This is me on any given day:
It’s a 60″ Pop-Up Tinsel Tree from West Elm that “makes any room brighter.” I obviously was drawn to the colors and the overall joy it exudes. According to the West Elm website, “it’s a must-have for the holidays.”
I obviously bought it. (Duh.)
…but the clincher wasn’t the silver tinsel or the colors, or the fact that it was 30% off with free shipping.
…it was this picture.
I nearly died laughing.
This is a marketing win.
One minute the colorful tree is UP, the next minute it’s collapsed under the weight of its own shimmering sparkles.
It just… needs a minute.
This is everything.
Some people have spirit-animals.
I have found a kindred spirit in this fantastic piece of holiday decor.
She and I will be friends forever.
Tree up. Tree down. Tree up. Tree down.
Today, well — probably yesterday to you, was September 9th. The seventh anniversary of my Mom’s death.
September 8th marks the last time I ever spoke with her.
As I told a dear, dear life-giving friend who welcomed me into The Club after my Mom died, “It’s not that I want to give weight or attention to her date of death… but I can’t’ help but recognize and acknowledge her lack of presence. You know? It’s less about the car accident — I haven’t thought about that really — and more about the sudden departure from my everyday life. On this day, 7 years ago, whoosh. It was over.
Actually, no goodbye.
That’s the hardest part about grief. Your tree is up. Then it’s down. Then up again. Then down.
For the most part, I’m the upright tree up at the top. Standing, I would hope, sparkling, and just colorfully existing. Doing my thing.
But then all of a sudden… tree down.
It’s ok for us to collapse within ourselves. It’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to feel it for a minute. For two minutes. For a day.
It’s ok to feel our feelings in all the ways for all of the different kinds of grief.
The loss of what was is real.
Let me repeat that — loss isn’t always death, it’s basically this:
Your life was a certain way.
Now it’s not.
And it’s hard.
And it doesn’t matter if that change happened 7 seconds ago or 7 years ago — or 70 years ago. The heart remembers.
It’s supposed to, too.
I have this sneaking suspicion that we feel the lowest of lows so that we can appreciate the highest of highs.
Tree up, tree down.
I’m reading a book right now about Attentiveness, by Leighton Ford. (I thought he was a woman until I was about 20 pages in. He’s a man, but wouldn’t Leighton be a great name for a woman?) Anywho, he introduced me to the concept of life being measured in both Chronos (time) and Kairos (critical moments).
Our life is measured in years passing, in hours passing…
…but it’s also timestamped with critical moments.
So, so true.
The passing of my Mom was a critical moment.
The passing of time, combined with these pivotal life happenings are reason for pause, aren’t they?
Each year I handle this day differently. Last night, I started going there… “Seven years ago on this night, she was making her last meal… it was the day before she was going to die… she sounded so healthy… did she know? Why didn’t I call her that morning like I ALWAYS do?“
But. I stopped myself. I’ve been down this road before. In fact, in the first few chapters of this grief story of mine my Mom’s last days, her last hours, the morning of her death, the accident… it was all a puzzle that I needed to put together.
I pored over the details. Trying to create a timeline that fit. Trying to find a piece that would make the image clear to me. Trying to figure out what in the world just happened and WHY.
Now, seven years later, it’s a puzzle that has missing pieces.
It simply is what it is.
And that’s ok.
So on this day, and I write this for my girls, so that after I pass they can see what I felt and maybe feel slightly more normal... So, on this day I release myself from my daily self-inflicted need to be productive. Instead, I welcome grace and I slow down.
I disregard texts.
I sleep in a little longer.
I take a nap in the afternoon.
I write a friend.
I ate a bowl of cereal with bananas.
I wrote this to my friend today:
“Vivienne just came downstairs to tell me that she went upstairs to be alone and now Lila is upstairs [and she was so mad] and I just looked at her and said, “Today is the day my Mom died and I really don’t have room in my brain and heart to help referee you and your sister.
Can you handle it yourself today?”
And I cried. [In front of her. In the middle of the day. At my computer.]
Because I miss my Mom, because it’s too hot in my house (I hate Cabo in September) because I hate virtual school, because I miss my alone time working (where I feel like me!) because I’m just… blah.
So, Vivi put her arm around me and nodded, as if she were a 30-year-old woman. She rubbed my back and said, “I’ll take care of it.”
(We have to show them ourselves in our weak moments, too — right? Life isn’t all lightness and rainbows, it’s heavy and hard. And we sometimes have to hand our burdens over… even in small batches… to the people in our families. I hope this isn’t making her grow up too early — this sharing of my feelings — but instead helping her to see that grieving, over time, is normal. My fear is that my kids say, “I don’t ever remember her showing us her feelings. Her Mom died and she cried for a week, then… it was over.” So, I show them how I feel — for better and for worse.)
Grief is ok, friends.
And, it never ends.
It’s always there and we can either slam the door or sit with it.
I just grab a cup of tea, or some tissues… and I sit with it.
I re-read her obituary today. (You can find it below.)
She was so cool.
I’m thankful for my years with her, I’m thankful for my sister.
I’m thankful that losing her introduced me to a new part of myself. It ushered me into a Club of support and into a place of empathy and humanity that I never knew existed.
So, here I am. SEVEN years older, with more grey hair and more questions for her than ever before, still missing her.
Still willing to give anything for one more conversation, one more hug, one more opportunity to hear her ask, “Do you want to know what I would do, Kylee?”
Tree up, tree down.
I’ll let the tree stay down for now.
During this time I’ve learned that when it’s time, I’ll stand upright and even be happy again.
Shirley Ann (Kendziora) Drouillard Willhite was born January 25, 1954, to Helen and Ed Kendziora in Toledo, Ohio. She attended St. Michael’s elementary school and graduated from Woodward High School (Class of 1972).
She left this Earth far too soon on September 9, 2013. Shirley was a loving wife, sister, aunt and friend — most importantly, she was our Mom and she was the best.
In her 59 short years on Earth she built relationships with friends and family across the country and created lasting impacts on their lives. She had a way of making each person feel as if they were the most important person in the world and would drop anything to help anyone; our Mom had a servants’ heart.
She was a peaceful soul, who loved her home, her woods, her garden and nature. She appreciated history and saw value in even the smallest items. She was inquisitive and had a flair for ingenuity. As a believer in the Lord Jesus, she strived to live her life for Him — and she was an inspiration to many.
Her quick wit, her infectious laugh, her sound moral compass and integrity, her creativity and willingness to tirelessly help and to do for others were just some of the hallmarks of our Mom’s character.
She battled failing health for the majority of her life with a grace, elegance and the determination of a prizefighter. She taught her daughters to be strong and courageous, to never give up and that you could never use too much butter.
She was a sucker for a coke icee and sang the Judds’ Christmas album better than the Judds did. She was a phenomenal cook, gardener and Words with Friends player.
She was a voracious reader, she could can anything, she loved all animals – especially her dogs, and had a gift for creating beauty.
She lived her life with strength and gratitude and whenever we were with her, we were home. She may have left this earth too soon, but now she’s with her Maker hugging and catching up with all those who have gone before her, because that’s who our Mom is.