Patriot's Day

Seventeen years ago, today, I was driving back from the base medical office to my shop after receiving some vaccines.  It was a beautiful morning in North Carolina. Slightly on the muggy side, but the sun was shining and the temperature was perfect.  

As was common at the time, I tuned to Howard Stern on the radio, and after a few minutes, he mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  It was all he was talking about. I thought that it was a bit. He was doing tasteless schtick as he had always done.

I arrived at my shop, and walked into the rest of my platoon huddled around a small black and white, portable television, with mouths agape.  Not 30 seconds after my arrival, I watched live, as a second plane crashed into the other tower. The news was quite on the sensationalist side with estimates of upwards of 10,000 people trapped in the upper floors of the burning buildings.  

We stared at the news footage, listening to speculation about terrorist attacks, navigational failures, other possibly hijacked planes, and all of the other “guesses” that the news was making.  We were interrupted by our commanding officer, telling us to fall into formation immediately, as the roar of F-18s and Harriers taxiing on our air station became more noticeable.

We were briefed about the two crashes in New York.  Another crash into the Pentagon was confirmed. Yet ANOTHER plane was missing, last seen heading east towards DC.  We were to be put into a state of full-readiness, returning to our barracks, packing our gear, and awaiting orders.

I was 20 years old.  Most of my platoon ranged from 18 - 22 years old.  We were confused, anxious, and scared.

We were not patriots.

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Helpers

Dear Helpers,

 

One of the most powerful things anyone can say to me is

“Yes, this is __________”. 

*Insert: awful, terrible, horrible, sad, unfair, gutting...

 

Any word that acknowledges that Mike’s death sucks will complete this simple sentence. 

 

The fact is Mike being dead is hard for me.  And, yes, it still continues to be difficult almost 22 months later because, well, he still continues to be dead.  Simply acknowledging that Mike dying is horrible, and awful and sucks helps me feel less isolated.  I appreciate that it is not easy to bear witness to someone’s grief.  But, your presence is really the best gesture.  It’s what’s needed most.

 

Simply hold me in my brokenness and resist the urge to do anything more.

 

Sometimes people think they can encourage and support me by saying good things about my future.  Well, in truth, don’t.  Please don’t give me a pep talk.  Grief isn’t something that you need to coach someone out of.  There isn't a playbook that holds all the answers.  It simply is what it is.  

I assure you, I am keenly interested in my future.  I am intimately invested in it because this is where my life lives.  I assure you, I have given my future more thought than anyone else on Earth.  In fact, I am consumed by thinking about it.  And, this is not necessarily a good thing; because at best, the future is uncertain, for all of us.  Not only is my future uncertain, it is radically changed from how I imagined it.  

 

There is nothing anyone can say that will make my future better or necessarily brighter.  If there was, trust me, I would have already told myself the words.  It’s okay that no one can make all this better for me.  This is going to take time and hard work.  I’ve got a life to recreate and this isn’t going to happen overnight.  And, please rest easy knowing that I am mildly excited about recreating a life for myself because there are so many possibilities. 

 

This is the beginning of anything I want. 

There is great opportunity in my future, this is not lost on me. 

I get it.  And, I look forward to the future unfolding.

 

No one needs to  “fix” my broken life.  This is my life to rebuild and no one can do it for me.  I do not require sympathy or need pity, but it would be nice if those who love me could stand nearby as I go about my reconstruction.  It is comforting to think someone might steady me or re-position me, ever so slightly, if I go too far off course.  I am strong, but I would love for someone to help shine a light along the way because there are no markers on the dimly lit road I’ve been forced to travel. 

 

I’d love for you to stand close enough to me so that our eyes can meet.  This said, I am aware that I am not as social as I used to be.  This is because I am preoccupied with trying to save myself.  I’ve had to disconnect as I’ve focused on surviving.  If I have withdrawn it was not by intention, but rather necessary.  Rebirth of oneself is consuming and requires energy and attention.

 

I’ve spent nearly two years trying to find myself.  I spend my days crawling around among the destruction of what was once a beautiful life.  I pick up fragments of my former life, pieces of myself that I vaguely recognize.  I quietly collect these shards of myself that can be salvaged.  I scour the landscape of my old  life for things that I can use to create the foundation on which to rebuild myself.  This is hard work.  It is tedious.  I’m tired.   

 

I've had to come undone in order to come forth.  It's been a out of body experience.  I’ve felt lost and displaced for so long now that I struggle to remember what it feels like to be comfortable in my own life.  I have been stripped bare and the insides of my Soul are exposed.  Surviving his death has been completely life altering for me.  I am different now.  I am better in many ways I can't even begin to explain.  Mike dying has made me learn so very much about living, and at the same time I have never felt more detached from my life. 

So, nearly two years later what do I need from other human beings?
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Into the Fall

Yesterday was the first day of the year to bring in an autumn cold snap here in Northeast Ohio, along with the remnants of the tropical storm that came through Florida last week. Since I woke yesterday, it’s been a slow, steady dripping rain… the kind where you can still open all the windows and feel the brisk air and hear the gentle drops on the leaves.

This time of year is my favorite. And even though I know it will warm up again and we aren’t quite to fall, for today, I get a little teaser of what’s coming… The air changing. The fall leaves turning. Halloween - which we go all out for around here. Decorating the house with warm oranges and yellows. Cooking stews and chilis and pies. Filling the air with cinnamon and pumpkin candles. Remembering it being my mother’s favorite time of year. Remembering it being my late-fiance and I’s favorite time of year too. There’s so much richness in the fall.

About 6 years ago, I was given new and different reasons to appreciate this time of year…

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The Phoenix and the Dragon

It comes in waves, those flames: the flames of fear and the flames of future, the flames of anguish and the flames of anger. You do your best to fight the fire but it is erupting from within you. As if you haven’t fought enough, you are constantly fighting with your inner beast but you never know whom. Is it your inner phoenix or is it your inner dragon? Phoenix is a rebirth out of the ashes but develop too quickly and your heart’s new house will burn down. The dragon brings strength to walk the path but beware your breath as you may strike fear in the ones you meet along the way.  One must tread lightly around stirring giants. In their glory, both are majestic and rule with kindness and wisdom but at their worst they can destroy entire villages. Young beast master, do not try to wake them until you are ready to control them or you will lose control of yourself…

“I’ll never be able to move on” - The sparks fly

“It will get easier” - The pressure builds

“Have you moved on?” - The fire is stoked

It’s not under our control what feeds the beast and which beast we are nourishing. It breathes when it wants, it feeds when it wants and it sleeps when it wants - Caution to those that wake either of the sleeping beasts. Caution to all who wake both…

It’s been a long time since I have had a night out with others. There have been dinners, a mellow movie night but not one of those “Let’s grill! Neighbors are coming over and we can party”…I just had one of those nights. It felt like a relief but little did I know that the start of the relief was a release of the phoenix and the dragon.

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Coffee With the Wind

Our cats are still here. 
They still sit in your recliner chair, and fight,
and sleep, and Autumn still attacks Sammy for no reason. 

Im still watching the US Open. By myself. 
Roger Federer lost in a huge upset the other day,
and Nadal won in an epic match that didnt end until 230 in the morning. 
I actually reached over to my phone to text or call you. 
"DID YOU SEE THAT MATCH, BOO?"
Then I remembered.
I remembered what I have never forgotten. 
I can't call you or text you ever again. 

Your lucky rally monkey sits in a mug on top of my office desk. 
The mug says "Coffee was God's Plan."
You would have cracked up at that. 
So many things still remain. 
But you ...
you only exist in shadows, 
in breaths and Penske trucks and pieces of music.
You stop by in a laugh or a moment or memory,
faded as it may be. 
Why is death so cruel?
Why do I only get to connect with you
in this strange and undefined and vague way, 
never quite knowing, 
if any of it is real? 

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Be Present

Recently someone reached out to me asking me how I do this life and how they find it so difficult to not be where they want to be or thought they’d be. Turning 30 this past week has made me think about some of the same things so I thought I’d share my thought process.

Is this where I thought I’d be and what I thought I’d be doing at 30? No. It is certainly not.

Is where I am and what I’m doing not good? Is it less of a life? A definite no to those too.

I think it starts with acknowledging feelings of what I thought my life would be. I don’t think stifling emotions is healthy or helpful. So yes, I did not think I would be where I am at 30. In my original plan, I thought I’d probably have a family by now. I thought maybe I’d have a child or maybe two. I didn’t think I’d be living on my own (well, with a roommate now) with my dog and dating. That was never what I pictured or what I planned.

That being said, I acknowledge that lost future when it pops into my mind but I also work on letting that life go. That’s not where I am. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others. But as much as possible I try to be present in where my life currently is so that I can enjoy that. Living in the “would be” or “should be” robs today of all that it is. It doesn’t make my life any better thinking of what I am not doing or what I don’t have. It actually makes my life worse because it makes me miss all the things right in front of me while still not having what I thought I’d have. Double loss.

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If

If all things that are impossible

Became impossibly real,

And the unimaginable

Became impossibly imaginable,

And what is impossibly, unimaginably, inconceivable,

Became entirely plausible.

In a world where my fiercest and most impassioned pleas,

Ringing forth from the depths of my shattered heart…

Could be heard pulsating through the days and nights of the almighty Universe,

And the gods of the Romans and Greeks and all gods through Time

Were to hear my cries,

Bouncing off the stars and the moon and the sun…

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Blind Faith

Continuing to love him in separation

doesn’t just seem obvious,

It FEELS like the natural thing to do.  

Our Love didn’t die.  

Our Love didn’t wane

when his body died. 

Continuing our bond

is as necessary as breath for me.

I continue to love Mike in separation,

because it’s the only way

I know how to live.

 

But, lately I admit that I’m living half-heartedly.  I’m disenchanted; and, in response to this, I’ve disengaged from all the life around me.  Now, I just exist.  I am skimming along through the day.  And, I do not genuinely feel anything anymore.

I don’t feel like my life is authentic.  It feels uncomfortable and forced.

I’m so completely underwhelmed by everything around me.  And, I feel pretty guilty about being less than enthusiastic about my life because there is a fair bit for me to be grateful for.

I know that I can not thrive with my current mindset.  Gratitude must exceed my lack of enthusiasm if I want to have a good life.  I know this.  Therefore, I feel a strong desire to sort myself out.  But, I’m not entirely sure how to do this.

 

How do I lift this shawl of grief from my shoulders and reengage in life?

How do I accept the life I have without yearning for what was.

How do I gently breathe life back into myself without attempting to recreate a cheap imitation of my old life?

 

I endlessly think about how to go about saving myself; from myself.  Instinctively, I have some idea how to begin thriving, but I do not have the courage to action these ideas - yet.  For now, I’m playing it safe.  Actually, I’m being too safe, and this is beginning to hurt me.  

 

It’s become obvious to me - I need to take a chance on something.  Anything really.  At this point, I need to commit myself to some sort of change.  What the change happens to be is not as important as I’ve lead myself to believe.  What’s important is that I actually do something to alter my life -  something beyond the makeshift attempts I’ve made so far.

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Thanks Death, You Rock!

Mike's hilarious post this past week really reminded me just how important humor is in dealing with this life. Or really any struggles in life. Sometimes I'm guilty of losing my funny, sarcastic, smart ass self. I'm definitely guilty of not showing that side of myself to very many people. But I can still recall some recent awesome moments of dark humor...
Like when the song Dust in the Wind comes on the radio and I exclaim to Mike, "look it's Megan's song!" Since she was cremated. 
Or the other day when Shelby, our 11 year old, had a friend over who saw my replica human skull I use for photoshoots and asked her who's skull it was... I told Shelby she should have told her it was my mom's skull. And then an entire conversation went on in the middle of the Halloween section at the craft store about having my mom's skull on a shelf in our basement. I'm certain at least a few other customers were gawking at me. My people though... Didn't skip a beat.
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Determination vs. Distraction

In all honesty, this week has been pretty good. I mean I have had my sad moments and the little things that remind me of Tin have shown up here and there. What I’m noticing though is that my reactions are changing.  What used to immediately bring up tears and sorrow now brings up tears and a little smile sometimes a chuckle. I’ve noticed this week that I am talking more about Tin in regular conversations without feeling strangely disconnected from the room. Is it that I’m getting used to my new normal? Is this part of the process? Of course, I ask myself if this is a normal reaction 4 months after losing someone? Does this make sense because I had known last October to prepare for life without Tin? Then I tell myself that it’s ok to settle down and coast a little. I still will have to work through more firsts: My birthday (Never thought my 40th would have so much significance), Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and the first anniversary of the day he passed….

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