Grief is the team member you didn’t choose but are learning to work with

Lately, Grief and I have been getting along fairly decently, not as old friends, but as associates whom you know well and respect deeply. Grief is the team member you didn’t choose but you learn to work with anyway. By pushing you–by pulling back the habits and feelings you’d rather hide–she moves you towards creativity and re-invention. Grief may annoy and hurt you at times, but you’ve learned how to take her aside and have a brief discussion about how much authority she can actually wield in your life. You remind her of the perimeters of your relationship.

This is what I’ve been doing with Grief while I purge my house for Lent.

Someone suggested collecting 40 boxes of stuff I don’t need anymore in the 40 days between Ash Wednesday to Easter, and I took the challenge. So far I’ve eliminated 4 boxes of dishes (but I replaced an old set with a new one, so I can’t count all 4), 2 boxes of picture frames, 10 boxes of clothes and miscellaneous household clutter, 1 box of cookbooks, and 1 secretary (I sold that, so I figure that’s worth a couple boxes). I’ve thrown out countless pencils, pens, and other office supplies. I’ve re-organized my laundry closet, one son’s room, my office, and my kitchen cabinets.

I say “I,” but I really mean “we.” Grief has hitched along for the ride, voicing her opinions strongly about the things which clutter my house. This weekend, we went through artwork and picture frames.

See, this is how Grief and I are becoming a team. I use her as motivation, because as I purge and re-organize, I take a second look at all the ways she’s imbedded herself into my life. Photographs, dishes, recipes, books, frames, art, furniture–all these remind me of my lost loved ones. Maybe that’s why some people hoard. They just can’t face the emotions attached with discarding something. I get that. With each item I encounter, I consider its sentimental and practical value and decide what gets the boot and what stays to live another day. I will not hoard, though. That’s giving Grief her own room to live in, and I don’t enjoy her that much. Continue reading

When Grief keeps coming back

I have an old friend who keeps coming back. Her name is Grief.

She’s been traveling a bit lately, and I haven’t missed her. But last night, while she was visiting someone else, she touched base with me again. The three of us had an unintentional conversation at a party, which is not a nice place for anyone to demand attention. (Grief gets around a lot, and she frankly doesn’t care when or where you interact with her. Only that you do.) She must not and cannot be ignored forever.

I have found that when she comes back, I must engage her in conversation, in contemplation, in tears, and in silence. I must acknowledge her in the middle of the night, for weeks, if necessary. I must think of her and feel her in the pit of my stomach during so many surprising daily occurrences–the smell of cookies, a book, a laugh, an expression, a necklace. A few dozen times a day, I’ve made space for her. She keeps showing up, clapping her hands. Demanding my audience.

Grief is not pleasant, but she is necessary. And she has such an exquisite memory! She can recall moments, both good and bad, with alarming clarity. She will help you recognize failings you never realized you had and virtues you never knew someone else had. She has the ability to stir in you so many unsatisfied longings–even ones you’ve worked hard to discard over the years. She’s not ashamed to pound them against your temples and compel you to consider questions that can never be answered:

Could you have done more, been more, loved more, forgiven more, enjoyed more?
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How to keep squirrels from digging up your flowers

I’ve had Squirrel Wars at my house this week.

Not over birdseed–I’ll save that for another day. (Those blasted acrobatics!)

This week, I’m fighting for my pansies. I planted 5 pots of pansies last week when the weather warmed, and every day since, I have found one or two pansies dug up, laying pitifully on its side or even out of the flower pot. In its place lies a burrow, likely with a nut buried deep inside.

I don’t know. I never dig for the nuts. I just angrily re-plant the pansy and clean up the dirt that’s scattered everywhere. I’m amazed at how hostile I feel toward them.

Last year I scattered trimmings from cutting my son’s hair. Supposedly, human hair repels squirrels. Apparently not mine. Continue reading