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.
There are some movies that no matter how many times you see them, if they are on as you scroll through the TV, its in all probability that you will stop scrolling and watch whatever is left of it. There are many of these such movies for me, but the #1 at the top of the list and has remained there since the first time I saw it is The Shawshank Redemption. I am not sure that I could adequately explain to you WHY that is the case or WHY this particular movie, I just know that if I was looking for something else to watch, whatever it may have been goes right out the window if that movie is on. I cannot recite the movie line for line. I have only been able to do that with one movie in my lifetime; Pretty Woman, which may or may not surprise you. I know the outcome of the Shawshank Redemption. I know Red cannot handle life on the outside. I know it all. But there is a line, a very simple line that has sat with me from the moment I first heard it and a line I used to say to my Mom. And I used to say it a lot. Especially when I was frustrated with her. That line is as follows: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
There were many reasons that I decided to become a Life Coach. One of them was that I watched how thoughts can terrorize and paralyze a person to the point of leaving them almost completely and totally broken. I watched how a person can get so attached to their limiting beliefs that they felt as if there was no possible way to change that attachment or the outcome it was sure to bring. I watched anxiety and depression debilitate someone to the point that they barely left their home. And in all honesty, if I had not made this career change, those things probably would have eventually happened to me. We can latch on to a belief or a thought or a feeling and we can get as attached as Velcro or Superglue or a leech or whatever kind of analogy you can conjure that would express an almost impossible detachment. We hold on to that thought for dear life. Even if it is the worst possible thought we could have. We cannot possibly let it go. Sometimes we hold so tightly we could not even imagine our lives without that thought. And it is when we do this that we get busy dying.
My example of watching this happen to someone is an incredibly personal one. I watched my Mom become a shell of a human being and tried desperately to reroute the course she was on. A route that I never put her on but felt obligated to steer her away from. I tried physically, mentally, emotionally and financially to redirect her to no avail. I have more tools in my toolbox now that may have been beneficial and could have worked, unfortunately I am far to late to actually be able to save her life. However, I can still save my own. And am certainly more equipped than I have ever been to help someone else detach their own terrorizing thoughts.
This entire concept just came to the forefront of my mind because I was at a crossroads in trying to make a personal decision and if you know me at all, you know that I weigh all of the scenarios and possible outcomes, especially when it comes down to BIG decisions. The decision may not have been big to everyone else, but that is where we get in a lot of trouble, when we start worrying about what “everyone” else thinks. Who cares? Ultimately, when I was struggling to make this decision, the line of this movie came in to my head and I instantly felt sad, because the last time I used it was with my Mom, almost pleading her to get busy living. And then I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. It was not that she didn’t want to, trust me on that, it was because her mind would not allow her to conceive of experiencing joy, no matter how bad she physically wanted it. And that reminder, the remembering of the last time that sentence came in to my head and out of my mouth, was the very thing that helped me make this decision. It is a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying. In this case, I chose to get busy living.
If you are faced with things like that or any of that rings true or you are also stuck on a limiting belief or a thought that causes you suffering, I would simply say, how can I help?
Sorry it has been awhile since you have heard from me, I have been a bit busy reinventing my life! About every 10 years it feels as if I need to shake things up a bit, mostly because I have never really fully understood who I was or what I was meant to be or do. It is really sad to me how many of us spend lifetimes trying to figure this out. If we could have just known earlier in life, how much more gratifying would life be? OR if we could have been told it doesn’t matter what you want to be right now, it may not be what you want to be some day later down the line and that is OK if it changes. I cannot say that I have not enjoyed every one of my “reinventions of thyself,” but definitely some more than others. If you summarized my life’s inventions in a headline it would look something like this:
Woman manages corporate fitness center, community fitness center, bartends and waits tables, paints houses, paints government ammunition tubes, handles steel fabrication bids, buys a bar and builds amazing pizzas, works on a cruise ship for two weeks, takes pictures for county taxes, orders art supplies and becomes a Life Coach.
That is an awful lot of reinventing but enough about where I have been.
It has been one year and 4 months since my Mom left this earth and while I think about her every single day in some capacity, there are some days more than others. Kristina and I have traveled out of town the past few weekends and with each trip, my heart got heavier and heavier almost to the point that I would describe myself as melancholy. I did my best to enjoy the trips, the visits with friends and family, the sights, but through all of them something was missing and I could not put my finger on it until we arrived home from our last trip. In the past, whenever we would go on these adventures of ours, my Mom would require I let her know when we were leaving, she would check in at least multiple times of the day, “where are you now, what are you doing, who are you with, where are you staying…” and she would insist I let her know when we were coming home and when we got home. Not in town. Home. “Do not text me that you made it to town, text me when you are in your house.” I realized that I was no longer doing that. That there was no one out there who cared about any of these things the way she cared about them. There was no one on this planet who cared like that. And it made me wholly and completely sad to my core. And I find myself, when I am in a place that she loved, feeling about as sad as a human can feel and it should be the opposite. I should be remembering the moments and finding joy in them. We recently went to Galena, IL, one of Kristina and I’s favorite places on the planet, and all I could think about was her. The times we have taken her, where she liked to eat, how she would have spent hours in one store and been upset when it was time to leave stating she had only been able to go to one store. This is not the first time this has happened. Me being in a place she loved and not getting that memory out of my brain long enough to enjoy the moment. I know it requires work. To remind yourself to be happy in the moments that may make you sad. Its hard work. I just know that when I am going somewhere, when I arrive somewhere, and when I leave somewhere, it is no longer the same for me. There is a vacancy in my life that cannot be filled by another person. For the record my Sister likes to have my itinerary and to know when I get home, but God love her (and she already knows this) it is not the same. It will never be the same.
We currently have a teenager and two young adults who get wildly annoyed that we like to know their comings and goings and I want so desperately to tell them to cherish this, to appreciate that someone is that vested in their lives because someday that someone will be gone and you will be left with nothing but a vacancy.
On March 26th, 2020 my life as I knew and understood it to be prior to this day, changed forever. On this day my Mom took her last breath. My Mom could easily be described as the single most important person in my life. I had spent at least half of my life trying to keep her well, something that proved to be impossible. I was asked recently in one of my therapy sessions why I felt this was my responsibility…to take care of her. The answer I thought was simple. She had always taken care of me, is that not what I was supposed to do? Take care of her back? But it proved to be deeper than that. The answer turned out to be because no matter what the circumstance, no matter what the problem, no matter what had happened, my Mom always chose me. When I came out and told her I was not going to ever have a traditional relationship for the rest of my life and crushed her soul, not right away, but eventually, she chose me. Over family, over friends, over all of it. She chose me. And once she did, she never looked back. If she did she never told me she regretted it. She would choose any of her kids over any of that, any day of the week. Taking care of my Mom was an honor and a privilege even if it was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life and even if the end result meant I failed.
It took a year of intense self reflection, a lot of therapy, practicing mindfulness and gratitude, just a lot of inner work, to process this grief. It will never, ever go away, but it can become more tolerable. In the middle of that work my wife urged me to take an online college course called The Science of Wellbeing. (I can officially say I passed the course and have a graduate certificate through Yale!-if you knew my Dad you would know what a great time he would have had spinning THAT tale.) It was during that course that I had many major epiphanies. The most important being, I am not doing what I was put on this Earth to do. Do any of us ever really truly know what that is, probably not, but I knew for SURE it was not what I was currently doing. So I went to work, albeit very quietly, to become what I was truly destined to be.
My last day at my current employment is this Friday, May 28th. In a decision that I am sure will stun and shock some, I am giving up a well paying job with excellent benefits to pursue a career as a Life Coach. I have been coaching for several months now and trying to do that outside of my 40+hours a week was becoming too overwhelming. I want to devote all of my time and energy into completing my certification. While certification is not mandatory to start a practice, it is important to me to complete one and I should have that done by the end of this year. I am accepting new clients with the caveat that this business is a work in progress and it will only continue to grow! If you would like more information about this, please don’t hesitate to reach out! After the 28th, my personal Facebook page will have plenty of information!
I am not a person who is into burning bridges unless I am using them to light my way, so you will not find me bashing my current employer or saying negative things about them. The job no longer served me, it is that simple. I worked very hard at it, I gave it every ounce of myself and more but at the end of the day it brought me more heartache than joy. I decided to choose joy and therefore chose to let go of something that was secure, that I was familiar with, that I could rely on. It is a giant leap of faith but one I know my Mom would say, this will work out. A very, very good current classmate of mine said to me “take the leap…the bridge will appear after you jump.” It was and is 100% true.
Yes I am scared, yes I may be a little crazy, but I have never been good at being in a box. When I am coaching my clients there is a fire in my soul that has maybe never, ever existed. It is an incredible feeling to be able to help someone else sort out their own roadblocks and stuck thoughts to help THEM move past an immovable moment or situation. I feel alive again. And there really are no words to explain that, I just know a part of me died when she did. And for the first time since she passed, I believe the part of me that died is the part that was holding me back from living a life that honored me and my own integrity. We spend an awful lot of time living our lives for other people…our spouse, our children, our friends, our employer. It takes a lot of work to realize no one is living ours for us…so we have to. We are truly all we have. I just know that when I work with a person and truly learn how to walk a mile in their moccasins or what it would even be like to…it makes me realize I made the right choice.
I look forward to answering any questions about this change and am prepared to hear a little bit of everything, just know I am right with myself and very happy and at peace with this decision. I also want to thank my wife, in ways I will never live long enough to thank her for, for her unwavering support in this decision and her always making me believe I had something more to give the world. Without her I doubt I would have ever even entertained this idea. Thank you Kristina, I love you to all of the beaches (and mountains) and back!