The Positive Side of Loss

Losing loved ones is extremely difficult. After losing my father, a daughter, and several pregnancies I experienced bouts of deep depression and pure sadness. Other times I was angry at how unfair life can be. Grief can be consuming, and everyone deals with it in different ways. I found that I dealt with my grief in different ways as time passed. People told me that the pain would heal with time. Our daughter passed 8 years ago today. I can tell you that the pain has not healed. I honestly do not believe it will. The thing that has changed is my ability to deal with the pain. This morning as I reflect and honor Elise, I felt the strength of Purple Power and I was struck with several new thoughts about the positive side of loss.

  • I am still alive, so I must live!

The reason we feel loss is because someone is gone while we are still here. But wait! That means we are still here! If we are here we still have the ability to live and to live BIG. Loss is hard but not living is harder. Each of us has a finite amount of time on earth. I plan to honor the ones I lost by living. I know they wouldn’t want less for me.

  • I have known true love and I still have love to give!

We feel loss because someone we love is no longer with us on earth. The bigger our love, the bigger our loss. But wait! That means we were lucky enough to have someone in our life to love! I am so fortunate to know how to feel and show BIG love. Loss does not mean our ability to love and be loved is gone as well. We can grieve the loss but we should be proud of our capacity to love. There are so many people on earth that are worthy of our love and it feels really good to share it. Don’t feel guilty about sharing your love with new people. Tapping back into our loving hearts helps us to cope with the pain of loss. I know the loved ones we’ve lost wouldn’t want us to live without love.

  • I am a survivor and I have more to do!

Losing a loved one is very hard. It seems harder when the person we lost was young. This feels very unfair and it can lead to questions such as Why? Truth is, we will never truly know why, so I stopped asking the why question a long time ago. I finally realized that there are some things in life that I will never understand. I made the decision to accept the things I cannot control and to kick butt at the things I can. I am a survivor! I have more to do while I am fortunate enough to still be here. I want to make my lost loved ones and the loved ones still with me proud. I plan to make the most out of the life I have left!

This morning as I honor our sweet girl, Elise, I am both smiling and crying. She changed me forever and I thank her for the wonderful impact she had on our lives. I miss her and I grieve her loss. Of course, I wish she were still here, but she’s not. I can choose to focus on the negative or I can choose to focus on the positive. I choose the positive. PURPLE POWER!

My Dad was J-Bird (and he was awesome!)

My Dad was J-Bird. He was quite a large personality in the small town in which we lived. J-Bird was the fire chief, an ambulance driver, a county commissioner, and unwavering public servant. As one of 17 children, he learned from necessity how to provide for himself and others. (Yes, 17 children from one mom and dad!) I love my father very much and miss him daily. He lost his battle with diabetes twelve years ago today.

I credit my Dad with helping me to become the woman I am today. As we head into Father’s Day and I honor the anniversary of his passing, I would like to spend some time sharing with you the example he set for me and some of the best advice he gave to me over the years. A lot of you knew him, but for those that did not have the pleasure of meeting him please allow me to tell you about him.

Ray “J-Bird” Westbrooks grew up in a small town in a poor, very large family and as such, never had the opportunity to go to school. His time was spent working to provide for himself and family. He never told me anything first-hand about the difficulties he faced growing up. Complaining about it wasn’t his style. I saw the person he became though. He was a man with ambition and strong work ethic. He seemed to have unlimited energy and a great passion for serving others. Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of stories I’ve heard about ways that my dad helped others. Somehow, he had time for almost everyone and the willingness to help. He loved to have fun too. I have fond memories from my childhood of time spent at the softball park as he played, Sunday afternoons at the lake water skiing, and the numerous fish fries he loved to have for our large extended family or for the city employees and their families. He enjoyed fishing and sharing his catch with pretty much anyone that would eat what he cooked. His food was good, but his company was better. He was a fantastic story teller, funny, and quick-witted.

As my Dad, he was strict and ruled with an iron fist. I tested his patience many times with the strong-willed personality I inherited from him. But, he was also my safe place and my supporter. I always knew I could count on him. If work allowed, he was always there while I cheered or played softball. He would drive us to cheer camp and happily load and offload all our stuff. He had nicknames for all my friends and I think he got a kick out of our antics. My dad was always there when I needed to talk. I valued his advice and level-headed thinking more than he knew. He always shot me straight and helped me to face the world with a pragmatic view. Dad was not an educated person but was one the smartest men I’ve ever known.

J-Bird was infamous for his quotes. Truth be told, he had quite a potty mouth and I won’t share most of his sayings with you as good as they are! There are a few though that are my favorites and I reflect back to on a regular basis. These nuggets of advice have helped me more than I can articulate and continue to help me as I face struggles or obstacles in life. I can’t call my Dad anymore but I can still hear him clearly telling me the following:

“You didn’t think they’d just give it to you, did you?”  My Dad asked me this so many times over the years. It was usually his way of bringing me out of a pity party because things were difficult or weren’t going my way. It was his way of reminding me that I needed to get over myself and get back to work at achieving my goals.

“Time is all you have.”  This was so simple, but so profound. I tend to over commit myself and then get frazzled at what I perceive as my lack of time management skills. I’d call my Dad to give some excuse for missing a family event, not performing to my expectations, etc… and talk about how busy I was. He’d shoot back to me that time is all I have. This would trigger me to stop complaining about my busyness because I chose it. It would also help me to prioritize my commitments. At the heart of this is that we have a limited amount of time each day, each year, and in our lives. We must choose wisely how we use it. We all have time, it is the one thing we all have. What we do with it is up to us.

“It’s like a fart. The more you fan it the worse it smells.” This is seriously my favorite piece of advice from my Dad! The world is full of drama, insecurities, and competitive situations. I’ve had my share of being the target of the mean girls, the mean moms, the work cliques, and politics. I’ve also been on the other side when I’ve been urged to take sides, gossip, leave others out, or tempted to stir the proverbial pot. As I talked to my Dad about whatever was happening at the time, he’d tell me, “It’s like a fart. The more you fan it the worse it smells.” Bahahaha! Instinctively I laughed but it is so true. There are so many situations that we should just walk away from and not engage. If we do, we make the situation worse. The older I get, it is easier to take this advice.

Twelve years ago today, the last thing my Dad communicated with me was a thumbs-up. He wasn’t perfect, but he was extraordinary. He had lived a thumbs-up life. He still inspires me and motivates me. I am grateful for the example he set in persistence, how to overcome, and the importance of serving others while never losing his ability to have fun. He made me the woman I am proud to be. I still hear his voice and feel his strength. Thank you, J-Bird. Love and miss you!

 

 

Our Christmas Ghosts

The past two weeks have been very life changing for my family. I feel like we have been living in our own Christmas movie. We’ve had several emotional ups and downs that have been framed within the holiday season. It’s as if we have been visited by several Christmas ghosts that have been tasked with reminding us how blessed we are. The first one I’ll tell you about is the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Reality.

The Ghost of Christmas Reality

The holiday season is a time meant to celebrate and to be thankful for friends and family. We start in November with Thanksgiving and finish on January 1st as we begin a new year. The holiday season is fun and full of magical moments with those you love. Depending upon your religious preference, you may celebrate on a different day and with different traditions, but the underlying message is very close to the same. We are thankful for deliverance and freedom. I celebrate Christmas. It is easily my favorite time of the year and I go all out with decorations, gifts, and parties. I spend too much money and eat too much food. It’s all quite grand, if you ask me, but somehow, in the hustle and bustle I tend to lose sight of how fortunate I am. I’ll admit, I’ve done that for many years. I am blessed to be surrounded by family and friends, to have the ability to fulfill my daughter’s wish list, and to splurge on a vacation if I feel like it. In the midst of my privileged life, it is easy to lose sight of those less fortunate. I think the whole “out of sight, out of mind” adage certainly applies. Last week the Ghost of Christmas Reality reminded with a vengeance.

Over the past weekend, I was in a hospital waiting room for several hours. While there, I eavesdropped on a conversation between a group of family members. The group contained both males and females and blacks and whites. Their ages ranged from two years old to some probably in their forties. They all seemed to really like each other and talked easily and comfortably with each other. As I listened, I heard them converse about their friends being murdered and some spending time in jail. I learned that one of them had witnessed the murder of his mother, while another’s mother had gone to jail for trying to kill him when he was a baby. I could tell this is something they discuss on a daily basis and is a part of their everyday life. There was almost a competition in their conversation as to who had experienced the worst life. Then they nonchalantly switched gears and began to talk about food and which restaurants take food stamps. The part that struck me was how normal this conversation was for them. I could tell this is something they discuss often and is a part of their everyday life. As I internalized their reality, I felt so small. The Ghost of Christmas Reality gave me a slap on the wrist or better yet, my heart. I have complained about needing to downsize and lose weight because I have too many possessions and too much food to eat. Meanwhile, a large population of the people in the world are struggling to survive. I have never experienced the struggle they are facing so I cannot understand how they feel. I can say that I am ashamed that I have never taken the time to truly explore the circumstances of those less fortunate than me. The Ghost of Christmas Reality reminded me that I live in a privileged bubble. I have a true passion to help the underprivileged and this gave me a big boost of motivation. Thank you, Christmas Ghost of Reality. If you feel the urge to help others during the holiday season and the whole year through, I’ve listed a few charities that could use your help. They do great work.

The Salvation Army: http://salvationarmyalm.org/tuscaloosa/center-hope/

Tuscaloosa’s One Place: http://www.tuscaloosaoneplace.org/

Big Brother’s Big Sisters of West Alabama: http://bbbswestal.org/

Community Soup Bowl: http://tuscaloosasoupbowl.com/

The Ghost of Christmas Dreams

Our Christmas Ghost visits didn’t appear individually as they did with Scrooge. Ours were present at the same time with overlapping motives that weave together. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams has been lingering with us for some time, probably our whole lives. I hope he stays for the remainder of our lives too. He reminds us to dream and reach for the stars because our dreams give us hope and motivation. My family and I have been dreaming big dreams. My husband and I would love to have multiple children. Our daughter would love a sibling.  Unfortunately, we have had a very hard time achieving this dream. Over the past ten years, we’ve suffered through the loss of our second daughter at 6 months of age, multiple miscarriages, and failed IVF attempts. I no longer have the ability to bear children, but we haven’t given up our dream. A little over a year ago we began the process to try adopt a baby. We’ve been “on the market” for a year waiting and hoping that a birth mother will choose us. Two weeks ago, we received the call we wanted. A birth mother had chosen us and was due in a little over a week. We rushed into action, prepared everything, and drove almost 10 hours to be with her as she gave birth. The poor thing was in labor for over 20 hours. She gave birth to a perfect baby boy. We had the chance to love this boy as if he was ours for almost 24 hours. Unfortunately for us, she changed her mind and decided to keep him. I can’t blame her because he was so adorable. We had to pack up and drive home with an empty car seat. Our daughter was so upset. She is learning lessons about life, love, and loss that I wish would have occurred when she was older. We are very sad and disappointed to say the least. We have gotten so close to having another child and it seems that at the last minute, something happens every time. I can honestly tell you that after this happened last weekend, I was ready to give up on this dream. I began to wonder if fate was trying to let us know that we were meant to have only one child. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams showed up in a big way. He spoke to us thru our daughter. She asked us to please keep trying to adopt. I explained to her that it could mean we have to experience pain again. She immediately said, “So what. It will be worth it eventually.” She’s right. It will be worth it eventually. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams would like for us to tell you that we are back “on the market” and hope to have another opportunity soon. Please keep us in mind if you hear of anything.

The Ghost of Christmas Love

Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the family I was eavesdropping on in the hospital waiting room was the birth family of the child we hoped to adopt. We have experienced so many feelings and emotions about the situation. We have been angry, sad, and heartbroken. I believe deep in my heart that we could have given the baby opportunities that they cannot. The Ghost of Christmas Love stepped up to relieve some of our anguish. As I watched this family in the hospital waiting room, it became clear that we live very different lives. The one thing that was the same though was love. They all loved each other very much. They loved the birth mom and new baby too. I can’t be angry with them for wanting to have the baby to love.

We had prepared to spend several weeks in a hotel waiting for the courts to allow the baby to come home with us. My husband and daughter had decorated the room with lights, garland and a small tree. As I looked at the small hotel room with cheap garland around the door and multicolor lights hanging in the window, I was overcome with love for them. The Ghost of Christmas Love reminded me that I have so much to be thankful for right now. I thought back to the moment we had to tell the baby good-bye and leave the hospital. We hugged and held each other tight as we all felt the disappointment of the missed adoption opportunity. We held hands as we left. We cuddled together back in the hotel and enjoyed the Christmas decorations. The Ghost of Christmas Love helped us to experience a deeper level of togetherness and family love. As we packed up and took down the decorations to come home, I was sad but I also have never been more proud of my family.

The Ghost of Christmas Love wasn’t quite finished.  As our family and friends found out about both our possible adoption and the outcome, the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming.  It is wonderful to be reminded that one is surrounded by a circle of love.

 

This will be a Christmas that my family will never forget.  Our Christmas movie might not have the happy ending that we expected or envisioned, but it still has a happy ending. They say the best movies have twists that result in endings that no one saw coming. We didn’t come home with the baby we were hoping for, but we did return with valuable life lessons and affirmations of love. The Ghost of Christmas Reality taught me to be more thankful and generous. The Ghost of Christmas Dreams taught me to keep dreaming and to not give up when things seem hopeless. The Ghost of Christmas Love showed me how much love surrounds me and is in me. Indeed, this is still a happy ending. Merry Christmas to all!

The Big Black Pot

I grew up in a small town of about 4,500 people. I went to school K-12 with the same ~90 people. In my hometown, everyone knew everyone. It was a fantastic way to grow up. Of course, I was bursting at the seams to get out. I always thought I would move to a big city in another state. It’s funny how things never work out like you think they will.  I now live an hour from my hometown in a moderately large town. My life is nothing like I imagined all those years ago. I have always been ambitious and in-turn discontent in my present setting. It’s the entrepreneur gene in me. I constantly look for things to grow or change because I thrive on the challenge. I defined success in the stereotypical ways – the size of my home, car type, brand names of clothes… Now I realize, those things don’t make me successful at all. They are good performance measures, but not true signs of success.  No one told me that after you achieve all of this, it takes a great deal of time, money and energy to maintain it. I’m tired of maintaining it. I find myself longing for the more simple life I had in my hometown. It’s amazing how things have come full circle.  The life I so wanted desperately to leave as a teenager is the life I want back. I don’t regret any of my life or career choices. I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. I want to continue to thrive as a successful, professional. I just want to be able to go home at the end of the day to a more simple life. I refuse to believe those things cannot co-exist.

I’ve been trying to decide what I truly mean by the simple life. Looking back through memories of my childhood, I think I have figured out part of it. While I was growing up, my dad had a huge black cast iron pot. He used to cook in this pot in our back yard. He had a homemade steel propane burner. We had a really big yard and I can remember playing out back while he would fry up something for dinner. In those days, we fried everything. I think I could fry water if I had to! He used to cook fried chicken, okra, French fries, hush-puppies, and lots of fish. He used to love to entertain and cook for people. I’m quite sure I inherited my love of cooking and entertaining from him. He would host huge fish fries. He cooked for family quite a bit (and we had a HUGE extended family). What I most remember though is the big fish fry he used to host for what seemed like everyone in our town. My dad was the fire chief. At least once a year, he would move the firetrucks out of the building and would open it up to host a fish fry for the firemen, volunteer firemen, city employees, elected officials, their families, and many others in our community. We would set up tables and make lemonade. He would spend all day frying in that black pot, cranking out pounds and pounds of fish, fries, and hush-puppies. We would play, eat, fellowship, and have the best times. Those fish fries are some of my fondest memories growing up. It’s only recently that I have realized that the sense of family and community I felt at those fish fries is what I long for most as I strive for happiness. I still have my family and a great community, but it seems I am not taking the time to truly enjoy them. Life is busy. I live in a world of controlled chaos. My downsizing journey is about reducing chaos in whatever areas I can. I now know that part of the definition of simplicity for me is having time to fellowship in a meaningful way that celebrates friends and family.

Dad always left a good deal of grease in the pot and used it over and over. He would clean it out when the grease was old and add new grease. It was never empty. My dad died a little over 10 years ago. I brought his black pot home with me and put it away in the garage. I have walked past this pot numerous times over the last 10 years. I would look at it and sometimes have pleasant memories, other times I would really miss my dad. This pot has been sitting for 10 years with the same grease. You can imagine that it had gotten pretty nasty. A couple of months ago, I finally summoned the strength to try to clean and restore that pot. I have soaked, scraped, and worked for weeks hoping deep inside that I had not let it sit for too long to ruin. Last weekend, I finished! My husband helped me get the last bit of rust out of it and we have begun the process of seasoning it. Seeing that pot back in working order made me cry both tears of sadness and happiness.

This black cast iron pot symbolizes so much for me. After my dad died, something inside of me changed. I’m sure that happens to everyone as we lose a parent. Whatever changed caused me to shut down a part of myself. There is a part of me that I have let sit, the same way I let the pot sit. I restored the pot and now it’s time to restore me. That pot had collected a lot of dirt and rust that had to be scraped out. I feel as though I have collected the same sort of contaminating things in my life. Downsizing is my first step in restoring myself. My dad was my source of strength and encouragement. Who knew he would be able to speak to me again ten years later in the form of his old black pot? That pot was never empty and fed countless people as long as it was kept in working order. It was down and out for 10 years but is back and better than ever. I want to never be empty and to feed thousands as well. I have been out of commission in this area for the past 10 years, but I feel like I’m back and better than ever too. It’s going to take a bit to get the pot and myself seasoned just right, but oh what we will produce when it’s done!

Thanks, Dad, for the lesson and the big black pot!