loss

My blue sky moment

My cousin’s wife walked into the funeral home. 

She wore a sequined top that shone in the afternoon sunlight, and as she greeted us all with hugs announced “I wore this because I thought it was the kind of top Aunt Juanita would love.” 

We all nodded our approval before my cousin Terri spoke up. 

“Go have a look in the casket.”

Much to her chagrin, and everyone else’s amusement, she was wearing the exact same blouse my Aunt Juanita was laid out in. It was the lightest moment in an otherwise very sad day. But it was the kind of story my dad’s sister would have told over and over again. She had that dry British sense of humor that is common in my family. She had a knack for finding humor in strife.  

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Doug has written a few times about remembering the blue sky - that even when the clouds are hanging above you to remember that there is blue sky above. That moment of levity was my blue sky moment in the day. Recently, I’ve been focused on the practice of gratitude, trying to think of three new things every day to be grateful for, and to think of why I am grateful for them. 

That day, in that moment, I was grateful for my sense of humor and that my family shares in that humor. Humor is how my aunt survived a life of struggle. Humor is how I’ve learned to make the best of sadness. 

I’ve been home to Pennsylvania only twice this year, both times for a funeral. The longer you live, the more loss you will have I suppose. I am lucky, in that I’ve been spared the kind of loss that many others have lived through at much younger ages. If there is a cost to aging, then the empty feeling of losing someone we love must be the price of admission. 

I left the church to the closing hymn of “On Eagles Wings,” crying harder than I meant to as I watched my brother and cousins carry her casket. As I held the umbrella over my mother’s head on our walk to the car, I remembered the quote, “if you live to be 100, I want to live to be 100 minus a day so I never have to live a day without you.” 

Oh the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh. 

Emptiness is a tough feeling. It’s hard to know what to do with the hollow pit in your stomach. We cope in different ways - with food, with alcohol, with anything that will make us feel numb for a little while. Later in the day, after the funeral, I hung out with my dad at one of his local clubs, a time that would have typically been spent in the company of my aunt as well. 

Sitting in that club next to my dad, I missed my aunt - I thought of her laugh and her jokes and her love of Patsy Cline. I looked over at my dad who was sipping his beer, staring intently at a preview of Sunday’s Steeler’s game. I can’t imagine the pain of losing his first sibling - of seeing his family shrink. I felt a catch in my throat and tried to freeze the moment in my mind - I want to freeze so many moments of time with my dad.   

I leaned over and tapped my head on his shoulder for a second, then focused my attention on the t.v. 

Two people, holding their grief together in silence. Holding their grief together in love. 

My blue sky moment? That everyone should be so lucky, to have someone with whom to hold their grief. 



There but for fortune

Folk artist Phil Ochs wrote a song in 1966 that was later recorded by Joan Baez, and well describes the life I am lucky enough to live:

“There but for fortune, go you or go I.” 

On a good day, I can appreciate my journey. I can look in the mirror, see myself, and feel good about the steps I’ve taken, and even the steps I’ve missed along the way.

I can find joy in the ordinary. 

I can pet Rooney and think, with each scratch of his ear, how lucky I am to have a dog that so closely matches my needs. I can appreciate the first few sips of coffee when I sit down to my desk, and walk into the gym filled with gratitude that I work in a helping profession that allows me to dance, wear dinosaur costumes and help people.

But I often lose track of my good fortune. 

And this holiday season, my gratitude has taken a back seat to grief and sadness. As many of you know, earlier this month, we lost my mother n'law quite unexpectedly. 

Her biceps were bigger than mine. 

Her biceps were bigger than mine. 

I have struggled to find joy or gratitude in many of the moments over the past month. Earlier this week, as I sat quietly during the waning hours of Christmas Eve, in the glow of the lights from the tree, I was overcome with the realization and sadness that I will never share another Christmas with a family member whom I loved so dearly. 

As Rooney slept on my lap, I wept onto his head and wiped my tears with his long basset ears (which aren’t very absorbent). I wondered and worried how I’d get through Christmas day feeling any kind of joy. 

But then Rooney snuggled in a little deeper and Sheila brought me a real tissue in favor of the dog’s ears - and the snow fell softly on the Pennsylvania mountain outside the window, Phil Ochs' words popped into my head. 

There but for fortune, go you or go I. 

Sure I am sad. And there is an empty, aching hole in my heart. But I have a snuggly dog, a life-partner who loves me, and a family who misses me when I’m not around. I have a niece who loves Wonder Woman, a nephew who thought Stretch Armstrong was the best gift ever, and co-workers and clients who cleaned the snow from my car while I was gone. (Thank you.)

I am, not to sound dramatic, a very rich woman.  

Despite my riches, joy is often hard to feel. 

Intellectually, we know we should be grateful and we should feel joy, but sometimes life and scars and struggles numb us to both pain and happiness. 

It is my wish for you, as we wrap up 2017 and prepare for the coming year, that you might feel joy - in the ordinary - in the extraordinary. That you might inhale deeply, and exhale fully, and lean completely into the joy and gratitude of your life.