Category Archives: heartbreak

Mom’s Fall Planter

I decide to welcome fall early this year. It’s still August when I commit.

I know that’s not the official start, but something about knowing, really knowing, that you have months, not years, left with someone, makes every moment count.

We know that, right? That all of the moments count? Turn towards those you love while you can. It’s a great theory, but the practice of it, in blog-friendly language, is oh my.

Really tough.

Because life. And death. And all of that in-between. And not all of us get to know ahead of time.

And what are months, anyway? Twelve of them make up a year. That leads to twenty-four, which is two years, and so on. Not without hope, and yet, there is also reality.

So last Friday, as Mom and Dad visited the oncologist, my sister and I ran afternoon errands together. Something about a perceived sense of normalcy and control made this an adventure filled with hilarity and comic relief.

We are good at comic relief. Also irreverent hilarity.

After all of the musts, I chose a want and decided to get fall plants for mom’s outdoor planter.

Each Mother’s Day I plant one of the large planters in front of my parents’ house for Mom, and on Father’s Day I plant the other for Dad. This year was different on Mother’s Day, due, in part to the pandemic and its limitations.

Instead of selecting individual plants, I chose a hanging basket from the local food coop, planning to empty it into the planter, ready made style. When Mom saw what I was doing, she preferred to keep it as a hanging basket, so up on the porch it went.

Her planter remained sparsely populated with perennial growth from previous years, a rosemary bush, lambs ears, purple salvia, and a lone geranium, added by me to fill an obvious gap. These continued growing all summer but never fully got it together.

I tried looking back in my phone to see if I had a picture of that planter, and just the act of scrolling backwards to May brought a heaviness to my chest and tears to my eyes. We can’t go back to before.

I decided to seize my (and mom’s) favorite season and plant for fall to welcome her home from her long day of medical appointments.

And that’s what I did.

Happy Fall, Y’all! Let’s make this one count!

One Month Ago

One month ago I celebrated a child turning 14. As twisty rainbow candles were blown out on the ice cream cake made by a sister, a text came from my mom.

The doctor just called with the scan results. Can you come over? It’s not good.

One month ago.

Abnormal scan. Sisters gathered from across the country. Family visiting. 51st anniversary celebration. Unsuccessful first biopsy. Covid test. Sisters and parents quarantined together. Scheduled trip to KY leaving sisters behind. Successful biopsy and nerve block. Likely diagnosis. Cell biopsy. Official diagnosis. Watching and waiting.

One month ago.

Compulsive Google searches. Bracing. Glancing. Poring. How much more time? What’s next? Maybe a miracle!

The past month has been surreal, but what does that even mean in 2020? To me it means the worst nightmare on top of all the others ~ the news not expected. My mom has cancer. Pancreatic. Metastatic. Please do not send me miracle cures, reasons for why she is sick, or other advice unless we are solid. If you aren’t sure what that means, just don’t.

Three of my grandparents still live, two of them together independently. My mom made the drive to visit her parents back in June and stayed for a month supporting and caring for them. She saw all of her siblings. They took a picture. All of them. Together.

They didn’t know that time was her gift to them. We didn’t know by summer’s end she would be the one with a hard diagnosis.

Christy Bauman, author of Theology of the Womb, writes that when death comes out of order, it’s traumatic. This is trauma that I feel in my chest. Trauma of likely dis-ordered death. And yet still, there is life. We live each day in gratitude.

I had no imagination for mom not being with me well into her 90’s like both of her parents have been with her, yet, reality says it’s not likely.

One month ago my life changed in a way I never anticipated or expected.

Everything Changed.

One month ago.

Buckets of Tears

Rain pours from the sky like the tears from my eyes. I cannot seem to stop crying. I know I just need to feel what is there without judgment, but it is difficult.

I want to distract myself so badly with something, anything. This only leaves me pacing and feeling restless.  There is too much connection too easily available when what I really need to do is connect with myself.

What I feel is the pain of grief. Deep in my heart there is an ache that begins to grow until the only thing it can do is burst out in an ugly cry.

I am not good at crying. I hold it in.

I have so much held inside that needs to be named, released, and wept over. It pours out at the most inconvenient times, like during a walk while talking on the phone with a friend. Her presence on the other end is a gift. I thought I would be leaving a message when she unexpectedly answered the call.

Exchanging pleasantries and the short version of what is going on in our worlds, I open up about hard feelings I am having in this season. She understands and is familiar with my story. She asks good questions. I begin to feel my heart again as my chest tightens and eyes fill with tears.

Where did you go? 

This question comes as I grow quiet in the wake of conversation. I want her to commiserate with me in my sadness, not share with me her eager anticipation of something I will miss. She tells me of an upcoming trip where she will spend time with mutual friends. She lists off names.

Wait, you’re the only one who won’t be there. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.

I feel a laugh/cry inside. Seriously??!!! I want her to tell me. I want to know and celebrate her excitement even as I grieve what I will miss. I need to feel all of the feelings, even the hard ones.

I’m glad you told me. It’s just hard not to be able to be there, even though I already knew this wasn’t my season. It feels even moreso as the time grows closer.

Our time is up, and I return home. My daughters are doing after-school screens as I disappear into my room and then into my bathroom, shutting both doors. Collapsing in my inner sanctum, tears escape is deep sobs.

A knock on the bathroom door calls me back.

Mom, are you okay?

My youngest stops screen time to check on me.

Yes. I am just really sad right now.

Okay! Just checking!

She returns to Animal Jam, and I return to grief, letting the tears fall until they finish.

Heartache and Grief

The post is first in my Facebook feed when I wake this morning. Shared by a family friend is an obituary for a young woman I met and knew briefly as Cassie when she was a girl and teenager. Our families crossed paths when I was a young mom with small children of my own, her mother a season ahead of me.

I am better acquainted with her oldest sister who taught with me at the school back in the day and her oldest brother who was a friend to my youngest brother. Even then, I was so wrapped up in my own newly-minted adult life that I was not engaged with them on a relational level.

Still. there are people whose lives touch yours who feel like family because of the seasons you have shared or the events you have experienced together. This young woman was born into a family that crossed paths with mine during the 90’s and early 00’s. We attended weddings, church services, picnics, and celebrations together. I remember her and her younger sister as the ages of two of my girls now, teen and tween.

It brought great sadness and deep grief to read of her recent death. I learned of her life in her obituary and of her death on the Facebook page set up for medical updates. I am trying to process the depth of loss it is to lose a beloved daughter, sister, wife, and friend so tragically and so young.

It does not make sense to have one with so much life taken this way. Her adult woman eyes looking into the camera show me her mother, her sister, the women I knew. My heart aches for them. I cannot imagine losing my third child, losing a sister. I do not have adequate words for the grief.

Today they will celebrate her life, grieve her death, bury her in the ground. I will be here tending my family as I was during the season when I knew hers. I will grieve from a distance. I will feel vicariously what it would be to lose a dearly loved one unexpectedly in their prime.

To the George family who I know, and all who loved Cassie that I do not know, I am so sorry for the loss of the one you loved so deeply and who loved you so well. It shows in her smile, in the pictures, in the words. May you find great comfort during this difficult day and in the ones that follow.

For those interested, a Go Fund Me is set up here.

Mystery Solved

Mom, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I got the hanging basket for my girlfriend.

My son’s words rang through my ears along with the thought, I just blogged about them! Mortification followed close behind with shame bringing up the rear.

Laughter erupted from one who jumped from the table and dashed to the computer furiously typing in the search engine bar.

Mom just blogged about those flowers!

No, Please! Don’t look it up. I just need to delete the post. I knew I shouldn’t have written about them! Don’t read what I wrote. Please. I’m serious. I am so embarrassed!!!!!! Don’t look it up!

Sometimes I can laugh at myself, but this wasn’t one of those times. I was in a panic. The nineteen-year-old inside of me felt exposed and out-of-control, two things not tolerated in her. I ran to the kitchen set and began to sob. That wasn’t the best place, so I regrouped and returned to the scene of the crime, the dining room. That wasn’t good, either. Tears erupted as I dashed to my bedroom and grabbed my journal and markers.

It all made perfect sense. A missing piece, hunch, whatever you want to call it clicked into place.

The playful color of the pot and flowers. I knew that orange was girlfriend’s favorite color. Of course they were for her! I am not the only one in this house. I had even wondered, What if this really isn’t for me? What if I am just assuming it is because it is on my step?

So that thought had entered my mind before I dismissed it and blogged about how much I loved the flowers, etc., etc. . . Because I really did.

The tears would not stop. Something had set them off, and it was not even about the flowers. That’s the thing. It was about the girl inside who looks like a 46 year old woman but still has insecure wounds that flare up at unexpected, inopportune times.

And now the internet witnessed one of them. At least all 14 people who read my post. I quickly switched it to private while processing my feelings. It was a huge step to not delete.

My son came to talk with me. I explained that it was not about the flowers and all about my 19 year old self processing a wounded place inside, exposed by the flowers and laughter. He listened and gave me a hug. I allowed more tears to fall.

Engaging the topic more, we came to a place of understanding, and I rested in a mystery solved.

I found the other family member to clarify that I was not upset with the laughter, and the tears were not about or because of them. It was me. Sometimes I can even laugh myself. I am moving closer to being able to laugh about this situation now that the intensity of feeling has waned, and I have had space to sort out what was happening inside. The person I freaked out at was kind and understanding.

I sat in a place of grief with myself for other times when similar flare-ups occurred when my adult offspring lived at home. I am sure there were many irrational mom freak out moments that caught them off guard and hijacked moments of laughter with buckets of sobs and tears, turning them into all about mom moments. I was not aware enough to recognize and name what was happening inside like I am getting better at doing now.

I still have a long way to go.

I am learning and growing and circling back to the nineteen-year-old inside. She is still there needing care and attention, and it is time to show up and tend to her.

And in the end, I reinstated my post as public, making only minor changes in wording. I am keeping the basket on the porch until the lovely girlfriend is able to pick it up and take it to her house where it will bring playful beauty and joy as intended.

I am grateful for the gift of its presence and story to help heal another space in my heart.

M’aidez

May 1st. May Day. That very last thing I feel like doing is writing  a post which is the very reason I am writing. The sound of resignation was named in me today, and if for no other reason, I am proving to myself and to others that I have not resigned. Not yet. I will write.

Mayday! Mayday!

We all know that means Help me! Right? We know that? It’s the first thought that ran through my mind this morning when I woke and realized it was May first. Not, Look at the beautiful sunshine and a chance to live another day, but rather,

Help me!

Help came in a delicious breakfast prepared by my daughter, in a timely text from a friend, in a painfully honest conversation full of hard truth with another, in buckets and gallons of gut-wrenching, soul-wringing tears and heart-pounding sobs. It came in music from the neighbor’s house as I weeded the strawberry patch.

It is with me now as I write.

Mayday is from the French, M’aidez. (Help me) I did not know this until I looked up the history. It makes sense. I am glad for those years of French to help me understand. At least I was learning pronunciation when I was not being sent out of class for disruption.

Help me!

It is risky to ask for help. To receive help from others. To be reached out to and reach back. To feel safe in needing help. It is risky to need.

As I prepare for the final certificate 2 session next week and sit in my story, I am acutely aware of my need for, yet resistance to, help. I can see where resistance was formed and solidified. Where need was weakness and weakness was not tolerated.

I was needy.

Help waits for me at the end of the day in a living room with friends offering to engage hard struggles. I do not have to be alone in what feels too big and scary.

Because inside of me is a 19 year old who is trying to keep it together, and everything feels too big and scary.

M’aidez!

Final Day

It sounds dramatic. The final day of 2017! Here we are. Here I am.

The 2018 word post is in progress, meaning, I should probably get that thing written. The thoughts in my head sound more eloquent than those coming out through the keys beneath my fingers. I escape into cyberspace and Facebook, reminding me of why it’s a good idea that I am breaking from it in the new year.

I have done so in the past and wrote about it here.

I have processed the feeling of being unfriended here.

I most recently pondered the idea of remaining connected here.

The final morning of 2017 found me in and out of the service at church, feeling big feelings and facing hard realities. There were tears of this kind. There was a trip to the ladies’ room to fallback and regroup. As I looked in the mirror while washing my hands, the eyes of an inquisitive little face topped with a head of red curls met mine.

She smiled tentatively. I smiled back through the sad while wiping mascara streaks from my cheeks and commenting on the dilemma of wearing makeup while crying. We connected for a sweet moment.

I want to cling to the sweetness of innocence and the hope of new beginnings even in the midst of what feels so hard. It is easy to default to anger and let that be what spills out when it is the grief that beckons.

So this final day, these final hours bring a mixture of both grief and joy, laughter and tears, hope and sorrow. I look forward to celebrating tonight with family and watching the performers in my crew do their things, and at the end of the night raising a glass to toast all that is and that was and all that is to come.

Amen.

Seven Years Since

I do this thing with birthdays. On a particular child’s birthday I stop, subtract their age from mine and their siblings, and reflect on the numbers. It helps me process more fully a life that has been so full.

I did this recently when my third turned 22. I was reminded that at her birth I was 24, the same age as my firstborn right now, and that her siblings were 2 and 1. It put more of my story into perspective and gave me a tangible space in time to inhabit while processing it.

Today is different.

This Saturday marks seven years since I heard the news that Brian Carderelli was killed. Not only is there a number but also the feeling of the actual day.

That Saturday morning had been a difficult one. Seven years ago I was 39. It was the season of peak dependence of dependents in our family, as the children were 17, 16, 15, 11, 7, 5, 4, and 2.

My firstborn was out of the country. The others were home at ages where they could be left alone for brief periods of time together. This had happened ~ Steve and I left them alone to go out briefly ~ and we returned to them acting like siblings who had been left alone together, some of them in charge, some of them little.

It was a mess of feelings and emotions from everyone that triggered deep feelings and emotions in me.  I had often been left alone in charge of younger siblings. I had not yet begun to deal with younger me and all of the turbulence I felt inside.

Intense emotion spilled over and out and into my journal as I disappeared into my room to process a pile of pain that had nowhere else to go. After venting, I fell asleep.

I woke, and Steve had me read an email that Brian Carderelli had been in an ambush and was presumed dead. I remember sitting at the computer desk and going numb. It just couldn’t be true. Brian was a friend and neighbor whose presence in our life came at a time when a huge gift of grace was needed.

He often gave the teenagers rides to youth group. He would wave and smile at me from his car when he stopped at the sign on our street corner. I was usually outside supervising littles riding tricycles or drawing with sidewalk chalk. He was supposed to be coming home from his travels soon. How could he just be dead?

It was confirmed.

I cried a lot.

My kids are sad. I hurt. I hate killing and death . . . I am afraid. overwhelmed. hurt. So tense and overwhelmed which manifests in anger and panic. I don’t want to live in a hate-filled world.

These were some of the words written in my journal immediately after the news. Before any real processing began.

I took food to friends, because that is what I knew to do at the time. Bring food and sit with.

Seven years later, the day feels similar, yet different. I am 46. My children are 24, 23, 22, 18, 14, 12, 11, 9. Half have reached legal adult status. For those left behind, life marches on.

Still we remember. Still we grieve loss. Seven years since.

Brian, you are missed.

McClay Family Electronic Limitations ~ Guest Blogger Chloe

In our family, electronics are specifically limited to very strict rules. These are some of the original rules with pros and cons.

Rule one: “You are not allowed to possess any electronics under the age of ten”. It doesn’t sound so bad, and sometimes it isn’t. But as times change, and more electronics are made, this rule gets harder to deal with. By this year, most children have electronics by the age of eight or nine, and those who don’t begin to want one by nine. One pro of this rule is kids spend more time doing other things, though this isn’t always true. A con is that with music, young kids have more ways to deal with problems. One idea I suggest for those of you who are considering adding this rule to your own family list is to let your kids have music devices, as well as simple electronics like a gameboy or tablet for trips or special use.

Rule two: “You are not allowed to possess a phone until the age of sixteen”. This is possibly the hardest rule for kids. By sixth and seventh grade, the last few children who don’t have phones begin to get them, leaving the families with stricter parents with not many ways to contact family or communicate with friends. This gets harder as kids get older, their friends begin getting phones, and more phones are made, as well as more uses for phones. Doesn’t a tear come to your eye just thinking about the poor children, sitting alone, set apart from society from lack of a phone? Plus, quite a few children live in neighborhoods with not many to even no children their age, as I do. They don’t have friends their age to hang out with, and no phone to contact the friends that live elsewhere. Having a phone also helps contact people for important reasons, and there are many more needs for a phone today then there were when my parents first made this rule. Let me put it this way: what would you do if Abe Lincoln came back from the past, grabbed your stove, microwave, lights, computer, salt lamp, and ran away? Exactly. I see you moms crying, thinking about someone stealing your precious salt lamps. I know, nothing can truly convey the misery of a phoneless middle-high schooler, because though many parents these days know what it was like to not have something everyone else had back in school, only about nine percent of parents today knew what a phone was back then. And even then, not everyone would have had one.

Rule three: “Children below the age sixteen have a strictly set amount of media per day”. This is possibly the second worst rule, right below the phone rule. It started with the token system, of course. You had tokens, each equivalent to fifteen minutes of computer or game console. However, when one of my sibling got smart and used them all at once for two hours of media, and other siblings found new ways to make it seem like they were following the rule, this system evaporated. And for you kids reading, here’s a way to cheat the system: One way is to rattle the token box to make it seem like you put tokens in. Another is to buy your own set of poker tokens. Thank me later. After this, the situation was fifteen minutes of media a day. Can you hear the 22nd century crying? But as attitudes changed about this rule, it was fifteen minutes only on weekends. Wow, this is worse than a horror movie. And now it’s an hour and fifteen minutes on weekends. This rule is okay, unless it’s your own electronic. For more about this, see the next rule.

Rule four: “Hmm, you spent how much money to buy your own electronic? Well, too bad, ‘cause it’s mine now”. The new 0.5 worst rule in the world. After age ten, you have an option to buy electronics if you use your own money. But no sir, that doesn’t mean you can use them! One example of this was my laptop. Now, like phones, laptops aren’t allowed until the age sixteen, but this was an exception. That is, until someone cracked it and mom and dad decided not to let me get a new one. Well, back when I had it, I was almost never allowed to use it. Mom and Dad hid it in their room, never let me have it on weekdays, never let me use it in my room, often made me sit at the dining room table, and only gave me about half an hour a day. Once I forgot my password, and when I asked Dad he wouldn’t tell me, so I couldn’t even unlock it. Dad was taking full advantage of me forgetting. In my opinion, you should let your kids have laptops, know the password, and use them whenever. I didn’t pay over a hundred dollars I made cleaning buildings to never get to use the laptop I bought. Oh wait, I did.

Rule five: “No privacy”. I hate this rule, as did many other siblings. Dad and Mom used to let us close the computer cabinet so we wouldn’t have people looking at what we were doing over our shoulder. But for a while, Dad has forced us to keep the door open. I wouldn’t suggest a family computer in the dining room, by the way, either, if privacy is even a bit important to you.

Rule six: “You aren’t allowed to listen to anything even slightly bad on the radio”. This rule was worst when Shannon was a kid. She had her own taste in music, but often couldn’t listen to what she wanted. Now, though there aren’t as many limitations, we still can’t listen to anything.

If possible, I might add onto this list later, but I have one suggestion for parents considering these rules: You don’t understand your kid as much as you think you do. You need to listen to them, and consider trusting them. Don’t try to make up their minds for them, or guess about what will happen if you get them something. You’re not them.

Aftermath and Anticipation

I sit in day two. That’s what this is. The aftermath. Burial.

Christmas Eve Eve was day one. Death. The melting down day that started full of such hope and excitement.

Brunch at The Little Grill with my luvvvah to plan and regroup for the next few days was a breath of fresh air. After so much fullness to manage in both of our lives, it was nice to have a moment to connect.

The day stretched before us, and we mapped it out. Shopping. A movie with the kids. Pizza night. Good things. We began to execute our plan. Check things off.

Home for lunch and a dog walk and assessment of who really wanted to see Rogue One found five of us going and three of us free to stay home.

I went.

No spoilers here. I watched most of the movie, missing only the dozing-off parts, but waking in time for what mattered. I will watch it again when it comes out on DVD.

The fullness in my chest at the end was a combination of nostalgia, Star Wars is the first movie my family watched on the Beta Vision in our living room back on Nicholson St. ~ in Spanish, remembering, I saw Return of the Jedi for a middle-school friend’s birthday in a fancy theater with a curtain that pulled back followed by a sleep-over at her house, and grief, I miss playing that bass line on the bassoon for pieces like the Star Wars theme music. Music just stays with you like that, and you remember the rhythms and notes and feelings.

I didn’t cry, though. Much. Maybe a tear.

This has been my clue that something big was brewing. My lack of tears. I attended two funeral/memorial services over the past two weeks and had few tears. I have felt big feelings that deserved the honor of weeping for them, and nothing would come. Just numbness.

I was aware that this wasn’t good. I kept going. I have to keep going.

After the movie, my son needed to go to Costco with a member, and that was me. It was empty and calm, and I decided to get the rest of the Christmas groceries while the space was less frenetic than usual.

Pushing through the heaviness mounting inside, I began to fill the cart. Realizing the blessing of being able to do so, I tried to smile, to trick my brain into feeling happy. It wasn’t really working. I kept going.

Sparing the details, my stress level boiled up and over and all of the kind tears that have been inviting me to feel them were shoved aside by the ugly ones that I was able to keep in check until returning home where they spilled and spewed up and over and out.

There were a lot of tears. And sobs. And tissues. I filled an entire Target bag with soggy sobby tissues. All the things I had to cry for, the griefs to feel, the achings and longings came pouring out.

So here is today.

Christmas Eve.

I sit in the aftermath of copious tears with a throbbing head and puffy eyes. Lots of voices chatter outside of my bedroom door. I hear other doors open and shut. People come and go. Discussions take place. I try to find motivation to finish up the few things that I have left on my list. They are important.

In order to do that I must get moving!

My hope is that yesterday’s tears have watered my heart enough to keep it soft and open with anticipation for what is coming.

Resurrection.