Category Archives: heartbreak

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.

Nine Years

We’ll start with that next time, my counselor says, indicating that this time is up.

Pushing off with his feet, rolling in his chair to a desk in the corner, setting up next week’s appointment, I am left sitting on the couch with that statement. Beside me, my husband tries offering a reassuring presence in the form of his comforting smile and nod, but I am having none of it.

At thirty-six years of age, it took every ounce of courage to speak the place where trauma, pain, and betrayal hijacked me as a teenager. This time. My counselor is calling me deeper. Next time.

My breathing grows shallow, and blood runs cold as ice through my veins. The trick of dissociating by numbing out and viewing myself from a distance begins to take over. Noticing this, Counselor checks in and rolls from his desk to the expansive bookshelves lining the wall. Scanning them in earnest, he searches.

I am afraid to ask, though had he told me, I could have located the volume first, having become an expert at focusing on those titles and authors behind him while trying to stay grounded during sessions.

Here it is. You need to get a copy of this book to read.

He does not offer to give it to me or let me borrow it. I cannot take it home today. I have to get it for myself. Later.

Taking it into my hands, glancing at the image on the cover while simultaneously reading the title and subtitle, draws copious tears that I struggle to sniff back, but they morph into full-blown sobs, betraying my stoic facade. I cannot hide the fear and terror evoked by the simple act of holding this book.

What’s wrong? Why the tears?

Counselor’s gruff bedside manner does not mask his concern, as he gently prods my pain, following the trail I am leaving.

I don’t want to look at my story! I hate everything about my story!

This visceral response is gut-wrenchingly real. His response to my outburst is kind. He affirms something about my story having value, etc. . . I am not in a place to hear or believe him, but I know that since he has recommended To Be Told ~ God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future by Dan Allender with my husband in the room, the book will show up at our house.

Anything to help me, to fix this, my husband of fifteen years will do.

The book arrives, and I reluctantly begin reading. It feels too big and too much to think of actually writing out and sharing parts of my story to process with others, as recommended, yet I am intrigued by lines such as this, Neither your life nor mine is a series of random scenes that pile up like shoes in a closet. (To Be Told, p. 3)

I am shattered. Undone. Curious.

Nine years later. . .

It would be easier and tidier to write ten years later, but an honest time frame says nine.

Nine years have passed since that original scene of facing what was terrible, traumatic, and unspoken in my heart. I am forty-five years old, mid-forties, still processing and in process. I am in a healthier place of healing and growth. Redemption has come knocking on my door, and I have chosen to bravely open up to it, in all of its scary, strange, disruptive glory.

Growth has not been easy. It has taken much time and courage. There are still painful places in my story to visit and name. I have been living life in the meantime; a life large, messy, and full of its own trauma, trial, and error. Life stops for no one.

Nine years ago, I was married for 15 years and had seven children ranging in age from 15 to 1. Little Mae, the surprising finale to our family, was not even on my radar. Now I have half of an empty nest, with four children living at home and four living life on their own.

Nine years ago I was 36. So young. I felt so old.

Dear thirty-something struggling with your role in your story, it is not over. It is not all written. There is hope. Investigating the shoe pile-up in your closet is worth it. You do not need to struggle alone. Find someone to help you find your brave.

Nine years later, I have had time to process and to practice new skills. I have learned more words for finding my feelings and speaking my reality. I have had people sit with and support and guide and encourage me. I have had time to sit with others.

Not everyone is called to this journey a friend once told me, as I wrestled and struggled and questioned and cried, every fiber in me wanting to go back to what was.

Nine years ago, I could not have known the role that the book To Be Told and the work of its author would play in my life. I could only take it in hand, take courage to read, and keep moving forward.

Now, I am not looking back, unless it’s to help me move forward.

Summer Rising

It’s not even technically summer, yet, but we will call it summer.

School is out, finally and completely finished for everyone. The first morning of us all home together wrung me in the worst of ways. In the span of hours there were tears and heartache and disappointments and relief, and that was just from me.

Each child had his or her own voice to add to the chorus. Fifteen minutes of weeding the side yard and watering the rogue vines growing in the dirt pile out back offered a bit of relief for my soul.

I woke from a nightmare that was morbid and gruesome and disturbing. It’s meaning makes complete sense to me. My brain is full and dumping data on overtime’s schedule. Vivid dreams are one way I deal with overload.

After traveling at breakneck speed for the last weeks, it feels as if my internal emergency brake handle was pulled, leaving emotions to fly forward as I simultaneously jerk them back. The collateral damage felt through my eyes and heart reminds me of the messiness of even the good parts of life.

Day One. Send off adult kids to their own homes on the heels of a big graduation weekend. Process hard places and disappointments and Plan B with newest adult and send him off, as well. Hear the rest of the voices left under the roof, clamoring for attention. Drop one at a friend’s, take the others to the library, make semi-annual contribution to the library’s operating fund in the form of overdue book fees, talk to a sister or two on the phone, read for a little while. Try to write. Feel feelings that are stirring and allow self to cry. Go to quiet corner only to find it claimed by the queen of the house. Sit on bed instead.

Zephyr

I am trying to accept the arrival of summer with open hands. I see the kindness in the chaos and the goodness in the grief. It is only day one. There is time for space to open and for dust to settle and for change to offer perspective, as I feel summer rising.

Choosing Texas

Would you rather go to Hell or Texas?

Little Mae asks me this very question during our ride to school one morning in May. She sneaks it in after we finish dropping her older brother off at middle school but before arriving at ours. We are rounding the traffic circle, if memory serves.

I am shocked, stunned, slightly panicked.

Where in the world did THIS question come from and WHERE is it going?

Masking my ability to jump to the worst possible conclusion to anything in a single bound, I respond with a question of my own.

Why do you want to know?

I am learning, slowly, but surely, to put into practice all of those good parent techniques that other parents seem to have a handle on. Like asking clarifying questions.

Well, in Sunday School we are learning about the Apostle’s Creed, and there was the question, “Would you rather go to Hell or Texas?”

Aha! Now I have a context and framework. Of Course! He was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hell. The third day, he arose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven. . .The words that I learned as a child flood back to my mind.

While some would say there is no difference, I definitely have my answer. . .

I would never want me or anyone to go to Hell, and I have been to Texas, so I definitely choose Texas.

In fact, I would love to be in Texas, where I was almost five years ago when I met the woman who would prove to be instrumental in guiding me to the place that I am today!

As is the case any time Mae and I engage in conversation, there is more. Big things and deep thoughts happen in the space of ten minutes, and this time is no exception.

At least I have someone I already know there waiting for me. You know. Porter?

My heart catches in my throat as we enter this new conversation about her cousin born too soon. I never know when to expect them or what to expect from them. Some times are predictable, like kindergarten graduation when they would have graduated together. Others are not, like when we are driving to school.

Yes. Porter is already in Heaven waiting for you. It will be exciting to meet him one day. It’s nice to have someone you know already there before you. . .

We talk about him for awhile and remember together. Well, I remember, and share with her. Each year, she understands a little more. She always understands that he is the cousin her age that is not here.

Just like Kirk has Deacon, and Chloe and Kanah have Jude. She loves Hadassah, but Porter is the one who would have been her age. In her class.

Porter is the one who is missing. Waiting for us on the other side.

So this year on the day that we should be celebrating him turning eight, I honor him by remembering him and reminding us that his life mattered. It still matters. He matters.

We miss you, Porter Silas. We wonder what you would look like and what you would act like. I wonder what it would have been like to teach three second graders this year, with you as a role model to those first grade boys, balancing out that first and second grade table of five at lunch. I wonder what it would have been like to teach you. Thank you for all that you taught us during your short, meaningful life. Thank you for living out each day written for you with purpose and dignity, even when we didn’t, and still don’t, understand why you had to leave us so soon. We are honored to call you nephew and cousin. We remember and will choose Texas every time. We can’t wait to meet you one day in Heaven.

Comparing My Gray to Your Sunny Day

I slather my feet with Waikiki Beach Coconut shea butter foot cream before tugging on thick black socks and sliding into rain boots. It’s the closest I will get to Hawaii as I troll Facebook for pictures of my younger sister’s vacation, living vicariously through her, her husband, and their adult children.

My sky is gray and pours rain today. Again. It has been raining consistently for weeks. Ever since, it seems, my husband made an edict that I would no longer be driving our middle school son to school unless it was raining, it has been raining.

My pedicure is non-existent, waiting in a bottle in the bathroom cabinet. I am grateful that this isn’t sandal weather, as I pull on boots for another wearing before the season officially ends. I grab a sweater while I’m at it.

I long for the breathtaking scenery and list of beach chores and pictures of toes in the sand posted to my sister’s wall. My nephew and his wife are sunkissed in the surf and gorgeous. Other pictures posted shout lovely, relaxing, grown-up family time, and I want it!

I want my sister’s life in this moment but not all the things.

I don’t want the very hard parts, yet those are a part of the sunny day package in the life of another.

And that is the dilemma, especially in the world of photos and social media and the age of technology. We get to see another’s best sunny day and measure it against our gray. We don’t always get to see the flip side.

I tend to fill in the blanks of a great Instagram picture or #hashtag with most awesome backstory and future coming ever!

It feels very gray in my world. The weather has been chilly, rainy, and bleak. My heart has been cold, teary, and weak. And yet, there is someone looking at pictures and posts of my sunny day moments. They don’t see the hard, the struggles, the stress.

Even when I share openly about the hard, there is still the very hard that remains to be sorted and worked through in quieter, more private spaces. I want to run away from it to the sunny that beckons from another’s world. I want to leave this behind and escape my reality, instead of embracing what is and waiting for the gray to fade.

I pull off my boots at the end of the day to the scent of coconut lingering in the air. I drag the rake through my zen garden , smoothing sand, dreaming of the ocean. I open a picture of tiny shells in a text from my sister to show her little namesake who likes tiny things.

I hold gratefulness in my heart for the sunny that she gets to experience; a respite from storm. I ponder why it is harder for me to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep.

I choose to remain in a hopeful stance that the sun isn’t too far away.