Monday, April 7, 2014

Eat Dessert First -My Messy Beautiful

This essay is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

My best friend Hope always looked at the dessert menu at the restaurant first.  She chose her meal around what dessert would follow.  That girl knew what she was doing..... she started with her focus on the good stuff!

My messy beautiful life came about from grief.  Old fashion compounded grief that rocked me to my core.

My life used to read like the lyrics from a bad country song ("my dog died, I lost my lover, my best friend died").  

In 2007/2008 if I was keeping track I would have made a list that read like this:

  • I married a man I didn't know was mentally ill and I hid it in shame and exhausted myself trying to change it- CHECK
  • My dad died of leukemia- CHECK
  • I gave birth one month after my dad died in a sea of compounded grief and stress due to #1 and #2- CHECK
  • Best friend's cancer re-occurs - CHECK
But then 2009/2010 didn't want to be outdone so:
  • Best friend goes into hospice/dies - CHECK
  • Beloved Grandpa goes into hospice/dies - CHECK
  • Six months later Grandma goes into hospice/dies - CHECK
  • I freak out on the hospice grief counselor and bark -'THIS AIN'T MY FIRST RODEO LADY"- CHECK 
  • Husband moves out/ I file for divorce -  CHECKITY CHECK CHECK CHECK
(Grandma, Pop and me: 1974)

To tell you that I lost another dear friend to cancer in 2011 would send you over the edge,  I know, but that happened too.
Each line item above has a long complicated story, some of which is the stuff that soap operas are made of. Moments filled with fear, sadness, shock,  abuse, anger, rage and shame. 

During my "angry stage" I used to say all this "drama" turned me into someone I wasn't.  

I now am proud to say that those line items above have turned me into someone NEW- and it wasn't drama, it was real.  It was just plain LIFE. Life is messy and hard, and we've all heard it a thousand times but don't want to believe it..NOT FAIR.

Attending therapy with my husband opened my eyes to mental illness in this country and our VA system. It has given me compassion not only for my now ex-husband but for families in crisis because someone they love is not ok. I also learned how close we all are from being the one that's "not ok". I also learned everyone has a story and that no one really knows the truth of marriage or anyone's real life until we start talking to each other about it honestly. 

My dad's death showed me first hand what true faith is. He told me, "Honey, when The Big Man Upstairs tells you to come home, you go and you don't argue".  My dad's brave battle and death taught me that in genuine faith and love there is no fear and that if you learn to let go, more will come to you in return.

(my dad also taught me to always belt out a Barry Manilow tune when you hear it)

Hope's illness and my all my days/years in hospice showed me the truth of this life. That love is a verb.  Love shows up, doesn't criticize or judge. I did things in hospital rooms I never thought I was capable of, both physically and emotionally.  It doesn't get any more REAL LIFE than that.  I learned how never to take for granted a single breath we are given, it's hard not to when you watch the ones you love painfully struggle just to take one more. If I hadn't seen it first hand, I would have thought it was just a nice saying cross-stitched on a pillow.

(Hope and me in 200?  I have lost track of years of my life)

I used to say all this grief broke me.  I used to cry that I was broken from all the sadness and stress and pain and fear. I used to think I didn't know who I was anymore.

I was unfamiliar with myself, because I had broken OPEN.

In 2012, I sold my house in my hometown and almost everything in it and moved with my then 4 year old across country.  I needed the space and distance to heal. I thought I needed to find the old me......but I found someone better...the NEW me.

I don't check the dessert menu first like Hope did, but I do all the good stuff first. I don't work long hours for the big bucks anymore, I work in an elementary school supporting children with autism. I spend all my time with my son and his activities and his friends. 

I do more photography, writing, and I work hard everyday to be fully present. I work to put priority on the things I love. I am not perfect, but I am learning and funny enough, I am happy.

Life has taught me to speak truth, 
lead with love
and do the good stuff first!


Amy Neal said...

Beautifully written! You are an amazing woman, Ann-Marie. Thanks for the reminder!

Stephanie Wilkins said...

Oh Ann-Marie- I am sitting here crying - sad tears, happy tears for both you and me. Thank you for sharing your story and giving others a bit of courage to step out of the safety and comfort of where we are to go to where we should be.

Love you lots

Anonymous said...

Um, wow, not even sure what to say except that clearly your honesty and willingness to be broken open is quite profound. Must be a deeper life you're living. Thank-you for sharing your story and thank-you for the work you do in school (I'm the mom of a special needs kido)