Walking Through Grief

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When my grandmother passed away three years ago, I was flooded with so many emotions I couldn’t even process what I was feeling. There was intense sorrow mixed with relief, gratitude, and nostalgia. I know – that’s an odd mixture of feelings after losing someone I was incredibly close to throughout my life.

The sorrow was obvious,  but I hadn’t counted on the relief. Her death was not a surprise. I had watched her slowly deteriorate from dementia for more than a year. She wasn’t suffering anymore and there is a certain amount of thanks for that when someone you love is suffering. What’s more, I was with her the night before her passing and those last moments are now beautiful and happy memories.

Gratitude came from feeling unbelievably blessed for the privilege of knowing such a beautiful person. I had the kind of relationship with her the most people will never experience with their grandparents.

Nostalgia is probably the most painful, because all the memories I cherish are also the reason I miss her so much it hurts.  My only saving grace on this front is a poem she wrote to both me and my sister telling us not to cry over her. It hangs on my fridge as a daily reminder of how she wants to be remembered, (See In Grandma’s Words). This is where the gratitude comes in as well. Her poem continues to keep me grounded.

All of these emotions thrashed around inside of me with nowhere to go. There comes a moment when you realize there needs to be a release. I didn’t want it to be ugly or messy or traumatizing. I wanted it to be peaceful and joyful like my Grandma’s poem.

I did the only thing that made any sense to me. I put on my hiking shoes and went for a long trail walk. The desert sand crunched beneath my feat. Every step seemed to push the sorrow into the ground and replace it with a sense of purpose and assurance. Life will go on and it will be beautiful. The smell of creosote came with each breath. The sun lit up the mountains and sky in a glorious shade of coral. Life didn’t feel heavy with the enormous weight of loss. Not anymore.

Every emotion rolled through me, but they were no longer thrashing. The evening air, cacti, and stones all seemed to invite them to come out and simply exist. It was liberating and calming. In so many ways it allowed me to accept the natural course of life and all the feelings that go along with it.

Whenever the grief feels overwhelming I go back to that day on the desert trail.

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A view along my desert trail. c.b.w. 2012

When my grandfather died last year, I found myself dealing with the same emotions all over again. Even with experience, it isn’t any easier dealing with the loss of a loved one. I held onto those thrashing emotions a bit longer this time around. I wasn’t ready to let go of something so precious.

It wasn’t until I was on vacation a few months later that I realized what I had to do. Those thrashing emotions were going to tear me apart unless I found a place for them go. Once again, I laced up my hiking shoes and went on a trail hike.

This time a thick, mossy forest reminded me to breathe. Like the desert before, it’s like the trees invited those thrashing emotions to come out and simply exist.  To be surrounded by so much life – the green of the leaves and the warmth of the sun filtering through – the  weight lifted once more. Life is beautiful and will go on. We hold those we love close to us no matter where they are. The pulse of the ground  anchored me to this world, giving me a sense of joy that I am still here and must make the most of each day. That’s what he would have wanted me to do.

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Forest Park, Oregon, c.b.w. 2015

I don’t know that grief ever totally heals, but my walks have shown me there is more to loss than sadness. I miss my grandparents every day, but I find their absence isn’t as hollow as I once believed. The memories are always there and so is the love. If I’m ever in doubt that they are near, I just remember the crunch of desert sand and the shade of thick trees.

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c.b.w. 2016

As I Wander

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My blog has always been a mixed bag of topics ranging from poetry, musings, and crafts. This space started with the idea of simply following wherever my muse leads me. To my great surprise, I ended up with an audience of readers. More surprising still, after five years you’re all still here and growing!

As I look back on early posts, it’s amazing to see how much this blog has evolved. This year, in particular, has seen a major shift towards poetry as opposed to lengthy articles on crafts, books, and travel. As much as I still love reading and traveling, that’s not where my muse wanted to go. I believe this change is the direct result of both inspiration (thanks to a growing fascination with haiku) and the need to write poetry as a form of catharsis.

In the early stages of the poetic shift, I second guessed myself, wondering if my readers would continue to make this blog part of their day. Let’s face it, poetry (and haiku in particular) is not everyone’s thing. However, I realized very quickly that I didn’t start this journey using smoke and mirrors. Following my muse meant being honest about what inspires me and what that inspiration creates. To do anything less defeats the purpose of this blog!

As the new year approaches, I’d like to thank all my readers for the continued support. I’m amazed every day how many of you show up to read, like, and comment every time I post. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t boost my confidence and encourage me to continue this quest of creativity.

I don’t know what my muse has in store for me in 2016, but I will surely be listening to her with an open mind and motivated pen. Change is certainly in the air as poetry and other pursuits are finding a bit more balance with one another. My muse and I look forward to continuing the journey with you, dear readers.

Here’s a look back on 2015, courtesy of WordPress.com. It was a great year in the blogosphere!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 49,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 18 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

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Happy New Year! :-)

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c.b.w. 2015

Favorite Thing Friday: Letting Stuff Go

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We all have that one closet. You know, the one that hasn’t been opened in months for fear of an avalanche. Such a closet lurks within the clean exterior of my guest bedroom. For years, I’ve been slowly filling it with scrapbooking supplies, beads, buttons, ribbon, fabric, tools, glue, paint, and about a million other things.  Yup, my avalanche closet is the craft closet. Every time I open the door, I wonder if I should have worn a helmut. How scary is that??

Every crafter has the same problem. Where do you put all the little odds and ends left over from a project? Or the supplies you bought for a project you’ll make in the future? What about the half finished projects you’ll get around to finishing later? Before you know it, an entire closet is filled from floor to ceiling.

My craft closet may classify me as a pre-hoarder. For the last 15 years, I’ve saved everything craft related because I kept thinking there would be a project down the line where a thingamabob would be useful. On top of that, I inherited a bunch of stuff from my grandma’s craft closet. Saving her craft items went beyond possible future use. In many ways, holding onto her things helped me hold onto her.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that saving a mountain of objects to preserve an emotional attachment to a loved one is not healthy. Nor is it a good idea to hold onto five different colors of unused raffia for ten years. There comes a point where it’s time to clear things out and let them go.

This week, I started the grueling process of pulling out boxes, sorting items, and organizing. Despite my practical attachment to useful items, I’m finding it surprisingly easy to discard items I no longer need, (no matter how good it is). Some things end up in the trash, while others go in a donation box. I found a great little thrift store that accepts gently used craft items. Boy, are they in for a windfall donation when I get done with this closet!

While the clearing out process has been invigorating, there are moments of struggle. Yesterday, I went through all of my paper crafting  supplies and rubber stamps. Making cards and scrapbook journals were projects I did with my Grandma and many of the items I have belonged to her.

As I sat with two giant boxes of stamps and stacks of decorative card stock, I thought about a conversation I had with my mother. She reminded me that I don’t have to hold onto every little thing my Grandma owned in order to remember her. The memories are always going to be there, even without the stuff. And you know what? My mother is 100% right.

I kept a few things I know I’ll use, but I got rid of the rest. Another donation box is full and I have a feeling my Grandma would approve. As more things leave my closet, so does the weight of keeping all of that stuff. What a nice feeling it is to be so light.

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2015

Favorite Thing Friday: Teacher Appreciation

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Towards the end of the school year, my school has a tradition of having students write letters of appreciation to their favorite teachers. Every year, I get a couple in my mailbox and they always make me smile. A little thank you goes a long way.

After a school year that’s had its fair share of challenges, I was beyond surprised to find so many letters in my mailbox both this week and last week.  Instead of the usual one or two, thirteen letters found their way to me. And they were amazing. Several came from students I thought couldn’t stand me or have never said as much as three words in class. To hear their voice and understand the positive impact I’ve made in their lives was an incredibly moving experience. They wrote about the little things I do – like making the classroom comfortable, decorating for holidays, the fact that I smile all the time and say good morning every day – that I never thought they noticed. It turns out those little things mean the world to them.

Some of the letters I received from students this year.

The biggest surprise, however, came through my e-mail. In the school’s weekly newsletter, my name was listed among teachers nominated to receive the “above and beyond” award by the United Parent Council of my district. At first, I felt like an idiot because I had never heard of this particular award, but after asking a few questions I found out it’s a pretty big deal. The award is only given when a parent or student writes a letter to the council explaining why a particular teacher deserves the honor. Of course, that made me really curious: Who nominated me?

A few days later, an envelope showed up in my mailbox. Inside, I found a nomination letter that was written by one of my students. She wrote the equivalent of a five paragraph essay detailing all the reasons why I was her favorite teacher. I sat at my desk and broke down in tears – everything she said meant so much to me. Her words made all the hard work, the stress, and sleepless nights totally worth it. Not only is this a student I never would have guessed felt that way about me or my class, but she is a student in my AP Art History class. Teaching this class was a huge undertaking that tested every professional skill I possess. To know I did something right, is immensely gratifying an deeply rewarding.

Last night, I was publicly recognized by my district’s superintendent and governing board. While the professional recognition is nice, I treasure the letters written by my students more. They are the reason I go to work early every day and give so much to the job I love.

As the school year begins to wind down, please encourage your children to let their teachers know how much they appreciate them. It means everything to us and encourages us to keep trying as challenges continue to grow. I keep every letter I’ve ever received in a box and I read them whenever I have a bad day. This year’s batch is sure to raise my spirits for years to come. Aside from learning, this is the best gift a student can give a teacher.

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c.b.w. 2014

What I’ve Learned From All Of My Jobs

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It dawned on me earlier this year that I’ve officially been part of the workforce for more than twenty years. It all started when I was ten years old and wanted a Barbie Sweet Roses 3-Piece Wall Unit for my dollhouse. It cost $12.95 and with my allowance there was no way I could afford it. I ended up going to work with my mom, who was a master dog groomer. She paid me 25¢ for each dog I bathed. It was hard work, but worth it in the end.

I can’t begin to say how proud I was to go to Toys R’ Us with my hard-earned money and buy one awesome Barbie Sweet Roses 3-Piece Wall Unit. The funny thing is, I still have it.  Every time I even think about putting it the donation pile, I remember how hard I worked for it and I just dust it off and rearrange the “China” plates and cups inside of it. (Yes, I still have my dollhouse, too. My Grandpa built it).

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Not a single piece is missing! Intact since 1988.

Despite the money I earned, dog bathing just wasn’t for me. I got my first “real” job when I was fifteen (and a half). I spent my summers with my grandparents in small Northern Wisconsin town, so it was only natural that my first job would be in a tiny family owned business. For two summers, I worked at the Christmas House as a cashier and stocker in the midst of tourist season. I still consider it the most fun job I’ve ever had. It was literally Christmas every day! I set up Department 56 villages, decorated Christmas trees, hung up lights, and created beautiful displays of dishes and figurines. In the middle of all that fun, I learned about collectibles (what’s valuable, what’s not, and how to tell) and Christmas traditions from all around the world. Sadly, the Christmas House closed it’s doors last year.

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The Christmas House as I saw it last summer. So sad to see it closed.

My love of animals led to a job at Petsmart. I was a cashier and also did some floor work (cleaning up shelves). While I loved the animals, I hated the corporate atmosphere. I also hated having to wear a back brace every day (I sometimes had to lift enormous bags of dog food). The only take-away I got from this job was having a healthy respect for anyone who works in a big store. It’s not easy cleaning up after customers who don’t put things away or make huge messes down each aisle. To this day, if I change my mind about something I want to buy in a store, I put it back where I found it instead of on some random shelf.

After leaving Petsmart, I went back to working for a smaller company. It must’ve been my artistic side that drew me to the idea of working for a flower shop. My job was to unpack, clean, and display each day’s shipment of fresh flowers. Then, keep the floors and cooler clean, water the front showroom plants, and take orders over the phone. Being around so many beautiful flowers was wonderful, but the work was brutal. My hands paid the price with cracked skin and permanently green grooves. On the up side, I learned how to do a variety of floral arrangements ranging from corsages, funeral wreathes, and wedding bouquets, along with the standard vase and bowl arrangements. Not a bad skill set, indeed.

Desperately needing to fix my damaged hands, I started working for The Body Shop. This is the job where I learned how to sell, sell, sell. Every day I was responsible for meeting certain dollar quota. Talk about pressure!  I never thought of myself as a salesperson, but I dug deep and learned how sell every product in that store. That meant learning everything about perfume oils, lotions, body washes, and creams. I even learned how to do in-store make-overs to sell cosmetics. Make-up has never been my favorite thing, but it was a lot of fun to make people feel pretty. I would have stayed at The Body Shop longer, but the arrival of a new fragrance ignited a pretty severe allergic reaction. I couldn’t even touch the bottle, so I had to quit.

In the same mall, just around the corner was a locally owned store called the Hobby Bench. It sold everything from cross stitch patterns to radio controlled cars. Even before I applied for the job of cashier, the Hobby Bench was one of my favorite stores. I was hired instantly and stayed there for almost five years. Aside from learning a number of new crafts, this is the job where I learned how to handle crabby and attitudinal people. Within a year, management had me working returns. In a store that didn’t give cash refunds. And always on the day after Christmas. I took a verbal beating often and that caused me to develop some pretty tough skin along with some witty diplomatic strategies. I was studying to be a teacher at the time, so these skills ended up being an essential part of my education.

It may seem amazing that I stayed through all the verbal assaults, but it really wasn’t a hard choice to remain at my post. The Hobby Bench was where I met my soul mate. While I rang up customers in the front, he sold and fixed R/C cars and trucks in the back. Even the crappiest jobs feel like heaven when you’re best friend and love is working just a few feet away. It’s been fifteen years and we’re still together, even without the Hobby Bench, (about three years ago, “our” Hobby Bench closed down).

I continued to work at the Hobby Bench during my first two years of teaching. Then, one day I decided it was time to let it go. My focus had shifted from a job that just paid the bills, to a career that means so much to me. I’ve been teaching for the past thirteen years and it is every bit as rewarding and challenging as I thought it would be. Some days are difficult, but most of the time I’m thankful to have a job that brings me so much joy. There are million things I could complain about, (as the public education system is far from perfect), but this is the only job I’ve ever had where I have an immense amount of control over my day. I get to decide how to teach material and I can be creative in everything I do. However, the best thing of all is watching a kid learn. I love it when a student tells me “I hated history until now.” Yup, that’s a good day at work!

I will likely remain in the teaching profession until it’s time to retire. I honestly never thought I would last this long, but it turns out I’m tougher and more patient than most. If I’ve learned anything from this job, it’s that the key to staying in the classroom is the willingness to learn as if you’re still a student. No one knows everything, not even a teacher.

But, I do still know how to make one hell of a two dozen rose vase arrangement!

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c.b.w. 2014