Coffee, Angels, & Hope

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Two Cups is my metaphor for life. One cup overflows with gratitude for all the blessings I’ve come upon as I’ve walked the path only I could walk—infinite, really. The other cup, only filled partway right now, are heartaches I’ve collected along my almost fifty years of living in this crazy world. It feels like a healthy balance to have so much goodness and a few hardships too. Perfectly imperfect. It’s kept me shooting for the stars while remaining grounded in real life too.

I’m extra grateful this year as I’m still here, sitting on my couch with a book about Christmas, Paris, love, and the heartache of loss. My cat is curled next to me whistling in her sleep, the fire crackles below four Christmas stockings my grandmother made for me and my three girls. The darkening sky above the bay is a soft grey, one that whispers words of serenity and peace.

This summer while on a vacation in Peru, my girls and I were in an accident where I was directly hit by a boat while we were motoring back to our cabin in the middle of the Amazon at night. I blacked out but heard the sound of a fishing boat hitting ours and then me. It took another two to four days before I realized I had bruises on my arm, dislocated ribs, and a head injury that has a 60-90 percent mortality rate. After the accident, my girls and I were taken by a different boat to the third-world-strip-mall, urgent care to have my lip sewn back together. Novocain was injected, but I wasn’t numb to the needle and thread pulled in and out of my gums in a hallway surrounded by the soundtrack of devastation. Nine stitches, mostly on the inside, answered my prayer that it would be “better than I think it will be.”

The next morning I drank more coffee than I usually do because I had a Seattle-sized tumbler with a lid for my swollen lip covered in a bandage. And, perhaps, I was in shock and kept sipping, reliving the events of the previous night. “What the hell? It’s a family vacation!” What was happening inside my head was the bleeding veins between my skull and brain on my left side were being constricted by the extra caffeine. It only took a half hour for the bleeding to stop before my body encapsulated the blood like a blood blister and pushed my brain over just enough to give me a freight-train headache through the center of my being. This headache was enough to get us out of the jungle and back to civilization where there is migraine medicine, a real hospital, and people who could help me and my three kids get out of the country. We got our two weeks worth of clothes and souvenirs packed and back on the long, narrow boat for the 45 minute ride to the tiny airport and then to Cuzco at 12,000 feet where we spent the afternoon waiting for our flight to Lima. It just so happens that altitude is also a blood vessel constrictor. Lucky for me.

But for the Starbucks mug I got in Lima at the beginning of the trip, drinking too much coffee, and having lunch at 12,000 feet, I might not be here this Christmas. I would have stayed for another day and a half in the humid jungle where blood vessels remain in full dilation. I would have thought my headache was a regular migraine with the added benefit of being hit in the mouth and this would have caused me to continue to bleed until it was too late. I may have been on the airplane with my three kids heading back the next day. I may have had to have surgery in Peru to relieve the pressure of two days of bleeding inside my skull. If I would have made it through, only 30 percent make a full recovery after surgery when bleeding is undetected for too long. This is what makes subdural hematomas the most severe of head injuries—you don’t know it’s serious until it’s almost too late.

Angels were in the Amazon. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. The first being, our group of eleven didn’t get thrown into the murky water where caiman (alligator family) and other terrifying creatures live. There were five kids on board… Just the trauma of being thrown into that water in the dark… I believe my angels were my four grandparents I’ve lost in the last handful of years – Elwyn and Shirley, and Alice and John. I was protected in the Amazon until we were able to get all the way back to Seattle where I realized I might have a severe concussion. Yep, and then some. And, I was protected at home when I sent a prayer request because the hematomas got bigger and surgery was a real possibility. Hundreds of Facebook friends responded. I was sent to a different doctor at the last minute and he said we would wait despite the CT scan. After two weeks of excruciating headaches, they stopped completely with the prayer, thoughts, and love that were sent my way—the very next day. Gone.

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Four months later, I’m doing so much better. Christmas is busy always, but it’s seemed like a little extra overload this year. Cookies didn’t get baked and not enough holiday movies watched from the couch all together. We had to get two Christmas trees because the first one was picked out in haste during a homework break at dusk. It was too small, “just not right.” Not to mention two sets of cards because there was a typo on the first set. Once again, life moving too fast.

The moments though… We had the best time shopping for each other in Seattle. We saw Annie: The Musical at the 5thAvenue Theater. We watched a couple movies and got to sleep in a few days. My family, aunts, uncles, and cousins came over for Christmas Eve. It was magical. Our morning was lovely too – matching pajamas, Christmas music, the fire flickering, twinkling lights on the tree and mantel, presents opened, and pumpkin pie and homemade whipping cream for breakfast. Around noon I helped my girls put all their things in Ellie’s car and off they went to celebrate the holidays with their dad and his family.

The house is peacefully silent now. I’m still in my pajamas and the filtered sun won’t shine again until tomorrow. It’s not picture-perfect, but it’s been a beautiful day. I’m surrounded by love and grace. My girls gave me the softest blanket I’ve ever touched (ever), photographs of my girls with Santa through the years sit on the table behind the couch, a nativity scene on the piano, a “perfect” (second) Christmas tree with ornaments I’ve collected since I was young, art, flowers, and even my cat and dog, surround me as a reflect on where I’ve been, how blessed I am to get to live this life of mine, and what’s ahead in the new year.

We all have moments of absolute magic and moments of deep grief for what was lost or what will never come to be. Me, too. I’ve decided I’m going to live for the magic, the connections to others whether minutes or a lifetime, and, most importantly, for the love I can give to those in my circle and their love given right back.

This is life. It’s two cups at the same time. Sometimes one cup is overflowing like a Starbucks cup from Peru. It’s easy to keep refilling until you have to get out of the jungle—right now. The cups are not always marked clearly. The cup of heartache just might turn into the cup that saves you, but patience is required. It’s happened over and over for me.

The only thing I need to remember is to accept whatever comes, have faith I will be okay no matter what, and hold onto the hope that is infused in both cups. I’ve learned that everything in this beautiful, messy life is meant for me. I get to decide the narrative, even when it’s as crazy as a rogue fishing boat hitting me in the middle of Peru on our family vacation.

There is always, always something to be thankful for… Today, I am thankful for every single thing because I almost lost this life. This Christmas I was given perspective and that grace surrounds me like the softest blanket I’ve ever been wrapped in.

May you also know for sure that no matter what, life is so, so good. Love and grace are protecting you too. xo

Walking Out the Door

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Have you ever been afraid to be away from your house? Afraid to say yes to anything—an invitation to a get-together, a party, a walk in the forest with friends? Have you been the kind of afraid that does not consult with your head, you just turn the other way and run or stay in a book on the couch or in your bed for twelve hours awake seeing nothing, listening to the sound of your own breathing?

I have.

It’s not who I am, I’ve always said yes, at least since I decided that I wanted to be a person who always said yes. I turned the button to fear off completely. I said yes to the things that made my heart quake but ventured forth anyway. I said yes even when every cell in me screamed NO! I turned my head, smiled and said, “Yes, I would love to, give me two minutes.” I said yes to selling books door-to-door for thirteen hours a day, on commission, in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the summertime! I said yes to jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 13,000 feet in the air, hurling myself down black diamond ski runs before I really knew how to ski, going away to college a couple months after my third stepmother died of cancer, getting married the first time even when my dreams all but slapped me in the face and told me to run because somehow the dream world knew I was not ready. And then I said yes to leaving the boy I’d grown up with because eventually, my heart message made its way to my head.

My internal guide was rendered voiceless from a very early age. I said yes to moving to New Jersey, going to graduate school at night while working fifty hour work weeks, and climbing the corporate ladder faster than others thought was appropriate. They complained. “Why does she get a different ladder?” I said I’m so sorry, you can come this way too.

Climb that mountain? Yes. Run that race? Yes. Grab my friend out of the abyss? Yes. Have a party? Yes. I said yes I can do that until I could not say yes one more time. I said yes until even speaking the word was too much. And then I stopped—for an entire year. I followed the breadcrumb path to my girls’ school and back, to the store and back, the soccer games and back. It was all I could do. Friends said, “I miss you, let’s have coffee or lunch.” I said I would love to but I couldn’t reach out farther than my own front door.

Last September, my head told me I needed to get myself back together. I’d been talking about writing a book for three years. I’d read a hundred books about writing a book, sat through a hundred hours of lectures, written hundreds of pages of notes in notebooks, and my mind swirled the story around hundreds of times yet I had not opened up my laptop and typed one word. Write the damn book! my head screamed. You are all talk, no action. Maybe you can’t do it. Maybe you will never recover from losing the life you thought you had. Maybe you will never be the person you used to be…

 I could hear them through the walls. “She used to do it all, but she was never the same after the divorce,” these people whispered.

And then courage floated in on a rain cloud one fall afternoon last year. I decided that I needed to be accountable if only to myself, so I signed up for an online class that came with a book coach. I sent ten pages in every week and Collette gave me feedback; she was a cheerful coach who told me everything I did was great. It helped. I could do this class sitting at my kitchen table with my dog next to me on the floor and my cat vying for a nap on my keyboard while I watched the weather coming and going.

I decided I needed to meet other people who write books and learn what they learn, so I signed up for a workshop on how to write that took me to Salem, Massachusetts where girls were deemed witches if they dared to speak their mind once upon a time. Thankfully, my lovely friend, Angela, joined me. My true self was coaxed out of hiding just a little bit more.

My head told me I needed a goal. You need to write this book before the end of next summer, she said. So, I signed up for two different writer’s conferences the following July and August to pitch my ‘finished’ book to agents and editors. I did it all in an afternoon. It was easy. I just sat down at my computer with my credit card while my heart felt happy surrounded by spa music and crystal rocks. I did it, I said. Oh, wait…

New York City was the last of my accountability action plan. I really wanted to cancel. I’m not done with my book is an easy justification. Agents only want finished manuscripts you see. I’m super busy, I’ll miss Lexie’s summer camp play, I’ve been gone too much, Sage and Apple have a hard time when I’m gone, there are only a couple more weeks of this gorgeous summer in the Pacific Northwest… The reasons went on and on.

The real reason is it scared the hell out of me. It scared me to get on an airplane and fly to New York—something I used to do without a second thought. It scared me that I don’t know anyone. It scared me that I would have to make my way from New Jersey into Manhattan on the train, which I’d never done before. It scared me that I would be told no, you’re not good enough over and over. It scared me to leave my house by myself, without the responsibility of being the mother. (I have a special cape I wear so my kids don’t pick up on my anxiety—it looks like a pasted on smile.)

But I did it anyway, just like my old self but the fear button is stuck in the ‘on’ position now. It was okay that I was feeling scared, I walked forward anyway. Maybe it would take four hours to figure out the train, but there is no hurry. I told myself it doesn’t matter what happens, it’s good enough you are here.

I happen to think my book is good and that when it’s published it will help many people navigate divorce in a more compassionate way because they read my story. This is enough. I remind myself that when I’ve been the most successful it’s been after I’ve had the most dismal failures or that ‘no’ was said to me more than anyone else in the group or that it simply doesn’t matter. I’ve succeeded if only because I’m sitting in a Manhattan hotel room after pitching to a handful of agents and I accomplished what I set out to accomplish: I have almost finished a book, I’ve put my shattered heart back together, I’ve forgiven those who were responsible, and I walked out my front door. I am moving forward body, mind, spirit, and heart. I am not broken anymore, but I am changed and for that I am grateful.

Father’s Days Gone By

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The day is heavy as it is when it starts off with rain. Water hangs in the air, I can see it but my coat remains dry. Sage pulls on the leash, eager to go for a walk after being housebound too many days due to a cold I can’t seem to shake; the kind that renders you voiceless for days. The neighborhood seems abandoned, not even a car drives by.

Halfway down I hear barking from across the road but keep my head down shuffling thoughts of Father’s Days gone by. This is heavy too. My default expectation is stuck on everyone-all-together; it’s my favorite place. The BBQ, my children’s father, dad, grandfathers, father-in-laws plus our counterparts and children mixed in, is the perfect day. Things have changed since that day. I’m going to see my dad today and how grateful I am I can, yet the pin drop of euphoria from that other day in the past keeps me stuck.

Sage pulls toward the barking and I notice one gentle soul walking his small dog, which is now running across the street. His owner walking slowly behind. We both wave and smile. The man has white hair, lines that bend up toward the color of the ocean under the folds covering his eyes. He is wearing trousers and a Nordic sweater.

“She doesn’t like to walk with the leash, but then runs away when she sees other dogs or cats,” he says. I walk toward him so he can catch her. He is a sparkly one, maybe in his mid to late eighties. This man has been loved but he doesn’t wear a ring.

“You got her now?”

“Yes, thank you for waiting,” he says.
“Hope you have a really great day.” I wanted to wish him happy Father’s Day but I decided against it just in case. He’s the kind of person that draws you in by their gentle energy.

“Have you been to the Tall Ships?” he asks just as I’m about to continue down the hill.

“I haven’t yet, but I’ve seen the pictures,” I tell him. “It looks amazing.”

“Well, it’s not as good as last year. The ships from Argentina and Mexico and Germany didn’t come this year. Last year it was much better,” he tells me.

“I wonder why they didn’t come?”

“I’m not sure. Last year I went and talked to some of the captains and the owners. There was a woman from Germany who owned this great big sailboat. She was quite amazing. And it was great to talk in German as well,” he says as his voice trails off. Anyway, the parking is not great and the access is hard. I would save your money this year,” he warns.

“Okay, well thank you. I’ll take a look when I drive by later. You have a really wonderful day.” I smile as much as I can to show him kindness, that I see him.

“Thank you, you too,” he says with a wide smile. I continue on for a few steps and then turn around to walk backward so I can watch this beautiful man continue back to his home. I gather as much love from the universe as I can hold and send it all to him. I wish I could follow him, listen to his stories, and give him a hug. I wonder if he’s alone or if he has kids, where in Germany he’s from, how he got here to North Tacoma. I wonder if he’s thinking about past Father’s Days and if he has a favorite.

I continue on my walk feeling blessed to have been touched by someone who is closer to heaven than me, who lived well, who was loved, who lets his little dog walk without a leash.

The day feels  lighter.

The Life Reshuffle…

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Divorce was the nightmare I didn’t remember in the morning until I was shoved into the front seat of the big screen called my life. It felt like being kicked out of the tribe, it felt like death — the death of my husband, my own death, my family, my community of friends, my home, my life projection, of my family’s collective innocence; it’s the death of every single thing I understood about who I was and what my life consisted of past, present, and future. Every memory, experience, decision, conversation, and even thoughts had to be reshuffled through this new reality.

The world you thought you lived in crumbles before your eyes yet no one else can see it. There is nothing to hold on to. The ones who haven’t been there don’t know (just like I didn’t know) and the ones that have, well most can’t look too closely at something that caused complete destruction once upon a time. This is called the hero’s journey, a spiritual transformation where the person you thought you were is hurled into the abyss to disintegrate. You didn’t get to choose your path because who the hell would choose that?

But, once you accept this new reality, you allow yourself to feel your broken heart, you finally get some choices once again. You get to choose to stay there decimated by the aftermath or fly out from the ashes like the phoenix of Greek mythology. The one glitch in the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ argument is you get to choose how long to stay under the fray as well. It has been said that the phoenix can remain in the ashes for up to 1,400 years. It’s only been three years for me. It took forty-five years of layers to become the person I was before the earth spun off its axis, it might take some more time before I’m ready to fly once again.

You don’t realize those layers of certainty were holding you up until you are shaken to your core. It’s okay to start again. Grace and compassion and love for who you are, what you’ve been through, and the journey ahead is required. And, who knows, maybe at the end of this life there will be a special room with fancier snacks and a view for those who’ve had to fly through the abyss. Maybe. xo

“Divorce is far more than simply a change in family structure. It’s a reorganization of your entire life. Your entire self. It’s a massive transformation. A time when everything is called into question and nothing is certain. It’s also an opportunity. A crack in the bedrock allowing a change in course, an alteration of spirit. You can stay at rock bottom. Or you can choose to build.”

https://www.divorceforce.com/article/5-things-you-don-t-understand-about-divorce-until-you-ve-lived-through-it-by-lisa-arends

Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post5)

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Grief, loss, devastation can come from so many angles–the death of a partner or loved one, a medical diagnosis, divorce, job loss, an accident, natural disaster even the loss of a friend… Most of the time we don’t see it coming. One minute we are marveling at the beauty of the rhythmic waves and the next, swept under, choking, gasping, saltwater burning our lungs.

There is no better or worse when it comes to tragic turns in our lives. The world you know is turned upside down. You don’t know where you are or where you’re going but you can’t go back the way you came. The portal has been closed. No one you know is there and the ones you thought were by your side, can’t travel with you for so many reasons. You can ask them to and they might even want to, but they can’t step into this new place any more than you can go back to the familiar and safe. Everything has changed. You have to gather your shattered self up off the ground in your own time, hold on to those who were deported with you, and walk forward.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to make it back; sometimes the people who love you will hold a place for you. And sometimes not, but either way memories of that far off land will remain forever. xo

Write Now

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The time is NOW.

I have a business degree and had a successful marketing career I loved in another lifetime, but through the twists and turns of life (i.e. three children, a specific life set up chosen by mutual commitment–also in another lifetime–and an internal gauge that doesn’t allow more than one setting at a time), I no longer crave the fast-paced, hand-shaking, yes-hustling, suit-wearing, jet-traveling, conference-room-brainstorming world of yesteryear.

The passion I pursue is storytelling layered with why people do the things they do, how the times we live in and people we live with shape us; what it means to be one person in this big world and one person in our own small world. The first story I need to tell is my own and it’s the story of how I lost my parents through divorce, heartache, and growing up. It feels like a giant dough ball I keep kneading and pulling apart and putting back together. I have been working that dough ball for quite some time, along with the little thing called learning to write. It feels important. 

I had a good childhood but a lot went wrong too and I used to blame all of it on my parent’s divorce when I was four-years-old. My absolute worst fear ambushed me when I went through my own traumatic divorce a couple years ago. Juxtaposing my adult experience with my childhood was terrifying and I will have to write that book when I no longer relive those few years.

Alas all is well now, I landed that highjacked plane, but I have learned some things from my child eyes, two decades of obsession with understanding human nature, and watching my three girls during our family upheaval. The story I can tell is how divorce was done in the 70s and 80s is no longer the same today. My generation was the first to experience divorce en mass, where over a million kids per year lost a parent, and maybe two by their other parent’s grief, pursuit of new love, or working three jobs. The divorce rate shot up to fifty percent by 1980. It was a crazy time. Governor Ronald Reagan signed the No Fault Divorce laws in California in 1969 (one month before I was born,) our country’s social and political structures made seismic shifts toward chaos, and yet many young people still wanted to believe the Leave It To Beaver pace of life would hold them. It didn’t, as many can attest.

I have read too many books about writing, purchased even more and I’ve been to many conferences and talks to teach myself how to write creatively. Turns out business writing isn’t so creative. I wish I could have just download the software since I already have enough school. Darn. Anyway, the time is NOW. I am starting this book and the above chart will mostly likely be the trajectory of my progress.

Let momentum be my kick in the…buns.

Our Beloved Papa…

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Elwyn Bushaw, 89 years old, was born in Bismarck, North Dakota to William and Bertha Bushaw on February 19, 1925. He served with pride and honor in the United States Navy from 1942 until 1946. His family moved from a farm in Grand Forks, North Dakota to Seattle where he learned the sheet metal trade with many of his dark-haired, sparkly-eyed brothers. He met the love of his life, Shirley Darlene Hanson, while roller dancing in White Center. Elwyn asked Shirley if she was from North Dakota as he recognized her roller skating style. They were married within the month of meeting and very quickly inseparable for almost 70 years. Together they raised their three children, Doug, Greg and Debbie. No one felt Elwyn’s fun-loving, generous spirit more than his eleven grandchildren: Janna, Jeff, Heather, Carrie, Lindsay, Shannon, Eric, Tom, Kevin, Kurt, and Sheryl and fifteen great-grandchildren. Elwyn was the head of our family who spent holidays, birthdays, weddings, family BBQs together. Our Christmas Eve parties call to each of us no matter where we are in the world – even if it means by phone or Facetime. Papa loved being with the kids as much as they loved being with him. Our big family is home.

Elwyn grew up in a family of fourteen on a farm in a very different time. His dad drove the kids to school in a horse drawn wagon with coal in the back to keep them warm on the cold winter days. He had to leave school in the eighth grade to help his family on the farm. Elwyn is preceded in death by his brothers and sisters: Elroy, Kenny, Donny, Erwin, Ebert, Lloyd, sisters Edna, Valoyce, Maxine, and Laverne. He is survived by his loving wife, Shirley, his sons, Doug Bushaw (Roxanne) and Greg Bushaw (Kim), daughter Debbie Ziebarth (Jim), and brother Bob.

Elwyn’s career was in the sheet metal trade after putting himself through school and supporting a young family. He was a brilliant mathematician who could visualize and lay-out sheets of metal that only machines can do today. His grandchildren marveled at how many and fast he could manipulate numbers. Young apprentices to the owners of the companies he worked for, appreciated his natural abilities to get any job, not only done, but done perfectly the first time. Elwyn loved his work and took great pride in a job well done.

He was a self-taught jack-of-all-trades. Doug and Greg remember helping their dad dig out the basement of the family home on Military Road in South Seattle. Elwyn could make just about anything. One year he made his family and friends truck canopies out of sheet metal for their weekend camping trips. He gave freely of his time, energy and talent and remodeled many of our homes. Shirley was right there beside him cleaning, painting and cooking; together they made a great team.

Elwyn lived the All-American life full of family, friends, love, laughter, a few tears, work and play. Over the years, Elwyn and Shirley were involved in bowling and square dancing. They loved to play cards with friends and family, sometimes late into the night. Later in the years, Elwyn enjoyed blackjack at the casino and taught the grandkids and great-grandkids the science of cards. Picture books are full of memories of parties in the dugout basement, gardening, and swimming in their pool on hot days. The family spent almost every weekend camping and fishing from the time the kids were small, far into grandchildren coming along happily playing in the dirt. The two of them could dance like there was no one else in the room, floating across the floor on a cloud of their own making. They were poetry in motion. There are many great memories of camping in Eastern Washington where Willard’s Resort became the “Bushaw Family Compound” with all of the aunts, uncles and cousins. These are such wonderful memories for all who were part of the Bushaw Family.

Elwyn led a full and wonderful life. He demonstrated true values of unconditional love, generosity of spirit, and shared what he had, what he knew and his wisdom collected over the years. He was devoted to his wife, Shirley, his children and grandchildren. There was rarely a time he didn’t profess his love for his family and his beloved wife. They were almost one spirit, hand-in-hand, never leaving each other’s side. Their love for each other was of fairytales and dreams; authentic, true, everlasting. We feel your spirit within each of us, Papa. Our memories of you so deep, your presence is with us wherever we are and for all of time. May you rest in peace…

Written by Kim Bushaw and Janna Bushaw