Monday, January 23, 2017

With Feathers

I don't pretend to know grief. Not because it hasn't touched my life; it has. In the last year, it has touched the lives of my family in a deep and profound way from which we are still reeling. In truth, a life not touched by grief doesn't really exist, but still--I don't pretend to know grief.

I don't pretend to know grief, because I have seen through the grief of my sister, through the grief of my nephew and niece, that grief cannot truly be known. 

To each of us, grief is different. For me, when my brother-in-law Ken died a year ago today, grief first manifested itself as anger. The anger has long since subsided, but in that moment, in the time of the longest year of our lives, the grief I knew was red and raging. 

Well-meaning people always try to understand another's grief. They try to define it. They try to compartmentalize it. They try to push it along. I was well-meaning. In my mind, I wanted my sister and her children to be healed immediately. I wanted them to go on about their lives without a ripple, without a pause. 

Watching my sister hurt was unbearable. It intensified my anger in such a way that was alarming, nearly overwhelming. I watched as she cried, as she held everything together for her kids. I watched as she searched for a place to put her grief, as she pointed her pain to rebuilding her life. 

Well-meaning, as I was, I hoped she'd heal. "Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul," and the thing about hope is that it can fly away as easily as it lands. My hope that my sister will heal hasn't gone, but the reality of grief has finally dawned.

A photo posted by Katie Ross (@katieross83) on

I don't know grief. None of us do. Oh, we may be intimately familiar with its ebbs and flows, with its phases and stages. With the bullet points and books and hollow words that attempt to explain it, to explain us to ourselves. But grief has many faces. It wears many masks. It speaks in tongues that our ears cannot hear and cannot know. 

My sister's grief is her own. I don't try to understand it. I don't try to define it. I don't hurry it along. I don't know what words will help, so I stick with an old stand-by that never says enough: I'm sorry.

And I am sorry. I'm sorry that I ever tried to know her grief. I'm sorry that her grief has become her constant companion. One that she faces bravely even on the hardest of days. 

Today is a hard day. I know it will be, but I can't know how hard. Only she and her children are living the reality of their tragedy, the daily weight of it that punishes and takes.

I watch them survive and thrive despite the pain. I watch her raise two of the most loving, intelligent children I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.   

But a life passed doesn't just disappear. It doesn't vanish. It doesn't end. 

Ken lives on. He lives on in so many ways. In Garrett's silly dances and songs, in his stubbornly huge heart that constantly watches over others. In Tessa's sweet giggles and sharp intelligence, in her perfect hugs and bright, smiling eyes. His children were his perfect gift. 

The grief we feel over Ken's passing is unique to each of us. We live through it every day. And yet, life does go on, even when you feel like it shouldn't. 

A year has passed, and it's been both achingly long and breathtakingly short. We miss you, Ken, and wish daily that instead of this unknowable, unbearable grief that, just for another moment, we had you. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Blue Door

Actually, the door is gypsy teal, but "blue door" sounded better for a title. The fact that our front door has been black ever since we bought our house in 2009 is an indication of nothing really...perhaps our laziness but nothing else.

Nonetheless, the door is gypsy teal now, and the difference it made in the look of our house was quite remarkable. We painted the door after we had hardwood floors installed this weekend. Funny how doing one little improvement makes you want to do all the improvements. All at once. This motivation is sure to end. 

With the door now gypsy teal, the front porch needs a new coat of white paint...and the shutters need painting. And the whole house could use pressure-washing. Funny how one little improvement makes all the other flaws stand out. 

Over the last two years, I worked on earning my Masters degree in Higher Education Administration. In December of 2016, I finished. Basically, my life has a blue front door now. And as with the improvements to the house, I am now looking at all the flaws that I need to work on personally. 

Self-doubt is a long-time companion of mine. From time to time, she visits to remind me of those flaws, to remind me that I'm not worthy somehow. But this little swing into "who am I" and "what now" feels a little different than those in my past. It feels different because I'm different. I'm a more confident version of myself. I still care what others think but not nearly as much as before. I'm no longer defined by it. 

This time I'm able to tell myself that I am enough and that where I am in life is enough. Sure, I do have a new, blue front door, but a new door doesn't mean I need to know what my next improvement project is going to be. After all, so much of our life is spent waiting, spent looking at or to the next thing, that we sometimes seem to miss what is sitting right in front of us. 

The lovely. The mundane. The beautifully boring and deliciously ordinary. The life that needs living in our own way that isn't anyone else's way, that is perfectly imperfect and bumpy and gorgeous and awful, all at once. 

As of today, I have a blue front door. I also have a Masters Degree. But I have much more to offer the world than my house or my job. I will live and love the here and now. The future will wait and so will flaws and improvements and the crap that causes self-doubt. Blue doors are lovely but so am I.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Time Has Come

"The time has come," she said, "to write."

At what moment do you start being a writer? The moment that you start writing.

At what moment do you stop being a writer? The moment that you stop writing. 

The definition of writer has never been that simple for me. I always thought you needed to get paid or published or maybe even do it full-time for it to really be true. But hey, I was paid. I was published. And although, I never had the pleasure of being able to write full-time, I can now say with confidence that it has nothing to do with all of that. It's really as simple as you either write, or you don't. 

I didn't write for so long. Sure, I had excuses. I was in graduate school. There was a lot going on with my family. Blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Those are just excuses. The fact was that I quit being what I loved. I quit. And then it became harder and harder to become that person I loved again. It seemed that the obstacle I'd created for myself was insurmountable. Sure...another excuse.

I believe in signs. The Universe speaks to us. Whether that be in the form of a higher power, a forest spirit, an electromagnetic field, I don't know, but it speaks to us, and if we choose to listen, if we're BRAVE enough to listen, we can find magic. I ignored all the signs for so long. I excused the signs.

I need to read for school.

I need to vacuum.

I need to buy groceries.

No. No, the Universe screamed. You need to write!

I need to write. I've abandoned it for too long, something simple, something profound that brought me such joy, and I want it back. I want blogging back. I want Chicken Noodle Gravy back.

School is finished. I'm two years older and wiser. I have two whole years of experiences to write about. The material is there. The words are on the tip of my tongue. So. The time has come.

To write.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tessa Rose

I was gone to Starbucks when the news you were coming arrived. My phone, which had scarcely left my side for the last several weeks as I impatiently waited on news of you, was sitting on my desk; the text message announcing that you were on the way sat unseen and unread on my phone, an eagerly awaited message that would have to wait just a little longer.

When I returned to the office, iced coffee and bacon gouda breakfast sandwich in hand, I absently checked my phone and saw the message I’d been waiting to see for weeks. “Your new niece is on her way!”

The thirty or so minutes after that are largely a blur to me. There was a lot of squealing, a lot of dancing around, a lot of running from office to office to share the exciting news. I called my Mama (your BB) first, as she’s the one that sent the text, and then I called Jennifer, your Mama, to see how everything was.

You were definitely on the way, she said, and before she drove herself to the hospital, she was going to stop at a fast food restaurant to grab some fries, because naturally, she was hungry. Labor’s hard work. This is your Mama. She’s the strongest woman I know. When she went into labor with Garrett, your big brother, she insisted on doing a load of laundry before she left the house. She’s like Super Woman on steroids, and if you’re anything like her at all, you’ll be amazing.

After much celebration at work, your Uncle Jeremy arrived to whisk me away to meet you. We went home, fed the cats (your cousins), grabbed the camera, and away we went. For a good twenty minutes of the hour-long car ride, I squealed intermittently. You can ask Uncle Jeremy. I was pretty excited and pretty annoying. It was about 5:00 by the time we were on the road, and Atlanta traffic can be a nightmare. But not that day. That day everything was perfect.

We made it to the hospital in plenty of time. You were in no real hurry. Your Mama was patient and calm, and for awhile, we just hung out with her and your Daddy in the hospital room. They would only let in two of us at a time, so we took turns. Me, BB, and your Papa. I would say the three of us were equally excited to meet you; we’ll always be your biggest fans.

The waiting room was crowded at first. Families came and went. Babies were happily announced, hugs were shared, even a few tears were shed, and still, we waited.

By 10:00pm, the waiting room was just me, BB, Papa, and Uncle Jeremy. We were ready for you to arrive, and an electric current of anticipation was buzzing in the room, but there was also a strange sense of calm. When your big brother arrived, I don’t think any of us were calm, but with you, things were different. After meeting you, I realized calm was just part of who you were.

We finally did get to meet you at about 1:00am. You were, and still are, beautiful. Your Mama was beautiful, too. When we came in the hospital room to see you and her, she looked amazing. We kept asking how everything went, and she would just shrug. Easy peasy. I know very few women who shrug after labor. I told you your Mama’s pretty amazing.

I’ve held you and kissed you and cuddled you close. Soon, you’ll be a week old, but I loved you before you were even born.

Tessa Rose, I wish you a life of giggles and bare feet, of ponytails and sunshine. I can’t wait to know you even better, to play with you and kiss your boo-boos and be the best aunt in the world. You’re already the best niece.  



Monday, May 26, 2014

The Empathetic One

When I was agonizing over the decision of killing the spider in my bathtub this morning, despite a deep-seated, nearly paralyzing fear of spiders, I realized that I may be taking this empathy thing a bit too far. I’ve always been empathetic. From my days as child, sleeping with twenty stuffed animals because I was afraid I might hurt the feelings of said stuffed animals (or the giver of said stuffed animals) if I didn’t include them all, to my days as an adult, crying long and hard over a dead goose in the middle of a busy highway.

I can’t help it. I feel, and I feel deeply. Relating to people, to animals, heck, even to things, is a gift, even if it’s also a curse. Let’s start by examining the gift side of things. I care. I care about how the world turns out. I care about people and their fate. I care about how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. It helps me to connect to you and everyone else in this world, and I sincerely love that about myself. It makes me open-minded and inclusive. It helps me “see through another’s eyes” and “walk in another’s shoes” and all of those other tired clich├ęs about connecting and relationships.

On the other hand, empathy hurts. It turns me into mush. It worries me. It’s “tearin’ me apart,” as James Dean might say. As a supervisor, my empathy has proven to be a bit too much to handle. Since January, I’ve been struggling along in my first supervisory role…ever. The fact that I’m now leading a team of 6 to 7 people on a daily basis, that they count on me for things like paychecks and guidance, well, sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.

Their problems become my problems. I spend time agonizing over how best to solve those problems, and most of the time, I just can’t turn off my mind. The same goes with friends and family. If I sense for even a moment (and I’m good at sensing feelings, too) that someone close to me is unhappy, my entire day is thrown off.  I focus on what must be wrong, how I can help, and all of the other things that empathizers focus on when their powers are at work.

Empathizing and worrying seem to kind of go hand-in-hand, although they aren’t mutually exclusive. In recent years, I’ve fine-honed my empathizing to turn off if I start worrying too much. That comes in handy when my mind starts getting carried away with things.

So, yeah, I would say being empathetic is both a blessing and a curse. It’s like I’m a superhero with powers that are both good and bad. Maybe a little like Superman. Run with me here. Superman sometimes hates the fact that he’s got all of these powers, because even though they help him save people, they also alienate him from people and keep him from living a normal life. I sometimes want to live a normal life, with a normal level of emotion and empathy. That’s all I’m saying. When you over-empathize, you end up driving yourself a little crazy.

But if Superman had the chance to give up his powers, would he? It’s the age-old question. If I could give up being so empathetic, would I? The answer always seems to be no. Because in giving up anything that is a part of you, whether it be a super power or a personality trait that happens to be in hyper-drive, you change that fundamental equation that makes you…you. And when the world is full of so many cool people, who are each different and super in their own way, who the heck would want to do that? 

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