Guest Post: Coffee + Crumbs

One of the first sites I started following when I began blogging was Coffee + Crumbs. I loved the heart-wrenching, honest, hit-you-in-the-feels posts written by some pretty amazing moms.

Despite my adoration for the site, I never felt like my writing was a good fit — until one day when I had an encounter at Target with a young mom. I did something I swore I would never do, something I despised when it happened to me.

In the middle of an epic tantrum of her two-year old, I told another mother she will miss these times one day.

I hope you’ll consider reading my piece “The Truth Is, You Will.” I think many of you will relate to both sides of the story.

Thanks for your continued support!

 

 

My Un-Resolution for 2016

I loved this New Year’s Post I wrote last year entitled Why I Told My New Year’s Resolutions to Suck It! I had three goals for 2014, and I attacked them with the ferocity of a lioness protecting her cubs.

My goals were simple. I focused on what made me happy — I mean really happy — and decided to do more of that. And I realized a New Year wasn’t about changing me — losing five pounds or quitting sugar or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It was about planning for what I wanted to do more of in the upcoming year.

It was so simple.

  • Focus on experiences with my family.
  • Spend time with friends — no matter where they live.
  • Write more.

And I killed it. I accomplished these goals and became a better person, parent and writer because of it.

2015, not so much.

Most of this past year centered on two things: being sick or trying to get back to my normal after being sick.

In March, I contracted a rare, parasitic eye disease that permanently altered my vision. For several months, I was confined to my bedroom due to severe light sensitivity and pain associated with corneal swelling.  I quit my freelancing gigs and resigned from my volunteer positions. My mother moved in with my family since I was too weak to care for my three daughters.

In July, I began feeling better, but it was still several months before I completed my pharmaceutical regimen and could drive again. Two days before Thanksgiving, I found out that a special gas-permeable contact lens could help restore my vision, almost to its original state. After several fittings, I am scheduled to pick up my permanent lens on New Year’s Eve. It is still an arduous process since the scarring on my cornea makes it difficult for the lens to stay on my eye, but the potential for sight restoration is within my grasp.

I experienced the most beautiful of highs in 2015 — the love and support from family, friends and a community that embraced us as one of their own. The positive energy carried my tired soul, and I will never forget the help and encouragement I received.

I also absorbed the depths of lows that still haunt me —  levels of pain I did not know existed, feelings of isolation and guilt for not being there for my girls. I struggled with finding gratitude.  I combated depression on a daily basis, and while it won several battles, I will win the war.

What I hate the most, however, is I spent a good portion of the year wishing it away. Wishing the pain was over, wishing I no longer needed medicine, wishing I could restore the vision in my eye. Each and every time something bad happened, I blamed it on the year.

We put my dog down, and it was because this year sucked. House repairs were because 2015 just wasn’t my year. I backed into my husband’s car….well, of course I was blaming that on my bad luck year.

I just wanted to feel like myself again, and the harder I tried, the worse things went for me. I wanted to go back to the way things were before I was ill.

And that’s when it hit me. I will never be the same person I was in 2014, because 2015 changed me. It changed me hard.

I now understand what it’s like to miss out on important events with my family and friends, and I intend to take advantage of every opportunity I can. This year I will focus on experiences with my family.

I understand pain and depression and fear, and instead of falling victim to it, I want to help others when facing a similar situation. I will spend more quality time with friends, particularly in their time of need.

I understand fighting a rare disease and the importance of research and education, so instead of asking why me, I want to be a conduit of information for these issues. I will write more.

I no longer want to go back to my normal. I want to be better. And the only way to do that is to do more of what I love.

So, my New Year’s resolutions aren’t really so new after all. In fact, they aren’t even resolutions. It’s my blueprint for enjoying 2016.

Because life is for living. And my only New Year’s resolution is to live it.

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Ghosts of Christmas Visit

I see dead people.

Okay, I totally don’t see dead people. But I often feel like people from my past — people that are no longer on this Earth — are trying to tell me something.

Recently, it’s been my dad. Sure, there are a million reasons to think about him in December. My parent’s anniversary, his birthday, Christmas, the fact that he passed away on New Year’s Day eleven years ago.

But it’s not like I think about him in passing. He is on my brain all the time lately. I cannot get him out of my head.

So, I thought he may want me to share this story. Humor me for a second.

Nearly eight Christmases ago, I went over the top. I baked a gazillion cookies, bought every one too many presents and planned an extravagant holiday meal. We were hosting my in-laws and my sister-in-law and her new boyfriend at our new home, and my inner Martha Stewart was coming out like a scene out of the movie Aliens.

Well, fate had a different idea. My three toddler daughters brought home the stomach flu as a gift from their preschool. Then I got it. Then we took every one else down with us. My house smelled like a horror movie with sick oozing out of its walls. No one could eat the expensive roast I bought or the trifle I painstakingly made. We couldn’t even eat the fancy crackers I purchased.

The day after Christmas — while most of my guests were still attempting to fight off this bug — I walked down the stairs early in the morning determined to enjoy what little we had left of this holiday. That’s when I saw our Christmas tree on its side lying in the middle of our floor like a wounded soldier. I rushed over to check it and the first thing I saw was a shattered University of Florida ornament that my dad gave me in college.

As my husband and I lifted the tree, we saw the second casualty. A cheesy “Our First Christmas” Hallmark ornament split in half. It wouldn’t have been so upsetting, except it was also from my dad, one of the first gifts my husband and I received after our marriage.

I was fit to be tied. Devastated that the only two ornaments lost were from my dad. The Karma Gods had spoken and my perfect Christmas was ruined. I was done with the holidays.

I decided I had enough and in tears, started putting away ornaments. By 4 p.m. every shred of Christmas was gone inside our house. As I trudged up to the attic for what seemed like the hundredth time, I threw a very old suitcase to the side. It was from my mom’s old house, and I made a mental note to get rid of it.

Just as I turned to stack another box, a piece of plastic caught my eye in the dimly lit room. That’s when I saw it.

I picked up a small rectangular luggage tag with a New York City address on it from the defunct Eastern Airlines. I held my breath when I saw it was my dad’s suitcase from about thirty years ago.

I was dumbfounded. We moved that luggage so many times. Four different houses and many different rooms. It has been thrown around and used and never once did we come across that imprinted piece of plastic.

When I brought it to show my husband, he suggested I use it as a Christmas tree ornament, to replace the ones we lost. It turned the entire experience around for me and the holiday was no longer tainted, but a great story.

Unfortunately, I never remembered where I put that tag. I’ve looked and looked, but we have again since moved and I thought all was lost.

Until last week when I cleaned out a cupboard of my dining room hutch. In between a stack of cocktail napkins and fancy toothpicks I found my dad’s luggage tag, again.

As I hung it up on my tree I felt a weight lifted off my chest. Yet again, I forgot the reason for the season. I have been letting all my responsibilities, my self-imposed shackles of stress, get in the way of what is really important about the holidays. I didn’t remember that my family already has everything we need to have a perfect Christmas without ever opening one gift.

And I have this luggage tag, which travelled all across the globe with my father. The perfect reminder of my dad telling me from wherever he is to enjoy Christmas.

In this crazy world, may we all find a hidden treasure to enjoy the season just a little bit more this year.

All I ask is to make sure you look.

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Ashes and Airport Security

“Alright, Dad. Let’s do this,” I muttered under my breath as I gingerly placed the heavy cardboard box in my carry-on bag.

I quickly checked underneath my childhood bed for anything I may have left behind, and then completed my standard mental checklist before departing for the airport.

Eyeglasses and wallet, check.

Cell phone and computer, check.

My father’s cremains, check.

Seven days passed since I received the phone call on New Year’s Day. “Dad died,” my brother’s said in a cracked voice. It was not a surprise, but hearing the words sent a shock through my body.

“Leave it to Dad to delay dying until the first of the year just to get that last tax break,” I responded, deflecting the pain I felt in my heart. My father spent the last three weeks in Hospice care, and finally succumbed to the grapefruit-sized tumor that infiltrated his nicotine-filled lungs.

The next week was a whirlwind of funeral arrangements, paperwork, and purging. My mother believed the best way to get through a difficult time was to stay busy, so she attacked the clutter accumulated after three years of tending to my cancer-stricken dad with the same determination she used caring for him. The days passed quickly planning for funeral services and visitors, returning hospital equipment, clearing out closets and wrapping up his estate.

In between, we reminisced and divvied up special items my dad held dear to his heart. My sister took the vintage records, my brother staked claim to the monster movie collection, and I scored the broken pinball machine. We met with the probate attorney and sold his car, a gigantic 1984 Grand Marquis that my mom couldn’t back out of the driveway. We accomplished so much each day that there was never a second alone, so there was never a moment to shed a tear.

My last task was to bring my father back to Connecticut to spread his ashes near the property of our childhood home. According to him, it was the place where he had the happiest memories. Although we had not lived there for 15 years, I promised my dad that I would make it happen, despite fearing the new owners would call the police thinking I was spreading Anthrax.

Before zipping my carry on, I placed a copy of my dad’s death certificate alongside the Taylor & Sons Funeral Home box. “Just show them this letter before you pass through security,” the funeral director solemnly told me. “You’ll need to run it through the X-ray and they may do special testing on it for security purposes. They’ll know what to do.”

“Well, we are in Florida. I imagine this happens all the time,” I joked as I thought again about the irony. A man who smoked for fifty years literally reduced to ashes.

I drove alone to the airport and for the first time felt the soggy weight of my heart as I tried to distract myself by creating a to-do list for the week’s work I missed. Stepping into the long security line, I struggled controlling the anxiety that suddenly crept into my body, causing my hands to tremble. “Deep breaths,” I chanted to myself as I watched the slew of elderly grandparents patiently wait for loved ones to walk through the Arrivals gate.

My heart beat in my ears as I stepped up to the conveyor belt. I kicked off my leather sandals and placed them in the gray bin. I lifted my laptop out, and then my quart sized Ziploc filled with trial-sized toothpaste, makeup, and eye drops.

The only thing remaining was the carton holding my dad. A man larger than life reduced to six pounds of dust.

I felt the panic rising in my chest as I stared into the depth of my luggage. A flood of memories rushed my brain, as I tried to wrap my head around a world without my father in it. There would be no more letters in the mail with a $10 bill and a newspaper clipping of a salmon recipe. No more phone calls filled with off-color jokes or political debates. No more advice about insurance premiums, fights with my husband or job decisions.

I jumped when a businessman placed his hand on my shoulder to let me know it was my turn.

As my denial went into over-drive, I deliberately closed my bag, placed it on the moving black belt and walked through the metal detector without a beep. As I hastily grabbed my items from the tray, I could see the security screener out of the corner of my eye staring at what must be my father in the X-ray machine.

The sweat was beading on my forehead when a large man in a royal blue shirt approached me. I envisioned him interrogating me about the dangerous materials in my Vera Bradley luggage, placing my name on the FBI’s “Watch List” of criminals no longer allowed to travel by plane. I briefly considered running out of the airport, anything to get away from discussing what was in that box.

“Miss, can you step over here please,” he said with his arm stretched out to the right. My face turned hot as I gathered up my things and followed him barefoot to behind the screening area.  He leaned in and whispered, “Are these cremains in the box?”

I hung my head down and for the first time since hearing those dreaded words, I wept. Somehow I landed on a hard plastic chair, and a wad of kleenex magically appeared in my hand as the tears stained my face. “Yes,” I told him in between heavy heaves. “Yes, my dad. My dad is gone.”

“I am going to take it right over there and test for any flammable materials per TSA regulations. You may watch from here as you catch your breath,” he said, ending with a close-lipped smile. It clearly was not his first time seeing someone ugly cry in the middle of the airport.

A few moments later, I tried to sniffle back the emotion that comes with losing a parent. As he handed my dad back to me, I met his eyes and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I just couldn’t get the words out.”

“It will get easier,” he said as he touched a gloved hand to my arm.

I knew he wasn’t talking about getting through airport security.

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