“You do not have to be good.”

I’ve always enjoyed Mary Oliver’s poetry, and “Wild Geese” is one of her most popular ones for good reason. But it’s been a while since I read it, and earlier this week, I saw the first line of the poem, “You do not have to be good” in someone’s email signature. It stopped me from moving past the email, from doing much of anything really, except crying. What was it about that line that got to me?

I found the poem and like nearly every other time I’ve read it, I got stuck on the line “Meanwhile the world goes on.” I never hated that phrase until my brother died. The world was supposed to stop that day. I wanted what W.H. Auden wanted in his “Funeral Blues” poem, to “stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” How could the people on the planet be so cruel as to keep on living while my brother could not?

And now here it is, five years later today. This shit hole of a world didn’t stop. It’s certainly gotten worse, but it hasn’t stopped.

So, I went back to “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver and read the poem again. I stopped at my usual line, then finally pushed on. I had never understood the poem, really, because I could never finish it. My anger and grief built a wall tall enough for me not to see or hear anything further after “the world goes on.” Now I finally see what the fuss is about.

“Wild Geese” is about living. It hasn’t been easy for me to really do that these past five years. I tried but have often failed. I did start learning to appreciate the little things in life that make me laugh or bring me joy–just watching dragonflies flit around my head made me so happy that I logged it in my brain to remember later. I have tried to cement a few friendships and relationships that I never, ever want to lose. But I also cut a few people loose that were not good for me. I want to and need to do more of that in the future.

I’m not much of a risk taker, so I won’t be skydiving or jumping off cliffs to swim with sharks. I won’t be traveling the world, only because I don’t have the financial means to do so. But I’ll at least get my passport so if a windfall of cash comes my way, I might finally be able to go to Europe or even see my lovely friend and soul sister, Becky in Mexico. But what else?

Knowing I was a step away from pancreatic cancer and also knowing that my big brother never got this second chance that I have now, I don’t want to piss it away. But unfortunately, bills still have to be paid and responsibilities still have to be tended to. Is there a way to fit in this new vigor for life into my current life?

I’ve recently begun training to be a volunteer for The Trevor Project. This will require one 3-hour shift per week and the training is 10 weeks long. It’s quite a process and I love it. I’m learning so much and honestly, it’s really difficult. But I’m so, so happy to do it. Watching my son and his friends try to live their lives and seeing how much pain some of them have gone through specifically from being part of the LGBTQ+ community, has given me the push to help more young people like them. And hopefully I can.

I’ve also signed up to train as a hospice volunteer. Training starts with that in the fall, with a 2-hour shift requirement per week. This has been a passion of mine for a while now, especially after talking and working with Mom’s hospice nurse. I’d like to be able to help patients and/or their families in any way I am able.

So…back to the “You do not have to be good” line. There is SO much in that line to unpack. First, I saw the sentence in a hospice worker’s email, and I think it’s one reason why it caught me off guard. I had forgotten the line and maybe when I read it before it just didn’t mean much to me then. But now it means everything. I think I cried because I immediately thought of my brother. Much of his life, especially his adult life, he lived with no excuses and no regrets. You didn’t like how he lived his life? “Fuck you,” he’d say and sometimes with a smile. To me he always lived as large a life as he could with what he had. He was loyal to his friends and family and loved us fiercely. He was a voracious reader and wrote humor, horror, romance and erotica, and sometimes all in the same story. He was known for his morbid and often perverted sense of humor that often had you shaking your head but also holding your belly from laughing so hard. He was a giant of a man with a giant heart.

But again, why did “you do not have to be good” resonate? Because Phil was like that. He wasn’t always “good” and certainly didn’t get on his knees to repent (he got on his knees for other activities), but he loved what he loved and loved whom he loved. And he lived. For those few 49 years and 33 days, he fucking lived. No excuses. No regrets.

I’m trying to be like my big brother. I want to fucking live, too. Volunteering at these two places is one way I can live more like I want to. It may seem like this isn’t me jumping out of an airplane, but it sort of is. This is me putting my heart out there and seeing people when they are at their most vulnerable–asking for help because they don’t feel heard or understood or loved and just want to die, and those that are actively dying or watching their loved ones go through that process. I suppose I’m trying to save lives with one position and help those die with dignity with the other.

Will these activities make me happier? Eh, I don’t even like that word right now. That’s a blog post for another time. But I think the work will help me feel fulfilled. Being a librarian was always what did that for me but being a library director is not the same. I’m fortunate to work in a small, rural library so I still get to know and help people, but nothing like what I did before. Now there’s too much of the bureaucratic bullshit and that part sucks. Right now, though, it’s where I need to be.

There are other things I need to do to make my life a better one: getting rid of more “stuff,” finding my own space in my home, eliminating more debt, writing and reading more poetry, keeping up those forever friendships and relationships, and having more new experiences. Will I have time or energy to do it all?

Probably not, but I have to try, right?

Not just for me, but for Phil. At 49 years and 39 days old, I am officially older than my big brother. It’s time for me to try and live, to prove to him and to myself, that I don’t waste this “one wild and precious life.” (Seriously, Mary Oliver was kick ass, so check her stuff out.) Sometimes that might mean I take a walk to observe the leaves dancing in the trees or to see that momma turkey and her adolescents wander the field instead of finishing a book I was supposed to read for work. Or it might mean giving up an evening of relaxing to talk with a friend who needs a shoulder to lean on. Or it could mean that I make some bigger changes in my life and figure out who Holly is.

Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I wish Phil were here, too. I know he’d have a lot to say about it, and it would probably be a bit sarcastic and/or hilarious, and also said with love.

If you ever met my brother, I hope you think of him today. I won’t let him be forgotten, so even if you didn’t know him, think of him anyway. Just know that you probably would have liked him. I certainly did.

Phil’s potholder codpiece.

How I Am. Really.

As many of you know, recovering from any kind of surgery takes time. It’s typically not pleasant. There are wounds to care for, pain to manage, and a wide variety of little issues you may have never had and now have no idea if it’s “normal” or if something is wrong. For instance, my chest hurt quite a bit while I was in the hospital having the tail of my pancreas removed (distal pancreatectomy). When I asked one of my doctors about it, she informed me that my pain was legitimate since they were up in my ribcage at one point and she could see where my heart was beating. 😳

It’s been 2 1/2 weeks since the surgery and I’ve really been recovering well. I did feel awful after getting home and I was frustrated and angry and sad. My husband was sick with some kind of infection, and he did not have the capacity to take care of me. I’m not gonna lie–that was heartbreaking for me. I needed him and he just couldn’t deliver. Our son helped me tremendously though and one of my dearest friends in the world visited me with treats and conversation and it gave me a great boost. All in all I didn’t think I was doing that badly. And then I took a survey the surgeons sent me. And when I finished, they told me to call the doctor. It was because I wasn’t moving much, I was in pain and trying to go by what they did in the hospital, and I was honest about my depressed state. But I was grateful for the survey because it made me look at what I was doing and feeling, and I had to change.

Instead of calling the surgeon, I got up and moved every hour, took mini walks with my son, changed my pain meds to make sure something was always in my system (only Tylenol and ibuprofren). But I started to feel a bit better, or at least more in control. (And I wish I could tell you more about what I can eat and can’t eat, because it’s still a crap shoot.)

The next day, 8 days post-op, I went to see my PCP like you’re supposed to. I think I’ve talked about Dr. Lauer here before. He’s a great guy, my age, and has become like a family friend. I have his personal cell phone number and I text him with concerns and he actually responds. (We should all have doctors like this!) When he walked into the exam room, he first told me how great I looked. “Umm…you look 7 weeks post-op, not 1 week.” See why I love him? 😉

He did an exam, we talked about the surgery, what I was doing, etc. He asked me to not run or train for anything for 12 weeks, and for the first time in my running years, I was happy to say yes. The thought of running right now is painful. We talked about my spleen, and the hope that the few blood vessels going to it now can keep it healthy. We discussed the possibility of diabetes and having to take enzymes, but right now we just see how I heal and go from there.

Then he went over the pathology report with me. When Dr. MacGillivray removed the tail of my pancreas, he sent it to the lab for them to dissect it and see what’s what. Dr. Lauer was reading it out loud and then stopped. At this point, I’m still lying on the table after the exam because I’m tired and didn’t want to get up yet. I looked over at him as he’s reading and I said, “I’m not sure what that means.” He repeated part of the report and said, “You just sidestepped pancreatic cancer.” If I had put my surgery off, which is what the great doctors at Portland Gastro told me to NOT do (they said to please get it done within a year, but preferably before fall), then I might be talking about chemo in this post instead. I knew the lesions on the tail were precancerous but having my doctor (and then my surgeon) say that I was able to avoid pancreatic cancer, at least for now, was a bit mind-blowing.

Dr. Lauer then went on to give me this lovely philosophical speech about letting go of people or situations in my life that I’ve been fretting over. “This is a new path forward,” he said. He had a few medical situations in his own life recently and it’s made him look at his life and everything around him a little differently.

As he was giving me this talk, I got very teary of course. Not just because I was feeling grateful and proud that I took charge of my health and that my doctor listened to me when I had problems, but also because I was sitting in my doctor’s office at the age of 49 and being told that I had a new lease on life. But my beautiful, funny, big-hearted brother never got this speech. Instead, he was being told at 49 that he had to choose to either stay on those machines to keep him alive or die.

To say I was feeling a huge mixed bag of emotions is an understatement.

But…I was and am grateful.

I hugged my doctor before I left, then told my son who was in the waiting room the news and he smiled a big smile and hugged me. My husband had a delayed reaction, but there have been lots of “I can’t live without you” moments. Plus we’ve agreed that he has to die first so there’s that. 😉

My appointment with my surgeon the following week was not so joyful. The physician’s assistant was awesome, and she told me how fabulous I looked and was happy with my numbers. The surgeon, Dr MacGillivray, doesn’t have the best personality. He knows his shit, which is what matters, but he did tell me that it’s possible the rest of my pancreas could still become cancerous, and we have to scan it each year to check on it, as well as my spleen to make sure that it doesn’t die. I asked, “Since I had precancer in my pancreas, what about the rest of my body?” But he couldn’t answer that, and it left me feeling bereft.

When I left that office, I ended up going to Holy Donut and eating a gorgeous gluten-free donut while walking around a park in Portland. At first, I was like, “Ok, Holly, just enjoy this delicious treat and the sunshine and the beautiful space.” And I did. And then I ended up angry eating the last half of it. I should have thrown part of it to the ducks, but I said, “Fuck it” and ate it. (These are delicious and large and expensive, so the thought of throwing away any of it seemed insane.)

Later that day I cried and cried with a dear friend about the whole situation. We talked about it and I had to just let all of that news settle. I had been on high, thinking I had dodged this big bullet, which I did, but then the surgeon was waiting for more rounds to shoot my way.

So what did I do? I texted Dr. Lauer. He reminded me of the major scans I had done in the spring that showed no cancer anywhere else and I didn’t have symptoms of other cancers. He told me that he’d let me know when to worry, but now wasn’t the time. 🙂

And so I’ve taken his advice. My job now is to heal. I have definitely been doing way too much–I was walking up to 2 miles at a time, and that would have been fine if I didn’t try and do other things during the day. But I did and this past weekend I was really sick. Naps helped but overall, I felt awful. Today, though, I started my day with a half mile walk, then went to work for a few hours. Came home to rest and worked some more but am able to take more breaks than I could at work. I’ll keep pecking away at it and do my best to get stronger.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with my newfound lease on life or wake-up call or tremendous gift. I don’t want to squander it, you know? Maybe it just means I keep going down the path I started before the surgery–doing more activities that make me happy and making my voice heard about issues that matter to me like LGBTQ+ rights and being pro-abortion and that I want to fight for a longer bereavement leave for people in this country. (Having a 3-day bereavement leave that most organizations “allow” is a slap in the face to every human being that has lost another human being.) Maybe it means cutting more people out of my life, or maybe it means letting even more in.

Whatever my “path forward” will be, I hope some of you will join me. Or who knows? Maybe I’ll join you instead. ❤

Summer Months

June is a friggin’ minefield of grief. My birthday isn’t much fun anymore without my family. Father’s Day is typically sad, but I try to think and remember good thoughts about my Pop and we celebrate my husband, the father of my child. And today, June 20th, is my brother’s birthday. He should be 54 today and not still 49 like I am now.

Summer is just filled with all of these dates that I used to embrace and enjoy and now just dread. Today though? Today was just a little bit different.

A friend asked how I was, knowing that Father’s Day can suck, but then I told them about Phil’s birthday. I ended up recalling and telling some really fun stories of our childhood. Like the time when that wench of a bully who lived up the street came down to either play with me or be mean to me, and both my brother and sister ran her off, yelling at her and chasing her with their bikes.

Or how we used to swim in the brook out back, the one that our toilet actually flushed into. (I know, I know!) Hell, we swam downstream in this lovely little “swim hole” yet we also used to carry sticks so we could push the poop away while we swam. It was beautiful without the shit and occasional clumps of toilet paper.

It sounds so crazy, disgusting and unreal now, but it was fun!

I’m the little one on the car, Phil on the left and my sister, Bonnie on the right.

We certainly were not the Waltons, but rural life had its moments. Of course, there was also the alcoholic parent, the verbal and physical abuse, the fear of not knowing what you’ll find when you get home…like I said, we weren’t the Waltons. But honestly? I’m not sure I’d change much. I wish Phil had born a few years later, because he’d more than likely be alive right now. The technology just wasn’t great in 1968 and he was the only one born at that time with the heart problems he had, to live until the age of 49. No one else even came close. Imagine if he had been born in 1970?

I can’t do that to myself, though. Not tonight. Instead, I’ll just keep thinking of some of the great times we did have, and how Phil’s humor and laughter made everyone around him laugh until they nearly peed their pants.

Or that might just have been me. 😉

Love and miss you, big brother. ❤ Wishing you were here.

Birthday Blues

Hey, big brother.

No. Wait. Let me say it like you always did. “Hhheeeeeyyyy.” 🙂 You always said it a bit like Fonzi.

So.

Tomorrow.

My birthday? I’m going to be 49. We often acted like twins and now we’ll actually be the same age.

May 1995. My college graduation.

I hate it. You’re my big brother. We’re not supposed to be the same age. And if I live until at least next year, what happens then? You have to be my big brother. Forever. But your forever wasn’t long enough, Phil. I miss you. So god damned much. My life often doesn’t feel right anymore. Nothing fills that hole that you left. I know, because I’ve tried a lot of things! Food, alcohol, running. Then other things to help with all the feelings–anti-depressants, therapy, yoga, writing. I guess in some ways I’m learning to deal with the fact that I can’t talk to you every day. But sometimes I just can’t deal with it. Those are the days that I just fake it, find a place to cry, fake it some more then go to bed.

Hey Brother by Avicii

Do you remember this song, Phil? You put it on one of the running cds you made me. I wonder about it now. Did you put it on there because of the beat or because it’s about being there for your siblings? And did you know the video was about the brother dying? The first time I heard the song after you died, I sobbed until I nearly threw up.

I know. You’re probably sick of me talking about how much I miss you and how many fucking tears I’ve cried because you’re not here. Fine.

Let’s talk about the kid. I wish you could see him, Phil. He’s your height now. Sometimes he laughs just like you. Even his cough sounds like yours! He’s so bright and funny and mostly kind. I like him. You would, too.

You know there’s a new David Sedaris book that just came out. I’ll listen to it for you, ok? A new Batman movie just came out, too. Haven’t seen it yet. I have difficulties with some things still. There will always be films or books or events that remind me of you. Some I’ll be able to handle, and others not so much. I’ve been watching a show on Netflix, “Sex Education.” It’s a freakin’ riot and it’s something I would love to talk with you about. We’d have the best laughs and conversation over it.

But…yeah. I guess we can’t. You know, someone will read this and say, “But you still can, Holly. You can talk to him and he’ll be listening.” *insert your scoff here* People mean well, Phil, they do. And sometimes I DO imagine you listening to me, laughing with me. I have to. Otherwise I’m not sure I could continue to put one foot in front of the other.

So let’s keep pretending, ok?

I love you. Until the day I die.

Hugs and sloppy kisses.

I Think It’s Getting Better?

Just a few days ago I wrote to y’all about my anxiety, my frustration and my helplessness. Since I began therapy a year ago, I’ve been trying to not compartmentalize my emotions as much and instead attempt to actually feel them and deal with them at the moment they happen. Well that turned out to be a mess! As I told a friend today, it’s like I’m trying to stop a waterfall with my hands. Every feeling and thought overwhelms me until I feel like I’m drowning.

So I began my extra anti-anxiety/depressant med a few days ago. I truly felt like a zombie the next day and ate a lot of sugar and salt throughout the day just to function (and comfort). But Thursday was a little better. I got to talk with my sister and a few friends and it was doable.

And today? Today was pretty ok. I didn’t go to work but had a meeting via Zoom. I got to laugh with some of my colleagues, ask questions, offer a little assistance, and generally felt good when it was over. I felt…worthy, competent, maybe appreciated in a weird way? Then I had to race to my appointments at the hospital, tests to have done before my distal pancreatectomy in June. The tests were not horribly unpleasant, but I wasn’t able to drink coffee or eat until 3pm, so I was a little fuzzy. It did remind me of what it feels like to have pancreatitis again, though, and not being able to eat or drink coffee and having your brain be foggy and just wanting to eat absolutely anything. I started to think about the upcoming surgery (and knowing I won’t be able to eat for several days then) and decided I just couldn’t. Back to stuffing shit into my brain boxes so I don’t have to deal with it!

As soon as my CT scan was done, I decided to go directly to the hospital cafeteria for coffee and a gluten-free blueberry muffin (which are especially delicious when you haven’t eaten in 20 hours). Normally I immediately leave the hospital after any kind of appointment. I’ve been there so much in the past few years for myself and my family that I don’t like to linger. I always have this feeling like if I stay for a bit, Fate will think I should stick around and something will happen to someone I love. I know. That makes no sense but my brain often doesn’t.

But…Dad died in this hospital. I’ve been thinking of him so much this past week, missing him SO much, desperately wanting to talk to him and be hugged by him again. I needed him. He’s not here. The last time I heard his voice and said he loved me was in this hospital. So today….today I lingered. I got my coffee and muffin and sat down in the eating area. I didn’t read my book or look at my phone. I just tore my muffin into bits, popped them into my mouth and washed it all down with Snickerdoodle coffee. I didn’t think of anything in particular. I didn’t think about the fact that this hospital was the last place I had a conversation with my brother, the last place I saw and touched my father, but also the place where my son was born and the place that saved my husband’s life. There is so much grief and joy for me associated with this hospital that it’s difficult to even know what I’m feeling.

So instead of trying to identify what I was feeling or thinking, I just sat. I watched a few people, but mostly I enjoyed what I was eating and drinking and concentrated on the tastes and textures. I lived in the moment. It’s something I wish I could do more.

There’s always tomorrow I suppose.

Here’s wishing all of you more times of living in the moment. ❤ Hugs to you, friends.

Worry, Concern, Apprehension

Anxiety: “The state of feeling nervous or worried that something bad is going to happen.”–Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. The Mayo Clinic defines anxiety as an “intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur.”

Have you ever had an anxiety attack? Not a panic attack–where you truly feel like you’re dying–but a sudden feeling of anxiousness and worry and maybe have trouble breathing? For the past few days, since we came back from our “vacation,” I’ve had a few of these attacks. This “vacation” was time away from home, but not nearly enough relaxing. There was a LOT of stress between the actual traveling (slept in an airport, spent 7 hours in another one) and visiting family and honestly…me being me. Trying to make everyone happy at least some of the time is what I tend to do in ALL situations–family, friends, work. And this was a visit to some family we haven’t seen in a while and I knew it was bound to be stressful but…was it really any worse than any other visit?

After arriving home (10 hours later than we were supposed to) and enjoying sleeping in my own bed again, I felt a bit off. Again, that’s to be expected. Post vacation blues are a real thing, hence my large brownie for breakfast that next morning. I spent several hours doing laundry, emptying suitcases, vacuuming, and feeling productive. Then I headed to my scheduled therapy appointment…and completely lost it.

I’ve been told that sometimes when you completely relax, emotions and memories and pain can all rise to the surface because your body and mind are no longer going at top speed. And although I didn’t get a lot of that relaxing time, I did have at least a few hours where I just swam in the sun or dozed in a dark, cool room or walked along a secluded lakeside path. But I thought about so little during those times nor did I think of much again until I sat in my therapist’s office. And even then I just FELT everything. I was completely overwhelmed with grief and confusion and loss and maybe wishing for something I can’t have?

I don’t know.

All I know is that I couldn’t leave my therapist’s office. I could not stand up. I did not know how to leave, how to take one step in front of the other and walk out her door. I was sobbing and asked her to give me an assignment because I knew if I had one thing to focus on, I could at least leave her office and get to my car. So she did, and somehow I left the building.

The next afternoon I was on my way to drop my son off at the mall when all of a sudden the noises I could hear were literally taking my breath away. The radio was on, my son was talking, his phone might have been playing something, we just passed a bunch of kids on bikes…it all became too much. I had to pull over, shut off the radio and asked him to just stop for a minute so I could breathe. I closed my eyes, took a few breaths, and I was better. He asked if I was ok, and I said not really, but would be. I cried a few miles later and we talked about how this trip, this “vacation” affected us both. The horrible traveling really got to my son, as well as the heat and possibly a bit too much visiting. 🙂 He then played us some 80s music as we continued on to the mall and we both felt immensely better.

On Sunday I had planned to run and boost up my endorphins. But a friend called and needed my husband and I, and honestly, I was glad he did. Focusing on someone else’s problems and/or pain is a great way to distract you from your own! It also resolved some issues that have lingered for nearly 30 years, so I’m grateful for that and the fact we were able to help and be there for our friend.

But today, as I drove my son to school, anxiety overwhelmed me once again. There was no music, no noise, no talking even. I didn’t need to pull over this time, but I did need to take many deep breaths and try to just focus on the road. Once I dropped my son off, I called my doctor and asked to double my antianxiety meds. (I’m currently on the lowest dose possible and have been for nearly two years.) He said I could, so tonight I’ll give it a shot and see how the next few weeks go.

I started to write this tonight to try and figure out what is going on in my brain. I don’t know if I’m much closer to any answer, but it felt good to get something out on “paper.” Although my therapy can be tremendously helpful, my secondary form of therapy, aka blogging, can also clarify situations, problems, ideas or emotions enough for me to at least carry on until I can figure things out.

So…as always…thank you for listening. If you ever feel this high level of anxiety, please reach out to get some help, ok? Even if it’s just to talk to someone for a little bit. You can always reach out to me, too. You don’t have to know me but know I can listen. I’m not a professional so please reach out to a counselor or therapist if that’s what you need, but if you need a sounding board, I’m happy to help.

Take care, all. ❤

Surviving

Today is my 3-year anniversary as the director of a small public library. I’ve worked at the library for over 16 years, but was given the gift of leading the library for the past three years. It’s no secret that I love what I do, and as much as I don’t believe in “things happen for a reason” or “soul mates” or even “destiny,” I think being a rural public librarian is the absolute perfect profession for me. Do I still dream of becoming a writer and actually making a living from it? Of course! But I know my writing isn’t good enough for that to happen, not without a lot more effort and practice and education. Right now, though, my heart is with librarianship.

As I talked to my husband today about everything that’s happened since I became director, I couldn’t help but choke back a sob. How did I make it through it all? Let me give you the timeline:

February 2019: Become director of the library. This was 2 months after my husband had been laid off. He was unemployed when I got this job. It was 18 1/2 months after my brother died. That may not seem relevant, but his life and death impact me in ways most people cannot understand.

March 2019: My funny, sweet, lovely father dies on St. Patrick’s Day.

May 2019: My husband gets a new job. Yes!

June 2019: I break my arm while walking with my son. I break it so badly that a plate and nine screws had to be implanted in my upper arm.

September 2019: My mother becomes ill and I make the choice to place her in hospice care.

October 2019: My loving, supportive, bad-ass mom dies on October 4th. She left this planet five minutes after I left her bedside.

January 2020: After the difficulties of 2019, we decide to plan a fabulous Florida vacation with a cruise.

February 2020: Husband goes into the hospital with pneumonia and the flu, then ends up on a ventilator and in a coma. Both our son and I have the flu, too, and for two weeks we wait. I answer questions from the doctors because they cannot wake him up from the comatose state they put him into. Questions about kidney failure and brain damage are thrown around. Yet on Valentine’s Day, he finally wakes up. ❤

March 2020: While my husband continues to recover at home, I manage pancreatitis at home. I know if I go to the hospital, there won’t be anyone to take care of my husband or son. So I drink fluids, get blood drawn every other day for my doctor to keep tabs on me, and I go to work to keep us all afloat. Then COVID-19 hits the U.S. and I close the library on the evening of March 16th and we cancel our dream vacation.

April 2020: We celebrate our son becoming a teenager with a family party via Zoom. Not quite what we had planned.

May 2020: While working from home, I go for a lunchtime walk and am bitten by the neighbor’s dog. My husband rushes me to the doctor for stitches and to check out all the puncture wounds on my legs. We re-open the library this month for curbside services.

June 2020: We re-open the library doors.

August 2020: I run a half-marathon because I can.

September 2020: I run another half-marathon on Mom’s birthday in memory of her bad-assery.

January/February 2021: I start training for a marathon. Just weeks later I get a stress fracture in my right leg. We watch our beloved cat, Miso, have a seizure and die in front of our eyes as my husband calls the vet and my son and I cry and try to comfort the sweetest cat that ever lived. We all hold him in our arms afterwards and cry until bedtime.

March/April 2021: I start taking walks and short runs again. My sanity is somewhat restored.

June 2021: Our son “graduates” from 8th grade. My husband has a widow maker of a heart attack on June 15th. He only survives because he was near a university medical center.

August 2021: The boy enters high school.

September 2021: Husband goes back to work.

Late October 2021: Husband told by doctor to stop working until he has another heart surgery.

November 2021: Two stents placed in husband’s heart. His energy improves dramatically!

January 2022: I have a procedure on my pancreas to determine if I have cancerous tumors or the possibility of cancer forming on said tumors. Still waiting for the results.

And there you have it. There were MANY activities and emotions not mentioned, and a lot of those were fabulous. I smiled every day, I think. They weren’t all real, but many of them were. I laughed nearly every day. I, like so many of you, juggled lots of other crap we don’t talk about because it’s life—flat tires, sick pets, stress from work and COVID and paying bills and EVERYTHING.

But…I’ve also read over 800 books since I became director. (Many of them middle-school novels.) I’ve written blog posts and poems and reports and letters. I’ve made new friends, some of them being my library patrons. I’ve created new connections at the library, both personally and professionally. I’m trying to lead the library into being the center of the community, and with the amazing support from the Board, the volunteers, and the residents, I think we can do it.

Yes, WE.

If I’ve learned anything from these past three years, it’s that I can’t do my work by myself. I can’t succeed alone. I have an incredible staff, support system and library users that makes the library a wonderful place to be a part of.

But I also know that I would never have survived these three years without my family and friends. Never. I received gift cards and meals when my husband was in the hospital. People sent me cards when my parents died and gave me hugs when I needed them. They were also there to just listen. I have friends all around the country and so many of them reached out in various ways over the past few years. Sometimes just listening is all I needed. And that’s why you reading this blog has also helped me. Tremendously.

So…thank you. I think that’s really all I’m trying to say tonight. Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for supporting me in however you know how. Thanks for being you.

Now go to your local library. They need your support even more these days. And remember, keep reading. It doesn’t matter what it is. I am not a judgy librarian! Read what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, tell them your librarian said to screw off. ❤

Just Me

There was a lot of hope for 2021–vaccines, life going back to normal, I was training for a marathon, and my family was just grateful that my husband survived his sickness and came out of a coma in February of 2020.

Some of what we hoped for happened–we got the vaccines, life got better. Then the variants came and so many more people have died and so many people refuse vaccines and life will always be different. I was able to fly to a conference in Nevada and to see a dear friend in Kentucky in the fall, but now many flights are canceled around the globe due to COVID and quarantine times. I had a stress fracture and stopped training for a marathon but was able to run again later in the year. My husband had a widow maker of a heart attack on June 15th and has had several surgeries since. Things got better, then worse. Two steps forward and life looked good, then another setback. Like Anne Lamott says in her book Dusk Night Dawn, “It’s like tucking an octopus into bed at night: new arms keep popping out.”

Now a new year is coming. 2022 is nearly here. I honestly haven’t talked to anyone who is hopeful about it. Everyone is exhausted and burnt out and just tries to get through each day without losing their shit.

We have to find something to look forward to. SOMETHING. As I’ve said many times before, I usually love the new year. I like clean slates, fresh starts, new beginnings, and every other cliche you can think of. Sometimes I think of a new year as a New You (or rather new me). I often have resolutions, but they’re really more like goals. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t reach them, but I try. I’ll survive if they don’t come to fruition.

I’m going to try again to train for a marathon, although I can’t say I’m super positive about it. My body has hurt a lot lately and I’m mostly running to maintain some kind of fitness level until I can figure out what’s what. If I can’t train right away, I’ll work on that 15 pounds I want/need to lose (depending on the moment). And keep going to therapy to deal with that incessant want/need to lose the 15 pounds.

These are things, though, that are just part of my current life–running, losing weight, trying to be healthy. My real goal for 2022? I really, really want to do something new each month. I’ve wanted to LEARN something new each month before, but that doesn’t always happen. That can still be included, but I want to DO something I’ve never done every month. Just once a month. Sometimes it may just be making a new dessert because I just don’t have the money or resources to do what I’d like. But other times?

Here’s a short list of activities I’d like to do in 2022 that seem feasible:

  1. Try out a sensory deprivation tank at Float 207.
  2. Watch all the films that are nominated for Best Picture with my son and watch the Oscars on March 27th with him. Make pizza or nachos with him, too. I suppose I want to try and recreate what my brother and I used to do (although I think I only watched every film for the Oscars once).
  3. Zip line
  4. Get a monthly massage (I suppose this isn’t really trying something new yet making time to take care of myself seems new. I’ve had so few massages in my life but when I do, I always think “why don’t I do this more?!?”)
  5. Find something to be grateful for each day. This is a tough one for me. It shouldn’t be but sometimes I am so Eeyore-like that I can’t get out of my own way, you know?
  6. Get my passport!
  7. Visit new places, especially state parks
  8. Run somewhere new. I’d like to run in a new place each month, even just a new trail or a different road. Maybe that can be my running goal for the year if the marathon doesn’t work out.
  9. Ride on a snowmobile

I have other pursuits, but many I might not be able to do. I’d like to work on my writing, come up with a few goals. Maybe write a few poems again. I’m not sure about that yet, but I do know that writing often brings me joy…or sometimes relief, like a deep breath that I didn’t know I needed. I’d also like to organize and digitize my photos. I have so many pictures of my own and from my parents and it seems pretty overwhelming, although I think it’s the emotional piece that is what seems insurmountable. Sometimes I can face grief head on, and other times I just avoid situations that make me remember. Like so many other things in life, it just depends on the day.

My family and I have joked and said “2022 is our year!” Then we immediately roll our eyes and knock on wood and tell each other to not say that anymore since we said that about 2019, 2020 AND 2021 and look how those friggin’ years turned out! Perhaps our resolution or goal for 2022 should just be to survive. It’s something that many were not able to do in 2021.

Maybe surviving and thriving? I don’t know, friends. I just don’t know anymore.

Nonetheless, I will keep shooting for my “new activity” each month and if that starts to feel like too much, I’ll just shoot for reading a new book each month. That one, as long as I’m living, I know I can achieve.

Good luck to all of you. Be safe. I’d love to hear your goals and resolutions and wishes for the future.

Happy New Year and may you feel loved and appreciated in 2022.

Dad’s Day

My “long” run today was more of a trudge. It was a warm and sunny 36 degrees, but the wind was gusting at 30mph and cut right through my clothes. I took breaths through my scarf because my chest started to hurt from the cold. I wanted to do 5 miles and since this was going to be a rough one, I let my mind wander as much as possible to distract me from the wind and the heavy legs. I thought of the visit I had yesterday with a few of my lovely friends and how it truly lifted my spirits. I thought of the upcoming family Christmas party and how wonderful it will be to host it again since we couldn’t get together last year. Then I realized I hadn’t invited my stepmom yet…which led me to thoughts of my dad.

Today is December 12th. On this day in 1987, my father took his last drink. He had been a drinker his whole life, and looking back, he figured he was an alcoholic by the age of 15. His grandparents often gave him sips or actual drinks of beer from the time he was just a toddler. Eventually the addiction destroyed many of his relationships, including his marriage to my mother. He was such a different person when he drank.

This photo of my parents showed Dad in his favorite chair, wearing his typical outfit of a white t-shirt and suspenders. Looks like he was grooving to the music on the headphones. I’m pretty sure he was tipsy in this picture, but I could be wrong. Usually when he started drinking, he was ok. Sometimes fun-loving, a good time. But in the later years, he became angry and violent and it was a shit show.

But on this day in 1987, that all changed. I found out who my father really was. And he was the most incredibly kind man, who loved to laugh and loved his family fiercely. He spent the next 30 years of his life trying to make amends to those he hurt while drinking. Even on his deathbed, he regretted so many of his decisions and thought he had not done enough to apologize. But that wasn’t true. I believe he went above and beyond to reform, to admit wrong doing and to apologize. We tried to reassure him of this fact as he lay dying, and I truly hope he heard and believed us.

I don’t want this to be a sad post today. This is to celebrate my father and his courage and hard work to make his life better. While I thought of him on my run, I thought maybe of visiting his grave. But I don’t really feel him there. Not usually. Instead, I thought of the conversations we had on our Sunday visits during the last year of his life. While I trudged along on the dirt road, I thought of all the times Dad called to ask how the road was to see if he should drive to my house that way or the long way. Or the stories he told about that exact road and how when my parents were married, they got stuck on that road a few times while visiting my grandmother.

I just thought about Dad most of the day. Were there tears? Of course. But I also laughed out loud, thinking about my Papa and his silliness. I miss him. Tremendously. And I’m so, so proud of him.

I love you, Dad. ❤

Back in a Flash

I hate you, Facebook Memories.

I began my morning and thought I’d check in on Facebook before I started work. What comes up? The year 2016 in photos–the last full year I had my brother. He was there in my memories, pics of our Halloween tour of the local winery. Other photos of me where I looked so fucking happy…some I know weren’t real smiles, but others showed genuine happiness. I look at that Holly and want to scream at her. “Tell Phil every single thing you’ve ever wanted to! Go and see him each day. Take time off and take your boy along and just be with Phil. Do nothing and everything with him.”

I miss him. I miss my brother so damn much.

Typically, I love this time of year but everything is still tinged with sadness. And mornings like these? It’s hard to function. It’s difficult to not just say, “Fuck it. I’m not going to work today.” I know I could legitimately do that, but my mother’s voice is telling me to just go to work and you’ll feel better. My own inner voice is also saying, “Don’t let your staff and patrons down. Just go and you’ll be ok.”

So I went.

I went about my day, doing whatever needed to be done–working on reports, paying bills, answering emails. I still felt like I was in a fog, but it was manageable. Then I went to make a cup of tea, something I rarely do. But I was freezing and needed something warm and there sat a box of Earl Grey tea on top of the fridge at work. It’s been there for months, but today I really saw it…and thought of Phil. This was one of his favorite teas. I picked up the box, started to cry and whispered, “You’re everywhere today, aren’t you?”

If only he was. If only I could talk to my big brother, ask him questions I know he’d have answers for, or at least have a joke for them. I wish he could see his nephew and realize that he’d be able to see him eye to eye now. I’d love to hear them laugh together and share some dirty joke or discuss Star Wars films. I just…I just wish he was here.

You know, I’ve been desperate over the past few months to get down to a particular weight. I’ve obsessively counted calories, added a few extra miles to my long runs, and lifted weights. But absolutely nothing happened. I actually gained another 5 pounds instead. (Of course, I now realize I wasn’t counting some calories accurately, but that’s another story.) As I was telling my therapist about my weight dilemma, she asked why that weight. Why this arbitrary number? I told her that I know I feel good at that weight–it’s a little more than when I was running A LOT and when people thought I was sick because they thought I looked too thin. But it’s a weight where I felt good in my body…and the weight I was at when Phil died.

After I said those words to my therapist, my body became very still. I looked at her and let out a sob. I covered my mouth and shook my head. It was such an epiphany, an a-ha moment, and a gut-wrenching grief-inducing realization.

I think I’ve been trying to find my way back to a time when my brother was here and my parents were here, and although life was still difficult and complicated, it just wasn’t quite so lonely or sad.

But I know I can’t do that. Rationally, I know that no matter how much weight I lose, my family will not come back. Of course I know that. Will that stop me from trying to lose weight? Nope. Do I still want to find a way to be happy in this body of mine? Yes. Will losing the weight do that? Probably not. But my pants will fit better.

And hopefully my therapist can help me with the rest of it.

Friends, if you’re out there and you’re missing someone so much that you just want to turn back time and have one more conversation or hug or “I love you,” please know that I hear you. I understand and I wish for that, too. I might not be the one you want to talk with, but I’m here and I’ll listen.

Take care, friends.