the readers.

reading glasses

His eyes were closed when I walked into the room. He had fallen asleep wearing his readers and they were almost at the tip of his nose. I had to fight the instinct to go and gently adjust them so they were closer to his eyes.

In this brief moment, he looks so much like his own father. My sweet Grandpa. When did that happen?

I quietly stand at the foot of his bed and take in all the tubes, wires, and machines surrounding him.

His eyes slowly open…they crinkle up at the sides as he smiles in recognition,

“Q” (His nickname for me…the shortened version of Lizzy-Q.)

“Hi Dad.”

“You made it.”

We both smile.

I wore those same readers last night just before I fell asleep.

I like to think of it as looking at the world (or even just a good book) through his eyes.

As I get older, my perfect vision is not so perfect anymore. His readers give my eyes the added boost they need…the words on the pages are larger, clearer and sharper.

This is part of my grieving process. I do this every single time. I hold onto a piece of them until I am ready to let go.

My “transitional objects” upset my dad.

He did not like it when I wore my brother’s watch until the band broke.

“It is not healthy, Q. Every time you look down at the watch, you’re reminded of him. I don’t think you should wear it anymore.”

He did not like it when I held onto John’s last letter or wore Brian’s Red Sox cap or stored too many boxes of my grandma’s old knickknacks.

“It’s just stuff, Liz.”

I stopped sharing with him that I held onto these things. It hurt too much to have a mirror put in front of my face and told what I’m doing is not healthy.

And then my mom died, and I did the same thing.

I was not ready.

But, Death does not wait for when we are ready. So, I fell back on my usual coping mechanism to soften the blow, but, this time, I did not talk about it with my dad.

His opinion hurt too much. Maybe he is right?

But, then he called me when I accepted the best offer on the house with the red door.

“This house. It is your heart, Liz, and it’s being taking away and you cannot stop it. I am sorry you are hurting. I think I understand it now.”

A gentle shift in our relationship…
An understanding…
His approval.

All I ever wanted was my dad’s approval.

His readers sit atop a book on my bedside table now.

I like looking at the world (or even just a good book) through his eyes.

(originally posted to Facebook on 10/13/2017)

the seismic shift.

dad thumbs up

Charles F. Benda, Jr.
September 23, 1947 – August 26, 2017

 

My brain is still processing
this seismic shift.

I still hear his breathing,
I still listen for his stirring,
I still sit in silence awaiting him to call my name,

But, in my heart, I know he is gone.

My dad.
My dad has gone home.

We knew he was close.
All of us.
We sat vigil alongside his bed
Overlooking the river
“This is what he always wanted,”
We whisper and pray…
It makes it easier.

The same hands that…
Held me as a baby
Lifted me up when I fell
Gripped mine in “Left on, Brotha” solidarity
Gathered up my children,
Leads the way…

Yesterday, those hands
were clenched in fists…
Not in anger,
but a natural reflex,
a response to the impending –
His body shutting down.

I chose to pry open both hands
Carefully unfolding each finger
The urge to wash them immediate.

The water in the pink plastic hospital bin just right.
First, the left
(Left on, Brotha)
Lathering up with sweet-smelling baby wash
Pat dry.
Careful, so as not to spill,
I gather up the bin and walk around his bed to the other side.
Move on to his right hand.
Unfold.
Lather.

“Is he still breathing?” his wife asks.

We all look down
I am still holding his soapy hand
It is still warm
We had not noticed the rattling had quieted down
The short breath I saw a moment before,
His last.

It was a good death.

My brain is still processing this seismic shift.

(Originally posted to Facebook on 8/27/2017)

leading the way.

dad holding my hand

I may be 46 years old, but this is still how I see myself with my dad.

He is strong, kind, handsome, patient (most of the time), intuitive, caring, the best direction-giver and “wicked smart” (per one of the cardiologists who used to work with dad when he was in pacemaker sales).

He is the perfect dad. He holds my hand whenever I need him (and that’s been a lot lately).

He also tells me he loves my writing and wants me to keep at it. And so, I write…

A little over a week ago, my dad called and asked if I could talk for two minutes. He led the conversation with discussions about the unemployment rate and all that was going on in Charlottesville.

Then, he paused and said, “Lizabeth, the third reason I called is…I think I’m dying.”

Now, anyone who knows my dad knows that he is the best story-teller, totally hilarious and tends to exaggerate from time to time. However, his tone of voice told me that this was not a joke. I shifted gears and tried to encourage him to seek medical attention. He declined because he did not want to go back to the hospital due to some negative experiences with previous hospitalizations.

Feeling completely helpless living so far away, I sought help from one of the helpers – my friend and a paramedic. Because of her advice, my dad changed his mind and his wife, Pam, was able to get him to the hospital for treatment.

This experience has been completely different for my dad.

He is at peace.
He is vulnerable.
He is in charge.

He is able to have his family around him 24/7. In fact, we had the biggest slumber party in his ICU room one night filled with side-splitting giggles, a few tears, loads of heated blankets and crappy coffee. I know he was filled with joy having all of us together. It was honestly one of the most special nights of my life – all of us coming together to be there for the man who is and was always there for us.

He is also becoming the mayor of this awesome hospital. The nursing staff, patient care technicians and room service staff know him, stopping him in the hallway to see how he’s feeling as he’s made his way to/from ICU and back again to a regular room. He is smiling at and charming everyone in this place. He is also having intelligent conversations with the physicians. They are speaking WITH him, not around him about his health care. He is being treated with dignity and respect. And he feels it.

The high-level quality of care that he has received has allowed him to become stable enough to go back to where he wants to be – HOME – on his terms. There, he will be with his team: his wife, kids, family and medical professionals who will keep him comfortable for the rest of his days.

Now, I know I spend a great deal of my life advocating “life is good” – but sometimes we have to have difficult conversations about death and dying.

We have had a couple of those conversations.

His response, “Lizabeth, you are learning something here.”

How do you have a good death?

The answer is probably different for everyone.

There is no one size fits all solution.

For me, my dad is serving as the ultimate role model.

He is still holding my hand and leading the way.

(Originally posted on Facebook 8/22/2017)

my mom and first communion

I miss my mom.

Like, really, really, REALLY miss her.

Of course, I think of her and miss her every day, but today it is different.

Today, Brian is making his First Holy Communion.

I have been looking forward to and dreading this day for weeks.

I have felt edgy and unfocused, my stomach has been tied up in knots.

This morning, I walked into our family room, just like I did on Emma and Kate’s first communion days. Only, unlike those mornings, this time, the room is empty.

Quiet.

Each of those mornings, when I went to sit in “my spot” on the sofa and turn on ABC news, my mom was already sitting in my spot, the television changed to NBC.

“Good morning, Baby,” she looked up at me and smiled. Her face had changed so much, the scleroderma had really taken its toll.

I said, “Good morning” back; however, I was not sincere. I was more annoyed that my morning ritual had been altered. I’d have to walk a whole two extra feet to sit down on the couch and listen to a different newscaster.

Why wasn’t I more focused on the journey she made to be here, in my family room, the day of our children’s special occasion? How difficult it was for her to pack for the trip? To make her way to the car? To sit in the car all of those hours from Chicago to Fairfield?

No. I was more worried about my morning routine being slightly changed and the day ahead.

I knew how sick she was…you could see how sick she was, how people looked at her when we pushed her into the church in the wheelchair. She was withering away, her face almost mask-like, her skin gray.

Somehow, it was easier for me to just revert back to my younger, adolescent jerk-self, when all I did was walk around with a gigantic chip on my shoulder and talk back to my mom, than it was to just sit with her.

It hurts to just sit…to just sit and be with the pain.

The morning after Kate’s first communion, when I scrolled through pictures, I realized with a panic that I deleted the only picture of my mom with Kate because I didn’t like the way I looked. We didn’t have a single picture with my mom and Kate in her dress.

“Kate, would you pleeeeease put your dress back on?” I pleaded.

Sitting at the bottom of the stairs, her arms folded across her chest, tears in her eyes, she cried, “Please don’t make me put that thing back on! I can’t stand that dress. Please! No!”

I tried reasoning with her, “We don’t know how much longer we have with Grandma. Please. She’s really sick. I don’t have any pictures of the two of you together in your dress. Please, honey. You can take it off right after the picture.”

Even as I said those words, I didn’t believe it…

My mom will always be here.

It was those words that convinced Kate, she said, “Okay” and walked up the stairs to change.

Minutes later, she walked into the family room in her crumpled dress and sat next to my mom. I grabbed the wilted floral headpiece and planted it on Kate’s head, her bedhead hair soft and curly around her face.

I snapped the picture.

image

Mom complained that she didn’t like the picture because her robe looked like a straight-jacket.

I posted it anyway.

A few hours later, my mom left.

As they pulled away from our house, her head barely clearing the passenger-side window, she locked eyes with me. I could see she was crying. I started crying too.

Did she know?

Did I know?

One month later, she was gone.

That was three years ago.

I am worried I will cry during mass this morning. The songs, all of those familiar songs, from my childhood are now a part of my own children’s history.

I used to get so annoyed with my mom at church. She sang louder than anyone. It wasn’t only that she was loud…it was also more like opera singing with a head-bob. It was seriously embarrassing.

She couldn’t sing toward the end because the disease started hardening her lungs…it was hard enough to just breathe.

I will take some deep breaths today and think of her.

I will stand behind our son as he receives this sacrament.

I believe.

Maybe I will sing really loudly this morning too.

I miss my mom.

the anti-suicide squad

Over the last few weeks, I have cringed every single time I have seen a movie trailer, interview, promotional material or review for the recently released movie: Suicide Squad.

suicide squad
photo credit: google images

I’ll be honest, I really have no idea what the movie is about other than it seems to have some comic book villains and Will Smith is one of the stars. I love Will Smith and I’m sure the movie will do really well at the box office.

Maybe if I was familiar with these characters and the plot the title wouldn’t bother me so much.

Maybe…

Probably not though.

It’ll probably be one of those words that just really bothers me the rest of my life.

It has affected too many of our family members.

I will probably always cringe when I hear the word: suicide.

But, I won’t stop saying the word.

I won’t stop fighting or fundraising or learning or sharing or walking in an attempt to prevent suicide.

And, our team, our squad, is back again this year…

IMG_6947
Choosing Grace 2015

We are the Anti-Suicide Squad and we are BADASS.

We are Choosing Grace.


IMG_6948For more information on how you can join us in Chicago on October 15th and/or donate (we have a long way to reach our goal!), please click on this link: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=104761 or visit http://www.chicagowalk.org and enter “Choosing Grace” to find our team.


weekly rak up

#206. Sent a thank you to a friend to thank her for a very thoughtful and generous gift.
#205. Asked manager to turn down volume when everyone in the theater was plugging the ears from deafening sound. She was so nice about it and checked in on us afterwards.

back to school

rodney-back-to-school-cameo1
google images

Just like Rodney Dangerfield, I’m going BACK TO SCHOOL!

Starting tomorrow, I will log into my online class at the University of Missouri at Columbia (“Mizzou”) and start a two-year graduate certificate program in Positive Psychology. Founded by Martin Seligman, this is a relatively new field of psychology, although it draws upon theories and research from many of the great psychologists and philosophers throughout history. I am hopeful that this certificate will allow me to take the skills I have built in my college counseling work and branch out into other areas, such as life coaching and curriculum writing for the various kindness projects in which I am involved.

As I have learned through recent losses and the subsequent complicated grief I have experienced as a result, helping others really does make you feel better. I don’t mean to oversimplify here, but in my experience, it is completely true.

While I have always been drawn to helping others, the life-changing shift that took place after my step-father’s suicide, especially since my brother died the same way, completely altered the way I look at my own life as well as the lives of others. From the moment I learned he was missing, I started looking at him, his life, where he could be, and what he could be feeling through a different lens. I call it “the suffering lens.” It’s when I try to step into a person’s shoes and really feel what they might be experiencing, their pain. I know, I know…it all sounds strange and “out there”, but it’s what I do and how I see the world.

And, because I started to see the world with a “suffering lens” I became even more motivated to help others, which is why my work with the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) became (and still is) so rewarding. I am actively helping, searching and fundraising for a cause that is going directly to suicide prevention efforts.

But my work with the AFSP did not prevent another loss in my own family…my sweet nephew, Patrick. When he died, my brain and heart literally could not process the magnitude of losing him, of losing another family member to suicide. It’s just too big. Too much. I’m still struggling daily with this loss and I’m “only” the aunt. I know my grief is secondary to his parents and others…I also know and respect that we all grieve differently.

My response to my grief last summer was to start performing acts of kindness in Patrick’s or “Noochie’s” name. I called them NoochieRAKs. Now that I reflect upon it, I think it was a defense mechanism – like denial or avoidance of the truth. But, it was positive and creative and it was helping others. I was completely overwhelmed and honored by how many other people participated in acts of kindness in his name. It gave me hope.

Now, as we approach the one year anniversary of his death, the feelings of sadness, despair and sorrow are slowly seeping in. I will let those feelings flow because NoochieRAKs and time have softened those sharp edges of grief…

NoochieRAKs also led me to the study of Positive Psychology and this certificate program. Last night when I started the required reading, I came across one of the reasons Martin Seligman decided to pursue this field. He wanted to research “the offbeat idea of a psychology about what makes life worth living.” (Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman, 2011)

I wept. Life IS worth living.

martin seligman what makes life worth living


The #365ActsofKindness Weekly RAK-Up:

#146. Wrote thank you notes for school project.

#145. Ding dong drop-off dog treats. (Put together a belated “welcome puppy” basket for a friend’s new dog, will deliver this week!)

#144. Wrote thank you notes to some helpful friends.
#143. Returned a random shopping cart, which had rolled into a parked car in the parking lot to Home Goods.
#142. Gave a few new pets a new home through adoption.
#141. Wrote TWNMLL (The World Needs More Love Letters) letters.

Happy Feet and the Weekly RAK-Up

Over the last several months, I started to notice that my feet resembled this…

rhino feet
Southern White Rhinoceros (google images)

I hadn’t had a pedicure or a manicure in over two years.

I also stopped practicing yoga around the same time.

I made appointments for and treated myself to all three of these things yesterday.

It’s weird, but there were these moments during the yoga, the pedicure and the manicure, that I had a big ole’ lump in my throat.

I couldn’t figure out why…and then I realized that I stopped doing some of these nice things for myself just around the same time my mom died.

Why? I have no idea.

While focusing on my drying nails contemplating that very thought, the door opened to the salon. I looked up to see a woman with a familiar-looking face. I knew I had seen her before, but I couldn’t place her.

Then it hit me.

On January 14th, my mom’s birthday, I went into that same nail salon and bought a gift card for one of their patrons as a random act of kindness. After “scoping out the joint” I pointed to a woman with blond curly hair who was sitting all by herself. I asked if the manager would give the card to her after I left the salon. The manager’s response, “Good choice. She is a nice, happy lady.”

It was that lady.

If I had left just two minutes before or looked down at my phone or skipped the manicure, which was my original plan, I would have missed her.

But, I didn’t miss her.

And, maybe this all sounds “out there” but I think there’s a reason our paths crossed again.

What’s the reason? I’m not sure, but I did learn something about this woman several weeks after my mom’s birthday. This “nice, happy lady” decided to do something kind for another person after she received the gift card. She left another gift card for someone else. The recipient of that gift card paid it forward as an auction item for an important cause, which she posted about on our NoochieRAKs page.

So, maybe the reason that she (unknowingly) crossed my path is to remind me of the ripple effect of kindness to others and ourselves.

And maybe that the big ole’ lump in my throat is what happiness feels like sometimes.❤️


weekly rak up

#119. Wrote TWNMLL: The World Needs More Love Letters (x3)

#118. Treated myself to yoga and mani/pedi (RAK of the Week).

#117. Gave a little extra tip at the nail salon.

#116. Complimented a stranger’s outfit in the parking lot. She was taken aback smiled and said “thank you, this old thing?”