Two years and four months ago I stretched out across my bed. Matt walked in with a manilla folder and said he wanted to go over some things before his heart surgery. Etched all over it were dates, names of doctors, and notes he had taken during conversations. At the top:
I am thrilled to show you a book I illustrated for Klutz, a division of Scholastic. As described in their about section, Klutz creates award-winning, premium activity books for kids and kid-minded adults.
I was talking with a dear friend--a fellow dreamer--and it got me thinking about things.
A long time ago, 11 months ago…or was it eleven years ago…or eleven days ago? As Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.”
Back to what I was saying.
11 months ago I had one of my paintings posted as my facebook header. The quote I had painted said:
“Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale.”
-Hans Christian Andersen
The day after my husband died someone who loved me innocently and lovingly commented, “I am so sorry your fairytale ended this way.”
And the comment literally struck my heart as if an arrow had pierced my chest. My stomach sank as I realized once again how my life had been placed upside down.
It reminded me of when I was a little kid and I would lay on the bed with half of my body hanging off looking at the room upside down. I would imagine what it would be like if my room really were upside down. How would I sit in a chair? Will I now be tripping over the ceiling fan every time I run for the phone? It was odd, intriguing, and very uncomfortable--especially towards the end when all the blood went rushing to my head.
That’s what this felt like.
My world was upside down and the blood was rushing to my head.
But I could never straighten it out.
I am still in the same world, the same house, the same room…but even after 11 months I will be caught in a moment where I realize I live in all of this upside down.
When I look back on the beginning it still mystifies me how I understood and knew things that perhaps normal people don’t.
On the car ride home after he died I knew God was going to use me. I knew that this painful, horrible thing was going to be a source of light and demonstration of His love. And it made me sick because the love of my life was worth more than that to me.
I knew when I read the comment that my fairytale was over that it wasn’t. While it made me sob to think that it WAS over, I knew with an almost angry and passionate feeling that it was indeed NOT over. This was merely the halfway point in my fairytale.
Because I am a heroine and this is my story.
I entered into this world on my own and that is how I will end it. All of these people in my life have entered at different points and as such they will exit it. They are the characters that teach me. However brief or lengthy, however minute or profound...
You are all teaching me.
You are all blessing me.
But this journey is mine.
This fairytale is mine. I might not get to write this story, but I damn well get to choose how I react to what happens to me.
This is my story.
And this is what I choose for mine:
My story is full of magic, fantastical beings, and wondrous sights.
I will be kind, courageous, and determined.
I will use my knowledge to help others.
I will use magic to my advantage; to all our advantage.
I will give up who I was in order to become what I was meant to be.
I will be true to myself and listen to my heart.
I will feel and see the power of love again and again.
I will have hope, feel gratitude, and exude joy despite hardships.
I will always have faith that this story will end more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.
Here is the truth about fairytales:
You have your own fairytale.
Your fairytale doesn’t end when someone you love dies or when something ends.
In fact, when someone you love dies your life becomes more magical because they are busy doing things in their invisible cloaks like making feathers rain from the sky and sending butterflies to sit in your hair. Your life is now magnified in blessings because someone you love is making sure you can’t argue it.
If something in your life ends, I promise you something far better or something just as beautiful will take its place. It will not be the same, but it will still be just as precious, worthy, and beautiful.
Heck, your fairytale doesn’t even end when you die.
Because if you are like me you believe that our souls are everlasting and there is no end.
The completion of this life opens the door to heaven.
So there really is such thing as happily ever after.
Don’t ever forget that you are the heroine (or hero) of your story. No matter what happens to you, this is not the end.
Our fairytale in not over.
Today I found myself telling my friend I can time travel.
As a kid (and even now) I have loved any book or movie based on it. I love the idea of time not having to be linear. For as much as I like rules and to follow them, when I disagree with them--I love to the bend them.
Just when you think you have me figured out I will surprise you with my complexities. This is one of them.
As for my new found supernatural ability....
A few months ago I was driving down the freeway and passed the hospital that I had first taken Matt to on the four day process of him dying. And while other times I silently cursed that lone building or simply did my best to ignore it, that day it was different.
While I was driving next to it, I was also inside.
I was in there.
He was in there.
In some other dimension our two scenarios were side by side, coexisting.
Waiting on test results, staring out the window watching the day slip by, feeding him ice water from a q-tip looking stick with a tiny pink sponge on the end.
I was scared.
Because he was sicker than I had ever imagined and the doctors were puzzled.
Nobody had any answers.
In that 3 second spans of me whizzing past that building I was transported in time and into that stretch of a day.
I can walk into a frozen yogurt place that just cleaned with bleach and want to gag. It sends me silently in my head whirling back to when the nurse walked me back into his hospital room that was permeated with the harsh, cutting smell of it. It makes me look at myself standing above him, rubbing his arm, telling him the reasons why he has to stay…and not knowing whether or not I should tell her he will never open his eyes again.
I spent a lot of those hours in the hospital awake. By his side. In a place where time is of the essence, but all there is to do is wait. I had no patience for reading and nothing was more important than sitting by his side smiling and being his comforter. I was doing my best to be a light of blinding love. Unintentionally, one night I stared at that box full of latex gloves more intently than perhaps anyone has.
I went to the doctor's a month after he passed and the sight of that box of gloves made my teeth start to literally chatter.
So now it is clear to me that the gift I had always fantasized of having is something I can actually do now.
I can time travel.
Sometimes I wish I couldn’t.
This must be what happens when your emotions are stirred. When your senses are shocked. When your life is changed.
The experience rouses your senses and magnifies them, thus making it impossible to forget.
The images do not fade.
The sounds do not muffle.
The smell does not dissipate.
The feeling of his scared hand in your scared hand cannot be forgotten.
And while I know that in time I will learn how to refocus this gift to positive things, sometimes it sends me back to the saddest and scariest days of my life.
This month has been my best yet. I think I am finally getting better at stopping the time travel. When I feel the mind buzzing, force pulling sensations I slowly talk myself down from its vortex.
I hear my sweet angels telling me:
Let it go.
Do not travel here.
Travel to that time you played that corny love song and forced him to slow dance with you in the backyard. Feel his hands around your waist. Feel his scruffy face against your cheek. Feel your hair flying from your neck as he twirls you and you can’t figure out how to twist back so you both end up laughing at your clumsiness. See the glittering stars, his sparkling eyes (albeit rolling eyes). Hear his voice, the hollow sounding music coming from your cell phone speaker, and your children laughing as they ride their noisy tricycles around you. Feel the safety of his arms and the kiss that was lovely but one of many like a field of flowers—so easily dismissed because there were so many, but treasured now as a single flower for its striking beauty.
Feel your heart’s content at the comfort of knowing this love is endless.
Know that it still is.
And as I settle back into Now I have a pile of tissues, but I am thankful because I have more of those kinds of memories to time travel to than ones that include bleach and beeping medical instruments.
These memories have warm sand beneath my feet, pink sunsets, the vibration of music being created by freckled hands I love, and the sound of our babies laughing. These memories are full of so much love they could warm the earth. Surely they could sustain me the rest of my days here--though I know our God is generous and there will never be a need for that.
But how lovely to know.
I am arriving upon the point in my journey where I can choose where I will go in time. When I do travel back to scary or sad times, it will be a choice and I will be visiting to learn something.
When I stop and step back I realize how amazing it is I can do this.
How magical it can be.
I am thankful God gave me eyes to see, hands to feel, ears to hear, and a heart that delights. More than that, for those moments. Most of all, for a timeless, transcendent love.
Because of this,
I can time travel.
This was written 6 weeks prior to the posting date. Writing this was so incredibly healing for me that almost immediately I was able to control my "time traveling." Sometimes I do not even know how I am feeling until I begin to write and the mere act of doing so awakens me in some new aspect.
Thank you for going on this journey with me.
Today I am happy.
I am happy!!!
Last night my mom and I drove to Seal Beach for my niece Cora’s farewell party before she heads off to Montana for college. I always love my time with my mom. She is my best friend. And she is always honest. I braced myself when I asked her:
Have I changed?
And she thought about it and said no.
Part of me was surprised. Another part was relieved.
You haven’t changed. You just did what you have always done when a challenge comes your way: you take it by the horns and you deal with it. You calmly take the challenge or task and you handle it. Remember when you would wait till the last minute to write your essays in college? And I would be freaking out and you would tell me it was fine, that you work best under pressure anyway. And you would do just fine and it would be amazing.
This is just another challenge.
Earlier that evening when I was standing at the kitchen table with my back to guests, I scraped the last of the onion dip onto the crumbs of leftover chips. And I listened to everyone. I felt separate. I tend to flow separately from the current everyone else flows in.
But when it comes down to it, I always have.
That was okay with me then. And I think I am still okay with it.
Every morning on my birthday I have woken up and expected to be different. As Matt and I said “I do” on a windy Hawaiian shore I expected a major shift to occur. When I gave birth to Calvin I expected to see with new eyes.
Every time I was shocked at my sameness.
I had somehow assumed that out of all the events in my life this one would make me different. That last year I was a caterpillar and because of this I was turning into a butterfly.
But maybe I was always a butterfly.
And that makes me so happy!
Because I like who I am.
What a comfort to know that my true self cannot change.
The core of me cannot be altered.
I can learn, my heart can grow, but the true essence of who I am is a constant.
And as I drove the last street to my house the brightest and largest streak fell from the sky. A falling star is an occurrence that Science informs me is nothing out of the ordinary. But I don’t believe it. How could I be looking at that sky in that exact place, in that specific moment and see that glorious, surprising streak of magic? What are the chances of that?
It was my love.
And I laughed!!! I smiled and I felt happy!
Because I am still that girl he fell in love with.
I am the same girl that he loved to surprise.
He still loves me.
He still surprises me.
And he always will.
So today I feel so happy with my realization:
I was always a butterfly.
I was born with wings.
Sometimes when I look back on the past it feels like a beautiful crystal bowl that was dropped and shattered.
It shattered the day my husband died.
The last 11 years of my life included my love, so every memory somehow includes him. When I pick up each piece to remember it, it is beautiful, somehow even more precious, but its edges are sharp and they hurt.
Sometimes they cut me and I bleed.
And every day I am reminded:
My life is no longer a beautiful crystal bowl.
I did not even know that is what we were creating. When you look at the tiny pieces, the little memories that make up an era of your life it all makes sense how it became complete. But when you are in the midst of making it you don't even realize what you are making. Now don’t assume my bowl was perfect—no, it was not!
But it was mine, and it was lovely.
Its broken fragments are too precious to throw away. How easy it would be to sweep it all up and be done with it. If I didn’t have children I am pretty sure I would leave this town we made our home. This is the place where he grew up, where we fell in love, bought our home, raised our children, and are surrounded by family and friends. And this is also where he is buried.
Right now I still have all those precious, oddly shaped pieces strewn on the floor and I don’t know what to do with them.
Do I shut the door to where they fell and walk away?
Do I pick up the pieces? And hurt myself over and over and over again?
(….when will it stop hurting?)
How do I pick them up and not bleed?
(I am getting better at…so does practice make perfect?)
I know what I want.
I want to string the pieces and hang them in the light and create dancing rainbows around me.
I want my past to bring color and joy and stop cutting me.
I want a new beginning, I want the sun to shine just right through those prisms.
But can I begin again with my past swirling around me?
It is woven so intricately into my life I will never be able to run away.
Being that it is the Christmas season, these pieces are the sharpest. I want to shut the door so badly!!! But I have two sweet faces that count on traditions and normalcy. So for their sake I will have to be brave.
I will have to learn how to balance letting go and holding on.
This will take courage, and all I can do is hope the rainbows will be worth it.
This new art print is now available here.
I am a watercolor artist located in Southern California.