12

We would be married for twelve years this Sunday.

“How does that feel to you, Tricia?  Does it feel like forever ago?  Or does it feel like it went so fast?”

It feels like it never happened at all.

There are people in this world because he was born and I married him.  And there are photos that say he was here, he was mine.

Even still, sometimes it feels like I only dreamt him.

For the Broken Hearts in Denver, Aurora, and the Sphere that Surrounds

Some have written to me today, asking me to write in response to the senseless, horrific shooting that took place at the Aurora Town Center movie theater last night.  The theater is about ten minutes from my church, and it seems that everyone around me knows someone who knows someone who is hurting, afraid, dealing with loss and trauma today.

To you that have lost someone you love, my heart aches with wordlessness for you.

To you who are caring for those who hurt, bleed, ache, and fear, I say thank you.

To all of us who are helpless but want to help, wordless but want to speak, and stumbling over our own questions and unanswers, I give you the following paragraphs (previously published on my blog and in 5280 magazine).

We walk alongside broken hearts.
I belong to a third culture. I am neither a whole, healed woman, nor will
I wear black and grieve forever. I belong in this nebulous, in-between
place.

We are a growing demographic, the broken-hearted us. You might
belong on this team roster, or perhaps you are walking alongside
someone who is. If you are wondering how to help someone in this
place, let me tell you what I’ve learned.

If you don’t know what to say, simply say, “I’m so sorry.” Or even
better, “I am so sad for you.” Don’t try to explain or offer a lofty word.
There is no explanation, so free yourself from trying to find one.

When you ask how we are, we may say, “Fine, thank you,” or “We are
doing okay.” Try with all your might not to press further. The pleading
eyes or the prodding voice that says, “Really? Come on, really? How are
you, really?” We can’t answer that question. It is all I can do to speak. I
answered you. Puncture this surface, and I might spill everywhere.

I, personally, have needed acknowledgement that nothing was normal
anymore; that everything has changed for me. I have needed a “free
pass” from anything and everything on anyone’s calendar. I have not
been able to step into what was, sit at a table where Robb would have
been, attend a party where he would have been a guest.

It’s natural for anyone who has gone through this to want to proceed
with “life as normal.” We may not want a public display of any kind.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be present and patient. When—
and if—we are ready to begin the journey of uncovering the tragedy, we
may remember you were one who was present and patient. And we may
trust you.

This journey brings along a monster named Burden. He whispers dark
secrets that make us think we’re exhausting you and your resources. If
you can give without waiting for a wish list, you can slay that dragon for
us. We may not know what we need, but we usually know what we don’t want. Respect the word “no.”

There is a difference between wanting to give to us and wanting to give
for you. The motives are thinly veiled, and there is grace and space for
both. Try to know why you want to help. Is it because you know this
family well, you see a need, and you can fill it? Or is it because you feel
overwhelming compassion—perhaps even a sense of guilt that your life
hasn’t fallen to pieces—and you simply must-must-must respond in a
tangible way?

If you are giving for us, then just do. Step in. Don’t wait. It will mean the
world.

If you are giving for you, then give in a spacious way: gift cards, notes,
surprise gifts. It will mean the world.

If you are one of us, stuck in the in-between, third culture of grief, please
let me tell you what I have learned. The rules have changed.

If you are hurting, if you need help, say it. Others don’t know what you
need, but so many want to help. If you know what you need, say it. And
if you know what you don’t want, say it. Be honest, and don’t let pride
exhaust you. Save that energy for getting out of bed in the morning.

Be alone as long as you want, as much as you want. Isolation is normal,
I have definitely learned. In other centuries and cultures, those with a
broken heart and a ruptured world have been sent to live in seclusion for
as long as they needed. Allow yourself the freedom to clear the calendar,
to say no, to be alone.

Check your mailbox. And on the day the mailbox is empty, don’t be
deceived: It doesn’t mean the world has forgotten about you or the one
you love.

Give yourself a break on the thank-you notes. All the rules are different
now, even the formalities of courtesy.

You can’t always predict an emotional toll. What you fear with all your
heart may come more easily than you expected. What you thought you
could conquer may bring you to your knees. Go easy on yourself. Go to
a party if you want, and leave five minutes later if you must. If laughter
finds you, pull up a chair and invite her to stay. Don’t worry about what
others might think—tell them you’re taking the day off from sadness.

God is good and antidepressants aren’t bad. Get help.

 

Today, I grieve for my city, a sea of faces, families, homes, and brokenness.

May we love you well.

Caramelization

Remember how I mentioned that ache in my ears from the shift in altitude, the airplane’s cabin pressure, and the mutual congestion the boys and I have been sharing?

I thought it would be smart to put a warm compress on it to help free things up in there.  (Don’t worry.  This won’t get gross.  I won’t use words like Eustachian tubes and fluid.)

I opted for a standard remedy my grandma passed down: when somebody’s feeling achey, put a towel in the oven. In moments, you’ll have a versatile, warm compress.

Except I chose a washcloth in a hotel microwave.

Did you know hotel microwaves have a wattage of something like 75,000?  One minute in there and I almost burned the whole place down.

What is that sweet, caramel scent?  Oh, it’s the wash cloth.  I caramelized it, apparently.  I don’t really know how this happened.  There’s something sugary in the fibers of that towel, that’s all I can say.  It was smoking from the folds, and when I opened it (in full immersion in the sink), there was a dark brown hole right through the center of the towel.

Oopsie daisy.

Thankfully, the whole scene stopped just short of a fire alarm and hotel evacuation.  That would have made for an entirely different blog post.  Perhaps from jail.

I’m really living it up in Orlando.  Wowsers.  You can’t slow me down, folks.

I’m sorry – did you say something?  I couldn’t hear you. My ears haven’t popped, you see.

Black Lace

And so, I’m in Orlando.

(Not to be confused with Disney World, in case you talk to my children.  To be clear, “I wouldn’t go to Disney World without them.”  I merely came to visit Uncle Rob. In Florida.  Orlando, really.)

My plane landed and I bolted straight to a couple’s shower for my brother and his bride.  Since I am the Best Man in these upcoming nuptuals, I know I have important roles to play.  Standard protocol says I should buy cigars all around (I don’t know the first thing about this), or pay for a stripper (not on my dime, not in this lifetime), or at least buy something incredibly lovely for the bride to take on her honeymoon.

I opted for choice 3.  Shop for the bride? choose something personal and lovely?  This I can do.

(I’m making this sound like I did it all with such ease and intention.  Really, I didn’t know it was a co-ed bridal shower, I didn’t know my brother would open these gifts, let alone this black lacy number in front of his friends, and I didn’t know I’d be the only one who didn’t purchase items for their kitchen or bathroom.  But hey, it’s all in how you spin it.  I did it on purpose.  I’m the Best Man, after all.)

Sidenote.  When I purchased this black lacy item, I had two little boys with me.  (That’s all things fun and not awkward, let me tell you.)  As we checked out and left the store, alarms sounded from every angle.

“Ma’am, we’ll need to check your bags.”

My son had innocently picked up a shoplifting device off the ground, and he carried it out of the store.  Alarms and bells abounded.

Yes, please.  Check my bags.  I’m a widowed single mom shopping for unbelievably sexy things with my children in tow.  As I said, the whole experience was all things fun and not awkward.  Yep.

Anyway, the shower was great.  My gift made a splash, you could say.  (I would say.)

One other word about this.  You know what’s great?  A couple’s shower guest list compiled of artists, actors, singers, and dancers.  That’s a whole different party in all the best ways.  Quick wit and quips flying left and right.  The party is a stage and everybody shares the spotlight.

You’ve got to be on your toes to keep up with the musical theater jargon (I held my own), and you would simply have to be impressed with the impromptu performance of Trouble in River City (again, I held my own – who do you think was also in the car when my brother was learning every single word at age 7?).

We partied into the night with wine of every shade, punch with a strong spike, and rum in the cake.  I fell into bed in the early morning hours and slept until after lunch the next day.

Just kidding.  Partly kidding.

But, I drank water in the prettiest wine glass ever.  And I fell into bed with an ache in my ears from the shift in altitude and the head congestion my kids and I have been sharing.  And I slept half the day away because I’m a tired mom in a hotel room by myself.

But it sounded like I really partied, didn’t it?  For a little while there?

I did bring the best gift.  I’m pretty sure I covered that part.

The SuperBetter Game

“A traumatic event doesn’t doom us to suffer indefinitely. Instead, we can use it as a springboard to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives,” says Jane McGonigal.

She’s a gamer.  She made “video games” her life; or more accurately, she made her life of “video games.”

Jane is an American game designer, and she is the Director of Game Research and Development at Institute for the Future.  She’s petite, blond, curly, and totally kick-ass.

I met her on the internet.
Ted introduced us.
Ted is my daily lunch date.

Look how I made that sound almost like these are real people in my life.  You know how I am.  Book-shmook.  Reality-shmeality.  Virtual-shmirtual.  It’s all truth from a tangible “person I met” once it’s inside my head.

The deal is this: I watch or listen to a Ted Talk once a day (See TED.com.  Seriously.  Go there right now.)  I usually watch while I’m eating lunch.  And that’s where I met Jane.  She gave an amazing, off-the-charts Ted Talk that left me spinning, thinking, gaming in my head.

(Go straight to the source. Meet Jane.  She says it better than I’m about to.)

She was in a serious accident that caused a concussion, and the concussion didn’t heal properly.  She was left with the inability to do anything of value, it seemed, and she was entertaining ideas of suicide over the option of healing.

She had two choices: 1) die in this darkness, or 2) make this matter.  (I can relate.)

Jane introduced me to the idea of Post Traumatic Growth – as compared to Post Traumatic Stress.  Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event.

She says healing comes with four kinds of resilience: Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Social.  You can heal from a traumatic event by boosting these four kinds of resilience, and – even better – if you’re fortunate to skip the trauma, you can add ten years to your life by boosting your four types of resilience.

I’m not necessarily interested in adding years to my life, because I’m pretty stoked about the one that’s waiting for me after this.  But.  Growth? Healing?  Resilience?  Tell me more, Jane.

Physical resilience.  Your body can recover from stress and heal itself faster.

Mental resilience.  You can have more mental focus, more discipline, more determination, more will power.

Emotional resilience.  You have the ability to provoke powerful, positive emotions, like curiosity or love, when you need them most.  If you can experience three positive emotions for every negative emotion over the course of an hour, a day, or a week, you can dramatically improve your health and your ability to tackle any problem you’re facing.

Social resilience.  This is born in gratitude and physical touch, and it’s multiplied when you can combine the two by gathering strength from friends, family, neighbors, or community.

Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event.  A heart-wrenching tragedy can unlock our ability to lead a life of fewer regrets.

But how?  How do you move from trauma to growth?

Jane says this.  Feel free to try it now.  (I did.)

1. Stand up and take 3 steps, OR make your hands into fists and raise them of your head for five seconds.

2. Snap your fingers exactly 50 times, OR count backward by 7 from 100-0.  (100, 93, 86, etc.)

3. If you’re inside, find a window and look out.  If you’re outside, find a window and look in.  OR, Do a quick YouTube or Google image search for “baby [your favorite animal]”.  (Pictures of baby elephants will seriously do something to your brain.  Something great.)

4. Shake someone’s hand for six seconds, OR send someone a quick thank you by text, email, FB, or Twitter.

And that’s that.  Access to the four elements of resilience.  Just like that.

Jane made a game out of it:  SuperBetter.  She’s changing people’s lives.  She’s adding years to life – and life to years – by teaching the world to be super and better.  To claim Post Traumatic Growth.

People who experience Post Traumatic Growth say things like,
“My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy.”
“I feel closer to my friends and family.”
“I understand myself better. I know who I really am now.”
“I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life.”
“I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.”

Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event.

It doesn’t mean the widow doesn’t love her husband and want him back. It doesn’t mean the mother doesn’t grieve her babies and weep over each one she lost.  It doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.

It means there can be life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to play.