Hungry for more.

Recently, I felt sadness for a complete stranger. Maybe it was timing more than anything else. Perhaps I was unusually fragile that day. Or maybe it was purely selfish, having suddenly realized I had missed an opportunity to learn all I could from one member of a truly important generation. No matter the reason, empathy had hit me hard.

As I’ve had more time to reflect, I find myself wondering if the importance of those who came before us has been lost on my generation and even more so on the generation who follows me. I’m terribly afraid that we’ve taken the wisdom of those who preceded us for granted, brushing them off as old, out of touch or unreasonably sad and angry. Had I capitalized on all of the free life lessons that came directly from real life experiences? Just how many of these opportunities had I missed? And why had I not questioned myself until now?

Prior to this awakening, I would have undeniably omitted myself from falling into the category with those who didn’t think twice about this – with those who cared more about their own life than the lives of those who helped shape it. But now, I wonder if their significance has been lost on me as well.

Let’s back up. Last year, I started volunteering with the organization Meals on Wheels. I had seen the TV commercial many times and figured that I was plenty capable of “dropping off a hot meal and saying a quick hello” but after just a few deliveries, I learned that it was so much more than that.

Combating senior hunger (initiated through the loss of independence due to declining health) may be the foundation of this organization but combating other forms of hunger – hunger for companionship, for conversation, for friendship, for love – those are what continue to drive it. It truly is about “taking care of those, who once took care of us”.

For me, the experience has been priceless. I have some humorous stories that I could entertain you with. I’ve seen and heard a lot, some of which is forever burned in my mind, including moments like the following:

  • Being greeted by a senior in just his underwear who seemed confidently unaware
  • The time I felt supreme guilt for possibly being responsible for an escaped cat
  • The few times that I’ve been treated as a thrift shop representative and was gifted many undesired trinkets
  • The countless, unsolicited, reports I’ve received of ailments and escaping bodily fluids

I’ve certainly gathered a strange combination of happy and sad. I’ve listened to many “woe is me” narratives and truly feel I’ve been witness to deep depression onset by old age. I’ve had a quick glimpse into the life we don’t consider when we’re praying for a longer one. We don’t fully understand what is connected to such a wish. We don’t realize that we’re asking for a life that could be full of insurmountable odds – a life that may be pretty darn sad and lonely.

I quickly learned that behind many closed doors lies physical and emotional pain. There is sickness and loneliness. I was shown a clear picture of loss of life within life. Many of these people sit under their own dark cloud in secret until forced to open the door and then they either hide that sadness and pain or display it in plain sight.

I promise it’s not all sad. I’ve seen the opposite end of the spectrum, too. Some client’s are content or seemingly happy enough and they all have been grateful and kind. Some still have their companion or at least someone who helps them maintain the “pep” in their step and love in their heart. But many don’t and on this particular day, I realized that we all have someone, until we don’t.

That day, an unfamiliar face opened a familiar door. She was a somber faced woman, dressed in black. “We’ll be cutting down to one meal. Did they tell you?” At first, this didn’t strike me as strange. I had always secretly wondered if the man who lived there had requested two meals just for himself. Today, I was ashamed of my assumption, which usually made me secretly smirk. As strangers, we sometimes do that. We imagine other people’s lives. We wonder. We speculate. But seldom do we put in the effort to seek out the truth or learn a stranger’s story. I wish I had asked. I wish I had asked where his wife was every time I did the drop off. He would have likely told me, “She is sick in bed.” Instead, today his niece told me that she had died. I’d been to her home countless times and never knew she was there.

In that single moment I was harshly reminded of my real duty. It wasn’t just to feed. It was to care. Bringing this newly widowed man food wasn’t going to heal his heartbreak, his sadness or his loneliness but maybe our next conversation or the one after that, would.

Food is important. It’s a basic human need but it’s not the only thing that feeds the body and it won’t feed someone forever. Stranger’s stories are just as important as mine. These bodies and souls were once like me, and one day, I may be just like them. They paved my path, your path. They saw things I may never see in my lifetime – some of which I’ll yearn to, other’s which I pray I’ll never have to.

So the next time you cross paths with an elder, stop to ask them how they are. Ask them where they’re going. But please, ask them where they’ve been. One day, you may be them. They (I) may not tell you they are (I am) sad and lonely and would like to talk but I promise you, they (I) do.

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How many thoughts pass through your mind in a single day? How many times do you find yourself paralyzed by doubt and uncertainty? For me, the answer to both of those questions is, “too many”.

I would categorize myself as a self-doubter, an over-thinker. I have always struggled with indecision. It’s plagued me since I can remember – always fearing that I would make the wrong choice and once I made one, I would torment myself by questioning my decision.

I’ve read that sometimes uncertainty can be beneficial. A certain amount of self-doubt is healthy and can serve us well. It generates questions that force us to review all options, from all angles and this close examination places pressure on us to make the best decision.

But if you’re like me, self-doubt can become debilitating. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize my own disabling, self-scrutinizing patterns. Options and “what if’s” are my greatest adversaries and create a lot of mental resistance. And it’s not just having to choose between A or B, it’s my internal debate of wondering if I’m good enough, smart enough or capable. It’s wondering what others may think. At times, I agonize over the little things, making mountains out of molehills (as my mom would say), putting me at capacity both mentally and physically. It can be exhausting.

I know I am not alone. We all question ourselves from time to time. We all lack confidence, once in a while. We all fill our minds with trivial, negative thoughts. It’s human nature. But we need to remember that our minds and bodies can only handle so much. Our fears, coupled with constantly overflowing thoughts, can stop us from accomplishing what we want. They can and will interfere with our happiness and personal sense of freedom.

When I’m lacking confidence or questioning a decision, my dad always asks, “Did you do your best?” When I’m grumbling to him about being stressed, he asks, “Is stress real?” Those are such simple questions but they are not asked as such. To him, they are rhetorical. He knows I always do my best and in regards to stress, he believes if you cannot touch or see something, it does not exist. One can argue the latter, however his point is that stress does not exist on its own. It’s something we create. Either way, both questions fulfill the purpose of reminding me that my worry and negative thinking, is needless. They are two simple reminders that have a profound effect on me. They provide me with the reassurance I need to clear my mind and move on. In reflecting on this, I wonder…can it be that simple? Is it that simple?

In keeping on the topic of my dad…he gave me a book years ago – The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Miguel Ruiz. As I recall, it was during a time when I was (surprise, surprise) hounded by worry and “stress” (which I have placed in quotes because remember, it does not exist). For a relatively “quick read”, its message is powerful. Ruiz alludes to domestication (learned behavior) being the main detriment to our “journey towards spiritual transcendence” or more simply put, freedom, love and happiness. It sounds complicated but post-read, it will make all the sense in the world. It will encourage you to pause and re-evaluate your habits and priorities in order to live a life devoid of stress, worry, gossip, anger, self-abuse and anything else that holds you back. After I finished the book, I memorized its four principles (supposedly derived from ancient Toltec wisdom) and vowed to apply them to my daily life. It’s obvious, however, (in writing this) that I forget to refer to them from time to time.

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Although up until this point I have lacked in my commitment to them, I strongly believe that practicing these principles can help remove much of the doubt and uncertainty we face on a daily basis. If we use them as a guide to living, it’s possible to achieve the confidence that is required to uncover peace of mind and move forward with conviction.

It’s best to read The Four Agreements in its entirety for extra guidance and context but its four main principles can and should be learned and applied without delay.

I present them here;

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Even when advised against it, we remain our own greatest critic but if we can retrain our minds to minimize our negative thoughts by way of this advice, we will be one step closer to personal freedom and true happiness.

As for me, I think it’s time for a full “re-read”. 😉

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*Relatable song of the moment: Heavy by Linkin Park

Someday.

I’ll briefly preface this by mentioning that this blog is a serious shift of gears from my past entries. I will not be updating you on my DIY projects or home making progress. Instead, I will share a very personal experience in hopes of shining some light on a rarely talked about but painfully tragic, heartbreaking topic.  This is not a cry for attention or request for sympathy but rather a disclosure of a personal experience that is common, yet ironically enough, incredibly lonely.  If you are going through, have gone through or will go through this, know that you are not alone.  If you are someone who has never given this a second thought (or maybe never a thought at all), please recognize its invisible existence.

I’ll start here….

My husband has jokingly told me for years that life is not all sunshine and rainbows. I usually shrug him off with a sarcastic smile and move on.  But now, I definitely see how some people may agree.

Just over a year ago, my husband and I faced the biggest loss of our lives – our first pregnancy ending in miscarriage. Nine weeks in, we lost what in that short period of time had motivated us and driven our days and nights. All I had ever wanted was gone in the blink of an eye.

A couple of months ago, I was finally ready to share that private journey of heartbreak and healing. I was ready to share my very real struggle with forgiveness of what I considered an unfair situation and prove that forgiveness and acceptance, which only comes with time, can lead to healing and did eventually lead to mine.

As someone who has been “emotionally wounded”, the phrase “Time heals all wounds” becomes painfully untrue and implausible. Time will not heal however it can help and eventually, time allowed me to view our loss as much of a miracle as was the conception.

Although everlastingly sad and tragic, it was a necessary part of our growth both as individuals and as a couple. We suffered greatly but survived and nothing was left to do but learn and grow.  Sadly, my fears would always be present but I was not going to allow them to overshadow my dream of becoming a mom.

What prepared me most when deciding to share our story was my anticipation of the following announcement;

“Today, we are simultaneously happy and hesitant to announce that we are expecting our first child in late Spring of 2016. I am happy but would be lying if I did not tell you that I have difficulty feeling happy and was hesitant at the start to even accept the pregnancy. I truthfully will never feel secure in carrying this baby. I will never be able to relax and fully enjoy my pregnancy. I will constantly worry and fear for my unborn child and I refuse to feel guilty for that. I have been hoping that my fears would lessen over time but the memory of loss is strong and looking back is still very difficult. Our first pregnancy began with joy and ended in tears. This pregnancy began with fear and we pray it ends in joy. My husband and I remain cautiously optimistic and are living solely on hope, faith and love because that is all we can do.”

But for the second heart wrenching time in a row, that announcement did not endure time and as I read my statement from above, a tremendous wave of guilt washes over me. Two days before Thanksgiving, we faced the loss of our second child, this time, 11 weeks in and I stood face to face with every fear that plagued me from the start. Lingering loss coupled with new loss, the grief returning now doubled in size. I knew it was not my fault but the pain was immeasurable and I found a strange need to place blame. I’ve since gotten over that.

Unfortunately, we learned that glue only holds for so long and for the past two months, my husband and I have been picking up the pieces of our shattered life for the second time.  But the truth is, we have to move on.  We aren’t given a choice.  And despite how very difficult it is, this second loss does not have to change my story, my dream or my message.

As a little girl, I didn’t dream of my wedding day and I never spent time worrying about what I was going to be when I grew up because I always knew. I was going to be a mom and despite all that has happened, I still want that. Although our hearts are broken we will continue along the path that was chosen for us. As in many situations, the physical healing was hard but came to an end. I count my blessings, not naive to the fact that there are so many unlucky ones in other situations that are forced to live with physical pain that will never heal.  I think of them as I focus on my eternal emotional healing, which will be hard enough. If I’m being honest, some days I don’t want to get out of bed. Some days I cry so much, I can’t see. But yesterday, I only teared up once and one day soon, I will not cry. I have made a choice to do my best to carry on. My goal is to focus on what has gone right in my life and each time I do, a bit of hope returns.

I am grateful for many things – my many saving graces including the doctors and nurses who took such great care of me. The compassion they demonstrated was truly heartwarming and reminds me that I am one of the lucky ones. They gave me back peace of mind and most importantly, they kept me healthy.

I am grateful for my husband who stayed by my side and made my healing his priority. I only hope his caring for me, helped lead to the start of his own healing. Without his love and support, I could not go on. I ask husbands to please be supportive of your wives even when you admittedly don’t understand the extent of their grief. Please realize that it’s not over when it’s over. And wives, your husbands are grieving too. Be kind to each other.

Anyone’s story can change in an instant. There are others who have walked our walk or who will walk the same path that we have been taken down. I’m writing this so they feel accompanied on that journey. There’s a strength that comes from sharing and I want nothing more than for my strength in moving on, to inspire others. Don’t be afraid to share your story, no matter what it is. Everyone is plagued by something different and I’m a true believer that as humans, we were not created to go it alone. Sometimes, things are just too big and too scary to face in silence.

I am grateful for family and friends who act as my daily reminders that happiness once was alive and well and is just around the corner. As corny as it sounds, I am grateful for online communities that have allowed me to read stories of so many others and provided me with a platform to share, discuss, comfort and acknowledge. It is a unique pain, a unique sadness and a very lonely time, so we must rely on others to keep us hopeful.  In the same vein, there will be times when people will say the wrong things, despite their good intentions. Don’t be hurt by that.  I read somewhere that “people only understand from the level of their perception” and it makes so much sense to me now. Be kind and tolerant of that. Some people will never say anything. Lack of acknowledgement can hurt but don’t let it.

People will be having babies and announcing pregnancies all around you.  It arouses anger (sometimes embarrassing, uncontrollable rage) anxiety, bad memories and will bring your heartache all the way back up to the surface. But that’s life and I for one, would never wish my situation upon anyone else.  Be happy for them because you would want them to be happy for you.

Despite my unintentional guidance above, I know that advice is not what a grieving person really needs. Opinions, no matter how well-intentioned or innocent, don’t help. Experiencing this loss has allowed me to be empathetic towards others going through the same thing and in feeling that, I feel accompanied.  I have found simple acknowledgement, love, support and companionship to be key and isolation and silence to be great enemies. Talking, sharing and learning from countless women who have experienced pregnancy loss has made me stronger. They are the ones who are capable of understanding the situation and providing the love and support that I need. They have shown me strength in numbers and reiterated (even if only to reassure themselves) that self blame is senseless. Whether the reason is known or forever remains unknown, it is never your fault.

I don’t believe that “Everything happens for a reason.” nor do I believe “Time heals all wounds”. God did not intentionally hurt me and time won’t make this go away. Instead of forcing myself to believe those precepts, I will focus on the significant process of grieving and hope that through that, I will grow and be okay.

In my own life, I vow to pick up the pieces at my own pace. I will grieve and heal as only I know how. I will be good to myself. I will always miss the future I was supposed to have but I’ll hold tight to the plans I had made. Life may not be all sunshine and rainbows but you can’t have the rainbow without the rain and the sun always finds a way to break through the clouds. I’ll allow myself to see that. I will wait for that rainbow.

“It’s about living life with such strength and emotion. And knowing that waves are just part of the ocean.”

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