Polyps

“Did I talk to you while I was waking up? You look familiar.” Danica the post-procedure nurse smiled at me and said “Oh yes! It sounds like you had a great dream about Alice in Wonderland!”

“I’m reading the book to my daughter.” I gurgle, still shrugging off the last vapors of anesthesia.

“Did you understand what the doctor said to you a few minutes ago?”

“I don’t remember talking with the doctor.”

“Ok, I’ll ask her to stop back over in a few minutes.”

When the gastroenterologist reappeared, she stood beside the bed and told me very matter of factly that she found and removed two pre-cancerous polyps from my colon. “One was pretty big, considering your last colonoscopy was not even four years ago. Your best defense is to continue regular colonoscopies. I’m going to recommend continuing every three years. We’ll send the polyps to pathology. You should hear back in about a week.”

“That sounds like there’s a chance those are more than pre-cancer.”

“We send everything to pathology. You do not have colon cancer. Neither of these had penetrated the wall of your colon. But you have to be vigilant. This is the second time we’ve removed these types of polyps from your body. You’re young, but your mom’s history means you are going to be more likely to develop polyps, and unchecked polyps become cancer.”

My first colonoscopy was when I was 33. Years of mysterious GI symptoms had become unbearable. The pain and bloating were not enough to get me to go to the doctor, but I made an appointment when I realized to my horror that the coworkers at my new job knew I was ducking into the bathroom with alarming frequency. There were murmurs that I was pregnant. A tactless coworker straight up asked if I was having morning sickness. It was getting harder to hide the fact that something was very, very wrong.

I was in a new state for a new job with a relatively new husband. I didn’t have any friends in North Carolina, or a primary care doctor, let alone a gastroenterologist. One morning, after spending most of the previous night in agony, I walked into Melissa, my co-worker’s office and closed the door behind me. I asked if I could ask her for some help with a personal matter. She waved me in, I took a seat, and blurted out; “Do you like your doctor? I need to find a doctor. I need a referral for a gastroenterologist. I think something is really wrong with me. My mom died of colon cancer two years ago, and I am freaking out.”

Bless her, this near stranger confided that her mom had had colon cancer, too, but it was caught early and she was in recovery. Melissa had the gastroenterologist’s name and office number in her phone. She wrote it on a lime green post-it note and handed it to me across the desk. “He’s one of the best in the country. At Duke. He’ll take good care of you.”

At my initial appointment, I expected him to reassure me that I was too young for colon cancer, that my symptoms were certainly IBS or a food allergy. That he’d do all the necessary tests, of course, but not to worry. Instead he looked me in the eyes and said “These symptoms are symptoms of colon cancer. I have six colon cancer patients in their 30s. You must take this very seriously. We’ll do the colonoscopy, and act on what we learn.”

For the next two weeks while I waited for my procedure appointment, I pondered what I would do if I received a cancer diagnosis.

“I want to go to South Africa and take surfing lessons, and just stay there and keep surfing until I get eaten by a shark. Return to the food chain.” My husband of a year and a half was not amused. “You’ll fight it. We’ll fight it together. You’re not going to be eaten by a shark.”

“You know, MY MOM died of colon cancer but she wasn’t really, miserably, excruciatingly sick until she started treatment. She lived for less than two years after her diagnosis. The last year or so of that was in agony, the last 2 months were inhumane. I really, really want to just get eaten by a shark, ok?”

I thought about the kids I wouldn’t have and the life I wouldn’t live with Les. I wondered what he would do without me. Return to Illinois, presumably. He didn’t have a job yet in Raleigh. I thought about JAWS a lot and wondered if I would shriek out reflexively while being chewed in half, or feel satisfied that my plan had worked and my torture would be quick and organic rather than insufferable and chemical.

That first colonoscopy didn’t reveal any polyps, cancerous or otherwise. It did discover that my colon was kinked like a hose in two places, which would account for all the toilet troubles and general abdominal distress.

“Do yoga every day and try not to be so stressed. That’s the only way to prevent this from happening again. You literally tied yourself in knots. But given your symptoms and your family history, get another colonoscopy in three years, OK? Keep on top of this.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The intestinal unkinking relieved a lot of my problems, but some persisted. I saw a doctor a few weeks later who suspected a gluten, dairy, or soy intolerance. Her suggestion jolted my memory back three years to the stark, unfussy acupuncture table in a dimly lit office above the Planned Parenthood in Edgewater. The locally famous (in certain “alternative medicine” circles) chiropractor insisted, as I lay with two dozen hair-thin needles sprouting from my skin, that I needed to cut out gluten to eliminate my chronic pain. “Your body can’t process it,” she said. “You have systemic, chronic inflammation. The acupuncture only alleviates some of the symptoms. You’ll need to change your life and diet to prevent inflammation.”

I had snorted at the impossibility of cutting bread or pasta from my diet. “You are helping me so much. Please just let’s keep doing what we’re doing” I pleaded as I imagined never eating a scone from Letizia’s Bakery again. At the time, I opted for chronic pain management over a scone-less life.

This time, I clutched the instructions for an elimination diet the physician’s assistant handed me on my way out the door, and drove immediately to Panera to cry into a cinnamon crunch bagel while making my bleak shopping list for the next two weeks. Most vegetables and some fruit were allowed, plus a very select few carbohydrates. No dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, or, in my case, a strict vegetarian at the time, any animal protein. I ate salads with vinaigrette and apples and plantain chips for two weeks, after which I was supposed to add each possible trigger food back in, one at a time.

When the hungry two weeks had elapsed, I tore into a chunk of baguette and prayed. I was still chewing it when my skin started to itch and my stomach churned. I threw the rest of the hunk of delicious gluten across the room and cried. That was it. I didn’t need to go on with the trial. Indeed, I felt no reaction to the dairy, eggs, soy, or nuts. Just the bread.

Within a week of my gluten free diet, the softly inflated dome of belly, which I had accepted as part of the newlywed “I’m like a baby, she’s like a cat, and when we are happy we both get fat” phase had flattened. I no longer bolted to the bathroom multiple times a day. My skin cleared up – both acne and eczema. The chronic nosebleeds I had dismissed as “some kind of weird seasonal allergy thing, probably” also stopped.

But the colonoscopies continued. I’ve had several now, and since that first unkinking procedure 11 years ago, each of my subsequent colonoscopies has removed precancerous polyps.

Food and I still regularly battle with clubs and sticks. Even some gluten free carbs seem to trigger IBS-like symptoms. I would feel better with less acid (coffee, wine, chocolate, tomato products). The omnivore/vegetarian/vegan/pescatarian/flexitarian choices paralyze me. The Ghost of Orthorexia Past haunts me.

The data on the causes of colon cancer are mixed, but some studies found that people who get less exercise and who eat higher-fat, lower-fiber diets are more likely to get colon cancer. And people who had an immediate family member diagnosed with colon cancer are also more likely to be diagnosed themselves. So if you are wondering if the pressure to try to “eat a low fat, high fiber diet and get enough exercise and also eat gluten free and (because of my personal, complicated feelings about eating animals) vegetarian and try not to let cancer sneak up and kill you” could lead to angst about food and general feelings of anxiety, the answer is yeeessssssss.

The morals of this story are these: Go to a gastroenterologist right away if you have symptoms of colon cancer. Get the stupid colonoscopy, either if you have symptoms or when you turn 45, whichever comes first. That birthday is coming up for a lot of you, my friends. And yes, the colonoscopy prep SUCKS, but you get to drink a gallon (accurate – not an exaggeration) of laxatives in the privacy of your own home, so it’s not like you’re going to be eaten by a shark. And yes, the day of the procedure is a time consuming hassle, and you may blabber incoherently about Alice in Wonderland when you emerge from anesthesia. But I am telling you, with all the sincerity and near-hypochondria of my heart, colonoscopies are better than cancer.

No New Me

“There will be no “New Year, New Me” bullshit this year” I mutter to myself as I crunch down on a gluten free mozzarella stick and take a slurp of sparkling wine from the jam jar tumbler in my other hand. 

Which is at least half a lie. I may not be starting a diet, but I did sign up for 30 Days of Yoga. And I did order two new cookbooks. And I still regularly lament my softening middle. My holiday sale impulse buying resulted in three new pairs of elastic waist lounge pants and some wrinkle-smoothing patches. 

I haven’t arrived at Radical Self Love yet, but I’m reading the how-to manual.

If you haven’t read “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor, gather up your gift cards and head to your local indie bookstore or library and get your hands on this gem. It is taking me weeks to read it because it is so intensely challenging that I read it in small doses. I need time to chew on each chapter and the author’s joyful and expansive vision for the world: full of people who have embraced radical self-love, and then extend that love out into the world. 

I certainly was not the first person to ask this question, but it does roll around in my brain a lot: How are we supposed to love others as we love ourselves if we don’t actually love ourselves? A lot of the un-love (apathy, violence, hate, bigotry) gushing out into the world is really, at the root, a scorching and debilitating lack of self-love. 

I can already feel the hackles rising on some of you. We are not supposed to love ourselves! We’re sinful. We are supposed to love God and love our neighbors! 

Yeah. Love our neighbors “as we love ourselves”. I don’t think God really intends us to only love others so far as we currently despise ourselves. Doesn’t sound very on-brand to me. 

Where could our love radiate out into the world if we embraced radical self love? Could radical self love transform the way we love disabled people? Or people whose bodies are bigger, smaller, queerer, darker, less healthy, more poorly dressed than our bodies? I hope so. That’s my prayer. 

So this is how I’m entering 2022: No diet. No exercise regimen (aside from the goal to do yoga every day this year, because holy cow, yoga has helped me immensely throughout this pandemic). If I have a resolution, it’s to meditate on my chosen Word of the Year. 

Photo by Konevi on Pexels.com

LIGHT.

I will seek the light – in myself, in others, in the world, in the face of the suffering.

I will try to be the light – to my family, my neighborhood, and out there in the world.

I will trust the light – it is already out there. I don’t need to ignite anything, only seek it and recognize it. The Light in me honors the Light in you.

I’ll embrace the steady, gradual dawn. Light takes its time.

And I will try to live LIGHTLY – take myself less seriously and more buoyantly. Consume less. Demand less. Part ways with objects or habits that weigh me down. 

That’s my New Year’s prayer. Radical self love, eyes trained towards the light.

Day of the Dead

I stumbled upon Dia de los Muertos in October of 2001 while wandering around Pilsen on my lunch break. I had been in Chicago for about six months, and my dad had been dead for four of those. I had few friends in the city and even fewer at my job, so I spent most of my work time sneaking out to soak in grief and wander around the blocks adjacent to my office.

One afternoon, while approaching a small patch of grass the city tried to pass off as a park, I saw a folding table draped in a bright yellow cloth and festooned with marigold garlands. On top of the table, there were large cardboard boxes covered in bright paper and crepe garlands stacked up like a short pyramid. I got closer to investigate and saw a placard in English and Spanish proclaiming that this was a community altar for Day of the Dead. It was late October, so a few people had already started decorating the altar with photos, notes, and neatly packaged bags of candy and food. Mementos like toy cars, rubber chickens, funny figurines, and action figures were also tucked in to the growing pile, and I imagined these were whimsical inside jokes between the grievers and the deceased. I was drawn to the juxtaposition of festivity and grief – the first time I had seen a reflection of my conflicting feelings of mourning and celebration for my dad’s “homecoming”. I became obsessed with the idea of adding to the altar for my dad.

I wrestled with the idea of the altar for a week. I made a list of what I could bring: A picture of my dad, a photo of a lobster tail, a small toy gorilla. I went back to the altar again and again and watched the tiers become cluttered with hundreds of notes, objects, and squirrel-eaten food. The fact that I was not really part of the community or the culture gave me pause. But the gut-churning longing to join with these anonymous People Who Had Lost, to add my ache to the pile of grief, to find a bit of humor and festivity in the darkness, kept me coming back to the altar.

Eventually, I wandered a little farther on my altar-watching trek and made it to the National Museum of Mexican Art and saw that they had a whole exhibit about Dia de los Muertos. Sugar skulls, dancing skeletons, paintings, sculptures, and helpful descriptions helped me put together a bigger picture for this new obsession. When I got to the very last room of the exhibit, my breath caught in my throat. I saw a small alcove plastered with neon post-it notes on every inch of the wall. Notes that people had written to their beloved dead. Notes, the description informed me, that would be collected and burned on the Day of the Dead as a kind of offering. Perfect. I cried with relief and sadness as I grabbed a green post-it and scribbled:

I miss you dad, but I’m so glad you’re finally Home.

I stuck it on the wall with the hundreds of other notes of love and longing and release and I left. I didn’t go back to the altar. I didn’t want to see it succumb to the elements, as it was designed to do. I had fulfilled the need to be part of a collective mourning.

When my mom died a few years later, I thought about driving down to Pilsen and hunting for an altar. I didn’t. We remembered her in different ways, and my Chicago circle was much bigger. More of my friends had known and loved my mom, so I had a communal mourning for her in a way I hadn’t with my dad.

In 2014, my brain was pulled to the altar again. Another quieter, lonelier grief stirred fleeting ideas of a road trip to the city. That year, I thought about finding a community altar to grieve the loss of tiny twins who I would have delivered in late October. Miscarriage is such private grief. No one knew them – not even me! There are no photos, no favorite foods, no shared memories. The doctor didn’t even print out the ultrasound picture. I saw them exactly one time, and that was on the day I was told “So, there are two, but neither has a heart beat”.

We had a different kind of anonymous but communal mourning for the babies, even though only about 15 people in the world even knew they had existed at the time. Like I had when my dad died, I was aching for a way to express some kind of public yet anonymous grief. I wanted to scream at everyone I met in those first few weeks “MY BABIES DIED!”, but I didn’t. I wanted to share their brief existence with the world, but couldn’t think of any socially acceptable way to do it.

I miscarried in March (fun fact: on my mom’s birthday!). Easter was right around the corner. I read in the bulletin of the church we were attending that congregants were invited to bring any kind of flower to the altar on Easter Sunday, and they would provide small notes and floral picks so we could write a note with the memorial information on it and stick it in the plant. So that Easter, I brought a small, double-bloomed hydrangea to the altar at church, pulled out a white square of paper and wrote:

With love for our twin stars.

A different kind of celebration, a different kind of offering. The tradition I grew up in remembered those who had died with Easter Lilies and other flowers on Easter Sunday – a reminder of rebirth and beauty rising up from the soil after the death of winter. Now I think of my parents and grandparents primarily on All Saints Day. I didn’t grow up recognizing All Saints Day, but now I’m drawn to it: a quiet, usually chilly fall day of reflection on those who have gone before us that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of Easter festivities.

We aren’t limited just to those officially recognized saints. Anyone in what the church folks like to call The Great Cloud of Witnesses counts as a saint. Most of us will never do anything that gets us considered for beatification, but someone will think about us when we are gone, and I do think about how I wanted to be remembered. Maybe one person will remember that I shared a little hope when they had run out or shouldered something with them when their back was stooped with grief. I hope my daughter will remember me with even a measure of the love and admiration I still feel for my own mom.

Ultimately, we’ll all be there someday, leaving this life for whatever comes next. On All Saints Day, I remember the quote attributed to Ram Daas – We’re all just walking each other home. On All Saints Day, I recommit to being a person who will walk into the grief when that’s the path in front of me or the people I love – to mourn with those who mourn. And recommit to filling my lungs with beauty and joy every day I still have breath. Don’t forget to dance with those who dance. If no one around you is dancing, put on a song that reminds you of someone you love and bust a move. My All Saints Day playlist includes In A Gadda Da Vida and Age of Aquarius.

A Job Found Me

No matter how many ridiculous dates I went on in my twenties (ask me about the guy who fell asleep during dinner on a first date), I swore I would never use an online dating site. In May, my eHarmony-matched husband and I celebrated our 11th anniversary with tapas and sangria. 

In high school I confessed to my mother that I never, ever wanted to have a baby. Never. Adopt, maybe. But pregnancy? Childbirth? Absolutely not. Don’t tell the daughter that I labored for 30 hours to deliver into this world. She’s starting first grade in a couple of weeks.  

When my husband and I were newlyweds and started looking for a dog to adopt together, we agreed to rule out yappy, high-maintenance dogs and anything smaller than a cocker spaniel, and then we devoted the next ten years to the adoration and medical care of an epileptic chihuahua who hated nearly every person and animal he ever met.

I was living on the north side of Chicago when I met my now husband, Les, and I distinctly remember a conversation early in our dating life where I told him that I would live in the city, or I would live in the boonies, but I would never, ever live in the suburbs. “I need either the walkable, anonymous, buzz of the city or a sprawling green privacy of rural life. I can’t live in the soulless suburbs”. Now, of course, I live in the western suburbs and play pickleball with my neighbors and drive a crossover SUV.

All I’m saying is that when I finally write my memoir, the subtitle is going to be “All the things I swore I’d never do”.

When I started looking for a job in June, I sat down and wrote out a list of my “must haves” and used that list of non-negotiables to set my job search engine parameters:

  • The job must be in the suburbs with no more than 20 minutes commute time.
  • Ideally 25-29 hours per week.
  • The job could be full time if it had a flexible schedule and was 100% remote. 
  • No required travel.
  • And I didn’t want to work for a religious nonprofit anymore. 

The job market is bananas right now, so these criteria pulled pages upon pages of job openings. I have over twenty years of nonprofit experience, including seven years doing the one thing that makes nonprofit hiring managers salivate all over their laptops – writing government grants. 

I sent some resumes. I applied for some part-time and some remote full-time jobs. I had some interviews. After each encounter with a recruiter, I had to unclench my jaw just to describe the job to Les. It became clear very quickly that I really REALLY did not want to be a grant writer anymore. The deadlines and the policies and the budgets and the reporting. Gag. 

The problem was that none of the resumes I sent out for other types of nonprofit jobs got any nibbles. I didn’t want to be a grant writer anymore, but the nonprofit job world very much wanted me to be a grant writer. 

Then one day I got a LinkedIn message from a recruiter at an executive search firm asking me if I would like to talk with him about an Executive Director job. His email was very light on details, but I admit I was flattered that someone would think I could be qualified to be an Executive anything, so I agreed to talk with him. 

And that was the first step of the month-long process that led to me accepting the Executive Director position for Hopebound Ministries with Felician Services in Chicago. 

If that sounds like a full time job with a religious organization that will require an hour commute each way and cross-country travel, you would be correct. 

The Felician Sisters are a Catholic order of nuns with convents around the US. Sisters at several of these convents have established smallish-scale social service programs in their communities to meet the needs of their neighbors; things like food pantries, services to people experiencing homelessness, and after-school programs. Right now, these sisters are operating these services at a very grass-roots level. As ED, I’ll be helping the nuns assess community needs and determine how best to make their programs sustainable and more accessible. I’ll need to do a bit of traveling, a bit of coaching, and a lot of relational, community-building work. And maybe a little grant writing. 

Much to my surprise and delight, Felician Services (the social service arm of the order) only requires that its employees “affirm the dignity of all people” – the HR director assured me that I need not be Catholic – or anything else – to work with them. No doctrinal statement to sign, no particular worldview to espouse, other than affirming the dignity of people. I can do that!

This job is nothing at all what I was looking for, and would have been filtered out in any of the CareerBuilder/Indeed/NPO.Net job search parameters I had set up. I still don’t know how this recruiter found me or what it was about my LinkedIn page that made him send that message, but here we are. The job fell out of the sky, and I grabbed it. 

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

So of course I am throbbing with anxiety and excitement and imposter syndrome. Am I thrilled to have landed an intellectually challenging job that allows me to dig into the skills and expertise I’ve fought for over the last two decades of work? Yes. Am I happy to take on a role that pulls together some of my favorite pieces of all my previous jobs, and leaves my least favorite pieces to collect dust on my CV? Also, a big Yes. 

But am I prepared to miss out on the after school debriefs where I get to take little peeks into my daughter’s inner life and social ecosystem? Am I ready to go back to being busy every single day? Am I finally going to learn to like podcasts and audiobooks for my commute? Am I really going to flop out of bed before sunrise and remain a functional human being? I don’t know.

For this job to work for our family, we need an after-school nanny who we’ll trust to shuttle our daughter from school to home and then chill with her until one of us wraps for the day. And we need a dog walker for our hound dog. And I’ll need to be up by 5:30 a.m. to get myself and then my kid ready to leave the house by 7:45 every morning. And then I’ll need to scream through my teeth into the windshield in rush hour traffic for at least an hour twice a day, three days a week. I get to have two days to work from home in a hybrid work model (a daily commute to the city would have been an actual deal breaker for me).

After almost two years of very part-time remote work and soft clothes and ease in our family routine, I’m nervous about adding that much hustle into my daily life. As I explained to my friend on the phone tonight, I’m not used to being places at “times” or doing things by “dates”.  I’m definitely rusty at the social interaction and the hair styling and the outfit choosing. And the lunch packing and logistics coordination and the managing household support professionals. 

It’s a lot. I’m still a little stunned, and totally thankful, for this new adventure. A friend who encouraged me to accept the job, even with all the stressful bits and imposter syndrome, reminded me not just to ask “What’s the worst that could happen?” but also “What’s the best that could happen?”. 

Of course both of those questions feel like they require a COVID asterisk. I haven’t even allowed my brain to start What Iffing around COVID. One day at a time. 

So here we go! Full time work for the first time in over eight years. Let’s hope it’s like riding a bike. 

The World’s On Fire And I’m Worried About Pants

My six year old daughter and I are walking our frenetic hound dog round the neighborhood. She looks at me while I pause to let the dog’s nose investigate a mound of something unseemly in the grass and says “Mom, you’re not fat or chunky.” 

“Ok, what made you decide to tell me that?” I stammer out after a pause. 

“Well, I was just thinking that your body doesn’t look fat or chunky to me. Do you think you are fat or chunky?”

“I used to think I wanted my body to be smaller, but now I like my body just the way it is. It’s healthy and it can do all the things I need it to do.”

“Do you think my body is fat or chunky?”

“BooBoo, I don’t. But let’s remember that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Fat, thin, short, tall, medium. Most people can’t really do anything about how their body looks, or what size or shape they are. People’s bodies are not the most important or interesting parts of them, you know?”

“Yeah, like you could be beautiful but a bad person. Like Hans in Frozen”

The next day I admonished her to stop feeding the dog her meal scraps because people food isn’t good for dogs, and added that Daisy could gain too much weight and that wouldn’t be good for her. 

Daisy Doggie

“Don’t dogs come in all shapes and sizes? Is it bad for dogs to be chunky but OK for people to be chunky?”

Girl, I am trying to unravel decades of self loathing over here. Cut me some slack. 

“Well, dogs can’t tell us with words when their bodies aren’t feeling well or aren’t working like they should, so it can be dangerous for dogs to get bigger than their bodies can handle. Especially if they get bigger because they are eating human food that they should not be eating at all.”

WHEW. That was some inspired blither blather. Not inaccurate, per se. But man. This kid puts me on the spot. 

I’m still unraveling the body size = health entanglement. I wish I had more stamina and more flexibility, and I think those are reasonable goals. I feel nostalgic and sad to know I ran a marathon once a thousand years ago, and used to go on long runs in the Chicago winter FOR FUN and I used to be able to twist into some binds in yoga class. Now I get winded on a swift trot behind my daughter as she scooters through the neighborhood screaming Let it Go at the very top of her lungs and some days I can barely touch my toes without tweaking my back. 

There is a group of three ladies in our neighborhood, maybe 5 years or so older than I am, who walk at a quick clip down the middle of the road every single day, rain or shine. They pass our house around 10:30 am on the weekdays. They chat and laugh and are going much faster than I could sustain for an hour. They have lived-in middle age bodies, but I bet you $100 they are in better shape than I am. I envy their friendship and the routine and the strident arm swings of women whose hearts are getting stronger every day. 

I’m about to head back to full-time work, and I’ve been scribbling draft schedules that will cram in some exercise every day. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting and some commuting, and the old raspy-voiced fear has started whispering in my ear that I’m going to gain weight. I whisper back that I will only eat salads for lunch and get up at 5am to exercise, but immediately my stomach starts to growl and my eyes start to ache. 

The griefs and heartbreaks of the world are so much bigger than my pants size. I feel shame for even THINKING about new clothes or cute lunch containers when the world is on fire in every direction. I’m grossed out by my own privilege – to even have the spare emotional space to ponder the best way to pack veggies for lunches in the office or wonder whether I will need to buy actual “dress pants”. 

And yet here is this fresh season with its upheaval of my routine and eating habits, and our family schedules and my perceived control over how I cook and eat and move my body, packed on top of the health anxiety of the perpetual pandemic that still stalks us all. This is where I am. Caring and praying and donating and reading about Afghanistan and Haiti and Lebanon and breakthrough infections and wildfires and floods, and still investing a lot of head space in my first day outfit selection.

Thought Better Of It

I decided to delete the essay I just posted about my current job search. While I think that many people, particularly mothers, can relate to the angst of going back to work full time after time away from the office-based workforce, I decided that it was not prudent to write and share about a job search process while I’m in the thick of it.

I may edit the post and re-publish it, or I may share it again after I’ve made some decisions about future work. In the meantime, I feel that it would be wiser to keep my ever-changing feelings about full/part time/remote/hybrid job opportunities closer to the vest.

To everyone on the job hunt in this season of perpetual pivots, I salute you.

Headshots

My LinkedIn profile photo was taken 12 years ago at my surprise engagement party. My now husband orchestrated the whole party so he could surprise me again the same night he shocked me by getting down on one knee in a snowy courtyard in Chicago. After I accepted his proposal, he told me that he had arranged for some friends to go out with us to celebrate the happy news. In fact, when I arrived at our double dates’ apartment, it was full of all our nearest and dearest and flutes of champagne.

The hostess of the party just happened to be a professional photographer, and she had her pro camera clicking away throughout the night. These candid shots of delight, surprise, and joy are some of my favorite photos of all time. 

I waited a respectable five minutes after this talented friend posted the party photos on Facebook to crop my brand new fiance out of my favorite snapshot of us and paste my beaming high-res face into the little LinkedIn circle. That little circle has represented me to the professional world ever since. 

I’m on the job hunt now for the first time in over seven years and my photo needed a refresh. Look at “engagement party” me and look at “now” me, and you can definitely tell that the old photo was about thirty pounds, a dozen years, a kid, a pandemic, and several thousand gray hairs ago. 

I texted my ride-or-die Roxanne, who is also a pro photographer (How fortunate am I that I know and love so many talented, creative people?), and booked a creative portrait session. She was delighted to work with me for this photo refresh, and we set a date for an outdoor “business casual” photo shoot during the week my daughter would be at camp all day.

That date got rained out.

Thank God. 

Of course I had waited until the night before to start trying on outfits from my former life as an office professional. And of course not one of those tops, blazers, or dress pants fit. Not one.

NOT.

ONE. 

When Roxanne and I texted about rescheduling the shoot for the next morning, I offered up an actual prayer of thanks for the rain delay and talked Les into agreeing to sit in the car with a book after our belated anniversary lunch that day so I could shop for a new outfit immediately after indulging in my favorite tapas and red sangria. 

After leaving my beloved to his own devices in the parking garage, I walked into Ann Taylor and started loading blouses and blazers over my arm. The sales associate started a fitting room for me while I scoured the clearance section. 

Sue was an excellent sales woman. She was honest and helpful and sympathetic. “I don’t fit into any of my professional clothes anymore”, I told her with tears eeking out the corners of my eyes. “Oh honey, you and every other woman who walks into this store these days.” I’d like to tell you that I found one perfect professional-looking combo and it was on sale and that I felt totally relieved.  

Not so, my friends. I panic-bought $400 worth of new workwear (Sue assured me that I could return what I didn’t use for the shoot), tried it all on in different combinations at least a dozen times at home, and tossed and turned all night that night while my anxiety screamed into my ears that I would look ridiculous, that only realtors and bank tellers wore blazers, that the new pink top was still too tight, and that my career had probably peaked four years ago. 

I feared that once I saw the photos of myself there would be no denying that I had aged and softened dramatically. I would have to face it. And not just face it myself, but thrust my profile photo and my resume and my roller coaster work history into the hands of potential employers. And let’s be honest, it can feel cringey to think about having photos taken of just you and your own face. Not family photos. Not a couple’s session. Nobody else’s torso to hide half of yours. Just you. 

So yeah, I didn’t sleep much the night before our rescheduled shoot. 

I arrived at our rendezvous point wearing my favorite goldenrod linen dress and my denim jacket and had hangers with my all time favorite burnt orange poplin top and jeans, and a pink chemise with a black blazer at the ready. Roxanne greeted me with her ubiquitous beaming smile and a huge hug. I was still trembling with the roil of anxiety, but it started to ease when I remembered I was in good hands. 

Roxanne and I have been friends since we both had a crush on our French TA in undergrad and we have been close to one another through SOME STUFF in the last twenty three years. In addition to being the #1 person to call for driveway margaritas in a pandemic, she has also been our family photographer since she started her photography business a few years ago. She has captured everything from my daughter’s baptism to our Christmas card photos to our emergency family + elderly dog photos taken in the last days of our beloved chihuahua’s life. It seems entirely fitting that she would be the one to coach me through the chin tilt and hand placement awkwardness of a portrait session as I queasily launch myself into a new career wilderness. 

I wasn’t at all worried about the quality of the photos because I knew for a fact that she would get some great shots. The anxiety was feasting on my self consciousness and existential angst.

Roxanne had scouted some remarkably flattering brick wall backdrops – yes, flattering walls are a thing – and cheered me on through hundreds of clicks and outtakes and wind-swept hair. She had a Girl Power playlist for inspiration. She kept me laughing and moving and smiling real smiles. It was – dare I say it – SUPER FUN. I even got to experience the rare thrill of changing into a different shirt outside with no cover – “Cheers!” to anyone who happened to drive by the parking garage side of the alley where I was posing. The biggest, weirdest rush I have had in public in a while. 

Note: You do not need to risk a Public Indecency citation to have a successful portrait session. We were rushing to beat the rain that had started to sprinkle again and didn’t want to risk a new downpour in the time it would take me to duck into a restroom to swap outfits. 

Roxanne sent me the edited batch of the best shots from our shoot, and I am so happy with them. Of course, you’re not going to love 100% of the photos taken of you, but there were a lot that looked professional AND really looked like Right Now Me. Me with the gray hair and bigger clothes and cheek dimples and bright lipstick. The person who is about to run after new job opportunities and is still processing her quickening creep through middle age. She’s strong, she’s wobbly, she’s rounder and crinklier than the person glowing in the engagement photos. 

She’s a hell of a lot more experienced. And she has plenty to offer the world. 

When I look at Right Now Me, today, through those photos, I’m thankful. Imperfectly, self-consciously thankful. Have you looked at yourself recently and really taken the time to see yourself? To thank your body for getting you through this past year? To notice things like how well your legs have aged, actually, and how you can wear a whole new color palette now that your gray hair gives you an almost platinum-blonde look? 

To think back over all the creme brulees you’ve let yourself savor, and all the moments you’ve said YES to a delight you would have denied yourself in your orthorexic youth? (I’m looking at you, gluten free lemon blueberry muffins from Blackberry Market).  

You do not need to wait until you feel like a model or a rock star (or, ahem, a published author?) to get a photo session. I recommend it. You may even get to do some shopping and whip your shirt off in an alley. It’ll be fun. 

Check out Roxanne’s work at www.hawaimages.com

Venus Fly Trap

One rainy afternoon about a month ago when we were limping along the uphill path between lunch and bedtime, I let my daughter look over my shoulder as I scrolled Instagram. She saw a video of a golden retriever puppy with the “I’m just a hap-hap-happy guy” soundtrack and she yanked the phone from my hand and demanded “Are there more videos of puppies in this thing?”

Oh kid. There are so many videos of puppies in this thing.

This began our ritual of indulging in exactly 10 minutes of Puppy Videos after lunch. She burrows into my lap and squeals with laughter as infantile voice-overs declare “I’m a pah-tay-toe” and sing the “Found a stick on the ground” song or any of the other two dozen repetitive ridiculous TikToks or Reels that people are making with their puppies these days. 

The tricky bit is that for every eight videos of a German Shepherd snuggling a kitten, there is at least one foul-mouthed, vulgar voiceover puppy video mixed in. I try to pre-screen them or stick with a reliable hashtag like GoldenDoodlesofInstagram, but still the swearing dogs sneak into the queue. 

I handle the sneaky profanity by casually brushing it off and scrolling quickly to the next video. “That video had some gross and rude words in it. We don’t use those words, and I don’t want you to hear them.” That’s been enough of an explanation so far. 

Yesterday, in an effort to minimize the number of F-bombs my kid hears while she digests her fruit snacks, I switched it up to a set of Reels that rotated puppy videos with videos of pandas and baby elephants and flying squirrels and whale calves breaching next to their mommas. 

I swiped up to the next adorable innocuous video, and my kid watched in horror as a beetle ambled into the jaws of a venus fly trap. She saw the spiked lobes clamp shut as the beetle struggled to escape. She burst into tears. “What is that? Mommy! What happened? Did the plant just trap that bug?”

“That’s a Venus Fly Trap. They eat bugs. They trap them in their petals and then they eat them.”

Her face pinked and she struggled to produce words through the gulp of hot tears. “You mean there are plants that kill animals? On purpose? Do they eat any other animals besides bugs? Do they eat butterflies? Can they trap humans? How big are they? Where do they grow? Does anything eat them?”

We watched a couple of kid-science videos about Venus Fly Traps and the facts seemed to help. Venus Fly Traps are small. They don’t grow around here. They don’t trap other kinds of animals. Lots of different kinds of animals eat Venus Fly Traps. We talked about how many kinds of creatures need to eat bugs to survive, and how if no other creatures ate bugs, the whole earth would just be so full of bugs we would never want to go outside. 

Somehow this spun out into a tearful discussion about death and God and her soft heart. We talked about how God is sad when even one creature dies, and that she is reflecting God’s image when she is sad about death. I made the mistake of mentioning souls, and she asked me to remind her what a soul is. I said it is what makes her who she is – what she thinks and feels and how she lives in the world. “I think my brain does most of that” she retorted. 

Touché, kid, touché. 

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

I was talking with her through her dribbling tears and she referred to God as “He” and then she remembered previous conversations and amended herself. “But God is not a he or a she! God is both!” Les chimed in from the table where he was clacking away at his laptop – “You know that Jesus said that God is like a mother chicken!” Her face unfurled into a huge wet-cheeked smile. 

“WHAAAAAAT??” 

“That’s right!” I said. “God is like a mother chicken who gathers up all her chicks under her wings. Do you remember we saw that video of the chicken sitting on her nest on the farm and then the person walked over and picked up the chicken and the chicken had actually been sitting on some tiny baby kittens? That’s what God is like! God gathers up anyone and everyone and takes care of them and loves them.”

She was giggling now, remembering the kittens under the chicken. “Momma! I bet God is like a banana!” “Really? Why?” “Because God is yellow and has a peel!” She collapsed in a pile of giggles. 

“I’m not sure God is like a banana, except for the fact that God is good for us like fruit.” 

We spent the next several minutes giggling over how God could be like a dog, or a tree, or an ant (God is patient and faithful, God is strong and provides things we need, God is always working for our good).

I’ve felt a bit uncomfortable talking with my kiddo about faith-related topics for about a year now, but that is starting to ease a little. Someday I may be ready to write about that, and what this season of intense untangling has been like for me. Maybe not. 

Let’s just say my relationship to my faith is complicated at the moment. God, it seems, is on the lookout for me as surely as I am on the lookout for God. Every time I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the abyss and screaming into the void, something pulls me back and dazzles me with beauty and God-ness. Creation, and my kiddo’s exquisite sensitivity to its fragility and interconnectedness tended the sore spots and scabs of faith I had been picking this weekend. 

God is like my daughter, whose heart breaks for the cruelty and sadness of the world.

God is like my daughter, who laughs at the ridiculousness baked into the system.

God is like my daughter, who pulls me deep into the wonder of this life, this earth, and reminds me that I have so much to learn.

It’s Time to Love Yourself in a Swimsuit

“You may not return this item if the hygiene strip has been removed”. 

The hygiene strip, dear reader, was indeed detached from one of the $100 swim suits I had ordered to try on. The strip stuck to the underwear I wore to shimmy into the pricey suits and fluttered to the bathroom floor as I peeled one of the candidates from my body. I tried to smooth the tacky strip back into place, but the dog hair and lint it had accumulated on its brief brush with our tile made reattachment impossible. 

That night, I stared at the ceiling rehearsing the speech I would give to the Customer Service rep first thing in the morning. “I promise I was wearing underwear! I know how bathing suit shopping works! I didn’t mean for it to come off or land in a swirl of hound dog dander and become unusable! I don’t think it was very sticky to begin with, if I’m perfectly honest. I need to get a refund for this suit. My boobs looked like sad beanbags in it, and it gave me one of those weird belly button ghost shadows in the middle. I cannot keep it. Please give me my money back.”

When I rolled out of bed, I called Customer Service. The 800 number opened for business at 7AM Eastern Time, so I spoke to Cheryl on the phone and told her my hygiene strip sob story before I even made coffee, before I had said more than three words to my kid. I could hear her keyboard clacking as she listened. “I made a note on your order that the hygiene strip on the navy blue suit was not very sticky and it came off during try-on and could not be reattached. I’ve made a note to please accept your return and process a refund.” I thanked her profusely and assured her that I had, in fact, found My Dream Suit from among the four contenders. “I’m so glad you found one that worked out for you! Enjoy!”

For the first time in my adult life, I think I actually WILL enjoy wearing a bathing suit. I found my dream suit, and I am still in shock. I haven’t taken it for a real test drive at the beach or the pool yet, but my daughter clapped and squealed “You look FAB-U-LOUS, mommy!” and Les gave me a thumbs up, followed by “Yeah! You look great!” when I stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in brilliant purple. 

It has a removeable halter strap, but I didn’t need it!

“Do I look $98 great? Because that’s how much this suit costs.” He looked a little shocked, but replied that if I felt good in it, and I knew I would wear it, I should keep it. He could see the look of genuine pleasure and confidence on my face. I clipped the tag immediately and yanked the hygiene strip from the crotch. The suit is now nestled like a treasure in my dresser drawer, just waiting for its debut at the lakefront or the pool. 

I’ve never spent an adult amount of money on a bathing suit. Throw me whatever Target clearance rack mismatched tankini pieces you have handy. But this year – THIS YEAR – I vowed to buy a bathing suit that fits my actual body and that cost more than $29.99. I took inventory of my summer wardrobe a few weeks ago and felt the elastic of one of my old swimsuits disintegrate within the seams as I attempted to try it on. I moved on to the tankini I bought two years ago. That suit still has functional elastic and technically, it still fits. It fits in the aggressively snug manner of a bathing suit that should be at least a half-size bigger. 

Did I really need a new bathing suit? A reasonable question. Historically, I haven’t done a lot of swimming or poolside lounging. But there’s a lot of pressure on this summer to make up for the utter garbage of last year’s cabin fever COVID summer. I have been imagining steamy afternoons at our favorite northside beach and the neighborhood pool with my kiddo. I’ve even entertained the idea of a road trip to my in-laws’ vacation condo in Florida, visualizing myself draped across an oversized pool float with a margarita in each hand. 

I decided not to let Snug Suit get in the way of my water fun summer dreams. I did what any rational person would do and I ordered eight bathing suits. Four bathing suits in different sizes and styles from a brand that I love but could never gulp down the price tag, and four from more modestly priced brands. I assured Les that I would only be keeping one of the eight, if any, and that I would return the rest before the credit card bill came due. And that is how I found myself with hundreds of dollars of nylon and spandex in boxes in my bedroom. 

As I clicked “Add to Cart”, I asked myself what it could be like to find a suit that I really love. What if I found a suit that sparked joy, even if it was not the suit that made my body look the smallest, or had the strongest spandex forcefield across the midsection to constrict all that wayward flesh into a more acceptable silhouette? Would it even be possible to love a suit that didn’t deliver a body shrinkage illusion? I was determined to find out. “It’s research. You know, for my writing!” I chirped as I eagerly jabbed “Checkout.”

First, I ordered four tankinis. I believed that dark colored tummy-hiding tankinis with sturdy push-or-pull up bras were my best option. I had tried those “Build Your Perfect Suit” combinations where you buy whatever top and whatever bottoms you like, but the results were just…awful. I’m trying to think of a more writerly way to say it. One brand offered “Tummy Control” tops, so of course I tried one. Go grab a fresh tube of toothpaste, take off the cap, and squeeze the tube from the dead center. That’s what a tummy control tankini top does to your midsection – it just rearranges the plush. And also, you can’t breathe. The other tops were either billowy and unflattering or too tight and unflattering. The shorty-style bottoms were too tight in the waist and the material was somehow scratchy? Positive visualization is important for stressful situations, so I visualized feeding all four of these tankinis into a wood chipper. 

After the tankini debacle, I went wild with hope and desperation and flew to the posher brand’s website and added four chic retro-vibe one piece numbers to my cart. I haven’t worn a one piece since my 20s. One piece suits, I believed, were only for the athletically svelte, not for those of us with bellies or bosoms in need of support.

A few days later, the box with the splurgey suits appeared on my doorstep. I sprinted to the bathroom and chopped open the box with some rusty old manicure scissors I found in the vanity drawer. I grabbed my top-pick suit and tore it from the plastic wrap. This was the suit I was just SURE was going to be the winner. Feminine, some fashionable ruching that didn’t scream “BELLY CAMOUFLAGE”, pretty pattern, and the same general cut I remember wearing when I last wore a one piece suit 15 years ago. 

I slid into that suit and instantly realized the difference between a $30 bathing suit and a $100 bathing suit. The material was buttery soft and not one inch of that suit pinched or smashed or strangled. No sagging or riding in the butt. It was a beautiful suit that, sadly, I had ordered in the wrong size AND had failed to appreciate the plunging drama of the neckline. I could have exchanged it for the proper size, if not for the fact that my boobs needed a lot more than an elegant nod to support, and definitely cannot be trusted around a v-neck that stops at the bottom of my sternum. Back into the wrapper. 

I grabbed the next suit, which had glowing reviews online from other women my size and build. Thank you, swimsuit reviewers of the internet, for being forthright with your size and measurements so we can all benefit from hive-mind consensus over whether an article of clothing is realistic on a size 12/14 middle age body when the brand model is a willowy 20-something. I started to step into this simple but feminine navy blue suit and immediately noticed that the hygiene strip was crunched and suspicious-looking. I was wearing my undies for this try-on sesh anyway, because I don’t trust anything that comes in contact with another person’s business, hygiene strip or no hygiene strip. I smoothed the strip and carried on with the try-on. No bust support, nothing in the midsection or other details to endear it to me. Not a winner. I peeled out of the suit and gasped in horror as the plastic strip fluttered to the floor. In that moment of fashion frenzy the lost strip was Future Jill’s problem, because I had two more suits to try. 

I had ordered the same suit in two sizes, each in a different color. The reviews for this ruched bandeau-style suit were too good to be true. I don’t wear strapless ANYTHING. I need straps – the thicker the better – to keep the girls hoisted into position and to avoid wardrobe malfunctions. But virtually every woman who reviewed this suit said a version of “Stop wondering if this suit will work for you and just buy the damn thing. IT WILL WORK.” It’s listed as a Best Seller on the brand’s site. It comes in pretty colors, and both of my preferred sizes were in stock. I bought a bright purple in my hopeful size and a dark green in my often-more-flattering larger size. 

When I put on that purple suit, I felt a strange sensation ripple through me. There, in the mirror, was my body in a bright bathing suit. A beautiful, flattering color. My bust looked spectacular – well supported, and shockingly, not at all like an indecency waiting to happen. I jumped up and down. Everything stayed in place. The silky soft ruched fabric created a lovely blurring effect throughout the torso without trying too hard for an optical illusion. No compression, no hidden corset panels. Other suits may have been better at visually slimming my waistline, but none of them made me feel so eager for a pool day. I felt beautiful in this suit, in my own body. Bright and happy and confident. I didn’t even take the dark green suit out of the wrapper. I just bolted into the bedroom where my husband and daughter awaited my fashion show and did a twirl.

I know that $98 is a lot to spend on a suit, and it’s not in everyone’s budget. It’s probably not really in my budget, to be honest. I don’t think you need to spend that much money to find the perfect suit for you, but try some shapes and styles that you’ve never tried before. And COLOR! For the love of all that is soft and fluffy, at least TRY a color other than black. You never know. You may find yourself naming your new suit (Iris) and tucking it into bed in your dresser drawer with a sigh of disbelief. For the first time in forever, I can’t wait to wear a bathing suit in public. And there’s not a “tummy control” panel in sight.

Hope and Death

My daughter and I watched a delicate little field mouse draw its last breath on our front stoop yesterday afternoon. Our hound dog’s face had just emerged triumphantly from the viney ground cover that lines our sidewalk and dropped the poor twitching creature from her mouth when I screamed “Daisy! No!”

My kiddo held hope for a few moments that the mouse was OK. “Maybe it just needs to rest a minute, mommy. It’s probably just scared.” It died as we hovered over it, trying to revive it with our wishes and whispered encouragement.

I buried it in the soft earth next to our garage. My daughter originally wanted to leave it for a scavenger, like they do when they discover a dead animal at her outdoor Kindergarten. Her school sprawls across 42 acres that includes wondrous wooded knolls, a natural pond, a small stream, dense underbrush, and wide open fields – a thriving suburban ecosystem. 

The first time the Forest Kindergarteners came upon a dead animal this year, her teacher sent an email to all the parents letting them know that they had found a dead bird, and that some of the children had decided to fashion a grave for it using rocks and twigs and leaves to make a circle around its body, and to say goodbye to it. “We left the bird for a creature who would make it a meal, and talked a little about the circle of life”. She attached a photo of children, including my kiddo, gingerly placing pebbles in a reverent ring around the body of the chestnut colored nuthatch.

When I buried the field mouse, my daughter confidently assured me that “It will be safe and cozy there in the dirt. Nothing can eat it.” I reminded her that, in fact, worms and other small creatures that live in the soil will eat it. This seemed to remind her of something her teacher told the class; “Oh yeah. That’s right. Dead things get eaten, too.”

She was calm and matter of fact about the mouse throughout this funeral rite, but when she told my husband, Les, about it later, she teared up a little bit. “It was so CUTE, daddy! So tiny and furry!”. She had also silently wept when I told her a few days ago that Les had squashed a big spider in the mudroom. “Why did he kill it, though? Why didn’t he take it outside? Why did he kill a living thing?”. Hot tears slid down her cheeks in genuine anguish.

We’ve talked about death regularly since our beloved Chihuahua mix died last summer. We told her that AuggieDoggie is with God, and that we’ll see him again some day. I believe that some version of that statement is true. We told her our current beliefs about heaven, and resurrection, and that God will make a new Earth someday and all the people and animals will be together again. Some days I waffle on how confident I am about that, but I don’t tell her about my doubts. I choose to project the most hopeful version of all the things I’ve believed and wrestled with over the last several years. 

I wonder whether she’s regaling her classmates with musings on eternity, as she often does with us.

“When God brings us back to life on the new Earth, we can jump from high up and not get hurt! And I won’t need a flu shot, because we can’t get sick!”

“On the new Earth, I bet the dinosaurs will have to all be in one place so they don’t try to eat us.”

“Auggie and Daisy will play together someday when we all die and come back to Earth!”

In the car on the way to school last week, I told her that my grandpa was missing a finger. His pinky finger had gotten cut off in an accident, and the doctors couldn’t reattach it. 

“When your grandpa comes back to life on the new Earth, will he have all his fingers?”

I’ve found a lot of comfort in her unmuddied focus on the wholeness and togetherness of the afterlife. She doesn’t seem terribly ruffled by thinking or talking about death. Her curiosity and open-hearted approach to these discussions feels healing to me. I spent at least 30 years terrified of death. 

In July, it will be 20 years since my dad died of complications from Type 1 Diabetes. He was 51 – just 8 years older than I am now. I was 23 when I got the call at 2:30 am that the disease that had ravaged his body since he was five years old had overtaken him. 

Growing up with a parent with a debilitating chronic illness can really do a number on one’s mental health. I didn’t realize just how sick he was, or how perilous every hospital stay really was, until I was in middle school. Once the reality of the situation hit home, I spent the next 11 years worried every day that that day would be the day that he died. Or worse! That somehow my mom would die before my dad, and we three kids would be left to care for him.

But don’t you worry, I also had a thick layer of Fear of Hell ladled on top of all that Fear of Dad Dying. And the Fear of Hell started much earlier. Because on top of the fear that my mom or dad could drop dead at any minute, I was also very much afraid that if I should be the one to die, I would almost certainly go directly to h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Why? Because according to the Southern Baptist preacher who yelled all the chapel sermons at the sleep-away church camp I attended with my cousin the summer after third grade, I hadn’t been properly baptized. One way ticket to a burning lake of fire, obviously.

I’m not going to church-bash here. I was raised in a church that did not adhere to the Turn or Burn agitation of some Protestant denominations. But when you’re a kid, and you have been raised since birth to revere clergy and to believe that every word of the Bible is literally true, hearing about how I would be physically tortured for all eternity when I died kept me up at night every night for three years. What if that guy was right, and my parents and pastor were wrong? That’s a story for another essay. 

Just know that I haven’t always been so hopeful or open-hearted about death. I’m not Protestant anymore, and I no longer believe in literal hell. My husband and I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy 6 years ago. One of the most healing and mind-blowing things I learned since becoming Orthodox is that the Eastern church has never embraced a doctrine of literal hell or eternal torment. The early church, and for millenia afterwards, the Eastern church, has embraced the mystery of God’s justice and perfect goodness with both arms around the assurance that we worship a Good God, who loves every single one of us. For eternity.

That’s what we teach our daughter. 

It’s not easy for me to talk about death with my kiddo, but it has gotten easier. Once you are not trying to tightrope across a narrative that the all-loving God who created you and pandas and tree peonies is the same God who would damn most humans to hell, the cognitive dissonance tumbles away in the wind. So does the fear. 

I can be more honest about what I believe, and what I don’t know about death and what happens after we die. None of us really knows, of course. But I have spent more time thinking about it than most people I know. My mom died eight years after my dad, when I was 31. We talk about Grandma Betty and Grandpa Scott regularly, and my daughter knows that they both were very sick when they died. 

“Do you think your mom and dad will like me when I meet them after I die?”

“Your mom and dad died when they were very sick. But you aren’t going to get sick and die. At least until you are very old and I am a grownup.”

“People don’t get to choose when to die, right? There’s no way for a person to make themselves die, right?” she asked one morning in the car. “God decides when someone will die.” That’s all I could scramble together in that moment, three minutes from turning into her school drop off line. 

“When your mom died, did you ever wish that you could die with her so you wouldn’t have to miss her so much?”

“I didn’t want to die with her. There were so many things I still wanted to do! I wanted to get married, and get a dog, and have a house, and travel and have adventures. I knew I would really, really miss her. But I also know I will see her again, and there are a lot of things I still wanted to do on this Earth, in this life.”

“Yeah. Me too. I don’t think I would want to die when you die, mom. But I think I would miss you too much.” 

“I miss my mom so, so much. And my dad. But I have you, and your dad, and my friends, and Daisy, and so many good and wonderful things here. I’m glad to be here with you, right now.”

“Me too, mom. Just don’t die until you are very, very old.”

“Deal. I’ll do my best.”