belonging, death, faith, life lessons, Losing Dad, loss, parenting, Uncategorized

ready.

The following was something I wrote on October 5, 2015 when my daughter was only two years old. Today, while I was at close friend’s bridal shower, her mother took a piece of paper out of her pocket and read it to us. This piece is what she read. I wrote it six years ago and forgot about it, but I needed to hear it today, so I’m sharing it here. I don’t want to forget this again.

Bella loves the ocean. I mean she REALLY loves the ocean. She has a complete set of sea creatures that she plays with in the tub, she loves the sound of waves on her sound machine that she listens to at night, and she loves the sand so much that we carry all of her beach toys in the car just in case we see a big sandbox or a beach somewhere. Her sandbox in the backyard is full of sand and seashells from the beach where we go each year. It is her favorite place to play. When she was only two weeks old and we were both still supposed be at home healing, I took her to the beach for a week. The salt air and the sea ended up healing both of us. The ocean is in her blood and, like me; it’s what she needed. A year later, I took her back to the shores of Virginia where our family has gone for more than 20 years. Her love of the ocean had not changed, yet she was unwilling to go anywhere near the water. I kept trying to take her in, but she would cling to me and scream “no.” Though she had happily swum in pools several times, the sounds of the ocean and the waves crashing down was just too much for her in reality.

A couple months ago we went back to the beach and I tried to take Bella into the water. During the year, she had gone swimming several times, was very comfortable in the water, and still obsessed about the ocean. However, each time I took her down to the water and tried to get her to go in, or just put her feet in, she was unwilling and still terrified. We started this routine on Saturday and I tried each day, sometimes twice. Every time, she screamed and cried and did not want to go in. She was happy sitting back in the sand, chasing seagulls, and building castles. Thursday, we decided to go to the beach in the afternoon and evening since it had been an exceptionally hot day. About 30 minutes after we arrived at the beach Bella picked up her life vest, walked over to me and said, “Water, Mommy.”
I looked at her surprised. “You want to go in the water?”
“Yes! Water, Mommy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes” she said fervently.
So, I put her life vest on, walked her to the edge of the water, and continued walking right into the ocean. Suddenly, she had no fear. The time had come. She was no longer afraid of the roaring sound of the waves. She was not afraid of the vastness of the ocean. She was no longer afraid of the unknown. I have tried so many times to get her to walk into the ocean and she refused. She just wasn’t ready. When it was time however, she knew she was ready. The experience came easy to her and to me. She smiled and splashed and loved every minute of it. The next day, she returned to the water as if it was something she did every day. She returned with confidence.

At church today we talked about times in our lives when something had to change. We talked about how people in our lives often tell us when that has to happen or how it has to happen even when we’re not ready. When we are going through something, anything, the people around us give us suggestions of how they got through something similar and hope that we can learn something from their experience. The thing is, until we are really ready, we can’t change. Each of us has to play in the sand for a little while and get used to the sound of the roaring waves. We must get comfortable with the vastness of the ocean. The courage within us must bubble up to the surface so that we can run with wild abandon towards the surf. It is only then that we can enjoy the freedom that comes with letting ourselves be vulnerable.

In the last few years, I lost my uncle and my dad, ended a relationship that I thought was forever, and embarked on parenting a child alone. With each major change, my friends and family told me stories of their own experiences. They told me how long the hardships would last, how long the pain would last, and how to deal with situations like these. At times I struggled and thought that maybe I was doing everything wrong. I found solace in the wrong places and with the wrong people. I searched for a way to make everything right. I longed for peace. I turned to yoga, therapy, travel, running, writing, drinking, misguided love, and food, but none of this was going to get me where I needed to be. I just wasn’t ready.

It wasn’t until my brave little daughter looked at me and told me she wanted to go into the ocean that I realized that no real change could ever happen until I was ready. Every one of us will have a pivotal moment in our lives where we either have to change something or suffer the consequences of stubbornness, fear, and not letting go. It may be a death, the end of a relationship, an addiction, job loss, abuse, fear, parenthood, or a tragedy. Whatever it is, it changes our perspective and expectation of how life is “supposed” to happen. The thing is that each one of us is unique. Not one of us will have the same experience or series of experiences. Some will come out of the womb craving the ocean and run to it. Others may take weeks or years to feel each grain of sand and turn over every shell before the time has come to go deeper. So think of others’ advice as rays of sunlight. Soak up each one with gratitude and feel their warmth. Just don’t force yourself into the surf until you are absolutely ready. It is only then that you will be able to feel each salty splash and allow yourself to be caught up in the new rhythm of your life guided by the tide.

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death, gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad, loss, parenting, Run Momma Run, Uncategorized, writing

A decade.

Last night I scrolled through my Instagram feed reading so many stories of the great decade people had for their 2010’s. I loved looking at the pictures of great successes, life milestones, vacations, etc. I tried to think of what I would reflect on and all I could think IMG_0404about as a theme for the last ten years of my life was loss. Since 2009, I lost my dad, my uncle, both of my grandmothers, five close friends, my dog, and three relationships that really meant something to me with men who I cared for truly and deeply. I struggled with medical issues that required specialists, tests, scans, medications, physical therapy, more tests, surgery, and finally a diagnosis of an incurable chronic disease. I battled depression, isolation, profound loneliness, and addiction. All of this in just 10 years of my life. How could I create a happy post from that? 

Then, today I spent a few hours with Bella helping her make the slime from a slime kit she got for Christmas. I felt the gooey slime in my fingers and started playing with it. Bella looked at me and said, “This slime is changing you.” I smirked and said, “Oh really? How is it changing me?” And her whole face smiled as she said, “It’s making you giggle and smile.” Surprised I responded, “What do you mean? I laugh and smile.” “No you don’t, mommy. You really don’t ever laugh or smile.” Now I was fighting back tears. This is how my 6 year old sees me? I thought about it and said, “I used to laugh and smile all the time. I guess I’ll have to work on that.” 

I tried to think about what happened to that giggly smiling girl I used to be. I’ve let my grief take over so much that my own child, the only person who lives with me and sees me everyday, doesn’t think of me as someone who giggles or smiles. I’ve been so focused on all the bad things that have happened that I forgot to really appreciate the good. That includes the good of the last 10 years. 

Between 2009 and 2019, I ran 2 full marathons, 2 Broad Street Runs, 5 half marathons, and dozens of shorter races. Sometimes I cried or walked to get there, but I still crossed. Every. Finishline. I got my Master’s Degree and a job in the field I always dreamed of working in. I bought a house. I bought my first car without a cosigner.  I travelled to Alaska four times, Montana twice, New Orleans, Nashville, Little Rock, Asheville, 100_6564Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Mississippi, Florida, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Kenya. I saw the Lion King, Wicked, and Hamilton on Broadway. I saw John Butler Trio twice, once up close and personal in the VIP section. I saw the Lumineers twice, Dave Matthews twice, Billy Joel and Ed Sheeran. I saw The Philadelphia Symphony, dozens of Shakespeare plays, went to my first Opera and my first Eagles game. I saw the Phillies win and lose several times over while I drank cold beer and baked in the sun at The Bank. I reconnected with old friends. I met new friends who became family. I adopted a new puppy. I gardened. I cooked. I wrote. I practiced yoga. I painted. I sang. I performed publicly. I successfully put IKEA furniture together by myself. 

And last, but most important, I created, carried, and gave birth to my first and only child. She came into the darkness of my life like a ray of sunshine covered in glitter. I sang her to sleep every night. I went treasure hunting on the beach with her. I danced in the living room with her. I celebrated her every accomplishment. I saw her first steps, heard her

P1020408 first words, and fed her her first food. I walked her to school each day and blew a kiss to her before watching her go off on her own. I listened to her say, “I love you” everyday.  She taught me how to be a solo parent. For the last seven years of this decade, she has been my first thought every morning and my last thought every night. 

I’ve had my head so far up my grief’s butt that I haven’t fully allowed myself to enjoy all of the life-giving moments in the last decade. I’m so stressed about all the little unimportant things that I haven’t relaxed and let my daughter see me truly giggle and 102_4561smile. When I really think about it, even those losses all taught me something. I carry pieces of those loved ones with me everyday. They became part of who I am. Even the broken relationships taught me so many new and wonderful things and helped me see myself more clearly. I have wonderful memories of each of those men and have learned to forgive and wish each of them happiness and success in life. They each added goodness to my life. I harbor no ill will or grudges against them and that is a lightness I never understood or felt before this decade. 

My medical problems have taught me to be empathetic towards people with chronic pain and illness. They have taught me that it’s ok to ask for help. They’ve taught me to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.  They’ve taught me to be gentle with myself and to rest. And, though my diagnosis was not what I was hoping for, it was finally an answer for years of questions and doctors literally shrugging their shoulders. It brought me new hope and a clear path for moving forward. 

So, as I sit here on the first day of the new decade, my plan is clear. I will spend it laughing with my daughter. I will smile and soak in all the goodness around me and celebrate my successes and my travels and my experiences. I will smile even if my bank account is empty or I have a bad day because there is life in everything and every day we can find joy in something. When I think of my dad, I picture him smiling. Always smiling. Even when he was battling an incurable cancer, the picture I took of him in the hospital shows him smiling ear to ear while being pumped full of chemo. He found joy in everyday. He found a reason to be thankful in everything. It is a challenge for me to do this. When I am gone and my daughter only sees me in her mind, I don’t want her memory of me to be the me with the cloud over my head all the time. I want her to see the me who is laughing and smiling without the use of a slime kit.

dad

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death, faith, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad, loss, parenting, religion, Uncategorized

dear dad.

I wrote this letter today, on the eve of the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m sharing it because it made me feel better and maybe it will help other people who have lost someone close.

Dear Dad,

It’s been seven years since we said goodbye to you. Seven years since we sat around your bed and told you it was ok to go and that we would be ok. I remember that day in the car after your doctor’s appointment a couple months before you passed  when you told me you were ready to go, but you were worried that we weren’t ready. You were probably right. I can only speak for myself, but I think we have all been managing as best we can, just with an ache in our chest that won’t seem to go away. I’d give absolutely anything to get you back or to just chat for a few hours. Even though we knew you were leaving us, there were so many things I forgot to say. There were so many questions I forgot to ask.

I’ve struggled with that question of why good people like you have to die so early when some really crappy people get to live so long. It’s a hard question and it’s left me with a pretty cynical and unfair perspective of the world. It’s left me with a lot of anger towards God. Maybe those people are still around because they need more time to figure out howsleeping to get things right. Who knows? You told me once that God is ok with us being mad at him because it means we are still engaged with him in some way(that probably isn’t verbatim, but that’s how I understood what you said). God and I haven’t been right since you left, but I’m still trying.

I heard Anne Lamott speak a couple years ago and she said when cancer takes someone from you, it’s like an atomic bomb goes off in your life. She couldn’t be more right. For me, it meant running a lot, then hours of yoga, then so much alcohol that I started to think it was ok to put vodka in my coffee in the morning. I would say I should have stuck to the running and yoga, but the drinking led me to get pregnant unexpectedly and though that was pretty scary at first, becoming a mother has forced me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I became a mother at 35. Talk about an atomic bomb! The nurses actually said I was of “advanced maternal age” and whispered it every time they said it like I had leprosy or something.

I named my daughter, your granddaughter, Isabella Grace. I read that the Hebrew meaning of the name is “God is perfection.” It’s such a perfect name for her. I chose her middle name because as she was growing inside me, I felt like she was God’s grace for everything I had ever done wrong in my life. We have frustrating moments from time to time, but no matter what, we tell each other “I love you” at least a dozen times a day. She tells me I am beautiful every morning and I think I’ve actually become more beautiful inside and out because of her. She brings out the very best of me.

We moved to Philadelphia and are living in the city now. She does really well with city living, but she loves the country and our visits to Central PA. You can tell it’s in her blood. She loves horses and animals in general. She especially likes to pretend she is one. This makes her come across as a little weird sometimes, but I absolutely love that about her. She doesn’t have a father in her life which is hard for me sometimes since I had such a good one, but she is surrounded by so many people who love her that she doesn’t seem to mind. She is an incredible artist and likes puns, so I know you would really like spending time with her. Sometimes she smiles or laughs and I feel like I’m looking right at you. Today was an emotionally rough day for me and I went to pick her up from her art school. I walked into the room and she was laughing and dancing to music and just fully enjoying every ounce of life without a care. Then, she saw me and ran across the room and gave me a huge hug. That made me think of you too. I wish you could meet her. I think you two would really like each other. I tell her stories about you all the time.

Aside from Isabella, my other big news is that I am finally working full time at a theatre. I’ve been there just over four years. It’s not always easy and the pay isn’t impressive, but I love the work. I think you might be able to relate. 🙂

The trees are changing here and it’s so beautiful. I remember that day just before you left when we drove through Cumberland County to see all the beautiful colors on the trees. I remember the brisk fall air and the feeling like life would go on and things would be ok. I hope the trees change where you are and that you are able to hike and fish and read all day. We sure do miss you here.

Love,

Rebekah

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