"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ashes to Ashes

My sister called today. She's been moving into a new house and making frequent calls to me to discuss the challenges of combining two households of stuff into one. It's been a sometimes difficult undertaking for her as she's also been letting go of lots of baggage, both physical and emotional, during the process. Today's call started much the same as previous conversations. 

Sis: "It's so hard figuring out where to put everything, especially when we're combining two houses worth of stuff."

Me: "That's why you should just get rid of everything and buy new." 
That's why she calls me. I'm full of good advice like that. 

Sis: "Yeah, I know. We've gotten rid of so many things already. But I don't know what to do with Julie."

Me (silence, followed by outrageous laughter): "Oh my god. Where is she now?"

Sis: "Well, you know I have that box of her ashes that's always been in the junk basket on top of the fridge. And I have the small decorative urn that I keep out."

Me: "You still have those? Are you going to keep them or scatter them somewhere some day? Are they in some kind of decorative box? I can't remember."

Sis (deadpan): "They're in a cardboard box. But I guess I could decorate it."

Me: "Oh my hell. Julie would be so mad at us right now!"

This was followed by more ridiculous laughter from both of us, followed by tears. Seven and half years later, this is how we deal with our grief. She didn't call because she needed to know what to do with our sister's ashes. She called because she knew I would understand. We didn't need to say how much we both miss Julie and long to have her present in our daily lives, laughing and joking with us again on a 3-way phone call like we used to do.  

Some may find joking about the cremains of our sister morbid, sick and wrong. I know many people find the thought of keeping ashes of a loved one around creepy. I find it comforting. 

The urn of Julie's ashes I keep in my bedroom.
After Julie died, the four of us remaining siblings each kept a small amount of her ashes. How and where we each choose to keep her in our homes is as different and unique as all of our personalities and the relationship we each had with Julie. 

Amy's home was Julie's second home. At different times in her life she even lived at Amy's. When I would visit Colorado, the three of us most often gathered at Amy's house. There were countless family meals together there over the years. We often celebrated holidays together in her house, sometimes with the entire family, more often with just us sisters along with mine and Amy's kids. Many a late night was spent around her kitchen table, just the three of us sisters talking and laughing together late into the night. After Julie died, all of us siblings and our respective families - 15 people total - took refuge there together for a week. Her kitchen was where we would gather bleary-eyed and grief-stricken in the mornings, each day hoping we were all awakening from a bad dream. 

When Amy brought home her box of Julie's ashes, putting them in the junk basket on top of her fridge was an unlikely, yet perfect spot. It kept her close in a place that was a frequent family gathering spot and in the heart of Amy's home like she'd always been. She's remained there through two subsequent moves for Amy. 

I know ashes, or cremains, are just bits of organic matter. They aren't my sister. For me they're a symbol of her -  a tangible reminder of how much I loved having her in my presence. 

Amy decided that for now Julie is going in her pantry. Yes, several inappropriate, morbid jokes ensued after that decision was made. I get it though. I think it's a perfect place for now. It keeps her close to the kitchen and the daily rhythms of Amy's family life. Julie's memory is omnipresent in the minds of so many that loved and were loved by her. I love knowing that at Amy's house, her ashes are behind the pantry door, out of sight, yet like her cherished presence in our lives, never, ever forgotten. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Self-care in a Sea of Heartbreak

Artwork by Gillian Chapman
Today I'm sad for so many reasons. Along with the rest of the country I awoke yesterday to the devastating news of the shooting in Las Vegas and the senseless murder of 59 innocent victims. I'm sad that these kind of mass shootings keep happening and that our national response and lack of meaningful action has become so predictable. I'm sad that our country can't seem to have a bipartisan discussion about common sense gun control laws. I'm angry, frustrated and sad that our government leaders won't actually lead on this issue. I'm heartbroken knowing that the lives of so many were completely upended yesterday by the murder of their loved ones. The repercussions and trauma of their deaths will continue on in waves, impacting countless lives for decades to come. 

I'm also sad that Tom Petty died, which seems kind of silly and small in the scope of yesterday's tragedy. Still, Tom Petty has always been one of my go-to favorite music artists. I logged countless hours of running with his music as my only companion. After my sister died I kept the CD's of playlists that she'd created of her favorite music. When I'm especially missing her I listen to them. One in particular has several Tom Petty songs on it. I often fast forward to his songs. There's something about singing along to his music and remembering our shared love for many of his songs that makes me feel connected to her.   Julie's gone, and now he's gone, and that's just incredibly sad to me. I'm also sad that I didn't throw caution to the wind this past May and pay the exorbitant ticket price to see him in concert at Red Rocks with my sister Amy. 

I've cried several times over the last 24 hours. This afternoon I cried again while listening to an old interview with Tom Petty when the interviewer played the song "Sea of Heartbreak" by Johnny Cash with lyrics by Tom Petty and his band The Heartbreakers playing backup. Everything felt like too much in that moment - the song, my sadness, my memories, my 7-year old grief that was suddenly right back on the surface of my emotions - the call I took today at work to advise a father on where to take his suicidal 14-year old daughter. It all came coalescing together right then in a giant wave of sadness. 
That's when I realized it was time for me to practice some self-care. Traumatic events such as the Las Vegas shooting always affect me deeply. Maybe it's a form of PTSD. Seeing pictures of sobbing, broken, devastated people, along with seeing and hearing too much news about such events triggers visceral reactions in me. My body and mind are reminded of the day 7 years ago my life was shattered by an unexpected death. The emotions make me feel physically ill. Thankfully, over the years I've learned what I need to minimize the impact on me. So I'm focusing today and for the next several days on taking care of my mental and emotional health. 

The American Psychological Association has this list of simple things we can all do after traumatic events to take care of our selves: Self-care tips. Over the years I've found several of them very useful. Here are some of my favorites. 
  • Strive for balance: I remind myself of things that I'm grateful for and that make me happy. This Friday is my daughter's 19th birthday. That alone is a huge bright spot for me to focus on. I also am making sure to look around outside and enjoy the golden light that I love this time of year along with the gorgeous fall leaves. 
  • Turn it off and take a break: I'm very intentionally limiting my news intake this week. 
  • Honor my feelings: I'm letting myself feel sad, recognizing and sitting with my sadness and examining the reasons behind it. The simple of act of acknowledging why I'm sad and allowing myself "all the feels" makes it easier for me to move beyond my sadness. 
  • Take care of myself: I'm taking time for me. I know that nesting at home, reading, taking hot baths, and writing make me feel better. I'm also focusing on making sure I eat well and get some exercise in this week. 
Today on the radio a woman was talking about taking the time to look at photos and learn a little about the people killed in the shooting. Yes, it's painful and sad. Yet, the sadness is a good reminder that we're alive, and able to feel the entire spectrum of human emotions. It reminded me of a favorite quote.

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." 
~ Kahil Gibran

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mile High Fun

One of my favorite summer traditions is going to Colorado to visit family. When I was young we would always make an extended summertime visit to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Later, after my mom and younger siblings moved to Colorado I would spend several weeks each summer living at my mom's house. Colorado is my second home, and in many ways it's my emotional home - the place where my heart feels most content.

My most recent visit was more eagerly anticipated than most, as my brother Jon and sister-in-law Sam were going to be there from Pennsylvania along with my two nephews, including 12-week old Leon. I was thrilled at becoming an aunt again after a 14-year hiatus and couldn't wait to finally see baby Leon in person! Kelly was also along for the adventure, and I was excited to share with him the Colorado Springs stomping grounds of my younger days. 
Rest stop in Ft. Collins on our way to Colorado Springs
After a 10-hour drive across Wyoming, we made it to our hotel tired, road-weary and longing for a good night's sleep. We both quickly fell into very deep sleep. At 5 a.m. we were abruptly jolted awake by the sound of the hotel smoke alarms! Because we had somehow been put in an handicap accessible room, in addition to the overwhelmingly loud alarm there were also bright white strobe lights going off in the room. We stumbled outside in our pajamas to the front of the hotel, disoriented and still barely awake along with all of the other guests. Luckily, there wasn't a fire.  Apparently an employee had overcooked the morning's breakfast buffet hash browns and the smoke set off the alarms. We waited outside for over 20 minutes for the fire department to arrive and turn off the alarm. 

An unexpected bonus of being up early... 
seeing the gorgeous sunrise.
After going back to bed to catch a couple more hours of rest, we got up and ready to meet the family for breakfast. We were all happy to see each other, but baby Leon was definitely the man of the hour! Can you tell how thrilled his aunties were to be able to love on him at last?
Then it was off to Manitou and the penny arcade. Everyone quickly found their favorite classic arcade game and in a matter of minutes we were all playing like a bunch of kids!

Kelly was happy to discover Galaga, an old favorite.

Pinball Wizard

Jewett was shocked to win 750 tickets!

Jon - the undefeated air hockey champion.
Jewett's big win bought Amy a stuffed
 animal, a candy bar and a soda.

A morning hike to Pulpit Rock.
Gillian and Francisco marking Ogden on the map 
at Helen Hunt Falls.

I wasn't prepared for hiking, but I made it to
 the top of Helen Hunt Falls anyway!

At the top of Helen Hunt Falls.

With Kelly outside the Air Force Academy Chapel.

With the ones I love in a place filled with happy memories.
Another Colorado family vacation in the books!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

30 Years

On July 8, 1987 I reported for my first day of work at my first real job. Although I'd pursued a job there with single-minded determination, refusing to even apply elsewhere (much to the frustration of my dad!), I didn't imagine I was beginning a 30-year career there. Tomorrow I'll walk out the doors there for the last time. Sadly, I won't be officially retiring, although I do have the gift of a pension coming my way on my 65th birthday! 

In this day and age, it's a rare thing for someone to work at the same place for so long. Longevity and loyalty is good. Being too comfortable isn't. I do my best work when I'm challenged and learning new things. After three decades I decided it was time for a major change and new challenges. I needed to shake myself out of my comfort zone and move on. 

I'm excited, nervous, intimidated and honored to have been selected as the Executive Director of a local non-profit, Family Counseling Service of Northern Utah. After serving on their board of trustees for 3 1/2 years, I've come to know the organization and their work well. I'm thrilled about taking on a role that allows me to combine my professional and volunteer experience with my personal passion and commitment to access to affordable mental health services and mental health awareness. 

Looking back on the last 30 years I mostly marvel at how quickly the years have flown by. You know the Kenny Chesney song "Don't Blink"? It's true. One day you're a shy, quiet 17-year old. Then, you blink and you're 47-years old and leaving your job of 30 years. Mixed in with all those hours, days, weeks and years spent working, I graduated from high school, then college, got married, divorced (more than once!), had a child, volunteered on countless boards and committees, laughed, cried, loved, lost, struggled, triumphed, learned to juggle working full-time and single parenthood, and raised an amazing daughter! 

It feels a bit like I'm jumping from the nest. Several weeks ago I was talking to a friend about my apprehension over making the leap from comfort and security to risky and unknown. He gave me some good advice. "Go ahead and let go of the edge of the cliff and drop the inch you're going fall." He was right. I let go. The fall wasn't bad at all.

 A Career (and hairstyle) Retrospective

1st Day of Work
My Project Coordinator days

Riverdale City flood clean-up
New branch ribbon cutting 
Holiday Buffet
2 weeks before giving birth!
Management Seminar 60's Night fun.
Hangin' with Donny Osmond, Orrin Hatch and Michael
Bolton. Umm...weird.
USU Ladies Football Clinic  
I was paid to attend hundreds of banquets and eat
lots of food over my 30 year career!
John Walsh, my bestie, Dennis Haysbert and me!
Annual Food Drive
Another year, another Ladies Football Clinic
Only one of us could kick a field goal like a
champ, and it wasn't me!
Lakeview Elementary Warm the Soles party
Warm the Soles
Just another day at work.
Halloween 2016, which is the ONLY time I ever
wore a Halloween costume to work.
Dropping off Backpack Bonanza donations
to Catholic Community Services.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


14 years ago this week I happily signed a thick stack of paperwork making me the proud owner of my current home. I remember clearly the first time I saw my house. After months of looking, two offers that had fallen through, and the end of a 6-month lease looming on the horizon, I was discouraged and worried about finding a place that met my criteria and timeline. 

6 1/2  months earlier I'd finally found the courage to walk out on an unhealthy, unhappy marriage. Soon after, I signed a 6-month lease on a small apartment in the basement of a house. Wracked with guilt about the major upheaval and turmoil I was causing in my 4-year old daughter's life, I was determined to find a new home for us to live in by the time my lease was up. My criteria was pretty narrow. I had a limited price range and needed to remain close to my former home and ex-husband, as we would be sharing joint physical custody of Gillian. My ever-patient realtor spent months looking at houses with me. He always took my calls when I would bother him with a request to see yet another house on the market. He would sometimes tell me "You don't want that house. It isn't what you're looking for." Still, he would show it to me. And then I would agree with him and the search would continue. I'm not sure how he tolerated me as a client! 

Time was running out and I was feeling a little desperate. One Sunday I was driving around the neighborhood where I wanted to live and turned onto a street I didn't remember going down before. I spotted a For Sale sign and stopped to grab a flyer. This was my house! Everything about it was perfect. Except the price. I couldn't afford it. I remember driving away wanting so much to live on that street - in that house - and feeling so sad that it was just out of my reach. Several weeks later my realtor called. He said he'd found the perfect house for me and the price was about to drop. A lot--down into the upper end of my price range. He'd set up an appointment for me to see it and said I should be ready to make an offer if I wanted it. Then he sent me the listing information for it. It was my house! 

Yes. The house was perfect. It was just what I wanted. Somehow, every little thing worked out. There were plenty of bumps in the road, and yet, in the end, here I am. To this day I marvel at how it all somehow worked out so perfectly. Six months after doing the unimaginable, I'd managed to find and purchase a home for me and my daughter. Finding a home for the two of us mattered so much to me. I wanted a permanent place for her, not an apartment or a series of rental homes. I wanted to give her roots, and hopefully, some sense of security. I don't know if I succeeded. I hope in some small way I did. 
Gillian, back in the days when she would put on impromptu
concerts while unloading the dishwasher.
When I was first handed the keys to my home I had no idea what the next 14 years would bring. Things haven't turned out even close to the way I imagined they might back then. There have been plenty of sad, unhappy moments under this roof. Mostly though, this has been a place of happiness, healing and peace for me. I moved into this home as a newly divorced single mom, more than a little scared about taking on such a big responsibility alone. I've grown up in this house, and discovered that I'm stronger and more capable than I ever imagined I was back then. Many happy memories and cherished moments with loved ones have happened here. 

There was a time when I couldn't imagine my future anywhere but here. My world has opened up now. I doubt that I'll grow old living in this house. Right now, I have no idea where I'll be living or what I'll be doing in 14 years, which is just fine. For now, I'm content knowing long, sunny summer days and warm nights are on the horizon. I'm happy here and now and looking forward to what the future may bring. Whenever I sit on my back patio gazing east at the mountains that are so close they seem like part of my back yard, I say a silent little thank you to the universe for making my long ago dream come true.