Thankful for Pickled Beets

Thanksgiving was my Grandma’s holiday. She owned it like a boss. It was her birthday, plus Thanksgiving, and the mission was clear: fill the Taopi town hall with her family. Grandma is gone now and new traditions have replaced the old trek to the drafty hall. I miss the bent folding chairs and being paraded on the town stage.

I have two feet planted squarely in middle age and have never bought pickled beets till this year, because Grandma isn’t here to make them anymore. I saved her last beets until I needed to google shelf times, safety and canning. My sister made a commemorative batch, but it wasn’t the same. Nothing is as good as the loving original.

Grief is the thing that makes your throat hurt when you’re past the point of crying. I stood in the grocery aisle staring at a jar of beets this week and my throat hurt a little. “Are you finding everything, Ma’am?” My voice cracked on “yes.”.

This month I met with two families that have lost their children and wanted to set up scholarship funds in their memory. And I heard it again, the voice crack. Their throats hurt a little. Those hearts bear scars that they will never show to the world, but will smile this spring giving scholarship money to someone else’s child.

The dark side of holidays is the simple truth that sometimes they suck for others. It’s hard to celebrate when your heart hurts, but celebrate we must. I think it’s important to be thankful for a life well lived, however short or long. It’s also good to give an extra squeeze whenever you hear someone’s voice crack. This Thanksgiving let us be thankful for those that are gathered around our table and the empty chairs that we wish were still filled.

If I were to assemble my favorite meal, it would have Grandma’s pickled beets, my mom’s chocolate cake, Willie’s fish, Jan’s deviled eggs, and my husband’s steak. Some of these people are living and some are not, but I’m thankful for all of them. Who makes your perfect meal? Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Keep sharing moxie.

How crying changed me…

Charles Dickens

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
      I have been pushed in many ways this year to become…more. I say pushed, because it wasn’t a change that I welcomed at the time. I’m thankful for it now, but at the time it was an option of last resort.
     I started crying this year. I’m a better person for it. 
     It’s not that I had never, ever cried before this year, but it was rare. Now, I let those emotions run through me and sometimes spill right out.
     I’m not manipulative with my tears. I’m honest.
     Truth is, I was kind of a crap therapist until I started getting real. You can’t tell someone that it’s ok to feel, to encourage them to share their most sacred thoughts and fears, if you won’t allow yourself to ever be moved by them yourself.
     The world we live in today is one of disconnect. If we all looked each other in the eye and cried a little bit more, I think we’d be better people for it.
     Teenagers can catch a whiff of b.s. at 20 paces. If we’re trying to teach future generations to be compassionate, to embrace sorrow and reach out, we need to do a better job of it ourselves.
     I showed a video of Columbine to a group of teachers yesterday, today I grieved with them and their students. To say these teachers are brave doesn’t cut it. They are compassionate, protective, full of love, and so much more. The best teachers are real. The best doctors, ministers, politicians, people.
     Today, stop looking away. If someone you know is struggling, look them straight in the eye and say “I’m here.” I’m here. You’re here. We’re here together.
Because in the end, isn’t that what it comes down to? I’m here. You’re here. We’re here together. You’re not alone.
Keep sharing moxie.

Grief: The Third Rail

If social security is the third rail of politics, grief is the third rail of life. Few want to talk about it and no one wins this battle in the end. It dims, changes, and morphs, but never leaves. I will not pretend to have the corner market on grief, because every person has their own story. Whether you have lost a parent, a child, a sister, a dog, a friend; grief changes you. It scrapes away the facade,  and what is left is often startling and raw.

I have a sweet picture of my son being held by his Grandpa. Shortly after the picture was taken, he lost the last vestiges of memory. He forgot where he lived and who we were. Every loss is unique, debilitating and, usually, devastating. Death is death. This is not a contest. Who wants to scoop up on the prize of greatest loss? Um, yeah, no one, that’s who.

I was once at a dinner where Rudy Giuliani spoke. I remember little of what he discussed other than the number of funerals he attended around the clock after 9/11. The one quote that stuck with me is this, “Weddings are optional, but showing up in times of grief? Absolutely necessary.” So true. It’s incredibly easy to be a part of the events where joy abounds: a wedding, a baptism, a graduation. To show up at a funeral, and embrace the awkward silences and tears? Those are the people you remember. “Grief forces you see: who matters, who never did, who won’t anymore, and who always will.”
I think grief is the 3rd rail because even though it’s always there, it’s something that we tend to want to smooth over quickly, to move past as fast as possible. I’ve decided recently though that there is something really beautiful in taking time to talk to someone, to listen, to see their eyes fill with tears, while tears well up in your own. It’s real, it’s raw, and it resonates.
Embracing someone in their sadness is often a forced pursuit. It doesn’t come naturally to most, and it’s actively avoided by many. In one of my first jobs I was placed in situations to sit at the bedside of others that were dying and didn’t have anyone to be with them. This remains, to this day, some of the most heartbreaking memories of mine. To be at the end of your life and have a stranger placed at your bedside to hold your hand? I’ve worked hard to establish and maintain relationships to avoid this very scenario, not dying, that will come for all of us, but to die alone or with a paid stranger? Please, no, no, no. If you want a reality check on the life you’re living, take a moment now to imagine yourself in your final moments. Who is there and who isn’t? If you need to get to work on some things, here’s your nudge of encouragement.
It’s been a sad week for some lovely people for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps you fall into this mix. You know the difference between the rushing “how are you” and “no, really, pause, pause, pause, eye contact, how are you?”. It such a gift to be listened to, isn’t it? I just don’t think there’s a replacement for it. So here’s my challenge for all of you, dear readers, grieve and let others be grieve with you. To allow someone in, really in, when you’re broken to down to basics and rubbed raw, is a gift, and such a compliment. That they would share this honest moment with you? Yes.
Be real and allow others be real, too. Be charitable when grief gets ugly, because sometimes it can be very, very ugly and angry. Look people in the eye and share their sadness. Grief is awkward, halting, consuming, and distancing. Cards are nice, e-mails are thoughtful, but showing up is priceless. Show up for the hard stuff. Even with your awkward silence, side hugs, and sweaty hands, show up for the hard stuff. 

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Keep sharing moxie.