lessons from grief

(cw: death of a parent, grief, major life changes)

whenever I’ve spoken to anyone in person about my dad’s death recently, I’ve always turned it into some “here is what I have learned from this” kind of situation, so I figured I would share those three lessons with y’all to start off this week since I’m taking a moment to remember them and recenter myself.

  1. listen to your damn doctor(s). my dad was 51, healthy as far as we knew, active—not exactly a top candidate for a heart attack, but he still had one. we later realized that he had some underlying health issues that, if treated, might have led to a different outcome (or maybe not… heart attacks are unpredictable). with that in mind, I came back from Puerto Rico and called literally every conceivable doctor to make an appointment. going back to old doctors, getting new ones, running new tests, looking into prescriptions… and I doubled-down on this year’s goal to make better health choices so I can maximize my time and the quality of whatever time I have.
  2. say what you need to say while you still have time. a recurring theme during my dad’s funeral was the, “I never got to say ______________.” a lot of us hadn’t spoken to him in a while or, if we had, it had been about something inconsequential—we’d been dancing around big things that are now forever unsaid. so, if there’s someone in your life you need to make amends with, or someone you really have things to say to? do it now, while you can. especially since we’re social distancing—write the email, make the phone call, schedule the video chat. show people that you care… they need it now more than ever.
  3. life is too damn short to be miserable. as we recapped my father’s life in our attempt to write our own eulogy, my siblings and I realized that life isn’t a series of achievements/ accomplishments/purchases/travels—it’s about the connections and the way we touch each other’s lives and what we do with those achievements/accomplishments/purchases/travels. so we sat there and thought about our own lives. if we were to watch the montage of our lives flash before our eyes like some overwrought death scene in a film, would we like what we see? would we feel satisfied? would we feel like we did all we could and lived as well as possible? the answer for several of us—definitely for me—was a resounding no… and that answer has haunted me for the past couple of months as I tried to figure out what needs to change.

my dad’s death changed my life—not just because I lost him, but because his death forced me to confront and accept a lot of things that I had been talking myself in circles around for weeks and months and years. and now, in the midst of a global pandemic, these lessons seem to me more important than ever.

I guess that, in his own way, my dad’s still trying to guide me on to a better path. ♥

on being "productive enough"

okay, let’s take a moment and get real—we live in a capitalist hellscape and it’s made us hyper-focused on productivity and a global pandemic is probably a great time to shed that obsession… except, that’s not gonna work for all of us. some of us crave routine and structure; some of us have become the primary (or maybe only) breadwinners in our households due to the shelter-in-place orders moving across the country so we need to make it work.

so, then, what is being productive enough?

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a note from your flaky friend

Screenshot of a text conversation that reads as follows:
A: [9:29AM] I'm running like 10 minutes late because of who I am as a person but I am trying to hustle
B: [9:30 AM] Sounds good. See you around 1015
B: [10:07 AM] Just got here and sat down. See you soon!
A: [10:09 AM] I just parked and am heading on over!
yes, this is a real screenshot of a real conversation… sunshine is there to both protect this person’s privacy and highlight that they light up my life.

hi, hello, it’s me, your flaky friend. you might not have said this to me, or about me, but I’m sure at some moment I have canceled or amended plans at the last-minute and you’ve sighed and been like “yeah, that tracks.” I might’ve even called myself that in the multi-text message and prefaced it message with 35 apologies and some self-deprecating bit like because of who I am as a person in order to soften the blow.

the truth is, I’m not really a flake.

I don’t cancel because I don’t want to see you or because I don’t care about your time or because I think someone else is more important than you. I just have a bit of, a, cutlery issue and I run out of spoons very often. (not sure what I mean by that? you can read the Unified Cutlery Theory here, explained much more concisely than I could do it. no, really, go ahead. I’ll wait.)

so, how does the cutlery relate to me canceling plans? let me illustrate this for you…

(cw: mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety; discussions of ADHD; mentions of societal fatphobia)

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what is a legacy?

to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, “it’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

(cw: death, absent parent, complicated feelings about grief)

A photograph of a beach during the sunset.
One of the beaches where I said Kaddish for my father while I was home.

I have not written on here for the last almost two months because February truly was the worst month of my entire life—so difficult on so many levels that I am still trying to process… most of it, to be honest. some of the things from the last seven weeks will continue to affect things as we move forward but, for now, I’m going to take some time to talk about my father.

my father died on the last day of January, on Shabbat. he was fifty-one years old and he walked himself into the ER with some shortness of breath—and then had a massive heart attack and keeled over. I got the call from my younger sister, who is twenty-seven, who had been called by my father’s widow. I didn’t understand what she said the first three times but, once I did, I switched into big sister mode and started trying to take care of her until the end of the call. I then called my mother and told her, and she hung up on me because she was so shocked, and then said she’d call my sister and figure out what had actually happened. I was at a Shabbat dinner with new people when my sister called—a group of lovely Jewish women of color—and they rallied around me and packed me a takeaway bag, got my stuff, called me an Uber, asked whether I needed them to book me a flight, hugged me, prayed over me… a really lovely moment where I saw how strangers can come together to care for one another. I then got in my Uber and cried on the way home, still a little shell-shocked.

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starting 2020 off on the right foot.

y’all, somehow I’ve kept this blog alive for a whole year! and I blogged at least a handful of times every month… which is honestly pretty impressive considering how wild last year was. I started this blog with a post about resolutions and executive dysfunction so it seems fair to revisit that in the new year.

(cw: weight loss, body image issues, debt, mental illness, executive dysfunction)

last year, I chose to do three things and, overall, it went pretty well—even if I fell short of the actual goals I had set for myself. I wrote more than I had in any previous year; I really improved my finances; I improved my self-talk. great wins! so, for this year, I’m hoping to continue working on two of those and add three new-ish things.

behold, this year’s goals (vague on purpose, as I have sub-goals for each that I will be tracking privately):

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#BlogElul 13: Remember

(for the Jewish month of Elul, which happens to coincide pretty perfectly with the month of September this year, I’m going to try to blog once a day about one of the themes for the month to prepare for the upcoming Yamim Nora’im or High Holy Days. I will most likely blog in the evenings, so it will technically already be the next day in the Hebrew calendar, but I’m really going to try to keep up with this! you can pop on over to originator Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s blog for more details about this project.)

(pardon my scattered thoughts—I’m writing this with a lot of Benadryl in my system and the exhaustion of someone who chased, wrestled, and carried an almost-nineteen-pound cat to and from the vet today.)

as someone who has both anxiety and ADHD, I have a complicated relationship with remembering. the anxious side of me remembers everything it shouldn’t, like an embarrassing thing that I said to someone seven years ago—and the ADHD side of me cannot remember that she renewed her car registration even when she gets ticketed and, when she does remember, she cannot figure out where the sticker went after it arrived. (this is absolutely a true story, I am sad to say.) but if there’s one thing that this push-and-pull has taught me, it’s this: remembering is an active process. it requires effort to remember, either because one uses tools like reminders and calendars, or because one exerts large amounts of effort and focus to recall the information independently.

but, I think, there is also a Jewish aspect to remembering because remembering is, to me, a mitzvah. the important part is to be careful to remember not for vengeance but for justice; not for trying to find fault for the past but to inform decisions and prevent those mistakes in the future. it is our job to remember in order to preserve, and choosing to do that involves thousands of small decisions that allow us to remember, constantly, who we are as Jews and what that means in a world that is often unfriendly to us. having converted to Judaism, I feel a particular responsibility to remember where I came from and work on building bridges between the world I left and the world I joined. and, of course, there’s the element of wanting to be remembered—wanting to do something that impacts the world in a way that will outlast us. the work is now, and it is never-ending.

Shabbat shalom.

#BlogElul 1: Decide

(for the Jewish month of Elul, which happens to coincide pretty perfectly with the month of September this year, I’m going to try to blog once a day about one of the themes for the month to prepare for the upcoming Yamim Nora’im or High Holy Days. I will most likely blog in the evenings, so it will technically already be the next day in the Hebrew calendar, but I’m really going to try to keep up with this! you can pop on over to originator Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s blog for more details about this project.)

it’s interesting that the first thing I have to write about is deciding because it is… not my forte, to say the least. I’m not sure if it’s because I have anxiety about change or because I just find decision-making very emotionally exhausted, so I often struggle to even decide what to eat or wear to work. there is also the fact that, even when I have made a decision, I often struggle to follow-through and complete whatever task I have set ahead for myself. so whether it is a lack of decision or a forgotten decision, this is definitely not a verb that I am very comfortable with.

perhaps that is why this is the word I have to start with as I prepare for the new year—or perhaps it is because deciding is such a big part of my Jewish journey.

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