Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: loss (page 1 of 3)

Celebrating a birthday in the mourning

Last year I bought myself flowers, for my birthday.  I have historically celebrated a birthday week (or two) and have been known not to do it quietly.  My last year in Troy,  I planned my own GNO party, and even created my own facebook event – this year I did the same with a text picture of yours truly. I’m that person who will try to use every free marketing gimmick in my inbox. (Related: who’s free for Red Robin this month?!)

This might come across sounding quite brattish, as if I make all the noise in order to get people to celebrate me. But that’s not the case. I am surrounded by loving and friends and family who remember me, without my noise. I don’t have to celebrate my own birthday; I get to.

My special day falls amid a string of October dates that my favorite people on this earth marked with black pens. My husband and his family lost his 16-year-old sister suddenly. My best friend buried her mother after a hateful illness. A dear patron saint of our church died abruptly years before we were ready for her to go. Another young boy in our local school system fell to October’s cruel grasp a few years ago. A former employer will face the dreaded two-year mark of grief for her husband. All within this span of 31 days.

Needless to say, no one in my town likes October anymore. Pumpkin spice can’t wash away the bitter taste of loss. My dear friend Kristy says you can step into the crisp morning and smell death in the air.

And here I am, buying flowers and drinking margaritas and asking everyone to smile for the picture. Rude, right?

Living in the wake of loss with those close to me has provided me new wisdom, such as,  people say stupid things from a good heart. “Heaven needed another angel” is at the top of the Don’t Say That list. Folks like me who believe in an afterlife in heaven seek to take comfort in those celestial promises. Of course, they’re “in a better place.” But the distance between there and here hurts. Real bad.

Which can only lead me to one conclusion: life, here, matters. If it mattered little, it would hurt little. The more you love, the more you fill days with joy and curiosity and adventure with other people. And the harder it is to see them end.

So if life, here, matters, then… what? I’m only left with one option: to live it in celebration and in gratitude for another year at living it.

I give my loved ones plenty of space to grieve throughout this horrid month. I really do. I try my hardest to be attentive to the calendar, to give space, to nod in solemn agreement that this sucks. We miss her. Grief knows no expiration date and I’ll never ask others to chipper up for the sake of a party – that’s simply not fair.

What I will do is attempt to honor the lives that left too early by approaching my birthday not with disdain at “getting older” but with appreciation that they keep on coming. I’ve got another year on this globe, so what will I do with it? I’m facing 36, an age that others didn’t get. How can I do it justice?

For me, it’s not skydiving or rocky mountain climbing*, but rather the way in which I sow love into my life. It’s more hugs, more forgiveness, more gratitude. It’s acknowledging another work of art in the sunset from my front porch.

It’s also mandating a friend eat unnecessary amounts of nachos with me. It’s acting surprised when my kids hand me a haphazardly wrapped gift. It’s requesting your parents spend too much money renting a cabin in Hocking Hills for the weekend. It’s drinking one more because “it’s my birthday!”

Not in my honor. But in honor of life. In the honor of the gift of another year, another month, another day. I’ll wear the birthday sombrero for a chance at that. I’ll blow out the candles and hold the hands of people I love, at least one. more. time.

 

 

*Thanks Tim McGraw for setting that up for me so poetically.

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That kind of family

I keep vivid memories of the experience of loosing my grandparents when I was 13 and 17. I remember the hospital room, the waiting. I remember watching the shoulders of grown men rise and fall as they cried. Mostly, I remember love. I remember the intense feeling of love for a person, and for one another.

In the days that followed, I remember more sadness, but mostly an experience of my family coming together. The cousins practically slumber partied for three days as we endured the funeral process. When it was all over, dad handed the keys of the van to Tim and we went to a matinee and out for Pizza Hut. (Brief sidenote: we thought we were hilarious when we sent Kevin in to get a table, as the hostess asked “Just one?” and he responded, “no, 11.” It really wasn’t that funny, but we rolled with laughter in the parking lot.)

Growing up, we had plenty of opportunities to be together. We spent countless hours at the lake, we had holidays, overnights and even family trips to watch the horse races. We weren’t strangers who suddenly bonded together. The ties that had held us were pulled tighter, like the shoe wedgies of 6th grade.

The moments of grief taught me: this is the kind of family we are. This is how we deal with hard stuff. 

As children and even young adults, at funeral moments in life, we were carried and cared for. We helped choose the music and looked through pictures, but the adults did the heavy lifting up of one another. They bore the weight of loss together. The children were able to simply be sad and move through the grief; the adults were living a different reality, accepting a new way of life without someone they loved so very much.

Now, we find ourselves at a new place. With the passing of my Uncle Bill, we have the first of the next generation to leave us. This time, there’s no even ground. With grandparents, the adult siblings make the decisions and the kids come along for the ride. Now we have adult siblings and adult children and adult cousins and, by the way, none of us feel ready to be those kinds of adults..

When I arrived at the hospital on Sunday night to say farewell to the orneriest man to walk the streets of Ridgeway, everyone was there. The cousins and spouses who weren’t tending children were beside our uncle, holding up our cousins and our fathers. We just showed up. (And, ordered pizzas.)

This is the kind of family we are. This is how we deal with hard stuff. 

I don’t like that we’re suddenly in this place. I don’t like seeing people I love in mourning. I don’t like my own sadness in missing my uncle. I don’t even really like the idea that I’m a grown up in these situations.

But I love my family. I love that we’re here, no matter what. I love that when we hurt, we hurt together. And I love that when it comes to this new phase of life, this place where we grieve on uneven scales, we’re still doing it as a family.

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And now, gone

When my sister and Chad moved to Akron over ten years ago, they settled into a little community of people who were simply delightful. Hilarious. Generous. Helpful. Every time we visited, we met another new and friendly face, or a pair of them.

After they bought their first house on Marvin Avenue (note: they’ve owned 3 on that street by now), it required some major renovations, starting with a bathroom. My dad and JJ came over one Saturday to assist, and Chad called a buddy. At one point, they needed to get an old, heavy cast-iron bathtub out of a bathroom and as the men stood and discussed best options – as a good Wingfield would – Chad’s friend Ricky, a burly man over 6 foot tall and 200 pounds, simply pulled it out. From the bathroom he called, “hey guys, where do you want this?”

We’ve told that story countless times, my dad in nothing short of awe that a man could single-handedly remove such a large, heavy, bulky item.

As time and friendship often does, things changed. These particular friends faded into other circles, while newer friends with school and church proximity floated in. Every once in a while I would hear from Angie about the old friends, she would bring me up to speed on new children, jobs, and events.

Now, he’s gone. This friend wasn’t well, but this wasn’t supposed to happen. Not now, not yet, not like this. Not with so many young children at home. Not with so much youth left in his own soul.

I grieve with this family and their loss of husband, dad, brother and son. I grieve with my sister and their community of families at their loss of a good man, a good friend. And I grieve with the world, which lives with such uncertainty. Sometimes it’s downright painful to come face to face with our mortality, our lack of guarantees.

At this stage in life, we’re regularly celebrating the welcoming of a new life as families expand; a stark contrast to the brevity of life. We see these young things, and the years of toddlerhood drone on into neverending nothingness of potty training and naptime prison. Then, suddenly, they have spelling words. I’ve been told the whole thing just picks up steam from there and basically you blink and they’re married.

Somehow, the short years of long days fool us into believing that we have all the time in the world. I think this is why the particular pain of losing young people stings so badly. These frozen years of tedium will not last forever, yet neither will we.

I’m a resurrection gal. I believe there’s something on the other side; life isn’t a string of moments that suddenly ends with nothingness. I’m an earthy gal, too. I believe that life, here, matters. If it didn’t, then death wouldn’t leave such a wound on the living.

As I sit in the sadness with these friends, my hope is that our grief will help us honor life. Regret comes easily in the early hours – we should have called, we should have talked; we should have tried harder or helped more. But don’t let fear and regret be the loudest voices.

I hope we grasp life with two hands and give it a firm shake, rather than waving as it walks across the room. And, I hope we do the same with the hands of our friends. Give them a hug, a call, a smile – not out of fear that it could be the last, but in celebration of another opportunity to do so.

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