Healing the Pain

FYI, if religion and/or Christianity make you uncomfortable you may want to skip this post. I’ve no desire to proselytize or make anyone feel uncomfortable. As usual though, all are welcome to read if you so choose.

Awhile back my sister forwarded me an email from Fr. Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. He’s a Franciscan and the emails are daily Christian meditations. I believe the one that she sent me was on the theme “love is stronger than death” which was well-timed, being sent only a few days before the one-year anniversary of my dad’s sudden death.

I started subscribing and while I’m not 100% at reading them every day, I find that when I do read them, usually something makes me pause and reflect. Some days the emails, or even just parts of them, strike a deep chord with me. One the other day made tears start cascading down my cheeks as I just felt a sense of rightness and love. From that email it was one particular sentence that resonated deeply with my soul, “God’s love was infinite from the first moment of creation; the cross was Love’s dramatic portrayal in space and time.”

Whatever else I have felt about religion and God, I have (almost) always known that God loved me. Reading that sentence, I thought about the times in my life when I felt unworthy or unloved. I felt such a sense of love and lightness compared to the understanding I’d developed/been taught as a child that the crucifixion was because God demanded a worthy sacrifice and that each time I failed and sinned, Jesus suffered more on that cross.It was similar to the first time I read Julian of Norwich’s Showings (mystic writings) and saw her describe original sin as humanity being like a child so eager to get a glass of water for a beloved parent that the child trips and falls into a hole. Salvation was Jesus showing us that the hole wasn’t nearly as deep as we’d believed and that we were already loved and saved.

Today I was reading some old emails that I’d missed in the hecticness of life and I came across an email on the concept of Freedom. This was another email where I found tears welling up. This time it was a few sentences, rather than just one:

“Jesus was neither surprised nor upset at what we usually call sin. Jesus was upset at human pain and suffering. What else do all the healing stories mean? They are half of the Gospel! Jesus did not focus on sin. Jesus went where the pain was. Wherever he found human pain, there he went, there he touched, and there he healed.”

There is so much pain in the world. I believe that must be more upsetting to God than most of the actions people like to loudly decry as “sinful.” The reminder that Jesus went where people were in pain and then he healed that pain, is deeply moving in a way I’m not sure I can put into words. I think I’m fairly open about my belief that we are meant to be Jesus for each other, and especially that I see God in those who help heal me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The sentences “Jesus went where the pain was. Wherever he found human pain, there he went, there he touched, and there he healed,” are true to me on a deep level.

small pond with waterfall and large goldfish
A peaceful and healing pond at one of the hospitals that is helping to heal me physically

Just in the past week I have witnessed so much pain. Yesterday I gave my mom a hug at lunch when she teared up while we talked about my dad. The other day, when I was desperately afraid my healthcare would be taken away, dozens told me that they were calling their senators to fight for me. On Twitter the other night, I saw people sharing their fears and concerns of quite literally dying if the ACA were taken away. Today, my husband and I spoke with a woman wracked with pain who recently buried her best friend after caring for him in his final months.

I don’t know if my hug healed my mom in any way, or if my husband’s and my comments helped the woman today. I do know my friends and loved ones helped heal my pain and fear. Pain is a part of life for everyone, and ever since that sarcoma grew in my uterus it’s been a huge part of mine. The pain is and will be healed. I don’t always know exactly how, but I do believe that healing will happen.

For now, I think that’s enough.

Stepping Through Grief

Monday will be one year from when my dad passed away. Ironically my mom had been visiting my sister and me to attend a walk benefiting the gynecologic cancer research and resources at Hopkins. It was meant to be a celebration of survival for our family in some ways. Instead we lost my dad whose love and kindness had gotten all of us through so much.

If you never got the chance to meet my dad, here’s a video that my brother-in-law found of my dad speaking at a cultural garden dedication:

It’s very stereotypically him in a lot of ways: his humor, compassion for others, obvious love for my mom, and ability to use his own background to speak to the need for caring about others. I know I’m biased as his daughter, but my dad was really wonderful.

While my siblings and I were in Cleveland trying to process and cope in the immediate aftermath of losing our dad, we started dealing with some of the practicalities. One of those, that I’d never really thought of before then, was dealing with magazine subscriptions. One magazine that my dad had been subscribing to for as long as I could remember was Analog: Science Fiction and Fact.

It had science fiction novellas and short stories, sometimes serials that would be published over months, as well as thought-provoking editorials and articles about cool new real things in science. When I was a kid I started paging through my dad’s copies and reading some of the easier stories. Eventually I read all the stories, and after that all the stories plus the factual articles. My dad and I would discuss the stories and articles, even when most adults probably would have assumed I was too young to understand them.

When I went to college my dad would bring his copies to Cincinnati for me to read. Then I’d catch up on the issues and we’d discuss them over the phone or when we were next in the same town. The same thing happened when I moved out to near DC. One month my husband’s high school friend had a story published in Analog. When I told my dad, he was so excited that we knew someone who had been published in Analog and whose story he had enjoyed. I always thought that some day I’d polish one of my short stories enough to submit it and have it published, and I’d surprise my dad. I guess I waited too long.

When my husband moved my dad’s car into the garage in May of last year, he found the normal items my dad always kept in the car, along with the most recent Analog. It looked like my dad had read it and was going to either set aside or mail it to me so I could read it next. Jarrod brought the Analog in and I remember weeping because I’d never get to discuss it with my dad.

Jarrod also was good enough to ask my mom if we could transfer my dad’s Analog subscription to me instead of cancelling it. Jarrod wanted me to have that subscription that had gone back decades and given so many great memories to my relationship with my dad. I’m really glad that he did because there is something about knowing that it’s unbroken.

Both the copy from the car and the copies that started arriving at our home were bittersweet. In one sense they were a continuation of something my dad and I loved and a reminder of something we shared. Trying to open them though, was too hard. I’d start to pick one up and be struck again by the fact that we’d never talk about the stories again.

I asked Jarrod once if it bothered him, that these were coming to our home and I wasn’t reading them, just putting them on the shelf for the future. He assured me that it was okay and he knew there would come a time when I’d be happy they were there and I’d start reading them again. He didn’t mind waiting for that, whenever that might be.

That time turned out to be a few weeks ago, almost a year from when my dad and I last talked. I looked at the newest Analog that had come in the mail and I picked it up. I started reading the editorial. Nor surprisingly I teared up a bit and had to stop a few times. I tried to read the first story, but couldn’t. I let myself cry a bit.

Even with having to stop, even with the crying, it felt like progress of a sort, a small step if you will. One of my brother’s favorite sayings that I also love is an admonition to take the next right step and trust in God. Essentially, I’ve always taken it to mean that we don’t have to try to do everything all at once. It’s enough to take the next right step, whether figurative or sometimes even literal, and trust that things will work themselves out. In the case of grief, it’s not trying to not feel pain all at once, but maybe just letting ourselves take whatever the next step is, and there are a lot of them. The steps that have been healing have included putting Dad’s values into play and speaking out against racism and anti-Muslim prejudice, as well as returning to the restaurant where we ate together as a family on his last trip to Silver Spring. One really big step for me was this one, starting to again read the science fiction and fact magazine we both loved.

I haven’t finished the issue yet, but I’ve read a few more stories in it and I’ve stopped crying after each story. I think that’s progress. Admittedly, tears have been falling down my face as I’ve typed this blog post, but I’m okay with that. I don’t remember Dad ever telling me to hide my emotions. I mostly remember him handing me a clean handkerchief when I was crying.

I count myself incredibly blessed to have had a great relationship with my dad where we could seriously discuss and share in a love of science fiction and general nerdery. My dad introduced me to so many worlds, I kind of hate that I’d only just started to introduce back.

He became a huge fan of Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series after I lent him my copy of Boneshaker. Because of how much I loved Doctor Who, and after sitting in on a few Christmas specials that Jarrod and I watched while visiting, Dad caught up on new Who and was looking forward to the next season. We’d discuss the different Doctors and what tied them together. When I told him how much I was looking forward to Supergirl hitting Netflix because everything I heard made it sound awesome, he started watching it. One of my most precious possessions is a voicemail from him on a day where my chemo was making me feel awful and he wanted to cheer me up. In the relatively long voicemail he talks about how he’s really liking Supergirl and that she reminds him of me because of her optimism and hope.

Cancer, even stage IV metastatic sarcomas with super toxic chemo and awful side effects, is nowhere near as hard and as awful as losing my dad. I miss him so much and I still sometimes yell at God about that. Monday I plan to watch Star Trek or Supergirl during the day and in the evening get together with my sister for (mild) Mexican and Cleveland baseball watching.

In the meantime, I’ll read some more science fiction and keep the faith that someday I’ll see him again. I believe that he’s in heaven and, ultimately, I’d like to think he’s proud of how I’m handling the curveballs.

Goodbye to a Good Hug

It’s NYE morning, my husband is making me waffles, and Toby is playing with his Christmas toys. Only 6 days left in the Christmas season.

Maybe next year we’ll return to hosting a party or going out to one. Instead, as much as I want to say good riddance to the dumpster fire of 2016, I’m also keenly aware that it’s saying goodbye to the last year where Dad laughed and talked with us. I want to say goodbye to the year where he died of a sudden heart attack, but that’s also saying goodbye to the year where he gave me his last hug.

I woke up early for that final hug. Opening Day had been pushed back due to weather so we’d gone out for a meal instead of to the game. I had no vacation days and Jarrod had traded enough on his boss’s kindness by that point so we weren’t staying for the new Opening Day.

Dad was fine with it and assured us there would be other Opening Days, he was just happy we had come. He was going to go to the office early to get some work done before he went to the game. Our tickets wouldn’t go to waste — he had friends.

I asked the night before how early was early. He told me and I said I’d get up to say goodbye. He said he’d understand if I slept through it, that was an early time for me.

I set my alarm and dragged myself out of bed and downstairs where he was in his suit, without the jacket, eating breakfast.

He seemed genuinely surprised and happy I’d gotten up to say goodbye. We hugged before he went to work and that was my last dad hug.

I didn’t know then that it was special. I just knew it was a chance to share a good hug before my dad and I went back to being 6+ hours apart from each other. I didn’t know he would die about a month later.

I don’t know how to close the book on 2016 because that means closing the book on that last hug, the last time Dad held my nephew/his grandson, the last time Dad told me he was proud of me for standing up for others Dad holding baby Mand what he considered bravery (what others considered stubbornness or an inability to just be quiet).

I know it’s just time and time rolls on, regardless of what we label the day or the year.

I still don’t know how to say goodbye to the horrible year with so many good last times.

So This Is Christmas

“Uh, Bethany,” you may be thinking, “you’re posting this on Boxing Day, not Christmas Day.” Well, it’s still the Christmas season, so it’s still Christmas.

We tend to gloss over it, but Christmas is actually more than one day. That old song, “The 12 Days of Christmas” is a reference most of us who celebrate even secular Christmas know. Those of us who celebrate religious Christmas likely have the “season of Christmas” referenced in our liturgical calendar.

I’ve always been a fan of the season rather than just the day of Christmas, and this year it’s particularly helpful. All month I could feel myself getting more and more stressed and angry as we approached Christmas. It felt so wrong to have a Christmas without Dad. I know that most Christmas-celebrating people eventually experience one without their dad. Ever since I was diagnosed and told to not look at 5 year survival rates (my tumor make up was weird, I’m a really weird age for my type of cancer, etc), in the back of my head I’d just assumed that Dad would outlive me and I’d never have a Christmas without him.

And now, I’m one day into my first Christmas season without my dad.

Wooden cat ornament, wooden carved creche, ornament with a picture of a grey cat.

My mom is in town for the holiday and her birthday which is really good. We went to a Blue Christmas service at my parish which helped. It didn’t take away the pain and grief, but it helped to be with others who were sharing in worship and grieving their own losses. In the service, we named our feelings and their bittersweet nature, and hung ornaments that symbolized our losses. Being in community and taking the time to acknowledge our grief helped. I suspect I’ll go again next year, since I expect next year will also be difficult. Though, I do hope it’s a little bit less difficult at least.

I’ve felt sharp spurts of anger every time I see or hear anything like “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” or “it’s the season for joy!” For me, it’s not. It’s a hard time of year and I haven’t felt especially joyful. The worst are signs like “Be Joyful!” because the angry, spiteful part of me looks at that and says “Nope. Not going to happen.”

Wishes for joy or peace, those don’t bother me and seem kinder. Yes, let’s wish for joy together. Let’s hope that we have peace in the world and in our hearts. It’s not that I don’t want to be joyful, more that I can’t stand a command performance of joy.

So was there joy yesterday? Yes, there were moments of joy. I also felt ill which might have been rich Christmas Eve food combined with All the Feels (my emotions often express themselves physically to me). There was definitely sadness, but there was joy. Seeing my nephew’s face light up when he saw the Corduroy bear peeking out of a gift bag from his parents and hearing him yell in his toddler accent “CORDUROY! CORDUROY!!!” — that was a moment of joy. Snuggling with him while we read Corduroy and My Name Is Bob was lovely. Talking with friends was joyful. Exchanging gifts with my family and seeing that we’d picked well was joyful, if bittersweet at times.

Today we’re meeting for lunch and going to ZooLights in the evening. It’s still bittersweet and hard. I’ve already sobbed once this morning (not fun when you already have a massive sinus headache). However, this is Christmas.

There’s a lot I’m still reflecting on from #FuckThisShit and #RendTheHeavens, but a big one is that the first Christmas was messy and a mix of pain and joy. Mary gave birth in a smelly, dirty stable. It was cold and she had strangers coming in while she was probably still dealing with afterbirth. Christmas isn’t just the singing choirs of angels, it’s the family being turned away at every inn. It’s dealing with fear and holding things in one’s heart. It leads to wise strangers warning that family that their infant’s life is in danger so that they must flee to a strange land.

Christmas is messy and a mix of emotions. I think that’s okay.

Hope Isn’t Easy

The usual TW of discussion of my religious beliefs as well as some profanity. Also this is a really long post. No apologies for that, consider yourself warned.

“Clusterfuck” That’s the word for today’s reading in the #FuckThisShit devotional calendar. I saw that, and before I even opened my Bible, I found myself laughing and shaking my head. Because yes, that is the word for how my life and how this world, this country feels right now. It feels like everything is in a giant clusterfuck.

On the corresponding, not so NSFW, #RendTheHeavens calendar it was “Roll(Out)” which just made me think of Transformers. My husband had great memories of the show while I had never even seen a single episode of the show. So, early in our dating, I bought the DVDs and we watched the original show together.

Thinking about Transformers reminds me of optimism. The Autobots were always able to save the day with (other than in the movie) no deaths (because, well, kids’ show). It also reminds me how simple life was back in that studio apartment where we watched the episodes together. We didn’t think about life-changing illnesses or sudden heart attacks.

It’s not like life was 100% perfect. We dealt with job loss and the search for a parish home. But, there wasn’t anything big that challenged my optimism. I remember while I was between jobs, after receiving another “we really liked you, but that one other final candidate had just a bit more experience” email, I decided to call my dad.

I was frustrated and worried I was letting him down. However, Dad assured me that I wasn’t letting him down. Actually, he was proud of me. He liked that I was reaching for my dream of making a difference. He was also certain things would work out. He was right, of course. Within a few months of that call I was working for my dream organization with one of the best bosses I have ever had.

For most of my life I have proudly identified as an optimist. Until mid May 2016, any time I felt that optimism wavering, I could (and generally did) call Dad. I wasn’t naive and I didn’t think things would always be perfect, but I never had much trouble finding hope. When I did struggle, Dad would have the words to help me.  I had my crabby moods and frustrations, but also hope and faith that things would work out — that hard work would pay off, that I could change the world because the world was always getting better even if it needed a push, that I could get through anything.

Part of why I was proud to be an optimist, was because it was something I shared with Dad.

Then I lost my dad to a sudden, unexpected heart attack. Then I learned my cancer was back. Then the tumor turned out to be much bigger than expected. Then my beloved cat got so sick he needed surgery followed by an emergency blood transfusion and a stay at an intensive care facility. Oh, then there was my radiation treatments. Plus shitty things happening in my friends’ lives.

Plus there was everything going on in our country and in the world. The massacre at Pulse; anti-immigrant and anti-refugee talk; bombings causing people to need to flee their homes; a candidate for president treating sexual harassment and assault as no big deal and people I’d previously respected claiming “that’s just locker room talk” (no, it isn’t); overt racism; people saying crap like “blue lives matter” while acting offended by the idea that black lives matter; somehow the most overtly racist, in-bed-with-a-foreign-power, neo-Nazi-enabling, anti-feminist, completely unethical fraudster of a candidate won the Electoral College (with Russia’s help); the whole of the GOP rolling over, including saying that it doesn’t matter if the president elect tweets falsehoods; acts of vandalism and violence from the fraudster’s supporters; the continuing destruction of Aleppo; the daily desecration of this country’s Constitution; and so much more.
image of a deep well with a branch across the topMy optimism isn’t so easy to find in the clusterfuck that life seems to currently be. At times it feels like my faith and hope that things can improve, let alone that they will improve is barely present. My hope seems like a cheap and dying flashlight at the bottom of a deep, dark well. I worry that maybe I’m not an optimist anymore, and that sucks.

At a time when I most need to have my dad with me, the aspect of him I most identified with feels like it might be gone. I’m not as generous as my dad was. I’m certainly not as calm and logical. There’s a lot about him that I don’t share, or at least don’t share now, and am not sure I’ll share again. That’s scares me.

But I do share his faith. Dad always said he suspected God was either laughing or crying (or both) at the divisions we humans make. So to Dad, the fact that his parish was Roman Catholic and mine is Episcopalian really doesn’t matter. It’s the same faith at heart.

While talking with my husband last evening, he suggested that my faith and wanting to be an optimist, are optimistic in nature. The fact that I haven’t given into total despair, that I’m not certain things will always be the darkest timeline — that’s hope and hope is a form of optimism.

And I do have hope. It’s dim, but it’s there. I hope that things will get better. I still think it’s worthwhile to fight for equality regardless of gender, race, creed, or sexual orientation; to speak out for animals; to care and not retreat into my own bubble. I think it’s worthwhile partially because I couldn’t live with myself if I ignored injustice. However, I also think it’s worthwhile because I think the fights can be won. It won’t be easy and we’ll suffer defeats. We won’t immediately stop the violence and mistreatment. But we can and will prevail, so long as we don’t stay in despair.

So what’s today’s verse? Revelations 22: 18-19

I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book.”

I don’t have an easy interpretation. It’s the type of verse that makes me hesitate and even worry a little. Is it adding to the words to write about them? To understand them only in English? Is it taking away from the words that it’s been a long, long time since I tried to read the entirety of the Book of Revelations? I don’t know and that leaves me with some fear.

Underneath that fear? There’s hope that this someone comes back to the core faith that God so loves this world, and that somehow there are better days ahead. Somehow I have hope that the world can be healed.

In the words of a Jesuit from Xavier: “Hope is not answers or solutions, it’s faith that something is waiting for us, that there are possibilities. Hope isn’t easy.”

Nothing worthwhile ever was easy.

How Can I Look Towards Christmas?

TW: Christianity, Swearing

Starting Advent, looking toward Christmas, is hard for many people this year. It’s easy to feel like our world is broken. It would be easy to just say “Fuck this shit!” I don’t blame anyone who does. There have been moments that I’ve said that with full passion and conviction when I just can’t find the strength to keep hoping and working and trying.

Whether on the personal or the global level, it’s easy to see pain and wonder how that could possibly connect with singing “Joy to the World” or “Silent Night.” How can we watch Rudolph, listen to Christmas music, or put up lights when our hearts hurt?

XMas Lights on black background from Flickr via Wylio
LadyDragonflyCC, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

For me the pain is layers of personal and societal. I hurt for missing my dad. I desperately miss him. I miss knowing that Christmas will come with his jokes about the real tree vs a fake tree, his enjoyment of my husband’s signature Christmas Eve margaritas, his voice singing Christmas songs as Christmas Eve mass, throwing wrapping paper at him as we open presents,  the good natured ribbing as he and my mom try to remember which wrapped gifts are for which recipient, the Star Trek books he’d give me that I’d share with him after reading so that we could talk about the characters we still loved more than a decade after they went off the air, the looks of love shared between him and my mom as they exchange their Christmas presents — both clearly delighting in having found gifts that brought joy to their beloved. I can’t think for more than a minute or two before I start crying. It’s hard to focus on the joy of those memories, of the joy of Dad’s clear faith and belief, of the joy of my imperfect family sharing love and laughter and our traditions of burritos, oplatek, cheese plates, and Mannheim Steamroller.

I hurt for wanting to hope for my own health. I won’t know for six months and I know that worrying does no good, but it’s a struggle to not focus on that. It’s a worthy struggle to find my inner optimist and have faith that everything, no matter what the six month scan shows, will be alright in the end — even if it’s alright in a way I cannot possibly imagine.

I hurt for friends dealing with personal difficulties and stresses related to divorce, jobs, children, and more. They’re not my stories, but I hate that people I love are in pain.

I hurt for the world and for my country. I hurt for the individuals so ashamed of their vote that they act as cowards and stick their heads in the sand, refusing to take any action to help the people already being harmed and harassed because of the vote they chose to make in determined ignorance of the facts that were plain to see. I hurt for my friends who are any sort of not heteronormative straight white people. I fear that my friends who are witnessing harassment will be harassed or harmed themselves. I fear that friends who are public school teachers will witness the destruction of public schools in the United States by people who have no understanding of the need for public education. I see pain and hate in the world and it’s easy to question how that connects with Christmas stockings and trees covered in lights and ornaments.

But, those stocking and trees are just part of Christmas. Christmas is also about three magi bringing gifts fit for royalty to a poor family huddled in a stable outside an inn in a major city of an occupied country. Christmas is also about God asking for faith that things will turn out okay in a way no one really imagined.

Christmas is also about hope coming not in the form of one who was powerful, but in the form of a squalling baby born to a Jewish family seeking shelter and care while travelling against their will, living under the rule of a powerful occupying country. It would have been easy to look at the young pregnant woman and her husband, huddled in the straw, and say that their lives would be hopeless. It would have been easy for Mary or Joseph to give up their faith. Maybe for a few minutes between Mary’s saddle sores or Joseph’s blistered feet, as they were unable to find an actual room, as they prepared for Mary to give birth without any help in the straw, surrounded by animals, maybe they did find their faith dimming. If so, that’s okay. They still came together for the birth of a baby who would change the world and bring hope to the hopeless. They welcomed shepherds and foreign wise men. They found hope in a situation many of us would have called hopeless.

I’m not saying that makes everything okay, or means I’ll be able to jump both feet into Christmas this year, but it’s what I’ll keep coming back to. Christmas is about hope coming from what can seem like hopeless circumstances.

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” — Matthew 24:44

Maybe that also means that hope can be found when we least expect it. That’s something my dad would have gotten behind. He always said that there was something good around the corner, just often enough to keep him believing. I’m going to choose to try to be hopeful, even when it’s hard.

–Inspired by #FuckThisShit/#RendTheHeavens Advent Devotional Calendar by @crazypastor and @tvrasche, though admittedly a few days late. The passage from November 27 is one that has been rattling in my head ever since I discovered this as a way into Advent that my tired heart not only could handle, but seems to have needed.

 

I’m So Tired

Writing is tough when I’m tired. This happened during chemo, too — I got so tired that I didn’t keep up with my writing. Radiation fatigue has been tough. Plus having treatments five days a week eats up about three hours of every day. Roughly 10:30-1:30 if you’re really curious, though it can shift a bit depending on traffic and wait times. I usually nap for about an hour a day, at least once, and while it seems like that would leave a lot of time for writing, I’m just slower at everything. Plus, sometimes I just want to ignore the cancer for a bit and read or watch tv (I’ve binge watched all of Supergirl and Flash, and am now into season 3 of Arrow when I hadn’t watched any of the CW comic book shows before this bout of cancer).

gray cat sleeping on a desk
I’m so tired, I get jealous of my cat’s ability to sleep

At night, I don’t always sleep well. Nightmares aren’t uncommon. I’m not surprised by them. Nightmares during my second bout of cancer in the same number of years and at the end of the same year in which I lost my dad? Not shocking. To some extent, they’re the inevitable result of emotional exhaustion. I don’t mean that in any sort of unhealthy way. As my psychiatrist has said, that sort of exhaustion is only to be expected after the past two years. If you expand it, it makes even more sense. Even though it hasn’t always been as dire as cancer and death, I think it’s been more than five years since my husband and I had a serious multi-month stretch of normalcy (i.e. no family deaths, serious health problems, or major career issues for either of us).

Since Tuesday the nightmares have been about bullies, friends being harmed because of the color of their skin or the gender of the one they love, and our society being overrun by white supremacists. How do I cope with the nightmares and exhaustion? Sometimes, it’s by taking a break, bribing my cat with treats, and watching a feminist kids’ show about how friendship can conquer any problem, no matter how serious. Other times, it’s actively not turning away from the problems and stresses.

By trying to do better in my daily life. By looking forward to when I can actively do more, but figuring out what I can do now. By reaching out to friends. By making sure that my social media and my pocketbook are aligned with my ethical values.

For my latest nightmares, I’m trying to cope by watching one of the last videos of my dad, talking about immigration and strength in diversity. It’s a little under 4 minutes long, but it’s worth watching, even if you never met my dad.

I Think He’d Have Been Proud

bethany and her dad in front of a beach

Last year on my birthday my dad wrote the following in his birthday email to me:

“Mom and I are very proud of you, and very impressed with how well you and Jarrod have integrated yourself into [your] community….It is said that a person’s wealth can be measured by how many friends they have; if so, you and Jarrod have riches galore.

You also have inherited your Mom’s talent (and perhaps some of mine) with the written word….You have had a lot to write about over the last year; not all of is has involved fun times; but your spirit remains indomitable. And I love that about you.”

bethany and her dad in front of a beach

It’s one of the best compliments my dad ever gave me (up there with “you have a good heart”) and something I try to live into. In that spirit, I think that Dad would have been proud that yesterday, A Practical Wedding (APW) published an essay I wrote about the past year. Last year when I posted a comment on an APW happy hour that I was trying to figure out what to do because I might lose all my hair right before my wedding, people were kind. Not only did other commenters provide advice and tips and well wishes, but Maddie (who works at APW) sent links to posts dealing with cancer and weddings and then did even more.

See, APW does a partnership with Pantene Beautiful Lengths where they encourage women to donate hair or money to Pantene Beautiful Lengths so that women undergoing chemo can receive wonderful free wigs. A lot of women grow their hair out for the weddings then get drastic cuts after the wedding. Through this partnership, those cuts can help women. They can help women like me.

Maddie got me in touch with Pantene Beautiful Lengths and I soon had a beautiful wig in a cute style that was pretty much my exact hair color. It was insanely kind. When Maddie emailed me last week to ask if I could share an update because she was prepping a post about the partnership, I think she got a bit more than she bargained for. I was preparing to head to Cleveland for a baseball game and was in a rush so I typed up a quick summary email and attached an essay I’d been playing with in case she could use it to pull any quotes for her post.

She asked if they could edit the essay for length and post it, which felt like a huge compliment. Dad had often complimented my writing and said that it was a meaningful gift for me to share.

Ernest Hemingway said that writing is easy, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well, I tend to use a laptop (sometimes an actual paper notebook) but I try to be honest. I guess if I were following Hemingway’s quote, I’d say that I bleed, but then try to organize and clean up the blood so it makes some sense. I also usually have to pet Toby and convince him it’s okay for me to type.

gray cat behind a laptop

I don’t know if my writing will help anyone other than myself. It could just be a selfish act that helps me make sense of the world. But maybe it’s something that can help others in the APW community, the way that I was helped.

If one reader donates hair or money to Pantene Beautiful Lengths because of my essay, or one reader is moved to find and give kindness, then I think I’ll have done something good.

Regardless, in a month where I’m missing my dad like crazy (October was also his birthday month), it feels right that an essay sharing how love and kindness kept me going despite the worst year of my life is published on APW. APW has a wide readership so I hope it inspires another reader to be kind and indomitable, no matter what life brings.

I hope it does some good.