Imperfect Pieces

Imperfect Pieces

By Tracey Lemming

In our lives, there will be times when we lose pieces of our puzzle.  We know that our world won’t ever be the same again.  One by one, we put the pieces back together. But, it looks different. Maybe we add in pieces that we didn’t know we had and take more out along the way. Do we give up because it won’t look like the version that we expected when we started? Or do we keep going and create a new puzzle with missing and imperfect pieces?

When I spent 4 months in Indiana during COVID-19, my Mom and I put together a few puzzles.  It was an activity that I enjoyed, but hadn’t done in quite awhile (beside a rainy beach day in vacation mode).  Seldom did I allow myself the time and space just to enjoy simply putting together a puzzle. The first one was 1,000 pieces and a Fall leaves scene.  At first, it was overwhelming.  So many pieces, and they all looked alike!  But, as we kept going, it got easier, and it was easier to differentiate between the leaves on the trees from the leaves on the ground.  It took patience, presence, and perseverance. Throughout the process, it was fun to find the pieces that fit together. The second puzzle that we decided to tackle was already together when we saw it, but it was missing a piece.  We chose to tear it apart and put it back together anyway.  Knowing that it was missing a piece didn’t make the activity any less enjoyable.  We could have decided that it wasn’t worth our time and energy knowing that it wouldn’t be perfect when it was finished, but had we chosen to not try, we would have missed out on the joy that was still there in the puzzle.

The last few months have left many of us unsure of what path to take, what piece to hold and put down. We can’t quite see over the horizon.  Mountains are in the way that weren’t there before.  It’s all unknown.  Plans that we had were suddenly changed, and we have the choice to surrender to what is, or to fight for what we knew before.  Unfortunately, we can’t go back.  This life as we knew it is completely changed.  Whether you have suffered the loss of a loved one, a job, or an every day activity, it’s okay to take the time to mourn your loss.  Giving yourself the time and space to grieve your loss is one of those “self-care” activities that is easy to bypass, but I believe that it’s important to fully heal.  Your loss is yours, and mine is mine, but collectively we can show compassion for one another.  No one knows the magnitude of your grief but you. No one knows how many pieces are missing from your puzzle, and no one knows what you may find when you begin looking for new pieces.

I would love to go back to a time when all my loved ones were still here to see the sun rise each morning.  I would love to be able to hug my Uncle Steve, my Grandma Fellure, and my Dad.  I will see many sunrises and sunsets without them, which feels so unbearable at times.  If I could only go back 2 years, or 14 months, or just 8 months, maybe things could be different.  But, I choose to keep going.  I choose to put the pieces of the puzzle back together.  Doing my best to honor my loved ones by sharing their stories and sharing mine. Knowing that the puzzle will look different than expected when it’s complete, and that’s okay.  There will be pieces added and removed along the way.  But, there will also be a lot of love and joy in the journey. We all get the choice to decide where we go from here. Will you give up on it all, or will you continue to put together your imperfect pieces?

What hurts the most

What hurts the most

By Tracey Lemming

For me, what hurts the most about losing the ones that I love is no longer being able to communicate with them in this physical world.  At least not in the way that I want and expect to.  It’s still having questions, and not being able to pick up the phone and ask them. It’s trying to imagine that for the rest of my life, they will no longer be here physically with me.  Intuitively I know that they are in a better, more peaceful place.  But the knowing that they won’t be here to celebrate the many happy times left in my life is really hard.  Having them protect and guide me from above is comforting, but it’s not the same.  I gained 3 beautiful angels in the last 2 years, but I wish it had been different. Everyone wants more time.

Unfortunately, it’s not different, and it cannot be changed. I was blessed with more time with my Uncle, Grandma, and Dad than some people are able to spend with their loved ones.  I’ve learned many lessons during this time that I may not have learned until later in life had I not experienced this grief, and I am sure that more lessons will still be revealed as time goes on.  Time is promised to no one, and it truly is a gift.  What we choose to do with our time and energy is something that is up to us. I believe that the more time that you can spend with your loved ones and living your purpose, the better.  When you have a pull to do or ask something, just do it.  When you follow your intuition and your passion, you will feel the most happy, and can go to bed feeling that your day was good and meaningful.

Navigating a life that will never be the same is challenging.  It’s looking through new eyes, and learning as you go.  The plan that you had is no longer the plan. It’s learning how to adapt, and accept what cannot be changed. Although I no longer hear my loved ones voices, we can still communicate. Sometimes it’s through dreams, songs, or seeing something that brings back a sweet memory.  I’ve been lucky enough to receive visions of my Uncle and Dad smiling since they have ascended towards the sky, so that helps me to know that they are safe and happy. I try to remember these images and be happy for them when I am feeling sad.

After my Uncle Steve’s passing and when I was back at work, I was finally feeling a bit more like myself. One day, I drove with my convertible top down and listened to my favorite song.  As I parked and grabbed my bags out of my trunk, I noticed a penny in my parking spot behind my back tire.  It hadn’t been there in the morning when I left for work, and I laughed and said “I wonder who this is from” out loud. As I picked up the penny,  I instantly knew.  1971, the year my Uncle graduated from high school, and a nod from him to keep on enjoying the day and doing what makes me happy. I believe that our loved ones and angels leave us pennies from heaven, as they are noted with the words “In God we trust.” They are signs from above letting us know that we are on the right path and loved.   It’s moments like this that you simply know that there is something greater than what meets the eye.

When I returned to my daily life after my Dad’s passing, I noticed that the motion activated solar lantern next to my front door would blink, although it had never blinked before during the few years that I had it.  Normally, it would turn on only when I was walking up my stairs and opening my screen door.  However, now it would blink on and off.  It would even begin blinking when I was still in my car, and walking towards my door.  It was never able to detect motion from that far away before.  I remember crying in my car before I went inside, and looking at my house.  Sure enough, the lantern was blinking to comfort me, even though there was no motion anywhere. I knew that it was my Dad welcoming me home and letting me know that he was okay and he wanted me to be happy, not sad. Even though he is not physically here in my life, he wants to still be here for me. Because I am open to receiving communication and willing to be present, I have been blessed to receive these gifts.  

About a month before my Dad passed away, I had excitedly told him about the “Woodpecker Birds” at my bird feeder and how big they were.  He laughed and teased me because he thought it was funny that I added the word “Bird” to the obvious “Woodpecker”.  Of course a woodpecker is a bird. After my Dad passed away, my coworker was talking about how he would laugh and tease his daughter, and I mentioned how my Dad would do the same to me, and recently laughed about the “Woodpecker birds.”  The next morning was one of those days that I didn’t really want to get out of bed and face the day, but I did, and I asked for a sign from my Dad and strength to keep going.  As I was getting ready, I suddenly heard tapping outside my window.  It startled me, and I looked outside.  You guessed it, Woodpecker Birds.  I laughed as they had never been so loud before or pecked at my house,  and I knew that it was surely my Dad teasing me and laughing again.

The day after my Dad passed away, I was driving towards my parents house and I saw 3 cardinals. I knew that it was my Grandma, Uncle, and Dad saying hello and having a lot of fun together. I believe that cardinals are good luck and visitors from heaven.  It’s very comforting when I hear the cardinals song, and see their beautiful red feathers.

Life will never be the same when you go through any type of loss.  Grief changes you, but I hope that it changes us for the better.  I hope that it makes us more in-tune with ourselves and this world, and more grateful for those in our life who love us. We now know that everything can change any moment, and it’s important to make the best of each day. Some days are better than others, but as we keep going, we are becoming stronger and can pass our wisdom and life lessons onto others.  We can perceive simple signs and moments, and feel the vastness of this universe. What are some ways that you’ve received signs from those on the other side? What have you learned through experiencing grief?

The part of me

The part of me

By Tracey Lemming

Lately, the chorus from Katy Perry’s “Part of Me” has been coming to my mind, over and over again. “This is the part of me, that you’re never gonna ever take away from me.”  You know it, and it’s probably stuck in your head too now!  I believe there is a part of me, and a part of you that no one can ever take away from us.  As we see more of our freedoms being taken away, our soul, or inner world, is the part of us that is always ours.  No one can ever take away our thoughts, feelings, and imagination.

I once read “Man’s search for meaning” by Victor Frankl.  He was a Holcaust survivor, and what I remember most from this book was how even when he was faced with the worst unthinkable circumstances in the Nazi concentration camps, he chose how he reacted, and did not allow outside circumstances to break his spirit. We are all dealt cards in our life, and we get the choice on how we choose to play them.  Do we fold, or do we choose another card, keep playing, and look for the chance for a royal flush?  Do we find meaning in what has showed up in our life?

When my Dad was 45, he was diagnosed with a very rare, stage 4 cancer.  I was 16, and when my parents told me that he had cancer, that was the first time I remember seeing my Dad cry. My parents didn’t tell me that it was stage 4 cancer with little chance of survival, so although I worried, I truly didn’t know the extent of what my Dad was up against until he passed away 20 years later. He didn’t complain about many of the obstacles he faced, including having a feeding tube at least for the last 10 years of his life and losing the use of his right arm due to the radiation.  And because he didn’t complain, I rarely found things to complain about, and have always been able to see the bright side of things.  One of my Dad’s friends spoke at my Dad’s funeral about how he showed up to work even when he didn’t always feel the best, because he knew if my Dad could show up for work when he faced many obstacles, so could he.  It’s amazing, we really don’t know the example that we are setting for others simply by showing up when it would have been easier to not.  What example are you setting for those around you?

My Dad used his VICTORY over cancer and his life’s journey to be an inspiration and mentor to many others.  What he offered to many who faced their own battle with cancer was a great gift, HOPE.  He was able to show others that no matter what you are facing, miracles happen every day.  I believe that because he didn’t complain about his circumstances and used his creativity to find solutions, he was able to keep going when others may have thrown in the towel.  There was a part of him that refused to give up, that always wanted to win.  He was a champion in life, not just in 1972 when his beloved Pine Knots were Sectional Champs in basketball.  Indiana basketball at its finest.  My Dad kept the winning mentality throughout his life, even when part of him may have felt like giving up.   

When my Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, he was given the books “Small Miracles: Extraordinary coincidences of Everyday Life” by Yitta Halberstam and “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff” by Richard Carlson.  I read those books during this trying time, and these titles have become the themes of my life.  I choose to look for meaning in the coincidences that show up in my life. Coincidence is taken from the word coincide, which means to fit perfectly together.   I know that all that we receive is on purpose and in perfect timing.  In the grand scheme of things, many things we see as big deals in the moment truly aren’t worth the stress and energy.  Like anyone, I can get sucked into stress-response cycles, but they usually don’t last too long.  There is a part of me that knows that all of us in this world are connected.  We can easily see division if we look for it, but we can also see stories of strength, unity, and perseverance.

Think about the part of you that no one else can ever take away.  It’s unique, and yours alone. It’s always with you, and in times of uncertainty and doubt, you will always find it within.  Sometimes the endless chatter in our minds may drown it out, but when you take a moment to center yourself and let go of all the distractions, that is when it will appear.  Keep breathing. Keep going.  Know that no matter what uncertainty we all face at this time, there is a part of you that knows your next best step.  There is a part of you that knows that healing and unity are possible.  Embrace this one-of-a-kind part of you, and together these parts of us can illuminate the darkness.  How will you use your light within you?

If grief had a checklist

If grief had a checklist

Written by Tracey Lemming

If grief had a checklist, I’d be done.  Marking off all of the items, and moving on.  Going through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) all in the same day.  Ready to move on to the next stage of life and smile about the sweet memories that were created.  Calling a loved one, sharing memories, laughing, crying, taking a long bath, reading a book on grief. Doing these things and so much more.  Unfortunately, there is no checklist for grief and it’s something that will be experienced by most of us in our lifetime.  It’s a very individual process, and there will be good and bad days.  There will be times that you know that the timing was right for your loved one to leave this world, but it will never be the right timing for you.  Your world is changed forever, and you will always wish you had more time.  You are changed forever.

I had always heard that grief comes in waves.  That didn’t make a lot of sense until I experienced the loss of my Uncle Steve, Grandma Fellure, and Dad within 16 months.  Then I understood. Grief flows in and out.  Sometimes the tide is low, and sometimes it is high.  Sometimes the waves are gentle and you are able to stay afloat, but sometimes they are rocky and will knock you down.  You know without a doubt that your loved one would want you to be happy, and you do your best, but it’s not easy.  Giving your best is all that you can do though.  Know that your best version may change each day.  It’s okay to laugh and cry minutes apart.  Each day you have the opportunity to show up again, learning and growing as you go.

When I saw my cousin Abigail at my Uncle Steve’s funeral, I knew that I didn’t want to be her.  Every single cell in my body never wanted to be in her position. My heart went out to her for the loss of her Dad, but not having been through an experience like that, I didn’t really know what to say or do except offer a hug and an “I love you.”   The thought of losing my own Dad was an image I couldn’t let myself imagine.  I could not imagine the sadness that she was feeling.  I was thankful and lucky to have my Dad with me in the moment.  Little did I know that in a short 16 months, I’d be the one at my Dad’s funeral and my cousin would be comforting me.  The sadness was intense, but it was nice to have a cousin and friend who had been through this experience and could offer some wisdom and helpful tips.  I truly believe that we are given the perfect family members and friends in our lives, and having Abigail in mine is truly a gift.

What I have learned (and am still learning) through this process is that patience really is a virtue. Being patient with yourself and others, and knowing that it’s okay not to be okay.  This experience has changed you, and it’s okay if you are not the same person you were before.  You do not need to compare your before and after versions.  Your interests may change as your priorities do.  What was enjoyable before may no longer resonate, and you may need more time by yourself to process and reflect.  For me, reading and journaling have helped me to express my emotions.  And sharing good memories and laughs always feels great!  Other people who haven’t yet had this experience may not be sure if you want to bring your loved one up, but I personally love to talk about those on the other side.  Sharing stories keeps your loved one’s spirit alive!

Traditions will change, and the first holidays, birthdays, and special occasions will be hard.  Know that it’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating, but it is good to spend time with your loved ones if you can.  Just being together can help you feel a bit better.  Acknowledge that this day will never be the same, but you could start a new tradition to honor your loved one, such as lighting a candle in their memory. Whatever feels best at that time, and nothing needs to be forced. 

There is no right or wrong way to go through grief. There is no checklist to follow.  There is no timeline.  My grieving experience may look completely different than yours, and that’s okay.  There is no need to compare your journey to others, as it’s impossible to know what someone else is thinking or going through.  Surround yourself and others going through this experience with love. Take a moment to breathe. Make a gratitude list to look at when you are feeling low.  Keep going when you feel like stopping, and know that tomorrow is another day to show up and share your beautiful light.

I Love you

I Love you

Written by Tracey Lemming, Photo by Laurilyn Farms http://www.laurilynfarms.com/

At the beginning of 2018, I had a dream that something bad happened to my Grandma Fellure.  I can’t even remember it, but it woke me up and gave me a knowing that I needed to tell her that I loved her.  She was my only living grandparent, and I realized that once she was gone, I would miss her and her stories, and our connection to the past. I knew that my Grandma loved me, but the words weren’t often said.  We would talk on the telephone, but as life gets busy, sometimes we forget about those who we love the most, and don’t get the chance to speak as often as we would like.  

So, I called her a few days later.  I worked up the courage to tell her that I loved her.  She kept talking, and I was thinking, boy, maybe she didn’t hear me, or maybe she didn’t want to say it back.  I can’t remember if she said that she loved me too at the end of that conversation, but in the coming phone calls it became the words that we ended with.  ”Thanks for calling, and I love you.” Little did I know that it wasn’t my Grandma would leave this world in 2018, but her son, my Uncle Steve a few short months later.  She needed to hear the words “I love you” and the support of her loved ones.  She no longer had someone to stop by daily and have coffee with her.  I can’t imagine how she felt, knowing that she should have been the one who went first, not her child.  She had lost my Grandpa 19 years prior, but she said that losing a child was the worst.

Grandma got through the winter, and we continued to talk often.  I put in a reminder in my phone to call her frequently.  I always looked forward to the part of the conversation where she told me she loved me. I know she loved that part too because she told my Aunt how we always said “I love you” at the end of our phone calls. My last conversation with my Grandma was at the end of May 2019.  I was excited to tell her about the updates in my life, and how I was going to be starting my yoga teacher training soon.  She told me how proud of me she was for being me and all that I had done in my life.  That wasn’t something that I expected or heard often from her, but I was thankful for our conversation and her expressing this to me.  It meant so much to me at that moment.  I didn’t know that would be our last phone call, and would mean the world to me for the rest of my life.

When my Grandma fell and hit her head a week later, and the doctor’s determined that nothing else could be done, I hopped on a plane to see my Grandma and say my final goodbye.  Thankfully, although Grandma’s communication was limited, we knew that she knew we were with her.  And thankfully, she could still say “I love you.”  The same words that we had said to each other each time we spoke for the last year and a half.  The most important words that you can tell your loved ones.

Maybe you don’t often hear or say those words to some of your loved ones.  You assume that they know.  But, if there’s someone in your life who you haven’t said these words to in awhile or ever, consider telling them how you feel. It takes courage and can feel a bit awkward, as you don’t always know how the recipient will react.  Maybe they will say the words back immediately, or maybe they will keep talking as they weren’t expecting to hear this.  Either way, it doesn’t matter.  What if the words “I love you” were exactly what your loved one needed to hear, or exactly what you needed to say? It only takes a few moments to say these words.

At that moment

At that moment

Have you ever been the one who first hears your friend’s tragic news?  Maybe they call you, maybe they show up at your door. How do you react?  I’ve been the one who first heard of the tragedy when my friend’s boyfriend had left this world way too soon.  He was too young, and we were too young. How did I react? It’s hard to remember, but amidst the initial shock, I’m sure that I tried to be the strong one.  Allowing my friend to cry, but not wanting her to see my tears. I do remember hugging her and telling her it would be okay. Someone had to be strong. I had to be there for her.  But, what if the brave face that we try to put on isn’t what it needed at that moment?

When I received news of my Dad’s passing, I was initially in shock.  I came out of a yoga class, feeling calm, relaxed and ready for my Saturday.  I saw the missed calls on my phone and knew that wasn’t a good sign. My worst fears were true.  How could the world go on without my Dad? After a hug and an “I love you” from my teacher and calling my family, I called my friend Amanda. What if she didn’t pick up?  She had to pick up, and she did. As I shared my news and she talked to me as I drove home, I realized she was crying. I asked if she was crying, and she said yes, stating she wasn’t good in these situations.  Actually, she was perfect in this situation, at that moment. I didn’t need anyone to tell me it was going to be okay. I didn’t need anyone to be strong for the both of us. I needed someone to cry with me, 700 miles away.  My tears were her tears. Although she hadn’t ever suffered the loss of a parent, she could feel my pain and sadness. She may have wanted to be strong, but she didn’t have to be. She reacted authentically, as she knew that her friend had suffered a deep loss.  She shared her tears with me.

We all experience a wide range of emotions, amazing and not so amazing.  These emotions are what make the world and human experience beautiful. Our deepest emotions, our authenticity.  We have the choice to mask our feelings, or allow them to be expressed. We are taught to be strong. But, what if feeling and showing our true emotions is what is needed at that moment?  What if it isn’t weakness, but part of healing? So the next time your loved one calls you with devastating news, allow your tears to flow if you feel like crying. Allow your loved one to know that you feel their loss and share their pain.  Sometimes that is what they need. We can all put on a brave face another day, at another moment.