Yesterday I woke early, and decided to luxuriate in bed for a while to scroll through my Facebook feed before beginning the day. The first post I saw was a picture of 2 hands holding on to each other that began with “Today I lost my best friend…..” I immediately glanced at the name of the poster and began to panic. I read the post and saw my fear was correct. My good friend’s father had passed away. My heart sank, and I found myself crying for my friend’s surely broken heart.
My friend, I’ll call her Sue, is a single mom of 4 I’ve known for many years. We live close to each other and often chip in to help each other out. We pet sit for each other, borrow sugar or flour, jump cars, and mow lawns for each other. We know we can count on each other in a pinch, and there is never any judgment about our often messy houses, chaos, or asking for a favor. We both lost our moms and we understand how deep that loss goes. We get each other. It is a simple and easy friendship that I treasure deeply.
Sue’s dad has been her rock. He was often swinging by to help fix things, or take care of something she needed help with. I never met him, which seems strange to me now, because he was such a prominent figure in her life. When times got tough for her, he would give her money to help out. He kept her afloat when she thought she might drown and she simply adored him. She was always grateful for him and told me on many occasion that “I don’t know what I’d do without him”. She spoke of him glowingly and acknowledged how lucky she was to have him.
Last week, my husband and I went by to help her when her Christmas tree fell over, not once, but twice. She mentioned she was going to visit her dad to check on him because he had felt out of sorts. It didn’t even occur to me that he would end up passing away a few days later.
Once I read her post, I sat wondering how I could help. I WANT to help. I want to do something, anything to ease her pain, but I’m so unsure of where to begin. Death, especially death of a parent, is so very difficult. I’ve often posted about how deeply the death of my mother and friend have impacted me. That being said, when I asked myself “what did I want or need when my mom passed away?” I came up sort of empty handed. I remember feeling utterly alone. My dad was 300 miles away, the rest of my family 3000 miles away. I had my husband, and he tried his damnedest to get me through it all, but I still felt alone. I realize now I’m not sure if I alienated myself a bit. I had so much overwhelming grief I didn’t want to burden others with it. I didn’t want to have to console other people. I just wanted to get through the grief on my own terms. The problem was, I was newly married with an infant, so there was no time to grieve properly, not in my eyes anyway. I just got on with things the best I could and let the grief seep out when I could….5 minutes here, 10 minutes there…
My husband suggested cooking a meal. Meals are good. I know this. The problem is, I’m not a super cook, and she has some dietary restrictions (her son is also a very picky eater). In the end, I saw her best friend was with her and I messaged the friend that Sue could call in an order to any place and I’d fly and buy, or I’d pay for whatever meal she wanted. Also, if she needed to talk, to vent, I’d be here, day and night, any time she needed.
It’s a fine line of offering, being there, but not imposing. I wish I could say or do the perfect thing to ease her pain, but I know I can’t. I can just be here if she needs a friend.
Death before the holidays seems particularly painful. People are rushing around, cheery game faces on. This is the time of year we tend to focus on love and family. How do you console someone who has had such a huge loss?
This, folks, is when the feeling of defeat fell over me:
After a whirlwind vacation, things at Chez Messy are, well, messy. They’re also chaotic. Not chaotic enough to not bother putting toilet paper on a roll, mind you, but chaotic. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who sees no paper on the roll before the moment someone needs to use it. I think I need to give the kids a toilet paper replacement class. I’ve had some wins this week, and I’ve had some losses. The above image, mind you, made me realize how deep the nitty gritty goes that needs to be tackled.
We arrived home and I immediately began loads of laundry. The suitcases are (semi) unpacked. I need to delve into that and get them sorted and stored away. Jet lag this trip has been more brutal than ever before for me, and the whole family is struggling. Even my husband, who normally goes to bed in the early hours of the morning, crashed at 9 PM the other day. The kids are up at 5:30, unheard of in this household except on Christmas, and they are sinking into misery starting at 8 PM. We’re still operating as if we are 5 hours ahead. With work, school, etc, this makes the days short and weird.
Some highlights this week include scoring two gifts at a great price, one of which was exceptionally difficult to find. I called and went to over 8 stores in the area trying to find it (I found one under a display table of toys, still in the shipping box…total score!). We added a pet to our family, details on that later, we’re dogsitting (and everyone is getting along swimmingly, even the cat). We’ve started the orthodontist work for my daughter. I scored some good deals using price matching on some needed items. I managed to get some essential oils that smell like Christmas personified which at least makes the house smell nice, even in it’s chaos. It’s been BUSY.
Because of all of the busyness, the suitcases are still out, Christmas decorations haven’t even been started aside from the elf, which I forgot to move last night and upset the little one. My reliance on Amazon failed me when a necessary item didn’t arrive and I had to hustle to replace it locally (again, more busyness). In all my stress, I realized my husband was struggling with his own stresses this week, so I dropped my own at the door and helped him through his. This sounds weird, but I’ve always tried to take on other’s stresses while carrying my own. This time, I tried to just tell myself my worries would have to be put down for a while so that I could help him. Somehow it worked, and I was able to help him tackle his tasks and cover my own while allowing myself to not worry about what had been stressing me prior. I ended the day exhausted, but content. The next day he was helping me. Teamwork is key.
The orthodontic situation is brutal. This week, little one had spacers put in, and the next day, a palate expander. This means that every night, I have to insert this little metal “key” into a whole in a metal contraption at the top of her mouth and turn it. And every night she cries, and cries, and says “it hurts, Mama” until I want to cry, and sometimes do. Nobody wants to feel like they are causing their child hurt or discomfort, but I have to do this thing every night to save her teeth. She’s sore, struggling to eat (everything gets caught up above the expander) and I’m not sure who hates the thing more, her or me. On the outside, I stress the importance and reasoning for it, while giving hugs, advil, and reassurance. On the inside, I cry, and wish my husband were there to help me. Parents have told me their kids struggled too, that it gets better. I sure hope so. 18 more turns of the key to go.
Tomorrow begins the weekend, and I expect a busy one getting things organized and sorted for the holidays. Last year I fell too far behind with trips and parties and ended up with a TON of work Christmas eve. This year I’d like to plan better. At the end of the day, Christmas is about togetherness and love, so I don’t need it to be perfect. I’d just like to do it with toilet paper on the roll and not looking at suitcases.
Standards. They may be rather low to the ground, but I have some.
Well, we made it back from England, safe and sound. Actually, we made it back sleepy, cranky, sweaty and breathless from running to catch a plane, but all in all, full of good memories. I am learning more and more about how our family likes to vacation, which will help me plan trips better in the future. What I’ve learned is that we like a trip with some downtime, peppered with interesting things to do, and moments of making our own fun. It’s the people and places that make it special.
We arrived in England on Thanksgiving. It was weird to leave a country so invested in the food and holiday of Thanksgiving and arrive to a place that didn’t acknowledge it at all. Because we flew overnight, I found the rest of the week I stumbled through a sort of time warp, not knowing what day it was. Our flights were uneventful. The rental car situation, however, was not. I had purposefully rented the same type of car I drive in the US. I knew it was big enough for us and our luggage, without being too big to park or tackle UK roads. The area we were staying in was full of small, tight British roads, with a mix of one lane country roads and tiny villages. I had figured tackling the above in a car I was familiar in was a good plan, especially as I was driving on the right side of the car, left side of the road. When I arrived at Hertz, however, I was promptly told they didn’t have the car I’d reserved, nor anything similar. “You do,” I ignorantly replied “I’ve reserved one.” Not so much. My only options were a tiny car too small for our basic needs of people and bags, or a Mercedes. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Except the Mercedes was a 9 passenger van, It was HUUUUUGE. I was left with no choice. I needed a car we could fit in. The passenger van was the only option.
Y’all, when I tell you this thing was big by American standards, you can only imagine how big it was by English standards. It was a bit of a gas hog, so a half a tank of diesel cost me over 50 pounds. It was difficult to park in the tiny lots designed for tiny cars. The struggle was real. Honestly, I was glad we had it fully insured, because I was nervous through most of the trip. We got lost a couple of times, and the GPS took us down one lane country roads through sheep fields, with a stone wall on each side and no space to pull over. I’m not a religious person, but even I caught myself saying little prayers that no car would come from the other direction, because one of us would have to reverse, and I couldn’t see out the back window well of this monster. My husband grew tired of me giving myself props for navigating that beast as well as I did. I was proud of myself. 50mph hairpin turns down tiny country roads? Nailed it. Returning the car was a hot mess, however. I pulled in and the attendant from Hertz pointed to a tiny parking spot. No way could I have gotten the beast in there without risking the cars on either side. I told him that wouldn’t work. He pointed to another equally tiny spot with cars parked crookedly either side. He got angry and said he’d park it. He literally missed the car next to him by an inch, but gave himself almost no room to exit the car. He squeezed out, and told me to get in. I did, figuring he was processing the return. He then shouted at me “will you please leave?!” Needless to say, Hertz won’t be a company I’ll be using in the future. I messaged them, got no response.
During the trip, we stayed with my aunt and uncle, two of my favorite people. They have a house in the countryside, and are antique dealers. We spent our first day hanging at the house with them, having an easy day. The following day, we hit the pub with them and my cousin for her birthday and had lunch. It was delightful and laid back. Saturday was spent preparing for my cousin’s birthday bash. My daughter had begged for us to wear matching dresses, and I didn’t disappoint. We had similar dresses, matching cardigans, and matching shoes. The smile on her face made all the hard work and money spent getting her the right dress all worthwhile. One of the best parts of the night was having such a large group of family all in one place. Normally there are folks I don’t get to see due to distance or time constraints, but we had a large group of us. Many beers later, we were all singing Queen to finish out the night. Perfection.
I got to visit my grandfather while I was there. He looked good. Thinner, older, since my last visit. Since that time, my grandmother had passed, he had been ill, taken a few falls, so all in all I thought he looked well. An added bonus was that my dad flew over to meet up with us (he goes to look after my grandfather every other month) so 4 generations all sat in the living room catching up. As members of my family have slowly died off, it doesn’t escape me how special that moment was to have all of us together. My grandfather handed me a beautiful pearl necklace belonging to my grandmother, and asked my dad to take me to her grave, which he did.
Another amazing aspect of the trip was our visit to Chatsworth. If you’ve never heard of it, please take a peek here: https://www.chatsworth.org because it’s simply an amazing place with a lot of history. Each Christmas, they decorate the house in a theme. This year’s theme was Once Upon a Time, focusing on fairy tales or children’s stories. Everything was stunning. After walking through the house in awe, we stepped outside where there was a beautiful Christmas market. All the vendors had little wooden huts to sell their wares from. You felt almost back in time. I fell in love with a few things but knew I couldn’t tote them back in my suitcase, so I had to step away. It kept raining while we strolled the market, until finally we got so wet we decided to call it a day. In true “our luck” fashion, as soon as we pulled out to leave, the sky turned blue again. Regardless, we had such a great time, and it was a perfect start to our day.
We also walked the Tissington Trail and meandered around Tissington Village. This is a tiny place that will take you back in time and make you wonder what year it is. The church has big arches and beautiful stained glass windows that bring the light in. Some info on Tissington (click on take a photo tour) is here: http://www.picturesofengland.com/England/Derbyshire/Tissington
One of my favorite moments of the trip was our visit to Bakewell. The village of Bakewell is pretty and was quite busy. As we parked at the Agricultural center (perfect place to mark the monster van) we strolled over the bridge crossing the little river to head into town. The bridge was covered with “love locks”, which is where people take padlocks, write their initials or loved ones names on, and attach them to the bridge. I’ve seen this done in Pittsburgh on my travels, and have always wanted to do one. Silly, I suppose, but I love sentimental things like that. As we strolled the village, I saw a sign in a shope window advertising they have and engrave love locks, so we went in and purchased one. The thing was HUGE. We had our family name, and hometown with USA engraved on it, and set off to find the perfect spot. If you’re ever in Bakewell, as you cross to head into the town, on the right side, 3 sections from the end of the bridge, you’ll see a huge lock…that’s ours.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time with my cousins as I would have liked. Their work schedules didn’t allow them much free time or they had stuff going on. It’s hard, because I miss them so much, but I get the life gets busy. One cousin, thought she was working long hours and had a ton of stuff going on, was a rockstar in her efforts to make our trip special. She got us the tickets to Chatsworth and also made my daughter’s vacation bucket list complete. She has two horses, and my daughter has been asking about those horses for well over a year. My cousin took us up to the stable one night and let my little one pet, brush and feed the horses, as well as give them carrots and apples. Whereas I was a bit nervous around such giant, majestic animals so much bigger than I, my daughter had no fear, introducing herself to all the horses in the stables, giving them a carrot, and gentle stroking their noses. She was a natural, clearly something that runs in my family but skipped me. The last full day of our trip, after we’d walked around Tissington, we planned to go to a pub at the end of the trail where we had parked. The stables were within walking distance, so my cousin had us meet her there. Her big horse was saddled and ready to ride. She put my daughter up on the horse and walked her to the pub where my dad met us for dinner. My daughter beamed from ear to ear, absolutely thrilled to pieces. My cousin walked, leading the horse, while my daughter sat on the horse, so proud and happy I almost cried a little with joy myself. I knew a little girl’s vacation dreams had come true when she responded “I really think we should move to England….or at least, can we come back for my birthday?” Sorry kiddo, it’s a little out of my budget to just jet back and forth, but yes, we’ll be back.
I stopped at my mother’s grave to say hello and goodbye. I always do. I also popped by my grandparents grave to do the same. I mentioned I would love a sign. On the way to the airport to come home, I noticed the car in front of us had a bee sticker on it that resembled my tattoo. Bees are a symbol I relate to my grandmother. In fact, one of the things I learned during my trip was that my younger cousin also had a bee tattoo for her. I felt like I got my sign.
I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got on the plane. I was so incredibly tired I went into the plane lavatory and had a quick cry, like a toddler does when they are overtired and cry about nothing. I composed myself, went back to my seat, and watched a movie to stay awake so I could make sure my daughter ate. If she doesn’t eat, and she’s tired, she gets beastly. Afterwards, I was so tired I couldn’t even recall the movie I watched when my husband asked me. I was in a fog. I got home, fell asleep at 7 PM and slept for 15 hours straight. I hadn’t slept well much in England due to the sinus infection, so my sleep bank needed refilling in a big way. I woke up feeling like a new person.
All in all, a fantastic trip. I can’t wait to go back.