Know Your Reason: Why I Chose to Write a Story About Grief and Love

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When I started working with Author Accelerator, a book coaching company, in May 2017, one of my first lessons was to dig into why I wanted to write this story. Why this idea? Where did it come from? Why did it stick with me and refuse to let go?

My story is about a widow searching for the answer to her question: can I love again? I’m not sure what reason I originally gave my book coach for why I wanted to write this story, but with time, I came to realize that I must write this book to rationalize my fear of losing my husband—the man that has become the center of my universe.

This fear of death, and specifically of losing the one that I love, has been fostered in me since I was a little girl. My parents are very close, and by very close, I mean they do everything together. There are no girls’ trips or guys’ weekends. There is just my mom, my dad, and the life they have created around and with one another.

My dad has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD (along with a list of several other respiratory diseases). You wouldn’t really know how advanced the disease was if you met my dad. At 76, he still works. My mom helps him load his oxygen tanks and his lunch box in his car four days a week, and off he goes for several hours of work.

He’s a happy guy, always cracking jokes and laughing. On one visit to the ER last year, Mom and I watched in horror from where we had been told to sit in the hall after Dad let his oxygen run out and didn’t tell the nurses he needed it continuously. The doctors called code blue and ran behind Dad’s curtain. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and it didn’t match the winded laughter from my dad that I was hearing. Later, when dad was settled in ICU, the nurse remarked, “Mr. Ingram, I’ve never seen anyone laughing while they were in code blue.”

This is the character of my kind, positive, not-going-to-give-up Dad.

My Dad wound up in ICU again last week. He just couldn’t regulate his breathing with his inhaler or by cranking his oxygen up to 10. A scan of Dad’s lungs clarified what was happening. The scan showed pockets within his lungs from the COPD, lots of scar tissue, and fluid in his lungs. But worst of all, the scan showed that Dad’s disease is progressing.

The doctor suggested palliative care. We weren’t given grim timelines. Still, we weren’t ready to process the reality that palliative care brings to the foreground.

I’m not ready to think about all the maybes, could bes, or even will bes for a man living with a progressive lung disease who plays such a prominent role in my life or an aging woman who has built her whole world around that man and whose happiness is important to me. Thinking about these things brings grief and sadness. Thinking about these things brings me back to my fear of losing the man I married and created my life around.

I know that, someday, death will come.

And, even in the midst of that finality, life will continue.

My deep gut-level reason for my writing, the reason a story about a widow questioning if she can possibly love again has latched onto me and won’t let go, is because of the very fact that life will continue. Someone (more likely, many ones) will be left behind to navigate the effects of love and loss, and what I am truly exploring through my main character’s (Alexandria) grief is the best way to continue to live despite the pain.

Mom: More Than Just The Woman Who Birthed Us

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Today we celebrate moms: biological moms, stepmoms, adoptive moms, grandmoms, our best friend’s mom that also became our mom, single-dad moms, teacher moms, mentor moms … ALL. THE. MOMS.

This special day gives me a chance to pause and think about motherhood. What does it mean to be a mom? Is it something as simple and instantaneous as birthing a child, or is it something deeper?

One of the most important people in anyone’s life is their mom. We often associate the push and pull of life that began in the womb with our biological mom. But the concept of motherhood is so much bigger than biology. It encompasses wisdom, helping us process life’s ups and downs, and a connection that lasts beyond a mother’s Earthly days.

I’ve experienced many sides of motherhood. I’m a daughter, and a biological mom to three beautiful children. I’ve also enjoyed being a teacher-mom, friend-mom, and mentor-mom. Becoming any type of mom is a gift. It is a treasured role in another human being’s life, one which requires love and compassion toward someone in a vulnerable state. Someone you yearn to nurture to independence in the world by equipping them with the knowledge you fought to earn—so that your child, student, friend, mentee can rise to the next level and journey to the place in life you wish you had found a little sooner.

I saw a dear friend (I’ll call her L) the other day. L was kind and told me I looked like a young woman. I accepted the compliment, but proceeded to point out the increasing number of grey hairs on my head, fine lines on my face, and gravity-affected body parts on my chest. L responded with some motherly wisdom imparted to her by her grandmother, whom she lovingly called Ma.

On this occasion, L and her cousin were bathing Ma. This bathing was a humbling experience for all three women, and as sometimes happens during awkward life moments, L and her cousin got tickled as they lifted and washed underneath their grandmother’s breasts. It was in the midst of this moment, when life had stripped away the layers of a hardworking 90-year-old woman who had raised her own food, canned her own vegetables, and killed her own hogs, cows, and chickens, that Ma laughed and said the words that stuck with L and now stick with me: “Girls, these titties ain’t worth nothing.”

I laughed out loud as I pictured this precious moment between Ma and her grandchildren, who needed those words that day to get through an uncomfortable but real place in life, and as I realized that I need Ma’s words for the aging process at work in my life.

The bare threads of Ma’s soul revealed to me what it truly means to be a mom: Being a mom is more than just an act of birthing a child and taking part in raising them. Being a mom is having a never-ending relationship with your child—one that your children and grandchildren will recount and share with others well beyond your Earthly years.

I reached out to L as I was working on this post to ask her what she thought Ma was really telling her and her cousin that day. L told me, “I believe she meant that we should not be as concerned with what we look like as with who we are. With age comes wisdom. Beauty is worth giving up in exchange for the wisdom of old age.”

And my favorite part was this: “She was truly one of a kind. Young at heart until her last breath. As a matter of fact, we were getting her bathed and dressed for a date at a Tavern for pizza and beer!”

In this experience, one amazing woman’s legacy continued to mother others, even someone who had never met her. Reflecting on this brings me back to the concept motherhood is much bigger than birth or direct parenting. It encompasses all the nurturing, patience, and presence we give to one another.

On this Mother’s Day, let us spend time with all the moms, listening as they impart words of wisdom to help us stay young at heart as we grow old.

Happy Mother’s Day, my friends!

The Power of “No”

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What are you saying yes to this year? Your health, more quality time with your family, a new hobby, more books in your TBR (to be read) pile, or maybe even all of the above?

This year, I’m saying yes to many of those things by choosing to say no more often. “No” is a powerful little word that is grossly underused. It holds the gift of choice, focus, confidence, and time in its single-syllable hand.

But I have a problem with pushing that syllable out of my mouth. Instead, I find myself saying “yes”: yes to other people’s dreams, yes to other people’s needs, yes to other people’s wants, and yes to other people’s desires. Which is all fine and good until I’m too tired to pop in that exercise DVD … or getting a little too snippy with my family at the dinner table … or (if I’m really honest) feeling too bitter to focus on anything but the energy I’ve lost providing so many things to other people.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Self-care is important, and it starts with prioritizing our own goals, commitments, and needs first.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but for the last two months of 2018, I was slowly sliding into bitterness. I resented the fact that I was pouring my time and energy into a few relationships and not receiving the same returns. My family listened as I chewed over the same injustices over and over, until finally—now drained of the same energy I had sucked out of myself—they nicely, but forcefully, informed me it was time for a change.

And they were right. We need to take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically. It’s important to our overall health—and the health of those around us.

Take some time to sit down and list five or six things you want for your life this year. You will be amazed at the perspective just 20 or 30 minutes of conscious focus can bring. Then, armored with the clarity of your vision, you can confidently begin nurturing your own dreams and desires by placing boundaries around those dreams and desires in the form of that tiny, big word—NO.

Saying no to one thing means you are saying yes to something better.

No seems so final, doesn’t it? If we choose to say “no,” aren’t we closing off our options instead of opening them up? It sure feels that way at the onset of the no mindset. Especially if it’s a boss or customer on the receiving end of our no, and especially if we fear that boss or customer may never ask for our help our services again. And what about our family and friends—isn’t it wrong to tell them no because they are our obligation and, for them, we can never do enough?

This people-pleasing spiral is exactly why we stay in the overcommitted and exhausting pattern of saying yes to everyone and everything and becoming too tired to give 100% to any of it. Until we get specific about what we want in our lives and then confidently and consistently say no to the people and things that keep our visions out of our reach, this pattern will continue.

Prioritize what matters most to you so, the next time you are teetering on the verge of falling back into an unfulfilling pattern of yes, you can remind yourself of your priorities and where this latest idea should rank.

We always have a choice.

You always have a choice! But because it can still be hard to say no, here are some helpful go-to phrases:

  • “I would love to help you with that, but I’ve already committed to _____. Let’s get a group together so that your project can get the attention it deserves.” It’s okay to divide up projects so you are not carrying the full burden.
    At work, pull on coworkers’ skills to get a project done together. At home, the same principle applies. Make chores like washing clothes or dishes a group project, even if your children are too young to carry a responsibility alone. You can involve everyone, from your spouse to the youngest child, by breaking the chore up. You might assign a color sorter for clothes, a folder, and someone to take the clothes to their designated locations, where another family member will put them away.
  • “That sounds like a great idea.” Sometimes we people-pleasing types are too quick to jump in and take on other people’s ideas because we want to help. (Remember the people-pleasing spiral we just discussed.) We can lighten our own loads by sharing interest in other’s projects but not offering to do the work for them. Instead, offer suggestions and give feedback on their progress; stay clear of carrying other people’s loads so you are free to focus on your own.
  • “Let’s plan out how this is going to work.” Communication is key to solving so many of our problems. Taking charge of our own problems and even asking for help is a positive step toward meeting our goals. With aging parents that need care or activities that overlap within the family but still need time and attention, don’t give in to the temptation to carry the full load. Let go of the idea that it’s just easier for you to complete the task or (heaven forbid) that you will do it better. Put your mind together with all parties involved and come up with a solution that allows everyone time and attention for self-care.

Saying no is going to come with some pushback. You can handle it.

You’re bound to face some pushback, especially if you have been everyone’s savior before. But this is where the magic happens. This is where we invest in ourselves and nourish our dreams. This—if we stick to the process and work through the pushback—is where we find the energy, confidence, and focus to fully realize our transformation to a well-balanced life. And this is where we give our loved ones the opportunity to grow, too. I think it’s time for us to strive for something better by saying “no” more.

What goals are you saying yes to this year? And where are you saying no in order to make room for your goals to happen?