Frequency Illusion or Fate

I’m currently sitting at a coffee shop in crunch mode. A few weeks ago I wrapped up the first draft of a book more than 25-years in the making. As I typed the closing words of the final chapter, I felt something was missing. That perhaps my book was an illusion or misrepresentation of grief. Despite being brutally honest about my lack of credentials or knowledge base around this topic, I felt like a fraud. Somehow my story didn’t seem strong enough or capped with enough wisdom and answers to really provide a sense of purpose to the reader.

As I contemplated what to do next, I began reading Susan Cain’s latest book Bittersweet. When I hit chapter 3, Cain made the comment, whatever pain you can’t get rid of, make it your creative offering. I realized in that moment, the purpose of my book, is to share with even one person, my journey with loss. For me, it has no end, because for me to never experience loss again would mean to quit living. Despite believing that in my soul, I seriously questioned if anyone else would understand. After all, one of the most common pieces of encouragement after losing someone or something you love is this too shall pass. It will get easier, once you get through it.

The problem is that never happened for me. I kept waiting and waiting, believing that if I just tried hard enough, I’d reach the other side. But the truth is, I feel loss and I hold onto it. I don’t dwell in it or quit living. I’m not clinically depressed or emotionally unavailable. Instead, I find myself acknowledging this is the price of admission and often times elevating my blessings by recognizing that anything worth anything I will in fact lose someday.

This is where divine intervention, fate, or a more logical explanation of Frequency Illusion of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon comes into play. Because as I contemplated my shortcomings, Bittersweet provided the framework needed for me to finalize understand my inner workings.  

Cain’s explanation of how certain people hold space for love and sorrow finally answered a decade old question. I am not broken. I am what Cain describes as a true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet.

How did I come to that conclusion? A simple 15 question quiz that had me scoring 8.1 on the Bittersweet scale. Interestingly enough, my husband landed solidly in the category of sanguine or eternal optimist. It makes sense – I’ve been called Eeyore on more than one occasion, especially by my husband. I never minded, at one point going as far as to have a blog called It’s ok to be Eeyore, because I felt the world has enough Tiggers in it. That, I’d rather be loyal to one and contemplative, then someone I’m not.

Cain spends a lot of time contemplating the complexities of living in the place where light and dark meet, including one extremely important factoid that our culture has decided to overlook – it’s not human to simplify move on.

Trust me when I say this book is packed with wisdom. I earmarked so many pages and passages. But this, well it sums up my conflict with grief. It finally provides me the research to back my experience with loss – and the reality that while I keep living after loss, it does not mean that I’ve moved on, but rather that I’m continuing to move forward. The truth is, acknowledging my loss and being willing to talk about it, does not mean I’m dwelling or depressed, but rather I’m resilient. I am resilient and strong enough to embrace both love and loss, or as Cain explains, bitter and sweet, in the same moment.

How lucky we are to live in a world so beautiful where that’s possible? We are literally programmed to experience emotional multi-tasking. Yet, somehow that message continuously gets lost. Grieve and be sad. Then move on and be happy. I’m here to tell you, there’s an alternative. If you don’t believe me, then you MUST READ HER BOOK and take her word for it. Years ago Susan’s book Quiet gave me language around being an introvert. Now, she’s providing me peace for my experiences with loss. For that, I am forever grateful.   

I have months of editing to go on this book and a proposal due in less than 3-weeks. The past few weeks have been packed with self-doubt. Yet, as I sought a sign, this book dropped in my lap. The proof I needed to know that I am not alone. Call it divine intervention or frequency illusion, it is a fine a line. Just know, that often times, the answers are there if you just ask the right question.

Ode to Motherhood

I somehow did it. My very first and very rough draft is complete. When I think about loss, losing my mom ranks high. Becoming a mom triggered a whole slew of loss, lessons and love for the woman who made me. I’ve spent years writing about it. This Mother’s Day is no exception. For those who have been kind enough to send me feedback, please keep sending it my way. In the meantime, an Ode to Motherhood.

Chapter 13: WTF? I’m pregnant.

About 4-months after the adoption failed, I started training for a half-marathon. It was just after the holidays in which in typical fashion I had overindulged in food and put exercise aside.

By this point in life, I had been running for a few years. A funny thing happened this time, though. My boobs hurt. As in, really hurt. At first, I thought that I’d jumped into training too hard. But, as the days progressed and the spasms in my boobs grew more frequent, I knew something was up. I was broken.

It wasn’t just my boobs. I was exhausted. I was exhausted when I ran and when I didn’t run. I was tired all day long and had no desire to get up in the morning. Granted, it was January in northern Wisconsin. It’s hard to be motivated about anything during this dark, sub-zero stretch of hell we call winter. But this was different.

After several weeks of enduring this excruciating pain, I decided to take a break from running for a few days. I thought maybe if I reset myself and started over it’d get better. Only it didn’t. It kept getting worse. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I shared my discomfort with my husband. He looked at me perplexed and then asked a very simple but loaded question, “You aren’t pregnant, are you?”

Time stopped. He knew I was not pregnant. I would know if I was pregnant. After all, I’d gone through years of trying to get pregnant. I’d undergone countless fertility tests, prayed to higher powers and visited multiple doctors. While my diagnosis wasn’t dire, I clearly didn’t get pregnant. We had just gone through a year of paperwork and tests to get approved to adopt in the state of Wisconsin, only to have it fail. This was in fact an extremely loaded question. Of course I wasn’t pregnant. Or… was I?

My mind began racing. I had a stash of pregnancy test strips under the sink. It’d be quite simple to do a quick test and put this rumor to rest. But a big part of me didn’t want to get my hopes up. I started to do the math in my head. Yes, my period was late. If I were a gambler, I’d be broke if I bet on the dates my period would hit. Sometimes it’d be weeks, other times months. Plus, with the stress of the holidays, it’d make sense I was late, right?

After several rounds of inner conversation that was slowly making me crazy, I decide to take a test. I’ve got nothing to lose. At least then I can rule out this particular crazy notion. I take the test. After a few minutes I glance at the test strip. I see a couple of lines and dismiss the notion. I knew I wasn’t pregnant.

Later that night, while nursing my sore boobs, I suddenly found my heart racing. I return to the bathroom and dig the test strip out of the garbage. Two lines. Is it possible that meant I was pregnant? I dig under the sink for the directions. They’re missing. I start to panic. How can I not remember if two or three lines mean I’m pregnant?!?!?!

Before you consider me a very dumb blond, remember the circumstances. Factor in that I had purchased these test strips three years ago in bulk on Amazon. They didn’t come in a pretty box. These strips didn’t have smiley faces or pink lines. They were test strips with multiple faint lines.

I immediately turn to Google looking for answers. After finding the directions online, my life changes in an instant.

“Honey…”

“Yeah?”

“I think I might be pregnant.”

Silence.  I can hear my husband carefully formulating a sentence in his brain before speaking, knowing the next words he speaks count.

“What do you mean you think you might be pregnant?”

“Well, this test says I’m pregnant, I think.”

“You think? Isn’t it a yes or a no?”

“Well sort of. But I’m guessing this test is expired.”

Chaos ensues. My husband runs to our local grocery store, the only spot in town with tests, and asks the clerk for a pregnancy test. Meantime, I Google what can cause a false positive. It’d appear that a rare form of cancer and a lot of urban myths are the only options. The sparkling optimist in me becomes convinced that I have cancer.

My husband returns home. “Well, either everyone in town tomorrow will know you’re pregnant, or a rumor will be floating around that I’m having an affair.” The joys of small-town living.

I begin guzzling water. Lots and lots of water. Three tests later, I’m starting to come to terms with the idea that I may, in fact, be pregnant. My husband is beaming and totally convinced this is the only possibility. I’d like to believe this miracle is real, but the pessimist in me refuses. I need scientific proof. Luckily, I have an awesome doctor and work at a rural hospital that can do same-day appointments.

Less than 24 hours later, I find myself lying on an ultrasound table at work, hearing a rapid pitter-patter, for the first time. It turns out that there actually was a logical explanation besides cancer for the nagging pain in my chest. His name is Jacob William Probst. At the time, I was six weeks pregnant.

In an instant, life changes but everything stays the same. I look down at my paunch and realize there’s an alien-looking create growing inside of me. That every decision I make in the coming months impacts the creation of another human being.

I’m humbled and overwhelmed and scared. Let’s face it. This didn’t happen overnight. I had come to terms with the idea of never having a baby. I’m old… in childbearing age. Did you know that if you are 35 and pregnant, that’s considered a geriatric pregnancy?

I’ve never quite understood why the marketing of that. Adult pregnancy, mature pregnancy, but geriatric? It is very similar to wedding dresses being about 2-sizes SMALLER than your normal size. Because seriously, what girl doesn’t want to feel old when she’s pregnant (as if you don’t feel old already) or fat on her wedding day.

I face the facts. I’m a plus-size, geriatric pregnant gal who was not planning to get pregnant this year. I had abandoned the prenatal vitamins and hadn’t exactly been alcohol free over the holidays. Plus, the sugar cookies. So many sugar cookies. I had just booked a trip to Washington D.C. for March and now this?

I confide with a few co-workers. Those closest know what a toll the adoption took on me. They get it. As I’m telling them the news, it finally hits me. I am actually pregnant. This is exactly what I wanted.

Or, was it? My pregnancy would be plagued with complications. An achy back and an uncontrollable bladder eventually led to a more serious diagnosis of pre-eclampsia.  In rural Wisconsin, this diagnosis played out in a 75-minute ambulance ride with three strange men, no shoes, and a heightened hormonal state. Our destination – the nearest trauma center equipped with a NICU.

It resulted in one of the most undramatic, dramatic results in my life. I never went into labor. I stabilized. After two nights of monitoring and Steve eating delicious looking take-out in front of me I was allowed to return home with strict orders of bedrest. I’d spend the next two weeks anxiously awaiting Jake’s arrival while also questioning if I was capable of becoming a mother.

Motherhood is a pivotal moment that plays out over the course of years. I’ll be frank, when Jake made his overly dramatic entrance into the world during an emergency c-section that involved him not only wrapping his umbilical cord around his neck but also somehow knotting it, I didn’t feel an immediate sense of joy. I was in utter shock.

Moments later he was placed on me to nurse. Splayed out on the table, I felt like a unique combo of a milking cow and Humpty Dumpty being stitched back together. I just wanted a full fat vanilla latte with extra whip cream.

Staring down at the little alien creature, I knew I was witness to a miracle. I was torn between sheer excitement of this incredible creature I just brought into the world and scared shitless of everything I could do wrong. In that moment, I needed my mom. Not my best friend or my sister or even the man who helped make Jake.

I knew giving birth would trigger the loss of my mother. I just didn’t know how lost I’d feel those first few weeks. Hormones and sleepless nights didn’t help. Unlike some incredible women I know, motherhood did not come natural to me. It was awkward and uncomfortable and extremely complicated. I quickly learn, motherhood is messy.

Messy and memorable. Somewhere in those sleepless nights, something clicked. I suddenly understood what it meant to love someone so selflessly that you’d sacrifice everything for them.

There’s something to be said about a love that fierce. I grew up in a house full of grace. I now understand why. My mother’s love was built around the notion that I was exactly who I needed to be – not perfect – but enough. My mother never tried to change me and constantly gave me freedom to make mistakes. To learn and grow and evolve into a young woman.

When Jake was born, I felt an unbelievable pressure to not mess it up. To make sure I raise him to be an incredible man. I now understand that I am not raising a child, but rather guiding a human being through life. Jake is his own person and to think I can change that is hilarious. I can guide and steer and pray and love, but at the end of the day Jake will become who he is destined to be. That’s humbling and scary and awesome all wrapped into one. To love someone enough to let them become who they are meant to be – that’s the greatest gift I can give as a mother. One I learned from the best.

If I could tell myself just one thing, it’d be motherhood is the ultimate test in vulnerability. Lots of it. The thing with motherhood is loving someone unconditionally comes at a cost. It is an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. The more vulnerable and deep your love, the larger the tidal waves.  I never understood mamas who cried on the first day of school or became insomniacs in a quest to make sure their child was safe until I became one. 

I went into parenthood believing I’d be the best mother ever. As a perfectionist, I wanted to be a perfect mom, because I wanted Jake to have the best. What mother doesn’t? Here’s the thing, by day 1 I had failed on many fronts.

This seems obvious now but I didn’t know it then. I am raising a human. Humans are messy and complicated and contradictory. They make mistakes. They are frustrating and difficult and stubborn and that’s what makes them beautiful. Now, I just do my best every day to lead by example, love him, and set him free to be his own person. It is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. His teacher recently told us, Jake’s an incredible leader. He just sometimes leads in the wrong direction. I’ll admit, I was a bit embarrassed but bursting with pride and love.

Raising Jake has taught me, I’ll never be ready to parent a person but I was born to be a mom.  

Podcast Fun and Writing Deadlines

Things are getting real. This week, a podcast I recorded last month with Coach Kiah came out.  I first discovered Kiah by accident on Instagram. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan not only of watching her incredible weight loss journey but also her zest for life and all things farming. Yep. She comes from a cattle ranch and often features ag and farming stories that remind me how much I want to own a tractor someday. She mixes cute cow pics and great personal development advice together, resulting in me becoming a huge fan. If personal growth or farms interest you, be sure to follow her.

My latest podcast Episode

She was kind enough to invite me to be a guest on her podcast. It was a ton of fun to record. I went in thinking I’d spent a lot of time talking about my running journey and my one and only self-published book. But, towards the end we got talking about my new book. It was my first time diving a bit deeper into the purpose of my book and definitely had me sweating since it is a hard topic to talk about and even harder when you’re already nervous AF. If you’re interested in hearing more about the book and what I’ve been up to, check out the podcast here.

Since I’m writing, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my book. I am so appreciative to all of the messages I got from my last post with feedback about my writing. So, if you have a few minutes, please consider reading the chapter below and shooting me a note at bethprobst@gmail.com with your thoughts. It really does mean the world to me. My first ever book proposal is due June 5 so the clock is ticking and every bit of advice and encouragement helps!

And now:

 Chapter 8 Therapy

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” David said.

Time stopped. How is that even possible. A few months prior I had started therapy in hopes to fix myself. Mom had been dead for over a decade. Despite graduating from college and landing my dream job, I had wasted my 20s away in a semi-destructive fashion. Perhaps I was just living my single days to their fullest. It is a fine line after all. Needless to say, something in my soul said I needed a change.

I quit my life in television news. I sold my soul to the dark side and took a job at an environmental liberal arts college as a PR hack. It was a straight day job, 8 – 4:30 pm, with weekend and holidays off. The pace more predictable and at times mundane. Come summer, the nearly empty campus and a generous vacation schedule allowed me to finally slow down and process the past decade.

Brutal is the only way I can describe it. At times emotional. One night, out of boredom, I watched boring reruns of The Real World and drank an entire bottle of wine. Somewhere towards the bottom, I suddenly felt I was spiraling out of control. I feared becoming her. Looking at the cheap zinfandel, I wondered at what point my mom transitioned from social drinker to alcoholic. I’d never get to ask her. But in this moment, I felt uncomfortably close. I threw the bottle out.

I chatted with my primary medical doc. She suggested therapy. I had run out of excuses and my insurance covered it. There was immediate availability at a clinic just 10-minutes from my apartment. I didn’t know many folks in this new town I was now trying to make home so I figured I had nothing to lose. YOLO, right?

There was also Steve. He was different than the other guys I’d dated. A keeper some might say. Our conversations ran deep. I laughed a lot. He seemed emotionally available. The attraction ran deep. Nearly a year into dating, a part of me wanted to run. To destroy things before he could break my heart. The other side of me, convinced I’d somehow mess this up because I was in fact a mess, wanted to do the work to ensure I’d get my happily ever after.

The perfectionist in me won out. I signed up for therapy convinced that a few deep conversations with a stranger would solve my grief, open my heart up and allow me to finally move past my mother’s death. In my mind, it was time to accept my mother’s death for what it was, close that chapter and start my life. Unfortunately, that’s now how therapy works.

Each week I’d find myself in a comfortable office sharing snippets of my past with a complete stranger. Conversations jumped from what life was like growing up to my career path to losing mom and falling in love. It felt very disjointed. Not at all like the movies. David rapidly scribbled notes down while I babbled on and on about all of the things I was trying to process. Occasionally he’d prompt me down another rabbit hole in which I’d bare another piece of my soul. Things I never shared with anyone suddenly came spilling out – I was comforted by the knowledge that this man had taken an oath to never share my deep, inner secrets with anyone.

The more I talked, the more broken I felt. What a mess I am, I thought to myself. But at least I’m doing something about it. At least I’m taking action to put myself back together again. At the time, therapy seemed magical, like the unsung hero who if given the chance, could have magically put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Finally, David said our time was coming to an end and that he felt he had enough information to diagnose me. Finally, a definition to this mess. A definition meant a solution. A pill. A treatment. A book to read. A way to move forward.

Then he said the words that shook my world.

“There’s nothing wrong with you.”

Other words followed. A lot of them. An explanation about how grief is hard but that I was in fact processing it and it was complicated. How it was totally normal to be nervous about my relationship because I was ready to transition from living solo to inheriting a roommate. Moving in with the boy was a big deal for me because I had spent a decade alone. I had successfully changed careers, but a lot of my identity was tied to that career I just walked away from. Something about the 20s being a major transition in my life.

He also talked about how my mother dying may have dimmed me ever so slightly. That pre-mom, I was perhaps a bit more outgoing and probably felt like an extrovert. It was impossible for him to know if I truly was an extrovert or just used that as a façade to not address my mother’s illness. Now I seemed to look inward more. To be a bit more reserved and at peace with that. Was that a result of my mother dying? Perhaps. My mom died at a very pivotal time in my life where I was figuring out who I was as a person. And, this would likely be one of the most defining moments of my life. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just meant I had evolved as a human – something we all do throughout our lives.

“But, what does this mean,” I asked.

In my head I was convinced he was wrong. He had to be because if he wasn’t wrong, that meant I was sentenced to this unsettling feeling for the rest of my life. That the random tsunami waves would continue to knock me off my feet at the most random of moments. I would never be the carefree teenager who took chances and felt invincible. Instead, I’d always be on edge waiting for the next big ball of doom to drop.

“It means that without me finding a diagnosis, your insurance likely won’t continue to pay for these sessions,” he explained. “I want to be upfront about that. I still think there are things we could talk through but you really are fine. If I had to prescribe you anything, it’d be to go live your life. To move in with Steve, enjoy this new life you’ve built. You’re ready.”

I couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket costs for these weekly talks. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money but I questioned the value of paying someone to tell me I was fine, when I knew I wasn’t. I thought about getting a second opinion. Of finding another therapist who’d maybe understand that I wasn’t ok with just being ok. I wanted more.

I left therapy and something happened that hadn’t happened in a long time. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried tears of rage for mom breaking me and then abandoning me. Tears of rage for a therapist who couldn’t fix me. Tears of loss for discovering that the person I was pre-mom was gone. Tears of unmet dreams for leaving a career I loved and knowing I’d never return to it.

When the tears finally stopped my soul felt lighter. I started to understand that losing and letting go of those things meant space for new things. It meant exploring a new career that provided a more equalized balance between work and life. It meant time to start a side hustle writing. It meant giving my heart the space it needed to heal and eventually open up to falling in love. It meant exploring the Northwoods of Wisconsin and rediscovering myself on the south shores of Lake Superior. It’d mean starting to understand the connection and triggers that caused those tsunami sized waves of grief but also making space to remember the good times with mom.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d return to therapy many times in future years. Each time, I’d still ask the question, “am I broken?” Sometimes I wasn’t as whole as I’d like. Other times, I just needed a neutral stranger to ask me the tough questions and give me the space to process the answers out loud. To remind me that life is hard. That even on the easiest days, life can kick us on our ass. But we get to choose how we react. That we decide what comes next in those moments.

At one point, I found myself at a pretty momentous crossroads in life. I was having what I can only describe as yet another existential mid-life crisis, but I was only in my 30s. My career had stalled. I had grown tired of the Northwoods. Dad was sick. My relationship with my sisters was strained. I was a new mom. The honeymoon phase of my happily ever after had long since worn off. I was tired. So tired of going through the motions.

I wanted to run. I don’t know where to. But anywhere seemed better than the sticks of northern Wisconsin in the heart of winter. I just wanted to start over. I found myself once again in therapy, this time with an incredible lady who seemed to read my mind.

“If you could start over, what would you do?”

“I don’t know.” But it doesn’t matter, I thought to myself because I cannot.

She used that moment to give me some tough love. She reminded me that no choice is a choice. I was choosing to stay stuck by not doing anything. That inaction was in fact the action of nothing. I hated her in that moment.

“If you want to leave, leave. You have the knowledge and resources to do so. But, I wonder if that’s really the heart of what’s bothering you.”

Steve would eventually join me in therapy and I’d share my frustrations. I’d share that I was living a life that felt unfulfilled because somewhere along the time, life had started happening to me instead of for me. I no longer felt in the driver seat of my own destiny.

A conversation ensued about choices. I was reminded that I chose to marry a forester. I had chosen a career that provided a work-life balance that allowed me to be an incredible mother. I had fought long and hard to become a mother, it didn’t happen by accident. We had sought out our dream home on a small recreational lake, but that meant living in a very small place away from friends and family, but within driving distance of dad. These are choices I had made that lead me to this life I was living.

My therapist reminded me that this new life I dreamed of was void of making any choices. That if I wanted to start over, it’d mean making a choice about giving this all up. That’s the thing about choices. Choices rarely come without change. Change rarely comes without losing something to gain something else.

The truth is, I couldn’t imagine my life without Steve or Jake. I couldn’t imagine working a 60-hour work week or not being home to say goodnight to my miniature me. I couldn’t imagine a view without Moon Lake or the ability to be at my dad’s bedside when he’s sick. I couldn’t imagine not having time to write, or garden, or read a good book on my deck. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without snow and a massive live pine tree in my living room. I couldn’t imagine not living next to endless green space or leasing chickens in the summer.

The what if game is a dangerous game if you allow it to consume your life. It is one thing to wonder what if, if that is followed by a big dream that you go pursue. It is entirely another telling yourself how wonderful life would be if you could live someone else’s. I realize that now. Sometimes life hands me unexpected surprises completely out of my control. They knock me off my feet and make me angry at the world. But, for the most part, my life is the result of a series of choices I made, consciously and unconsciously, that I should embrace. If I don’t, I should change them.

If I could tell myself one thing, it’d be that a therapist can’t fix me because to fix me, I’d have to be broken. I now understand if mental health is Home Depot, your therapist is that friendly worker in an orange cape who can give you the tools needed to build, renovate or destroy whatever you want. I can google how to plumb a toilet or find happiness. It is just a lot easier to ask the man in orange to provide me the right tools to plumb that toilet, just like it is a lot easier to have my therapist help me understand the choices I’ve made and how that’s lead to the life I’ve created for myself and that maybe if I focused on what I have, I’d discover I am happy.

A therapist is great at arming you with tools and resources. The part that’s often missed, or at least was for me, is that you ultimately do the work. I ultimately decided to move in with Steve. To acknowledge that the life I chose is actually the life I want. To realize that if I don’t call my own shot, someone will call it for me. That’s on me. No therapy session, pill or self-help book will change that.

The great reward that comes with doing the work is you only have yourself to thank when things go as planned. It doesn’t happen often and sometimes it is a long and bumpy road, but there comes a moment when you can make peace with the decisions you’ve made. The other great thing, you get to decide when to do the work. Looking back, I genuinely believe things worked out the way they needed to for me. Delaying the full feelings of my mom’s death until I was in a place to process them, helped me get to a place where I could start to understand the grieving process. To understand that even trivial moments could trigger memories of mom, and that was in fact ok.

Megan Devine penned an incredible book entitled “It’s ok that you’re not ok. Meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand.” In it, Devine spends a lot of time talking about our society’s inability to process grief and acknowledge that grief is not in fact something you get over but rather live with. There is no other side to grief. As a therapist and someone who has experienced great loss, Divine’s stories and advice are based in science and experience. I wish her book had existed in 1996 when mom died. But am so grateful it is available now. I understand now, the piece of me felt broken, is in fact a broken heart over losing someone I loved. But, as cliché as it sounds, it is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all. Knowing that and understanding that means I wouldn’t wish this pain away, because for that to happen would mean never feeling the love either.

Writing Truths

Things are getting real. A few months ago, I participated in a free writing workshop. This led to me joining a writing group that provides insight, coursework and assistance in writing a book. There’s also a contest in which you can submit a book proposal. I don’t anticipate winning but I do hope to receive advice with hopes of maybe securing an agent in the coming year. The deadline is in less than 2-months, with a second chance in December.

So here I am, sitting in yet another amazing coffee shop writing. I’m writing about love and loss and the complexities of navigating grief. This in of itself is not a lighthearted topic. Writing is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. But, I’ve come to the conclusion, not writing is harder. Writing today is also coming at a full-circle moment.

This week marked 26-years since my mom died. The Minnesota Department of Health also concluded their investigation of the days leading up to my father’s death. My gut was right. Benedictine Health System dropped the ball on many levels. At the core, they wrote my dad off as a very sick man not worthy of their attention or medical care while he was still fighting to live. Enough so, that by the time he received hospital intervention, any hope or dignity was gone and he wished to die. We all know how this story ends.

In December, I wrote about the difficulties reckoning with this. I think we all want to believe there is meaning in life and death. I wanted to believe that if I couldn’t save him, I could at least help someone else’s family going through something similar. At first, DHS dismissed me as nothing more than a nuisance. Their first investigation was a joke at best. Their unresponsiveness and misinformation a signal that bureaucracy is alive and well. This continued for months. Shame on them. My dad and other victims deserve better.  

For months, I patiently waited for them to make things right. Legislative intervention, countless emails and pleas to multiple layers of supervisors for them to simply do their job. Last month the finally did. Findings were substantiated, reversed from last fall. Citations were issued. A lackluster response of additional training and chart auditing followed from Benedictine. A well-rehearsed apology and promise to do better with little follow through from DHS. Case closed.

The final investigator on my father’s case apologized for her predecessor and the agency not doing their job. She asked me to not hold it against them. I feel for her because she was doing her job in a system that failed. I admire her for doing her job. Frankly, that’s all I asked of anyone at DHS. I just wish it was the norm and not the exception. Nothing changes the final outcome or what we experienced. No report or blanket apology or admission of guilt brings my father back.

I often find myself wishing that when asked what single moment is the most pivotal in your life, my response isn’t the death of my mom. And now, my dad. At the same time, I keep going back to the reality that despite all of the highs and lows I had with them, I always knew I was loved and they accepted me for whoever I wanted to be.

What an incredible gift to give your children. A gift I hope I pass on to Jake. A gift they instilled in me that I am only fully realizing today. Losing them is still the most pivotal moments of my life, but there are many others that make me who I am today. Things that wouldn’t have happened or been different if I hadn’t experienced this. The truth is, the moments that matter most, often start or end because of loss. I’ve come to believe that’s the price of admission. Life is messy and beautiful and hard and amazing. Grief sucks and the more it sucks means the more amazing the prequel to it was… which makes it suck even more. That’s the premise of my new book. Not so much a book about great loss but all loss we all must navigate.

Today, I want to share my prologue of my new book with you in hopes you’ll send me feedback. Email me at bethprobst@gmail.com or message me below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please know it is a work in progress, just like me. And with that:

It Could be Worse: A girlfriend’s guide to loss.

Introduction:

The decision was made in an instant but years in the making. “I love you girls but I cannot keep fighting. Please don’t be mad.”

A glance at the nurse and a plea. “Please. I just want to go in peace.”

Suddenly we are out of time. After years of ups and downs navigating a broken health care system watching my dad fight for his life – and win; and advocating for his life more times than I can count, the decision is made. My sister and I advocate for him one last time. We watch dad initiate hospice and support him with all of our heart while feeling a piece of our heart break. He signs the papers instantly. He cannot nor should he suffer for another second in a system where folks fight to keep him alive, regardless of the physical pain he endures and his desire to die. He is ready.

He tells my sister and I he’s proud of us one last time in a sterile hospital room. A man of few words, he couldn’t have chosen a better book ending to a complicated yet rich life. I do not know it at the time, but I will not see him conscious again.

I should have seen this coming. In my head, I had prepared for it over and over again. I had made time for visits, listened to my dad’s endless stories and jokes, and sought therapy to help navigate the struggles of an aging parent. I had worked through my anger surrounding an amputation and a healthcare system that never understood my father. I had resolved all of the what ifs in my life – the times growing up where I was too busy pursuing my dreams that I missed the simple things. You know… the weekend fishing trips, county fairs, camping, phone calls and lunches. I spent the last ten years making up for those moments. I said everything that needed to be said. But yet, I still find myself in this moment, completely lost. Caught in the in-between. The part where you pray for a quick ending but guilt bubbles up and challenges why you would actually wish your father dead. A friend who knows grief all too well reminds me there is a difference between honoring your dad’s wishes and accepting them. 

Later, I find myself alone in the hospice room watching my dad gasp for air. COVID-19 has added a logistical layer of complications in saying good-bye. Science says my dad is on enough morphine that he is comfortable. My heart says he knows I am here. Here. Sharing one last moment with dad.

I choose to use this moment to remember. I remember our fishing opener trips – including the time I was so engrossed in my book that a fish pulled my rod into the lake before I noticed I had caught it. Somehow dad managed to retrieve the rod (with a very tired fish on it). I remember my one successful day of fishing catching Sunnies with dad and how delicious his pan-fried fish tastes. I remember our annual camping trip including the year my girlfriend and I snuck out to meet boys on the beach. My mom had to let us know she knew while my dad just gave us that look. You know – the one dad gives that say a thousand words. It was the same look he gave when I flicked matches into his ice shanty and got removed from a little league softball game for being sassy.  

I remember arguing over the cost of a good steak, grapes and a 12-pack of diet coke more than once. I remember the endless conversations about weather where only Google could resolve the temperature differences between my hometown Cloquet, Minnesota and today’s hometown Iron River, Wisconsin. I remember arguing just to argue and then argue about why we were arguing. My dad loved a good debate about nothing. That trait lives on in me.

I remember the endless days of playing ball growing up. Or, how dad would patiently watch me twirl baton, doing his best not to comment on the fact that I was destroying the lawn with my endless pivots in a quest to land that double turn around. I remember helping him plant his garden and sharing that first ripe summer sweet pea. I remember our trips to the Chicken Swap that resulted in unconventional pets and dad buying me a mule named Goldie and trying to pass her off as a pony because I was sad the pony I had wanted got purchased before we could buy him.

There was the advice. Dad lecturing me on how I didn’t need another degree to feel smart or that changing jobs wouldn’t make me happy. That a job is called that for a reason. I remember my wedding day where after our father-daughter dance he simply said, I hope he makes you happy and if he does, I’m happy for you. Or, the time he casually asked if I knew how babies were made when he felt I was taking too long to make him a grandpa again. I was 34 at the time.

I remember dad telling me he missed mom too when he knew I was sad. I remember dad walking me down a makeshift aisle at my wedding and holding my son after he was born. I remember him helping me pack for college, see me off to Oxford and inspect my first home. In every critical moment, dad was always there on the sidelines rooting for my success.  He’s been the constant in my life. For 42-years, every major milestone has been marked by dad encouraging me to pursue my dreams.

These memories and thousands more will carry me forward. On Christmas Eve at 3 am in the morning, I get the call. A health record error meant hospice staff waited until he was gone to notify me. Given the blizzard and distance, it is unlikely my sister and I would have made it in time to say one final goodbye.

After 24-years of waiting, he joined my mother. For me, the waiting is now over.

Instead, it is replaced with grief. Grief is a crazy beast I’m all too familiar with. A new void in my life no one or thing can ever fill. There will be no story big enough, no fish large enough, or joke bad enough to replace the man who made me.

For a moment, I focus on a higher power and try to believe that dad’s struggles are finally over and that he’s reunited with mom in time for Christmas. I want to believe Heaven gained another angel this Christmas. Faith is complicated in the face of grief, though. Instead, I only feel a hole in my heart draining whatever energy for life I once had. I don’t wake my husband to tell him the news. It would be too real. I call my sister know, text my aunt and try to keep breathing. Tears flow freely. I lay in bed anticipating what’s next.

A part of me knows what lies ahead. The tsunami of highs and lows that follow losing someone or something you love. The cost of his suffering ending comes with a price that I must now pay. I’m an orphan at 42. I immediately dismiss my anger. After all, as Winnie the Pooh once said, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

For over a decade, my dad battled countless illnesses. He came back more times than I can count. My mom’s story is similar, only I was 18 when I lost her. In both cases, I knew death was inevitable, I just didn’t know when.

Despite mourning the loss of my mother for nearly a quarter century, I struggle with what comes next. How to grieve the right way and meet society’s pressure of grieving enough but not too much. How to mourn but move on. As a generation X’er who thrives on facts, I sought the simplest of answers.

How do I get better?

When do you get to the other side of grief?

Will it ever get easier?
How long should I be sad for and at what point can I resume life?

Is it ok if I’m still sad anyway?

Is it ok to hate God right now?

Or to suddenly find God right now?

Why did I wish them dead?

Is he dead because of me?

Is resenting him for ruining my favorite holidays of the year ok?

Why aren’t I sadder?

Why aren’t I happier?

Should I be questioning my faith right now?

Why do I feel so alone, despite being surrounded by people?

Is this my fault?

Why am I so tired?

Why do I just want things to be normal?

And on and on and on.

After months of researching and years of living with loss, the questions seem obvious.  The answers – unavailable.  As time ticks on, I settle into a rhythm of grief suddenly knocking me on my ass, only to a few moments later find myself resuming the mundane crisis in front of me – somehow pushing grief aside. Unexpected laughter and joy would find its way into my life only to leave me feeling ashamed; that some how I hadn’t paid my sorrow dues in full. 

Our brain is miraculous in that one can be at rock bottom in shock and grief while somehow navigating the complexities of securing a goldfish for an 8-year-old in the very same moment. I know experts say you shouldn’t multi-task, that it in fact is not a thing, but I believe emotional multi-tasking is the only way to survive.

In some respects, the big losses are predictable. You know they are going to hurt. And to love or experience anything meaningful, that’s the price of admission. There’s also a slew of books by people much smarter than I that’ll help give you a roadmap to grieving a spouse, parent, child, best friend. There are endless meditations and faith-based support systems that’ll help you walk through the 5 stages of grief and even tell you about a 6th stage focused on meaning in an attempt to help you cope with catastrophic loss. Or, tell you why the 5 stages of grief were actually created for the dying not the grieving and that in fact catastrophic loss has no rhyme or reason.

Here’s the thing. I’ve come to realize that grief in all forms suck. It knocks you off-balance, challenges your identity and at times cripples you into believe you’re crazy. Other times, it leaves you to live your life, also wondering what kind of human you are for continuing to live, even during the darkest of times. God help you if you compare your loss to the person next to you—their loss is either bigger or smaller depending on the narrative you’ve created in your head. Your grief too minimal or too big in comparison to whatever you are grieving.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away. But what does that even mean? If you erase the loss, does that mean you also erase the person you loved? The problem with anything meaningful is it hurts that much more when you lose it.

Life is a series of gains and losses. A new name, new identity, new friends, new career, often come with a cost. There’s that moment of compromise when you settle for what is versus what might be someday. Or, that realization you won’t be the next golden girl baton twirler or make the cut for all state band. How motherhood challenges your sanity. Or, the stories you tell yourself to avoid working on your shortcomings or celebrating your strengths. That moment you regret or let someone else call your shot. These moments of loss quickly add up, even when replaced with something better.

Sure, you can tell yourself that in order to gain something you must let go. Sometimes you do it willingly. Other times, a force greater than you takes it away. Both scenarios are difficult and remind us that life is hard. It hurts. Even in the most beautiful moments, loss lives in us.

That’s what this book is about. A series of stories about loss – ordinary and extraordinary losses – that define us. I’ve spent a lot of time asking why me, researching and asking people how to cope with loss in hopes of sharing some wisdom here. Some simple, tactical tips and stories of how to lose gracefully. Of how to lose, without losing yourself. 

I have no authority writing this book. I am not licensed in anything other than driving a car. This is not a replacement for therapy. This is simply my stories and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way that might help make your road a bit less bumpy. This is not an inspirational story where I reckon with loss, find God or resolve my feelings of loss. This is a story about being in the trenches and navigating hardship while giving myself grace to find joy as well.

There’s an old saying that misery loves company. I hope you find some comfort in these stories and understand that you are not alone in your loss. I believe everyone grieves loss differently but there’s value in the collective reality that we all will experience loss throughout our lives. For some odd reason, at least for me, I find peace and comfort in knowing I am not alone.  

Birthday Magic

This is 44.

This is the first birthday I feel legitimately old. As in, aging. Don’t roll your eyes at me and tell me I’m young. I know I’m only 44 and things are bound to get worse but these past few weeks, a series of events have reminded me that I am no longer a spring chicken.

First, there’s the pandemic pounds that have piled up on my mid-section thanks to perimenopausal (and over-indulging). Then, age, or spending endless days in virtual google meetings, resulted in so much squinting that I finally broke down and saw an optometrist. Cheaters were the solution, for now. A series of ads resulted in me noticing the deep divots (likely from squinting) lining my forehead and a flock of crow’s feet on my eyes. A custom skincare promises to ease the problem or at least inform my ego I’m trying to slow the decline. These items would be bad enough, but manageable. But it gets worse.

Shooting hoops with my kid makes my plantar fasciitis flare up and running has become increasingly difficult.  My husband also informed me, while on vacation, that I snore. He even took video to prove his case. I’m sure this is a result of any number of the above items, including but not limited to the pandemic pounds. I’ve noticed I’m not as quick to spring up after lounging on the couch. Odd cracking sounds usually follow. Muscles are tender. Hair is thinning. My memory isn’t quite as crisp.

I’ve invested in some vitamins. I sometimes wonder if these are just placebos to cater to one’s ego, similar to my new facewash routine. Time will tell.

Bottom line. I’m aging. My birthday wish is to slow that process down just a bit this coming year. Not halt it. Just manage it.

How you might ask? Atomic Habits. I am such a fan of James Clear’s work. Since January, I’ve been implementing small changes in my life. This past month, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I need to amp up this game. Clear often reminds us that we are a summation of our habits. Given that, it makes sense I’m where I’m at today. It also makes sense that there are many aspects of this I can change.

I know that because I’ve made serious inroads in other areas of my life. I now have a work-life balance I once thought impossible. My morning ritual has freed up space to be creative and start crafting a second book. While slow, I’m still running after more than a decade of continuing to show up and move. I had my best garden ever last year with plans to build on that this year. All of these are the result of some small but consistent changes to how I approach each day.

To top things off, this past week, my faith in humanity was restored by the simplest of gestures. We were strolling a beach in Elk California when a stranger approached me with a large sea shell. He mentioned he enjoyed finding them and then giving them to parents to hide so their kid could find it. I did just that. Jake reveled in finding a shell that mom and dad walked right past. Sounds silly I know. I don’t care.

I’m bringing that shell home as a reminder that there is still good in the world. A reminder I sometimes need when I get wrapped up into the troubles that seem to find me wherever I go. The shell reminds me of a sand dollar parable my pastor once told me on a church trip out west. You know, the one where a mom and child are walking along the beach and the parent keeps throwing sand dollars back into the ocean. After a while the kid asks, why do you keep doing that? There are hundreds of sand dollars here and you cannot possibly save them all. And the mom says, it may not seem like much but for this sand dollar, it makes all the difference in the world. A bit corny but true.

Despite the downside of aging, I’m so grateful for the perspective each year brings me. I now know how fortunate I am to have cultivated some incredible relationships with individuals I’m lucky enough to call my friends. That being an introvert is not a negative. And, that even the simplest of gestures can make a big difference in someone’s life. Here’s to another trip around the sun, this one focusing a bit more inward on making some simple changes to help ensure many more trips around the sun.

Here’s to 44. To know her and love her and embrace her for all she’s about to bring me. May we all be so lucky.

Call Your Shot

Hey Universe – here I come with another story to tell!

I’ve been a bit MIA lately, but for good reason. Last year, I spent a lot of time doing what is known as productive procastination. This year, I called my shot and am busy picking away at it… one painful word at a time.

This past month I dug deep and committed to writing my second book. I know, I’ve been rambling about it for a year. The difference is I paid money to join a writing group that has two submission deadlines for unsolicited book proposals from humans without agents. If selected, I’d have an actual publishing team to help me through editing my next book and financing to fund it. This is with a major publishing company so it is more than a long shot. But, what I know without a doubt is that I’ll have a proposal and accompanying chapters to shop around this year because despite all of the blessings my parents gave me, frugality is alive and well in my life.

My book is honing in on everyday losses, including the death of my parents. For the purposes of this book, the bookends will likely be losing mom at 18 and dad at 43, but in-between I plan to share plenty of advice about the losses that are so often overlooked. Things like my failed adoption, friendships, pets, first loves, career and how motherhood challenged my identity. How we evolve from dreaming big to accepting what is and the limitations that come with adulting. I hope to share some of my life experiences framed around wisdom of folks much smarter than I to provide some context for coping with everyday losses.

Losses, grief, the two are somewhat interchangeable. But, there’s another word that’s been popping into my mind since listening to a fascinating podcast about regret. Daniel Pink recently wrote a book on the topic that I cannot wait to read. The Cliff’s notes version – we regret more of the things we don’t do than what we do, do. And, so many stories of my uncontrolled losses are a result of inaction versus action. Pink puts a lot of perspective to why that is which I hope to share as well.

I hope to share some snippets of my story in the coming months to gauge reaction, ask for some input and hopefully create a proposal that will result in a second book someday. It feels good to be writing again and my why remains just putting my perspective onto paper in hopes it’ll help someone else. I’ve also found that anytime I put a goal out into the universe (aka posting an update on this blog), I feel obligated to finish it. So this is me sharing my latest adventure.

When I’m not busy writing, I’m running again. James Clear continues to wreak havoc on my life with this 1% notion of leveling up. I’m building a strong base of what the healthy version of Beth would do. Right now, that looks like exercising daily with a 5k on the horizon and a TBD longer race to follow. So far, so good!

And that’s the latest from Moon Lake. Running, writing and living. It is a good life.  

Small Changes, Big Results

My first blog post for Another Mother Runner came out this month. It highlighted why New Year’s resolutions don’t work in my world but how taking time out to set your intention for the year or season you are in is a valid exercise regardless of what month the calendar says.

This year, I have some tangibles on my bucket list that I’ve plotted out in pencil (due to COVID-19). But bigger than that, I plan to spend the year operating under the framework of enough.

What does this mean?

It means recognizing that I am enough. I have enough. Enough is enough with some things I’ve fought to keep. Instead, it is time to let go. It also means that I’m in a season where I’m not seeking for more or the next thing but focusing on some foundational building blocks.

To achieve this, I’m doubling down on the tips found in James Clear’s brilliant book Atomic Habits. I know I’ve said a lot of books have inspired me to change my life. These books often focus on the categories of how I think, plan, or improve things like relationships. This book is all about taking action. The reason I love it so much, is because the action is so insignificant, you don’t even realize it is happening.

Similar to year’s past, I have a vision of myself being stronger, more energized and frankly a bit lighter. I certainly never want to give caffeine up but I would like to not rely on it quite so heavily. Clear spends a lot of time in Atomic Habits talking about how starting small and building consistent action into your daily life will ultimately lead to bigger results. He also reminds us that if you don’t identify or believe you can be the person or thing you want to achieve, you’ll never get there.

Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” I used to think that’s a nice poster but a bit cliché. I now stand corrected. Our beliefs really do impact the actions we take in life. It is why when we’re out of alignment with our beliefs that we get a pit in our stomach or feel “off.” It also means that if I don’t believe I’m capable of being the person that loses the weight, does the plank or beats her PR, I’ll prove myself right every time.

This year, I’m scaling back. I’m slowly rewiring my brain by asking myself, “what would the healthy version of Beth do in this situation?” Would she hop on the treadmill for 5-minutes or eat the chips. Sometimes it is the latter of the two. But most times, it is a hybrid. I don’t mind doing a 15-20 minute HIT run on the treadmill or the bike, which then leads me to want eat a bit healthier. I don’t mind recording my food if the goal is nothing more than to write down what I eat. I don’t mind training for a 5k in January because it seems manageable – at times even easy. I don’t mind tackling a single page in my book or jotting down a few words in my journal most days.

The point is, I’m slowly building in these very small but meaningful moments in my day. Things that take little effort but are wiring myself to believe that maybe I can beat my PR this year. Or, drop the pant size. Or, write the book. Or, have so much energy my afternoon consists of dance parties and playing with Jake without a single diet coke assisting me.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the coming months. Right now, though, I know I’m 21 days into the New Year and I’m more on task for where I want to get then year’s past. More importantly, I’m having fun doing it.

I share all of this because if you are struggling with achieving big goals, consider dumping them. Start small like Clear recommends. And brace yourself to be amazed. I know I am right now!

The Missing Piece

It took 16-months of a global pandemic before I finally sat down and did a puzzle. About 95% of the way into it, I discovered a piece was missing. It didn’t matter. I was committed to finishing, missing pieces and all. Like I’ve said before, there’s a fine line between stubborn and stupid.

Plugging away at the puzzle, I couldn’t help but compare this to life. How often life hands us a pile of jumbled up pieces that we’re supposed to somehow cobble together into something whole. That how after much trial and error, a pile of mess can transform into something beautiful. Or, how we can get to the end only to realize we never had the tools needed to finish what we started. 

This past year was no exception. I’ve talked a lot about grief this past year. How losing dad left a big void in my life. Not just with grief, but with time and my identity. It was an odd combination that left me struggling with where to go next. I decided rather than bail, I’d sit in it for a while. I gave myself the gift of time and space to ponder what’s next and slowly put things back together one piece at a time. I discovered the absolute joy that comes with productive procrastination. That sometimes, you cannot rush the puzzle because you need some time to find or create new pieces.

2021 was the year I did nothing but something. I didn’t go to school, run a PR, score a promotion at work or publish a book. I started the year with a blank page, lots of questions and not much direction. So I wandered. I polished rocks. I grew sunflowers. I read a lot of amazing books. I traveled. I saved money and spent money. I did a book signing. I plotted my next book. I cried. I laughed. I laughed so hard I cried and maybe even peed my pants a little. I watched my kid play baseball and basketball and wished my dad was here to see it. I cried on Christmas morning. And Easter. And my dad’s birthday. And on random days that end with Y. I also remembered our time fondly and worked to create new memories and traditions. I took up spin. I invested in the people that matter and let some other fade away. I enjoyed a lot of happy hours. I gained weight. I lost weight. I lengthened my plank time. I upgraded my fitness tracker and bought an espresso machine. I got rid of unrealistic expectations and discovered the joy of saying no. I added some boundaries and dropped my guard. I said good-bye to my cat. I was a guest on some podcasts and discovered my love for Teremana tequila. I completed my first real writing workshop. I blogged. And tried new running shoes… only to discover there’s no point in fixing something that isn’t broken. I tried meditating, practicing gratitude and sitting in stillness. I binge watched Yellowstone. I made new friends. I discovered things I never knew about myself and was reminded about things I had forgotten. I got my first tattoo.     

In other words, in 2021 I did a whole lot of life. No matter how hard one grieves, time keeps moving. It is a gift we’re all given each day to create something. This year was no exception. It was hard but beautiful at the same time. Somewhere along the way, the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. I find myself ending the year with new goals and dreams and direction while also never wanting to lose the joy of productive procrastination. I don’t know if I’d feel the same if I had powered through 2021 like year’s past.

But back to the puzzle. I eventually finished it, missing piece and all. I left it assembled on our table for over a week, annoyed about the missing piece but proud of finishing what I started. As I went to tear it apart, I noticed something peeking out from underneath our table runner. Turns out the missing piece was there all along. I just wasn’t ready to see it.

I hope your 2022 is filled with many moments of productive procrastination, moments of discovery, and time to assemble the puzzle pieces of life.

The Reckoning

Two empty seats at the Christmas Table that’ll never be filled, but in the wise words of Pooh, how lucky I am to have had something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Your wings were ready. My heart was not.

This quote popped up in my Pinterest feed last night buried between recipes about homemade chicken pot pies, Christmas appetizers and running exercises. I’m working on a book about grief so I imagine there’s some logical algorithm explanation for this moment of clarity that literally scrolled in front of my eyes.

This Christmas marks one year without dad. One year of reckoning with my faith and trying to come to terms with how things went down last December. How my dad went in for a hairline fracture and in less than two weeks was so isolated, distraught and heartbroken that he was begging ICU staff and his daughters to let him die. I genuinely believe we made the right choice – if choice is the word one uses in a situation like that. I’m so grateful that even with COVID-19, we were allowed to be there to say goodbye. I know many families did not have this luxury. But, the logical side of me struggles with the unanswered questions and lack of accountability in a system that failed.

I imagine in this moment, some turn to faith. To let go and let God – to believe that the universe had decided it was time. Others, want to understand. The past year, I did what any daughter would do. I sought to understand the events that had unfolded by asking questions of those who cared for him in his final days. I expected a logical explanation and medical records that supported that. That this logical information would provide much needed closure and peace. Instead, I was dealt a series of calculated conversations packed with misleading information, missing documentation, unanswered phone calls and shaming family members. Each encounter left me with more questions than answers and heightened skepticism about multiple systems that failed my father and was in cover their ass mode.

This story isn’t about the mistakes made, though. There are countless books about how our healthcare system sucks. That despite having many heroes on the frontlines, the systems they are boxed into are costly, inefficient and at times deadly. This is a story about what happens next. How far you go to get a simple answer.

For me, I sought the most basic of answers and was dealt more heartbreak. The lack of empathy in a world focused on risk mitigation, even though I never threatened litigation, broke my heart. The latest – a so-called investigation in which the Minnesota Department of Health investigated Benedictine Health System in under a few hours. The investigating nurse so “committed” to her case that she left me a voice mail on a Wednesday afternoon stating she wanted to get more information from me and despite me calling her back within the hour – never spoke to me again. The case was closed that same day. After several attempts, I finally got an opportunity to speak to her supervisor. Turns out, that’s the definition of a quality case review, skilled nursing home lie during investigations (her explanation, not mine), and that I wasn’t entitled to any information about the investigation without filing a freedom of information act. As for wanting to talk to me, apparently that wasn’t necessary. This, despite the state’s QI department citing Benedictine for quality issues relating to my father’s case. As for an apology or explanation about the unreturned phone calls and emails – that’s just not a thing. And so it goes.

How long does one keep asking the questions? The truth is, nothing will bring my dad back. But, reliving his final days over and over again, only to get more questions than answers, does nothing in finding closure or peace. It is one thing to set-out on a crusade to make the world a better place. It is another to advocate for change in a system that’s indifferent to your pain knowing nothing will change. That’s the trouble with asking questions. The answers are often worse than the unknown.

Twelve months in, I’m still grappling with how to let this go. A new reckoning so to speak. An attempt to carry on with life and a new normal of no dad, while also honoring his legacy. To advocate for others, including dad, who deserved better those final days but not let it consume me. A man who deserved to die with dignity versus defeat. Perhaps that makes me irrational and angry, a logical stage in grief. Or, perhaps just a daughter with a broken heart trying to bargain for his return. Or, finding meaning in his death by not letting him die in vain. It is a fine line.

Yesterday, my son scored two baskets in third grade basketball. I couldn’t help but think of how proud my dad would have been to see this. A part of me even feels he even played a role in this shot in-between cribbage games with mom, hunting bucks with Uncle Booty and securing the perfect Christmas tree. Picturing these moments bring me peace. It makes the empty seat this Christmas a bit easier to bare. I know I’m not alone in grappling with the reckoning of holidays. Of finding ways to remember those lost while celebrating new moments and traditions with those still here. After more than 25 years of holidays without mom, I know it never gets easier. Different perhaps. But never easy.

For those grappling with these big questions and no answers as well, I can only provide this word of advice. Grace. Give yourself grace and give grace to those around you. Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions. Early on after my mom died, I didn’t do that. I kept it all in. Decades later and some hefty therapy bills, I now understand the value of the human body being able to process multiple emotions. How we’ve been gifted the ability to feel joy and pain simultaneously. To laugh and cry in a single moment. To be grateful and heartbroken. That this is in fact normal. For me, that reckoning has been the single greatest gift I can offer myself this holiday season. I hope it helps you as well.

5 Favorite Memoirs of 2021

Last week I shared my top 5 favorite personal development books of 2021. This week, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memoirs that I devoured in 2021.

I once heard David Axelrod mock David Litt for publishing a memoir about his time speechwriting for Obama because he was so young. Like somehow age determines the worthiness of one’s story. Here’s the thing. I think everyone has seasons in their life that are story worthy. Maybe it is a personal story or maybe it is a universal lesson that someone else could draw wisdom from. By sharing your experience, you give voice to someone else – allow someone else to realize that perhaps they aren’t alone. In a time where isolation can be the norm, that matters.

The following five memoirs helped me immensely this past year for a variety of reasons. Most of the authors are my age, sometimes even younger, but their wisdom is priceless. I hope something here might help you as well.

In no particular order:

Brave Enough. By Jessie Diggins. I’ll be frank. I’m not a cross country skier or a huge fan of the sport. But this athlete continues to amaze me with her sparkle and no-nonsense ability to bring out the best in people. She’s known for her sparkles but this book shares her real-life struggles with body image, even while smiling on the podium. In this memoir, she says “It takes a lot of bravery to ask for help.” Her willingness to ask for help even as she’s garnering gold medals is a stark contrast to so much of conventional wisdom that implies those who ask for help are weak. Add in the fact that she calls out reporters who imply she’s not thin enough and she’s got a fan for life. This winter I’m looking forward to tuning in to see her glitter turn to gold again, and if for some reason it doesn’t, she’ll still be a winner in my book.

Believe It. By Jamie Kern Lima: In things I’m not a huge fan of, make-up ranks almost higher than cross country skiing. But, I stumbled across this book when a sponsored post for a free personal development conference came across my facebook feed (thank you FB algorithm). I signed up not even knowing who this gal was and within minutes I was hooked. Perhaps it was the story of a middle-aged white man saying real people would never buy make-up from a fat gal that resonated with me. Or, the scrapper in me being in awe that she went on to prove that mother-f***er wrong by ultimately going public and making millions. I love an underdog story as much as the next gal. While littered with a few too many rah-rah Miss USA moments, I was able to look past that to the heart of a story about a woman who worked hard and achieved her dreams. I even purchased some IT Cosmetics following this purchase… and that should tell you something.

Bravey. By Alexi Pappas. I first heard about Alexi Pappas on a podcast. I’m a runner but don’t really follow the sport so I wasn’t aware of her story or frankly that interested in it. But, this isn’t really a book about running. It is someone’s life story who happens to be a runner. Pappas shares a lot of life lessons that I think most folks can relate to – only with the added pressure of being a world-class athlete. At one point she says, “grit is what’s left over when nothing’s left.” This is something you’d expect in a book about running – but the added bonus of beautiful poetry and writing snippets about being brave and struggling with mental illness and burn out and the Olympic letdown – read more like a novel that an athlete’s memoir.  All in all, she’s a passionate and amazing writer who is navigating a world where she wants to be a runner and… in other words, running is just one aspect of her life.

Courage to Start. By John Bingham. I first read this book when I decided to take up running. I revisited this book on my 10th anniversary of running to see if it read differently now that I can call myself a runner. It did. This is one of those books that depending on where you are in your running journey, different passages jump out at you. The most popular is “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” That still rings true for me today. Every time I start training for another race, the self-doubt comes rushing in. This book, along with so many other things in my life, have helped me overcome that obstacle. It is definitely running focused so if you aren’t a runner, probably not for you. But, if you run at all, this one will inspire you beyond your early morning jobs.

Untamed. By Glennon Doyle. I couldn’t wait to read this book. I enjoy Doyle’s writing but what I love most about her is the ability to cut out the bullshit and get to the truth. What’s crazy about this book is nearly every page has a passage that if read in isolation would serve as an incredible life lesson, or frankly words to live by. My favorite – “this life is mine alone so I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.” Wowza. When all of these lessons are layered on top of each other, you end up with a story that’s empowering. There is so much power in sharing one’s truth. Doyle takes that power and ups it by taking action in her own life. The end result is an empowering story and a lot of inspiration that we can input into our own story – if we are brave enough to live out our truth.

Bonus Read: If I’m going to talk about being brave, I might as well be brave. One last bonus read to consider this year – my book It Could be Worse. A girlfriend’s guide for runners who detest running. It isn’t Glennon Doyle worthy, but it is my running story. If you’re still reading this post and have always dreamed of running but don’t know how to start? Two suggestions. Just start. And read my book. I promise you, if I can run a half-marathon, you can move mountains if you choose to.