I subscribe to Spotify. A long time ago I realized I was spending more than $9.99 a month to download music and would save a metric ton of money if I just paid a monthly fee instead. As with any other music platform/app these days you can create your own playlists. I have many. They are really a representation of my life and the moments that have impacted me the most. A mosaic of myself. You can look at my playlists and see every pivot my life has ever taken. One playlist is just a amalgamation of songs I randomly hear and love in that moment. Some playlists are happy and upbeat. Some are melancholy and languishing. One is titled Mom and it contains every song that reminds me of her or songs that she loved. And one is titled Dad. Same content as moms.
I often wonder if people ever wonder if I still miss him since the loss I speak of more publicly is the loss of my mom. The truth of that is a little more complicated than yes, because yes, of course I miss him. It is no secret that I was closer to my mom. Mom and I had a very different relationship than I ever had with my dad. Towards the end of his life I believe we had finally made peace with one another but our relationship journey looked quite like topography. There were many hills and valleys. Many ups and downs.
My father died believing I was team mom after their divorce. The truth was I was team “I just want my parents to be happy.” I knew 20 years before their divorce that it should have happened and if you ask my sister she will tell you we had many “family meetings” where I began my “Dr. Phil” journey of coaching. Where I made us all sit down and talk about it. Every single one of them hated these meetings. No wonder it took me forever to realize it was my life calling. My initial audience did not provide me good feedback. Communication was vital to me even way back then. Obviously I didn’t Dr Phil them enough and they got divorced anyway. What I witnessed afterwards was my moms health drastically improve and my father crumble to the floor in a giant heap physically and metaphorically. I had never seen my father do that. He was a big guy. Larger than life really. To witness the destruction and devastation of this man was something I carry very quietly with me still to this day. As hard as it was to watch, I could not reconcile with him that he was equally responsible for the failure of the marriage. His unwillingness to let it go and his public display of hatred for my mom was a large part of why I closed my bar. A business I had dreamt about since the very two people who were divorcing had taken me and plopped me at one to have my first kitty cocktail. This was a pivotal moment for us both. He was one of just a couple people I had actually kicked out of my bar. Those aren’t memories I have very often anymore because they suck. Shortly before his passing he had finally turned the page and was ready to get on with his life. It was the happiest I had seen him in a long time. I will never understand why he had to leave the stage in the middle of his song. Maybe I never will.
My fathers death was only the second person I had lost who I was that close to. We watched cancer take my mom’s mom. As awful as it was, we had time to say goodbye. My dad just went to sleep. I know now how lucky he was but at the time it felt like we were robbed. I will never forget the call from my sister. She was not even speaking legible words. I didn’t know in that moment that it would not just be his unexpected passing that would drastically alter the course of my life but it would be the catastrophic fallout that succeeded.
That chapter of my life was one of the hardest I have ever experienced. And it was exponentially harder for my sister who was gifted with handling his estate. Without going into every single solitary detail, his passing eventually would cost an entire section of my life. Half of what made me whole. I handled his passing and what followed as horribly as you can imagine and became very good friends with whiskey. (Which I still love by the way, but we have a much better relationship these days.) There was a moment shortly after he passed where he was referred, by someone who should have loved him unconditionally, as a renter. Nothing more than a tenet. It was in that moment that I pulled up every single solitary root that had ever been planted there. And I never looked back. I still grieve that. And I will forever.
If you have ever wondered why I don’t talk about my dad or the grief I experience from his passing I think I can chalk most of it up to the memories it conjures for me. They are muddy. Murky. Not unlike the river he used to farm near. I hated being in it because I couldn’t see the bottom. Couldn’t see what was around me. Couldn’t see where I was going. Sometimes that is what thoughts of him do to me. Make me feel confused and uncertain. I do also have good memories but his death was the death of so much more for me, and it is still to this day, 10 years later, a very painful thing to think about.
There are moments I absolutely loathe that we speak of either of them in the past tense. Mom would have loved this. Dad would have loved that. There are days I am drawn like the worlds strongest magnet to wear something of his. There are days I look in the mirror and see only him even though I have been told my whole life how much I looked like my mom. There are days I remember the early mornings he would let me go fishing with him as long as I was quiet. The day I finally took the boat fishing even though he swore I couldn’t handle it. Snowmobile racing. Dirt bike riding. How excited he used to get when I would come home from Minnesota. How he would purposely drive his truck sideways on the levy because he knew it frightened me. Riding in the grain truck and getting DQ after the delivery. The first glass of whiskey he gave me to shut my cough up. Finding him laughing hysterically having fallen in the shower from too much whiskey himself at the fire with his boys. His Tetris like packing skills to get 5 people in van for 2 weeks. His love of parties and socializing. The way he would light up during his 4-wheeling weekends. The little packs of peppermint gum he would snag for us from one of the feed salesman. How he would only let us play in the empty grain wagons, because well we would suffocate to death if it was full of corn. The way he begrudgingly filled moms finch feeders even though all the bird food he was buying was going to cause us to go broke. The excitement in his eyes when we hosted an adult kickball game in our yard for St Jude which a version of that is still happening today. The first time he let me use his zero turn mower. How you mow in circles around trees Tiffany. I love the inside of cake and the outside of brownies because of him. He preferred them with powdered sugar NOT FROSTING. We shared eggs. He hated the whites, I hated the yolks. More or less, if I spend enough time I can think of the beautiful fun things. But those are not the ones that immediately come to the surface. I have to dive for those. I know they are always there and they always will be, I just don’t have immediate access to them.
Today is his birthday. He is 76. He would have wanted yellow cake with chocolate frosting. He loved Applebee’s. He loved Runts. And Junior Mints. And Mr. Goodbar. And Twinkies and Ding Dongs. And he drank Miller 64’s because someone told him it was healthier. He loved super sugar crisp. The one with the bear. NOT honey smacks. NOT the box with the frog. Kristina tells me from time to time that I am very set in my ways. That I have to have certain things. That I am very brand specific. This comes directly from him. I have his extremely short fuse. I can be an asshole, just like he was. The older I get, the more I see him in myself actually. That is not all good. It is not all bad either.
It is easier to talk about mom. It is that simple. Her death was no less painful. Honestly I don’t know which one I would chose. The slow dimming of her light or the abrupt power outage of his. I just know I chose a different path to reconcile his and while I have no regrets, I do wish I could have handled it better. In many ways. I miss him everyday. I miss them both everyday. I am the best and worst parts of both of them. I will carry that forever. I do know that the chapter I am currently in, the best one of my entire life, is due in part because they are both not here. Seems ridiculous to say that but entirely true. And I know they are both proud of me in different ways. Just as I have loved them both and grieved them both in different ways.
Happy Birthday Dad. I bet cake in heaven is amazing. I love and miss you. Forwards and backwards.
I realized the other day that if heaven had visiting hours I would be in a real predicament.
I realized this because there is a song literally called Visiting Hours by Ed Sheeran and it played randomly from my playlist on two separate occasions within a couple days of each other. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe everything happens for a reason. So naturally, I believed my Mom was trying to tell me that she wished she could see me. But, why was that my assumption? Maybe it was Dad? Maybe it was Grandma Rosie? Grandpa Cliff? Grandma Louise? My cousin Molly? My friend Dana? And then I naturally began doing what our brains are so brilliant at doing. I created the rest of the story. A story about something my mind logically knows will never happen because it is not physically or humanly possible.
Who would I pick for the first visit?
Would the rest of them be mad if it was not them?
Is it really just a couple hours you have to visit?
What does the room look like?
Will I see God? Or Jesus?
Does it look like a hospital waiting room?
Why am I picturing something sterile and bright?
Will other family members or friends who have passed be there and wave?
What if I pick someone and when I leave they say that was your one and only visit?
What would I say to whoever I picked?
It would be easier if they picked us right? Just tell me who wants to see me. What if I am a disappointment?
What if someone else already picked them and they are too tired to talk much?
What do I need to hear from them that will make the fact that they are gone be OK?
Would I want to bring them back? Would I ask stupid questions?
Do you see where I am going with this? I took a message. That I assumed was from my Mom because other things happened earlier that made me think of her. Either way, I took a message and then I literally changed the story in my mind and turned what was a simple, beautiful thought, into something that caused great stress, discomfort and turmoil. Why? Because that is how our brains work. We are the only species on the planet that can think about something that has already happened and drive ourselves crazy about it and also simultaneously think about something that has NOT happened and create an entire story about it. It is what anxiety looks like. I created my own anxiety. Once I got done with the thousand questions, it occurred to me that heaven does not in fact, have visiting hours and I just spent an hour spinning myself out about it.
When was the last time you created a story? We are really good at it so probably more recently than you realize. We are natural storytellers. It is in our DNA. Stories are how we organize our internal worlds. Next time you are stuck in traffic or waiting for your child to get out of practice or in a meeting, pay attention to the stories your mind is telling you. Could be your grocery list, dinner plans, an article you read. Who knows, but our minds are constantly telling them. An incessant stream of commentary.
The best way to free yourself from this incessant chatter is to step back and view it objectively. Just appear like someone there is talking to you. Don’t think about it; just notice it. This is hard to do if the stories are coming fast and furiously and if we are stressed, taxed, etc. The most effective strategy for working with your personal stories or readjusting your mindset is to observe your thoughts objectively, and to refrain from getting too attached to them. Most importantly it is essential to remember that you are not your story and that it does not define you.
In my story for example, there was not a wrong choice I could have made because I would have been delighted to have seen any of them. And the rest of the story I told myself or the questions I asked? I am a questioner. It is my tendency. It is in my DNA to ask all of those questions. But when I stopped and paused and stepped back and looked at the story as a whole the real underlying question I had was if heaven really did have visiting hours, if this was a real thing, who do I need to see the most? Who did I want to see walking through that door? The answer surprised even me.
Very few people know what I am about to share. It will remain that way unless you have chosen to read this. Not because it is a secret or that I purposely kept it one, but because I didn’t know what to do with the information and needed to spend a very long time processing it. I am not entirely sure why I am sharing it now other than there has been this weird internal push to do so. Almost like a voice saying, “if you would just get this part out of your way, you can move forward.” Which is weird because I feel like I was moving forward.
At the end of 2019 I got very sick. A lot of people did. We probably had Covid before it was believed to have arrived in the US. You were hearing about it happening overseas and apparently it didn’t get here until February of 2020 but whatever. I had never been as sick as I was that fall/early winter. Multiple viruses at one time. Enough that my Dr was seriously concerned about my body’s ability to get through them. She ran some tests and I can remember exactly where I was when they called to tell me the results. Sitting at work. I answered my cell phone which I shouldn’t have because well, I was at work, but I knew it was her office calling. The nurse said one sentence and it completely devastated me. You have the same thing wrong with your immune system that your Mom has. It was not the immune system comment that shocked me, I have been dealing with autoimmune issues since I was 7. The comment that shocked me was “the same thing wrong with your system that your mom has.” In simplest terms my body (blood) does not produce antibodies needed to fight infections/bacterias or viruses. This happens for a lot of reasons, the best we can speculate at this time for me is that it was genetic. I knew this news would crush my Mom who I knew would blame herself. I also knew that at the time I learned this she was in the hospital fighting for her own life. What I didn’t know is that her life would end just a few short weeks after learning this. I did tell her what we found out, but honestly at this point she was too weak to put up much of a fight about it or beat herself up too much. Her little body was already throwing in the towel. My very first thought was my God, is this what is going to happen to me?
I immediately called Kristina who came right to my office and held me. Said we would figure it out. We would do whatever it took, go to whatever lengths necessary. There were two co-workers who immediately learned this news as well, I will never forget their compassion. Thank you Kelsey V and Tara C. I called my Sister who handles bad news almost the same as good news but she simply said one thing to me. “You are not Mom.” She knew that my brain immediately went to what was happening with our mother.
My Dr sent me to the Illinois Cancer Center as this is considered a blood disorder, to begin receiving transfusions. That was one of the biggest wastes of time in my life. The oncologist basically didn’t want to deal with me because I didn’t have cancer and she also said my levels were not low enough for her to deal with me needing to receive transfusions. She recommended I see an immunologist. I won’t post her name because she could be the Dr of someone I know and while I thought she was one of the most heartless uninterested physicians I had ever encountered, that is not the point of the story. It was a horrible experience and one I think back to often. Onward I went to the only place that has ever provided answers or at least options if there were no answers, the Mayo Clinic.
Sadly, we live in a world where if you are lucky enough to have insurance, that company still dictates your care. What we learned at Mayo was simply yes, my body is not correctly producing these antibodies but insurance will not pay for the transfusions unless it stays below a certain level for consistent periods of time. In easier to understand terms, the best level I have had in years was 4 points above the insurance line and because it rose above the line they will not cover the transfusions. While I know I would feel a million times better if I could get a transfusion, I was less concerned about this news as I was that there was very little I could do on my own to increase the levels. They are what they are.
The day that we found out that I basically had to live this way and to do the best I can to take care of my body, was the same exact day my mom agreed to go into hospice. She was done fighting. She was done with tests. She was done with tubes, drugs, Drs, hospitals all of it. We were sitting in a hotel room in Rochester, Minnesota when my mom decided enough was enough. The parallels were overwhelming. I honestly didn’t know what any of it meant. I just knew I absolutely positively hated my body. And I clearly had no clue that my mom’s decision meant in just a few short weeks she would be gone. I had stupidly believed that she would “get better” getting off all of the drugs.
Then Covid happened. And I shit you not, I spent 2 years healthier than I have ever been in my life. Part of it was that we were sent home to work remotely. That was weird and awkward at first but life saving really. Mom passed away about two weeks after Illinois went into lockdown and I had no idea who I was anymore. I didn’t want to be around people. What a little blessing. But mostly I was healthier because I was not around germs. I stayed in my own little bubble and we did the best we could to keep ourselves well. Had groceries delivered, etc. The boys didn’t know the depths of why we were so adamant about them not going over to friends because honestly they don’t probably see the severity of my illness nor was that something they should be worried about. I am immunocompromised. It is not a word I like. It took me a long time to accept it. Also many people are so what is the big deal right? I didn’t have cancer and as a society we only have empathy for immunocompromised people who have the C word. There are many reasons why a person would have immune deficiencies, the C word is just one of them. So I kept this to myself. Put it in a nice little storage box and put it in the back of the closet. Having this problem with my blood means I will catch every single possible thing I can catch, specifically upper respiratory infections. Getting them isn’t the problem, we all get them. I can’t fight them like everyone else can. And the longer I have to hold on to one, the greater the damage to my internal organs are. Specifically my lungs. The very organ that finally gave up on my mom. So, Kristina and I kept me in a nice little bubble, sanitized my hands like a mad woman, and wore my mask religiously even when surrounded by friends and family who didn’t believe Covid was real or that masks were necessary and we lived in perpetual fear of what would happen to me if I got it. It was a shitty way to live, but it freaking worked.
Fast forward to present day and time. I got lazy. I stopped wearing my mask, I stopped sanitizing my hands, I clearly started running more errands and going to many places. We moved, it was extremely stressful, zero stars, don’t recommend. Just kidding it had to happen, but I hate moving and packing. HATE IT. In September I got one of the worst head colds/sinus infections of my life. It took me almost 6 weeks to fight. I got a little break. Ruptured my eardrum due to the sinus infection, that took forever to feel normal and I still have massive ringing. Got a few days break from that and then got the Flu. So more or less I have felt like complete garbage since September. I had to cancel meetings. I stopped my research, I stopped reading. It was enough just to get my client sessions done. Some I had to move until I felt stronger. My clients are amazingly understanding, even though none know the full details until now if they read this.
That was a lot of information to share with you to get the real reason for this blog. In the middle of all of this and when I had a few days of feeling like me again one of my very dearest friends lost her battle with cancer. There was never a question that I wouldn’t show up for her services. I drove back to Illinois (in horrible weather because it apparently snows in Wisconsin everyday until March) but the entire drive I was just so grateful I felt good enough to go. The visitation was Friday night, I like to go early. I have been to many and after so many hours it is a blur. I wanted to have a minute with her husband. It was after our embrace and some tears that he asked me if I was coming in the morning to her memorial service. I said of course. And then he asked me to do something I didn’t see coming. He asked me to speak at her service. Of course I said yes because I could tell that it was very important to him that someone do so, but I can assure you I was not prepared. I never believed in a million years the friendship I had built with her would end with me speaking at her funeral. It just was not part of the landscape I ever saw coming. What an honor and a privilege to speak but how the hell am I going to say what needs to be said about this amazing human being who spent entirely not enough time on earth? How can I sum up a life as beautiful as she was?
Dana didn’t publicly or even privately wax the “woe is me” prose. If she felt it she never said it. She took the news and made conscious decisions about how she was going to move forward with it. I know she had no idea how short her time was and that she truly believed that she could extend it, whatever it was. She did all the right things. Continued putting good stuff in her body, taking care of herself best she could. And it was obviously too late and not enough. When I returned home, I got the flu. And for 3 days I laid there feeling sorry for myself because I got a body that absolutely will not work correctly. Like a moth to a flame it will find germs and it will devour them and then I get to watch it devour me. Yes, SOOOOOOOOOO many people have the flu right now. But my problem is that I get to get the flu on cocaine. Much of my life I have never felt like I fit in or belonged anywhere. This is part of the reason. My body does not work like it is supposed to. It never has. And I hate it more often than I love it. And I ask myself why a lot? What is the purpose anyway? 75% of my life is spent feeling like I am coming down with something. It is wholly and completely awful. Could it be worse? Absolutely and there are many people fighting much much worse things than this stupid hand I was dealt. But here is the deal. I cannot compare my battle to someone else’s because it only leads to worse feelings about myself and my body’s consistent ability to want to beat itself up. It is a full time job to practice mindfulness and gratitude towards a body I cannot stand. And sometimes I fail miserably at it.
As I was leaving after my friend’s service I grabbed her husband, told him I loved them and was there for them if they needed anything. You know stupid words we use to offer help when really what he needed was his wife back and I couldn’t give him that. He stopped me and said wait. I want to give you something. Dana was a reiki practitioner. She believed very deeply in the power of clearing chakras and the enormous healing power of stones and crystals so naturally they were scattered all around her memorial tables. He reaches for one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen. A tree made out of amethyst. It was her birthstone. “I want you to have this,” he says. I say, “Jason, I cannot take this. I just can’t.” Of course he says “yes you can and you will.” I was honored to speak for her, never been so nervous in my life honestly and I don’t mind public speaking. But I was more honored to be gifted one of her favorite pieces. Where was she when she found it? What did it mean to her? What did it represent?
Here is where things get crazier and if you don’t believe in signs you should.
Amethyst Meaning and Symbolism: Natural amethyst stones are connected to the third eye and crown chakras. The purple color to reddish-purple hues of amethyst has long been a symbol of peace, cleansing and calming energy. The crystals represent purification and connection to spiritual and divine beings. The meaning of amethyst is attached to serenity, understanding, trust and grace. Amethyst Healing Properties: Amethyst is believed to have healing properties that protect the bearer against negative energies. Some believe that the stone’s calming properties produce soothing dreams by making us more in tune with the divine. The stone also brings clarity and peacefulness to the waking mind, as they help the mind flow freely in both the mental and metaphysical dimensions. In ancient times, it was thought that natural amethyst could purify the body of all toxins. Ancient Greeks believed that the stone protected the wearer from drunkenness and enabled them to keep a balanced mindset. Wine was sipped from goblets incorporating amethyst stones to prevent inebriation, and stones laid on the sick to draw out infection. Benefits of Amethyst: It is said to dispel rage, help manage fears and anger, and calm rage and anxiety. Other believed benefits of amethyst include the ability to alleviate sadness and grief and dissolving negativity. The color of this gem is also connected to activating spiritual awareness, welcoming intuitive energies and enhancing one’s psychic abilities.
Initially it was only words I saw. I had to keep re-reading to fully understand. But what I first saw was peace, serenity, understanding, trust, grace, purification, toxins, infection, manage, fear, anger, sadness, grief. All things I needed to remind myself to do or have, or things I was constantly feeling.
I have spent so many years of my life trying to figure out why God would want me here if I was broken. If I didn’t work correctly, if I didn’t have the same tools as everyone else. I don’t often break down over my body’s inability to fight anything, I think Kristina has maybe seen me at a breaking point twice. It is awful when it happens. What happened in production to make me malfunction? Why can’t my body work like it is supposed to? I have grieved my body and its brokenness for most of my entire life. That is a long time to grieve.
A very profound shift happened after I returned home from saying goodbye to Dana. After I got well enough to move around and walk into my office where I put the amethyst tree. I stared at it for a very long time. What do I see? What do I feel? What does this conjure? And one thing rose to the surface. I didn’t become a Life Coach because I hated my job. I very much loved my job. I very much did not love the environment in which I did it. I have spent all of these years dealing with “what was wrong with me” on the inside, only to be in an environment that constantly told me I needed to change. That I needed to learn how to speak to people. The irony is not lost on me that I now spend my life doing exactly what they told me I needed help doing. I became a coach because I didn’t want other people to spend half of their lives figuring out what sparked joy for them. What makes them happy? What fills their cup? What blind spot are they telling about themselves so often that they truly believe it? Such as the one I tell myself on a consistent basis…that my body is junk. That I am junk because my body is junk. It is not and it is very far from the truth. I am a really good friend. I am a fantastic wife (everyone needs a wife.) I am a great cook. I am a great bonus mom. I am a great writer and I absolutely freaking love writing. I am a great organizer and I am very efficient. The list goes on. The problem is that this list comes into my mind very few and far between. The list that comes in daily is the one that tells me my body is junk. So every single day I have to make a conscious effort to believe in the good list and not the trash list. Every day I have to remind myself I was put here for many reasons and one of them is not to hate myself. I am a human being. I will have days where I really do hate my body. On those days when it is really hard to believe it has gotten me through many horrible things I try to remind myself of one positive thing that I am good at and hold very tightly to that.
This tree. This tree will forever be a symbol of hope for me. A symbol of not just a dear friend but of something to believe in. Something to hang on to. Something to remind myself that I have many branches and while my core may struggle and I will still be incredibly vulnerable to all of the elements, at the very root of who I am, I am an amazing human being.
I did not share this with you for sympathy, empathy, compassion or any other self serving reason and please don’t extend any. I shared this because it was time to get it out of my way. Time to admit I am human because I am. Time to show clients and potential clients I do not have this all figured out. I struggle too. But I am here. I am listening. I care. And most importantly I understand. Our paths may not be exactly the same, but I understand more than most people can comprend about self loathing.
Jason handed me this tree as a token of his appreciation. But what he did was provided me with a symbol of how resilient I am and how much more I will probably have to go through before it is all said and done. And I will get through it with one simple thought.
I am enough. I am more than enough. I have always been enough.
If you read the title and thought this was going to be a reference to Talladega Nights, sorry to disappoint. It has nothing to do with Ricky Bobby.
Open up your social medias these past couple weeks and you are probably finding it full of back to school photos. They are awesome, not going to lie. And so much better than the negativity that social media is usually saturated with. Some of these pictures are actual first days of school ever. Some are the first day of the last year of grade school. Some are the first day of their last year of Jr. High and High School. You get the idea…you see them too.
As I am scrolling through them I am reminded of a video I watched a week or so ago of self help guru Mel Robbins on her last night in her house. They were moving to a new house. Had spent 25 years in the home they were leaving. Raised their kids there…spent countless holidays in that home. Their kids started and finished school in this home. It would be the last time they slept in that home. The home where so many memories are made. She says something at the beginning of the video about how amazing it is that a house is really a container for a period of time and memories. And it struck me because it really is…a container. A container that holds many firsts and lasts honestly, not just getting kids through school.
This really isn’t about houses though. Or school. Or containers. It is really about how often we find ourselves at the first or last of many things. I just recently experienced this when Kristina and I were coming back from the first trip we had taken since we moved to Wisconsin and how weird it felt to be going home for the first time to a totally different home. Our first trip away from the new home. Our first trip back to the new home. And it was weird because prior to this moment I had not paid much attention to ALL of the firsts and lasts we had already experienced.
Our last couple months in Illinois were as packed with as many firsts and lasts as two people could experience and in all honesty its a Christmas miracle we made it out of them as some of them were very big. We were selling the home Kristina raised the boys in. We were buying a new home in a totally new place knowing absolutely no one close by. Her youngest was graduating High School, he had a bazillion lasts (homecoming, prom, baseball games.) One twin was moving into his first rental property. He would have his LAST sleep at the house and go to bed the next night for the FIRST time in a new one. The other twin starting a new job. It was insane if you think about it. And an emotional roller coaster.
Life honestly is, a never ending cycle of firsts and lasts. The cycle of change as it would be best understood, can go on for a long time. If you have ever bought a house for example. THAT change is daunting and stressful and feels like it will never end and that is because you are right smack dab in the middle of a major first and last. Same with getting married. One minute you are single, then the next you are not. BIG first and last. Not all firsts and last are this monumental (or expensive.) Sometimes you change jobs. There will be a last day and a first day. You sell your car. First day driving it, last day driving it. You get the idea.
The thing is we try to rush through both of them. It doesn’t matter if its first or last. We try to speed through it without paying attention to how any of it makes us feel. Its human nature. Move on to the next thing. We do ourselves a huge disservice if we do not honor each of them in their own way. Celebrate them. Honor them. Give each of them the time they deserve. Try not to rush through the moment. Beginnings and endings are hard and we experience them almost daily. But most of us will push the emotions down or do our best to ignore them and just push through. Regardless of whether it is first or last, if you take the time to give them the space they deserve, you will open yourself up to something completely new and wildly exciting. No it is not easy. If you are a new Mom you know this better than anyone. How quickly a baby changes into an infant, than a toddler and so on. First tooth, first time rolling over, first words, last bottle, last time they sit in your lap…you get it.
Most importantly. None of us know when our last breath will be. So savor every first and last everything. Do and try things you couldn’t possibly believe you could do or try. You will be amazed at where you will end up when you do something for the first time or finally let go of something for the last time.
I will never again be able to look at the week of St. Patrick’s Day the way I looked at it prior to March of 2020. My love of the day and everything about it ran very deep. It truly was my favorite holiday. March 14th, which to the rest of the world will forever be Pi Day, will for me forever be the day I put my mom in hospice. That day was the catalyst that set in motion a series of changes that have forever altered the course of my life. Catalytic events, as we call them in the Life Coaching business, are not always bad things, this one in particular was, but sometimes we need those events to happen in order to push us in ways we didn’t know we needed pushed.
I don’t remember the person I was before this week two years ago, which is super weird to me, in fact when I think about her it almost feels uncomfortable, unfamiliar, like maybe I made the “Tiffany before” entirely up in my mind. I know for sure that the “before Tiffany” cared entirely too much about what her workplace thought of her. That she spent 8 incredibly long years trying to fit in a box she was never going to fit in. That she thought her fathers passing was the catalytic event that would change the course of her life. I know she thought so many things that were not at all true about herself.
I remember March 14th as if it happened yesterday. I remember driving to Canton to meet with the Hospice nurses. I remember the resolve my mother possessed. The confidence with which she had made this decision. I remember her laughter. I remember her belief, absolute definitive belief, that this was a minor glitch in her quest to get better. I remember thinking I am going to have to have her discharged from Hospice, so we can take her to Nebraska to watch Bella get married. How much she assured me she would be well enough to go. I remember feeling relief that she was done with tests, needles, probes, machines (other than her O2,) Dr’s offices, and emergency rooms. I remember how relieved I was that someone else was monitoring her medicine, that I could take a break. I remember feeling for one minute, my own peace that this life long battle she had endured had come to a peaceful resolution. I have never been more wrong about anything in my life.
Someday I may love St. Patrick’s Day again. I know she would want that for me. I know that she hates how much my heart hurts and will continue to hurt for the rest of my life on all of the days between March 14th and March 26th. Those 12 days changed everything about me. They rocked the very fiber of my being to my core. I learned things I did not want to learn. I found courage I did not know I even had to find. I suffered immeasurable loss. Each year, as these days roll back around, I am right back there. I am right back to feeling every single emotion that I felt and I can assure you that I felt every emotion a human can feel. I may never ever be able to look at my favorite holiday the same again and I understand that and I have embraced that. What I recall now when I think about it is not the fun outing I planned every year to gather all of the most important people in my life for a rousing day of shenanigans, but rather the moment her and I realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day. And how almost instantly I felt profound sadness that I ever cared about the day like I used to. It was just a day right? Nothing special about it. But I remember the robe she was wearing, she loved robes. I remember her face. I remember the way the words sounded coming out of her mouth as she said, “oh I hate that you are here with me babysitting when you should be out with your friends.” How I assured her that I would not be having any fun if I was, that I would be worrying about her falling. How she lit up ever so slightly when she remembered the gnome sweatshirt Emily O had brought her, could I please go get it. I remember us trying to get it on her without twisting her O2 tube. I remember how she swam in it because she was so thin. I remember us naming her gnome Liam because it meant strong willed warrior and protector and how we were positive he would look out for her. I remember her strawberry shakes and her Luigi’s Italian Ice that she insisted on having every morning. And the little green gloves she wore to keep her hands from freezing. The towel we had to lay down whenever she ate so she didn’t spill on her favorite flannel pajamas.
These next 12 days I will replay and remember all of it in my mind, like a silent movie. My Facebook memories will remind me should I dare forget. These next 12 days I will be right back there, trying to make decisions for her that were not mine to make. Trying to stay on top of her meds. Trying to keep the house quiet so she could rest. Trying to maintain my own job. Wondering what day she would go back to the very place she came from. On March 14th I did not know that day would be March 26th. But for 12 days I existed with the most profound sadness I have ever carried in my life. Each day bringing a new challenge, a new corner to turn, a new painful lesson to learn.
I think about her every single day. I go to bed every night saying goodnight to a picture of her as she was a little girl. But every year for the rest of my life there will be 12 days that I cannot forget, no matter how busy I keep myself. It is in those days that I need to remind myself the most what it means to honor her. It is in those days that I remember how much a life can be altered in just 12 days.
I am not a fan of resolutions. The last time I made one was in the early 2000’s. I had just moved back to Illinois, back in to my parents home to help take care of my Mom. I resolved to learn how to speak Italian. I bought all of the CD’s and set out on a quest to learn how to speak a foreign language I knew nothing about. I had only taken French in High School and I could count to ten in French, say, “my name is” in French and that was about the extent of it. Needless to say, I failed this resolution in a grand way. I didn’t understand it, it was very hard for me and I quit. I am a big fan of quitting, so it was not the quitting that bothered me per se. It was that I swore this was something I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to do and if you know me, well you know I usually see those things through to fruition. That being said, I did not see this one through. It didn’t end with the same fiery passion that it began. It kind of just fizzled out and died like the campfire you pretty much put completely out at the campsite but still has some smoking embers. It has always been with me, to this day I still wish I knew how to speak it, I just don’t know that it is at the top of the list of things I must do before I perish from this Earth. From the moment this resolution died though, I have never had another one. Not ever. They set us up for major failure and we have enough of that in our minds as it is.
That being said, this year I am trying intentions. Saying I intend to do something sounds much less intimidating than I resolve to do something. I intend to eat more vegetables. I really suck at it. And not because I don’t like vegetables, I do. I just would rather eat fruit. I intend to get more sleep. I intend to move my body more. The list goes on. Those are great. I feel safe in those intentions, comfortable even. Just because I intend to, doesn’t mean I will always do it. Knowing I intend to is enough for me.
One of my intentions was to meditate more. There is powerful scientific proof that meditation is overwhelmingly beneficial for us in so many ways. Never has it been more important in our lives than right now with the state of the world. I intend to meditate more because I need to be grounded. More rooted in my center and core and integrity. I took major, massive, colossal leaps of faith last year leaving a job and a company that no longer served me. I have never once regretted or challenged that decision. I listened to my inner wisdom and I followed my heart. The problem is it is a full time job to do that. It takes practice. It takes patience. It takes time. And it takes reaching that little girl who existed before the world told her who she was supposed to be. The only way I can reach her is to meditate. To drown out the noise. To shut off the static. For the record, I am a HORRIBLE meditator. But I know I won’t be forever. I am a horrible meditator because when I do it, within seconds I am thinking about what I need at the store. Is the laundry done? Do the children have gas in their car? What is for dinner? The list goes on. It takes work to focus on the breathing. It takes work to pull yourself back to you and listen to the silence.
Something happened today when I meditated that I felt a moral obligation to share. As the teacher was reminding me to focus on my breathing and how to pull myself back to the breath and to count my inhales and exhales my entire body became covered in goosebumps. I felt a presence but knew that I was physically alone. I immediately began crying, but not streaming tears, just eyes full of tears. A very, very little girl inside me said, and out loud I might add, “Mom?” And a part of me wanted to open my eyes to see if she was there but another part of me knew if I opened my eyes that this moment, this connection, this feeling would disappear. And the little girl inside me took over and told me to open them. And then I started crying harder because I knew that she would not be there, but I also knew that I had to check to be sure. The point is that I honored the little girl by opening my eyes. She was not there. But my God the feeling of her was. Her essence. Her very being was as close to me as I have felt since two weeks before she died. The tears never streamed down my face, they sat in my eyes collecting. Almost as if to say, if we fall out, so will all of the memories.
I don’t know how people feel about enlightenment. Enlightenment in simplest terms is the state of having knowledge or understanding. Some people meditate for years to find that moment. That space in time. That knowledge and understanding. It took me less than 5 minutes. I firmly believe I reached this because I set my intentions and I honored the little girl who wanted them in the first place. I have no earthly idea if I will ever feel that moment, that powerful passing of energy when I meditate again but I do know that what we put out into the universe, we will get back, sometimes tenfold. I would have given ANYTHING for her to have been there when I opened my eyes, and the reality is she was. Just not in a window pane I could see her in. I could see her in my heart and feel her in my breath and see her on my skin. Something I could not have understood had I not been meditating.
I don’t know what any of my future meditations will bring, I just know that this one changed me profoundly. I can still conjure the feelings and emotions associated with it. And I know if I believe in my heart that that is how I can connect with her, that you will probably find me meditating ALL. THE. TIME.
When I was 8 years old I was able to write Santa a letter. I am sure I wrote him many times over the years, but for some reason this one got published. I cannot be for sure where it got printed, but my Sister found it many years back when going through some of my Dads things. I will never know if he cut it out or if Mom did. I will never know if it was because one of them thought I would make a great writer someday or if they just felt proud that their child “made the paper.” The letter speaks volumes and gave them many clues in so many ways about so many things but what I see when I read it every year, what I notice most is not that I did not request Barbie’s and baby carriages, but my absolute resolute belief that the “Big Man” himself was going to get this letter. (And also that I thought Santa was my friend.)
A few weeks ago I had a very unexpected reaction to something that should have been celebratory. Instead of celebrating happily, I cried most of the entire day. I cried even AFTER I tried to celebrate. It was so unexpected and out of left field one could say it almost sidelined me. I struggled so much with this reaction that I even spoke to my counselor about it. (Yes Life Coaches need help too.) After she explained to me the psychology of WHY I had this reaction, she then asked me to do something. She asked me to write a letter to my Mom. I have suggested to many of my own clients this assignment, but I am pretty stubborn so why on Earth would I think to do this myself? She suggested that I write a letter about all of the things that have changed since she passed. That seemed entirely too daunting, because, well it has been a lot. So instead I decided to write a different letter…here is my letter to Heaven. And since I believed Santa would get the letter my 8 year old self sent him, I also believe this will get to Heaven.
Dear Mom and Dad- I believe that you are probably not “together” but that you two have finally made peace, at least that is what my heart would like. As both of you already know, this past year has been one of my most challenging yet and also the most rewarding. You know I have ventured out yet AGAIN on a new path. Looking back I think it has made perfect sense all of the things that I have tried or thought I wanted to do or be…but I am not sure I ever thanked you for supporting me through all of them. My current gig is wholly and completely due to you both being gone. I would not be who I am right now this minute, if you were both still on this Earth. Because of that, I am acutely aware that everything does and must happen for a reason.
I could write to you about a million things and in my head I already have and if you really are just on the other side, you already know what I will probably say. You may however not know this. I am so sorry if I ever made you feel less than. If I ever made you feel like you were not a good parent. If I ever disappointed you in my decisions or my actions. If I ever made you feel unappreciated. And I know I did.
I never knew until I became a bonus parent myself, how thankless the job really is. We have a 17 year old knocking on 18’s door who acts like we have cooties. He will tell you that is not true, but I am an “actions speaks louder than words” person. Yes, I remember when I was that age, quite well. I think parenting is the hardest job on the planet. It is most definitely the one that has the longest period of time before return on investment. I am profoundly struggling with this because every single time that I feel like he wishes we would disappear I feel a pain in my heart so deeply that it honestly feels like it was injured in some way. My first thought is “oh my God…did I make my parents feel this way?” Did I make them feel invisible or unappreciated?” I am positive I did, we all do as kids. I am struggling with this because every single time we sit down to dinner and he shoves his food down his throat so he can get up from the table as quickly as possible, a part of me inside is screaming please don’t take this time for granted. Please sit and talk to us. Please understand that this time with your parents goes by in the blink of an eye. Or was it just my time that went by that quickly? Please appreciate these moments because they will be gone very soon.
I would give anything in the world to be able to sit down at the dinner table with you both and tell you about my day. It kills me to feel like that is the last place he wants to be. It is like a little part of me dies inside. I can’t make him or anyone else understand the value of time. Right now his generation is mastering the art of wasting as much of it as possible staring at their phones instead of making connections or being connected. This has challenged me in ways I was not prepared for because at every single turn I am told, “it is a boy thing, it is a teenager thing, this is incredibly normal.” It may be. It may be 100% normal on whatever scale someone decided to call normal. However, knowing he is acting like every other 17 year old does absolutely nothing to bring my parents back to the table. In fact, it only magnifies that you are missing from it. Zooms in on that fact like it is under a microscope.
So, what I really wanted to say to you today is that I am sorry. I am sorry if you ever felt like your role as a parent was thankless. In so many ways it was. And I know that now. And I know that I cannot make someone appreciate me or time spent with me but if I could go back, I would sit longer…I would visit longer…I would share longer…I would show more appreciation. There is literally no me without you both. I did not get where I am today, without you both. I am who I am because of you both. I am sorry if I did not honor that enough when you were alive but I will make damn sure I honor that in your deaths.
The morning after my emergency surgery that solidified that I would never give birth to children on my own whether I wanted to or not, you grabbed my foot Dad and said, “I am sorry sis, but kids are not all they are cracked up to be.” I get it now. We can be real pains in a parents ass. I think we are supposed to be. I just wish I would have thanked you more. Like so much more.
I hope Heaven is as beautiful as I believe it to be. I hope you are both happy and free from pain. And I hope you know how much I love and appreciate you. I am so sorry I didn’t show you more when you were here.
Merry Christmas Mom and Dad Your Daughter-Tiffany Buckman
Last weekend I drove to Des Moines with my Sister and my Mom’s sisters to visit my niece for the day/night. It was an incredibly quick trip but did the heart good. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs…and ate a lot. Before I left, I told my wife that I would not be upset if Christmas showed up in our house while I was gone. Yes, it was a not so subtle hint, but also I was serious.
Social media is pretty split right down the middle (like the rest of everything else in the world right now) about when the appropriate time to decorate for Christmas is. Every year its quite a cacophony of noise about picking out Halloween costumes as the retailers are clearing shelves to put up Christmas candy. It apparently feels as if this is happening sooner every year, when in reality it is not, time is just moving faster. The world is moving faster. It has become increasingly difficult to know what side we sit on because even if we voice our opinion or even feel very strongly about that opinion (not just about Christmas) we are going to upset someone’s apple cart. When we start worrying about what others think or the ramifications of voicing our opinion we stop listening to our integrity. The very definition of integrity is a state of being whole and undivided. When we start responding and reacting to things the way other people THINK we should, we wholly and completely lose sight of ourselves.
Having said that I would like to go on record to state that you should start celebrating Christmas whenever you damn well want to. This sign hung in my Mom’s house, year round.
Because my Mom lived with Christmas in her heart 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. What does that mean to you, to know that a person honored Christmas all day, everyday not just on Christmas Day? She believed in the magic of it. She believed in the calm and the bright. She believed in the miracle of it. Sure, some of that was how she was raised, but the most beautiful part about all of it was how much she still believed in Santa Claus. When we were younger, but old enough to know differently, Santa still showed up at family parties. There was no one in that room, not even the little kids, who were more excited about his presence. She believed with a fierceness that I have never witnessed in another human being. What did she believe in? She believed in the magic and the miracle.
There was a debate recently on my Facebook feed, about what day Christmas should be put up/decorated. I respect and appreciate everyone’s points of view on pretty much literally everything, even politics to some degree. It may not be in line with how I feel or view things, but I can respect peoples differences. For some reason this one struck a nerve that I have not quite been able to reconcile. You see, the last weeks of my Mom’s life, which was in March of 2020, we put a Christmas tree up in her room. She was mostly unresponsive at this point so I will never know if she knew it was up or if she felt the presence of Christmas in her heart, but I have chosen to BELIEVE that she did. Our Christmas will never be the same without her in fact it will be very hard but in my heart it feels like the longer I can experience Christmas in my vision, the closer I can feel to her.
Every single day of her life she lived with nothing more than belief. Belief she would get well. Belief she would see all of the milestones of her grandchildren’s lives. Belief that the Cubs would win another world series. Belief that she was not dying. Belief that she would see another Christmas. No one I have ever met in my entire life has loved Christmas as much as my Mom. Maybe her Mom. But after all of these years I finally figured out why it was so magical to her. Because for one brief moment in the year everyone was kind to each other. Everyone made time for each other. Everyone gave gifts from the heart. My Mom did not feel like such an outsider on the days that the rest of the world acted the way she always felt in her heart. Every day was Christmas for my Mom but unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way. That has never been as apparent as it has the past few years. After New Years, we get back to our old routines, our old ways of treating others as well as ourselves and we forget the meaning of Christmas. So she would have to go back to feeling like the only person in the world with Christmas in her heart. What a lonely feeling.
So…I came back from Des Moines, from being in a mob of people who acted like it was Black Friday and I wanted to scream at them at the top of my lungs, YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT, but no one would have listened. I came back home to a house full of Christmas and it felt a little bit like a hug from Jesus himself. It means a lot that I have a partner in life who hears me and who listens but more than that is that I can sit with Christmas for longer than the 4 weeks that half of the world believes is the acceptable time to honor and celebrate the holiday.
As a Christian, if the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the celebration of Gods ultimate gift to us, who on Earth are we to say that it should only be celebrated during these specific days of the year? That does not feel very Christian like to me. I am a little confused as well as to why Thanksgiving and Christmas cannot work in tandem or why you have to finish one before you can start the other.
Either way…Christmas is up at my house. And I love it. And I feel very calm and very bright but most of all I feel very confident that I am OK not following any preconceived notion that I can only celebrate or decorate after a certain day. If Christmas truly does live in my heart all the year then I think it is safe to say I can decorate whenever I want.
September is not my favorite month. There are many reasons why but one September day 8 years ago my father did not wake up. It was one of the most beautiful days I can remember. The sky was the most brilliant blue and it was warm but not too warm and there was a light breeze and not a cloud in the sky. The phone call from my sister is ingrained in my brain, her words, her erratic volume and sobbing. I stood in the yard, the sun on my face, watching the traffic go by wondering why no one had stopped it and told them my Dad had died and they needed to turn around and go home. My body, and every ounce of it will never forget that moment. Our bodies keep the score, so every September every ounce of me starts its annual shut down. I can tell you the minute it starts and I can tell you the minute I start coming up out of it. It takes a good couple weeks. And it took me a good few years to learn how to honor the evolution. The harder I fought it the harder it was to get through it. So now I ride it out like a wave. Some years are easier than others. The thing about this particular ride is that it always brings me to the shore, it always brings me to the beginning of fall.
Fall is my favorite season. I love everything about it. I love the way the temperature drops, the way the wind blows, the way the entire landscape changes colors almost over night. I love the sound of crunching leaves and I love crackling fires and I love smores and I love hayrack rides (dear God how long has it been since you have been on one of those) and I love seeing combines in the field and I love the way we mentally and emotionally start slowing down and preparing for winter not just outside but inside our minds as well (which most people I know hate, but I love that season too.) I love apple cider slush, and road trips to random orchards and I REALLY REALLY love apple cider donuts. I mean like I might be slightly obsessed with finding the best one in the USA (it is currently at The Belted Cow Orchard outside of Monmouth, Illinois.) Almost every fall of our lives growing up our Mom decorated outside with corn stalks, pumpkins and gourds. I have not personally reached that level of commitment to my love of fall, but in the past few years I have made peace with the flavor of pumpkin (yes I love lattes, and bars with cream cheese frosting or my Sisters pumpkin cookies…hugs from Jesus. You can keep your pie to yourself.) I love the way the sun filters through the trees and the way it dances across everything it touches like it hears a song that only the sun can hear. I even love the rainy fall days and the sound the rain makes on the fallen leaves. It is not the same sound the rain makes any other time of year. Or how the fall puddles are dark and mysterious like they hold secrets. I love the wind in the fall and how you can literally hear the leaves let go, if you close your eyes and try hard. I love putting on my fall clothes. Clothes that hold me tight like a hug and keep me warm, like love does. I love that I took a bucket list trip to see New England in the fall because if you really love fall like I say I do, it is an absolute must because there is nothing like it.
Even after all of that love that I have for fall, there is one thing I love more than all of those things combined. I love how it shows us how absolutely beautiful it is to let things go. I never get sad when this happens because I know that the spring will bring new life not just in nature but in my own being.
Letting go feels like giving up. It is exactly the opposite of that. Letting go can be as beautiful as the fall shows us every year without fail that it can be. Letting go means releasing the hold we have on something or something has on us. It means saying it is OK for this moment and this memory to move on. Not disappear, just move on. For fall letting go means there is a winter coming. A period of solace and self reflection. (When is the last time your life was as quiet as it is outside when it snows?) Letting go means you are ready to accept peace.
I love all of the seasons and what they represent and how much they coincide with our own life journeys but none of these seasons put on a display quite as beautiful as fall does. Isn’t that amazing since fall has the most to lose by letting go?
If there is something you want to let go of, I can help. You will not let it go so that you never see it again, you will let it go so that a new version of you can appear and start the seasons of your life all over again. You will learn how to let go by honoring the very thing you are trying to release. You may even actually hold on to it tighter just in a way that shows you how beautiful it is to even have it to let go of in the first place.
A year ago this coming October we went to visit my brother who had recently moved to North Carolina. It was suggested we go hiking to see a waterfall. His wife loves them, the kids were on board, Kristina was ecstatic. She loves to be outside moving period. In whatever direction…up down and all around. Ironically, I cannot even recall the last time we went hiking but if you looked in my closet, it would appear that I do it all the time. Or spend far more time outside than I really do. My wardrobe is very outdoorsy. So, in my mind I have played the role of hiker for a very long time. You would think that we were situated somewhere say like Boulder, Colorado or somewhere with you know, a lot of hiking trails or at best in any area with a lot of outdoor activities. We are not and I have not lived in such a place in a very long time. We have outdoor things to do around here, I kayak, but it is different when we travel. I want to see something I have never seen. Anyway, my closet is deceiving.
I love being outside just as much as Kristina. On specific temperature days. If I step outside and feel like I am breathing in sauna air, I will most likely turn around and go back inside. That is her jam. Me? I need mid 70’s, ZERO humidity. A day like that to me is as my mother would say, “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” That being said, this particular hike in North Carolina was on a perfect day. Perfect weather, perfect temperature. Just perfect. I however was not in hiking attire, nor did it occur to me that the 1.5 mile sign on the post at the head of the trail meant this is not a flat 1.5 miles. We were going to see a waterfall for the love of God…those typically are up high and end at the bottom of something. A hill, a mountain, a ravine, a dell. We survived, it was beautiful, there were a lot of stairs. A lot. I made a mental note: next hike have proper gear, more water, a snack, etc.
The next time we went to North Carolina to visit my brother, which was just this past 4th of July weekend, again, we decided collectively to go to a different mountain for a new hike. The one I really wanted to go to was an almost 3 hour drive from his house, but we did not want to spend 6 hours on the road…so we picked one closer. This time, I have what I think is partial hiking gear attire. Hiking shorts and a t-shirt, a water bottle, a hat, brand new hiking SANDALS, never worn, no socks. Brother told me that was a big mistake, I shoved him off explaining if they were tight enough it would be fine. Big mistake # 1.
The thing about hiking trails is they start off really nice, flat and incredibly unassuming. So at the start, I have an abundance of confidence. “This will be a nice leisurely stroll through the forest. How pleasant. Hope I see a deer, or a moose, or whatever creature resides in the North Carolina woods that will not try to eat me.” Very shortly after you get your confidence built up to just the right amount, the beautiful wide paved trail just ends…and now its just dirt…rocks…rough terrain, narrow trails. And all confidence (at least for me) is out the window. Also at the beginning of the trail I panic just a bit because I don’t have a map. I like maps. I like knowing which direction I am going at all times, that is also a metaphor for how I like to live my life. When we go hiking it is kind of last minute and spontaneous, so I don’t have a map, have not taken time beforehand to download a map, so naturally when it finally occurs to me that I don’t have a map, I am already in the forest, with no service. I start down the trail with no idea where it is going to take me or what lies in front of me and then I really start to panic. You know immediately you are in trouble if within the first 5 minutes of the hike that you are in fact now climbing, and on an ascent, that the rest of the distance is going to be challenging. On this particular hike, very close to the top, the path is no longer truly passable unless you are some kind of goat or super human. I have people of all ages passing me as my legs become more like Jell-o than I have ever experienced in my life. I can stop and sit and be in everyone’s way, I can turn around and run (very slowly climb) back down or I can keep going up, I mean eventually this has to end right, or am I on my way to space? A bazillion thoughts run through my head.
Is this where it ends for me? Am I going to die? Where the F is Kristina? Who’s idea was this? Why am I so out of shape? I want to see the Niagara Falls? Will I ever be ready to get another dog? Who thinks this is fun? Why are people not watching their kids what if they slide down the mountainside? What if I slide down the mountainside? How the hell are paramedics going to get up here, I will be dead before they get the first quarter mile? How on earth will they retrieve my body from the ravine? Where the F is Kristina? Who’s idea was this? Why didn’t I just stay at the pool? I was fine at the pool. Mom please tell God I am not ready. I am not enjoying nature right now. Why am I pushing my broken ass body like this? Do you have a death wish Tiffany? Is this how you want to go? Wobbly legs screaming over the side of the mountain? Where the F is Kristina? Why has she abandoned me? Why do we only do things she loves?
You get the idea. And then a little old Indian lady softly says to me as I am holding on for dear life to the smallest tree on the planet, clearly paralyzed with fear, “are you OK? Do you need some water?” I assume she asks in her native tongue some little minion for water, because next thing I know a small Indian child is handing me a bottle of water to which I politely say “no thank you, I have some. I just needed a breather.” I must have been a shear color of white because the nice little Indian lady precedes to help me practice my breathing, reassures me that I am almost there and that I can do it, I have come so far, all this way. The whole exchange is probably less than 60 seconds, but she was correct. At least about the almost there part. We (I) finally make it to the top and it is indeed breath taking. Awe inspiring. Worth the trip. Until I realize I have to get back down. Then the panic starts all over again, so I just sit a minute and try to take it all in.
As I am sitting there it occurs to me that I chose this. I chose to do this activity. I could have stayed home at the pool. Could have went shopping. Could have done ANYTHING but this. So for all intents and purposes, I chose to scare myself to death.
We make it back down and I am praying and thanking a God I have never seen and I say to myself, I will probably not do this again. That would be a great story except it doesn’t end there. There has been more hiking. Albeit a much less strenuous and treacherous hike, a hike all the same. And it was my idea, and I was as equally unprepared as I have been the other times. Some hiking gear, no map, one bottle of water, no clue. This last hike caused me to ponder WHY IN THE SAM HELL DO I DO THIS IF IT BRINGS ME SO MUCH TERROR. And that is when I realized that for me personally, hiking is just like life.
At the beginning it seems fine. Safe. Flat, comfortable terrain. Sometimes the path is laid out for you, sometimes you come to a fork in the path and you have no idea which way one leads, so you follow your gut and maybe you turn around because relatively quickly you either realize your gut was wrong or perhaps its a dead end. Or maybe you just listened to the direction your wife thinks you should go (who has very little sense of direction.) So you retrace your steps and you follow the path laid out for you, but sometimes it is not clear if you are on the right path at all. Sometimes along the way you can see where others have created their own path, very clearly not meant to be “the way.” You convince yourself that if it was the right way, more people would have taken it. Also you are scared because you do not have a map and it looks sketchy, so you still have to trust your gut. That you have no idea what is waiting for you at the end of the path (if you take the right one) and the terrain changes sometimes very quickly and it gets bumpy and rugged and washed out and sometimes its muddy and murky and sloppy. And you forge onward, still thinking you are “on the right path” and occasionally you meet other hikers who nod and smile or also have the same fear and frown on their face as you do and you think to yourself, this must not be the way, they do not seem very happy. Maybe they are scared too. Maybe we should start a club. A support group for scared hikers. Sometimes they say things like “is this the way to the waterfall?” We don’t know good kind soul, we are pretty much also lost, and I don’t have a map, I forgot to download it and it wouldn’t matter if I had, I am in the middle of the forest following only where others have gone before me. Eventually, if you are lucky, the path leads to something amazing. Sometimes it just leads to more paths. Sometimes you walk in a great big circle, sometimes you go way out of the way and made your trek much more difficult and challenging than it needed to be. Sometimes the path is straight up hill and your heart starts pounding so hard out of your chest you are convinced it will beat right out of it. Sometimes there are stairs and while you know you have to go down them you also know its the way out if the path does not lead to amazing but instead leads to danger and you know that if your ass was being chased you are probably going to get eaten because you cannot scale these stairs with speed or agility. Sometimes you pass many others on the way. Others who are far more prepared than you are. They have bags and knapsacks and really great shoes. The have snacks and first aid kits and extra water and a compass. As you pass these people who are far more prepared than you, you silently pray they will remember you in case you get lost. You slip, you stumble, you chose the wrong rock to walk over, sometimes you may fall. There are plenty of roots sticking out of the ground. Sometimes you are so focused on not falling that you miss everything around you, you are too busy looking down. Sometimes you look behind you wondering if you can figure out how to leave breadcrumbs with things already out there in nature without getting poison ivy so you can find your way back. Sometimes you sneak a peek at what’s ahead, but immediately put your head back down to focus on what is in front of you so you don’t trip and fall.
Hiking makes you focus on the here and now. One step in front of the other. No idea where the path leads, just follow your heart. Some steps are going to be harder, more challenging, some will be smoother, stable. Hiking is very much like life. Hiking and life together, is well simply, Liking. I challenge myself when I choose to do this because I am a planner. A maper outer. When I am going to do something I map it out to the best of my ability. I research it to the nth degree. I measure all of the outcomes. Hiking goes against every single fiber of my being. To my core hiking scares me to death. But in facing that fear, it has become a little bit easier to LIFE, if that makes any sense. If I am struggling with a decision, or worried about my coaching business, I tell myself, I can do hard things (thank you Glennon Doyle for that statement.) I can do those hard things and I can survive. Because life is bumpy. Life is unchartered. Life can go many different directions. Life is brutal and beautiful at the same time. Difficult and challenging with some awe inspiring stops along the way.
If you just keep pushing, just keep climbing, just keep Liking.