We don’t even know how strong we are until we’re forced to bring that hidden strength forward.Isabel Allende
May and June. So many things about this change of season have become new. These months hold truths I never thought I’d know—and still, a budding flower does keep the promise of an end to winter. The mud, the rain, and the grass that needs to be mowed. The weed eating, tree trimming, flowers to buy, plant, and hang. The frog pond that needs cleaning. I am looking at this life through a new lens now. Joe never liked mowing, and I’ve decided that that was his story; it doesn’t have to be mine. I never enjoyed gardening, and now I’m finding that digging into the earth does indeed bring some solace, as Joe always said. It’s funny how when you change the way you look at things, those things do change.
May: Jesse’s birthday, Jill’s birthday, Mother’s Day, the day my dad died, Jesse’s memorial, mine and Joe’s anniversary.
June: The month we always traveled west, Dad’s birthday, Erin & Michael’s anniversary, Father’s Day, Emerson’s birthday, Carol’s birthday, and the day Joe died.
There are other birthdays in there too—ones I don’t celebrate anymore. Secondary-loss. That’s something no one ever talks about with the death of a loved one. I’ve learned that this is normal; there is always a change in relationships. We are ever-evolving. That’s life and a consequence of death.
May 28th-Jesse’s memorial. We lost him suddenly and unexpectedly on April 1—an accident at work. Grinch and I traveled north to Ironwood, Michigan (in the U.P.), to celebrate my nephew’s life, which was cut way too short. He was only 39. He would’ve been 40 in just a few short weeks. Joe and I would always stop to see Jesse and his family when we were on our way to Eagle River in the fall and then on our way back for Fall Diddley. And in November, when we were making a candle delivery. He came to celebrate Thanksgiving with us a few years back and to the family campout for Joe’s birthday. The phone calls after Joe died—talking about all the things—the ones that are forever in my mind. There were other times, too, but those were the most memorable. I miss him so much. I’m grateful I could visit with family, and friends, and tell the stories we all had to tell.
Our anniversary, May 28, happened to be the same day as Jesse’s memorial. This would’ve been our 28th. I thought it ironic and a perfect way to start on a new adventure—my first solo camping trip. Well…I have Grinch, but this is a journey of me and my wit—or should I say—me and my grit? So many things to reflect on and celebrate, to honor and to appreciate-like my dad’s birthday.
I was thinking back last night to 2017 when he died (has it really been five years?) It was a time of significant loss and healing for our family. We spent weeks gathered together taking care of him and each other. I will never forget the week before he died, building a fire in his woods and listening to music with the family. But not just listening—singing, too. John Denver, Poems, Prayers, and Promises. That was my favorite. It just happened. We all knew the words by heart, and we needed to sing. Perfect harmony, that’s what I remember. It was beautiful. I’m so glad that I was able to say goodbye to my dad and thank him for everything.
Dad’s birthday is coming up in just a few days, and though there has been much loss over the last few years, we have also had deep healing moments and intimate conversations with each other. Sitting around a fire, standing over a bed, or circling on the deck—so many places for connection and community. I’m still craving those moments—I always will. But I love my alone time, too.
My dad is the one that first introduced me to the west—South Dakota, the Badlands, Black Hills, Crazy Horse Mountain, Mount Rushmore—from the back of a pickup under the camper shell, where we also slept. (Those were the days.) Colorado, and the Rockies. When Joe and I first came, he fell in love too. With all of it. And then, we discovered the Grand Canyon, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. Utah is the only state where Joe was officially skunked. He didn’t catch one fish. We only managed to find one lake, but he still loved the beauty of the state, in spite of that one little thing. 😉 The west is so vast and so beautiful.
And I can’t forget to mention the great Northwoods, either. Dad is the one that decided we would move there in the winter of 1979. I remember one of our first activities, me and my two brothers, was to jump from the roof, out of the second-floor closet window, and into the snow. Yes, it was that deep! It was smack in January when we moved. I fell in love with that place as hard as I have any. How appropriate I travel these roads now, celebrating all I have been blessed to experience and live because of my dad’s love of travel and his adventurous spirit—grateful I was paying attention.
And now, visiting Jill in Montana, my childhood friend from Wisconsin. We have always stayed connected and never failed to pick up right where we left off and reminisce about a life lived years ago. So many things we experienced together and coming of age. Secrets and stories only the two of us will share or talk about with each other. (Not everything is meant for the ears of others.) We’ve spent time doing all the things, and nothing. Looking through old yearbooks and reading the sentiments left by each other and our classmates is always cause for a good belly laugh, or 50! Jill’s a great listener and sees things from an outside perspective. That helps with clarity. Sometimes we’re just too close to something, and the advice from others is a welcome reprieve from our own thoughts. Jill gave me a going-away party back in the day when we left Wisconsin to move back to Indiana. It was so hard leaving. That party with all of my friends is one of my fondest memories. They made me feel so loved. I probably cried the whole drive back home to Indiana, just as I did when we made the move in the first place.
And let’s not forget the peace that the simple act of being in nature always seems to bring. Everything in nature is connected. I like to sit and observe the way others behave when they’re outdoors—especially camping. There’s so much to learn from each other. When we were camping in Colorado years ago, I overheard a conversation between a mother and her kids about putting a tent together: “You never ‘pull’ the rods out of the tent. You always push them thru to prevent stretching the ropes.” (I didn’t know that!)
What do we have to have, and what can we do without? What will we need to figure out as we go? It’s one of my favorite aspects of camping. We sometimes have to work our brains a little harder to find a solution to a problem when we don’t have all the conveniences at our fingertips. And I love that no one cares how they’re dressed when camping. Anything goes! I have never met a camper that wasn’t willing to extend kindness in some way.
As I celebrate my dad’s birthday in a couple of days, I will do it with love and gratitude. I will reflect on all of the lessons learned from him-like the love of the great outdoors. Grinch and I will spend the day hiking and sitting around a fire. I’ll talk to mom on the phone and listen to a story or two she’ll share while enjoying the bird’s chatter, and looking at pictures—possibly a sunrise but definitely a sunset. I’ll have a beer for him and a cupcake for me, from the very spot Joe and I, were just six years ago when we called to say, “happy birthday, dad!”
Happy birthday, Dad. I love you, I thank you for all of the experiences you gave me, and I will always miss you!
“Ain’t No Grave” (thanks for this Fay, Jenny, and Justin.)
To your healing, and mine.
xo, and peace.
As always…thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and your lovely messages of hope, faith, and inspiration. If what I’m writing resonates with you, let me know. Leaving a comment here on the blog is the best way to connect. This is helping me. I hope that it’s also helping you. Much love.
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I just want the pain to stop… (video)
Suicide is not a selfish act. It’s a desperate act.
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