Sunday, November 17, 2019

the only control you really have (and the bathtub that taught me a lesson)

poem by Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday was the 15th of the month.

November 2019. A date that leaves me stunned and breathless when I see it on my computer screen. 
As a mother, it’s a staggering mystery to me that I have been on this earth for 427 days without Patrick. Honestly my brain has no explanation for it. I do know there have been mystical changes inside my mother’s body that aren’t visible from the outside, and that the best cardiologist in the world can’t detect. But I know it. That my mother’s heart is no longer at home in my chest— and that it stopped beating normally once Patrick’s heartbeat could no longer be detected on this earth. 

It’s just a fact. I base it on the mysterious alchemy of a mother’s love. We feel it the instant we hold our infant to our chest. When we are flooded by a love as tender as the translucent wings of a butterfly and yet so powerful and steely, that it will smash through the boundaries of life and death.

These days I’ve made it my goal to understand the effects of trauma on our mind-body experience, mostly because I don’t think I was meant to survive the loss of my child and if I ever get through this, it seems important to figure out how I did it.

Now that the initial shock-trauma has been worn down by the starkness of Patrick’s absence, I do see that I’ve become that person Rilke described. 

I’m just trying to live my way into the answers of my unsolved questions.
Only my unsolved questions are not clouded in mystery like books written in a foreign tongue, because I am a mother who has lost a child and therefore my single question is as clear as the bluest sky.

How am I ever going to live the rest of my life without my son?
Without Patrick here? 

And why the f---  am I still here when he had so much more to offer the world?  Oh it’s not hyperbole. Believe me when I say that Patrick was so much more than Jim and I can ever hope to be. And we both feel the outrageousness of his loss on this world. 

Pema Chodron says that whether we realize it or not, we all live in a little bubble where we try to keep everything intact and predictable so things make sense to us. It makes us feel in control and god knows our ego loves that. 

She says that nothing can prepare you for that shocking moment when your “life-as-you-know-it, suddenly ends.”
And I know what she means.

I remember right after the accident, surviving seemed impossible.
It wasn’t exactly that I wanted to die, it was more like I couldn’t imagine waking up every day with this agonizing pain pulsating through my body like hot waves of anguish. It was a despair I had never experienced before. And I was stunned by it.
I think I mumbled out loud to whomever was near me at the time. 

Because this is another thing you do in the wake of devastating loss; you walk around blurting things out under your breath like, “I just can’t believe it.”

Only this time I said, “All those years I worked inside a session room.... And I never knew.” 

And what I was thinking about, was how I never realized when I heard someone tittering on the edge of suicide what they were actually feeling. I had empathy, oh yes. But not the shared kind, when you KNOW what someone’s going through because you’ve been inside that dark abyss yourself.

But now I get it.

Now I understand the magnitude of brokenness that obliterates you from the inside out; a pain so relentless that it can actually drive someone to consider death as an option. It’s not that someone wants to die. No. No. No. It’s not death they’re after. It’s that life can feel so unbearable that death actually appears in the distance as mirage of relief. Think about that for a moment. The next time you hear about someone taking their own life. It will instantly soften your heart.

I share these insights because they seem like little shifts of light on my grief journey. It’s a path that I’ve decided requires work if I’m going to survive it, so I journal and read books like THIS one and I’ve embraced the world of meditation and energetic healing which I believe is the path toward mind-body recovery.

And I notice it helps me to share some of my ah-ha moments here in the hopes that maybe you can relate a bit. 

Like the story about my plumber cracking my new bathtub.

If you’re kind enough to still be reading along. I’ll tell you the craziest story because it has a good ending. 

If you’re a regular here you know that I’m tackling my first home project after Patrick’s loss, a bathroom renovation that I’m leaving mostly to the professionals. 

Although I’ll do a few things like putting wood on the ceiling.
But really, I’m just coordinating it all.

I had ordered a soaker tub from Wayfair after a lot of deliberation, measurements and reading those reviews. The bummer was that this particular tub was going to take 2-3 weeks so I had to reschedule with my tile guy. And although I felt that old twinge of tenseness about letting go of my finish date, it’s getting easier since my life felt apart. 

So two weeks pass.

Finally, I receive the tub earlier than planned so I quickly juggled my installation date with the plumber who was about to go on vacation. Okay. I would wait until the Tub-Guru returned. 

Another week. 

Then my plumber returns from his vacation and comes to install the tub and discovers that the tub’s two holes aren’t lined up, a finding he says is “bizarre” but now he can’t guarantee his work and advises me to send it back. Which I did.

Fast forward through all the calls to Wayfair who ended up being great about trying to get the new tub on the freight truck before the typical 2-3 weeks. At this point my tile guy had to remove me indefinitely from his schedule because the tub had to be installed first.

Finally my second tub arrives! Wooohooo!
And when we examine it everything looks good. My over-booked plumber is at my house with his co-worker and everything seems to be going well (fingers crossed) when my plumber calls me to the bathroom.

He has something to show me, he says. Mind you, this is supposed to be the head plumber at a reputable company, the Tub Installation-Guru. Right?
When I kneel down at the side of the tub which is now inside my bathroom, in the right location (hallelujah) my plumber points to a crack at the edge of this tub that he accidently caused because he didn’t see a nail jutting out of the floor.

I admit. I was speechless. Tub #2 was unusable.

Of course, he apologized.

He would talk to his boss and arrange a new tub. But in my head, I was thinking about the 2-3 weeks delay again. The sheer headache of it all. And for the next 20 minutes I could feel the heavy silence as the plumbers removed the bathtub and all their tools. Up and down our stairs.

The entire time I could sense that this plumber felt really bad. 
At this point it was one of those moments when the question becomes, are my feelings of sheer frustration going to override this plumber’s feelings of guilt?
Suddenly, I took a deep breath and I stopped him at the front door and I told him a few things. I said that I knew he was good at his job and that I knew this was a rare fluke and that in the scheme of things it really wasn’t a big thing. I told him about Patrick and how it puts everything in perspective and I reassured him, 

“Hey, it will all work out. “

And he looked so relieved. 

In the next few days Kayla from his plumbing company found out they couldn’t get another Wayfair tub in less than 2 weeks. Bad news. But they found a new tub that could be rushed the next day. Good news. So, after more reviews and homework, I approved it, letting go of the Wayfair tub. Although I actually found out that the new tub was a better quality one, which felt like a little wink from the Universe. 

OK. Finally. After all the typical re-scheduling issues to get this plumber back we set a date for my tub #3 to be installed.

I called the tile guy back. My tile was rescheduled. Yayyy.
Drum-roll please.
Friday comes. And I stay home and work from my living room waiting for my plumber to arrive when I look down at my cell phone and see the plumbing company calling me. Gulp.
I pick up the call and I hear Kayla—the sweet office rep—on the other end. And the first thing I notice is that her voice is shaking and she immediately blurts out how sorry she was but the Tub-Guru had called in sick, something that apparently “never happens.”

I won’t go into the details of our conversation because my entire focus was on her voice.

In that split second I realized how much this young woman had dreaded calling me. I thought about her morning in the office when she realized my plumber had called in sick. And how uncomfortable she must have been calling me to deliver this latest bad news. I even remembered on a prior call, her joking that she knew my phone number by heart and how everyone at their small company felt so bad about my situation.

But all this happened inside my head in a flick of second and the next thing I heard was my voice interrupting her awkward apologies.

I said it louder than usual because she was still talking.

 “Kayla. Everyone is doing the best they can. It's ok. Let’s just re-schedule it for Monday.”

Right then I could hear a pin drop. And then her long exhale of relief.

Elizabeth Gilbert said on a podcast recently that there’s nothing more we hate than feeling powerlessness. But there’s THAT point when you have done all you can and you reach the end of your power. And at that instant, there’s something sacred and beautiful about surrendering. 

That’s when you realize that all you can be is Love. 

That’s what happened to me in this three-minute conversation with this young, nervous receptionist. Once again I was being taught a lesson about letting go of my attachments….in this case, to some vision in my head about time and scheduling and my version of what I wanted to happen.

Only I’m not a quick learner friends. Because my first reaction is to hold on tight to what I want. Insist on my way. And when I don’t get it, my ego can’t stop asking why.

Why? Why? Why?

Why am I still here when my big, beautiful, spirited son Patrick is not?

I don’t know. Maybe Rilke is correct and someday I’ll live my way into the answers I want. 

In the meantime, I’ve learned that when your life gets cracked wide open from traumatic loss, you begin to see things as they really are. And when things are falling apart around you, or when life isn’t unfolding as you plan, and you look at God from down on your knees and yell, 
“Really Lord? How much more can I give up and still survive?
You get your answers in the little stories that happen in your day.

It’s a silly incident with my bathtub. But there was life-lesson in it that felt oddly empowering. 

As a woman who has spent her life as a self-confessed control freak, a take-charger and a worrier. And as a mother who is suffering from the worst loss you can ever experience, this is what the shaky voice of a young receptionist reminded me:

The only control we ever really have, is how we choose to react in each situation.

And we all get the chance to choose Kindness.

Everything else is just an illusion.

P.S the tub finally got installed!


Friday, November 8, 2019

Well, it finally happened!

My dear amazing readers.
Because you've been with me from the beginning... 
Of course I would include you all. 

I also want to take a minute to tell you that I read each and every comment you leave here and some days I'm convinced I'm only standing because of all the prayers and love you have so kindly sent my way.

Thank you friends, from the bottom of my heart.

And I also want to express a special thank you to Chanel (pictured here with Patrick) who has been such an incredible help for Jim and me. 
Thank-goodness she took over the Live Like Patrick FB page and made sure it finally got published.


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Setting a Thanksgiving table with beauty and meaning

This past weekend Jim and I worked on the welcome message for Patrick's memorial Facebook page and I don't need to tell you how emotionally draining that was. I used to think that the most surreal and gut-wrenching thing I would ever do in my life was writing my child's obituary but it turns out when you're a grieving parent, that single pain-crazed obituary experience is only the beginning.

The thing is, even though I felt on the edge of tears that entire day I kept my feelings under tight control. Something that's not easy for me.

But we had dinner plans later in Long Beach with our dearest friends John and Kirsten and their son John, who went to kindergarten with Patrick. And I've figured out that if I can go three days without crying than my eyes look normal and I can dress up and at least feel sorta normal.

Which is actually what happened. It ended up being such a beautiful night and afterwards I felt replenished for a bit. Do you have people in your life that you've known for so long, that you can't remember a time when you didn't know them? Well that's how it is with them.

Ok. So you're probably wondering. Why am I telling you all this when you just stopped by to see a damn Thanksgiving table? 

Well. I wanted you to know that even though my heart is miles away from being able to host a Thanksgiving dinner anytime soon, I said "Yes" to Chloe when she asked me to join a group of bloggers showing Thanksgiving tablescapes, because if there's one thing you should do when you're going through a difficult time, it's find those moments that give you relief. And for me, that happens when I'm being creative. 

By the way, I'm showing you the world's easiest centerpiece. Mums stuck in-between pumpkins

This one took more time. First I filled this entire urn with green floral foam that I soaked. Then I started filling it up white roses, white hydrangeas, a few white chrysanthemums and pink berries. All courtesy of Trader Joes. 

After it was almost full, I clipped some ivy from the front yard and plugged the empty spaces with it. Added some cream and chocolate feathers into a few more gaps for some texture and tucked moss along the edge of the urn for a more finished look. 

I know this doesn't look like a typical Thanksgiving centerpiece, but I kept coming back to white, even when I tried to put those red Mums into it. 

I wish you could see this in person. It really is pretty. And when outside, the white roses have a buttery hue.

To be perfectly honest I've never-ever had a Thanksgiving dinner outside but since today was 74 degrees in Huntington Beach and since my dining room only gets natural light for short slivers of time during Fall, and since I didn't want to worry about taking photos in a dark dining room...well,

 welcome to my outdoor Thanksgiving dinner party.

These napkins are actually tan and white check but outdoors they look lighter. From Pottery Barn last season.

I have Thanksgiving dinnerware with the turkey on the plates but I prefer white plates these days. Maybe it's the memories that hurt and one day I'll feel different about bringing those dishes back out. Hard to know.

Instead of name cards which I've always enjoyed making, I thought I would try to do something different for this post and show you a sweet little gift for guests at each setting. 

thanksgiving a few years ago 

Rather than the typical "gratitude" or "gathering" word that is so often attached with Thanksgiving I decided to fill up jars with fresh thyme wrapped in parchment paper. And on each jar is the message I think we all need to remember: "Time is a gift" which is of course a play on the word thyme. 

I used both words to show you.

When you really think about it, isn't this the real meaning behind all the popular gathering signs and gratitude place cards? It's bringing awareness to this simple truth.

 Not only are these so sweet looking with that parchment paper but they smell delicious. 

I used vintage glasses with pretty etching for my votive candles, courtesy of a thrift store. But if I'd used something larger I would have added coffee beans at the bottom. Maybe a caramel flavored coffee bean would smell delish.

Here's my latest little addition to my tables. Miniature succulents...just spray the plastic containers metallic gold and place them around your cheese platter and they're guaranteed to make you smile.

Thank you for visiting today. Hopefully there's a few ideas you can use except the one about stuffing your feelings. 

I do want you to know this one truth. After trying to ignore my achy sadness that day, I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache, even after a wonderful dinner with friends. And this made total sense to me. 

Did you know Gestalt therapists believe headaches are actually pent-up tears? It's the idea that our bodies will always express what we're not saying. I've found this to be true for me, so please don't minimize your feelings. Whatever you're feeling, --especially if it's uncomfortable---it absolutely matters. And it's important for our entire health that we prioritize our inner life even more than all this external stuff. 

Good-bye for now friends. Be sure to check out my friends below for some more beautiful inspiration for your Thanksgiving table.

love to you all,






I'm also sharing this post with the friends at Imparting Grace.

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