Dear 2017

First you should know that I am feeling a bit vulnerable from 2016. While some claim that a year can have no power in and of itself, it still felt like a proverbial punch in the face. Critical thinking and common sense were in short supply, two traits I rely heavily upon and probably more so than I should. Progress turned out to not be quite so progressive. And self-preservation seemed to be the order of the day. Shame on me for not seeing the divides in full. Perhaps I did not want to see them until I was forced to. Maybe I am still not seeing them in full now. I am trying though in spite of my limitations, and I hope that I am learning from my mistakes.

So, 2017, please be gentle.

Second, I am tired. Figuring out what is real and what is contrived has required substantial effort. In 2016 I found myself regularly pinching my arm to see if, in fact, I was awake or rather stuck in a Christopher Nolan script. Facing the question of “What the hell is actually going on?” can be quite entertaining while watching a film but I DO NOT enjoy the experience in real life. Recalibration has been required regularly, and I am resisting the urge to disappear for awhile. Some days can feel like a lot of work – too much work. And some days I question whether the work is worth the effort. I wonder if I am doing the right kind of work, if I am even helping.

So, 2017, please be kind.

Third, I am busy. In light of all of the above, along with some assumptions exposed, hope has dimmed into the distance and I am working hard to reconfigure what hope looks like for 2017. Thankfully it has not dissipated, though there were days I was hard pressed to find it. As a “new normal” sets in, so does the work of discovering how hope works now, today, in light of what is. This is good work to do, keeping hope current, relevant, and active. But it is hard work. I cannot just proclaim hope as a theological concept. Jesus did not heal people theologically. He healed them physically which pointed to the theological. Proclaiming hope isn’t the same as living out hope. To live it out means to integrate it into what I know, understand, and experience in the darkest corners of life.

So, 2017, please be patient.

Finally, I am broken. I have navigated some personal difficulties this past year : shit that was just plain shitty. Life is always challenging, so I cannot really blame 2016. But nonetheless some things came to a head that required a lot of time, energy and difficult decision-making this past year. The decisions were often a matter of choosing the least shittiest possibility. Hurt could not be avoided for any who were involved. I try to live and love well, the best that I am able. But this can be excruciatingly difficult, namely because we, all humans, are imperfect and not always good at living and loving well.

So, 2017, please be loving.

All of this is to say, I know you, 2017, cannot be gentle, kind, patient or loving. I know that I, however, need to keep trying. And I need to be aware of the times when I am not strong enough, taking precautions to not do the opposite. I want to believe in the goodness of people. I want to see the goodness in people. And I want to be that bearer of goodness to others. But somedays it feels like impossible work.

So, 2017, whatever you can do to help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

me

To My Officially Middle-Aged, Sometimes Grumpy Husband

Then...
Then…
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Dear Jeremy,

Last year I finished the year by writing a letter to my dear friend I had lost earlier that year. It was cathartic and painful, reflecting while looking ahead. I have reread that letter several times because the reflection continued beyond the letter’s inception. Because of how valuable I found that process to be and because another year is coming to an end, I thought it would be good to once again close out the year by writing another letter. It didn’t take me long to choose its recipient. (Aren’t you feeling lucky right about now?)

2015 has been quite a year for us. Our oldest child turned 21. Our youngest child finished her first year of high school. We celebrated 25 years of marriage. You turned 50. We said painful goodbyes to four pets. We welcomed two new pets into our home. We sorta planned an anniversary getaway, only to instead send our son to Rome for a trip of a lifetime. Wow, what a year.

While the milestones easily come to mind, it is all the ordinary days of 2015 that probably had a more cumulative impact. It is the way in which we do life together – talk, argue, laugh, cry, love, ignore, listen, scream – that built the foundation upon which our milestones stand. Sometimes we worked together seamlessly. Other times not so much. On occasion you carried me. Other times I carried you. But we kept going. We kept talking. We kept working things through no matter how hard the work got. Well, except for the times we took breaks from working because we couldn’t stand the sight of each other. But we always came back.

What I have learned from 25 years of marriage is that a healthy marriage isn’t about being happy or having great chemistry or partnering well together, although those things are great. A healthy marriage is one that weathers all weather together, storms included. A healthy marriage requires the efforts of both involved. It would be easy for you to enable me, or me to enable you. And I’m sure we do that somewhat. But I love that you call me on my shit. That we can walk away angry and live with the discomfort for awhile. That we have gone to counseling when we needed it. That we still have so much fun together. That our marriage isn’t about a pretty exterior, but a rich, deep, complex, and real interior. Our marriage is as imperfect as we are. Maybe that right there is the point…

Thank you for putting up with my penchant to challenge. Thank you for tolerating my profanity. I don’t want to thank you for all the sports stories you share, but I do want to thank you for wanting to share them with me. Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for always loving me. Thank you for liking me on most days. Thank you for being my biggest supporter. You can thank me for putting up with your occasional grumpiness, although now we know it’s a serious disorder. While our differences are often part of the challenge of doing life together, I now celebrate those differences because of the depth and breadth they have have carved out within my sometimes stone heart.

For 2016, I hope to be kinder and gentler towards you. I hope to be more grateful and less critical. I marvel at where we have been and I am excited by where we will go. While a shirtless Hugh Jackman might catch my eye, you, Jeremy, have my heart. Happy New Year!

With love,

me

Dear Catherine

It seems fitting that I write to you today. It was you who encouraged me to write, said that I had a way with words. You told me to write often, vulnerably and honestly. You said it would occasionally be painful, but that I would be a better person for it. With the end of 2014 approaching and a new year just ahead, it’s to you that I most want to write.

It’s been quite a year. I am writing at my kitchen table and imagining you sitting across from me. You purse your lips because you know I’m writing about you. I give you my best, “Do you think I care?” glance. You cackle and I laugh. How I wish this were really happening.

While this is a letter I would normally consider extremely private, I have learned that grief is deeply lonely. And so if my letter to you can help give voice to another person’s grief, then I think it is worth sharing.

I recall certain aspects of 2014 with clarity, intermixed with huge gaps of time that feel lost. I suppose the fog is normal. January and February were so busy for me with classes and physical therapy and traveling.  I remember the last time I saw you. It was the end of February and we had breakfast together. Afterwards we went to your house so that you could show me all you had done for your Etsy shop. Once again you floored me with your creativity and hard work. When it was time to go, I remember standing in your living room and saying, “I won’t hug you because I don’t want to get cat hair on you and make you sneeze.” I wish I had hugged you. I’m so sorry that I didn’t.

The day we lost you happened to be Ash Wednesday. How painfully appropriate to lose you on a day that begins a season of mourning. I find myself intentionally recalling that day in detail. It hurts to do so, but it’s become my lament for you. I speak aloud the day’s events to proclaim the day’s injustices and the loss felt by so many. Each tear is my crying out to God, both in sorrow and anger. Time has made the burden of losing you bearable, but time has not made your death acceptable.

Grief is such an intimate experience and can be navigated in very different ways. There have been moments of agony unlike anything else I’d ever gone through. And in its midst, irreverent moments broke through. I found myself laughing at you and your silly ways, perhaps because I was so tired of crying for you. I knew you’d understand. I knew you’d do the same. I realized that the one friend I needed most in dealing with my loss was you.

I hate having to choose between talking about you in present versus past tense. Past tense suggests that you are no longer you, or that you no longer matter. Present tense denies the loss of you and all the pain felt. Neither is fitting. It’s just one more thing that sucks about losing you.

I graduated in May with a degree that you regularly reminded me made no sense to you. “What are you going to do when you finish?” That never bothered me because most of the time I didn’t know either. Now as I move ahead with my work, I often wonder what you would say about all of it. Would you grow increasingly annoyed with me as I became busier with theology and church? Would you finally start to understand what I am trying to do? I remember the day you gave me Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things and said to me, “I think what she does in this book is what you could do for people regarding faith and God.” Now that I think about it, maybe you got it all along and were just waiting for me to catch up.

I have so many things I could share regarding our children. But those are their stories to tell. Let me just say that you’d be so proud of them all. Walking alongside them in their grief has helped me, sometimes even forced me to deal with mine. I’ve learned from watching them and listening to them. Where I have at times inundated myself with thoughts of what I should be feeling or doing, they have been much more patient with themselves, willing to accept who or where they are without judgment.  My logic has often made grieving harder by adding expectations or time limits to the process. The kids seem to more readily able to acknowledge what is real, set aside what they cannot deal with, and come back once they are ready, particularly when someone is there to “come back” with them.

I think the hardest part about looking into the New Year is facing a full year without you. It feels like another goodbye in this process, and goodbyes aren’t getting easier. Our friend framed your words from last New Year’s Eve for me, and they continue to resonate deeply:

Create a wish list – not a must do list. There are 365 days in which to try and make something on the wish list happen… Don’t rush it. Approach new things with the outlook of nothing ventured, nothing gained. What you gain may not be what you expected. Look forward to the surprise but know that some of the best gains are not tangible and cannot be measured. Be kind. Be generous. Be yourself.

I’m sorry you only got 64 days last year. It’s just not fair. Thank you for what you taught me. Thank you for believing in me. I will approach 2015 with courage and anticipation because that is what you would want. You lived your life quietly yet your absence continues to leave a deafening noise.

To you my friend, I love you.

Jennifer

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