Apples, Jesus, and Everything Else That Really Matters

I was just quickly grabbing some apples from the produce section, having completed most of my shopping already. An older man – probably in his late seventies – decorated with a veteran hat and plain clothing, asked me which kind I preferred. I replied that I supposed I would go for the Braeburn. He asked me to consider the Gala apples. Afterall, they were less than half the price. I smiled, gave him a friendly glance, and told him he had changed my mind – I would try the Gala today. I thought the exchange would end there.

Looking back, I don’t think it even started there. I think he tried to converse with me on the other side of the produce section over a fallen itemized sign, although I cannot be sure because I did not pay enough attention to my audience. I glazed over that quick communication, thinking nothing more of it than someone wondering what had fallen on the floor, making sure I hadn’t lost something from my cart. This time, I noticed his veteran hat, his blue shirt, and his worn jeans. This time, I stopped to peer into his face. This time, he told me his wife died last March.

How does this happen over apples with a stranger?

As he started the next sentence after we had moved on from the apples, I made a mental note to make sure I thanked him for his service. I asked what he did to celebrate Veteran’s Day. He told me which restaurants he’d gone to this week, with whom…and I think that’s when he started crying. I think that’s when he said he lost his wife this year. So, here I am. Apples in one hand, other hand placed on his back, intending to comfort him, as he tearfully tells me about the hardest year of his life.

I gaze into his eyes, solemnly saying I understand loss because I have experienced it, too. He looks at me, a little confused, and asks if I have lost my husband. With my hand still on his back, I explain that no, I have not lost my husband, but babies. He doesn’t hear what I have said, so he asks me to repeat myself. “BABIES,” I say. In between apples and lemons and grapefruit, I loudly say, “I HAVE LOST BABIES” to him and anyone within ear shot in the supermarket. I wonder who might be listening to our conversation, wondering if this is my grandfather or a family friend, but I don’t look around. It doesn’t really matter.

He understands now. He asks my age. I tell him and he looks surprised I could be so old, as anyone 40+ years younger than him probably starts to blend together in a beautiful, youthful way (well, that’s what I will believe, anyway). He says he will pray for my next babies. He says I should consider having more than one because he has five grandchildren and he loves them just like his children. He says he needs my prayers. He says a lot of other things about heaven and people who don’t know Jesus going to hell and asks me where I go to church and I just let him talk. I nod, I don’t disagree with him because I know the specifics don’t matter*. This connection matters. This moment matters where he feels heard and he can cry with someone instead of crying alone at home like he told me he does “constantly.”

Sometimes, when people ask about apples, they really are just waiting to tell their stories. They are waiting to connect. They are waiting to say, “God bless you” and “Pray for me” and many other pepperings of things that don’t matter outside of context but matter because of the intention…the intention of love…the intention of shaking off our loneliness and trading it in for an exhilarating conversation that is wildly inappropriate by normal standards.

But, who wants to be normal anyway?

*Specifically, though, I do want to use this moment to explain where I stand. Anyone who reads this blog probably knows I believe in a higher power. I practice Catholicism (loosely), but I believe strongly in science reigning everything, an absence of hell, and the complete acceptance/belief of all religions (or even philosophies) founded in love. It’s the rituals and rules that get us into trouble. We all know who/what some of us call God. It’s the deepest part of ourselves. And, for this reason, maybe I can’t be called Catholic, and that’s okay, too. I hate labels anyway. So if you don’t believe in Jesus, that doesn’t bother me. Actually, I don’t think Jesus thinks you need to believe in him either.

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And So On: A Tribute To Healing

How do I start this post? Should I talk about hitting rock bottom again (although this time it will be literally and not figuratively)? Do I talk about how ironic and rhythmic life seems to be? Do I talk about how losing my children seems to suck me in like a vacuum, and – all the while – I am running like hell to escape the eye of the tornado?

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of finding out Adam Gabriel was not going to make it full term. I can tell you I am still grieving as that doesn’t go away, but also that the intensity of it has lifted. Two years out and I feel like I am catching momentum again. I can say this without a child in my arms, without being pregnant, and without knowing which year in the future our adoption is going to be completed.

My in-laws are here and they are avid bikers, so yesterday we decided to take a 30-something mile bike ride down a local mountain. When my father-in-law asked me the date for a form that morning, I internally cringed and let him know it was the 24th – the day that starts my four day mourning period each year for A.G. (These are the horrendous four days between arriving to the hospital and delivering our angel; these dates aren’t something I really talk about with my in-laws, so I am not sure if they are cognizant of their meaning or not, although they obviously were devastated when they lost their grandson at 17 weeks of gestation.)

So, off we ride. It’s a beautiful day and I think to myself, on more than one occasion, that even though I am a little moody this morning, I am doing SO much better than the two years prior. I am enjoying the adventure and not overthinking things too much. I feel strong and healthy. I am holding it together! Well…

About 5 miles until the finish line, we need to cross another small highway that connects the trail. The guys are slightly in front of us and there is a truck coming. I have time to make the cross, but I am worried about my mother-in-law seeing the truck and I see she is swerving wide to avoid the truck which makes me pay extra attention. To her. Not to my bike’s path. I go down FAST, skidding across the loose gravel parking lot that connects us to the rest of the trail. My whole body is planted to this rocky, uneven, sharp surface. I slowly get up in a daze. I have dirt caked on my whole structure and, through the dirt, I can see I am starting to bleed in various places.

I was not worried about my physical body, but this was one of those moments you realize your mental fragility is coming to the surface because of something unexpected. I have had my share of hard knocks in the last three years, so I didn’t cry or show emotion. I know now how to control my deep sadness (mostly). My thoughts were racing though. My outside body now matched the turmoil and bruises I felt inside my body. I wanted to cry. I unbuckled my helmet because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I let my husband use whatever water we had left to try to wash off the open skin while I stood there in silence. I gave myself an extra second to get on my bike as I still felt unsteady and tingly.

Bike Bruises

I did not survive this day as a hero. This 24th day of July was marked in truth by the unfortunate incidents of today and my past. When our group asked me how I was doing I so badly wanted to say how my outside pain matched my inner turmoil, although the internal pain was much worse. I wanted to say that this fall felt like total defeat.

Oh…but I didn’t. I got back on my bike. I took a painful shower. I dumped hydrogen peroxide on my forearms, my shins, and my hands. I let it burn while I agonized. I did it again. I took a needle and picked the gravel out of the heel of my hand. I moved on with my day. I ate pizza and joined the group. I found a comfortable (enough) position to sleep despite my lacerated body.

This is what we do. We suffer. We remember. We pick ourselves up and try to heal. We remember. We suffer. We pick ourselves up and try to heal. We heal. We remember. We suffer again, but less. We heal a little more. And so on.

Hitting The Restart Button (Whenever It is Needed)

This morning my Facebook news feed reminded me that I had a special memory from two years ago. The caption reads, “[My name here], we care about you and the memories you share here. You posted this photo exactly 2 years ago. We thought you’d like to look back on it today.” The memory is a photo, happily announcing my pregnancy with Adam Gabriel (at over 4 months pregnant). I was given the option to share the memory again with all of my Facebook connections. How thoughtful, Facebook. Really.

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*Edited family name for privacy.

Many of us whom have experienced loss have numerous instances like this. These moments bring out the immature, “life’s not fair” little girl in me. But, today, that’s all I am going to say about that and I am going to move on to brighter subjects because – in the end – that’s all we can really do. Unattach from the negativity, the sadness, the grief…and remember how lucky we are in so many other ways. Remember that we are loved. Remember that all our experiences give us an opportunity to grow in depth and compassion. Hit our restart buttons and press on, clinging to healthier attitudes and actions.

Life actually feels like it’s taking upward turns (slowly, but it’s happening). The days are long, the sun is vibrant, and – as I’ve mentioned – I’ve been given the opportunity to connect with many loved ones. Furthermore, my husband and I completed our first session with a spiritual director yesterday. We are so excited to have some spiritual guidance – some life-coaching so to speak –  from a woman seeming to know what questions to have us ask ourselves in order to help us flourish in congruence with reality and our faith. After ridding ourselves of some things that weren’t serving us anymore in our conversation with her, we felt relaxed.

And, within the hour, we got a call from our adoption agency. The birth mom of the little boy we are matched with completed her adoption training! This means that everything is still on track for a hopeful referral before 2015 closes. The birth mom still needs to wait 30 days and sign her intentions again, but – for today – we have made progress. Today, we notice that we have moved from the intense, relentless grief of losing our son (and three other, younger babies) to a place that feels like there is a crack of light.

July marks a flood of sadness for me ever since losing A.G. The sadness is still there, but THIS July we are making progress on our adoption. THIS July, we are working on our marriage. THIS July, we are learning hard lessons of perseverance and patience. I look around me and see others hurting more than I am. I think of how this Haitian birth mom is experiencing some of her darkest days and making brave decisions for her family. I say prayers for mercy. I say prayers of thanks. I can’t wait to see what next July brings for all of us.

39 Weeks

I haven’t been watching the calendar, but I had a reminder today that I could have/would have/should have been 39 weeks pregnant this week. I do not want to write another depressing post! So, I won’t. I refuse. Instead, I am going to write about all of the things I couldn’t have done or wouldn’t have been able to plan and look forward to if I would have been 39 weeks pregnant (you know…steal a little nectar…). Okay, here we go!

1. Wouldn’t be drinking all of that red wine I love. I mean think of it all. Buckets of the stuff, or maybe enough to fill up a bathtub, or a small wading pool. All of those 4 oz glasses times like a million days of pregnancy – what a total win!

2. Wouldn’t have paddle boarded for the first time this season yesterday. Can you imagine me wobbling, trying to balance on my board, not being able to pull my 50 pound pup up for the 102nd time like he needed yesterday after stealing swims out there on this beautiful lake? Yes, this is basically in my backyard. So lucky!

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3. There is no way I would have been able to travel this week to comfort a friend after her mom died. It turned out to be such a meaningful, warm, and important visit with her and her family and there is just no way I could have been that far away from my doctor.

4. And that reminds me of ALL of the doctor appointments I’ve avoided in the last 9 months. Oodles of them! I avoided all of those faces that know me because I am the “spontaneous aborter” as it so nicely points out on my medical history. I’ve avoided the anxiety of whether or not I will hear that heartbeat or panic over hcg numbers.

5. I wouldn’t have been able to go to the Masters again – on the final Sunday no less. Here is my grapefruit juice and club soda spritzer that I celebrated with a few days before the event to get in the right mind frame.

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6. I wouldn’t be going to Vegas to meet my oldest and most dear sister-friends for a long weekend.

7. I also wouldn’t have planned a Gulf Coast road trip with another girlfriend of mine that always has mischief on her mind and a wide grin on her face. I just giggle dreaming of the memories we will be making!

8. I wouldn’t have gotten that “couples massage” in Palm Springs last December with my friend after clearly requesting two separate massage rooms. I wouldn’t have gotten ridden like a rodeo bull as the masseuse pummeled my butt muscles with her knees and then got called a very large and beautiful lady. (Well, maybe I would have been called large and beautiful during the last nine months but not for the same reasons…this reason being that I am a 5’8″ Caucasian women with a very healthy BMI which also puts me naturally much larger than many other women around the world). I really do have the best massage stories; how could I be holding out on you guys for so long?

9. I wouldn’t have lost those five pounds this month. Okay, so maybe it’s three. And maybe it’s more of a water weight/pre-breakfast versus post-breakfast loss, but you know…it just wouldn’t have happened.

So, life is funny. It’s exciting. It’s lively, even when I am not having a baby next week. I am sure a 10th reason will come to me before my due date arrives uneventfully next week and there is good stuff in that. Dangerously refreshing, isn’t it?

Dead Branches

Dead BranchesThis whole blog is about staying positive. Steal nectar no matter what, I say. Here are the ways I am trying, I type. But there is another side to it.

There is a side that is paralyzed, a side that has trouble making use of my senses. A foggy side. There is a side that gets ready to leave the house and, in the end, cannot do it because of the tiniest hiccup in the plan. And I am so disappointed I cry…but then I am so cried out – emotioned out – I stop moments later and go back to my numbness.

I feel like I have dead branches stuck to my trunk, my soul. These dead branches are so heavy. I wish I could melt those words to make them look heavier on the page. They are making it hard for me to breathe under all the dead weight. They are making it hard to stay flexible with even a light breeze.

This deadness has everything to do with a lack of hope. I don’t know when I will be able to mobilize any part of my life, shedding the branches with a ferocious shudder, ripping them off of me. I know I have a lion underneath these layers of debris, but he is hard to find. I know he will win out. But, for the moment, I feel bi-polar. I’ve looked up depression symptoms again and again to make sure there are still boxes left unchecked. I laugh in the morning and by lunchtime I am solemn. I have too much time to think and not enough purpose.

In review, I have tried yoga, meditation, prayer, healthy eating, new projects, volunteering, running, travel, indulgent tv, writing, creating…and I can’t just UN-do, UN-think, UN-hurry my problems away. Time is ticking forward and nothing seems to change, however much I try to force it – or decidedly not force it.

I write this because I am doing well. I pursue health. I shower every day. I connect with dear ones. And I am also not doing well. I waste time. I am negative. I wallow. I think this is common. My relationships are both better and worse. I feel more and I feel less.

If I avoided writing this, I would be compromising the vulnerability I’ve self-promised to have while creating on this platform. I will be okay, but I am not okay. There is nothing concrete to be done to immediately change this phase, but this, too, shall pass, as they say.

The F*!? Is Your Life

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So, this morning life made me simultaneously giggle and sigh deeply with exhaustion. That photo is my green juice.  That photo is probably a better metaphor for my life than the previous one where the juice is contained in an enormous goblet, resting on a festive napkin. If you’ve read a few of these Stealing Nectar blog posts, you know my “green juice” (a.ka. life) often explodes and leaves me to clean up the mess and salvage what healthy stuff I can from the remaining pieces.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, has another lesser known book (but better in my opinion) titled, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.” Even though I had read Wild, I wasn’t inclined to pick up Tiny Beautiful Things until a close friend urged me to do so, saying she was in tears at the gym while listening to the audio version…and somehow I could tell she was trying to tell me something she needed to express to me.

Turns out, my friend was listening to this column included in the book from The Rumpus where Strayed was an anonymous advice columnist. This is a very moving, but longish read about miscarriage. I read this a few short months after losing Adam Gabriel, and I knew this was my friend’s way of empathizing with me. She was telling me that, on some level because of this column, she understood my pain and my great loss. She was using the column as a bridge, extending her support to my lonely, sad island of miscarriage.

As that column was so very important to my healing, so was this one, also included in Strayed’s book. Although it’s, likewise, a difficult and intense read, it has really stuck with me. Strayed so eloquently answers the vague and frustrating question, “WTF?” with the completely heartbreaking truth: “The F*!? is your life.” But, this can be pivotal. When I realized integration of the f*!? (yes, I really can’t write such a grotesque word out like an adult) – the miscarriages, the job loss, the rest of the negative list I am too tempted to type – was the only way through and passed…well, then, you get busy cleaning up the juice on your cabinets, on the floor, all over your robe…and get ready to do it all over again knowing that there are no guarantees in this life, but you’ll be okay anyway.

Green Juice

My life in metaphor: green juice. Desperate and clinging to hope, I make green juice. My kale and spinach based liquid breakfast represents what I am trying to do in all aspects my life. When infusing life – or breakfast – with only the cleanest, nutritiously-packed ingredients, the output is bound to be superior than whatever happen-chance would produce. Rigggght?!?!

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Well, it’s something I am trying. The last few months have produced one failed pregnancy, three nasty colds, and a lot of immature emotions (like jealousy, anger, and entitlement) I have been trying to conquer. But…I finally have that summer feeling back where I have enough energy and stability to commit myself to positivity again. It may not be paddleboarding season yet, but I am working on filling my hours with only the best.

This includes a little work, lots of sleep, fresh foods, yoga, warm baths, book devouring, board game nights with my husband, and sweet cuddletime with Hollywood, my curly, Fraggle Rock of a pup. Long talks with friends, new volunteer activities, and exciting travel plans are on the agenda.

I feel all of this patience I have had to muster is preparing me for my next stage of life. We learned recently that we will be waiting until at least the summer to hear any news about an adopted child, so there is a continuous resetting of expectations. I expect, once the child is home with us, this theme will be repeated as we teach them English and try to help them reach new developmental milestones.

So, I choose to be thankful for the practice of patience. I choose to be thankful for this desert time which is really not that hard in so many ways. I choose to drink green juice and continue to hope for strength, change, and positive tomorrows.