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.

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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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Losing Dad, Uncategorized

grief is a jerk.

Today I was driving down a tree lined suburban street. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, and it was still morning. I pulled up to a stop sign and an older gentleman waved to me to indicate he was about to cross in front of me. I smiled and waved him on. I watched him as he slowly walked in front of my car. He was tall, handsome, and probably in his early 70’s. He was wearing white socks pulled halfway up his calf and white sneakers. His face was wrinkled from years of smiling. He was exactly what I imagined my dad would look like today. And grief, that sneaky little jerk, made my heart swell up and tighten my chest and made the tears burst from my face. The ugly crying began and I lost control. Just like every other time grief sneaks in, I was completely unprepared for his visit.

When you lose someone you love, people start talking to you about the stages of grief and even giving you books about the stages. They make you think that you just have to 

FullSizeRender_3work your way through each stage and then you will be good to go. I feel like the stages of grief are more like the stages of cancer. The moment my dad took his last breath I felt a dull ache in my chest. From there, things inside just started rotting little by little. It didn’t effect just one part of my life, it slowly crept into every inch of my being. We had more than three years to prepare for my father’s inevitable death, but we could have had twenty years or one day. It made no difference. Just like there is no preparation or warning to what happens to your body after childbirth, there is also no way to prepare to lose someone. Like cancer, grief is this little ass hole that just goes around hurting innocent people and flipping their lives upside down.

We are closing in on 6 years since we lost Paul Wilcox. I honestly don’t feel any better about it. You can still find me crying, “It’s not fair!,” when I look at slideshows of my dad. I still hear his voice and that contagious laughter. I still want to wake up and find out it was all a dream and see him walk through the door. FullSizeRender_1I still want to see him lift up my daughter and swing her around the room or even just read her a book. I still have moments of shock, denial, and bargaining. I still see sweet old men with their socks half way up their legs on a hot day and burst into tears. The stages of grief keep looping around. There is nothing final or linear about them.

Grief is hoping you never have a wedding because the thought of walking down the aisle without your dad is too much. Grief is buying figs at the store even though they are

FullSizeRendertoo expensive and you only kind of like them, but they remind you of your dad’s fig tree. Grief is watching your daughter blow out birthday candles for the fourth time and still wishing your dad was one of the people standing there singing to her. Grief is finding it hard to go to church because you can’t go there without thinking of your dad and all those Sunday mornings of him standing in the pulpit. Grief is wishing you had asked more questions or taken more videos or spent more time listening back when you had time. Grief is wishing you had said “I love you” just 10 more times.

The best explanation I have heard to explain this unfortunate part of life is that losing someone is like losing a leg. You do learn to walk and run and dance again, but you do everything differently now. You still feel pangs of pain from time to time and you still long for your missing limb and reminisce about the days when you felt whole.  

No matter how grief hits you or no matter how long it stays, I pray you let it do it’s thing. Even when it is painful, it reminds us that we once loved and loved deeply. We loved someone deep enough that even years after they are gone, we still remember that love and long for it.

 

dad fishing

“Down the middle drops one more
Grain of sand
They say that
New life makes losing life easier to understand
Words are kind
They help ease the mind
I’ll miss my old friend
And though you gotta go
We’ll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out
One comes in”

~Jack Johnson

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life lessons, Losing Dad

Dad’s Birthday 

These are my wonderful parents. The picture was taken on 11/22/1998, my 21st Birthday. My parents came to Philly to take me out for my birthday because that’s the kind of parents they are. It is one of my favorites because you can see the true love that we all got to see when they were together.
Tomorrow would have been dad’s 69th birthday. It’s the hardest day of the year for me. I revisit the anger, denial, and deep sadness that came from his sickness and eventual death. That physical ache in my heart shows up and I can’t eat or breathe right. The gaping hole that was left when we lost him pulses to remind me that it will never be full again. The crying that is accompanied by hyperventilation and then complete fatigue returns. Each year, it is his birthday that makes me feel like I’ve lost him all over again. Grief is funny that way. It likes to creep up on you and remind you that it’s still there to torture you.

My daughter never met her grandfather. However, I tell her so many stories about him that I sometimes have to remind her that he is gone. I like that this is the case. To her, he is still very much alive. He always said he would live past 100. In some ways, he was right. He lives in the old hymns. All I have to do is listen to “Come Thou Fount,” close my eyes, and I can feel him there singing along with me. He is in my head during a snowstorm when I realize my gas is on “E.” How many times does he have to tell me not to let it go below half in the winter?! He is in my daughter’s smile whenever she is really happy and her whole face lights up. I see him in that joy and excitement for life that fills her every being on a daily basis.

Because of this, I let her decide what we will do to celebrate him tomorrow. She said we should go for a hike and have a “Charlie Brown Birthday party.” So, we will do just that. Or, we will go for a hike, eat peppermint patties, and then search the city of Philadelphia for a cupcake or cake with Peanuts characters on it. I think my dad would approve!

Happy Birthday Dad! We love you and miss you tons!!

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

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Losing Dad

A Box of Chocolates

I haven’t written in a while. Dad died. It was three months ago. He died on November 9th and I still think I’m going to see him walk through the door at any moment. If I am working through the stages of grief, I am stuck somewhere between denial and depression. I am trying so hard to live in the moment and work towards the future, but every moment brings thoughts of the past. The way my dad sounded, smelled, laughed, and smiled. How I long to see his smile again. How I long for one more hug, one more conversation, one more roaring laughter from his lungs.

Picking out the coffin, the flowers, the tombstone, and the pictures to show at his funeral all came so naturally. So naturally, that I think I may even have the opportunity to tell him how it all went and why we chose what we chose. It’s such a weird sensation to try and believe I will not see him again in this lifetime. I haven’t grasped it yet. I can’t.

This week was Valentine’s Day and I got chocolates. I couldn’t stand now knowing what was inside, so I cut each one open and only ate the ones I was sure I would like. I used to be able to open a box of chocolates and dive in. I laughed when I got a weird one like raspberry cream and I hummed from the enjoyment of the dark chocolate caramels. The point was that I tried them all and didn’t care which were which. It was exciting to have no idea what I was about to bite into.

Somewhere along the way, the idea of not knowing was one I couldn’t face. I needed to know what was going to happen and I needed to know when. I didn’t know when dad was going to die and up until a few weeks before he died, there lived a sliver of hope within me that believed he would survive. Even two days before he died I remember thinking I still had a lot of time left with him. Actually thinking and feeling through the thought of losing him was not an option.

I wish I had known what was coming and when it was coming. I wish it had been as easy as cutting into a piece of chocolate and choosing whether or not I wanted to proceed with what was before me……

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Losing Dad

The Magic Hat

When my dad dies, there is one thing I want. It is not a trust fund or a car. It is not his computer or his cell phone. It is not the expensive Turkish rugs or antique furniture or house. No, when my dad dies, I want the old wool dress hat in the closet. You see, for a long time, I called it “the cancer hat.” I was four and five the last time he had cancer. He lost all his hair and he wore this hat. As a child, I believed that it was magic somehow. I believed he survived because he wore this hat.

I cannot tell you how many times I have taken that hat out of the closet and smelled it. The smell has remained the same for the last 30 years. It NEVER changed. It is, by far, the best thing I ever smelled. I believe it is the smell of magic. I believe it is the smell of hope.

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