. Despite his age, I was unprepared and completely wrecked.

Two months after that, I had a miscarriage, and in another two months I was pregnant with twins, our cars broke down at the same time, my pregnancy was a nightmare of violent illness every single day for seven months. I got so dehydrated from vomiting, I had to go to the ER for an IV.

Then we lost Kerry–one of the best humans I’ll ever meet. I wasn’t actually related to him, but he was soul-family to me and he will always be one of my highest role models. And then we lost Brent, a good man and a good friend, for devastating and unfathomable reasons I still can’t wrap my heart around.

The past three years I’ve felt like I’m always just one half-step away from a complete breakdown. It’s too much. Too much loss, too much sadness, too much worry. I am unimaginably grateful for my friends and my family, my amazing neighbors who just keep showing up even though I struggle to reciprocate, for this beautiful place where I get to watch my three, precious babies experience so much joy and wonder. Because it’s been some of the hardest living I’ve ever had to do.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that I was not, in fact, a half step away from a complete breakdown. I fell right over that edge and did have a breakdown. A breakdown doesn’t necessarily mean a complete inability to function. For me it looked like a lot of cancelled plans, a lot of not responding, not sleeping, not brushing my teeth, not taking enough showers. I stopped trying to process my grief. I stopped making plans and trying to connect. I stopped reading. I stopped riding. I stopped everything. I’d forget my thyroid medication, forget to eat, forget to respond to texts. My whole life became one minute to the next, one foot in front of the other, one absolutely necessary task at a time.

And now I’m here, having drifted so far only to come right back to the same realization that I had in the midst of my cancer treatment–this is my life and time presses on whether I’m truly living it or not. I have lost so many but there are so many who are still here. I am still here. And for what? . . . if all I do with my time is shuffle one minute to the next? I need to write out this dark chapter so I can finally close it.

So I’m straightening my shoulders and picking up the reins (and my pen ; ), even though I haven’t quite decided where I’m going yet. I know I’m ready to leave here. I’ve turned a corner and whatever comes next, I’m meeting it head on . . . in clean clothes . . . with my teeth brushed . . . and my lipstick on.

Where I’ve Been

I’ve been wandering the woods
with messy hair
wearing babies
sipping cold coffee
thinking about what to make for dinner
and budgeting in my head
for car repairs,
the basement,
the leaky water heater . . .

I’ve been sharing everything about life that amazes me
with my children.
I want them to feel that amazement in their souls
and always know where to look for joy.

I’ve been awake a lot.
But not exactly awake.

I’ve been setting up the art table
and cleaning up the art table
folding and putting away the dress up clothes
switching out the six month clothes for the nine month,
the nine month clothes for the twelve month, the twelve
for the eighteen . . .
I’ve been making bread
making pie
making play dough
making memories
with my wild child and my sweet baby boys.

I’ve been walking into the wind
that is grief.
Wearing myself out wishing
for isn’t and can’t.

I’ve been waiting to shower until the next day
or the next
Waiting
until the boys are napping
to brush my teeth
to start prep for dinner
to get the laundry started or folded or sorted
or at least kicked into one corner of the bathroom.

I’ve been waiting
for everyone to fall asleep
so I can fall asleep.

I’ve been so very sad and so very tired.
Having lost and left more in the last four years
than the thirty-two prior to that combined.

And I don’t know what this next year holds
If it will be better or worse
a respite or another rip tide
But
I feel strong today
stronger than I’ve felt in a long time.

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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