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Grief, forgiveness, and love

Monday, August 28th, 2017

A few months ago, my life was completely upended when a man I deeply loved betrayed my trust and broke my heart. While the details matter to me, all I’ll say is this: I was planning to move to Nashville so we could be together, but it didn’t happen. The relationship was serious enough to warrant me selling my house and putting a down payment on another — but when a man tells you there’s someone else, you do not follow through with a move across the country to be with him.

I have hesitated to write about this, because in doing so, I can only share my own experience. This person is living a now separate narrative, and despite the pain that his choices have put me through, I am not out to demonize or villainize anyone involved. He meant more to me than that. I’m just sad.

I want to be honest about what I’ve gone through, what I’m still going through. I am not writing from a place of resolution or remedy; the heartache is still very much in process for me because I lost so much. I lost a man who had become my best person. I lost a relationship I had been led to believe was “it.” I lost a dream of a future that had made so much sense — even felt confirmed and ordained by God, to be honest. I lost not one, but two houses. I lost any sense of direction or home. I lost the ability to trust. I lost 15 lbs and a whole lot of money. I lost everything we had been building toward. Cruelest of all, in some moments, I lost all hope.

:::::

How do you hold the conflicting emotions of heartbreak, anger, and the remnants of love all at the same time? It’s an unbearable tension. But here is what I’m learning.

GRIEF
To experience grief in all of its awful fullness is human and healthy. To sidestep it, whether through alcohol, travel, social media, shopping, sex, or tattoos, is to cauterize our humanity. It’s best to lean straight into the pain; if we don’t, it will seep like oil through a bed of dead leaves, poisoning life from the ground up. Numbed-out grief leads to anger, anger leads to depression, depression leads to a critical spirit and a lack of peace.

But grief? We are promised that grief leads to comfort. Beauty. Dancing. I want to be a person who looks my pain in the eye, regardless of what it costs me, and then rest in knowing that there is still goodness ahead — eventually.

FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is not primarily for the one you are forgiving. It’s for you. Choosing to forgive sets you free from the bondage of what was done to you, the pain that was inflicted upon you. It doesn’t change it, it certainly doesn’t excuse any of it — but it loosens your chains and allows you to move forward, inch by inch, breath by breath, day by day. When you release the grip on your right to harm the other person, you get your hands back. You get your life back. Slowly.

It doesn’t happen all at once. I’m finding it’s something I have to do over and over in the hopes that one day my heart will match the choice. It stings like a death; a grave is involved, the burying of a perfectly good hatchet.

Nothing about it feels fair. Nothing about it feels justified. But isn’t that the point?

LOVE
You cannot love without risk. There is no such thing. The pain I’m in comes from the love I felt, because I was brave enough to show up as my fullest, truest self and enter a relationship that mattered. And when you truly love someone, you don’t get to be in control. To force, to clutch, to cling, to do whatever it takes to get your way — that is not a picture of love. That is a picture of fear. Fear is a liar, and the opposite of love.

This may have ended in disaster for me, but I will never regret opening my heart to hope and allowing myself to be known by another. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and a testament to strength, not weakness.

:::::

I am not “recovered.” This experience has altered my insides in ways I struggle to articulate. I was left heartbroken and homeless, and some days I’m still so sad, when I walk around I swear you can hear my heart rattle in my chest. Time truly is the only healer for something so brutal, and unfortunately, there’s no way to fast-forward. But I’ve made it through these first few months; here I raise my Ebenezer.

You may be wondering where I am. I obviously had to move out of my Minneapolis house in July, gutted and reeling, suddenly with nowhere to go. But thanks to my amazing friends and family, I’ve found places to go. Foxy is with me, of course. We’re being taken care of.

I have missed sharing my life in a virtual way. It didn’t feel right for me to carry on posting like nothing had happened, because racking up likes and comments is a false balm. The pain of this betrayal has been potent, and it’s been important for me to honor it by bearing the full weight of what I’ve lost. But I’m still here.

The path I took to get here has washed out behind me. The way forward isn’t yet clear. But I’m gathering the broken pieces in hopes of building something new. It’s not the future that I wanted, but it’s the future that I’m going to get. And somehow, I want to live it well.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon, grief and forgiveness and love intermingled, moving forward and holding on to hope for dear life.

Huge thanks to my amazing sister-in-law Ashley Parsons for capturing this image. You’ve helped remind me that I’m strong in a season when I’ve felt anything but.

A question for Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

My favorite song of the last year is Brandy Clark’s “Love Can Go to Hell.” If you haven’t heard it, please give yourself the sweet, melancholic gift of listening — if for no other reason than Brandy Clark is one of the smartest writers I’ve ever run across.

But lest my love of this song make you think otherwise, my heart is pretty soft these days, in the rawest sense. Recent events have left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. No need to get into the details, but I’ll tell you this: I feel like a stray dog who has spent the past several years hiding under a garage to avoid being kicked, and when finally coaxed out by kindness personified waiting across the street, I got hit by a car.

[Awkward and abrupt sidenote:
Speaking of terrified dogs,
check out what happened last
night in my own backyard!]

I’m okay. I really am. Just sad — which, if emotions were college subjects, is sort of my major. Sadness is my wheelhouse. I’m well-practiced in it to the point that it actually feels a little bit comfortable (said the Enneagram Four). And I would rather my heart be soft enough to hurt than safe to the point of numbness.

Because after all:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” —C.S. Lewis

So here is my question, and it’s not a rhetorical one. I am truly interested in your answers, if you’d be brave enough to share.

How do you keep your heart soft in a hard world?

Because I have to believe a soft heart is worth fighting for.

Evergreen

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Major changes at work. The tragic death of a guy from my hometown. The Austin Sigg sentencing. Stress and uncertainty. Too many work dinners, not enough exercise. Men being straight-up disappointing. A puppy that barks from 4-7am. And a high of 20-freaking-degrees yesterday.

This week wasn’t my favorite.

Next week, the holiday season begins – which, in the past few years especially, has felt so horrendously sad. Who can celebrate when so much is wrong? How disingenuous can we be? Gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a cuss word. The weather outside is frightful, and I’m feeling rather spiteful. Follow me in merry measure, while the world kills all our pleasure. Faithful friends who are dear to us disappear to us once more. And will someone bring me some damn figgy pudding already?

The halcyon years are over. We know too much. And whenever the saccharine feels like overkill, I tend to overcompensate in the other direction – choosing the bitter over the sweet.

But, you know, I bought a pumpkin. And it’s still sitting in the middle of my dining room table, reminding me that this life is marked by seasons. While “autumn” makes me think of blazing colors, crisp air, and Anthropologie sweaters, “fall” feels like the beginning of deadness – the literal falling of what used to be so alive. And as I watch the world around me expire, trees stripped bare and everything left shivering, I remember that something has to die in order for something new to live.

So I’m trading in my pumpkin for my very first tiny Christmas tree. I have no tinsel, no lights. But I’m placing it on my mantle as a reminder of what is unchanging – an evergreen in the midst of transition – a sign that even when everything around is dying, some things are constant. And if we stick around long enough, something new is sure to begin.

After Thanksgiving, maybe I’ll start by hanging an ornament.

When you can’t go back

Monday, September 9th, 2013

On Friday, I witnessed a tragedy. It’s not my story to tell, but everyone who experienced it was deeply affected, and I spent the afternoon close to the surface, eyes brimming with tears. That night when I called my mom, I erupted into sobs, undone because what happened could not be undone.

I spent Saturday morning quiet, sad, in my backyard pulling weeds. The yard had been sprayed a few weeks ago and everything was brittle and dead, but I needed to clear the ground. As I worked the roots out of the dry dirt, I realized just how many foxtails I was dealing with.

The foxtail weed looks like a wheat head, small and bristly. When Toad would come in from the backyard, her legs would be covered in them, and I would pull them off one by one. But then Becca told me that foxtails can burrow themselves in a dog’s skin, working their way deeper and deeper – and like a porcupine quill, they can only move in a forward direction. Once in, their awn-shape makes it impossible to pull them back – you can only hope that they’ll work their way out someday.

I never let Toad in the backyard again.

When horrible things happen, we want to reverse them. Most of the time, they’re irreversible.

The only thing to do is to keep moving forward, looking for the light.

Kodiak “Toad” Parsons – 2001-2013

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Less than two weeks after taking her to Kansas City, my mom called to let me know that Toad had taken an abrupt turn for the worst. She was in a lot of pain, and the X-rays showed that she had no discs left in her neck. Severe arthritis was taking over. Her back legs were buckling. And thanks to my friend Mark and his heroic buddy pass provision, I got on a last-minute flight.

Last night, we said goodbye to my sweetest friend. She was the happiest little dog, social and affectionate, funny and cute, and so much braver than me. I’m so grateful to have had 2 years of 3-legged adventures with her, and especially relieved that I could be with her in her final moments – moments that were heartbreaking but somehow peaceful. Although in pain, she was attentive, ears laid back, tail wagging until the very end.

Toad’s life made a difference to mine. She forced me to not be the center of my universe – which, let’s be honest, is hard to do. She was companionship. She was unconditional love. I felt better when she was around – which is why I took her with me everywhere I could: work, parties, counseling (yes, I took her with me to counseling). She made people stop on the street, charming everyone she came across. She loved cheese and rotisserie chicken. She hated having her picture taken and getting her feet wet.

Most of all, she loved people, and I’m pretty sure it’s okay for me to say that she loved me the most, followed by my family and then probably Graham Stoner. I know that so many of you loved her, and for those who never met her, I wish you could have. She was one of a kind.

I’ll miss you more than I can say, Toady – good girl.

Summer camp

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Today is a very sad day, one I’ve been dreading for a long time. I’m saying goodbye to Toad, and sending her to Kansas City to stay with my mom for a bit.

I’m calling it “summer camp” because to think of it as anything else breaks my heart. I know that it’s for good reason – I’m out of town every single weekend for the rest of the summer, not to mention an 8-day work trip in August, and while I have a few good dog sitters, I don’t have THAT many good dog sitters. I know that Toad being with my mom will be the best thing for her – she’ll have consistency and air conditioning and people to rub her belly. I know that Labor Day will be here before I know it, and I’ll be driving out to Kansas City to bring her home.

Still, I’m having trouble stomping down that accusatory voice telling me I’m abandoning her in the name of convenience.

She’s been mine for two years – two very complicated, constantly changing, fragile years for this little dog – and I’ve taken the responsibility really seriously, maybe even to a fault. I pay really close attention to Toad. I watch her to make sure she isn’t in pain. I take her with me everywhere I can because she hates to be alone. And now I’m just… sending her away?

But given that there’s no good reason for me to be concerned about her living at my mom’s house (i.e. the lap of luxury), it makes me think that my anxiety over the whole thing is actually related to something else. It’s probably more selfish.

I’m just going to miss her.

She’s been my near-constant companion, a listening ear, the one who wakes me up in the morning because she’s hungry and then won’t eat her food unless I put cheese on it. She sits on the front porch without a leash and doesn’t run away. When I talk, she looks attentively at my face, even though her brain is very small.

And on nights like last night, when the rain came pouring down and flooded my kitchen once again, and I was standing in the backyard drenched to the bone, frantically trying to figure out how to stop the water from pouring in, and having no luck, came back inside in waterlogged sneakers, threw towels all over the floor, caught what I could in bowls and pans, and thought about posting about it on Facebook just because I need someone to see me – there was Toad. Watching my every move. Witnessing my life. Reminding me that I’m not alone.

She has a fresh shave, and a little bag packed with her few things: her dog dishes, Zuke’s treats, heartworm pills, and the leash she never needs. She’s ready.

If only I could say the same for me.

“The Undoing”

Monday, May 9th, 2011

It feels strange to not be writing here.

When I don’t write, I’m reminded that this blog was born out of a need in me, for myself, and not really for anyone else.  I can’t not write.  I think I have to, as a part of being the truest version of myself.

But I haven’t been writing here. And I’ll admit, I’m not feeling much like myself these days.

But here’s a new song, recorded yesterday with a stuffy nose, super lo-fi style in the living room.  It gives a glimpse into these days, the days when it’s difficult to write anything else.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

[Song has been taken down – maybe you’ll hear it some other time.]

“What is Voldamert’s purpose in life?”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Forgive me, friends – but these days, it feels next to impossible to string sentences together.  I am walking through a hard time – one of the hardest – and sometimes, it’s like a cinder block tied to my ankles, pulling me down, down, down.

I am not dealing gently with myself, as I should.  Instead, I am running myself into the ground, demanding a lot, believing harsh words, burning the candle at both ends, and losing sleep.  I feel out of control in just about every arena, and, as I told a trusted confidant last night, I don’t know when I’m going to not feel tired.  I would give anything for a wide open schedule and absolute silence.

I do really well in absolute silence – but currently, and honestly, most of the time, life is a cacophony.

In the meantime, at least I can laugh at these:

Something new

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

I told some new friends last night that I’m struggling with some sadness – the death of some hope, the grief of some disappointments.  It’s not depression – because trust me, if anyone knows depression, it’s me – it’s just sadness.  For some legitimate reasons.

Sometimes life is just sad.

Don’t you sometimes wish that your old broken heart could just be made into something new?

(I’ve written about this before – but back then, I was a much better writer.  This girl’s getting rusty.  Thanks for still reading anyway.)

The [weekend]

Monday, August 16th, 2010

What did I [climb]: Pike’s Peak – all by myself, and SO FAST.  Seriously, I hope this doesn’t come off as all braggy-face of me, but I scampered up the entire mountain, and barely broke a sweat.

Sir Edmund Hillary?  How about Sir ANNIE PARSONS.

What did I [burn]: the backs of my calves.  Why does this always happen?  Why doesn’t the sun wrap around to my shins, too, bathing all 360 degrees of my legs in that horrible blazing Vitamin D?  It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.  [If you get that joke, you win.]

What did I [buy]: two new pairs of Toms.  I couldn’t decide, so I bought both.  Let’s hear it for happy feet – and shoes for kids!



What did I [hear]:
the golden, dulcet voice of Jonatha Brooke – live.  Oh sweet Moses, y’all.  Do you know about this woman?  KNOW ABOUT HER.  Her “Ten Cent Wings” album is something special – trust me (and really, trust Duane, who originally spread the good news).

What did I [make]: jalapeño hummus.  My new food processor is changing my life.

What did I [feel]: so sad, and so happy.  These days, I’m feeling both, and more than ever – like the spectrum is growing, like my capacity for the extremes keeps increasing.  I wonder if this will continue as I get older – until one day, the sad and the happy will stretch out from my heart in opposite directions, hugging the globe and meeting in Madagascar.

I have a million little pieces glued together for my heart.

I don’t know that that’s a bad thing.