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A Rant at God with a (Borrowed) Redemptive Message

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This post had been relegated to the “failed drafts” folder, for having no redeeming qualities and managing to sound pissy despite being toned down more than once, when who should walk into my living room and say, “whoa, stop, you should publish that” than my favorite author Anne Lamott!?

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Here’s Anne Lamott giving me profound advice.

That’s not precisely how it happened, but it felt like that. What actually happened was that Anne published a blog post similar in energy and tone to this one, except that it’s beautifully written and ends on a somewhat redemptive note.

So in a cheap writerly turnabout, I’m going to append Anne’s post to this one and call the whole thing a plus for the universal karma.

Even if it is essentially just a rant at God. Anne’s kind of bitching at God, too, which makes it acceptable. I don’t like taking this tone with God, but it’s all I’ve got right now. Besides, the Psalms are full of “godly” people throwing out angry questions like:

“Why is life like this, God?” 

“What’s it take to get your attention down here?”

“Hello, how much do we have to put up with before you see our plight?”

“Is this any way to run a world??”

So I’m joining the ranks of ranters. If you’re depressed, please don’t read this. It won’t help.

Dear God:

Things are bad. Really, really bad. And I’m thinking it’s time for you to fix it. 

I’m confused about the plan, God.

It’s my understanding that we all have a spark of the Divine within us, and it’s our job in life to dismantle the inner obstacles that keep us from channeling Pure You — goodness and love and the like. That’s one of the ways you reveal yourself in the world: through the people you created. I like this part of the plan.

We need to intentionally connect with you so that we have the desire and power to fix what we’ve screwed up here. OK, I’m game. And I’m certain that you are right here in this mess, accompanying us and offering to help us clean things up.

And thanks for that. But — from my humble vantage point, this plan is not working. 

I don't know which one bothers me more -- the one spewing hateful fire, or the one who thinks this is just TOO fun! Photo: Dallas Morning News

Which is more offensive? The one spewing hate or the one who thinks this is just TOO much fun? Photo: Dallas Morning News

We’re a Mess

Maybe I’m just having a bad day; I’ve been having a lot of them lately. But I don’t think it’s only me. Three friends have recently said these exact words to me: “I can barely function.” 

These are praying people, trying to channel God, but instead they seem to have tapped into the spirit of Eeyore. Should we just put extra-strength anti-depressants in the water supply and be done with it? 

Woe is Me

Woe is Me

As a friend said the other day, “I don’t know what’s going on — it seems like everyone’s walking around under a dark cloud.”

Yeah – and we’re a bunch of relatively well-off suburbanites doing our gardening and going to the gym and paying the gas bill. We don’t live in the frickin’ Gaza Strip; our daughters weren’t kidnapped by extremists in Nigeria, nor were our families on the Malaysian airliner recently blown out of the sky. Or any of the other planes that have been falling out of the sky of late.

This Rant Precipitated By…

World events did not bring on this rant, though they may have contributed.

Here’s what put me over the edge:

I stopped to give my condolences to my neighbor J who had just returned from North Carolina where she was cleaning out the beach house of her recently deceased partner. Who as you know, God, randomly fell and hit his head and died. Just like that. Did that have to happen — right after J’s surgery and during her radiation treatment for breast cancer? 

Anyway, I was helping her carry things from the car and she told me she had just had an accident on the beltway. “It isn’t the accident that’s got me shaken, it was the other woman. She had the foulest mouth of anyone I’ve ever met.” 

You have to picture my neighbor J — First of all, she’s clearly a cancer patient; she’s bald. She’s very pale. I don’t think she hits five feet, even with her little pink sunhat perched on her bald head. She somehow reminds me of a rabbit — timid and watchful, always sniffing the wind and ready to bolt. 

Here’s what the other woman on the beltway said to her: “F&&%%CK YOU! Look what you did to my car! YOU F$@*CKING BI#%^CH! My fifty-thousand-dollar Mercedes! I’m going to get you for this, you F%&$CKING BI#%^CH! I’m going to get you!”

“She didn’t just say it once, she said it about fifty times,” said J, looking dazed. “She gave me her insurance card, but when I tried to copy it down, she snatched it back and started screaming, ‘I’m going to get you, bi*^%ch!’” Then the woman drove off.

I told J that the woman was clearly unbalanced, and to try to let it go and simply call the police to report the accident. 

“I think she had some anger issues,” ventured J. 

I Am Not Amused, God

Who would do that, God? Mentally unbalanced or not, the madwoman in the Mercedes functions well enough to have a good job and make good money. Can’t she afford a therapist? How can she walk around like that, an infected open wound gushing venom on little old ladies with cancer?

I won’t even start on mental illness, God, because you know how angry I am about that, regularly haranguing you about my brother’s descent into darkness and death. I probably sound a bit like the Mercedes Madwoman myself as I grumpily tackle the gloomy task of cleaning out his hoarder-house. But at least I’m not inflicting my temper tantrums on anyone but you.

Is There a Plan B?

What about the young woman I know who just slashed her wrists with the lid of a can? And my sweet, intelligent young friend who is stuck in a religious cult?

Why are so many people so sick? Aren’t you going to do something about this? Why are we killing each other all the time? Why did you make us like this? I know that you want us to choose differently, to be the loving and lovely people you made us to be. But we don’t seem to be doing that.

So excuse my impertinence, God, but don’t you have a Plan B? Are we *really* the hope of the world? 

Thanks for bearing with me, readers. And now for that promised redemption. Here’s Anne Lamott:

https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott/posts/524013137728334

Wild Goose Part Two: Mud, Music, and Exploding-Head Syndrome

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The giggling girl seemed to speak for all assembled at the Wild Goose Festival as she splashed barefoot up to the sunshine-yellow popcorn tent. “A little rain doesn’t have to spoil a good celebration!” she said to the long-haired, bearded young man in the tent. He laughed and handed her a popcorn bag almost as big as her umbrella. Shoving their hands deep into the bag and trailing yellow kernels behind them, she and her friend headed off in the direction of some electronic thumping that might have been music.

All Smiles

All Smiles

On the first day of the recent Wild Goose celebration of faith, justice, music, and the arts in Hot Springs, North Carolina, everyone tried to stay dry during the periodic rainstorms, darting under tents or escaping into one of the few pubs and restaurants in town.

On the second day, we all flailed around with umbrellas and tarps for a while and then gave ourselves over to the rain. Everyone was drenched and laughing, and the kids were up to their knees in mud puddles. It was Woodstock redux, except there were no drugs, people kept (most of) their clothes on, and we did not come close to running out of food.

The food and drink tents were surrounded by throngs of wet people — sweaty when they weren’t rain-soaked — day and night. You could have popcorn for breakfast, french toast for dinner, and Yerba Mate energy drink any time of the day or night. The beer pavilion was ground zero during the daily thunderstorms and the nightly Beer & Hymns gathering.

Music floated over the campground from 8 a.m. until midnight, from the main stage and from several huge tents that pulsated with drumming, electric guitars, and electronic new age recordings accompanied by lava lamps the size of giant popcorn bags.

A special shout-out to the Carnival tent, which produced power for its musical performances with bicycle-generated electricity!

Pedal power!

Pedal power!

Tie-dye tees, temporary tattoos, and sparkly hair implants were popular draws, and the smell of vanilla and rosemary aromatherapy oils mixed with heavy smoke from many damp campfires.

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Serious Pursuits

But Wild Goose wasn’t all fun & frolicking in the mud.

One of the biggest attractions for this largely intellectual crowd was the book tent, stacked high with hundreds of titles like Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God and How to Be a Christian without Going to Church. The biggest seller was We Make the Road by Walking: A Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Action, by Wild Goose perennial favorite, Brian McLaren.

Lining the muddy lanes that ran through the campsite were dozens of informational tents and tables, some colorful and bold: WHO WOULD JESUS TORTURE? and others nondescript and looking rather lonely: explore your calling to seminary. 

There was less heavy theology-talk this year than last, and more passionate justice-talk. Food justice, job justice, racial justice, sexual justice, LGBT justice.

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Although this year’s crowd was more multicultural than in years past, reflecting a serious effort by the organizers “to be culturally accessible to an ever broadening audience,” the crowd was still largely white. Baby steps.

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Reverend William Barber, founder of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” protests

Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (me) might suffer from exploding-head syndrome after a few days at Wild Goose. So much was happening that they had to print two separate programs to fit it all in — more than one hundred pages of small print. At any given moment, you could be down by the river doing yoga or art therapy or a writing workshop, or under one of a dozen tents learning about white privilege, the death penalty, or post traumatic church syndrome.

Each night I would peruse the schedule for the following day and dutifully wield my red pen, and each afternoon I would throw up my hands and simply wander from presentation to presentation sipping my Yerba Mate. A lot of people were doing this, sampling a bit of this and a snip of that and finally settling down to a panel discussion or a few sets of music.

In one tent, this young lady explained to me that if I spun the wheel, I could find a new image of God for myself:

Spin the wheel to find your image of God!

Spin the wheel to find your image of God!

Here’s what the wheel came up with for me — not bad: a wise old woman. Her nose was not on fire, by the way, it’s just a lousy picture.

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On one of my wandering afternoons, I came across this amazing fellow who wrote poetry for passersby.

Poetry on Demand by Eddie Cabbage

Poetry on Demand by Eddie Cabbage

I gave Eddie Cabbage five bucks and a theme, and he produced this sweet piece in five minutes:

Loss/Grief/Redemption:

The heart broken

The eyes holding

oceans of tears

The emotion spilling

and the sorrow

a tipping rain

The long road home

The dreams and the wisdom

found when the

wounds begin

to heal

The strength and the power

Inspiration to carry on

The scars now just

flesh tattoos

of a hardship

you came

shining through

Eddie’s offering alone was worth  my trip to Wild Goose this year. See more photos and read more about the festival in part one of this post. Won’t you join us next June?

Don’t Miss the Parade!

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A Beautiful but Dangerous Frame of Mind

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I saw it yesterday, the very image you are requesting. Powerful is too tame a word for it; the whole world was transformed — dramatic and primal, beautiful and dangerous at the same time. 

Standing on my screened porch, which had seemed perfectly safe and sturdy until that moment, I watched the storm blow in. The trees were dead-still one minute and then whipping about the next, as if a wind-snake of monstrous proportions were writhing and whirling overhead. 

Quiet. Then chaotic. Then calm again. Then wild. Branches squealed and moaned. My skin tingled and my heart raced. 

“Don’t be silly,” I told myself, “you love storms.” 

Fear. Dread. Tornadoes. Falling trees. 

I weenied out and went inside. I clicked on Facebook, a safe and familiar refuge. The screen flashed a dozen photos — Check out this rainbow! Go outside NOW and see the rainbow! Double rainbow! Gorgeous sunset through the black clouds!

I looked out the window. Black as death. No sign of any other color. My friend texted from a pub three blocks away — “did u c the rainbow?” I looked out again — the black was turning charcoal grey, but I saw no rainbows. Thunder rumbled.

I clicked on a few random articles — gun rights and transgendered rights and women’s rights and civil rights — and then looked out the window again. The entire sky had turned a brilliant gold in a matter of minutes. I don’t mean that muddy yellow you see before a tornado, I mean an intense you-have-died-and-gone-to-heaven golden blaze.

The color you never see in the real world except in those landscapes from the Hudson River School painters like Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt.

Bierstadt; Sierra Nevadas Wikipedia Commons

Bierstadt; Sierra Nevadas
Wikipedia Commons

As the gold faded and the sun reached the horizon, the sky turned pink, then scarlet, and then rich plum. And then the stars ventured out.

So, WordPress Daily Prompt, you want me to paint my current mood onto a canvas and tell you what the painting would look like? That was it. Yesterday’s storm. 

Black and grey and magnificent gold and radiant scarlet, changing moment by moment and sometimes all at the same time. Deep and primal; menacing, yet captivating. 

You know there’s a rainbow, but you can’t see it yet.

I know this canvas. This is my painting. This is grief, six months, two weeks, and two days after my brother’s passing.  

Want to Know My Dream?

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The question makes me laugh: “You just inherited a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion in the countryside — what do you do with it?” As it turns out, this is not a theoretical question for me. Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt is, in fact, a reality in my life.

All except the second part of the prompt, “Assuming money is no issue…” That part is definitely theoretical. Oh, and the part about it being a grand mansion. That’s not exactly true either.

What is true is that I have inherited the loveliest piece of real estate on the planet, named Quiet Hills by my grandmother Beedie who purchased the place in 1940. The old (1782) Cape Cod in the countryside of New Hampshire could probably be described as somewhat dilapidated, but I don’t see it that way. 

Quiet Hills

Quiet Hills

Because of the money issue, I don’t spend time dreaming of what it might become, I just enjoy it for what it is: a wildlife sanctuary of woods and meadows and a quaint house full of ghosts and massive old furniture, which I imagine house servants slathering with beeswax back in the day. It smells of lavender and witch hazel and my grandmother’s face powder. 

On still nights, I can hear the Ashuelot River rushing over boulders at the foot of the hill. The Hermit Thrush announces the setting of the sun, and the Great Horned Owl welcomes the falling of darkness. I can’t say what happens at dawn because that’s not my thing. I always stay up too late reading Beedie’s musty old novels to see the dawn.

But . . . but — what if I had money?

A Writer’s Haven

No question. Quiet Hills would be a retreat house for writers and nature lovers and spiritual seekers. I’d give classes in writing techniques and in contemplative spiritual practices like Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina (sacred reading). 

We would have silent retreats, too, and I’d have someone teach yoga  and tai chi. I’d set up nature trails on the property with prayer prompts along the way, and build a prayer labyrinth with benches and weeping birch trees around the edges. People would frequently have life-changing spiritual epiphanies there.

Prayer labyrinth

Prayer labyrinth

I’d run a bed & breakfast for my retreatants, and every morning my helper would get up early and make a humongous country breakfast. Our speciality would be blueberry muffins with berries from our fields and fresh butter from two dairy cows who roam the meadows and come into the old coach house for milking. And eggs, too, from my chickens who eat the pests in the vegetable garden where lush tomato vines are heavy with warm fruit and the aroma of sweet basil is overpowering. There would be no meat in our meals, and no one would miss it.

Eggs, not meat

Eggs, not meat

I’d fix up the massive barn; one end would be a huge picture window overlooking the woods — that’s where we would hold workshops, and there would be sleeping quarters in the lofts above. In the corners of the barn I’d have mounds of brightly colored handmade quilts for people to snuggle into each autumn and to spread out in the meadows for writing and naps in the summer. 

I’d get custom-made windows for the main house, and insulation, so I could be there in the winters, too. I’d build a big stone hearth and fireplace in the living room where the small wood-burning stove is now, and expand the kitchen to fit several long tables where people could eat together. Why not put a fireplace in the kitchen, too? And a big bay window with lots of hummingbird feeders just outside. Everyone would marvel at the constant comings and goings of the hovering jewels.

I’d have all new (but vintage) wallpaper and curtains and oriental rugs, and wall-to-ceiling bookcases in every room, because after all, this is a writer’s retreat. I’d have lots of bathrooms, and instead of the dug wells that run dry in August, there would be an artesian well sunk deep into cold, underground springs. There would be a jacuzzi. 

Best of all, Quiet Hills B&B retreat house would be free for those who couldn’t afford my already reasonable rates. Money should be no hindrance to dreams.

And that, WordPress Daily Prompt, is what I would do with my dilapidated inheritance if I had money. Now – please tell me that this is actually a contest, and I win, and the prize is that you’re going to fund my dream. 

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Wild Goose Part One – Celebration & Sexuality

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My head swirls with images of sweaty hippies swaying inside a drumming circle, tattooed youth dancing beneath rainbow banners, and a parade of body-painted, trumpet-blowing, cymbal-crashing celebrants on their way to . . . church.

Just another hum-drum Christian weekend at the Wild Goose Festival, a “gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts” in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

At the entrance to the festival, a poem by Mary Oliver

At the entrance to the festival, a poem by Mary Oliver

I’ll be writing more about the festival, I’m sure. It just takes some time to process the dozens of workshops and performances, everything from Mindful Sexuality to What Queers Bring to the Church to White Privilege.

This year’s theme was Living Liberation, and the gathering was most definitely liberated, much to the chagrin of the handful of demonstrators outside the gathering, half-heartedly waving signs saying things like REPENT. I felt kind of sorry for them — they had to act all sad and serious while thousands of joyful Christians celebrated Jesus right across the street. 

We invited the demonstrators in, but they declined. We were respectful — a couple of Wild Goosers brought them water and food and even held their signs when nature called the protestors away from their posts.

The REPENT people didn’t like the gay and lesbian Christians amongst us.

Why not celebrate who you are?

Why not celebrate who you are?

My heart broke for one protestor named Will who said that he used to be gay but he was fixed now. Oh. My. God. How confusing and upsetting for him to see all these free Jesus-loving souls celebrating the way they were made while he waved his little sign, unable to “live life to the full,” as Jesus called us to do. 

But here I go, writing about the Goose. I didn’t mean to get into it, I just wanted to share a few photos for fun. More to come.

Saturday night "Beer and Hymns"

Saturday night “Beer and Hymns” tent

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Sunday morning celebrations

 

Who doesn't love a parade?

Who doesn’t love a parade?

 

Wrong Turns: Hold the Map Loosely

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One of the nice things about getting older, at least for me, is that I don’t get lost anymore. I may occasionally feel lost, but I know I’m not truly lost. 

This weekend, I was driving the winding roads of western North Carolina with two friends in my car, returning from four days at the Wild Goose Music Festival in Hot Springs. Nothing looked familiar, and I realized Suzanne was taking us home a different way than we had come. 

There was a lot of map rustling and Siri debating as we approached a crossroads, and I felt tense because I sensed my friends were getting tense. We might get lost! We might BE lost and not even know it!

“Is that going to be a slow and winding road?” 

“That’s not the way we came!” 

“Does that get us to the interstate faster?”

“Make a U-turn; let’s ask at that gas station!”

Thing is, I knew that both roads would get us where we needed to be. I wasn’t sure which was most direct, or whether people might laugh at me for choosing a silly route, but I knew that technically, I wasn’t lost. 

Spiritual Navigation 

My circuitous spiritual journey has taught me a bit about navigation. Mostly, not to panic.

Wandering Path

Wandering Path

Here are some things I’ve learned about getting literally and metaphorically “lost” in life.

  • You can see beautiful things and meet interesting people on the side roads of life, the roads you didn’t plan to take. The unplanned vistas and visits are often the most memorable.
  • Sometimes the slower roads are the better ones. You can absorb your surroundings and appreciate the present moment when you eschew the interstate and tootle along with your foot propped up on the dashboard (yes, I drive like that) and a Starbucks soy chai latte in your hand. You see real people sitting on their porches, not shadowy heads behind a windshield.
  • When you’re off-course, ask for assistance. This allows other people to help you, which makes them feel good and boosts your belief in ultimate goodness. We’re all on this trip together.
  • Choose your traveling companions and the soundtrack of your trip carefully. Choose people who laugh easily and don’t take themselves or the journey too seriously. Choose to listen to the positive and the upbeat in the universe, not to the critical voices in your head or to the negativity and nonsense polluting our culture.
  • Hold the map loosely. There is more than one way to get where you need to be. Someone else’s route might not be best for you. As long as you’re facing the right direction (when all else fails, look for the sun; look to the light), you are going to arrive at your destination.
  • Rest assured that things will work out in the end. You’ll get where you need to be if you pay attention. Even at the ultimate end of the journey — the one we usually deny and try to avoid at all costs — it’s all going to be OK. We are safe. There’s a cosmic navigator driving this space ship. Relax.

 You Can’t Get There From Here

When I read the WordPress Daily Post writing challenge asking us to write about the last time we got lost, the first thing that popped into my head was a riff from Firesign Theatre. Unless you are of a certain age, you won’t remember this hysterical stream-of-consciousness comedy group from the late sixties/early seventies. Some of us had their albums memorized. If you like Monty Python, try to dig up some Firesign.

Firesign Theatre

Firesign Theatre

I share this because I think it enhances my points above, but also because it’s ridiculous and I couldn’t help it:

NICK DANGER: Hey, pop!

POP: All right, hold your horses.

NICK: Where am I?

POP: (pause) You can’t get there from here.

NICK: But I’m looking for the Same Old Place.

POP: Ohhh! You must mean the old Same place! It’s right out back, sonny. Here’s the key.

– From the album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All?

Are You Tired of My Grief?

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It finally happened, the thing my grief counselor warned me about. I was in a local pub with a couple of friends and one of them said, “I’ve been reading your blog . . . don’t you think it might be time to move on?”

From my brother’s death, is what he meant.

The question didn’t surprise me – my friend is definitely not a “feeler” when it comes to personality types, and he’s not one to intentionally process his emotions. Like many people, he sees “bad” emotions like grief as troubles to be overcome, wrestled to the ground.

I, on the other hand, am an off-the-charts feeler who firmly believes that uncomfortable emotions are meant to impart life lessons. They are spiritual teachers, and we should sit with them and listen to them. 

In my experience, if psychic pain isn’t fully processed, it comes back as depression, anxiety, anger, or – in the case of my dear departed brother – death. 

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Living in the Land of Grief

What that processing entails and how long it takes is unique to every individual and to every loss. Nevertheless, my grief counselor told me that at some point, someone would probably decide on my behalf that it was time for me to “move on.” 

So I had to smile when my friend used that exact phrase.

I can’t remember what I said to him, if anything, but the answer to his question is: No – it is not time to “move on” or “get over it.” That’s not what happens. Ever. A major loss will gradually become a part of you; you adjust. You do not get “finished” with grief. 

It’s like learning a new language in a new country. You will, over time, get used to it and function fairly normally. But it’s still a different country than the one you used to live in.

Bottom line: stuffing my feelings doesn’t work for me anymore, so I won’t be pretending that I’m “over” my brother’s death. If you’re uncomfortable with that, simply don’t read my blogs tagged grief, even if they are brilliantly written and sometimes maybe a little funny.

Deal?

Six Month Check-in

It has been six months now. I have little memory of the first three months, except for a great fear of losing my mind because that’s what my mother’s death did to my brother. I was relieved to find that several others in my grief support group shared that fear. That’s mostly gone now, thank God. 

When I try to analyze or control my grief, to tell it what it “should” be doing now, I still experience anxiety. 

If I get too busy or spend too much time with others and don’t take time for rest and reflection and writing, I find that the tears come rushing back as soon as I’m alone. Pacing myself is key to recovery.

I’m still having trouble doing the things that need to be done: lawyer crap, social security and medical bill crap, house cleaning crap. Crap, crap, crap. 

Sometimes I’m angry at Biff, at God, at life. At crap. But in general, I’m doing OK. I am feeling better, not worse. 

Write, Cry, Celebrate

I will continue to write about grief when I need to because it helps me, and because I hope that it might help others who are grieving to know that they are not alone. 

I want you to know that it’s OK to talk about your grief. Talking and talking is an important part of the healing process. Don’t feel that you are a burden — just make sure you choose safe people who won’t judge. There’s no right or wrong. If someone doesn’t understand, don’t share your grief with them. Simple as that. Your journey is unique. But it does help to have company, so find a support group if you can.

Write about it. Cry if you need to. 

Celebrate when little things get back on track. I can now go to the grocery store without losing it. This is big. Sometimes I can listen to music.

Six months is nothing, really, when you’re putting your soul back together, but every day is a small victory.

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