Posted in Life As I Know It, Soapbox

Because a Paper Cut Hurts, Too

This pandemic is an evolution in many things—plans, treatments, predictions, messaging—but I see one consistent byproduct: the conflicted feelings of comparative suffering. All of us have lost something, but there are those who have lost everything…and that can make us feel guilty about mourning our own losses.*

My dad died shortly after I turned 21, and within a year or so, one of my mom’s friends lost her husband, too. My mom invited the friend over to offer some support and their conversation left a lasting mark on me. It was where I learned how “at least” is rarely the start of a helpful comment when it comes to support or empathy.

My mom was attempting to connect with the woman by telling her that she knew some of what she was going through because of her own loss. “But at least you had a chance to say goodbye…” was the friend’s response. You see, my dad had died after a struggle with cancer. The friend’s husband had died in a tragic crash. My mom was taken aback by the comment and tried to “defend” her own loss, “Yes, but I also got to see him suffer for months…”

It was the strangest damn thing. An effort to comfort and support became a grief ranking. Frustrating…but very human. Turns out we humans are a very frustrating bunch.

But being aware of this tendency helps us to tame the comparative suffering beast a bit. Recognizing it and then reminding ourselves that both “sides” are true allows us to both feel for ourselves and others. Everyone’s pain is their own.

When the reality of school closings and events canceled started to take shape, as a parent, my heart immediately started breaking. The death toll from the coronavirus felt very distant at that point, but my son’s losses were right in front of me. He is an involved school kid, and he lost a lot: concerts, competitions, a play that he was the lead in, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland with his buddies. In fact, I started a list of “Covid castaways” to chronicle all the “misses.” The list grows every week.

When I first talked to him about these things, I started to choke up. “Aw, Mom—you don’t get to be more upset than I am…don’t worry, I’m all right,” he comforted. But I think his seeing my acknowledgment of the pain helped him. It is a sad thing, and he (and we) are not being selfish to feel badly about it.

It is our immediate instinct to downplay the loss because we know others have it so much worse. Death. Illness. Job loss. A missed school play seems so trivial in the light of these losses…but it still hurts, and the hurt is valid.

Everyone’s experience is differently the same… we are home and isolated doing what is helpful but doesn’t feel helpful at all. Not when there are others who are doing so much more and suffering so much more. Whether we are worried about our financial futures or are mourning the loss of a loved one, the spectrum of anxiety, loss, and hurt is vast. Yet we are indeed all in this together.

It is only when those of us on the “loss spectrum” don’t honor or acknowledge those further down the spectrum that the embracing of our own feelings can really turn into a negative. Our pain may be all that we feel firsthand, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only pain that exists or matters.

It really boils down to two things:

  1. No matter what degree of pain you are going through, it matters, and you should acknowledge it and feel it while at the same time validating those who are dealing with what we understand as more pain and honoring that but also understanding that that doesn’t mean your own pain isn’t painful nor is anyone else’s because all pain is painful.
  2. #1 applies to everyone.

Simple, right?

This pandemic has been a huge exercise in learning that feeling for the losses of others does not mean we have to deny our own losses. Nor does feeling our own pain take away from our capacity to be empathetic and supportive. The more we strive to understand it all, the better we will come through it.

And wouldn’t it be great to come through it having learned to be kinder and more caring to one another?

A girl can dream.

*Please know that the above rambling does not constitute my thinking I am an authority on any matter. If you are interested in reading more on this subject from actual experts, Brené Brown and David Kessler are great resources.

Posted in Life As I Know It

Blank Canvases

I must admit that, though my mom died well over a year ago, I haven’t fully dealt with all of her belongings yet. I mean…my sister and I have gone through all that we are aware of, but there were times where certain things got the “to be dealt with more fully later” stamp. One group that got that stamp was all of her art supplies.

Many years ago, my mom shared how she wanted to paint…she felt that she might be decent at it. Given that one of my roles with her was lifelong cheerleader, I took that confession as an opportunity to facilitate that desire. Paints…brushes…an apropos French easel…she had her own personal kickstarter campaign.

Relatively early on in the whole process, she painted a lovely winter scene…and got a lot of positive reinforcement for her work. Everyone who saw it was impressed and complimented her. It should have been a great catalyst to continue exploring her creativity.

But while she did paint some…it was more accurate to describe her as someone who wanted to paint rather than a painter. “Are oils too much work? How about acrylics? Watercolor? Maybe pastels or charcoal?” I would bring home all different mediums for her to try, but many remained untouched. I tried hard to understand what was standing in her way.

She was.

Excuse after excuse would always pop up. “If I had that wall shelf installed, then I would be able to set things up like I want…” Shelf installed…no painting. “I just need better lighting…” Special easel light bought…no painting. Even an art class didn’t do more than help her complete the class project. No matter what obstacle was overcome, for the most part, the canvases remained blank.

“Mom…why aren’t you painting?” She never really answered the question. One day I asked her if the blank canvas made it too hard for her to begin? Was it too intimidating and asking for more than she thought she could do? Did she feel like each attempt had to be something “good”? Yes, she admitted. She was putting pressure on herself to do something good…and that pressure was resulting in doing nothing rather than just doing something.

I encouraged her to just…paint. Just put something on the canvas as practice with no pressure to have the outcome be anything at all. Just…paint.

I could empathize with her because I know the blank page of a writer can feel just as daunting. Just…write.

Ultimately and sadly, she let the blank canvases win. There was no amount of cheerleading or facilitating that could make her face whatever it was that kept her from moving from wanting to doing.

Later in her life I brought her coloring books so that she wouldn’t even have to think of the blank page and only choose the colors, but by that time she could no longer concentrate or keep her hand steady enough to stick with it for more than a few minutes. Her window of creativity was closed.

My mom’s choices in her efforts at painting are a metaphor for too many of her life choices, as well. She often chose the road of inertia rather than risk…and that meant she left a whole lot of life unlived that could have been so much more. Empty, missed opportunities instead of beautiful experiences of color and texture and joy. You may think I’m being hard in my assessment here, but trust me…I knew the woman. The metaphor fits.

This past weekend, I went through her art stuff. There were a small number of pieces that she had worked on over the years, but they were far outnumbered by blank canvases.

Stories that were never told.

And so I decided I’m not going to leave them blank.

Though writing is where I feel most at home, I am going to fill those damn canvases.

I don’t know with what or how, and I guarantee the results won’t be pretty…but at least they will indeed be.

The above photo includes all of my mom’s paintings—except for the winter scene that I mention as her initial try.

Posted in Life As I Know It, Soapbox

2020: If You Play Your Cards…Right?

*Please note: while this title may make you think this is a political post, it is SO not! This is my annual “word of the year” post…and I hope you enjoy it.

If you play your cards right, you’ll…fill in the blank. The dictionary defines this cliché as “to do things in an intelligent and well-planned way.” As in, “if you play your cards right, you’ll get the job,” or anything along those lines.

So where exactly am I going with my punny title for this year’s “word of the year” post? I’m glad you asked.

When the next year is over—2020—it will be hindsight. (Another pun! So silly.) And I don’t want to look back and see that I have yet again still not prioritized play in my life like it needs to be. My ToDo list looms large over every day…and it feels like a pass/fail test…where failure is the norm.

Truth be told, when I was a kid, my mom made my having fun difficult. If someone invited me to do something, it was always an issue. She never made it easy, and I think because of that, I was kind of trained to avoid causing any issues by downsizing my quest for fun. Her impact continued into my adulthood where, after my father’s death when I had just turned 21, she made me feel guilty for doing anything that didn’t include her. Because of this, the fun I had in my 20s (and more) often included my mom, so…yeah. I had fun, but it was rarely carefree.

This is not to say that I do not know how to have fun or that I do not have fun. I love to laugh and have a good time. But I don’t do well at 1) prioritizing/planning for it or 2) not feeling guilty about it.

I’ve spent a lot of years being responsible to a fault. And now my ability to play needs to be amped up.

For instance, this year’s winter break was exceptional—I had more unscheduled and unstructured time than I have had since I was a kid. But I didn’t even know what to do to make the most of it! My guys and I all had time off, and we just hung out. Now, this was great—but there was more hanging and less doing than what I had envisioned. Typically, I feel too tired…and too used to taking the easier path of not prioritizing fun.

It’s like after years of not working out consistently, my flabby muscles are tired and resistant and don’t want to commit to the initial push needed to get back in the game.

This is why my word for 2020 (if you haven’t already figured it out) is…PLAY.

Studies show that play is critical to a healthy life. People like Dr. Stuart Brown have researched just how critical play is in our lives.

Our culture has demonized leisure time as something that only “losers” have. One of my favorite (NOT) responses when I ask someone if they are, say—watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”—is “Oh…I wish I had time to watch TV…”

Sorry, but some of us really need to get over ourselves.

A healthy work ethic does not have to directly correlate to a lack of fun ethic. It should not be a badge of honor to be so consumed with the HaveTos of life that we simply can’t let ourselves relax and watch a little TV.

And, honestly, while I have gotten better at ignoring this stigma toward playtime, I just kind of suck at making it happen. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what I think would be fun.

I want this to improve in 2020.

Now at the age of 52, finally playing with a full deck (get it?! 😊), too much of my life IS hindsight. I look in my life’s rearview mirror and know that I should have made it a point to make more fun stops along the way. And it is up to me to do that on the road ahead.

Play shouldn’t be a guilty detour. It should be a part of the drive that makes the journey all the better. Perhaps even a fuel that keeps us going in the right direction.

So I’m hoping to play my cards right this year—both literally (I enjoy card games!) and figuratively. My aim is to infuse my life with more purposeful play and to believe that it is not only fun…but right.

What do you say…are you game?

Posted in Life As I Know It

FraGEElay for the 8th Time

In 2012, I wrote the first of what was to become a Christmas Eve “Juggle Struggle” tradition…speaking on the fraGEElay nature of the season (cue “A Christmas Story” reference)…and here we are again.

The Christmas season is often a fraGEElay one…so much to do, so much to buy, so many commitments to keep…the push to get everything just right so that our memories can match the classic Christmas songs and movies. It is stressful and exhausting. If we’re not careful, it can suck the joy right out of the season and leave us melting like Frosty on a hot day.

It is in this holiday swirl that we must remember to be gentle with one another—and ourselves. To love one another—and ourselves. In the end, it is all about love. After all, the whole reason for the season is the little baby lying in a manger…the literal embodiment of love…whose message is too often lost in the chaos of the holiday rush.

To me, though, this is much more than a season of fragility; it is an age of fragility. Our current climate makes keeping love at the forefront very difficult. There is “us” and “them” and little in between—at least that is what it feels like. Examples of idiocy and cruelty abound and take the spotlight far more than any examples of loving one another. It’s like Hate dragged Hope into an MMA fight and is making up the rules to favor itself.

Thankfully, Hope is one tough…virtue.

Even so, I do worry that things may be broken beyond repair. I know my own heart has broken over and again with the antics of the times, and I know I have a great deal of company in this misery. But Hope reminds me that the battle isn’t over…and that the need to be gentle while we fight for love with one another is an irony we must uphold.

Hope matters. It fosters the spirit that encourages us to keep fighting so that love does win.

We may be fragile—and times may be fragile—but we are tough.

And we are not down for the count.

I wish you a peaceful and love-filled Christmas…New Year…and new decade. May we seek and find a way of being better to one another…in our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world.

[I truly miss writing this blog. I’ve let it fall dormant except for a couple times a year, with my FraGEElay post being one of them and the other my word for the new year…Please stay tuned!]

Posted in Life As I Know It, Soapbox

2019 – A Time to Create


I didn’t intend on being one of those “word of the year” people. They can be annoying, can’t they? But dammit if another another new year has come and another new word to help guide the year’s goals has found me. It started a few years ago with ripples, and every year since a word comes to me that makes complete sense…as it does on the dawn of this new year.

For many reasons, I want 2019 to be a year to create like never before.

As a writer, I always strive to create, but I’m not just talking about words here (though they are a huge part of my goals for creating). No…I mean create in a much broader sense…

I’ve been “responsible” since as far back as I can remember. And while being a responsible person is a good thing overall in my book, when it is the primary thing it can be stifling to other parts of life. And as my responsibilities in life shift (with my mom’s passing and my son angling toward maturity), I want to rediscover—or maybe discover for the first time—aspects of life and embrace opportunities to create.

I want 2019 to be the beginning of a way of being. In too many ways I’ve been living a “dress rehearsal” existence, but 2018 has really reinforced for me that there is no such thing.

Now is the time.

A bottle of wine makes a good analogy for this. I love wine, but I don’t have a wine fridge or cellar—just a little ol’ wine rack. On that rack, I’ve kept some bottles of wine for years, thinking they would be used for special occasions.

Over a decade ago, I brought home a bottle of wine from a trip to Hawaii that my mom took us on for her 80th birthday. I held onto it for one of those special occasions. With my mom’s passing this year, Thanksgiving was our first holiday without her, so I thought it made sense to open that bottle of wine and make a remembrance toast to her. There was just one problem. After so many years of fluctuating temperatures on that wine rack, the wine had gone bad.

I waited so long for that “special occasion” that we lost our opportunity to enjoy it.

Waiting too long for life’s special occasions means letting the wine of life turn into vinegar.

Now is the time.

So yes, the CREATE of 2019 means DO the book that I’ve wanted to for so long.

But it also means…

ENGAGE in more experiences—including having more fun.

EXPERIENCE and SAVOR more of life’s sweet specifics (ala the Weissmans in Paris, if you watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).

MAKE our home a soul space for my family and me. That means getting much needed projects going as well as simplifying/purging/minimizing to lighten both our physical and mental loads.

TRAVEL – Waiting for the “someday” doesn’t work. Doing does. There are too many places to see and already too little time to see them. Better to work on the list than just pine for that “someday.”

LEARN by making more time to read and discover. Creativity stagnates without a broadening horizon.

And, as all of this is mostly a reaffirmation of the obvious, there is the continuous goal to CREATE more opportunities for positive change…for hope to spark…for hearts to grow…for love to win.

I want 2019 to be a year for all of us that begins (or perhaps for you continues) the creation of a Glorious Unfolding…

It’s true, as Andy says in The Shawshank Redemption, that it’s up to us to “get busy living or get busy dying.”

In many ways, at least for me, creativity = life. And so, in 2019, I aim to create by rolling up my sleeves and getting busy living and doing.

It’s about time.

All photos are used with permission.

Posted in Life As I Know It

Feeling More FraGEElay

This Christmas will be different for us. Partly because of life’s twists and turns, and partly by design. Life has brought us the first Christmas without my mom. It has also brought us a much smaller gathering around our table. This will most definitely result in a quieter day, and I’ve chosen to embrace these changes as a new way to experience Christmas rather than focusing on the differences as purely loss.

I’ve never had a Christmas where I wasn’t entertaining a group, and so I will cherish the opportunity to stay in my PJs longer and not rush to get things ready. Instead of trying to be the “hostess with the mostess,” I will strive to be less stressed and more relaxed. It’s all in the perspective, right?

And that perspective is also mindful of the fragility of life.

It’s true my mom is gone. But at 92, she had “the opportunity of a lifetime” and many years to experience—and now she is at peace. It is still a loss, but there is a sense of “normalcy” to her passing.

And then there are times when the fragility of life sneaks up on you in an instant and nothing will ever be the same again. Recently a beloved member of our church died at the age of 45…leaving behind her husband, two young boys, and many others who loved her dearly. In the span of less than two weeks, she went from not knowing she was ill to…dying. Just like that, she’s gone.

It may be cliché to say that our days are numbered on this earth, but the reality is that some of us, like my mom, have a number around 36,000…and others have less than one single day…or maybe more near 17,000, as our church friend had. And that may seem like a big number…until you run out of them.

We don’t know our number. At least I don’t know mine. But our days on the earthly side of this life are finite.

Life is fragile. We are fragile.

And so with our days numbered, we ought to be gentler to one another…and ourselves.

We need to choose kindness, grace, and service over hatred, ineptitude, and selfishness.

We need to forge a way, especially in these painfully divisive times, for love to win.

How we choose to use our days is all we have to work with in this fragile life.

My “fraGEElay” run began six years ago with this post. And while I have let this blog slip through the cracks of life, I am moved to once again wish you Christmas blessings…And if life, as it so frequently does, is not treating you gently, I pray you have people in your life who love you and stand alongside you…helping you pick up the pieces and create your own Kintsugi.

Merry Christmas, friends.

ALL PHOTOS ARE USED WITH PERMISSION.