Live Your Best Life

Good morning, Dear Readers. The last 48 hours have been challenging for me; how about you? I was irritated by the weather and being forced inside by cold temperatures was frustrating. I wanted to be outside throwing rocks in Pomme De Terre lake or at a bare minimum, simply walking the trails of Lake Springfield. In other words, I have been a tad bit crabby for two days because I was forced to be a grown-up when I just wanted to play in my new car. My son is at his dad’s this weekend, and I usually try to stay super busy on those days, but the cold weather wasn’t conducive to car camping and only led to too much wine consumption and Ben Affleck movies. Ben Affleck. Man. A tortured soul with too much talent. I can relate – wink, wink.

Anyway, we take a quick break today from the Bad Money Habits series to check in about authenticity. Today, I attended an online event hosted by some friends out of Kansas City about being more authentic in relationships. Halfway through, it struck me that the number one fear I have in ALL my relationships stems from my hesitation to be 100% authentic. I learned today I’m not alone. It seemed as though most of the folks in a class were afraid of this very thing, too. Most shared that by being authentic, they had been hurt. I can see that. Me, too. But, at the end of the day, isn’t being inauthentic more hurtful? After all, who are we really lying to when we aren’t our true selves? Them? Nope. Ourselves. Those other people can’t help it if they fall for, and consequently, end up hurting, a version of us that really doesn’t exist. Right? It struck me, as others shared, just how much we all desire to be recognized and loved for our authentic self…but have been so (and this word is a bit extreme but…) abused by others when we try to be just that. Do you know what my takeaway was from today, Dear Reader?

Fuck it. Yep. Fuck it.

Time to show up and be real. Time to live your best life, Friends. Life is short. Seize the day. I was so inauthentic for so long that I attracted into my life people who can’t be authentic one tiny little bit. It’s safe to say that my inability to be true to myself brought people of like mind to me, and I am absolutely done with all of that bullshit. It’s time to tell you an ugly truth…

Yes. I like this Taylor Swift song and listen to it multiple times a day. There. I said it out loud.

I also like cheeseburgers, and dive bars a crap-ton more than putting on pantyhose to please the masses at the fancy restaurants. I prefer cotton pajama pants and a men’s XXL t-shirt to lace and thongs, and I damn sure like expensive whiskey more than expensive wine. I like living on the edge more than living in comfort. I like trusting other people and knowing they have my back more than trusting myself and hoping I don’t chicken out. I am free to admit I’m scared and I’ve stopped being concerned with who will laugh at me. And I am both fierce and soft every minute of every day.

This leads us here today, Dear Reader. A blog post that formed during a conversation with my best friend when I asked, “How soon did you know that Bill was the one?” (For those of you unaware of Bill…you can get up to speed here.) Like most conversations about Bill, this one induced tears. I just cannot, even after six months, keep myself together when we talk about him.

Some background: Bill was a remarkable human being. I can only hope that when I no longer walk this Earth people talk about me the way they talk about Bill. He was amazing to so many people, but here’s who Bill was to me:

He was both a father figure and the ‘perfect guy’. As my girl friend says “He was not perfect but he was perfect to me.” I believe her. After he passed away, I wanted nothing more than to find someone like him and find the kind of love he and my friend shared. He was a man who would say, to my face, “What the fuck were you thinking?” and immediately follow it up with something like “You are so much better than this.” He was both a cheerleader and an offensive coach. He was a soldier and a guardian simultaneously. Disappointing Bill was disappointing to me.

Dang. I miss him.

So today, after a tough emotional day, I called his wife, my best friend. And I cried. I said, “I know he was your husband and I feel weird even saying this but…fuck, I miss him. I am so angry that he didn’t get to see me get my shit together.”

She replied, “He sees you. Rest in that.” I have weird beliefs around the paranormal so, yeah, I believe he sees me…but it would be nice to see him wink at me and give me a thumbs up when I show him the results of my target practice at the shooting range. I went recently and when my ‘instructor’ wasn’t listening I whispered “Hey, Bill…turns out I’m a pretty good at this.” I’m almost certain I heard him reply “I knew you would be, Silly.” The day just got better and better after that.

So, as we set our intentions today – our minds off of our ridiculous lousy money habits – can we agree to focus on the kick-ass hero Bill was in all of our lives? Trust me. Even if you didn’t know Bill Culley…he was rooting for you. I promise.

Today, can we agree to live our best lives as I imagine Bill did every day?

Okay then. Grab a drink and settle in. Let us all channel my dear friend Bill Culley and decide to live in ways of which he would be proud. After all, the man fought in several wars to enjoy this freedom of speech we have. And, after talking tonight with his widow, I think I have an idea of what Bill would do. He’d kick some fucking ass – he wouldn’t mope around all day.

So. Got that drink? Good. Here we go.

1) Know that you are your only competition. I can compete against others at work, and I can compete against others in the blog-o-sphere. The truth is, I am my only competition. No one is living this life that you are living. No one else has experienced loss the way you have. No one has experienced fear and powered through the way you have. Everyone’s experiences are a tad bit different. You only need to be concerned with being a better version of yourself than the one who showed up yesterday. Did you fuck up yesterday? Okay then. Do better today. Bill didn’t dwell on the past. He lived in the present.

2) Avoid negative people. Life is too fucking short to spend it with people who criticize you regularly. You need to act like the cheerleading squad of your life lost its funding. You are your own cheerleader. If other people can’t at least raise a pom-pom once in a while, cut them from the squad. I have one person in my life who loves – absolutely loves – it when my life is not operating at 100%. Do you know the phrase “Misery loves company”? That’s her. So, my advice? Stop. Going. To. The. Circus.

3) Go after what you want. If you don’t go after what you want, you will definitely never get it. Additionally, if you don’t even know what you want, you will be on the edge of disappointment every second of every day. Until recently I couldn’t figure out why the men I dated were all so disappointing. It turns out…it wasn’t them. It was me. I was dating people that didn’t check any of the boxes. Make a list of what you want (This is true for anything, really. A job, a home, a relationship, in yourself) and STOP. FUCKING. SETTLING. Who is to blame here? Them? NO. You are to blame. Make a list. When presented with new opportunities, see if the boxes are being checked. End of story.

4) Don’t fear failure. People, people, people…(sigh)…If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, stop seeing failure as an end. Yes, it’s okay to say “I quit,” but it isn’t an option to simply give up. Quitting and giving up are two completely different things. Quitting means, essentially, ‘to leave’. Giving up means that you’ve stopped trying.

5) Our habits decide our future. I recently decided to do a 30-day detox and let some folks know that I wanted them to NOT offer me any wine for a while. (I do this occasionally to clear my head and show my liver a little love.) I mean, nothin’ against wine or alcoholic beverages in the least. I want to be the captain of my ship, and I get to decide my future. Do I drink when I’m alone…or do I write? Do I drink wine, or do I go to the gym? You might be better at the “Just say no” lifestyle. Me? Wine begets slothfulness and frankly, both are pretty enticing. You get to choose how the day goes, despite how the past week has been. Your habits define your future. So…Ice cream or broccoli? Another episode of Yellowstone or another chapter of that motivational book? (The correct answer is…YELLOWSTONE!) Another night of meaningless sex…or waiting for the Universe to give you the one person who checks all the boxes? Shrug. (I have no attachment to the outcome of your life. I’m just a blogger.) Wink

Am I rambling? Maybe. It’s been a day of non-stop Taylor Swift songs (I’m really worried about her scarf. Damn, Jake, give it back for Pete’s sake.) and I haven’t stayed busy enough to keep the thoughts from swirling. And I’m okay admitting to you: I merely occupied space on the planet today. I contributed 0% to the greater good. (Wait. I took my glass to recycle, though. Redeemable?) I wanted to be/do more today, but I wasn’t/didn’t and I’m okay telling you that…because I’m fucking authentic. Wink.

Nonetheless, all that said, I think my friend – Mr. William Culley – is looking down at all of us and saying, “Hey, dumbass…get your shit together.” I, for one, don’t want to let him down. How about you?

Here’s your song today, Dear Reader. (Don’t worry…it’s not T.S.) Go on and live your best life. Be authentic. Do the best you can 100% of the time – even if you aren’t doing a thing. I do not doubt that you can get up. You can dust off. You can move on. Remember our motto this year, Love: Chin up. Tits out. You got this.

Me On Death and Dying

Last week the world lost an amazing man. I’ve written before about my BFF and her husband’s fight with Glioblastoma brain cancer. A week ago, he – Bill – finally said goodbye. I can’t imagine what my friend is going through right now. I mean, in the quiet spaces of the day (like now, for instance), I’m a fucking mess. And if I am a mess…well…anyway.

I started grieving months ago when we knew we were down to the final weeks. She and I were standing in her driveway when she told me they’d called in hospice to help with his care. My knees went weak, and I almost collapsed in her driveway from the flood of emotion and rage.

Yeah. Rage. It’s funny when that comes up so unexpectedly.

Even now, a week after his passing, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why people who lie and cheat their way through life, come up with creative ways to avoid supporting their children, are just downright lazy as fuck, and full on assholes in general get to continue to walk the earth when someone who – by every stretch of the imagination – was just a fucking great human doesn’t get to anymore. Those folks – the amazing ones – don’t get to stick around? It hardly seems fair. And yes…I’m outraged. Really, really angry.

That said, I’ve been watching folks this week via Fakebook and Meal Train. In my observations, I have come to realize that when tragedy strikes, people really do want to help. They want to be useful to those who are grieving – even if they, too, are hurting. People immediately put their strengths and talents to work and practically BEG to have the chance to be part of someone’s healing process. And, in some way, maybe it helps with their grief process, too.

For example, I don’t do public emotion well in general – like ever. Additionally, I’ve got some real hang-ups when it comes to death and dying. I’ve watched my father whither away from lung cancer (PSA, stop smoking, Assholes), and I was standing by my brother’s bedside sixteen years ago when we took him off life support. And for the record…taking someone off life support is not at all like it looks on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not at all peaceful as the line goes flat and the tone rings solid. Nope. The body seizes, releases fluids, and groans – even when they are supposed to be ‘without brain function.’ It is absolutely the worst thing in the world to witness, in my opinion. And…because of those two experiences…I just don’t handle illness, dying, and death well at all.

I’m not above emotions, though. I mean, I have them. I just have them alone – preferably with wine. I cried with my friend a few times, but that’s about it in terms of public display of emotion. Even as I was sitting visiting with Bill – a man I totally adored – in his final days, I found when the tightening of the throat began and the tears threated to fall, boy howdy…I got up real quick. For fuck’s sake…there has to be something in this house to clean, right?

This brings me back to my point of today’s ramblings. People. And their desire to be helpful. We all expect people to do certain things when a loved one dies. Some of us actually get pissed and pass judgment if someone doesn’t display enough emotion. I think it’s finally time to cut the crap on this sanctimonious judgment. People grieve, and people help in their own ways. Here are some of the ways I’ve watched people help this week:

1) Do what they do best. A mutual friend of ours has been mowing Bill’s lawn for the summer and recently refused to accept any more payments. Yes. He’s going to cut the grass for free. And this isn’t a man who is rolling in the dough, you know? So. Why? Because it makes him feel useful. It makes him feel like he’s helping. And, he IS helping. That’s the thing. He also is working on Bill’s motorcycle and will ride it in the funeral procession to honor our friend. Because he’s a good fucking person and has skills. The world needs more people like him. 

2) Clean and organize. Despite my inability to process death-related trauma, I am known for my organization skills and the ability to jump into action. I grabbed up some trash bags, rubber gloves, and boxes to start cleaning a room that could have qualified for an episode of Hoarders because a teenage boy had been living in it for a few years. I realized they might have company and may need this spare bedroom. I organized Meal Train because I’m techy. Why? Because it made me feel useful. I’m not the hand-holding hugger type when there is other shit to do. I’ll fall apart later. Again, alone…with wine.

3) Help financially or with meals. People send money, prepare food, and sign up to continue sending food well after the funeral. Why? (Really??)Because it makes them feel useful. Maybe they are too far away to come to the funeral or can’t get off work. But mailing a gift card or making a donation to help with groceries and preparing a freezer-friendly meal is always welcome. I am useless when it comes to cooking, so I am amazed at how many people have already signed up to help.

4) Some Swoop. Some people wait, hold back a bit. You know, let the dust settle and watch the family and friends go on with their lives. The Swoopers know, from experience, that people tend to forget about the pain and move on – quickly. It’s just human nature to do that. But, some of us know that while the first few weeks are overwhelmingly filled with cards and people and food and all the death-related courtesies, life doesn’t move on so quickly for those who have lost a loved one. No, it’s the weeks that follow…the third or fourth month…the first holiday without them…those are some of the hardest to bear alone. So they swoop in then…when it seems everyone else has forgotten. I, myself, am a swooper.

My point today is: If you ever find yourself in a situation like my friend is in now – feeling utterly lost without the one person that always steadied you when you needed it the most – please let people help. And try to realize (I know…the fog…but try…)that some people aren’t present now, but most likely will be in the right moment when you need it the most. And if you are a ‘fly-in now and get it over with’ type of helper…it’s okay to spread that love out, you know. The dead are gone forever…but the loss of that loved one for those of us still around…well…we are still around.

As for me, tonight I’m going to build a fire – because Bill taught me how to nearly a year ago when I put it on my bucket list. And I’m finally going to learn to shoot that gun (another bucket list thing). Even though I wanted and planned for Bill, a decorated Army Vet, to teach me – he was still proud of me a week ago when I told him I had signed up for an introductory handgun class. He said to me, “Sorry, but I fear I might miss seeing you shoot.” I didn’t mention that he probably wasn’t going to miss much. Also, I have strange beliefs surrounding the paranormal, and I think he’ll be right there with me if I ask him to be. So. There’s that.

I’m going to close out today. I know the topic is heavy. Life gets like that sometimes, and I appreciate you sticking with me – all twelve of you. And I’m going to leave you with this song because one, I never saw Bill with shoes on, and two, he loved the water as much as I do. It reminds me of him every time. 

The first fire I built all by myself after Bill taught me how to use the ‘Tepee Method’

For my friend…if you made it this far…I sure do love you. And I’m already planning my ‘swoops.’ I will not leave you high and dry. You have my word. {Hugs}. 

Simple Ways To Help A Grieving Friend

Good morning, dear reader. I’m up early and writing while the house is quiet. I went to bed fairly early last night and woke up naturally at a quarter of six. I feel well-rested, though, so I’m going to give my body what it needs today. At the moment, it’s coffee and some creativity.

I’m going to share some advice today on a topic that is near and dear to me. Grief. I’m no stranger to grief. I’ve lost jobs, sold houses, gotten divorced, attended funerals of those I loved dearly, and watched friendships fall by the wayside. Grief is one emotion that makes no sense because it encompasses so many different emotions like anger, sadness, regret, and loneliness. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of those a day, but most days – especially right after the loss – the tsunami of emotions are hard to deal with.

One of my closest friends’ father-in-law died yesterday, and another acquaintance posted online about it being the anniversary of her sister’s death. It struck me, at that moment, that maybe – just maybe – they were subtly reaching out for a little reassurance or kindness without directly asking for it. I, with my INTJ brain, may have read more into this than necessary, but still. Does it hurt any of us to be kind? No, but it happens so rarely these days that – and I’m not being flippant here – giving the minimal amount of kindness seems to be even more than the majority is handing out. That makes me sad, but I’m also guilty as charged. We all are, I’m sure.

Everyone gets busy, and everyone forgets things, but I don’t think anyone is too busy to stop and acknowledge a friend in need. I’m not talking about helping a person move (Ugh. Worst thing ever.) I’m merely talking about being present. So much of my journey has been about cutting out necessary distractions from my life to have the time to jump in when someone needs me. Again, I don’t think one has to go overboard on platitudes to make a difference. In fact, when it comes to ‘platitudes’ – just don’t. But here are some things you can do…

  1. Acknowledge the loss. One of the ways I tend to do this is to NOT post in the comment section of a grieving friend’s post. I tend to send a short text or private message. If it’s a loss that just happened, I will usually say, “I’m sure you’re bombarded with arrangements and other things right now, but I am here when you need me.” I’ve been through funerals, and, at first, the shock is so great some people jump into action mode (me) while others it in a chair and stare at a wall. Both are acceptable. This brings me to my next point.
  2. Let them grieve. None of us have a right to judge anyone’s grief. I think we all have a personal responsibility to keep an eye on these folks, but judging the behavior isn’t going to help anyone. When my brother died, I lost my fucking mind. I did things to bury my emotions that I am ashamed of, and so many people judged me instead of helping me. Nice segue…
  3. Be a helper. I don’t accept help well. When I read things like “Offer to do laundry” I cringe. Gross. Who wants someone else going through their dirty laundry? So clearly, not my thing, but when I was going through my divorce, the unexpected babysitting was wonderful. I remember shutting the front door as a friend pulled out of my driveway with my son and within minutes I was asleep. My divorce was so stressful for me that I barely ate and never slept. I lost forty pounds in a period of a few short months, and I looked awful. Having someone step in and offer to do the thing I needed most…priceless.
  4. Schedule reminders. My friend, Machell, is someone who always (always!) seems to text me when I need it the most. Another friend texts me every year on my brother’s death anniversary, and I haven’t talked to her in years. Both are important to me. I, myself, absolutely suck at remembering things. Hell, I didn’t get Machell’s birthday right until this year, and we’ve been friends for nearly two decades. I’m. Just. Bad. At. It. Well…if having an autistic child has taught me anything, it’s use the tools provided to you for your success. So now I schedule that shit. I make a note in my calendar of those crucial dates where a friend might need a text or a lunch date or a shot of whiskey at a little dive bar on the west end of town. I’m not naturally good at these things, so I do have to create opportunities to remind myself. Because if I didn’t, it would be months before I remembered to check in on my friends. At least I admit it.
  5. Send gift cards. Everyone brings over a crap ton of food the days after a funeral (which is appreciated, don’t misunderstand me) but there are also days – weeks after – that the grief hits and all the casseroles are gone. I remember getting a card in the mail weeks after my dad died with five gift cards to restaurants that delivered. The card said: I’m thinking of you. You gotta eat. I don’t remember, at all, who brought a casserole that week. But I do remember that card, and it’s been eleven years. I’ve paid this simple gesture forward many times.
  6. Buy the wine and just listen. It’s so tempting to fill the space with verbal platitudes, but honestly, just be quiet. I learned a little trick from my therapist, who merely says, “That’s interesting. Tell me more about that.” I’m a problem-solver, so I immediately want to jump in and fix someone’s problem. The thing is, though, grief isn’t a problem. Grief is an emotion, and with all emotions, it needs to be processed. Just be present and let them process. Your job is to pour the drinks, listen, and call Uber or put sheets on the guest bed.
  7. Be honest. Often we say the dumbest stuff in hopes of making someone feel better. These sayings are well intended, but honestly, they just end up pissing the person who is grieving off. My favorite: “She’s in a better place.” Really? Because to me, ‘a better place’ is around the fireplace at Christmas. My second favorite: “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.” How do you know? He might. Anyway…my point is… I’ve sent many cards saying the God’s honest truth: I don’t even know what to say right now and I’m afraid I’ll say something idiotic. I am devastated by the news and I want you to know that my heart hurts for you.

These suggestions may not be fancy, but they are simple and easy. I promise you, though, the actions I’ve suggested are no less important than grand gestures of assistance. I’ll never let anyone come over and clean my house or do my laundry – but I will let them buy me a drink while I cry it out near a fire. I’ll always allow someone to watch my son while I take care of myself, and I always appreciate the handwritten card that comes in the mail. These things aren’t hard to do, folks; they are hard to remember to do. So, figure it out.

I’m not going to finish out with a song today, but I will link you back to a post I wrote recently about dealing with loss. Remember, dear reader, that grief isn’t logical, so pay attention to those around you and be present for them if you can.

Another Matter of the Heart

There’s a story I don’t share much. I allude to its content from time to time, but I don’t really go into detail. I don’t go into detail for several reasons such as:

1) Its content is not something by which I want to be defined.

2) After all this time, I try to tell a new story.

3) If I don’t discuss it, it won’t hurt as much.

However, I realize after eight years the subject does define me, to a point. It allows me to not only tell a new story, but to change my entire value system. And, while time does heal pain, the void is never really filled so it doesn’t really matter if I talk about it or not.

Tomorrow marks the eighth year I have lived without my only sibling. A young man with a seven-month old son left the world at the age of 27, suddenly without much warning. The one person I was to tease throughout my entire life. The one with whom I was to discuss matters regarding our parents’ health. The one I would leave my child to if something terrible happened to me first. In just one day I went from being someone’s sister to being an only child. It crippled me emotionally for nearly half a decade.

The details of the ‘old’ story and how this happened are not really necessary here. What does matter, however, is how life’s events are meant to teach us valuable life-altering lessons.

Lessons like…

1) Relationships and family are more important than work.

2) Saving for a rainy day is important.

3) When someone is in need, time is of the essence.

You see, I didn’t get on a plane from Connecticut to Missouri fast enough. I didn’t do it because I was really busy with work…I didn’t have a dime in my savings account…I thought it was a simple stomach ache and that was not important enough for me to fly clear across the country. Between the time I got the “You need to come home” call and the time I actually arrived, my brother had slipped into a place from where he would never come back. I never got to say goodbye. And that haunted me for many, many years.

It also changed me. It changed me in so many ways that I wish I could go back to those people who angered me with their “There is a gift in this tragedy” statement. I would say to them “You were right”. Because, folks, why else must we endure such pain if not for growth?

So, how did this change me? How did I grow?

Nobody’s work is more important than family. I live by this in my job now and promote this value to those I supervise and with whom I work. I also remind my superiors from time to time that family is a priority for me. I’ve quit ‘dream jobs’ to be with my family. It isn’t hard to make decisions when you live your values.

Buying useless crap takes valuable resources away from you. When I lived in New England, I lived in a house I really could not afford and bought items for this house I really, really, really could not afford. So, when I got the call my first thought was “Where the hell am I going to get $900 to fly to Missouri?“. Eight years later, I can tell you with all truth and honesty: I think of that moment whenever I am about to buy something major that would deplete my savings account. It has stopped me many times from buying something I do not need.

Don’t ignore your intuition. When a friend is in need, today is the day to pick up the phone. Today is the day to stop what you are doing and write that note. Not tomorrow, not next week, and certainly not ‘not ever’. I knew something was wrong on that Friday. I should have called home that day. Instead, I waited nearly 36 hours for my father to call me…and another 12 hours to arrive at the hospital. I think Facebook is a wonderful place to get information. It is not a wonderful place to show someone how much you care.

What does this have to do with simplicity?

I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Except that this event, along with a few others, led me to my decision to stop working so much, quit buying so much, and take the time to sit on a blanket in the yard watching a storm roll in last night with my son instead of washing dishes.

Every one of my ‘simplicity’ heroes has a similar story. An ‘Ah-Ha’ moment, if you will. What’s your old story and how did it help create a new story? Are you a ‘simplicity-minded’ soul and if so, how did you arrive here? Are you in the midst of your own painful life event that has given you pause? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy weekend!

PS…I’m giving my dear friend and editor time off to deal with her own set of priorities and family issues. If the blog is a complete grammatical mess – I take full responsibility.