I love birthdays, probably because I like celebrations. I like carefully chosen presents and special dinners. Balloons and cake. But mostly I love that birthdays remind us that people we love shouldn’t be taken for granted, and so we celebrate that they’ve been with us another year.
Today is Patrick’s birthday, and to him, birthdays are just another day. He couldn’t care less about a celebration. In fact, one year he insisted that all he wanted was to be left alone to work on his house. So like any good girlfriend, I ignored him and showed up at his door with a present and a slice of cake. It took a lot of will power not to bring a balloon, but I didn’t want to push my luck. After all, I had promised not to do anything.
This year, regardless of his party pooper attitude, I celebrate the fact that he’s been in my life another year. Yes, he’s a bit of a curmudgeon. Yes, he’s often antisocial and snarky. But he’s also one of the best people I know. Generous. Intelligent. Fun. He makes me laugh with his sarcasm and wit. He makes me feel safe with his dedication and honesty. He’s been accepting of my quirks, my horde of shoes (most of the time), my crazy family, and my general silliness. And when I’m feeling my lowest, he’s supportive and compassionate; I know that he always has my back.
Our life together may be low key, but it’s never dull. He’s challenging, interesting, competitive, and curious. Sometimes he pushes my buttons, but he also pushes me to grow. I know I’m a better person with him. So today, I’m extra thankful that I can celebrate another year, and I hope there’s many, many more birthdays to come.
Merry Christmas! I hope yours was as joyous as mine. I spent it with my family, doing what we do best–joking around, playing games, and eating. I’m thankful for the generous spirit we had at my mom’s house, and it wasn’t just the pile of presents that were exchanged. Although that was impressive. In fact, even though we exchanged names so we didn’t have to buy for everyone, my oldest sister gave us each bracelets and my younger sister gave us a heart paperweight with “sister” on it and a framed poem she had written. I’m blessed to be part of a family that really enjoys being together and giving to each other. Sometimes the giving is in the form of teasing, especially when we are playing cards. But it’s all in good fun and we know it. At the end of the day, we pitch in to help clean up or carry things to cars or give hugs. I’m grateful we were able to spend Christmas together this year. I know it won’t always be possible.
One of my sisters isn’t coming to Christmas this year. And I’m kind of relieved. See, all four of my sisters and I decided we’d go to my mom’s house for Christmas. Laura’s husband is in Afghanistan, so she’s coming with her two kids and maybe two dogs. Tammy lives by my mom, so her whole family will be there. My younger sister and her husband are flying in from Las Vegas. (People actually live in Las Vegas. It’s weird.) I’m going with my two kids and my dog. And Brenda was initially coming up from Florida with her two kids. Her husband was going to be working. It was going to be a great Christmas because we would all be together which rarely happens. Until Brenda’s husband lost his job and found another in Texas and then he was going to come up too since he would have a break before he started working. And that’s when I stopped looking forward to our big family get together.
See, Brenda’s husband is an abuser. I’m no longer softening it. They’ve been married for years and he’s progressively gotten worse. Or maybe not because it’s hard to tell what the real truth is anymore. For years I was a sounding board for my sister’s complaints…starting with his controlling behavior. His accusations. His anger and threats. The first time she told me he hit her, she made excuses for him. His drinking hard alcohol, which he normally doesn’t do. His stress. His whatever. I told her then she should get out, but he apologized and promised and for a while, things were better. She asked me not to say anything. The next time he hit her it was worse–worse threats, worse anger. She hid outside in the bushes at their house while he searched for her, yelling to her that he was going to kill her. Finally pushing her into the living room furniture, breaking a table. Still she stayed. The day she called and told me that he had been arrested, I was grocery shopping. I listened without talking while she described how he had tried to kill her, really meaning it this time. He had ripped off her underwear and choked her with it. She had a burn mark across her throat because of it. I went home, shut myself in the bathroom, and cried. And then I called my older sister and told her everything. Said I planned to go to Florida to get her. We told my parents and made a plan. But Brenda found out and begged us not to come because this was finally his wake up call. He was going to get help and things would be better. That was a couple of years ago, and things aren’t better. They’re just different. Four months ago she called because she found out about his cheating. She finally was going to make a change. I was ready once again to do whatever I could to help her out. Then three days later, after he begged and cried and made all the same promises, she decided to stay.
I know my sister needs help. Her kids need help. My brother-in-law needs help. But at this point, I don’t care about him. I don’t like him. I don’t respect him in the least. I told Brenda I couldn’t pretend to be happy to see him. I told my mom that I was afraid I’d say something at Christmas and makes things worse for my sister. And maybe I don’t have the right, but I’m angry. I’m angry at my sister. I’m angry that she continues to stay and that she doesn’t see her own worth and that she’s doesn’t acknowledge how it’s affecting her kids. I’m angry that I keep trying to help and she won’t let me. I don’t agree with her choice to stay. I don’t agree that instead of coming for Christmas, they are driving to Texas to stay in a hotel because they sold their house and haven’t found a new one yet. I find it all so unbelievably unbelievable. But I also know that statistics say it takes at least 7 attempts before someone actually leaves an abusive situation. She’s trapped in something that is too hard for her to get out of right now. But when she does, I will, of course, be there. My anger isn’t blame, it’s just anger. Relationships shouldn’t be that way. My once independent sister is someone I don’t really know anymore. My nieces will have scars from living in an abusive family that even they don’t understand. It shouldn’t be. So, selfishly, I’m not-so-secretly glad that I won’t see my brother-in-law next week. But I’d trade the holiday to bring my sister home.
When I moved into my house, I got an old school chalkboard to hang in my kitchen. I envisioned it as a way for my kids and me to make grocery lists or leave each other messages, like where we are if we’re gone. Instead it quickly turned into a place for silliness.
I love how my kids don’t miss a sarcastic beat. Like when a math friend used it for a math lesson.
Today I found this…it makes me laugh. My kids are clever and creative. I’m so thankful for the fun we have every day in these small ways.
You may recognize the first lines of “The Way of the World” by poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox: Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone. It’s true that it’s easy to have friends around you when things are going well; most people can handle the good days.
I’ve been blessed with a large, close family. Regardless of the moments we’ve gotten angry or frustrated with each other, when it comes right down to it, we are there for each other. And we’ve had times over the years when that’s been proven. Times when one or another of us has dropped everything and gone to be with the other. Not every family is that way. I’m lucky mine is.
But I’m also lucky to have friends I feel the same way about, especially since my family is so scattered. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had numerous people extend their condolences over the loss of my father. I’ve gotten cards from unexpected people. Hugs from colleagues. A plant delivered to my house. But what’s touched me most is that I’ve also had several close friends who checked in with me daily, sometimes several times a day. Grief manifests itself in strange ways. I’m not usually an outwardly emotional person. I don’t like to cry in public. I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I’m much more comfortable being the one other people can lean on. But I’ve found myself close to tears periodically with random triggers. A song, a card, a memory. While I feel like I’m doing ok, I know that the grieving process isn’t over. Death has a way of making you reflect not just on the life of the person lost, but on your own life. For me, it’s reminded me of the brevity of our days and reinforced my desire to live a meaningful life. I’m sure this reflection is part of the process, but it also adds another emotional layer to an already stressful event. And I know that for other people, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do for someone during this time. Therefore, I’m so grateful to have people in my life who look beyond my I’m ok and check on me anyway. It means more to me than they probably realized.
My dad died today. My sisters and mom and I sat by his bedside all night last night, listening to his labored breathing, holding our own breath every time he stopped too long between gasps. He never woke up. So we chatted amongst ourselves and cried intermittently and finally, around 2 am, requested pillows and blankets and tried to sleep on wooden folding chairs. There’s something exhausting and guilty-feeling about waiting for death. The constant wondering if the next moment is going to be the last one together. Just after 5 am, when it was just my mom awake by his side, my dad simply stopped breathing. My mom said she had just told him he didn’t have to hold on any longer. He could go, and so he did.
I have to admit that when I first got the call yesterday that my dad had taken a turn for the worse and maybe wouldn’t survive the day, I didn’t want to go back to the hospital. It wasn’t that I had just made the three-hour drive back home, it was that I didn’t really want to face it. I wasn’t sure I had the energy or the strength to watch my dad die. But then I knew that whatever I felt didn’t matter. What was real was that the man who spent his life taking care of me and my sisters and my mom would be gone within hours, and I had the privilege to be there by his side. No matter how much it would hurt to see, this was a gift, to say a final goodbye.
I’m thankful my dad was a Christian. He believed that he was headed to a better place and had absolutely no fear of death. I know that made his final days easier for him. And I’m sure he was looking forward to seeing the many people he had lost in his almost 67 years: his own dad who died too early in his 30’s, his mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s, his brothers, his son, his best friend. It must have comforted my mom also, allowing her the strength to tell him to go to the others she believed were waiting for him.
The world lost a wonderful man today. A man with a hearty laugh and a deep love for people and animals and the Lord. A man of strength and honor and commitment. A man who loved my mother and her children as his own. He was my stepfather, but I never thought of him that way. To me he was always my dad. I’m thankful he entered my life so long ago. And I’m thankful I was there when he left so peacefully this morning.
It’s not surprising how the end of someone’s life brings family together. In the last few days, I’ve been able to see my aunts and a cousin whom I rarely see anymore. Not because we don’t want to see each other, but because we don’t live close and it’s difficult. I’ve also gotten a chance to see my sisters who are scattered across the country. We’ve had a chance to reminisce a little and catch up. I’m thankful for the closeness we share, even across the miles that usually separate us. When someone you love is getting close to leaving this world, the important things tend to emerge. I’ve been reminded once again that life is short and death is the only certainty. What we do on our way to the end is the important thing. Live while you can. Love gently but fiercely; live passionately but with dignity; forgive and move on. In the end we only have each other.