Monday, July 31, 2017

Just get married already. Stop making excuses.

Announcement: I interrupt the string of heart-wrenching posts about sadness to get on a soapbox.

To the couple that's been dating for 2 years+ (and you are 24* or older): just get married already.
Or don't - and break up.

But, seriously, you should have that sh*t figured out already. If you don't, you are just wasting the other person's time - the person you claim to care about, but apparently aren't willing to make a lifetime commitment to - but are willing to tie up the line so that nobody else can have a chance. Figure it out already.

Having experience the Sacrament of Marriage and the graces that flow from it...marriage is the greatest gift. Our marriage because it was a Sacrament has allowed me to continue experiencing love and understanding God's love for me because of the way that Dan loved me in a much richer way. I KNOW love, even when my person has passed from this life. This is an amazing miracle, possible through marriage.

I get it, not everyone is Catholic and not everybody believes in God. Got it. Then at least go to the courthouse and get the legal documentation that will protect you in the event that one of your passes unexpectedly. You have ZERO control over the end of your life. Do you really want your assets to be tied up in probate? or to go to your parents? or to your next of kin - and that person isn't the person you've lived with and loved - because you failed to give them the legal protection as your spouse?

We had been married five years. We had just changed jobs (well a year prior), and filling out that beneficiary paperwork is time-consuming, so we hadn't. However, since I was Dan's legal spouse, we didn't need it.

If you're going to buy a piece of property with someone, why are you dragging your feet to marry them?

I don't get it.

Now you have my opinion on the matter.

Let's resume keeping Kleenex in business.

The path to healing: Sitting with what was lost

The last week of classes, I felt like "my bucket" - full of the scraps of paper that described who I was, the things that filled my heart and my life, which was already sitting precariously had been viciously knocked to the ground.

I told my spiritual director, Deacon Wayne, this on May 3. He said, "Jessica, I want you to sit. on the ground. with your empty bucket and all that was poured out from it - and pay it homage. Show it reverence. Honor what you had and what was lost. You can determine after that what you will pick up, what you will carry with you, what still fits."

My grandma was right. (of course she was. why I ever doubt my grandparents' wisdom is beyond me.) Eventually, we have to face what we lost. We have to sit with it. We have to recognize what we lost. ...and then, only then, can we begin to recognize who we have become and embrace ourselves in this newness.

Sitting with what was lost. This is what I need to do. This is my challenge. My summer. My anniversary. Sitting with what was lost - Dan - at the cemetery. 

In the weeks that followed this journal entry leading up to when I actually did sit with what was lost, I really felt my emptiness. I could start to feel the pull between life and death; between forward and past.

I spent Mother's Day with my mom and grandma in Iowa. (From the week of 5/17)
Now I'm home...and now I am finally feeling the loneliness when I return to the apartment (where I lived with Dan). I would rather be at my parents'; this place makes me sad. It doesn't fit anymore.
I feel that...and...what I really feel is an ache in my bones. Dan is gone.
Dan is gone.
Dan is gone and I have a house full of stuff for him...and he's not going to use it.
I have a house full of "us"...and no us. Stuff for our life together...and no life.
This sucks.

Being home (at my parents), in the presence of others, I feel like I can live again. Like I am inspired to take care of myself...but being here, I want to hole up.

I feel that resistance building up in my soul, which usually happens when I'm on the verge of a new thing.

I just miss Dan so effing much.

In an interview later that week, a candidate said "someone died," in response to a question about the needs of the department - so casually that it took my breath away.
I had to swallow it down, the tears at my door.

MY someone. MINE.
Dan Kiesling was his name. 

(From 5/25 - the day I finally sat)


My heart is so sad. I am so sad. I feel like I am sadness itself. I feel far from everything I once was. I feel like a shell of sadness walking around.

I am just really struggling to see the good, the hope, the purpose. I don't feel like I have a place anymore. My place was beside Dan, with Dan - and all that was here. I was content to let him shine, and bask in his light.

and now, how can I go on?
How can I do this without someone? I need someone to live with, to live for...people keep me going and I feel so lonely.

It's like I was running on adrenaline for the first 6 months after Dan died - and now, it's like reality...and I don't like it.
I don't want it.
...but I don't get a choice.
It sucks.

I guess I have a choice in how I respond...that just feels like so much work.

I spent the day of May 25 reading through our old Marriage Encounter dialogues, recording the little ways that we recognized love in the other. For what fills our buckets other than love?
My Bucket:
  •  Working with Dan: spending time together in the morning, 
    • driving to work together,
    • listening to Dan Patrick, the daily readings, Our Daily Bread,
    • instant messaging about random stuff, 
    • walking down the hall at MSU to bounce ideas off each other,
    • lunches together,
    • barefoot walks around campus,
    • walking down the stairs (at the UA) and seeing him waiting for me, wearing his aviators - or his cowboy hat - or his Ray Bans - and hearing his huff (because I'd taken longer than I'd said)
    • waiting for Dan (at the UA) and seeing him walk down the sidewalk, illuminated by the setting sun
  • Feeling complete in his presence
  • Being told by his touch that I am loved, cared for, wanted, desired, chosen, secure and peaceful
  • Compliments
  • Becoming the power-couple of CALS and Animal Science
  • Laughing
  • The gift that Dan is
  • Someone being for me
  • Being loved, the object of someone's affection
  • Living the call to unity
  • Practicing our faith by living out our Sacramental call to be Jesus to/for each other
  • Feeling fully alive: the rush of purpose, being fulfilled, by living out that Sacramental call
  • Feeling wholeness, completion
  • Living out our call to practice the presence of love
  • Everything being tinged with positivity, with possibility
  • Dan pushing me to NOT focus on the negativity - or the fear - or the sorrow
  • Compliments on my cooking
  • Someone to rest on
  • Someone concerned about providing for my needs; someone actively pursuing that need
  • Being someone's someone
  • Being needed to make that someone's day - to help them feel their worth and importance
  • Having someone seek to understand your feelings and how "you tick"
  • Dan's way of always knowing how to make me laugh and smile when I was sad/upset/mad
  • KNOWING (and having) someone in your corner - fighting for you, having your back
  • Impressing Dan by looking good (having someone to be motivated to look good/fashionable for)
  • Being desired
  • Experiencing forgiveness, resentment, disappointment, and joy
  • Laughing together
  • An abundance of inside jokes
  • Receiving generous love
  • Conversations in the car
  • Singing together
  • Praying the Rosary together
  • Being Respected
  • Being Accepted
  • Date nights at Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Being together at Mass (especially holding hands during the Gospel reading and through the Eucharistic liturgy) 
  • Watching and talking sports together
  • Someone to go along with my ideas
  • Being the organizer,
    • catalyst,
    • Joy,
    • Light-heartedness
  • Being Dan's greatest supporter
  • Being Dan's cheerleader
  • Pursuing Dan's dream was my dream - because my dream was to be my husband's best helper
  • Feeling HOME (wherever I was) because I was with Dan
  • Settling down and developing roots
  • Being seen and appreciated through dialogue, "hearing it" on paper - 
    • "your compassion,"
    • "Your mercy - looking for the good in others,"
    • "You bring the fun - always smiling,"
    • "Your ability to get me to look at things with a different point of view,"
    • "Your value of family and friends"
  • Being grounded, supported, anchored, connected and purposeful
  • The hope of a family, of being parents

Honestly, I had wanted to avoid this day - a "grief day." But in recognizing what I lost, I finally gave our life a voice. Marriage is such a gift. The GREATEST gift. The best hardest thing I've ever done. The little things ARE the big things. The little things are what makes up the "us." They mattered. They happened. We have to give them the honor that they have blessed us with.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: feeling the void

[This is the start of an old post - started the first week of May and finished today]

Apparently today is "National Widows Day." ...and last week was National Infertility Awareness week. ...and last week was the last week of class. ...and April 29 was the day Dan and I met. ...and May 29 is our wedding anniversary.

Every day is a day.

But with grief...every day is effort.

And I don't think people outside of grief get that. I know I didn't. I didn't realize how much work it takes to just get through things. It's not something you think about it. I don't think about how much work each day is...or how empty I am ... until something brings my attention to it.

Two weeks ago, I realized that I have been "filling the void" rather than feeling it. Last week, that became very clear to me. The person who will be filling the position that was Dan's visited last week. I was really surprised at how hard the first day was for me. [point of clarification: I think the person hired is going to do a great job and I look forward to working with him, which makes it harder to explain...that's the sword of grief, I guess]

The people I work with are very quick to say that Dan isn't being replaced. It's very nice. But... it's not really accurate. I get it that Dan isn't being replaced...but, his place is. Very soon I will no longer say, when people ask about the livestock judging program, "Well, that person was my husband; he passed away in July." The place will be filled by someone else.

The last year for me has been a slow awareness to the reality that most of you grasped at the funeral. Dan died.

For me, the last year, has felt like I'm Katniss Everdeen from Mockingjay (the third book in the Hunger Games series):
"I am Katniss Everdeen.
I am 17 years old.
I am from District 12.
District 12 doesn't exist anymore...."

"I am Jessica Kiesling.
I am 38 (no!); I am 37 years old. [for some reason remembering that I am my age has been very hard]
I am married to Dan Kiesling.
Dan died.
Your husband, Dan Kiesling, died.
On July 11, 2016.
It was real."

Every day, I have to remind myself the facts of my life because they didn't feel real. They just can't be real!

Everyday, you feel a responsibility to be "okay" enough so that others can go on with their lives and not worry about you. It's a very hard burden to carry and seems impossible to let go. You MUST have someone outside the point of impact who can carry that with you. You MUST have someone outside the story who will  let you grieve.

It has to be someone outside of your story. Why? Because those people must grieve also - and you cannot deal with your own grief and someone else's. They are too big of burdens to carry. The person who helps you shoulder that burden must be willing and able to enter into your grief without adding to it.

My biggest challenge, and greatest gift has been finding those people and then allowing myself to grieve openly. I feel a need to understand my own feeling about them - because most people are NOT good listeners. Most people want to "figure out" your feelings instead of just letting you feel them.

This week (upon returning from Ireland), I am finally realizing what CS Lewis meant when he said, "I did not realize that grief felt so much like fear." Grief can paralyze you. Overwhelm you. Throw you into a full-on panic attack. It feels exactly like fear. And when those feelings come, you need someone to jump right into that pit with you, so that you realize that you're not drowning. There is a bottom, and you can stand up. Someone to look into your eyes, and say, "You. are. okay. because I have you."

Bear Ye One Another's Burdens -  St. Patrick Cathedral in Dublin

When you know someone who is grieving, I ask you to challenge yourself to be a listener. Don't try to solve. Don't ask questions. Don't advise. Just jump into the pit, and hold them. Look into their eyes, and just let them be.

If you are grieving, find someone outside that immediate circle of loss who can be your person. It's like when you're flying, "First secure the mask to your own face, and then you can help your loved ones." It's very natural for us to want to delay helping ourselves, to think we are doing something better by avoiding our grief to help another - but you aren't. Only by embracing yourself where you are and finding the HOPE Jesus has for you in the moment can you begin to offer anything to those also grieving in your circle.

Allow yourself to feel the void - that is the only route through which healing can come.
FEEL don't fill.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Life in the Midst of Grief: Savor the Pie

It's been a hard day. The days leading up to the 'monuments' (the days when a big thing happened) are - but, even moreso. I want to hold back tears, in order to hold on to the contentment and peace that I have felt the last few days/weeks. ...but, that doesn't lead to healing. So, for a good two hours, the tears came. They came quietly and built up into the sobbing gasp...and then, my heart breathes.

Once the tears subside, the exhaustion comes. At this point, I was hungry, so I sat down to eat my leftover cherry pie - handmade by our dear friend Jon. I planned to eat while reading...because sometimes, that's what you do when you're grieving. You try to do all the things to distract yourself.

So, while I sat to do this, I felt this urge: Savor the pie.

I was transported back to the conversation with Dan: I love that you live life because I can't.

Savor the pie.

Dan loved pie. He told me that raspberry pie was his favorite, but cherry pie was his go-to. He loved homemade cherry pies, of course - but he loved cherry pie so much that he would even eat the Hostess cherry pies. [I mean, I like pie - but I would never succumb to that. I guess I'm a pie snob. Dan was not.]

Savor the pie...because I can't.

Dan savored life, but especially food and drink. When I read through our year and a half worth of Marriage Encounter dialogues, there is a recurrent appreciation for my ...meal that I just cooked. [and, of course, I delighted in preparing those meals because it's joy to do things that are so appreciated]

Savor the pie.

So, I did. I savored the pie, enjoying the delicious interplay between tart and sweet. Each bite was appreciated and delighted in, not overlooked - not consumed as a distraction...delighted in.

Whatever your pie moment today, savor it - because you're here, right now, and this is your chance to live.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Entering my own Holy Week

Tuesday, which was the Fourth of July - a celebration for most of you, was the start of my holy week.

For Christendom, Catholics especially, Holy Week is the span from Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) through his death to Easter. ...and a year ago, July 4 marked our holy week. In one week, I'd gone from triumphant celebration of the Fourth (and a medal placing in a 5k) to becoming a widow. Upon reflecting, I realize this is my holy week. Dan's holy week. Our holy week.

July 4, 2016 - I woke up early to run the Corunna Firecracker 5K with Charles (my brother-in-law), Nate (nephew), and Karen (friend). Charles placed first in his age group, and I placed second. It was my best time of the year thus far. Dan chose not to come because he was in so much pain. Later in the day, he opted not to come to the Mason "tractor parade" either because of the pain.

July 5, 2016 - when I got home from work, Dan told me that he'd cried twice because of all the pain he was in

July 6, 2016 - after my run, when I got home, Dan grabbed my hand and told me that he loved me. When I sat down and asked him why, he said, "because you run. because you have dance parties in your office. because you live life, and you love life. because you can, and I can't."

July 7, 2016 - Dan invited his mom and dad over for supper. We had turkey loaf and some other things that Dan loved. We watched "Mom's Night Out" with his parents. Dan slept in our bed that night. Dan started to cough that night.

July 8, 2016 - We went to the U of M for our normal Friday doctor's visit and chemo. His oxygen levels were lower, and our doctor immediately moved to admit us. Dan found Deacon Wayne when he was getting some blood work done. For some reason, I couldn't stop crying that day. Deacon Wayne came to see us in the afternoon. He said, "Detachment, huh?" ...and I realized that I was so afraid that this was it. I told Dan that I was afraid this was the end. He said, "It's not the end," and we took a nap together.... and then, he got admitted.

...and all the days started to move in a weird slow motion, with every day getting worse. Of those 3 blurred days, my most vivid memories from Saturday and Sunday are praying with my sister-in-law and then with my best friend Pam...and through tears saying, "If this is your will to take him, I know it will be good. But, I don't want you to do it. But, I know you will make it good. But if there is any way, please not now."

I've realized that these were my Gethsemane moments. My moments in the Garden (literally - each time was outside in the sunshine) where I begged God to "let this cup pass from me," and finally resolving, "not as I will, but Yours be done." My last Gethsemane prayer was in the hour before Dan was administered Last Rites, and I prayed with Deacon Wayne. I had no idea how to let Dan go, and I will never "let him go" because he is mine and I am his. We're just holding onto God's hands now, in a much different fashion.

I know what that week was like for me. But, I have no idea what it was like for Dan. Before falling asleep on the 3rd, I talked to Dan about this time last year and told him that I have no idea what it was like for him.

I woke up to "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga. ...and when I sat down to read the lyrics and hear the song, it fits (for the most part).

Last year at this time, Dan was in so much pain. So much pain that he couldn't leave the house; so much pain that I felt helpless - I didn't know how to make any of this better, and it was so hard to stay in his presence because there was nothing I could do and just watching was excruciating. I did, though - I did stay, I was here - but I think my mind has blocked part of it.

I'm entering the last week. The last, unbearable, unfathomable week.

July 8 was the day I couldn't stop crying. The day Dan wanted his parents to come to the hospital, which he usually didn't because he didn't want to fuss...our last good day together. ...and every day after that just slowly spun out of a helicopter going down in slow motion.

What was it like for Dan? I know that on July 5, he cried twice. He told me it was because the pain was so bad, and I believe that, but I also wonder if God didn't visit him and let him know what was about to happen...because then he told me about how much he loved that I lived life, and slept in our bed for the first time in weeks and held me, and we had dinner with his mom and dad for our last night at home.

"I bow down to pray
to try to make the worse feel better,
Lord show me the way to cut through all this worn out leather...
I have a hundred million reasons to walk way -
but, Baby, I just need one good to stay."

I know Dan held on so long, fought so hard - for me. He told me so. I know he didn't want to leave, to let go - but his body physically could not do it. It fell apart around him. It had given him a million reasons to let go - and he held on for a good one, good one, good one, good one, good one....until it was no longer possible.

You guys...death is real. It exists. It hurts more than anything I have experienced in my life, and the impact will be with me throughout my life. But Dan was right. It wasn't the end. Death does not have the final say: love does. Jesus conquered death - and though we must each endure it, it does not have to be the end. Jesus' resurrection redeemed death - meaning that those who believe in him, through our own death can enter into holiness through that gateway.

“We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead. God could not want that for the creatures to whom he has given the breath of life. We die in order to live.”
Elisabeth Elliot

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Redeeming Death, the prequel

I posted a weekish ago, how Dan's death has shaped...reshaped my understanding about death. Realizing that this past week, 7 years ago, my grandpa passed away caused me to recognize that his death was the precursor. 

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, states that grief causes you to really look at what you believe. His analogy is that anyone can state that a rope is sturdy, functioning, and trustworthy. But until that rope is the only thing keeping you from plunging to your death, you don't actually have faith in the rope. 

Until now, I didn't realize how Grandpa's death affected me. 

My Grandpa Joe is one of my heroes. I loved him. I idolized him. I viewed him as...untouchable, sainted, perfect. I tend toward the idealization - and that is definitely how I viewed him. My grandpa lived with failed kidneys for three years. 3 YEARS. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand how - why - God allowed him to suffer for three years, for his body to just slowly fail...for his (my grandpa's) desire to not be burden to anyone become dependent on everyone. 

It wasn't fair. 

And because it wasn't fair, it certainly didn't seem merciful...or in the very least, loving. 

...and I think that is where I started to question just how loving God really was. I just didn't get it. I couldn't reconcile it. 

...and because I didn't really trust the love of God, I just couldn't imagine how heaven could be better than earth. Maybe it was the start of me trusting what I could see more than faith, or maybe I was just now becoming aware of the rope, the invitation to swing out off the canyon, and how much more I preferred my feet on the ground, but with the rope tied around me, just in case.

Yes, that's it. I didn't doubt the existence of God. I just doubted his goodness. 

[and let me just say that when you doubt his goodness, it makes it really, really hard to love him. he becomes hard to approach because all you want to is his love, but you are so scared that his love is not good - that instead of mercy, you'll get chastisement and condemnation)

Who would think that through the trial of my husband's cancer diagnosis and his subsequent death that I would more firmly, more tangibly, more deeply experience, believe, and trust God's goodness? Yet, that is what has happened. 

This is why I share my story. Death effects each of us in unique ways. I had no idea that Grandpa's death resonated with me in that way until I thought about it this week. That was 7 years ago. If you read what I wrote/spoke at his funeral, what I continued to write after, I still said all the right things about faith and dying, our hope being Jesus. But, my heart had a barrier to trusting the rope-bridge Jesus. When the time came, I'd be ready - but I was not looking forward to that time, and I was secretly hoping that time would never come. I would rather trust in myself. 

Just as many people loved Grandpa Joe, many people loved Dan. When we love our people, and we like God, it can be very hard to comprehend death. Like so many themes in life, "He gives us more grace," and we are invited to continue standing on the cliff with a rope tied around our waist, but trusting the firm foundation beneath our feet - or we can grab hold of the rope, jump, swing out from cliff and swim in the deep waters of goodness and love. 

He gives us more grace.

He is faithful, always near - always providing the lesson, the teacher - always gently knocking.

He gives us more grace.